In the age of overnight Internet fame, "legwork" is often a foreign concept to new bands. The ultimate lack of memorable identity and real working friendships can mean a rapid demise for those who have never seen the Facebook-less actuality of a music scene.
Thankfully immune to this reality check, Oklahoma City's Traindodge has been around since 1996, well before the age of event invitations and Twitter updates. The band's nearly unheard-of 13-year tenure as a local act has followed it through more than 500 shows in two continents, with all the members embracing the steady growth of the surrounding scene, weathering the lifestyle, and maintaining the relationships that brought Traindodge much of its success.
The band " guitarist/vocalist Jason Smith, drummer Rob Smith and bassist Chris Allen " celebrates the release of its aptly titled new album, "I Am Forever," Friday night at The Conservatory, although Smith warns that those familiar with Traindodge's early style may be surprised by the band's evolution.
"We're embracing our Rush a little more these days," he said. "Keyboards, pianos and synthesizers have definitely taken a front seat. I was 22 when we started, and if it had anything to do with a major label, I had no interest in it. I was one of those indie catalog guys, in search of the heaviest, math-iest thing I could get my hands on. I'm 35 now, and I don't know what happened, if we just played too many shows, but it became less fun. We've started embracing the '70s and '80s, and pulling our influences from stuff that's lasted the test of time, rather than bands that put out two 7-inches and broke up."
One benefit of the group's longevity is its ability to fully appreciate what new developments a hometown has to offer, and Traindodge is in a unique position in OKC: old enough to remember not having a place to play, yet still young enough to be relevant at the new venues that have popped up over the years.
"When I transport myself to the mid-'90s, I just remember being really sad," Smith said. "We were in a serious lull. The hottest place at the time was 66 Bowl, God bless them. The shows were free, and we still got paid well, but it wasn't until late 2000, 2001 when The Green Door and then The Conservatory started picking up the slack. When we started, there weren't high school bands playing bars or anything like that. I see kids complaining now, 'Oh, The Conservatory sucks, man.' These kids, who are barely driving, are bitching about the scene, and I think, 'You have no idea what you have.'"
"I Am Forever" is Traindodge's fifth release, recorded with longtime friend John Congleton, whose production résumé includes Modest Mouse.
"We always talked about recording with him, and for some reason, we just never did," Smith said. "Looking for an engineer a couple of years ago, we called him and gave him our budget, and he recommended three places."
Another unique facet of Traindodge's success is its lengthy tenancy on the St. Louis-based Ascetic Records. In the face of an industry meltdown, the two have been partners since 2001, an unexpected effect of the band's groundwork.
"We had just finished our second album and didn't have a label," Smith said. "I called Jimmy (Vavak, of St. Louis band Riddle of Steel), who was booking The Rocket Bar in St. Louis at the time. With him running a club, I thought he could recommend somebody I couldn't think of, but he told me someone in town was getting ready to put out Riddle of Steel's first album, and he'd seen us play and liked us. A phone call later, we were on Ascetic Records. It's a long time on a label for a band our size."
But even a veteran act like Traindodge must deal with the changing face of underground music, and the members cite a smaller album's pressing as a sign of the times.
"As long as we don't start losing massive amounts of money," Smith said, "I think we'll be all right."
Although mitigating factors " these guys have full-time jobs and families now " may prevent Traindodge from touring to support the disc as it has in the past, the group still has plans to take it out on the road a little bit at a time.
"The months-in-a-van days are over. Our drummer is having a child in a few weeks, but the advantage of living here is you can play anywhere on a long weekend, and we do," Smith said. "We can play Minneapolis on a Saturday night, no problem. You can get anywhere just by leaving a little early on Friday. It works. When we were 20, it was, 'Let's get in the van and go. Bills? We'll do that stuff when we get home.' No concern about what this would do to my credit. The band used to dictate our personal lives, and now it's the other way around."
These restrictions have no bearing on Traindodge's dedication to its craft, however, and its members spare no sign of slowing.
"I'd love to play to 200 people every night and bring home more money," Smith said, "but with the work we've done in the last 13 years and the level we're at, (touring) is always productive and worthwhile."
Traindodge with Story of the Sea and Engine Orchestra play at 7:30 p.m. Friday at The Conservatory, 8911 N. Western. "Becky Carman