Aquabear Legion Celebrates 15th Anniversary with Two New Compilations

For the past fifteen years, Athens-based Aquabear Legion has been celebrating Ohio-based art and music through special compilations, events, and digital promotions. For this year’s milestone anniversary, co-founders Brian Koscho and Todd Jacops are releasing not one, but two compilations. Aquabear Legion Volume 7 will be a compilation of current Ohio-based bands on vinyl, and Mother of Presidents will be an archival cassette tape featuring a variety of classic Ohio bands.

Aquabear Legion is somewhat hard to define, but according to Brian, its loose definition was intentional. “We started with a general idea of connecting musicians and artists around the state and trying to do work on our end to promote those people. Todd and I had both been in Athens and known each other for a little while by then and had become involved with the music community there and wanted to bring that community together with the one we came from in Cleveland, and also connect it with people we knew in Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, etc.” Thus, Aquabear Legion was born. Brian and Todd began with online compilations (which in 2004-2005 was still a relatively new thing), shows, and articles.

Volume 5 Cover, Artwork by Emily Beveridge, 2015

“I don’t know if it was a perfect response,” Brian laughs, “but I do think we were trying to think of different ways to promote and connect underground music all around the state. It has morphed over the years of course, but I still think it is what it was then: something different, a combination of a lot of different things – a website, record label, podcast network, blog archive, and events – that allowed new things to come out of it.”

With the compilations, it is a great way for us and our audience both to keep up to date on some of the amazing music being made here in Ohio.

Over the past decade and a half, Aquabear Legion has worked with more than 250 Ohio bands and artists from all over the state. Brian says that success to them is being able to help spread the word about Ohio music and art. “I think contributing to that community of musicians and artists with their own projects through the compilations is the best part.” That and creating physical and online media that has great songs and beautiful artwork. “And of course with the compilations, it is a great way for us and our audience both to keep up to date on some of the amazing music being made here in Ohio.”

Counterfeit Madison, a Columbus-based band featured on Volume 7

Each compilation is unique. Some are created under a general governing theme, while others evolve a bit more organically. “With the ‘Volume’ compilations (like the new Volume 7), each compilation focuses on new Ohio music, bands that are active and playing out, and music that is relatively newly recorded,” Brian says. “With Volume 7, we start thinking about who we want to have on it, and then we start asking people and go from there.”

The last two compilations, Volumes 5 and 6, were pressed on vinyl and did not feature repeat bands, a rule that Volume 7 abides by. The archival compilation Mother of Presidents, however, did not follow the same guidelines as the “Volume” collections. “With something like Mother of Presidents it involves even more research and discussion. Over the years, we have been lucky to not only make a lot of good friends but have always had people who were receptive to coming up with cool ideas of things to do and working together. For Mother of Presidents, it was like reaching out to every corner you could and seeing what came of it.”

Geraldine, an Athens-based band featured on Mother of Presidents

Other compilations have veered from the norm, too, like 16 in 16, which Brian says featured 16 bands recording 16 songs in 16 hours at their friend’s studio in rural Hocking County. “It was a blast! But that has logistical elements to think about beyond a normal comp (compilation).” In 2006, Brian and Todd did a re-creation of The Beatle’s The White Album which involved not only finding bands and developing the compilation, but encouraging musicians to learn and record the songs, too.

It is sort of our love letter to Ohio music in some ways.

With the two new compilations marking 15 years, Brian says it’s caused him to take stock of the work Aquabear has done and where he hopes it continues to grow for years to come. “The Mother of Presidents compilation is particularly exciting because this is an idea we had been throwing around for a while and it finally came together. It is sort of our love letter to Ohio music in some ways,” he says.

Cover Artwork by Athens artist Chris Biester for Volume 7

“My continued belief that underground music and art is important in a community has been strengthened to a dominant part of my life,” Brian laughs, when asked what this project has taught him over the years. “Aquabear Legion has not only kept me plugged into new music, art, and live shows, it has given me my friends, and this huge wonderful community and family that exists in those scenes. I have met some of the best folks ever doing Aquabear and playing music, and I would not trade that for anything.”

Brian says it’s also taught him to go ahead and come up with a crazy idea and jump into it. “Creating things and working with the people who do is the best.”

While Aquabear sells its compilations and merch, Brian jokes that they are more of a “no profit,” with every penny going back into future projects that support Ohio artists. If you want to get your hands on Aquabear Legion Volume 7 (featuring the incredible artwork of Athens’ own Chris Biester) and Mother of Presidents, you can support Aquabear Legion’s upcoming releases and reserve your own copies by contributing to their Indiegogo campaign, which will run through September 15th. Both compilations will be released later this year or early next spring!