You’d never know from his unassuming manner, his day-job-then-home-to-the-wife-and-kids lifestyle or his home base (Warsaw, Indiana) that John Hubner is responsible for some of the coolest and most vibrant original music being made in the region right now. Follow him into his tidy suburban home and you get no clues as to what’s going on inside this guy’s head. It’s only when you reach the basement and pass the kids playing a video game that a couple of guitars and amplifiers and a drum kit finally betray Hubner’s music-making obsession.
“You do it because you have to,” says Hubner. “You have to get it out or you lose your mind. Since I’ve started writing and recording it’s always been about me wanting to create for an audience of one – me.
“It’s an amazing feeling when someone other than yourself loves and appreciates what you make,” he continues, “but if no one were to hear this music I make in my little basement studio, then I’d be cool with it.”
We have no shortage of do-it-yourself rockers in the area, but the technicolor Beatles/XTC-informed pop that multi-instrumentalist Hubner crafts on his own seems nothing short of a minor miracle; the man responsible for four discs under the Goodbywave moniker (plus a recent solo disc) seems to be working from an island. Now, as Hubner unleashes his latest project, the tunefully immediate Sunny Day Massacre, upon us, he lets us in on what it’s like to make music in a virtual vacuum — and how that suits him just fine.
While the dearth of outside inspiration may have been near-crippling in the 80s and 90s, the Internet has made everything from hard-to-get indie vinyl to tour updates instantly accessible — even to north-central Indiana. This has been a boon to Hubner. Early on, though, he had to make do with what he could get his hands on. From a wee lad spinning Sgt. Pepper and Sheer Heart Attack on his Fisher Price record player, to a teenager in the 80s struggling through the hair metal era, the future Goodbyewave brain trust worked with what he had as he learned to play guitar. Then, at 18, Hubner received his first master class in melodic songwriting. “I bought the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and immediately grabbed everything else they had done. The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society was another record that completely blew my mind. I couldn’t believe Ray Davies wasn’t as heralded as John Lennon, Bob Dylan or Paul McCartney. Hearing that record made me want to be a songwriter.
Hubner recalls the biggest early influence that made him want to pursue music: his uncle, Mark. When John was a youngster, his uncle “exposed me to songwriting and recording. I remember being a little kid and him bringing his acoustic guitar to our house when he’d stay with us.”
Hubner recalls that, as he grew older, his uncle’s house gave him unfettered access to keyboards, guitars, a reel-to-reel 8-track recorder and, finally, a 4-track cassette recorder.
“I got to see firsthand how to build a song from the ground up,” he remembers. “I’d build these songs with horns, strings, guitar, percussion and piano. At the time I thought I was just messing around. But looking back, I was figuring out the fundamentals of building a song.”
So, how does Hubner fuel his creative muse, with no local hipster record store or nearby bar providing an infusion of original music? Simple: he didn’t like the view, so he built his own mountain.
“There’s not much of a scene for original music,” he explains. “In fact, there’s not much of a scene at all. There’s jukebox cover bands that play Top 40, classic rock and blues rock. That’s it,” he says. “There seemed to be, in the late 90s, a few local original rock bands in the area, but most just went east to Fort Wayne or west to South Bend. So being that I’m the only one I know buying Jason Falkner, the Grays, Supergrass, Sloan, Wilco, Adrian Belew and Eleven records in the early and mid 90s, I was sorta on my own to make original music.
“I didn’t know anyone that played bass, so I bought a bass and played it myself. I didn’t know anyone who played drums, so I bought a drum set and played it myself. I didn’t know any singers, so I begrudgingly sang my own songs.”
This self-contained approach sowed the seeds for a modus operandi that’s continued to serve Hubner well, allowing him to take full advantage whenever inspiration would strike.
“I worked full-time at a local orthopedics company by the time I was 19 years old. It was second shift. So I’d sleep till 10 a.m., get up and go downstairs and record. I’d get home after work around 10:30 or 11 p.m. and go downstairs and write and mix. I’m sure my girlfriend — now my wife of 15 years — loved that I’d become some sort of basement troll. She put up with me and I thank her for it.
“Thank you, dear,” he adds.
“My wife Paige has allowed me to follow this muse since we first started dating 20 years ago. She’s been patient and understanding. She’s never told me to give it up. She’s supported me all the way. I wouldn’t be doing any of this if it wasn’t for her.”
So here he is in the present day, still crafting basement gems — now under the Sunny Day Massacre moniker, which showcases Hubner’s spot-on ear for melody inside more direct, stripped-down arrangements. What’s the story behind his new SDM effort, entitled Possible Pinch Points?
“Part of the appeal of doing this project was getting back to just me in the basement and recording. If I wanted to write and record a song on a Sunday afternoon I could.” Goodbyewave also included drummer Jack Long, and the pair “had been writing and recording nonstop since 2006. We’ve put albums out every year since then up to this year, Hubner says. “I think I had run out of creative steam doing what we were doing in GBW. And what we were doing I’m proud of, but I needed a change and SDM has let me be the jangly, lo-fi rocker I’d hoped I could be.”
Though he has no firm plans to take the Sunny Day Massacre songs out on the road, Hubner absolutely wants to share his tunes with as many listeners as possible.
“For the time being I’m sending CDs everywhere that people will take them. I’ve got some set up in Indianapolis at Luna Music and here in Fort Wayne at Wooden Nickel. I’m at CD Baby and iTunes. Pretty much every digital retailer will have SDM set up. I love brick and mortar stores,” he points out. “That’s where it’s at. But the truth of the matter is that digital distribution is the easiest way for me to get my music out there. For a guy that doesn’t play out and strut his wares for the masses to see, iTunes is my friend. I want people to have the physical copy and enjoy the package as a whole, but I also want someone in Europe to be able to click and buy my record as well.”
Go to www.reverbnation.com/sunnydaymassacre to find out more about John Hubner and his music.