In an attempt to shine light on local music, The Lantern’s “Columbus’ Own” is a weekly series that will profile a new Columbus band each week.
Seeing the same people day-in and day-out can get predictable. The repetition of one place can get old, and the mundane events within the most perfect of routines only end in a void.
If you think that, try and tell that to Betsy Ross.
“It’s awful,” joked Schuyler Crowe sarcastically, the Betsy Ross bassist who goes by Sky, when asked about sharing the same place of work and spending all his time with his musical collaborators.
The band works together at Haugland Learning Center, a school that serves the educational needs of more than 275 children and young adults with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other developmental disabilities in Ohio, as stated on Haugland’s website.
The formation of the band began the day after Sky Crowe’s birthday on Oct. 30 last year, he said. Sky broke up with his girlfriend at the time, called his sister and said “Charity, I’m packing up my bags and I’m livin’ with you.”
Originally a guitar player, Sky Crowe takes the ideals of a guitarist and plugs them into bass for Betsy Ross.
“I don’t know traditional bass, I know music,” Sky Crowe said.
Betsy Ross has no lead guitarist, so that absent ideal is supplemented by what Sky Crowe refers to as “lead bass.”
Drummer David Wegner met Charity Crowe through friends, which led to djembe jams where she would play guitar and sing, as Wegner recalled. Eventually, Sky Crowe got his hands on a bass guitar, and one of Charity’s roommates paid a debt by giving her “a bunch of busted drums,” from which Wegner salvaged a semi-functional floor tom.
Thus, Betsy Ross was born.
In March, the trio put out a self-titled, five-song EP that it’s now quick to dismiss because of the fact that the crew had only been playing music together for about three months, Charity Crowe said.
“Now we’re getting better s— out here so people can hear who we are,” Wegner said in reference to their current studio sessions at Oranjudio in Columbus.
Betsy Ross decided to record its “true” style when an Oranjudio engineer, Brandon Maclean, reached out to the group after hearing the EP.
“(He said), ‘Let’s get out what you’re really trying to do,’” Charity Crowe recalled.
“We’re like ‘Yes! OK, so you understand!’” Charity Crowe said. “‘We have these things and these ideas and you’re gonna help us get them out.’”
Meanwhile, as Betsy Ross puts together a more representative product of its sound, the band members are waking up to their alarms at the same time every morning.
In the program Charity Crowe and Wegner work in at Haugland Learning Center, the students range from ages 7-21 and are the lowest-functioning at the school. They are sent to Columbus from other Ohio school districts that are not able to fund the amount of support needed for Autistic Spectrum Disorder and other developmentally disabled children.
“The fact that we are a band going through the struggles of life and working at a job with kids with autism, that requires compassion,” Sky Crowe, who is a behavioral technician at Haugland, said.
“It helps you keep life in perspective,” Charity Crowe added.
“It prioritizes what is an issue and what is not an issue,” Sky Crowe said.
In a hypothetical-and-familiar world where people always complain about how “they lost their cell phone,” Betsy Ross looks past such a minuscule problem and through to the ever-present silver lining.
“Menial s—,” Wegner blurted, in terms of the things people see as ‘big issues.’
“There are kids that can’t zip their own zippers,” Charity Crowe said, noting their innocence.
Sky Crowe also noted the contrast between the average person’s tendency to complain at length about those “menial” things and the Haugland kids’ inability to communication real and extremely difficult situations.
Essentially, the job is conducive to the band’s creativity, he added.
The group laughed when asked about Charity Crowe’s vocals, describing her lyrics as “vicious.”
From Charity Crowe’s first-person protagonist role in many of Betsy Ross’ songs, the poetry comes across with what could be taken as misogynistic in a male-singer context.
“I’m ‘vicious’ because I honestly feel like a lot of times — and it’s really funny (to call it) misogynistic — people cut women slack, and they let women get away with certain things,” Charity Crowe explained.
“You know, women playing their little ‘emotion games’ and things that they do all the time, and you let ‘em get away with it because they’re good-looking,” Charity continued. “They’re girls, so they’re soft, and (they seem like) they’re not vicious beings — but they are, and they know what they’re doing.”
“Everything I’m saying in my songs are things that relate to very specific situations, and it’s about making people accountable for their actions,” Charity Crowe said.
Armed with the firm belief that “people don’t really say what they mean” most of the time, Charity Crowe said she purposely writes her lyrics without metaphors.
“(The lyrics are) very cut-and-dry,” Charity Crowe said. “A lot of times you have things that you wanna say, and you can’t look someone in the face and say ‘em, but if I’m up there with (the band) and I’m yelling it, I can kind of find a way to say ‘it.’”
Charity Crowe’s lifestyle back in her hometown led to relationship conflicts that she doesn’t deal with now in Columbus.
“Being a lesbian in Lima, Ohio — there’s only about three of us there, period,” Charity Crowe said while laughing. “So it’s a lot of secret relationships and not knowing if you’re ever important or not (in a gay relationship).”
“Our whole family basically did not accept that lifestyle,” Sky Crowe said, regarding Charity being gay.
The Crowe siblings “beat on” their mother to move her toward accepting Charity’s lifestyle, Sky Crowe said.
“It’s not acceptance, it’s apathy,” he said of his mother’s feelings toward the gay community.
The band’s name was birthed upon a road trip back to Charity and Sky Crowe’s hometown.
When you say you’re from Ohio, people from all over the country automatically think that you’re country or not cultured, Charity Crowe said.
“There’s a lot of really good things that Ohio has to offer as far as the arts and music,” she said. “So I really wanted to have something that exemplified that we were from Ohio and that we are who we are.”
“So then we kinda broadened it, and we’re like ‘OK: America!’” Charity Crowe remembered, “‘Let’s talk about America.’”
As the Crowe sibling think-tank continued its drive toward Lima, Sky Crowe offered up the idea of “Betsy Ross” as a name, in a reference to the woman often credited with making the first American Flag.
When all is said and done, the kids at Haugland Learning Center are the band’s leading influence in most aspects.
“I’d rather deal with the kids at school all day than people,” Sky Crowe said.