Published on September 17th, 2012 | by Stefan Rogenmoser0
The M-Tank Saga: Part One
M-Tank licks its wounds as the broken bones and hard knocks heal
Musician/photographer Stefan Rogenmoser is the keyboardist with local band Sans Jose (formerly known as Go For Launch), but he’s pretty qualified to tell the story of fellow rock act M-Tank. Both bands share members — guitarists Scott Dence and Jim Faust. They’re a close bunch. When M-Tank suffered a severe car wreck last summer, Rogenmoser and his bandmates and colleagues came together to support their peers. This is the first installment of Rogenmoser’s two-part story about M-Tank’s misadventure and Dence’s year-long recovery.
It’s Aug. 1, 2011, and Charleston band M-Tank was figuring out where to go after their Charlotte gig, a last-minute addition to the tour. Guitarist Scott Dence wanted to go home because he had to work the next day. Drummer Jason Walter wanted to go to his home in Augusta, Ga. Guitarist Jim Faust’s work schedule prevented him from joining the tour with M-Tank altogether.
They decided to head to Charleston. But it was days before they got out of Columbia. They were about to be in the wildest wreck of their lives.
It was two weeks into the tour. Only a few shows remained. Walter drove because he was sober. By Columbia, Dence was fast asleep. “I hadn’t gotten any sleep on the road,” Walter says. “Staying up ridiculously late … going to bed when the sun was coming up, waking up around noon.”
Walter eased the Jeep Grand Cherokee (borrowed from Dence’s girlfriend) onto the overpass that should take them to Charleston, but he fell asleep at the wheel. Bass player and newest band member Walter Lane was awake and frantically tried to wake the dozing driver.
No one was sure of the physics or metaphysics of what happened next. The Jeep, jam-packed with music gear, hit the side of the overpass and flipped over the top of the retaining wall, falling nearly 70 feet from I-26 onto I–77. Some say they fell 100 feet. Some say it was 300.
They were all severely injured, but miraculously, the Jeep landed on all four wheels when it hit the ground. Everyone survived. Dence got hurt the worst, suffering a broken scapula, a few broken ribs, and a collapsed lung. Walter had a few broken ribs and two compressed vertebrae. Lane had a broken arm and a fractured lumbar vertebrae. Despite his condition, Dence took a rollicking exit from the wreckage, cursing, spitting blood and saying he needed to bust out a wicked piss, according to one account.
Anyone who has seen an M-Tank show knows these guys are wild. It’s balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n’ roll from start to finish. Beer cans fly onto the stage and back to the audience. Birthday cakes wind up on the ceiling moments before a musician is face down on the floor. It makes sense when it happens — turning on, tuning in, dropping all sanity for the momentary madness induced by loud fuzz guitars and crashing drums.
At a Greenville show a few days before the car crash, Dence experienced one of those wild, uncontrollable moments. “I just fell off the bass drum,” he says. “That was part of my usual thing on ‘Dead Friend Dance.’ I would play my guitar solo on top of the bass drum, and it started to roll, and I flipped. I remember waking up and the next day and my hip hurt. Then a couple days later, my whole body hurt.”
“I’ll never quit, you make me sick / She said dance with your dead friend.” —“Dead Friend Dance”
M-Tank’s tour started in late July 2011 in Charleston, and it zipped through the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and even Chattanooga, Tenn. The trip was supposed to end in Charleston with shows at the Pour House on Aug. 5 and at the Mill on Aug. 6, but Dence was still in the midst of his eight-day hospital stint. On Aug. 5, Charleston acts Joel Hamilton, Bill Carson, and Heyrocco turned their already-booked gig at the Pour House into a benefit show for M-Tank.
“When I heard they took a collection out for us it really made me feel very good,” Dence says. “I wasn’t very close friends with Joel Hamilton, and they really came through for me — and then [Go For Launch] that night at the Mill. I didn’t even know it was going on until a few days after it happened, and even then, I was in sort of a daze because of pain medication. It helped out because I was out of work for so long.”
“The outreach was just amazing,” Walter adds. “For me, at least, it was emotionally rewarding, more so than financially. There was a lot of money raised. Our hospital bills were so obscene. None of us had health insurance. It made us really happy that people were doing that. People always shit on humanity for being so cutthroat, but when it comes down to it, people really want to help and love one another. It was really great to see. I was definitely very touched. At that time, it was one the worst months of my entire life. To know people out there were putting those shows together was a bright light in a really dark cave.”
Dence is also in a lot of debt. “But there’s a lot of legal stuff, too,” he says. “It was about a month and a half until I started working again. I taught some music lessons about a month after. I was just talking. It took me a while to play guitar. Because my right shoulder blade was broken, I couldn’t even really lift my arm for a while. I’m just happy to be alive. That’s the big thing. I’m going to end up in a lot of debt and have bad credit, but there’s worse things than that. I could be disabled.”
“I don’t wanna die / I just want you to tear me apart / I don’t wanna hurt / I just want you to break my heart / can’t control it, I can’t control it / I can’t control it when you’re around me” —“Another Bad Dream”
Local band the Royal Tinfoil, Go For Launch, and Greensboro, N.C.’s Ole One-Two performed a benefit at the Mill on Aug. 6. The Royal Tinfoil donated all their merchandise proceeds to the M-Tank fund. The show was well attended, and the audience danced and moved with the beats. For us in Go For Launch was strange and sad to be on stage without Dence, but we knew it was our best shot at helping him. At that point, we didn’t know when he’d be playing with us again. He was still hospitalized. Playing the show without him was like driving a car with three wheels. An essential part of our band’s character was missing. I attempted to make up for some of the lost bass notes on the keyboard but the absence of his whomping bass really threw me, and probably all of us, for a loop.
Everyone in attendance passed a notebook around so they could write “get well soon” letters and make drawings for the members of M-Tank. As our bandmate Will Cox drove Faust and I home from the show, Faust told us we’d raised more than $300. We nearly fell out of the car as shock, joyful disbelief, and other sensations overcame us. We had no idea we raised that much. The Mill never has a door charge, so all the money in the tip bucket came from the generosity of fans.
We felt elation like never before. It wasn’t the money or performance we were excited about; it was what it meant. It might have been the first time ever, or at least in several years, that we’d felt and witnessed the power of music and the good it can bring out of people.
“This is what it’s all about,” we kept saying. It wasn’t not about trying to be famous, getting rich (as if that would ever happen), or even having people listen to the songs. It was about doing what we loved and helping friends when they needed it most.
“I don’t even recall a discussion about putting a show together,” says Royal Tinfoil guitarist and singer Lily Slay at the time. “This was simply what we did to help each other. There was a communal cognizance among all the other musicians where we just kind of nodded at each other with a knowing glimmer, ‘We must act!’ And by act, we mean rock. We had a show at the Mill, and we just decided, pretty much immediately after we found out, to add a bunch of bands and give away everything we made to M-Tank. I saw several people there that were at all three benefit shows, so there were some die-hard fans that came out to fight the good fight.”
Slay says she was devastated when she first learned of the accident. “I was actually with Jim Faust at the time, who, luckily for him on this go-round, was unable to tour with the rest of the boys,” she says. “We were immediately relieved to find out that no one had sustained truly severe damage, but we were chomping at the bit to get any information about everyone’s condition at the time. We also had a well-needed dose of comedic relief when were told of Scott’s spectacularly rock ‘n’ roll exit of the wreckage.”
The week after the first two benefits, Faust and friend Brandon Fish, who shoots videos of live performances, visited Dence in the Columbia hospital. “They came in, and my mom was there,” Dence says. “We watched a movie called Rocker, a movie Fish had brought with him about these Jamaican kids and they were all smoking weed and listening to reggae. We watched a little Trailer Park Boys. It was cool. They brought me a CD player, and I think Fish made me a mixed CD. It was really cool of them to come. Some Early Bird Diner employees came to visit, too. The hospital sucks. Being stuck in the hospital is a nightmare.”
Dence worked at the Early Bird Diner in West Ashley at the time of the accident. The diner set out a collection bucket for Dence. There was also a benefit show in Augusta, Ga., involving numerous Augusta bands.
On Aug. 14, Charleston’s third and final benefit show for M-Tank took place at the Tin Roof. The lineup featured Stephanie Something’s Getaway Sticks, DJ Party Dad, Moceans, Sleepy Eye Giant, and Go For Launch. Dence was out of the hospital, and to everyone’s delight, he attended the show. His arm was in a sling, but he looked magnificent and his spirits seemed high. If he’d told a stranger he’d been in a nearly fatal car accident less than two weeks ago, nobody who knew better would have believed him.
Unfortunately, Dence wasn’t well enough to play with us at that time because he was still recovering from the broken ribs, a broken shoulder, and a punctured lung. But less than two months after the accident, he was back with a bass guitar strapped around his shoulder and ready to go. Dence’s initial comeback reflected what a strong outpouring of support from one’s peers can do.
“I think it shows that even though our styles may vary, Charleston bands understand we’re all in the same boat,” Slay says. “None of us have health insurance or insurance for our equipment. If it had been us in that Jeep, we’d all have been totally screwed, too. Not only are we all friends in some form or another, but we’re building something bigger than just one band. I think we all know if we keep going down the path we’re on, Charleston just may make a name for itself as a burgeoning hot bed for all different kinds of amazing music. If we’re gonna do it, we have to form one monumental and amalgamated rock ‘n’ roll machine. I can’t wait to see what happens and what those boys do next.”
The full, official M-Tank lineup shares the stage with Teepee at the Tin Roof on Wed. Aug. 19. Admission is $5. Visit reverbnation.com/mtank for more.
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