Story and photos by PAUL MOSSINE
Some days, when the weather’s fine, you can’t help but hum a classic melody as you walk that familiar route on your way back home from the daily grind. At those times, nothing feels more natural than making music. And it’s exactly on those kinds of days that you might overhear some familiar yet surprisingly refreshing acoustic tunes coming from some porch over yonder — if your route takes you through East Campus, that is.
If you decide to follow your ears, you might come to the porch of Dylan Spruance, who plays a mean harmonica and can think of no better way to spend a day than playing music with friends.
Often playing at his side is guitarist Kurt Heine, singing, trading off verses and bringing the music back to the irresistible chorus. Heine keeps it simple, but his steady picking forms that essential chord structure that every folk, blues and country song you’ve ever heard must have.
The two friends are the founding members of The Nacho Brothers and recently brought in friend and bass guitarist Rock Gremillion to add a full lower end to their sound. All three musicians live in East Campus and study at MU.
But unlike many college-aged bands that have aspirations of signing record deals and making it to the big time, The Nacho Brothers have different goals, instead focusing on the pure enjoyment and learning that comes from playing together.
“The best way to practice is to play with other musicians,” Spruance said. “That’s the ideal way. You can learn stuff and experiment and play out and about.”
For Heine, describing exactly what kind of music the band plays is tough.
The group mostly plays well-known folk, blues and country songs as well as a few originals, and they said their style can be described by the subtle nuances of “acoustic music.”
“It’s a mix,” Spruance said. “It’s acoustic, but in a broad general sense. Not like Jack Johnson. It’s not that acoustic, but its acoustic. Good acoustic.”
Spruance said he and Heine have been playing together for three years off and on, often on any musical equipment they could get their hands on. He said his roommate had an extra guitar for them to use when they started out, and Heine continues that tradition by borrowing instruments from generous friends.
The pair had been playing with friend Mike Sappington, who played guitar and mandolin and sang. Spruance said when Sappington moved to Germany, the pair struggled through a few gigs before realizing that they needed a third member.
“That was a big loss for us,” he said. “Kurt and I were wondering what the hell we were gonna do, with just me and him, cause Mike used to sing so well.”
Heine said he talked Gremillion into joining them at a party over a few beers, and the group has since changed for the better. He said Gremillion, a member of local band Al Holiday and Lucky Stars who played Thursday at the Blue Note, has encouraged them to be more serious musically.
“He’s really used to being a lot more serious when it comes to rehearsal, so he’s really cracked the whip on us,” Heine said. “We worked out a few old songs and learned about 20 new ones. I’d say we’re solid enough now to start making some money.”
“We play for beer, tips and food,” joked Heine.
The group played Friday at Bambinos, their usual venue, and has been known to jam on Ninth Street. Last week, they played a live song on KOPN, an opportunity given to them by Spruance’s roommate, who is a radio DJ.
The song, “Home Grown Tomatoes” by Texas songwriter Guy Clark, seems to perfectly match the trio’s angle on music – homegrown and natural.
“Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes,” Gremillion croons in the studio, “What would life be without homegrown tomatoes? There’s only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
In the same way that vine-ripened goodness might brighten your day, the group says they like knowing that others take pleasure in their music making on East Campus.
“Maybe we make their walk just a little bit better,” Heine said of their porch-based jam sessions. “If they don’t have an iPod plugged in their ears.”