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SXSW regional preview: The Midwest

Chad Swiatecki

The Midwest

Two Cow Garage

"Probably the cold, I think. And boredom."

That's the assessment of Two Cow Garage bassist Shane Sweeney when asked what it is about his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, that has caused the city to give the world an overload of truly gifted (if little recognized) rock bands over the years.

If you're a fan of nervy, occasionally nerdy and muscular rock, then Columbus has been a beacon through the '90s and beyond, giving the world the New Bomb Turks, Gaunt, the Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Times New Viking, Scrawl, the Flotation Walls, the Sun and ... well, we could be here for awhile.

Sweeney's band does those bands' tradition proud but has its own thing going on; a rootsy bar rock that would fit fine alongside Lucero, Marah, the Gaslight Anthem and (in a perfect world) Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Of course, sticking close to home means Sweeney and bandmates Micah Schnabel (guitar/vocals) and David Murphy (drums) won't ever have to worry about needing shades to protect themselves from the glare of media attention and buzz that bands on both coasts can garner almost as soon as they form.

Speaking by phone during a break before heading to upstate New York to work on a new batch of demo songs, Sweeney said Columbus benefits from being the home of Ohio State University and some of the carryover from a time when going to see bands was all that impressionable and rebellious kids wanted to do.

"When bands like the New Bomb Turks and Gaunt were coming up, they could sell out a 1,700-seat place because that's all anybody wanted to do was go see shows, and I'm only in a band because of that scene," Sweeney, 34, said. "It seems like kids now aren't as interested in going to shows but we've still got so many great bands here right now, like Ghost Shirt, Low Men and Speed Governor."

As Sweeney's trio readies to work on the follow-up to 2010's raw and anthemic "Sweet Saint Me" – its fifth full-length – he said he and co-songwriter Schnabel appear to be headed in a slightly more pop-oriented direction, but that will largely take shape as the band roughs out its demos before making the trip to Austin for its ninth South by Southwest outing.

Asked about the benefits a band like his realizes by playing during a weeklong carnival of music, Sweeney said there are no "brass ring" ambitions, but there have been positive results. For example, a show several years ago at dive bar Ego's landed the band the first in a series of European tours.

"Every year I say maybe we should just do a regular tour, but every year we come back because it only happens there and we always have such a good time," he said. "And I always have to get some Torchy's, the grilled chicken burrito. It's expensive for a band like us, but man is it worth it."

Official showcase: 10 p.m. Thursday at Tenoak

Six more from the Midwest

Nachtmystium

From: Chicago

About: Pummeling, fuzzed-out black metal that can alternate from a full gallop with multiple vocalists giving voice to your worst nightmares, to a crawl that lets their guitars build and fold in on themselves and get truly trippy.

Could share a bill with: Goatwhore, Liturgy, Watain

Mixed messages: Some early distribution via labels with connections to the international National Socialist (Nazi) black metal scene has caused the band a series of publicity headaches through the years. While Nachtmystium's members disavow the beliefs of that community, they've supported the rights of other bands to express those beliefs through their music.

Zola Jesus

From: Merrill, Wis.

Online: zolajesus.com

About: Dramatic, haunting and occasionally operatic female vocalist Nika Rosa Danilova grew up singing in the winter wilds of her native Wisconsin. Try to imagine P.J. Harvey fronting a Joy Division tribute record produced by M83 and you're not far from the sound she's cultivated.

Could share a bill with: Fever Ray, the xx, Lykke Li

And That Name? Danilova (born Nicky Hummel) took her performing name by combining Jesus Christ with French author Emile Zola.

Machine Gun Kelly

From: Cleveland

About: A Prohibition-era gangster known for favoring the Thompson sub-machine gun ... oops, wrong Wikipedia page. The rapper of the same name sprays words with the speed and velocity of the firearm. It's a little too easy to call him the white Waka Flocka Flame, but not inaccurate either.

From All Over: A Texas native and the son of missionaries, Richard Colson Baker grew up in Egypt and learned to speak Arabic before English. He's now signed to Bad Boy and Interscope Records.

Cloud Nothings

From: Cleveland

About: Wide-open, yearning indie pop rock.

Could share a bill with: Smith Westerns, Surfer Blood, Yuck

A Fast Start: Primary songwriter Dylan Baldi goofed around with Cloud Nothings songs while attending Case Western Reserve University, until a New York promoter pushed him to assemble a full band. After a series of well-received singles, his band is one of the buzziest of this year's SXSW.

Big Sean

From: Detroit

Online: uknowbigsean.com

About: A smooth, crisp, swaggering rapper who sounds in all ways like he was born to appear on Urban Top 40 tracks with guest appearances by artists such as Nick Minaj and Drake. If Chris Brown leaned more toward Jay-Z than Michael Jackson he'd be Big Sean.

Could share a bill with: Kanye West, Drake, Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa

It Pays To Hustle: Big Sean's deal with West's G.O.O.D. Music came about largely because he persuaded West to let him freestyle for 16 bars while West was walking into a Detroit radio station in 2005.

Diplomats of Solid Sound

From: Iowa City, Iowa

About: Confident, sexy modern soul and funk from the land of corn and ... corn.

Could share a bill with: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Speedometer, Baby Charles

The Soundtrack of Your Life: If you've watched TV at all in the past decade, there's a good chance you've heard music by the Diplomats of Solid Sound on a swath of shows on HBO, A&E, VH1, MTV and the former WB Network.