Writers on the storm
Panic rips Joel Ackerson from his sleep. Light floods his car, and he hears someone tapping on his window. Earlier that night, Ackerson and his girlfriend had parked under a bridge but were now exiting the vehicle, hands in the air, surrounded by five policemen. It turns out the couple had stumbled onto a murder stakeout. Earlier, the police found a girl’s body under the bridge and were looking for the culprit.
Ackerson describes it as the worse date he’s ever been on, and though he no longer sees that girl, he relives that night every time he plays his guitar and sings “No One Watching Us” with his band The Novelists. The band includes electric and upright bassist Zack Teran, keyboardist Malary Engstrom and drummer Jason Thomas.
“I do say folk rock,” Teran says when asked about the band’s genre.
“[Folk rock is] like the oxymoron of the musical realm,” Ackerson says.
“We do have a lot of sounds though. I kind of like that,” Engstrom says.
“Lyrical rock is what I have been saying online a lot,” Ackerson continues. “That tells you that you’re going to catch the words when you go to a show, and we intend them to be the focal point.”
Every song the band plays is a story, which is why Ackerson named it The Novelists, though most of the songs are nonfiction.
The band began in 2005. A friend who toured with Ackerson in another band was supposed to move to Reno to start The Novelists with Ackerson, but he never made it. Ackerson then founded the band consisting of a weekly rotating cast of different musicians. The roster stabilized when Teran and Thomas joined the band a year ago. The trio played around Reno and went on a short tour last spring. Then, six months ago, Engstrom joined the band.
The band sounds the best it ever has, according to Ackerson. When the band’s membership was fluid, some songs would be great one week, then flop the next. However, with a steady cast, this problem no long plagues The Novelists.
The band now hopes to incorporate a theatrical element to its shows, including sets, costumes and dialogue. Once, before a show, Ackerson appeared on the stage dressed as an old professor with a pipe. He ignored the audience and typed out that night’s set list on a typewriter. Then his wife, Julia Ackerson, came out dressed as a stewardess and introduced the band members like she would a flight crew on a commercial airplane.
“Depending on the song, we would have specific costumes for that song—there might be dialogue before and after,” Teran said. “That hasn’t really happened yet, but we kind of want to make a bunch of alter egos for all of us.”
However, this dream is costly and time-consuming, which is why the band currently performs in a more conventional manner. Besides, the band’s current configuration is still new and working to polish its sound.
Though this lineup has just started to hit its stride, its doom may already be foreshadowed. Most members are in college, with graduation dates looming or past. After Ackerson graduates, he plans to move to New York with Teran in tow.
“I don’t even like to dream about it because it gets me kind of weepy eyed,” Ackerson says.
“No, it’s true,” Engstrom says. “I don’t want everyone to go.”
However, that may not be the end of the story. Engstrom and Thomas are both invited to go to New York, as well. Even if their band mates don’t follow them, the band may survive in a sequel of sorts.
Ackerson pointed to many bands where their members live in different cities. Perhaps the band may also take on a few extra members.
“Especially in a theater style rock band, the idea of a more fluid membership doesn’t stress me out,” Ackerson says.