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November 2019 - Conspicuous Bystanders

Conspicuous Bystanders Founding the Genre of “Conspicuous Rock”

Story by LCC Staff Reporter Katie Gleason

Conspicuous BystandersWhen asked what exactly their genre of music is, the members of Conspicuous Bystanders can’t really give a straight answer. They would like to claim that their music fits under the label of “Rock and Roll”, but drummer Zach McKinney argues that Johnny Cash played rock and roll; Jimi Hendrix played rock and roll; Led Zeppelin, of course, played rock and roll too. Rock and Roll is just such a broad term for a wide variety of different types of music, Conspicuous Bystanders can’t agree on calling themselves a “rock and roll” band either!

“We’re not quite funk and we’re not quite reggae and we’re also not exactly punk either,” explains Duncan Tarr, the band’s bass player.

“I’ve been toying with the word ‘conspicuous rock’ because it stands out from everything else that’s out so far,” Zach says. “It’s something that you can’t really throw into any category.”

The rest of the band agrees: conspicuous rock is their genre of music, and they’re going to run that name into the ground.

Formed in the early summer of 2017, Conspicuous Bystanders is a Lansing-based group made up of four incredibly talented musicians; Jenna Roark (lead vocals), Emmet McGuire (guitar), Zachary McKinney (drums), and Duncan Tarr (bass). That first summer stands out to Jenna for reasons beyond the band: it was the year after she underwent brain surgery.

Throughout the band’s nearly three year long run, Jenna’s health has had its ups and downs. She was diagnosed with brain cancer in early 2016 and since then has dealt with the challenges of such a serious diagnosis, big and small--in August of 2018, she shaved off her long dreadlocks.

But Jenna and the rest of the band don’t let Jenna’s health worry them. The band considers each other to be not only professional band mates, but each other’s support system.

Conspicuous Bystanders“The hardest part about being in this band is trying to find out how I can do this and only this for the rest of my life,” Zach says, and the rest of the band agrees. Everyone has full schedules outside the band; Jenna, Emmet, and Duncan work full-time day jobs, while Zach attends school full time and works part-time. It’s extremely difficult to get all four of their schedules to work together.

Even during this interview, Duncan is running back and forth between the table and the stage, helping another band set up for a show. The sight prompts Jenna to explain one of the hashtags the band uses all of the time on social media “#wheresduncan”. The hashtag came about from one night before a show in Canada, Duncan had to work and wasn’t able to walk around and sightsee with the rest of the band, so they pretended he was missing.

It was all in good fun though. The band is unbelievably supportive to one another.

That loving, supportive, and positive vibe that the band has is the vibe that they hope to convey through their music and performances. However, though they do strive for positivity, Jenna says they don’t shy away from the real stuff. “We don’t sugar coat the fact that there’s [bad stuff] going on too.”

Emmet teases that that is really what their next album is going to be about, “There’s one song in particular that’s very unabashed about what’s happening in the world. It’s with the times.” Unfortunately, while the music on the album is “current”, there’s no release date for the next album other than “hopefully 2020”.

Conspicuous Bystanders takes pride in being genuinely conspicuous, but they’re anything but bystanders in the Michigan music scene. Last summer the band went on tour in the northeast, and they owe it all to their Lansing fan base. Emmet considers the four of them to be pretty independent as a band, but is so thankful for the handfuls of people who he’s noticed come to almost every show they play. Jenna even praises some of their fans for driving four hours from Michigan to Pittsburgh just to see one of their shows.

Conspicuous BystandersHowever, fans can look forward to Conspicuous Bystanders playing at The Loft on Friday, November 22nd, with Desmond Jones and Vincie D. (And while you’re there you can wish Emmet a happy birthday!)

As for what can be expected from the show, Zach says just about anything.

“What’s nice about going to see a Conspicuous Bystanders show is that even if you saw us three hours before that, we’d play an entirely different set list and it would be a completely different show.”


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