“My restless bones, they've got to move. Cardinal directions, why you got to make me choose?” croons the Bishops frontman Tucker Riggleman on “Bad Blood.” “I want to know how it finally feels to really have nothing to lose. So load the amps up in the van, boys, we've got some shit to prove.” But more than amps were loaded up: guitars, drums, clothes, beds and all were in tow when the band recently relocated from its original home in Shepherdstown, West Virginia to the greener pastures of Harrisonburg.
“I once described us as Nirvana playing Cure songs,” said Riggleman as he sat next to drummer Payden Kimble in a booth at The Golden Pony. The two are both employed there and are perfect foils for one another, Riggleman taking the lead on most questions and Kimble nodding along in agreement. Despite this tight-knit dynamic, their musical backgrounds are anything but similar. While Riggleman draws influence from indie rock stalwarts like The Replacements and The Get Up Kids, Kimble is a country child at heart. “I listened to a lot of rock music, but I seem to go back to country,” he said. “I’ve told Tucker that we’re the only rock band I listen to anymore.” Bishops exists behind a wall of fuzz and distortion, delicately balancing Kimble’s folk and country roots with Riggleman’s need to make noise. “When I play drums,” said Kimble, “I kind of just want to beat the shit out of something, so that’s nice.”
All roads lead back to Shepherdstown for the duo, but lines are often crossed when tracing the band’s lineage. Riggleman speaks of Shepherdstown with an air of authority, but like most off-the-beaten-path DIY scenes, it can be hard for an outsider to fully process. Riggleman was playing with the indie rock outfit The Demon Beat while in school at Shepherdstown University; that group put out its last album in 2012. He speaks fondly of other local favorites, mentioning bands like Rozwell Kid, The Red Oranges, and The Fox Hunt with a kind of nostalgia. After The Demon Beat split, Riggleman took some of his own acoustic songs and tracked them out. Though these would become the foundation of Bishops, he also could tell that his hometown DIY scene was fading away.
“There weren’t that many house spaces,” Riggleman reminisced. “I worked for seven years at this little place called the Blue Moon Cafe. We used to have shows there that were like house shows. We moved the tables out, we didn’t have a stage. Future Islands came through there, Austin Lucas, Joey Cape from Lagwagon. We were able to do that for a while, but that was the last cool space for bands to play. There’s not really any places for a rock band to play. It’s more for bluegrass and jam bands.”
Between 2012 and 2016, the Bishops lineup rotated with Riggleman as a mainstay. They released two full lengths and an EP in that time, regularly touring and teaming up with Harrisonburg’s indie label Funny/Not Funny Records. When Kimble joined the band in 2014, it was as if it was always meant to be. “We put out a thing online for a drummer. Payden’s girlfriend actually messaged me and said her boyfriend was a drummer,” Riggleman recalled. “We set up an audition and he killed it. We grew up ten miles away from each other, but that was the first time we had met.”
In 2016, Kimble and his girlfriend moved to Harrisonburg for school. Their bass player at the time had just gotten married and bought a house in Shepherdstown, so he wouldn’t be leaving any time soon. It was time for Riggleman to make a decision. “I had been in that area for eleven years. All the cool places to play were shut down, so I was ready to make a move,” he said. “When they started looking for places, I asked if they wanted to get a spot together. We found a place where we can have band practice whenever we want.”
The benefit of living so close to I-81, or any mass transit corridor for that matter, is that it connects the dots between small towns. Ideas spread, relationships form, and communities thrive. At this point, Bishops were no strangers to Harrisonburg, and the move, however jarring it was after years in Shepherdstown, was a relatively smooth transition for Riggleman and Kimble. “I always appreciated the house show scene here. I was always jealous Shepherdstown didn’t have anything like that,” said Riggleman. “I always loved MACRoCk. The Demon Beat played it a couple times and I played the label showcase there. I always thought The Blue Nile [which later became The Golden Pony] was the perfect-sized venue. You could get 40 or 50 people in there and it still felt packed.” Kimble concurred, adding, “Music-wise, it seems like a bigger Shepherdstown when it was in its heyday. There are definitely a lot more venues overall.”
Once on the scene, Kimble and Riggleman began flooding Harrisonburg with their presence, playing house shows and venues whenever they could. They wanted to prove that they were here to stay. Their songwriting structure allows the band to play as a two-piece, although they have recruited other local musicians to fill in on bass for live shows. “The band is Payden and I. We write the songs, we work on them together, and when we record, I play the bass,” said Riggleman. “We just need somebody who can go out on the road with us, even if they can’t commit full time.”
Dream Easy, the band’s latest LP, was released at the final Elephant Child show in July 2016, a fitting transition from Harrisonburg legends to Harrisonburg newcomers. Riggleman admits that the move down south was daunting, but as expressed in the final lines of “Bad Blood,” it’s a challenge they’re up for. “I've got to finally learn to see the light that shines inside of me. It's not like I'm not trying.”
Photography by Paul Somers