On Thanksgiving night a couple of weeks back, the three members of the Shy Boys invited friends and fans — two circles with a lot of overlap at this early stage in the band's existence — to celebrate at the house where they live together on the western edge of the West Plaza neighborhood. Furniture had been relocated to the attached garage, where they practice. Around 11 p.m., after a set of grimy alt-rock from friends the Claque, an earnest crowd huddled together in the low-arching living room to watch the Shy Boys do their thing.
This kind of DIY-show ethic is common to punk culture and sometimes to hippie folk gatherings. But the Shy Boys are neither. They play soft, harmony-laden pop songs with modern underpinnings — a little bit of the Association, a little bit of Real Estate. Still, the intimacy of a house show is well-suited to the tenderness of their music, and they prefer their living-room stage to noisy clubs. Unfortunately, some new fans — an unwelcome contingent — of their private venue have recently emerged.
"We're currently battling a pretty serious rodent problem," singer, songwriter and guitarist Collin Rausch says. It's a week after the Thanksgiving show, but the drums, mics and amps are in the exact same place as they were six days ago. The couch has been moved back inside, but it's positioned near the kitchen, at an angle that would give a feng shui consultant a coronary. You get the feeling that somebody woke up one morning and dragged the couch just far enough so that they could see the TV.
Collin points at the dishwasher. "The mice come in underneath there," he says. "They've basically invaded both the kitchen and the garage. Also, some nights I hear possums climbing up the vines outside my window."
"Smokyman [a nickname for their fourth roommate, who is not in the band] has killed two of the mice so far," Konnor Ervin says. "One got stuck, and he stabbed it with an ink pen. The other one he crushed with a rock."
There has also been a rat sighting. "The rat's dead," Collin says. "We poisoned him."
How big was the rat? "Pretty big," says Kyle Rausch, who alternates bass and drums with Ervin. "It was not small."
"It was a rat," Ervin says, nodding. "It was a rat, with a big, long tail."
The Shy Boys have been living together — and, evidently, with various rodents — for about a year, roughly as long as they've been a band. But Collin and Kyle have lived and played together for far longer. The brothers grew up in Blue Springs and as teenagers and into their early 20s were members of the TD Pack Band, the long-running Kansas City Chiefs pep band that performed at home games until 2008. Their father, Kent Rausch, was an arranger and drummer for the band for 23 seasons.
From 2007 to 2009, Kyle and Collin played around town in the Abracadabras, a glam-rock group. "We were into T. Rex and Bowie and that kind of thing, wearing makeup and glitter and shit," Collin says, sighing.
When the Abracadabras disbanded, Collin and Kyle started working on an EP together.
"We got three songs into it and listened to it and were just appalled and shelved it," Collin says. "And I went through sort of an existential music crisis for a while. But finally I started writing pop songs again."
A couple of years ago, Kyle took over as drummer for the ACBs, the local pop-rock group led by Ervin. The Rausches and Ervin found that they shared a love of oldies music and had the idea to start an oldies cover band. "Oldies are kind of what Kyle and I were raised on," Collin says. "It's what we'd sing in the car with my mom and dad. We'd sing harmonies to songs on Oldies 95. It just became part of our vocabulary.
"I was always a huge ACBs guy," Collin continues, "and even back in the Abracadabras days, I felt like he [Ervin] understood where we were coming from in terms of pop and harmony and catchy-fun stuff. So if there was one guy in town who was going to get it and be able to run with us, it seemed like it was Koney."
When they moved into their current place on Bell Street, the trio started practicing covers together — songs like "Cathy's Clown," "Never My Love" and "At the Hop." That bled into Collin playing Ervin new demos that he'd been working on, and soon the three were jamming on Collin's songs.
"We had been in different types of bands with different styles and sounds, but this felt more natural," Kyle says. "It was just like, 'Fuck it, we're going to write these little pop songs and play 'em because that's what we like and that's what we're good at.' "
Alas, the oldies cover band never materialized. Instead, the Shy Boys were born. (They originally called themselves the I'ms, but changed their name after Ervin warned them of the headaches of being in a band whose name contains a confusing apostrophe.) Rather than covering 1960s classics, the Shy Boys built an aesthetic inspired by them, with high harmonies, gentle jangles and innocent lyrics.
Live, they are at once precise — they often close their eyes, as though in pain, when they harmonize — and ramshackle. That looseness is in part owing to the creative liberty that Ervin and Kyle enjoy by playing different roles in the Shy Boys from those in the ACBs.
Ervin, who occasionally smashes and bashes the songs into wild, unexpected places, seems to be having an especially good time behind the kit.
"I've played drums before," Ervin says. "But in a lot of ways, I never really figured out the drums, never got better. I'm starting to get a little better now, just because I play more. And it's nice to have Kyle around to tell me if I'm doing a whack fill or something cheesy."
"In some ways," Ervin continues, "it's weird to be in the ACBs, where we have these other good songwriters in the band, but we're always playing my songs. It feels like I'm making it about myself or something, like it's me me me all the time. With Shy Boys, I can relax a little more because it's less about me."
This fall, the Shy Boys cut about 10 songs with Mike Nolte at Westend Studio. But things don't exactly move at the speed of light over at the Bell house. "We'll release it somehow, I think, probably in early spring," Collin says.
They've also been playing around a little more lately. This Saturday, the Shy Boys are at RecordBar, with Ghosty and the Conquerors — a positively extroverted gig. Then it's back to their interior lives and perhaps a holiday show at their place later in the month.
"These house shows we do over here, it's just more communal," Kyle says. "Everybody's close. Everybody's right there with you."
Can this sense of community expand to include the wild rodents roaming their home?
"I actually don't mind the mice," Ervin says. "I saw one in the cupboard the other day, and we just kind of stared at each other for a while. Then I moved, and he raced down into that hole under the dishwasher and disappeared."