Started by two Missouri brothers nearly two decades ago, Thee Fine Lines deliver hard-hitting, garage rock-n-roll that succeeds with simplicity and plenty of heart. In addition to playing in a band, Justin and Jason Kearbey also operate Wee Rock Records, whose catalogue includes releases from the Gentlemen Callers, The Safes, Milwaukee’s late The Jet Set and many more. Thee Fine Lines will be appearing with Certain Stars on Saturday, March 7 at Circle A. I talked to Justin Kearbey recently about their beginnings, record label, and more.
What are the origins of Thee Fine Lines? Jason and I were in a punk band in the '90s and discovered Billy Childish at some point. We were already fans of the Ne’er Do Wells/Hi-Fives, and when we heard Thee Headcoats/Mighty Caesars/Milkshakes, it all clicked and there was really no looking back. We’d long been fans of older music (and had a side project that played various oldies songs), so it fit into that as well. We still had the punk band, but because we loved this garagey stuff so much, we thought it would be fun to put out a 7” of songs in the Billy Childish vein for a goof, basically. Instead, we ended up dropping the punk band entirely and just doing Thee Fine Lines as our main band.
What do you remember about your first show? It was a Halloween show, so we all dressed as burglars or something (ski masks, all black clothes). It was pretty rough all around. I think my guitar strap fell off during a song. Might have broken a string.
Who are the current members? Justin - vocals/guitar; Jason – drums; and Kevin - bass/vocals. Same lineup since 2007, when Kevin joined. We had a couple other bass players before that. We needed a bass player for a tour in 2007 and asked him to play with us (before this we’d played with his band the Gentleman Callers a lot, and even before that, our punk bands had played together). It worked out so well we didn’t bother looking for another bass player.
Did you ever have any encounters with the late musician and producer and fellow Springfield resident Lou Whitney? I know his Skeletons bandmate Joe Terry played piano on your 2015 album, Splittin’ Time. Jason and I played in a friend’s band for a while and we recorded with Lou a few times in 2011-2013 or so. We’d been kind of casually acquainted with him over the years, but I feel like I didn’t really get to know him more until we recorded with him. He was pretty great all around and I looked up to him a lot (as I’m sure most of the people in the Springfield music scene did). From going to see the Skeletons play, we’d also become good friends with Bobby Lloyd Hicks, their drummer, and of course met the great Joe Terry and ended up asking him to play on some stuff.
You have been prolific both with Thee Fine Lines’ releases and other performers through your Wee Rock Records label. What have been some of your favorite releases and what is upcoming from the label? I guess basically all the most recent releases would be my favorites (boring answer). The Shitdels (from Nashville) 7”, the three split 7” records we did before that. The Gardenheads (defunct local band) LP is still a favorite as well. The only thing really scheduled in the future is the new Thee Fine Lines LP, whenever we’re finished recording it. It would be nice to put something else out by another local band soon, but nothing’s really come up lately.
If you could put out a new record by any previous one-hit wonder on Wee Rock Records who would it be? Why? I can’t think of any one-hit wonders, but if we can choose no-hit wonders, I'll choose Brent’s TV. They’ve been one of my favorite bands since the first time I heard them (their track on the Lookout Records "Can of Pork" compilation) and I’ve never stopped loving and listening to them. We ended up meeting/playing with them a few years ago and one of them (Chris Imlay--also a member of the previously mentioned Ne’'er Do Wells and Hi-Fives), did the art for our “Take a Moment” 7”!
I love your latest release, “Take a Moment,” a 7” on the newly created Sweet Time Records that came out in 2019. After nearly 20 years together, what is the key from your perspective to writing and performing songs that take inspiration from classic garage rock that are fun and interesting? We never practice, so that probably helps as far as not getting sick of playing after so many years. We just do it for fun. For the most part, there’s no pressure and we just play when we want and record when we want. As far as writing, I just write the kind of stuff I like, which is typically really simple and straight forward. The Kingsmen version of “Louie Louie” is the perfect song/recording, and I’ll forever wish I could come up with something half that good.