A New Wave Goodbye

After a decade together and 100s of shows, the curtain falls on a celebrated cover band that specialized in New Wave songs from the ‘80s and left its imprint on the local music scene

By Mike Kordenbrock
Marco Forcone, Don Caverly, Nick Spear and Matthew Bussard of The New Wave Time Trippers in Whitefish on Feb. 11, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Even time-traveling bands don’t last forever, and the former members of the New Wave Time Trippers are living proof of this rule of life, physics and music.

The Whitefish cover band that specialized in New Wave ‘80s music played its last gig earlier this month at the Great Northern Bar & Grill as part of the festivities for this year’s Winter Carnival parade, which, as it turns out, was an ‘80s themed affair. 

The bar was packed, and when it came time for a final number the band picked R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of The World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” from among its catalogue of nearly 100 songs.

Some people were in tears, others were more upbeat. Hugs were shared. And the crowd was huge by the Northern’s standards. Scott Larkin, the general manager at the bar who has been booking acts there since 2007, said that if it wasn’t the bar’s best night for attendance it was close.

“There were people packed all the way around the side of the stage like I’ve never seen it,” Larkin said of what he described as the bar’s most popular band.

A crowd cheers for the New Wave Time Trippers at their final show at the Great Northern Bar and Grill in Whitefish on Feb. 5, 2022. Photo by Rick Horn

“It felt like we were just playing for our friends,” lead singer and guitarist Nick Spear said. “It felt really good.”

After the final note rang out the group, made up of Nick Spear, Matthew Bussard on bass, Don Caverly on keyboard and vocals, and Marco Forcone on drums, didn’t immediately disappear into another space-time dimension, but instead had a few beverages and reminisced on a run that began with open mic nights and stretched across hundreds of shows in Montana and beyond. 

There were gigs in Seattle, and in Alberta, and in a combine hanger in Joplin, Montana (a wedding in which the band left their sound system overnight and found the party still going strong at 9:30 a.m. the next morning). One wedding in Conrad found a band member in a mortal combat with a toilet that had reached its limits. At a show in Big Sky a beer can near Caverly’s monitors mysteriously shot itself across the stage and hit Spear in the temple “like a supersoaker” during the “My Sharona” guitar solo. The best explanation band members have come up with is that the frequencies coming from the monitors might have created some sort of pinhole in the can that sent the beverage flying.

Before all those gigs it was an open mic night that brought them together. Roughly a decade ago drummer Marco Forcone was running an open mic night at the now closed Whitefish bar Crush Lounge with the help of Don Caverly. Forcone already had an extensive music background, having played in bands with record label contracts. Caverly was also a seasoned professional who had returned to the valley where he grew up after years abroad, including a stint as a musician on cruise lines. Caverly recalls that the music scene at the time was relatively small, and Crush became an attraction for kindred creative spirits. The open mic nights led to Forcone and Spear discovering a shared love of New Wave music. Before that Spear and Bussard had already been kicking around the idea of starting a New Wave band and had played an open mic night. The band’s first practice was around Thanksgiving 2012.

The Time Trippers were able to book Friday and Saturday gigs early on at the Northern, which is a phase Forcone jokingly refers to as “army training” because it allowed the band to build stamina on the stage until they could go out and pull off the high-energy three hour shows they became known for. The early days were also when the band took up stage names and a sci-fi laden time-traveling backstory. Band members were expected to wear Chuck Taylors, white pants and white shirts to most gigs, an outfit which some in the band referred to as a monkey suit. Without explanation, the band started wearing black once they returned to playing during the pandemic.

The New Wave Time Trippers wear matching Converse in Whitefish on Feb. 11, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“I was really adamant on us making sure we wore our outfits every single time,” Forcone said. “Just that persona of like never in street clothes, always dressed up. And it really turned into something for us … In the beginning we kind of didn’t know, everybody was really trying to kind of find their own outfit, their own kind of character, I guess if you will.”

Caverly said it’s some of the early years that he will most remember when he looks back on the band’s run. The Time Trippers would practice twice a week on average starting at 9 p.m. at Forcone’s studio. The sessions would run for hours, and Caverly recalls practice nights where he’d finally be heading home at 2 a.m. It wasn’t unheard of for the band to say they’d go for a couple hours and then decide to go for three hours just to push things further.

“Sometimes it was incredibly frustrating to come upon these challenges that seemed impossible for me,” Caverly said. “I’ll remember the hard work and once that stamina was built both of mind and of body, then it became really fun. It wasn’t a challenge anymore, it was just we’re feeding off the energy of the crowd, the energy of each other. That was the biggest thing about the band was it was always huge amounts of fun because of the huge amounts of work we did.”

Spear said the greatest compliment the band ever got was in the form of an insult overheard while he was at Brannigan’s Pub in Kalispell.

“We overheard someone say we lip sync everything. And I was like, well we sound that good? Why am I even singing?”

A self-deprecating sense of humor was part of the band’s personality. They even went so far as to get Huey Lewis and John Oates to film “anti-endorsements” in which they called the band terrible.

Part of the dark side of being a coves band was that it wasn’t uncommon for audience members to make requests that made no sense. Spear said they even had people yell at them to play Toby Keith.

“I had one guy at the Top Hat in Missoula yelling something vehemently at me and I couldn’t hear what it was,” Spear said. “And I could tell he was going from aggro to like, enraged, and was definitely on some kind of drug milkshake, and I think he would have killed me because the cops later tased him three times before he dropped. I won’t miss that.”

It also didn’t help at times that Spear had a habit of playing the guitar riffs from popular songs that the band had no intention of playing, like “Crazy Train.”

The bottom line for any set list was that the songs had to get people moving. “Our whole theory from the beginning, our credo basically, was if it makes people dance we’re gonna play it, and that was it. If a song wasn’t danceable, it was out,” Caverly said.

 U2’s “With Or Without You” was about the only slow song the band played, Caverly said. There had been controversy within the band (a near fistfight, Spear said) over including “Jessie’s Girl,” but the band added it to their repertoire and it came to be a crowd favorite. Spear said that songs from some of his favorite New Wave groups, like Bauhaus, never made it to the stage because they would’ve been too weird for the audience to enjoy. The band’s catalogue was essentially made up of songs from an old MTV show called “120 Minutes,” which Spear said was made up of all the songs that weren’t played during the rest of the week.

Part of what made a Time Tripper’s show unique was the music video elements the band incorporated. Songs were synced up to cut-ups of classic MTV and VH1 music videos that played across multiple monitors. Caverly estimated that Forcone and Spear spent between 600 and 800 hours gathering video, editing it, and putting it together for shows. The music video element and the order it imposed, probably drove some fans away Spear guessed, but he added that a lot of people came to enjoy the consistency.

“I think we really wanted to give them an immersive experience,” Spear said.

Don Caverly of New Wave Time Trippers performs during the band’s final show at the Great Northern Bar and Grill in Whitefish on Feb. 5, 2022. Photo by Rick Horn

Bussard said that he hopes the band raised the level of what venues and clubs and party-throwers were willing to pay for a good live band. In the beginning Forcone would draw from his professional background to talk about what they could expect in terms of income if the band really got going.

“He was talking numbers that seemed a little too unrealistic for somebody like myself who’s used to playing for 100 bucks and free drinks,” Bussard said. “You kind of get used to music not really paying very well and we looked at it as a business opportunity, a business venture, and being able to get paid playing music is a pretty amazing job.”

The decision for the band to call it quits came down in part to band members’ desire to go out strong. The last performance, in Forcone’s words, was “bittersweet, for sure.”

“But it felt so good being able to go out crushing it, rather than kind of piddling away,” Spear said. “It felt good to stop at the top of our game and hang it up.”

“There comes a time when the thing you’re doing is ruling your life and how you define yourself, and that’s a really good time to stop,” Spear said. “If who you are has everything to do with what you do, you’re in danger.”

While one version of the Time Tripper’s origin story begins in Whitefish, another version has the band playing a gig at Poochie’s Pet Wash & Espresso Bar in San Bernardino, California in the year 1985. While playing a show at Poochie’s, Charlie Bird (Bussard) hit a bass pedal he’d bought at a pawn shop and accidentally sent the band into the unknown. The bass pedal, as it turns out, was a flux capacitor, which for lay folk is a critical time travel component from the “Back to The Future” movies. All of this would be laid out for concertgoers in a video played at the start of a Time Trippers show.

There are usually at least two versions of events with the Time Trippers – one in the band’s reality, and one in the other reality that exists offstage. In one version of reality after their final show band members plan on keeping in touch and staying friends as they go forward in various aspects of their lives as musicians and business owners.

One version of events has Forcone still operating his studio Drivetone Studio and doing independent audio and visual work as well as album production; Bussard preparing to re-launch his Columbia Falls café, bakery and coffee roasting business Uptown Hearth; Caverly playing solo gigs, jazz gigs, working on a movie soundtrack, and DJ’ing; and Spear continuing to play in his other band Big Sky City Lights while also teaching Shakespeare and dramatic literature part-time at Flathead Valley Community College.

In another version of events band members were launched into various points in time and space after the final show. The Force (Forcone) has become a father in 1970s Honduras 30 times over and runs the largest weed and banana farm in the country. Charlie Bird (Bussard) opened up the first off-planet coffee roasting company in the year 5385 on Alpha Centauri B, and as is noted in a video the band made to tell the tale, he remains single “but still not interested in you.” Caverly, or Tommy Perfect as he goes by in the band, “time-tripped to the 1700s to become Mozart’s piano tuner … and then stole his girlfriend.”

Slice, or Spear, is back in San Bernardino in 1985 after breaking the time machine “again.” His jaunt back in time left him back where it all (sort of) started, at Poochie’s Pet Wash & Espresso Bar.

“We never knew where we were going to show up,” Bussard said of the bass pedal time travel that brought the band to the valley. “We just so happened to be fortunate enough to show up in Whitefish so many times over these last nine years.”

Matthew Bussard, Don Caverly, Nick Spear and Marco Forcone of the New Wave Time Tripper’s pose for a picture after their band’s final show at the Great Northern Bar and Grill in Whitefish on Feb. 5, 2022. Photo by Rick Horn