In 2005, The Pitch published a lengthy profile of the Golden Republic. The local band was ascending rapidly, backed by a major label, EMI subsidiary Astralwerks. It was fresh off national tours with Sondre Lerche and Nada Surf and a high-profile performance at South By Southwest. A show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City had yielded a photo in Spin of frontman Ben Grimes. Had Kansas City at last birthed a nationally known, top-of-the-marquee indie-rock act?
Sad trombone. Over the next year, the Golden Republic collapsed spectacularly under the weight of rigorous touring, creative blocks and failing marriages. Recording sessions for the follow-up to the self-titled debut stalled, and drummer Ryan Shank was kicked out of the band. Astralwerks, sensing untenable disharmony in the band, released the group from its contract. By the time 2007 rolled around, the Golden Republic was kaput, the latest addition to Kansas City's long list of coulda-beens.
"I think we all sort of see that entire experience as this massive blown opportunity," Grimes says, glancing across a Broadway Café patio table at former bandmates Shank, Kenn Jankowski (keyboards and guitar) and Harry Anderson (bass). "Obviously, we got to do some really amazing things. But we were just too young and naïve. We were out on the road, trying to look cool, trying to enjoy this fleeting feeling of popularity. It's easy to blame the record label, but really I just don't think we were mature enough at the time to love each other properly.
"If anyone had had any sense at all at the time, I think we would have just taken a breather, slowed down and reapproached the whole thing," Grimes says, and shrugs.
"But we didn't want to lose our momentum," Jankowski adds.
Following the breakup, the four men drifted apart. But after five years, wounds have healed and tensions have eased. That's due partly to finding new creative outlets: Grimes and Jankowski as the frontmen of Soft Reeds and the Republic Tigers, respectively; Shank as drummer for Be/Non and Roman Numerals; and Anderson running his own electrical business. So when Robert Moore approached the band about playing a Golden Republic reunion show at this year's Sonic Spectrum Anniversary Party, they gave it some thought.
"He wasn't so much asking if we would reunite as if we could reunite," Jankowski says.
"I had at one point decided that I didn't ever want to do a reunion or anything with Golden Republic again," Grimes says. "But then the second the idea was mentioned to me, I was immediately like, yes, I would totally do that."
For the past month, the four have been rehearsing. As part of that process, they've also been reassessing their old recordings. All seem to agree that the experience has deepened their perceptions of the band.
"I think I'm starting to understand what our record was now," Jankowski says.
"With the full-length, we all had different ideas of what it should sound like," Grimes says. "I wanted a raw, Velvet Underground type of record. Kenn was looking at things through the programming ideas he brought to the table. I can remember having conversations with Harry and Ryan about the way the rhythm section sounded and feeling like none of us were on the same page. So when we all looked at the final product through our own filters, it wasn't what any of us had envisioned, and none of us were really happy with it at the time."
"I definitely like the record better now than I did back then," Anderson says. "It's like we made this thing that we had no perspective on, and it's taken years to finally make sense of it."
Shank agrees but says he's energized by the collaborative nature of the band's dynamic, despite the occasional clashes that accompany it.
"I love playing with Be/Non and Roman Numerals and the other bands I've played with, but there's a comfort level in Golden Republic that I don't have in other bands," Shank says. "I don't necessarily feel comfortable telling the guitar player what to play or saying what the bass should sound like with other bands. But with these guys, it's natural for everybody to have ideas about each other's parts."
For now, Saturday looks like a one-off for the Golden Republic. This reunion seems more about the four reconnecting as friends — playing music together just happens to be the way they know how to do that. In the same way that listening to their old recordings is helping them understand their music, playing together seems to help them sort out the complicated feelings that they have for one another.
Throughout the afternoon at Broadway Cafe, Grimes, the band's de facto spokesman, talks quickly and confidently. Like any experienced interviewee, he had arrived ready to assert a general narrative of his band. But while reminiscing about the band's early days in Springfield, Missouri, his voice quivers slightly and then breaks as he notes that the three men seated across from him are his oldest friends. Blink and you'd miss it, but there it is, a real moment, and as he says it, it's as though he's remembering something true.