An early favorite in this year’s whatzup/Wooden Nickel Battle of the Bands was a band that had only been together for a short time when they made it to the contest’s semifinals in 2011. By becoming one of four bands to reach the finals this time around, Big Money & the Spare Change solidified their place as one of the local music scene’s premiere bands. Big Money & the Spare Change began with a couple of roommates, “Dolla” Dan Obergfell and Brian “Big Money” Spears, deciding they wanted to play some music together. The guitarist and bassist “jammed with different drummers and friends for that time but never really put together a band,” said Obergfell in a recent interview. As Spears drifted away from the project for a time, Obergfell kept his eyes open and finally saw drummer Cale Gerst performing with an acoustic project called Maumee. Obergfell was convinced Gerst was the missing piece to the puzzle and got in touch with him through a mutual friend. The two hit it off.
Obegfell and Gerst jammed together and wrote a few songs in a short amount of time before asking Spears to rejoin them in the new project.
“We began to mash together sounds from classic and current rock to funk and grunge, infusing it with our own sense of musical lawlessness,” said Obergfell. The result of that unusual concoction was several high-quality, catchy songs. The new band was formed, and they had their first show in April 2011
Big Money’s unusual mix of influences can be perplexing to fans who like to lump bands into a certain music genre; they are difficult to categorize.
“Our fans have trouble pinpointing the influences behind our music,” said Obergfell. “That makes it hard to find a pre-existing fan base, but it is beneficial to us, considering the need to stand out in a crowd where original music is ubiquitous but not always unique.”
At times resembling a mature version of Nirvana, Big Money and the Spare change have found the audience they were after, as evidenced by their two impressive Battle of the Bands showings. To start a band, enter a contest and finish in the top eight in just less than five months is an accomplishment, but to enter the same contest and better your previous performance by playing on the finals night demonstrates more people are starting to “get it.”
“The preliminary round of last year’s battle of the bands was one of our first shows,” said Obergfell. “We managed to make it to the semifinals but hadn’t quite built the fan base to make it further.”
The band made friends with several of the other contestants and played dozens of shows over the next year, building on that fan base and growing together musically at the same time.
“In 2011 we signed up because we were looking to meet people in the local scene, find new ways to get gigs and build relationships with other bands through the fierce competition,” said Obergfell. “The Battle of the Bands really helped us start that process and gave us the chance to professionally record our first song, ‘This is My (Strawberry) Jam.’” (The song is available on the Battle Songz 3 compilation CD).
“This year, clearly, the van was a big incentive for entering,” Obergfell continued. “Our plans to get a summer tour together for 2012 never came together and the Battle of the Bands seemed like a good way to make the most of the summer. And with the fan base we’d been building throughout the year, we really believed that we had a chance to do well. Making it all the way to the finals definitely made it worthwhile.
“Anyone in a local band knows that it’s tough out there trying to get somewhere with your music. Battle of the Bands is a good excuse to just ask everyone you know in the world to come out and check your music out, which is one of the reasons why it’s so fun. Every week you have a diverse crowd of people that aren’t a part of any scene or social group. They’re just there to support their friend’s band and have a good time. It’s a reason to get everybody together.”
Big Money & the Spare Change released their first EP, God Dammit, Danny!, online earlier this year. It is currently available for a free download on bandcamp.com. To continue their momentum, the band is writing new songs and discussing plans for their first full-length album, tentatively scheduled for release in late 2012 or early 2013, and a tour sometime in 2013.