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Driftwood Soldier: Under Construction.

November 10, 2015

DriftwoodSoldierOnline01Text by Dave Miniaci. Images by Mina Lee.

The floorboards creak with each step. Plastic tarp covers certain walls. There are boxes and tools strewn around.

Owen Lyman-Schmidt sits back in his chair, sips iced coffee and chuckles about the state of his West Philly house.

“I liked the idea of doing all the renovations myself,” he says.

The house is coming together nicely for the Driftwood Soldier singer but is still very much a work in progress.

And the same could be said of the band itself.

Born out of the desire to write more music and play as a band rather than solo, Driftwood Soldier was formed when Lyman-Schmidt, originally from D.C., met bassist Bobby Szafranski at a party in Philly. Lyman-Schmidt was traveling and playing solo as Owen and His Checkered Past and Szafranski had been playing in the band Mountjoy.

But each wanted more and that’s when they met. It’s been a process.

“As a band, we’re growing, for sure, in a live setting,” Szafranski says. “I don’t know whether it’s we’re getting more comfortable with each other or just playing songs faster than we intended.”

From the start, the duo did everything themselves. They both believe strongly in the DIY culture.

Their debut album, Scavenger’s Joy, was recorded fairly quickly and the band’s record release party, true to their nature, took place in a warehouse that Szafranski helped renovate with a friend.

“The DIY is for us an aesthetic choice and also about staying in control of your music and keeping the music for people making music,” Lyman-Schmidt says.

The band’s sound – a mix of blues, jazz and alt-country – comes off as a good workingman series of songs, featuring Lyman-Schmidt’s deep, whiskey-soaked voice.

Lyman-Schmidt’s instrument of choice, the mandolin, is of course self-taught.

The band utilizes interesting foot percussion during shows, creating their own take on bass drums by using items including a suitcase and bottle caps.

And with that passion, the band hopes to help the Philly DIY music scene with the old warehouse they helped convert. The 7th and Thompson venue, Bond Villain, was created with the idea that it could bridge the gap for bands to perform to an intimate and interested crowd while still maintaining their artistic sensibilities, something that isn’t always guaranteed at a larger venue.

DriftwoodSoldierOnline02Logan Welde owns the space. He recruited Szafranski to help renovate it. They gutted the first floor and built a stage. The first show was a Driftwood Soldier show and it went better than expected.

“I actually was expecting like 20 or 30 people and we had over 100,” says Welde. “It was incredible. It was freezing cold, too. It was February and there is no heat in the building, so people were wearing coats. But everyone was dancing and having fun.”

It was that show that made Welde realize the full potential of the space and continue to book shows as Bond Villain, a space where artists can roam free and keep all the profits.

“They do everything, down to making their own shirts,” Welde says, praising Driftwood Soldier for their part in the DIY scene.

There are spaces that really put love into their sound and have great sound crews to work with the  musicians. But acoustics aren’t the only ingredient for a good show at Bond Villain. It isn’t even the bottom dollar. It’s having a fun and memorable show.

“We let the musicians have a good place to play and they can bring their friends and they can make money without having to pay the venue,” Szafranski says.

“It’s all part of giving back to a community of people who make it possible for folks who don’t have a flashy website but are playing good music and can play a show for the first time,” Lyman-Schmidt adds.

He goes on to point out that word-of-mouth publicity is still a valuable commodity in the scene, referring to a point in time when certain venues were known just for being a place to hear good music.

“We’ve encountered that on the road, where it’s this place that people from three counties comes out on a Friday just to see whoever is playing that night,” says Lyman-Schmidt. “And if it’s us, we appreciate the hell out of that.”

While they say they have enough material to record another album, the duo wants to take it slow and continue to refine Driftwood Soldier’s sound.

And for a man who started out on the road, it sounds like Lyman-Schmidt has found his home.

“I love Philly,” Lyman-Schmidt says, motioning to the home-renovation surroundings. “As you can see, I plan on staying for awhile.”

“Unless the roof collapses on us,” jokes Szafranski.

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