1995-‘96 was kind of a blur. As this period started, I was living in my parents’ basement, having moved back in in the Fall of ‘94 after dropping out of ISU. I was trying basically anything I could come up with to keep myself busy that wasn’t actually a job. This mainly included putting out the Clipper Gore/Bad Karma zine, and my tape label TapeSNotRecords, on which I recorded and “released” various kinds of punk- and industrial-influenced noise and things. I was corresponding with a lot of noisecore artists around the world, trading tapes. This was also when the Ragman Records thing pretty much starts.
It begins, I guess, with my meeting Joe Riehle and us recording tapes as Bloody Nose, then later, when Joe got a 4-track, Bludy Noz. But I really wanted to get out and play shows too, so I kept pressing Joe that we needed to put together a full band. Originally it was to be called Bludy Noz Duhlux, but it would later grow into its own beast entirely, and be the “flagship” band of the Ragman Records scene for a number of years.
First Joe brought in Steve Wilson to play bass. I think Steve was about 12 at the time. He was a natural choice since he had also walked in on the first Bludy Noz recording session (it was, after all, in his living room) with a bass and an and amp and just started playing. That session yielded the first Bludy Noz song, “Modem,” a song that described the process of logging in to a dialup BBS, a topic relevant to how Joe and I met. So “Modem” was again a natural choice for the first song for the new band to put together. It also worked pretty well since it was mainly the same three chords over and over, with some rhythm changes, and because it was generally in the neighborhood of ten minutes long, so we felt like we already accomplished a lot when we could play together for that long at one time.
Our first couple practices were done with a Casio keyboard plugged into an amp standing in for a drummer. Then Joe invited Mike Hays in. He wasn’t much older than Steve, but he had certain important qualification: he was co-owner of the dumpster-dived drum “set” used by Angry Cops, in which he sang and I played drums and which was forming at around the same time; he played tympani in the school band; and he had a green mohawk. He got the hang of it pretty quickly.
We started out doing Bludy Noz tunes and other related material, but pretty soon the four of us were writing new stuff and it became apparent that we needed a new band name. We tossed around and argued about names for an entire afternoon before Joe started repeating, “It looks like we have no consensus here.” This was his way of hinting that he wanted to call the band No Consensus, though finally he had to just come out and say it. I thought the name sounded too much like a hardcore band, but I had to agree that it was funny to have a name that was derived from our inability to agree on a name. It stuck, and became symbolic of other aspects of the band such as the kitchen-sink collaborative creative process that slowly emerged out of our general inability to settle on just any one member’s ideas for anything.
Early on our songs sort of lampooned music genres – we had a couple of songs taking off on punk rock, one on lounge music, one on goth, a little rap-rock, and some bits where Joe would try to imitate Jon Bon Jovi. We started getting shows and we would borrow “real” drum sets from friends so we wouldn’t look stupid. Eventually we even started practicing at the Wagners’ so we could use Cory’s sister’s set, which we later bought from them, and this was how Mike learned to use the kick drum. We put out the What Stupid Does tape, followed by Sun Shines Like Tomorrow where our our sound started to take on even more of its own identity, as opposed to genre-mashing.
It’s hard to talk about No Consensus’s history without also talking about that of Ragman Records overall, since the two were very much intertwined. The Ragman Records thing was going on at this time too – Joe had got a 4-track for Christmas and was recording projects with anybody and everybody, and since I was always hanging around, I was too. Pretty much everybody in No Consensus was, so it was like we had a million side projects, and that was what Ragman Records basically consisted of. We had various bands, recording projects, and one-off jams going on in Joe’s mom Ruth’s house all the time, practicing and recording and just hanging out. The name “Ragman Records” was inspired by the movie Trick Or Treat – for a while, Joe would answer his teen-line phone with “Ragman’s Rock Line, what’s your rock and roll request?” One time when I called him I responded with “I wanna hear some Pantera duuuude!” and he actually put “Fucking Hostile” on the boombox and played it into the phone at me.
Steve Potter of Page 5 Girl had a party one night and we were all there. I’d had a couple beers, and news reached us that Heroic Nonsense had broken up. I half-jokingly suggested asking Jon Grim to join No Consensus, and before I knew it, he was in. His steady, chunky rhythm guitar added considerable muscle to the sound, so it was overall a good idea, even if it did add one more voice the cacophonous overload of ideas we were always working with. I think this was where I started to creatively back off a little and let the other guys handle most of the songwriting while I focused on my little piece of the arrangements. Joe had started playing some guitar by this time, so pretty soon we were a three-guitar monster.
We started playing outside of town, and went into a studio and came out with Going To My Cousins. We were putting all kinds of one-off performance-art bits, dramatic routines, and costumes into our shows. We would bring along friends to act as interpretive dancers. We seemed determined never to do the same crazy idea twice, even if we were playing for a completely new crowd. The infamous “alcohol and pills/hostile band takeovers” routine around which we built our set the first time we played in Ottumwa was literally thought up and planned in the van on the drive there, including stopping at a Hy-Vee to buy additional props.
One such performance carried over off the stage when we played some kind of “battle of bands” thing at The Cattle Congress. We stayed in our costumey getups for hours and ran around the grounds in character hassling people and supposedly hunting vampires. We even commandeered a vinyl siding vendor’s booth in Estel Hall when the guy running it, who appeared drunk, left it for a while. We shouted completely unrealistic claims about vinyl siding at passers-by until he returned.
No Consensus and Ragman Records was about to lose its headquarters/hangout/studio/practice space when Ruth moved out of Olive Street and in with her third husband; band members were starting to graduate high school, go to college, move into apartments, get jobs, even leave Iowa; Stebs closed and the Cedar Valley music scene was left without a stable venue for a couple years. This was all going on around 1999 - 2000.
We recorded The Moving Version 1.0b in the auditorium and band room of Price Lab School before Mike left for school in California, after which we kept No Consensus going for a time as a four-piece, rotating between instruments since by this time we had all become multi-instrumentalists, with an open invitation for Mike to join in during summers and other school breaks when he was in town. We did the closest thing No Consensus ever did to a tour, three shows in a row with Circle Of Willis: The Boat House in Cedar Falls, NickFest in Mankato, and 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis. And we got coverage in the local paper after somehow dragging a writer to one of our practices and annoying the hell out of him for a couple hours; he ended up writing of us, “This is a band composed of nearly-grown-up annoying little brothers who may be geniuses, but who also may be in need of institutional assistance… Listening to the music one gets the impression their entire oeuvre represents a massive, long-term inside joke.”
We stuck things out long enough to be able to play at The Reverb a couple times after it opened up in downtown C.F., playing a lot of new material that never managed to get a good recording. Then in June 2002 we had a show booked there that I think Joe had set up, but that I refused to make it to because it was on Leah’s birthday. Somehow by this time things had deteriorated a bit and we had, in a typically No Consensus move, given Joe all rights to the band name to do with as he saw fit. So instead of a “proper” No Consensus performance, Joe assembled a motley cast of performers from the Ragman scene and put on a performance combining poetry, improvised percussion jams, solo songs by different artists, and performance bits staged in different areas of the club. The Reverb proprietors weren’t pleased with this, but it was right up the alley of most No Consensus fans.
By some accounts I quit No Consensus, but I felt like it just crumbled apart spontaneously, and I was increasingly disengaged from it anyway. I was doing Exit Drills by this time, and everybody else in the band eventually moved away to the four corners of the country. But that’s pretty much the story.