Fine Motor—an upcoming, self-titled debut—opens with a zip code. It’s the zip code of an area that many Renoites call home, but to drummer/vocalist Casey Bell, 89502 was, for a time, a desert island.
“We had just moved here, I didn’t know anyone, I was spending a lot of time alone,” said Bell. “So it’s sort of about that. Feeling cooped up and unsure.”
Those lonesome digits became the title of the opening track of Fine Motor, “89502.” The song begins with sparse guitar, sounding like a new experience in a windswept desert from the perspective of East Coast alternative rock veterans. It’s simple and catchy, yet melancholic and dry. It’s the soundtrack to days turning into to weeks, mounting resentment of the weather, sleep as refuge.
Then the song takes an unexpected turn. Bell’s part turns from simple and groovy with shakers, to loud and driving on the hi-hat. Guitarists Dan Morse and Chris Mays hit their strings like they’re trying to bat a swarm of insects. At it’s noisiest, most chaotic peak, the song abruptly returns to its minimal origin, before coming to a close.
“I do feel with the record, especially finishing it, and looking at it as a whole in a way that you can’t while you’re making it—it’s a lot darker than I thought it was going to be,” said Bell with a laugh. “There’s a lot of songs about death, and being alone, and weird stuff happening. A lot of that had to do with adjusting to a new place.”
“One of the things we loved about the ’90s was that bands wouldn’t necessarily try and please the audience all the time,” said Morse.
Fine Motor draws much from ’90s alternative rock—and the music that influenced it. Traces of Pixies, Sonic Youth and Velvet Underground can all be heard in the band’s use of simple melodies, their penchant for noisy yet melodic guitars, and their way of reworking pop structures with new grit and fury.
Unlike many modern musicians that draw from the ’90s sound, the members of Fine Motor were active during the years when that music was being made and listened to.
“Fine Motor is, like, if the internet never happened,” said Morse.
Morse and Bell are imports from Philadelphia, Mays from Chicago. Brought to Reno for work, they admit that they initially feared they’d left their days of playing in bands behind them. It came as a pleasant surprise that audiences here were receptive and friendly.
“One of the nice things about Reno is that bands know each other—they like playing with each other,” said Bell. “Philly is similar, but it feels more tight-knit here.”
“We were in Philly at this sort of renaissance—just so many bands,” said Morse. “But it was supportive. It wasn’t cutthroat.”
Morse and Bell view both places in terms of their similarities, both as underdog cities with grit and a sense of do-it-yourself determination. It’s part of the reason they were so excited to reignite Fine Motor, a project that began as a two-piece in Philadelphia, as a live outlet for Bell’s solo work. Since, it has expanded to include Mays on guitar, and bassist Ben Birkinbine.
The official release date of Fine Motor, on 12-inch vinyl, is July 21. But you can snag a copy early at Sundance Books on July 7, where the band’s earliest iteration—Dan Morse on guitar, Casey Bell on drums—will play on the lawn.