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Web comic reflects life in a "Nowhere Band"

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Nowhere Band Flyer
Nowhere Band Flyer
Image courtesy of the artist

Keith Pille isn't ashamed to admit that he's in a nowhere band called Derraileur. Pille and four other early 30-something bandmates practice once a week, record occasionally and grab a gig every now and then. But they have no illusions of grandeur. 

That wasn't the case with Pille's previous group Red Hay. Red Hay was a twangy roots band.

Band Practice
Keith Pille practices with his band Derraileur. He says he isn't ashamed to admit that he's in a nowhere band.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

"We were really by-the-numbers alt-country," he says.

The group was bent on world domination until reality not only set in, it struck a cruel blow.

"We actually broke up because our drummer had to cancel a show to go to a school board meeting," he says.

Pille's web comic "Nowhere Band" is dedicated to the groups who think they're going somewhere, but haven't yet realized that they're not. It's familiar territory for Pille, full of humor and pathos.

"There's a lot of good drama there as the bottom falls out on their self-esteem," he says.

Keith Pille
Keith Pille has been in a number of bands. Now he is gaining recognition for his web comic "Nowhere Band."
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

In Nowhere Band we get thumbnail sketches of what it's like to be in the fictitious indie rock group the Awesome Boys. 

Each four or five panel strip contains suggested music for the soundtrack. 

We accompany the Awesome Boys to their first gig at a wedding in northern Minnesota. We're with them at the bar where one of the members pretends he's heard of a band everybody's talking about, to avoid looking lame. We watch them at practice acting totally indecisive about a set list. 

It may seem like Pille is catering to a select audience, but he thinks the strip is more universal than that.

"You know it's really, it's kind of similar to your office, but you've got beers and guitars, he says. "But you've still got people trying to get what they want in this tight controlled space."

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Several Nowhere Band episodes are drawn from real life --- Pille's real life.  In one strip, an Awesome Boys member uses his computer to record a cover of a Talking Heads song, and then auditions it for his girlfriend.

Musician: "Do you want to hear that version of Life During Wartime I recorded in Garage Band?"

Girlfriend:  "sure."

"And he plays it for her and it's just wierd, and she's horrified," Pille says. "And she says like, you know I...."

Girlfriend:  "I have to be honest. I kind of hate it. Like you took a song I totally like and made it just weird and creepy."

At the drawing table
Keith Pille works on a new episode of "Nowhere Band."
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

Musician:   "Well, that's your opinion. I played it for the guys and they all said it totally ruled."

Girlfriend:  "I hate to have to tell you this but they were humoring you."

That incident actually happened to Pille only the girlfriend was his wife. It had strip written all over it.

"Some things in your head just get like flagged as a significant event," Pille says. "That was one of them where I just kept thinking 'Well God, what if they were humoring me?' And the fact that it stuck with me so much made me think 'Well, I can get a strip out of that.' "

"Nowhere Band" has caught the attention of Bill Tuomala, creator of the Twin Cities based pop culture zine "Exiled on Main Street." Tuomala says the comic is not only clever, it rings true. 

His favorite episode is Pille's most recent strip, entitled "Get to Know Your Equipment: Jon's Fender Twin Reverb."

"It's just a history of a Fender amplifier and has the story of each person that's owned it and why it was passed on to the next person," he says.

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Tuomala says Nowhere Band's strength isn't just its subtle humor, it's the character development.

"You know I was worried it might be something that was just snarky and ironic and making snide comments but actually it has a nice human touch to it," he says.

Keith Pille says Nowhere Band is very slowly building an audience through word of mouth and some leafletting in comic shops and guitar stores. It reminds Pille of when he was in his aspiring alt-country band.

"Actually right now I have my self-worth pegged on how good the comic is," he says. "So the self-worth's back in the picture, but it's tied to quality now, not success."

Pille jokes that Nowhere Band is a "nowhere web comic strip" in the making.