Local gadfly/four-string ace/ladies man Niles Haury is the freaknik antithesis of every single bass player stereotype in existence. He’s nothing like Derek Smalls’ lukewarm water, standing twixt the fire and ice of St. Hubbins and Tufnel; no, Haury has lead guitarist chops; frontman looks and charisma; and just enough latent crazy to qualify him as an honorary drummer.
And so it’s been for the last decade, with Haury standing firm as the charismatic center of his six-piece band Grandpa’s Stash and their tuneful hippie maelstrom. Over these last few years, the Stash have been the stalwarts of Knoxville’s fecund jam-band scene — as an outfit with a truly righteous groove, yet more than enough pop savvy to play a full set of three-minute rockers — and Haury, alongside fellow founder and trombone juggernaut John Colquitt, has been their fearless leader.
But now that’s changing, for better and worse. And Haury seems to have made his peace with it. “I’ll never say never again, but Stash is not part of my pursuits right now,” says Haury, enjoying a craft beer in the mothering radiance of a sunny late spring afternoon on Market Square.
“I feel like it’s dormant right now, a sleeping giant. At some point, it might wake up again, stomp around, make some noise. But around six months ago, I swallowed the pill that I wasn’t going to pursue Stash like I had been in the past.”
It’s important to note here — for those of you who don’t know already — that Haury’s is a mystical sort of charisma. With his lank build and hazy blue eyes and trademark tousled topknot, he comes off a bit like an acid burnout Zen philosopher king, a spiritual love child of Norman Vincent Peale and Deepak Chopra with a musical heart and a golden gift of gab and the soul of a vagabond djinn.
He expresses himself in riddles and koans, dropping abstract metaphors like loose change in the currency of his speech, waxing philosophic about self-actualization pyramids and the rock ‘n’ roll stage as crucible. And that’s just before breakfast.
And so it is that Haury tells, in his own inimitable way, how within weeks of his coming to grips with Stash’s new status quo, two roommates departed the house he was living in. “It hits hard when a relationship of 10 years fails, then you see two friends fall apart,” he says.
“It could have been the bane of my existence. But instead, it’s turned out to be the brilliance.”
His life in flux, Haury’s thoughts went back to a conversation he had five years ago. Grandpa’s Stash was hitting the road at irregular intervals, the band traveling in cramped beater cars and sleeping on stale carpets and eating whatever a handful of loose change would buy at the Taco Bell in Anytown, U.S.A.
And home life was scarcely more settled, with Haury the itinerant musician traveling from job to low-paying job. “We started talking about, ‘What if, whenever you went into a new town, there were a House?'” Haury says.
“And what if the House had back line equipment already there, so you could travel lighter. And a kitchen, so you could cook real food. And beds instead of a floor?
“Because if you’re balls deep touring, you are only glamorous for two hours of the day. The rest of the time, you’re a human being, running around being human.”
Fast forward back to the present again — or at least, to the not-so-distant past — with Haury facing existential crisis, his band crumbling and two friends going astray…
But rather than seeking a couple short-term roommates, he followed a lark and signed up his Fort Sanders residence on Airbnb, the online rooms-for-rent service that allows workaday homeowners to turn spare rooms into spare cash.
The idea quickly took wing. “There was zero lag time,” Haury says. “Three hours after I signed up, I got a message. Ever since then, both rooms have stayed full — over 120 stays in four months.”
But though Haury’s rooms are open to all comers, he made the decision early on to cater to fellow musicians. “I’ve always felt that musicians and artists have been both coveted and marginalized at the same time,” he explains. “Music is everywhere, yet we’re sent down the road with nothing but crumbs and well-wishes.”
Haury started canvassing local venues around town, looking at entertainment calendars three and four months out, sending missives to out-of-town outfits who looked to be weighing anchor in Knoxville sometime in the weeks to come.
“It’s amazing — the language that comes back to me is bewilderment,” Haury says with a crooked smile. “‘Bed!? How far is Floor from Bed??’
“And my response is, yes, ‘BED. SHOWER. LAUNDRY. COUCH.'”
But it didn’t stop there. An expansive thinker — to say the least — Haury quickly conceived of making chez Haury (aka the Backhouse) more than just a comfy stopover for weary road dogs. Rather, the Backhouse, as he envisions it, will become a musician hub of sorts, a one-stop-shop and resource center catering to all the needs of the traveling musician.
“I’m collecting and connecting the dots,” Haury says. “I’m a bass player, so it’s natural that I hold the center. The Backhouse will be a sanctuary for the traveling artist.
“You want a tattoo? I can get you tattoos. Or maybe you need a videographer. Or a haircut. I can find what you need.”
And did anyone say ‘fill-in bass player’? On a couple of occasions already, Haury has strapped on and plugged in for artists who stayed in his house, like Atlanta-based eclectic funk outfit Dank (formerly Dank Sinatra) who found themselves down a man for a gig or two shortly after a stay at the Backhouse.
“A couple months after I booked them, their bass player couldn’t make it to a show in Knoxville at Preservation Pub,” Haury says. “And someone said, ‘What about that Niles guy?’ I ended up crushing a headlining set with them over here.
“I went from being in one band to being in all of them.”
Haury’s plan is to build a full-service website around the Backhouse, with links and information from local media, service providers, retailers. “The site will be built around providing a sanctuary for the musician, and providing a thread to the entire scene,” he says.
“I’m doing this based on things I’ve learned from being in a band all these years. Because being in a band is ultimately about everyone being able to self-actualize through awareness and collaboration. To me, service and hospitality is not a job position; it’s a disposition.”