Musicians From My Past 2: Rachel Couch and Miles Haeberle

This is not quite how I remember it - there was no temple when I was there.

I’m not going to tell you that living in Rexburg was the best time of my life.  I met some amazing friends there and grew in a lot of ways, but I was not happy.  I grew up in a small town in Kentucky, thinking that the thing that made me different was my Mormon faith.  When I first experienced a town full of Mormons, I realized that wasn’t it at all.  I was just different.  There was also a strange dynamic there – the whole town was divided into a very strong, very literalistic and conservative Mormon majority, and then a minority backlash of people that couldn’t stand Mormonism or anything it stood for.  I wasn’t either of those things, so I never did feel like I fully fit in there.  I am pretty sure most of my friends at the time felt a great deal of what could only be called pity for me, especially as the Fall of 2002 ended.  I should be surprised that this was 10 years ago, but in all reality it seems like so much longer ago than that.  I guess I’ve come a long way since then.

Along with all that emotional tension comes musical inspiration, and I found quite a bit of it in Rexburg.  I hadn’t really fully developed my songwriting at that time, and because I felt emotionally depressed and socially inept, I think my songs lacked the power they could have had if I were a more mature person, emotionally and musically.  When I got off my mission, I really listened to Elliott Smith for the first time, and realized that he was actually performing the music I was trying to write in Rexburg, but lacked the ability to pull off.  Hearing those songs now would probably be nostalgic but painful for me, though I do find some solace in the fact that there were some amazing musicians in Rexburg who appreciated my music.

The first real cool person I met there was a girl named Stacey Dye who ran (and for a while, lived in) a little consignment and music shop on Main Street.  She had just taken over a voluminous yet run-down club with a stage that she had renamed The Underground, and she brought some great musical acts through town to play to record small numbers at this place.  I still remember one band that played to about three people, and in between songs the singer asked the “crowd” where exactly everyone was?  I then heard Stacey’s response from the darkness in the back:  “Spud harvest!”  Not only did Stacey bring bands through, she also had open mic nights and poetry readings, of which I participated in gladly, and met some of the greatest people I’ve ever known.  Listen, I can count on my two hands the number of people who really appreciated what Stacey was trying to bring to Rexburg.  The bands were obscure, the crowds were small, and Rexburg had lower cultural appreciation than, well, I can’t think of any place I’ve been with less cultural appreciation than Rexburg, Idaho.  I mean, the people there listened to nothing but John Mayer and Jack Johnson.  Therefore, I’m not sure The Underground was ever a financially viable model, but for me, it was a freakin’ oasis of cool.  Now that I think of it, if I were to make a list of the coolest places I’ve been in my life, The Underground, 2002 would be in my Top Five.

I first met Miles and Rachel, both Rexburg natives, at The Underground.  They both played music on the same night one night and I was awestruck by both of them.  They had such interesting, creative musical sensibilities, and approached music in very different, yet still tangibly remarkable ways.  Miles had this amazing, emotionally piercing theremin-like voice – very much like Matthew Bellamy from Muse – that he combined with simple yet melodic original acoustic guitar songs that sounded nothing like John Mayer or Jack Johnson (I think I remember his guitar being a cedar-top Seagull).  Rachel played acoustic guitar songs as well, but hers were very much influenced by grunge and alternative rock, and also not in the least bit by John Mayer and Jack Johnson (thank goodness).  She had this bizarre yet magical picking hand that cranked out some of the coolest picking patterns I’d ever seen.  The two of them had been friends for a long, long time, and when I hung out with them I got a small feeling that I was intruding on something very special, like watching a random episode of Lost (you know some weird, amazing things are going on, and would be better explained by a full explanation since the beginning, but you’re still just caught up in the unexplainable amazingness going on)(I’ve never seen Lost by the way, I’m just guessing).  However, the two couldn’t have been friendlier or more welcoming to me, the refugee that I was.  To them, I was probably just this guy that came into town, hung out for a year, then left, but to me, those two were some of the most striking humans I’ve ever met in all the places I’ve lived.

There was one song in particular that they played together that will be forever burned into my memory.  It was a melancholy yet hopeful song called “Waiting For A Call,” and Miles had written it.  It starts with a fragile chord progression and Miles’ ghostly voice would slide right in almost unannounced.  Just when the chorus came in, Rachel would join him with a golden-voiced harmony.  It was gorgeous and stunning, and I will never, ever get tired of that song.  Luckily I have a little mp3 of Miles singing it in what sounds like a living room, but I still hear Rachel’s voice over it when I listen.  I will never get tired of that song.  I swear, if I could take my memory of that song, distill it, and put it into pill form, I would take it twice a day for the rest of my life.

However, in the midst of this love-fest, I must say that Rexburg kills musical souls dead.  I got the feeling from both Rachel and Miles (and others in the town) that being a musician simply wasn’t in the cards for people from that town.  It was a fantasy, a pipe dream.  There were no resources, no connections, and a religious community that was not at all sympathetic to the fragile, mystic musicians that I found there, like Rachel and Miles.  Miles went on a mission a few months after we met, and after that we lost touch.  Eventually I think he found meaning in other things besides songwriting, like his wonderful wife and family, and for that I say God bless him, though I do wish he’d at least record one or two songs now and then.  Rachel kept talking about Portland like it would save her, but I don’t know if she ever got the opportunity to move there.  She’s in Boise now, I believe.  Rachel and I were friends until I left Rexburg, but by the end of the year I was there I was fed up.  I was sick of the town, I was sick of my life, I was sick of the weather, I was sick of the religion, and I was sick of my own music.  Eventually I gave up hope of ever finding myself in Rexburg, decided to withdraw from classes, and within three days I was gone.  I then threw myself, heaving and panting, onto Seattle, Washington, where I found myself and decided to go a mission.

I wish I had a lot more story to tell about Rexburg, but it’s all a bit fuzzy now.  I remember going with Rachel and a friend, in the ice and snow at night, through a trail in the woods to a beautiful, peaceful glade with a creek that ran through it, that was just so glowing self-illuminated and eery that I didn’t feel the cold at all.  I remember the girls I kissed and some of the shows I played.  I remember being asked to play a Jack Johnson song by random strangers every time I walked from one place to another with my acoustic guitar (and for some reason I’ve forgotten whatever snarky response I would invariably snap back with).  I remember walking in just a t-shirt and denim jacket all the way from The Underground to my dorm room one night, slowly losing the feeling in my extremities as I walked.   While I still remember very vividly some of the people and experiences I had there, in general it’s like a series of incredibly emotional snapshots of music, love, and friendship, interspersed by dark stretches of oppressive darkness.  In some way, my feelings for Rexburg are perfectly captured by the image of standing on top of the hill in Rexburg at night and looking out at the miles and miles of darkness, the clear air, the powerful and ominous silhouettes of  the black Grand Tetons, and the brilliant, swirling stars and the lights of the surrounding towns, which is one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see.

11 thoughts on “Musicians From My Past 2: Rachel Couch and Miles Haeberle”

  1. I have been following the Linescratchers blog for about a year, maybe more, and I never realized that you and I crossed paths in our pasts. I went to Ricks/BYU-I from 2000 to 2004. I practically lived at Mainstreet Music and The Underground. I think I attended every poetry reading/music show at The Underground. I even helped Stacey with some of the logistics from time to time. You and I must have met, then, at some point. Unfortunately, your name doesn’t ring a bell, but I have to agree with you that a lot of those details are kind of blurry now (lost in a haze of anti-depressants and early-adulthood bewilderment).

    I played bass in a few Rexburg bands. Gunther Yazoo, Three, Kiltergrey, and a few other (crappier) ones. Maybe you remember them.

    I remember the exact Rachel/Miles collaboration you’re talking about here, and you’re right, it was incredible. Miles had one of those unforgettable voices. Did you ever see them do Muse’s “Unintended?” I get chills just thinking about that. I actually lived a few doors down the street from Miles in the year before his mission. We worked at Domino’s Pizza together for a while.

    My Rexburg experience wasn’t all that different from yours. I got pretty lost in the everyone-is-Mormon-everyone-is-conservative atmosphere and I had a hard time coming to grips with my own “space” within that world.

    He might not remember me, but Ian Fowles and I went to graduate school together as well. He was in Cultural Studies and I was in Music. We had one class together: a transdisciplinary class about Los Angeles.

    It really is strange how small the world can be sometimes, especially among Mormons.

    This post was really well written, and it brought back a lot of memories for me. A lot of painful things, and a lot of really wonderful things. Thanks for that (all the way around).

  2. Taylor, undoubtedly we crossed paths. In fact, I am almost positive I remember you. Did you do a thing where you would just play bass and sing? At the poetry readings?

    I don’t remember those two doing “Unintended” but it’s possible I heard it. Also, the Mainstreet Music era was just before my time, but I remember everyone just coming down off that period. I am always happy when I cross paths with people who were in Rexburg during that time, just so I know it wasn’t a weird dream of some sort.

  3. All of this was such a along time ago, but those three years are still and probably always will be some of my fondest memories. It was such a big undertaking to open a store and a venue and I did it all on a whim with my dad and barely any money that we got from a loan on my parents house. It brought us closer and since I lived in the basement, it helped make my dad feel like he was able to support me through college even though he couldn’t really do so much financially. He loved music as well and even played drums in one of my friend’s bands.

    I’m glad to hear that so many people have good memories of that place because it certainly was the worst selection of music in a cd store that I’ve ever seen! And the paint job, one red animal print stripe running along the top of the walls, what was I thinking? Paired with an all teal “lounge” and “stage” completed with a couple plants, that amazing long bench couch and the handmade nude bust of Mary Paige’s boyfriend (there were some awkward times as well.) I suppose it was more about the place and the people and the getting to know one another through a mutual love for music that was important.

    Everything about that place was done with so much youth, enthusiasm and inexperience. Plus a big helping hand from Paul and Preston Pugmire, who if the town hadn’t had, it wouldn’t have had much for a sound system anywhere and certainly not as many shows would have happened. Several bands practiced in the garage and I’m pretty sure every band in Rexburg played at least one show at Mainstreet Music and most played at The Underground too. We had a string of really small touring bands as well, anyone remember Frank Jordan, they came through three times because so many people showed up to each show that it was bigger than when they played in large cities that are used to having so many bands to pick from that no one goes to the lesser known bands.

    The poetry readings were a thing all of their own. I can’t remember if Rhonda or Mary Paige or maybe even Darcy started them but I know that there were very personal experiences shared there. As well as some tears and a lot of laughter.

    I did not like drum circle night. I still detest drum circles.

    So many things happened at those two places. There was a show or an event at least twice a week, usually more. We had a fat jiggler. There was a really old screen projector that was used at shows and for movies and Contra. I swear the unfinished rooms of the the Underground basement were the creepiest places I’ve ever been. We had a rotating art gallery going for a time (and I sincerely apologize to anyone who’s work was ruined by a crowd at a show.) There was the night that two kids crashed through the huge glass pane window in the front during a show and bled all over the place before rushing to the hospital for arm surgery and lots of stitches. There were regulars that came weekly to browse the sad assortment of cd’s. Arthur, you were one of the regulars that always bought something I’d never heard of.

    Most of all though, I met so many people that were creative, talented, inspiring, kind, welcoming, open minded and sincerely caring. Rexburg may not be the place for musicians to make it big, but most don’t anyway. They play terrible music while they’re young to crowds of kids who love it anyway. Some practice a lot and get better and play amazing music to those same crowds of kids. A very few keep playing, play the right places, in the right towns, to the right people, at the right moments and do it long enough with enough passion that they find a way to make it their career. Then all those kids from those first shows are grown up and can say they knew that guy when. Everyone has the memories of the good times shared and everyone still loves music. It connected us then and it still connects us now.

  4. I loved reading this, Arthur. I remember those times, mostly with fondness, but sometimes with pain too. Rexburg definitely held a myriad of emotions for me. Thanks for this reminder. I’m glad we met there and I’m glad you moved to Seattle and we got to spend some time together before your mission.

  5. I was just looking for Miles online when I found this article.

    Wow. I know this post is over a year old but I’ve never seen anyone else write about Rexburg during that period. I lived in the apartments above the Underground, played shows at Mainstreet and even participated in those music festivals at the park. I was also in various bands with both Rachel and Miles and even got to open for Frank Jordan. I still can’t believe Stacey and co. put it all together. It was an amazing time. Thanks for writing this and taking me back a bit.

    -Richard Guinn

  6. I still read the comments on this post, and that’s what matters.

    I am sure I saw you around, though I can’t for the life of me visually image you in my mind. I am glad you enjoyed this post. Got any links to your new tunes?

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