Rooted in ‘Room Eleven,’ Kent’s Hive Robbers’ third album gains local attention

Hive Robbers

Hive Robbers

Mark Oprea

After a walk up a flight of 27 steps at their address on Main Street, Kent-based band The Hive Robbers recorded their latest album. It’s a room, well-known by neighboring residents of the building, became so much a part of the recording that it begged their members to name the record after it — that is, “Room Eleven.”

The band’s third LP, released last September, “Room Eleven” is an extension of The Hive Robbers’ so-called Rust Belt marriage with hardened folk rock. Tracks like “Fast Folks” and “Ring and a Rose” rekindle singer Aidan Williams’ basso-folk crooning and banjo picking; along with guitar strumming from Jimmy Dykes and “freight-train” rhythms by Shawn Cline and Sam Langstaff. A follow-up to 2012’s “Rusted Earth,” “Room Eleven” was just recently awarded one of Ohio Music City’s Top 30 Albums of 2014.

On the way up to the “room” itself, Dykes, backup guitar and vocals for The Hive Robbers, walks past a stack of magazines, reminding one of a doctor’s waiting room, and unlocks the door. He steps over sheets of insulation, old keyboards and bits of drywall, leftover from a presumed renovation.

“I swear it’s usually a lot cleaner than this,” he said, walking to the practice area itself, a space organized pristinely with an arsenal of acoustic guitars and basses (some missing strings), tube amps and 12-ounce cans of beer — much of which, Williams said, fueled the resulting album.

“We always joked that the album should have been sponsored by Camel Cigarettes, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Labatt Blue,” Williams said. “And Red Bull — a whole lot of Red Bull.”

Entering in their makeshift studio in March 2014, the group, adding Cline on bass guitar, had high motives, along with enough written material, Dykes said, to fill a double album. The addition of a third songwriter, Cline — after previous bassist Meredith Yeager moved to Columbus — inched The Hive Robbers slightly out of their all-rootsy territory and into a two-faced realm of one-part shimmering string band (“Take Him” and “Straight Home”), the other a minor romp into “cowboy punk” territory (“Debt”). Williams calls it the album’s “hilarious dichotomy.”

“The whole thing took us forever and a day,” he said. “So, we sort of went back to our roots, meaning, ‘Let’s take way too long and only record with friends.’”

Formed in 2010, the group, then-known as the Aidan Bailey Williams Band (“The worst name ever,” Williams said), recorded a line-up of stripped-down folk songs, many written with an Ohio-born audience in mind.

“The Hive Robbers,” in 2011, was a collection penned by Williams and Dykes and recorded in Dykes’ basement, a studio made up mainly of “a few couches, and a carpet and a table.”

It was where their anthem, “Counterweight,” was composed, mostly, Dykes said, out of casual collaboration, as were the rest.

“That is, mostly variations on the same song,” Dykes jokes about their older material.

“‘Counterweight’ 2.0,” Williams adds.

With Cline lingering as an “unofficial” member for a few years (he sung vocals on “Rusted Earth”), The Hive Robbers played the local circuit, along with gigs at Cleveland’s Grog Shop and Akron’s Musica. They opened for Kent State’s FlashFest in 2013, along with several three-hour Brewhouse shows and ‘Round Town Music Festival appearances expected for a Kent country-folk band. Come late summer 2013, when former metal guitarist Cline replaced Yeager on bass, the band brought on a whole new dynamic, Williams said. Shortly after, in the spring of 2014, Dykes and Cline began renting out their current studio space on Main.

“Room Eleven,” they agree, couldn’t have existed without it.

After recording an initial 16 tracks for a planned double release, the band went on a semi-impromptu tour, in their van, “Martha,” throughout the Carolinas, which, they agreed, shaped the forthcoming album edits drastically.

After two and half months of playing underground taverns, Langstaff’s slow-dancing with older, Ashville women (Williams said, “It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life”), and spread-out Ohio shows, The Hive Robbers returned to Kent to finish what they started. The initial 16 was, then, narrowed meticulously down to the final — and aptly numbered — 11.

“We were stuck in this room for three months, doing nothing but listening to those songs,” Cline said. The summer tour, he said “was the best thing that could have happened for the album.”

 However nurturing the Room is itself — with a stocked mini fridge, state-of-the-art studio, megaphones and idyllic above-the-bar location — The Hive Robbers, guided by Cline’s in-house expertise, sometimes clashed in post-production, choosing what would stay and go, all in-line with their latest identity.

“It’s not that anything was bad,” Langstaff said, donning low-cut slippers and a ballcap with “Jesus Christ” in Coca-Cola lettering. “It’s just because this or that wasn’t a good fit.”

Both Langstaff and Williams cite “Debt” as a perfect example of their latest image. To demonstrate, Williams picks up his acoustic and plays the rolling A-Minor intro. Dykes provides the freight-train beat on his lap. Langstaff starts whistling in a spaghetti-Western fashion, improvising.

All four erupt in laughter.

“That would have been perfect!” Dykes said.

“This is exactly how the album went,” Williams said, and one can tell, by his look, that he’s not embellishing.

Yet, after the delayed release of “Room Eleven” last September, The Hive Robbers entered an inescapable winter hiatus, one dedicated to scrounging for work and money, the necessity to pay bills. The group went back to their restaurant and bar gigs, and shows came to a halt. It was during this time that Williams’ long-term girlfriend decided to move to Virginia. Soon after Cline returned from a tour with his side project Red Sun Rising, Williams announced to the guys that he had made plans to join her.

It’s the first time he’ll be leaving Kent.

 “I’m leaving jobs that I love, I’m leaving my friends, but it’s so necessary and wonderful at the same time,” Williams said. “I get to be with the woman who I love in a new place, and that’s insane to me. It’s a terrifying catharsis.”

Dykes said he’s more optimistic about his friend’s move than he is nervous, and the bandmates agree, albeit with some hesitation.

“My first thought was not the band,” he said. “One of my best friends for eight years is moving. I was first jealous because we’ve all lived here since the day we were born. I was worried at first. But then you think about it a good deal; people move constantly.”

Soon after Williams’ announcement last fall, The Hive Robbers played Musica again, the Zephyr, and “one of their best show’s yet” at the Stone Tavern in early March. They have the Kent Heritage Festival lined up in July for what may be Williams’ final before his trek out of state.

Yet, the remaining members are sure that, no matter their frontman’s location, the same energy put into writing and performing won’t fall by the wayside. If anything, moving away, Williams said, will make the group even stronger than it was before.

 “We’ll still be together,” he said. “Absolutely.”

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected].