Memphis Musicians Perform a Benefit for 901 Comics Anthology 

Diverse Memphis groups unite for comic anthology fund-raiser.

Tape Deck with Jason Pulley

Blake Billings

Tape Deck with Jason Pulley

Memphis bands Sweaters Together and Tape Deck will headline at a benefit concert this Friday at the Hi-Tone to fund the printing and release of the second edition of the 901 Comics Anthology. For Shannon Merritt, co-owner of 901 Comics in Cooper-Young, the anthology is a passion project — and a much-needed resource for the Memphis arts community. "It's really hard for somebody to go out and do it all themselves," Merritt says. "To write, draw, color, and then turn around and distribute it. So I started [the anthology] as an idea to get people together and do an anthology and distribute it for them." Merritt produced the first 901 Comics Anthology last year, and after its success, he's bringing the anthology back with more muscle behind it.

click to enlarge Shannon Merritt, co-owner - of 901 Comics
  • Shannon Merritt, co-owner of 901 Comics

"I started a publishing company, Bad Dog Comics," Merritt says. In the process of promoting and distributing the first anthology, Merritt visited six states and 25 comic book stores. The initial distribution infrastructure is in place, and Merritt says that after the benefit concert, the printing costs will be covered. With the important details taken care of, Merritt is free to plan other Bad Dog releases — Stoned Ninja in April and Kill All Super Heroes in June — and plot how best to connect Memphis College of Art's final crop of graduates with local writers.

The first edition of the 901 Comics Anthology was also funded in part by a benefit concert. Merritt, who has his hands full juggling his store and his new publishing company, leaves the music booking up to Harry Koniditsiotis, who works at 901 Comics and owns and operates the 5 & Dime recording studio. "I picked Tape Deck because Jason Pulley is one of the best keyboard/piano players in town, and he's one of my go-to session guys at the 5 & Dime. Sweaters Together — Aimee and Marie — were part of an improv jam session Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing had at the studio," Koniditsiotis says. "I knew Aimee from her previous bands the Vignettes and Rickie & Aimee and always dig her music. I saw Sweaters Together at last year's Rock for Love and liked what they were doing."

Sweaters Together are, according to band member Chrissy Green, "four body-positive queers with multifaceted instrumental talents, delivering wholesome content." The band is no stranger to benefit shows and unconventional venues, having played roller derby bouts, art galleries, and Rock for Love 11, an annual benefit show supporting the Church Health Center. "We've been on a bit of a hiatus," Green says, "But we're coming back full force."

click to enlarge Sweaters Together - ANDREA MORALES
  • Andrea Morales
  • Sweaters Together

Forceful is an apt description of Sweaters' live performances, which harness a punk energy and an art-rock attention to detail that keep the shows as visually interesting as they are aurally satisfying. The band combines clean guitars and warbling keyboard riffs with layers (and layers) of vocal harmonies, calling to mind comparisons to Bake Sale, before that homegrown group morphed into Goner Records' heavy hitters NOTS. On "Softly," harmonies and quiet piano build to an eventual crescendo of crashing chords and pounding drums. Some tracks drip with angst, and some are, simply put, beautiful, hooky pop compositions. Sweaters' unclassifiable quality keeps them in good company with the rest of the lineup for the anthology benefit.

Tape Deck, who will open the festivities on Friday, sounds like a funk-infused circus straight out of a comic book, as though The Band's Levon Helm and Richard Manuel started a super group with Rowlf and Dr. Teeth of the Electric Mayhem Band. Front man Jason Pulley's keyboard playing lends a haunted calliope air, and his gravelly vocals conjure Oscar the Grouch as he sings of panda bears and Grizzlies coaches. Yet allusions to the funny papers are largely unconscious. "I really wish I knew more about comics," Pulley muses.

Still, Tape Deck are no strangers to collaborative happenings, having released their Unconventional Solutions EP last December at the Madison Avenue recording space Move the Air. The event also featured the premiere of a short film by John Pickle and a potluck dinner, the table overflowing with food, booze, and hot chocolate. "It was very interdisciplinary," Tape Deck's Jason Pulley says of the party. "It wasn't any one person's idea. It was five people's ideas that just came together and coalesced."

In the pages of comic books, such team-ups and crossovers are common, usually coinciding with blockbuster movie releases. In the real world, musicians, writers, and artists are often too busy perfecting their work to actively seek out connections with other creators. But if art is fundamentally about connections, it too works best when its heroes share their superpowers.

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