West Virginia's The Demon Beat Decides to Take a Break
Eight years ago three friends at Shepherd University started a band. The Demon Beat’s popularity grew from the restaurants and pubs around Shepherdstown to audiences across the state and region. The band just made a run around the state before taking a hiatus.
“Personally whenever I hear terms like ‘this is a garage rock band’ or ‘a back to basics raw sound’, those are just really tired phrases when you hear people talk about that,” said Morgantown musician and close friend of the band, Billy Matheny.
“When you listen to The Demon Beat and when you see them live, in both cases, I think it’s everything a rock experience should be. It is raw and it is immediate. More than anything, it’s fun to listen to. That’s kind of everything you want out of that experience,” he added.
Being so incredibly loud and raw musically speaking, it seems ironic the three members of The Demon Beat are so quiet and unassuming about making a last run of shows around the state.
But the band, formed in Shepherdstown in 2005 and currently living in Martinsburg, did just that at the end of this past week, performing at 123 Pleasant Street in Morgantown on Thursday, the Boulevard Tavern in Charleston on Friday, and Huntington’s V Club on Saturday. None of the appearances were advertised as final shows, though.
Matheny, whose own band The Frustrations played the show in Morgantown with The Demon Beat, comments on the band’s humble approach to hanging things up.
“This is a situation where most bands, like 90 percent of them would be, ‘Alright, I’m going to cash this in. We’ve got three big shows, last time to see us.’ Basically like kind of turning it into a cash cow thing and doing what KISS would do, or something like that. The big farewell tour. They’re cooler than that,” said Matheny.
The reason for the indefinite hiatus of one of the state’s most beloved rock outfits? Guitarist and vocalist Adam Meisterhans is headed to Nashville at the end of May to pursue other musical endeavors. While excited about the future, he admits stepping back is difficult.
“It’s hard not to do it. But, at the same time, I get more excited about what’s going to happen next than bummed out. Because it’s not like any of us are dying. We’ll still hang out and still talk a lot,” said Meisterhans.
Since its inception, The Demon Beat has toured and recorded relentlessly, garnering not only a following in their home state but throughout the region. But everywhere they went, they were quick to point out they were from West Virginia. Meisterhans notes the band’s sense of pride about West Virginia was met with stereotypical ignorance.
“Basically, we would hear the same question every night. People basically ask us about Jesco White, or Wrong Turn, or if we live near Roanoke,” he said with a laugh.
Aside from some sort of geographical or cultural chip on the shoulder, Bassist Tucker Riggleman says being from West Virginia instills a do-it-yourself ethic.
“I think it made us kind of have to learn how to do a lot more on our own, being from West Virginia. It’s not like it is New York or somewhere where you can play a million different places. You kind of have to get your butt in gear and figure out how to go travel and play other places and make connections and figure out how to record your own stuff and how to push it and make your own merch,” said Riggleman.
“There’s nobody to do it for you around here like there might be more opportunities in different places for that. I think you get a sense of pride from that,” he added.
Drummer Jordan Hudkins jokingly comments on the role each played in the success of the band.
“Tucker decided to try his hand at booking and, lo and behold, he’s really good at it. He’s awesome at it. It’s hard to do; it’s really hard to do. Adam started writing songs and, lo and behold he’s really good at it. Turns out I’m really good at buying a minivan,” said Hudkins.
Yet Hudkins is merely being modest, as his skills in visual art are responsible for the artwork on the band’s albums.
Meisterhans says virtually every facet of the band was a matter of trial and error.
“As we kept going, we kept wanting to do more stuff and then we had to figure out how to do that other stuff, whether it was making a record or booking a tour. We didn’t know anything about it, so we just tried to do it. Then, when we tried to do it and messed it up, we thought about what we did wrong and tried to do it again.”
Hudkins echoed those sentiments with a less serious tone.
“It’s like a recipe for a meatloaf or a casserole. You have all the ingredients there and you think you know what it is but, then you accidentally spill something into it or you don’t cook it right and it comes out and it tastes awful. But, it’s yours,” he explained.
As Hudkins’ comments might indicate, the band’s sense of humor is also worth noting. On their latest record, Less is Less, he Photoshopped all of the band member’s faces together for the album cover.
Titles of songs from the record mimic pop music hits, like Michael Jackson’s "Off The Wall", Pink Floyd’s "The Wall", and Oasis’ "Wonderwall". There’s even a song called “Teenage Wasteland,” an obvious play on the often mislabeled Who song “Baba O’Reilly."
While all three admit it’s difficult to hang things up for now, Meisterhans isn’t the only one with musical ambitions.
But even still, The Demon Beat is a band that will surely be missed. Dave Lavender, arts and entertainment writer for the Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, said the band's prowess in the live setting left an indelible mark on the local scene.
“I think that The Demon Beat—I don’t think they ever kind of over thought their music. They always thought that it should punch you in the gut and bowl you over. Any time I saw them they just blew the roof off the joint, even if that joint was an open sky,” said Lavender.
The band plans to play a handful of one-off shows in the region before Meisterhans heads to Nashville.