It happened during an ordinary refueling stop for the Dirty River Boys, the band on its way from Austin to Tulsa to kick off a six date run. The van pulled up at a gas station and its occupants scattered, with Colton James hopping on his skateboard and heading over to a grocery store for a rotisserie chicken.
But the board hit an oil patch and went flying, and the bassist found himself not just down, but possibly out. “I see him at the van and he’s got a bone about to pop out of his shoulder, and our tour manager is on the phone,” recalls drummer Travis Stearns.
So the band retreated to Austin, where an ER doc told James he had a shattered collarbone and would need surgery. In the meantime, they outfitted him with a sling. For a moment the band contemplated scratching its upcoming six-date run, because for a stand-up bassist, a collarbone tends to be necessary equipment. “Every time I lifted my arms to play the bass I could just feel the bones crunching on each other,” he says.
But he didn’t want to force his bandmates to cancel shows. Why don’t I play the electric bass instead, he wondered, while sitting in a chair? Wouldn’t that work? The band agreed, and they were off again. “That was a long bumpy drive with a broken collarbone,” James wryly recalls. “Didn’t even stop to get any medication on the way—that was a bad idea. “ But that’s the Dirty River Boys ethos. Playing upwards of 200 dates a year, giving heartfelt, unrestrained performances, and winning over a loyal audience show- by-show, it takes a lot more than a few broken bones to stop them.
Perhaps that has a little something to do with the band’s hometown. El Paso, home of the “dirty river” known as the Rio Grande, is a place of schemers and strivers—not all of them on the right side of the law. Perhaps the quintessential American border town, the place locals call “El Chuco” is practically one city with its Mexican twin, Ciudad Juárez. Viewed from the air, only the path of the river delineates where one ends and the other begins.
It was against this backdrop that Nino Cooper, Marco Gutierrez and Travis Stearns came of age, playing music in various bands, dreaming of recording at Sonic Ranch—the mammoth residential studio just outside town—and hearing wild stories of drug wars and lawlessness from just a few miles away.
Fast forward a decade or so and Cooper had returned to El Paso from Southern California, where he’d abandoned a corporate career. Armed with an acoustic guitar and armload of originals and covers, he began playing anywhere that would have him, including restaurants and hotel lobbies. Stearns quickly jumped aboard to provide percussion, but venues weren’t crazy about a loud drum kit. So
Stearns dropped the kit and picked up the cajón, a simple, box-like instrument common south of the border. Marco Gutierrez, veteran of a number of local bands, soon rounded out the trio, and gigs in hotels and restaurants soon became bookings in El Paso’s handful of live-music clubs, which after awhile led to trips out of town. “There’s definitely a lot of talent in El Paso,” Cooper says. “But being in a band, it’s hard to get out of there because it’s a nine-hour drive to get anywhere.” Young, hungry and—literally—driven, the trio nonetheless buckled up for long van rides and soon began venturing to Austin, San Antonio, Tulsa and points beyond. Meanwhile a hard-driving roots-acoustic sound—which at the time, wouldn’t sound out of place on a playlist with the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons—began getting battle tested over an endless string of shows and hundreds of broken cajón heads.
Along the way The Dirty River Boys notched a number of significant milestones, opening for legend Willie Nelson several times, and selling out the famed Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas. Having left the El Paso restaurants far behind, the band continued to grow, adding stand-up bassist Colton James and functioning just a bit more like a conventional rock band, though one without the usual dynamic.
Indeed, The Dirty River Boys have an incredible number of strengths. All four members have a hand in the songwriting, and all four sing as well, while members often switch off instruments during shows. This isn’t just a vehicle for a songwriting frontman, with an interchangeable crew of instrumentalists bringing those ideas to life.
And so, after a pair of EPs and an album, “Science of Flight,” that served as a tour calling card, the time couldn’t be better for an anthemic, hook-laden declaration of intent, served up to an audience beyond DRB’s Texas diehards. And thanks to the golden-eared production assistance of Chris “Frenchie” Smith, that’s exactly what “The Dirty River Boys” is.
The record is both a cohesive statement and a dizzying testament to the band’s capabilities, as it shifts gears between genres with the skill of a long-haul trucker. There’s traditional, honky-tonk country (“Didn’t Make The Cut”), Flogging Molly- style Celtic rock (“Sailed Away”) and an all-out greasy road rocker (“Highway Love”) and you get the feeling the ’Boys are just getting warmed up.
No matter the genre, the band has a knack for imbuing every one of their songs with undeniable hooks, from the “whoah-ohs” that punctuate first single “Thought I’d Let You Know” to the power-chord riff that forms the foundation of El Paso scene-setter “Down By The River” (co-written with Ray Wylie Hubbard).
“It’s an anthem record,” Cooper says. “That’s what we were working for. We wanted to showcase our individuality, and all the vocals, and just capture the choruses and those chants.”
“We let all of our influences show,” Gutierrez adds. “So we really have trouble saying ‘this is rock’ or ‘this is country,’ or whatever. And we’re not Texas Country either, even though we get thrown in there. Americana is really what it is— because it’s a melting pot of music.”
This self-titled record—tracked at The Bubble in Austin and, yes, Sonic Ranch outside El Paso—was the first time the band had taken time off to record, rather than booking a few studio days between shows, and the effort paid off. “We just buckled down and focused,” Cooper recalls. “We didn’t want to cut any corners.”
And now, with its best record in hand, the band plans to venture much further afield from El Paso, and stay on the road. After all, with border checkpoints on every road out of town, leaving town can be a hassle.
Sometimes, in fact, more of a hassle than you might have expected. Not so long ago, the band found itself on the end of an “enhanced search,” with everyone asked to step out of the van while U.S. Customs and Border Protection brought a dog through it. “Then this guy pulls Travis out and we hear him just tearing into Travis,” recalls Gutierrez.
“Then the guy walks up to us and asks ‘which of you guys are from El Paso?’” Gutierrez continues. “We raise our hands, then we go to the side of the van. In a split-second he goes from mad dog to ‘El Paso Chuco,’ giving us the love, saying ‘Hey, are you the Dirty River Boys? I saw y’all at the State Line a few weeks ago. I’m sorry mijos, I was just doing my job.’ Just in a split second, the El Paso love.”
“He asked us for CDs, so we gave CDs to the Border Patrol agents and autographed them and everything,” Cooper adds, chuckling. “Now, every time we go through there, we say, yeah, y’all have a few of our CDs. We’re good.”
Ever since the members of San Antonio-forged, Tex-Mex/Pop-Rock outfit The Last Bandoleros can remember, they’ve been surrounded by dynamic and diverse musical influences. From Diego’s early Rock ‘n’ Roll collection to Emilio’s Beatles re-issues and the Tex-Mex music of their father to the Country-Blues of Jerry’s guitar tabs and Derek’s Jangly Brit-Rock records, the sounds around the members of The Last Bandoleros have always had an urgency and emphasis on songs and songwriting.
It’s no wonder that when Diego Navaira (bass & vocals), Emilio Navaira (drums & vocals) and Jerry Fuentes (guitar & vocals) — all three raised in the studios and vibrant live scene of San Antonio — joined with New York native Derek James (guitar & vocals) to form The Last Bandoleros, their combined experiences led them to create a compelling, contemporary and quintessential American sound.
Often joined by a button accordionist on stage, The Last Bandoleros mesh 1 part Tex-Mex, 1 part Brit-Pop and 2 parts Country/Rock, to write and perform driving songs brimming with melody informed by a unique amalgam of influences that only young Americans growing up a stone’s throw away from the Rio Grande might have absorbed.
“I grew up idolizing Texas legends Doug Sahm and Flaco Jimenez,” says Jerry, “and, at the same time, wanted to learn every song in the Rock canon including The Beatles and The Eagles.”
“My dad [GRAMMY-award winning Conjunto superstar Emilio Navaira, Sr.] turned me on to Van Halen and ZZ Top,” says Diego. “And, we were obviously surrounded by Tejano music since birth,” adds Emilio.
To be sure, a consummate command of their instruments is another of The Last Bandoleros’ calling cards.
“Jerry won a San Antonio guitar competition when he was 13,” shares Derek, “We love charting out ambitious harmonies. You’ll see every member in our band singing when you come to one of our shows.”
The group has sold-out New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall as headliner and opened for Canadian chanteuse Feist at Webster Hall (NYC). They’ve performed live with Sting and also feature as backing vocalists on his new single “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” currently climbing the AAA radio and iTunes rock charts. Tour dates with The Mavericks, Marc Broussard and Los Lonely Boys have also kept The Last Bandoleros busy even as they prepare to release their debut EP via Warner Music Nashville. Accolades for the band’s musicality and energetic performances have been pouring in:
HITS Magazine wrote “the musical verve and joyous energy on display in this tune is pretty irresistible” dubbing it “Tex-Mex meets harmony-rich Beatlesque pop, with a healthy dollop of boy-pop charisma.”
The Last Bandoleros combine their unique cultural experiences with a rare musical camaraderie to deliver exuberance and joy both essential and contagious. And, in today’s fast-moving world of instantaneous information and converging influences, their original yet universal sound might just be best labeled “great music.”
Vandoliers are the next wave of Texas music. The six-piece Dallas-Fort Worth group channels all that makes this vast state unique: tradition, modernity, audacity, grit, and—of course—size. Forever puts it all together for an enthralling ride down a fresh Lone Star highway.
Produced and recorded by Adam Hill (Low Cut Connie, The Bo-Keys, Deer Tick, Don Bryant, Zeshan B) at American Recording Studios in Memphis, TN, the band’s third album (and first with Bloodshot) Forever is a mix of youthful and defiant punk, rugged Red Dirt country, and vibrant Tejano. The full-length’s 10 songs blend emblematic rock ‘n’ roll with bold horns, violin, and a slather of twang reflecting where the band is from, where they’ve been and, eventually, where they’ll be headed. It’s regional and universal all the same.
“I wrote a series of songs about my life and gave it to the best musicians I know to flesh out,” says lead singer and guitarist Joshua Fleming. “I spent over a year writing by myself, with friends and mentors, and we spent just as long filling out arrangements and writing scores. We wrote horn and fiddle parts on a trio tour through the mountains of New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana.”
One of those mentors is fellow Dallas-Fort Worth musician Rhett Miller of Old 97’s. The influence and tutelage of Miller and his bandmates helped sharpen Vandoliers’ Texas-bred, roots-based punk rock.
“Before the band started diving into the new material, I sent Rhett a bunch of acoustic phone demos,” says Fleming. “Being the amazing person he is, he sent me back a 3,000-word email of advice that read like a master class in the art of songwriting. Beyond their influence musically, they’ve really taken us under their wing, letting us play shows with them and giving us all kinds of advice along the way.”
While tracking alongside the muddy path that country-punk bands like Old 97’s, Jason and the Scorchers, and the True Believers blazed in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Vandoliers define their own style; no one else is upending the genre quite like them. There are familiar ingredients—Fleming’s raspy vocals, rousing sing-along choruses, and an infectious energy (like on the rippin’ “Sixteen Years”)—that lay down the foundation on Forever. But it’s the ancillary instrumentation that separates them from others. When they seamlessly inject punk rock with ‘60 and ‘70s country grime (“Tumbleweed”), old-timey fiddlin’ (“Miles and Miles”), Tex-Mex horn and violin (“Fallen Again”), and heartfelt balladry (“Cigarettes in the Rain”), a rich new sound emerges. References to the Texas Tornados, Social Distortion, Deer Tick, and Calexico can be made, but none fully capture the soul of the self-proclaimed “Converse cowboys.”
For a band that spends more than half the year on the road, “forever” is their credo of hope and determination—“VFFV” (Vandoliers Forever, Forever Vandoliers) is tattooed on the six members’ arms as an emblem of their solidarity and commitment to the collective, through good times and, more significantly, the tough ones. The album’s lyrics center on themes of dedication (“Sixteen Years”), being known as middle finger-throwing rabble rousers (“Troublemaker”), seizing adventure while traveling (“Nowhere Fast”), and addressing anxiety and depression (“Fallen Again”). When they return home from tour, broke and empty, they humbly look to their families for support (“Bottom Dollar Boy”), and unconditional love—despite their unconventional career paths—(“Tumbleweed”). Thus recharged, they can hit the road again, to spread the Vandoliers’ message with renewed fervor.
Formed in 2015, Vandoliers are Fleming, bassist Mark Moncrieff, drummer Guyton Sanders, fiddler Travis Curry, electric guitarist Dustin Fleming, and multi-instrumentalist Cory Graves. Their first two albums Ameri-Kinda (2016) and The Native (2017) were released on State Fair Records.
Jason Hawk Harris hit rock bottom during the writing and recording of his debut full-length Love & the Dark. In the last few years, the Houston-born-and-raised, Los Angeles-based musician endured life-altering hardships—illness, death, familial strife, and addiction—yet from these trials, a luxuriant and confident vision of art country emerged.
With an unlikely background, Harris is a singer/guitarist/songwriter who walks his own line, one that touches on Lyle Lovett’s lyrical frankness, John Moreland’s punk cerebralism and Judee Sill’s mysticism and orchestral sensibility. There’s even the literary and sonic audacity of an early Steve Earle, an outlaw unafraid to embrace harmony.
Jason’s grandfather exposed him to country music at an early age, and his family celebrated holidays with group sing-alongs. In his teens, Harris began listening to punk, indie rock, and, notably, Queen. In some part inspired by the instrumental flair of Freddie Mercury & Co., he later took the educational plunge into classical composition and was eventually wait-listed for the master’s program at UCLA, when things took a turn.
While touring and performing in the indie folk band The Show Ponies, Jason started writing his own songs, intuitively returning to his country roots but incorporating his classical and rock ‘n’ roll performance skills. He released his first solo offering, the Formaldehyde, Tobacco and Tulips EP in 2017 and hit the road.
Meanwhile, his world fell apart: his mother died from complications of alcoholism; his father went bankrupt after being sued by the King of Morocco; his sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and gave birth to a premature son with cerebral palsy; and—subsequently—Jason got sidetracked by his own vices.
Love & the Dark is not THAT country narrative, though; that of surviving through pain. But it’s not NOT that either. This is his personal narrative on death, struggle, and addiction, of a life deconstructed and reassembled. From the opener, “The Smoke and the Stars,” it’s apparent this album will take you to compelling new places. An ache, a longing, claws its way out of the speakers, the gradual drone blossoming through without rigid genre designs. You can hear the essence of classical music in a long crescendo; you can feel his Houston upbringing in JHH’s soulful and humid inflection; you can sense his Los Angeles home in the sharp and risky dynamics. You can also hear the joy and exquisite desperation when he swings for the fences, belting “Maybe I was just waiting for you, to get through the grapevine, tear down that door, and let me live in those green eyes of yours.
On “Cussing at the Light,” the classic “drink-you-off-my-mind” trope has an updated countrypolitan vibe with its precise harmonies courtesy of Natalie Nicoles, and later a raucous teenage urgency rumbles through the punchy “I’m Afraid.” The buoyant roots-pop “Red Room Blues,” featuring vocals by folk/bluegrass maven Rachel Baiman, touches antecedents stretching from Jason Isbell to Nick Lowe.
In the dark balladry of “Phantom Limb” (also sung with Baiman), when he softly describes his mother’s funeral through keenly personal details, “I got this shirt. Smells like the viewing/ Formaldehyde, tobacco and tulips/ I’ve washed it ten times, and it won’t come out,” he takes us to the bottom with him.
While his music acknowledges mortality, pain, and hardship, it’s also Jason Hawk Harris’s way of working through it. Love & The Dark is a hypnotically convincing album; you can feel the unknown, but you need not fear it.
"Rock and roll's been very very good to me," Rhett Miller sings on "Longer Than You've Been Alive," an epic six-minute stream-of-consciousness meditation on his life in music. It's a rare moment of pulling back the curtain, on both the excesses and tedium of the world of a touring musician, and it's the perfect way to open the Old 97's 2014 album, 'Most Messed Up.'
"I wrote that song very quickly and didn’t rewrite one word of it," Miller explains. "It's sort of a thesis statement not just for this record, but for my life's work."
To say that rock and roll has been good to the Old 97's (guitarist/vocalist Miller, bassist/vocalist Murry Hammond, guitarist Ken Bethea, and drummer Philip Peeples) would be an understatement. The band emerged from Dallas twenty years ago at the forefront of a musical movement blending rootsy, country-influenced songwriting with punk rock energy and delivery. The New York Times has described their major label debut, 'Too Far To Care,' as "a cornerstone of the 'alternative country' movement…[that] leaned more toward the Clash than the Carter Family." They've released a slew of records since then, garnering praise from NPR and Billboard to SPIN and Rolling Stone, who hailed the band as "four Texans raised on the Beatles and Johnny Cash in equal measures, whose shiny melodies, and fatalistic character studies, do their forefathers proud." The band performed on television from Letterman to Austin City Limits and had their music appear in countless film and TV soundtracks (they appeared as themselves in the Vince Vaughn/Jennifer Aniston movie 'The Break Up'). Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan told The Hollywood Reporter that he put the band on a continuous loop on his iPod while writing the show's final scene.
'Most Messed Up' finds the Old 97's at their raucous, boozy best, all swagger and heart. Titles like "Wasted," "Intervention," "Wheels Off," "Let's Get Drunk And Get It On," and "Most Messed Up" hint at the kind of narrators Miller likes to inhabit, men who possess an appetite for indulgence and won't let a few bad decisions get in the way of a good story.
"A few people in my life said, 'You can't sing 'Let's get drunk and get it on,'" Miller remembers. "I said, 'What do you mean? I've been singing that sentiment for 20 years! I was just never so straightforward about it.'"
It was a trip to Music City that inspired Miller to throw away his inhibitions as songwriter and cut right to the heart of things.
"For me, this record really started in Nashville on a co-write session with John McElroy," he says. "I really admired his wheels off approach to songwriting, And I liked the idea he had for how he thought I should interact with my audience. He said, 'I think your fans want you to walk up to the mic and say fuck.' It was liberating." It reminded me that I don’t have to be too serious or too sincere or heartfelt. I just have to have fun and be honest. I felt like I kind of had free reign to go ahead and write these songs that were bawdier and more adult-themed."
The magic in Miller's songwriting lies in the depth that he lends his characters. Upon closer inspection, the hard partying and endless pursuit of a good time often reveals itself to be a band-aid covering up deeper wounds and emotional scars.
"There's a lot of darkness hidden in this record," he explains. "One of the big Old 97's tricks is when we write about something kind of dark and depressing, it works best when it's a fun sounding song. So it's not until the third or fourth listen that you realize the narrator of this song is a complete disaster."
If that description calls to mind The Replacements, it's no coincidence. Miller is a fan of the Minneapolis cult heroes, and now counts Tommy Stinson among his own friends and fans. Best known as bassist for the Mats and more recently Guns 'n' Roses, Stinson joined the Old 97's in the studio in Austin, Texas, to lay down electric guitar on ## tracks, elevating the sense of reckless musical abandon to new heights and lending the album an air of the Rolling Stones' double-guitar attack. It's a collaboration Miller never would have even imagined in 1994 when the band released their debut.
"We didn’t think we'd last until the year 1997," Miller laughs. "We thought the name would get a little weird when it became 1997, but we decided none of our bands had ever lasted that long, so let's not even worry about it. But as it all started to unfold, we realized we could maybe make a living doing this, and we were all really conscious of wanting to be a career band. It was way more important to us to maintain a really high level of quality, at the expense, perhaps, of having hit singles or fitting in with the trends of the time, and I'm glad we did that."
Twenty years on, it's safe to say rock and roll has indeed been very, very good to the Old 97's.
I hesitated for a moment when I was approached to write a bio on James Alex and Beach Slang. After fifteen years in music journalism, having interviewed most of my heroes, I’ve learned that it’s much easier to write about a mediocre project than someone like James Alex, an artist that means a whole hell of a lot to me. There’s a reason that fans have Beach Slang lyrics tattooed on their forearms, and openly weep as they pogo at shows (I’ve seen it). James doesn’t just write his spiky poetry about beautiful misfits and drunken dreamers from detached distance: He IS one of us. If there was a hint of dishonesty about James, believe me, we would know. And we would have called bullshit long ago.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that after a half-decade of following, and growing to believe and trust James, the third Beach Slang LP, The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City, is his most accomplished. While James has always infused his anthemic power pop with the earnestness of a gutter poet, Deadbeat Bang sneaks up on you. The album opens with “All the Kids in LA,” and what begins with dulcet string orchestration slams into pounding drums and the hooks you’d expect from a Slang album. It’s big, loud, and brash, immediately setting the tone for a record more inspired by the stadium classic rock of Cheap Trick than early Replacements. James has you right in the sweet spot when we first hear his sandpaper howl on the record at the start of track two, “Let it Ride.” “I’m headed out tonight for a real cheap thrill / Got trash can charm and a bag of pills.” You may think you know where this ride is going, but James has no interest in taking the main drag.
I’m already getting carried away, and because this is a bio, let’s do a quick history. In 2014, James released two EPs, Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken and Cheap Thrills On a Dead End Street. Having earned his bona fides from two decades in cult, pop-punk outfit Weston, James never fully considered Beach Slang a viable project until Pitchfork and tastemakers praised the EPs. Drawing comparisons to Jawbreaker and The Replacements, but never approaching easy facsimile, Beach Slang paid tribute to the past by lighting a new torch. For those of us who worship at the altar of Paul Westerberg and classic alternative, we got it right away, and if you haven’t heard “All Fuzzed Out” off Cheap Thrills, drop everything and do it now.
Two critically-acclaimed albums followed, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us in 2015 and A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings the following year, in which James continued to explore the psychic wounds of people who burn too bright. As road warriors, with James in his ruffled suit and bulls-eye heart, Beach Slang turned any skeptics into hardcore believers with each show. It sounds like hyperbole, but every Slang performance oozes with the sweat-drenched energy and fevered reverence of a Sunday sermon. And then, with the last headlining tour in December 2017, there was relative quiet on the Beach Slang front. But, that’s where The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City was slowly coming to life.
Late September, 2019: “I would say it has the most personal songs,” says James over-the-phone from his home base in Philadelphia. “It really steps outside of what people might consider the Beach Slang sound…or maybe it doesn’t.” Like all Beach Slang albums, the eleven tracks on Deadbeat Bang are all written by James. The record was mixed by heavy-hitter Brad Wood, celebrated for his work with the Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair. “Brad is a great, big hero of mine,” says James. “And the most brilliant, patient, explorative, boundary-pushing, mind-flipping, sonic genie I've ever worked with. Cross my heart, I'll never make another record without him. He is the absolute goods."
The band has always had a revolving door of players, but this record features a VERY special guest bassist: Tommy Stinson. “It was a real-life rock & roll daydream come true,” says James. “I played in the studio with Tommy. We were standing two feet from each other, rocking out these songs that I wrote. We shared a bottle of bourbon the whole time.” Save for Tommy, the assured drum work of Cully Symington, and the auxiliary strings and horns, all of the instrumentation was performed and arranged by James.
“There was no ‘working it out,’ says James. “We went into the studio and did it. There was no pre-production. This record went from guitar-vocals-demos that I made straight into the studio. Everything was on-the-fly in the studio, which is about as much from-the-gut as it gets. The writing was really thoughtful, but the execution was devil-may-care.
And that’s where I come back to that thing about “not taking the main drag.” In keeping with the hoary “road” metaphor I established earlier, I like to drive to music. It’s the best way for me to get to know a new record. With nowhere to be and no planned route, I drove semi-deserted South Carolina back roads, with Deadbeat Bang as my navigator, on a sunny day in late September. The leaves were just beginning to change, and maybe I was already feeling a tad melancholic, but “Nobody Say Nothing” track five on the record hit, and I pulled over to a gravelly stop halfway through the track.
With an acoustic guitar strum, sparse strings and hushed vocals, James repeats, “I’m a one-way ticket on a nowhere bus.” My eyes stung and I immediately texted him, “This record is the best thing you’ve ever done.” Dear reader, I hope it breaks your heart and heals it, just like mine.
—Drew Fortune; Vanity Fair, Vulture
Federale is a seven-piece ensemble based in Portland, OR. Spearheaded by longtime Brian Jonestown Massacre bassist Collin Hegna, the band was conceived as an outlet to channel inspiration from ‘60s & ‘70s European soundtracks, particularly those from Italy made famous by the Spaghetti Western & Giallo genres.
As a mournful whistle carves through fevered melancholia, the first stirrings of No Justice‘s title track evoke the mean streets and rusted prairies of a blighted small folk roiling with palpable desperation. Embracing the enormous scope of orchestral cinematic production while subduing the bombast of electrified riffage, Collin Hegna has honed a taut, gleaming precision from his passion project’s signature sound. When his honeyed baritone waltzes with the operatic wizardry of bandmate Maria Karlin, the finely-etched lyrical depths fortify Federale’s cinematic sway.
Spare yet sumptuous, distilling the lean, gritty essence of grindhouse anomie and wielding orchestral flourishes of widescreen delicacy, No Justice feels like the defining statement of a band fully-realized – a sultry, restless stormcloud arising from the darkness at the edge of town to draw forth the fated reckoning.
In late 2011, Matt Myers, Zak Appleby and Shane Cody started playing music together in a historic home in New Albany, Indiana dubbed “The Green House.” Its rooms were adorned with relics from times past, so it was no surprise that songs such as “Penitentiary” bounced off the walls. Nostalgic sounds from their first album seemed to serve as a welcome escape for listeners from the relentless demands of the digital age. But if you asked any one of the guys, they were ‘just having fun.’
Houndmouth signed with legendary indie label Rough Trade Records in 2012. From The Hills Below The City landed them on several world-famous platforms such as fellow lovable Hoosier, David Letterman’s stage. When vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Matt Myers first spoke with big-name producer Dave Cobb prior to working together on their sophomore LP Little Neon Limelight, the two laughingly agreed to “not make another fucking boring Americana record.” A natural sounding album captured in a familiar fashion came together, except this time with a #1 adult alternative radio single in “Sedona.” “I never once thought of us as an Americana band,” says drummer Shane Cody. “The four of us were just a rock band, but some of us had Southern accents,” he laughs. Cue Golden Age, the third album featuring some of the band’s most innovative and experimental songs yet. Coining the term “retro future”, Houndmouth combined creative songwriting with avant-garde instrumentation like the synthesized roar of an actual black jaguar on the track “Black Jaguar”.
The band finds themselves recording and also touring their upcoming untitled fourth album expected to release in 2020. From their humble start, genre-defining hits, and experimentation, Houndmouth has and continues to make their impactful felt with the unique take on storytelling through music.
A garage rock diva whose music merges the sounds of doo wop and '60s rock with the bold attitude of indie and underground sounds, Shannon Shaw first gained an audience as the leader of the group Shannon & the Clams. Born and raised in Northern California, Shaw grew up on a musical diet of '50s and '60s oldies, and while studying art in the 2000s, she fell in with like-minded musicians to form Shannon & the Clams, rising through the indie rock underground on the strength of albums like 2013's Dreams in the Rat House and 2015's Gone by the Dawn. An alliance with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys led to him producing 2018's Onion, as well as Shaw's solo debut, a country-accented set titled Shannon in Nashville.
Shannon Shaw was born on May 21, 1983. She grew up in Napa, a community in Northern California, where her father was a firefighter and her mother worked at a psychiatric hospital. Shaw grew up in a Mormon household, where one of the few radio stations her parents approved of played nothing but oldies from the '50s and '60s. As a teenager, Shaw was a misfit who spent much of her time avoiding the jocks who enjoyed making her life difficult. When she was 15, Shaw's boyfriend gave her a bass guitar, a Danelectro with silver glitter finish, but she didn't take to it at first, and it wasn't until she was 25 that she gave the instrument a second chance, learning to play and write songs after a tumultuous breakup.
Around this time, Shaw was attending the California College of the Arts in the East Bay Area, where she met Cody Blanchard; they didn't get along well at first, but after watching a video project he'd made, Shaw decided she'd found a kindred spirit, and they struck up a friendship. Blanchard played guitar and shared Shaw's taste for vintage sounds, and before long they decided to form a band. Recruiting fellow CCA student Ian Amberson to play drums, the first lineup of Shannon & the Clams debuted in 2008. The following year, they released their debut EP, Hunk Hunt, and a full-length album, I Wanna Go Home, was dropped by Oakland-based indie 1-2-3-4 Go! Records before 2009 was out.
Soon, Shaw was doing double duty, fronting Shannon & the Clams and playing bass in another Bay Area retro garage band, Hunx & His Punx. 1-2-3-4 Go! brought out the second Shannon & the Clams album, Sleep Talk, in 2011, and the group dropped a number of singles through 2012. Shannon & the Clams next struck a deal with the Sub Pop-distributed Hardly Art label, which released their third album, Dreams in the Rat House, in 2013, and in 2014 the band played a tour of Australia. By the time Hardly Art brought out 2015's Gone by the Dawn, the group had gone through some changes; Nate Mahan replaced Ian Amberson on drums, and they expanded to a quartet with the addition of Will Sprott on keyboards.
After learning that Shannon & the Clams' Australian tour happened in part because the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, a fan of the band, had recommended them to a festival promoter in the Antipodes, Shaw and Auerbach struck up a friendship, and Auerbach proved to be a valuable ally to the group. First, Auerbach signed Shannon & the Clams to his Easy Eye Sound label, and produced their fifth album, Onion, released in February 2018. Four months later, Easy Eye premiered Shaw's first solo album. Shannon in Nashville teamed Shaw with a studio band that included veteran session men Gene Chrisman and Bobby Wood, and saw her adding country and pop accents to her retro garage sound.
Blood Harmony. Whether it’s The Beach Boys, Bee Gees or First Aid Kit, that sibling vocal blend is the secret sauce in some of the most spine-tingling moments in popular music. The Cactus Blossoms – Minneapolis-based brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey – offer compelling evidence that this tradition is alive and well, with a deceptively unadorned musical approach that offers “creative turns of phrase, gorgeous harmonies, and an ageless sound” (NPR All Things Considered), not to mention spine tingles aplenty. Their 2016 debut You’re Dreaming, a stunning and transporting collection of original songs, earned high praise from Rolling Stone and Vice Noisey, tour stints with Kacey Musgraves and Lucius, and a perfectly cast performance on the third season of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Now their unlikely rise continues with new album Easy Way, to be released on their own label Walkie Talkie Records.
While many bands would have been content to stick with the winning formula of their debut, the Blossoms refused to repeat themselves. If You’re Dreaming celebrated their vintage country and rock influences, Easy Way reveals a songwriting style that has changed, evolved, and gotten more modern. Dan Auerbach, another artist who knows from bedrock influences, co-wrote two songs on the album. “Dan’s love for songwriting was inspiring, just the kick in the pants we needed to start writing again after being on the road,” says Page.
The brothers’ decision to produce the new album themselves no doubt led to the new sound. “We wanted the freedom to experiment with our own weird ideas,” says Jack, “We used to joke that the working title album should be Expensive Demos.” As they crisscrossed the nation on tour, the brothers would stop through Alex Hall’s Reliable Recorders studio in Chicago to chase the new sound they were after. The result joins together what would otherwise be distant corners of the American songbook. Both the traditional twang of Chicago pedal steel guitarist Joel Paterson (Devil in a Woodpile, The Western Elstons) and the primal wail of free jazz saxophonist Michael Lewis (Bon Iver, Andrew Bird) are at home on the album. Just as they did with their debut, the brothers found a voice all their own.
Blue Water Highway comes from the working class, coastal town background that has informed the work of so many of rock’s greatest writers and artists. They take their name from the roadway that links their hometown of Lake Jackson, Texas to Galveston, where the cops, the teachers, the baristas and the chemical plant workers travel to work hard and to play hard, blowing off steam, dancing to their favorite bands. Blue Water Highway’s music is the soundtrack for their lives.
“Best Friend” is the first single from their upcoming album Heartbreak City, coming out on Blue Water Highway Records/Thirty Tigers on June 8th. With a hook that’s a mile wide, it chronicles the lives, loves and friendships that sustain us. Said lead singer Zack Kibodeaux, “We wrote this as a band, and we wanted to tap into that feeling of that special friendship where you know you can count on one another. Even though I wrote characters that are not the band members, our relationship definitely informed the writing of the lyrics.”
Blue Water Highway was started by two best friends from high school - Kibodeaux (lead vocals, guitar) and Greg Essington (guitar). They were later joined by Catherine Clark (keyboards), Jared Wilson (drums) and Kyle James Smith (bass). They will be touring relentlessly to support Heartbreak City, so look for them in a town near you soon.
My name is Katherine Paul and I am Black Belt Eagle Scout.
I grew up on the Swinomish Indian Reservation in NW Washington state, learning to play piano, guitar and drums in my adolescent years. The very first form of music that I can remember experiencing was the sound of my dad singing native chants to coo me to sleep as a baby. I grew up around powwows and the songs my grandfather and grandmother sang with my family in their drum group. This is what shapes how I create music: with passion and from the heart.
After the release of Mother of My Children, I felt awake and desperately wanted to put new music out into the world. I had no real intent behind At the Party With My Brown Friends except creating songs around what was going on in my life. In the past few years, the reciprocal love I experienced within friendships is what has been keeping me going. A lot of what is in this album deals with love, desire and friendship.
The lead single, “At the Party,” starts off with a quintessential BBES guitar lick, heading into booming and abundant drums and vocals. The lines ‘How is it real? We will always sing’ came out of me one evening when I was crafting the song in my bedroom. Within my conscious self, there is always a sense of questioning the legitimacy of the world when you grow up on an Indian reservation. We are all at the party (the world), trying to navigate ourselves within a good or bad situation. I happen to be at the party with my brown friends- Indigenous, Black, POC who always have my back while we walk throughout this event called life.
I started writing “My Heart Dreams” the summer after I initially put out MOMC, writing the guitar chords in a friend’s apartment on Ohlone land. I had been in a transitional part of my life, leaving one love and wanting to find another so much so that I felt like my heart was dreaming about it along with my brain at night. I have an obsession with dreams, mainly because I cannot remember most of mine and often times that leaves me frustrated not knowing that part of myself. I would wake up and be overcome with anxiety about not knowing what had gone down in my brain so much so that I started feeling like my heart dreamt more than my mind, thus becoming the line, my heart dreams.
I wrote “Going To The Beach With Haley” one day when I was out on a coastal trip with my friend Haley Heynderickx. We loaded up her car with our blankets and instruments and drove straight to a beach where we sat and listened to the waves and young families with their babies on the beach. I had brought my mini casio keyboard that had an array of beats I used when writing songs. The beat that’s on the song just stuck there along with the main guitar part. Initially written on an old acoustic guitar my mom bought me, the song really transformed in the studio where I added drums and other melodies to create the song.
Throughout the course of my writing and playing around this record, most of these songs deal with relationships I have either with loved ones or friends. I think it low key has to do with my anthropology degree, but also the fact that writing and playing guitar in my bedroom just makes everything feel better for me. For the longest time, I wanted to convey my feelings around coming out to my family. It had been a good experience for me and while I know it is not always that way when kids decide to tell their family, I think that we can open our hearts more for that. I would watch youtube videos of moms being proud of their kids surrounding their sexuality and gender identity and I really wanted to raise my voice to say, ‘my family too!’ What started with trying to sound so literal in this song ended up turning into a song about how much I love my mom and how our connection is eternal. “You’re Me and I’m You” is about being one with your mother, since we all were a part of their bodies at one point. It’s me trying to explore who she is and who I am with my love for people.
Harmony is king in Motel Radio. The four piece, dual front man indie band from New Orleans builds silky, melodic guitar waves for their stacked vocals to surf across. Breezy yet intentional, pop-minded yet psychedelic; their tunes are as likely to stick with young songwriters as they are veteran deadheads.
In New Orleans, music wafts through the windows night and day. From the side- sticking second lines to the croons of the troubadours on Royal Street, Motel
Radio draws inspiration from the sounds of their home city while adding their own indie flair to the pot. The group spent the past year writing and recording their debut full-length Siesta Del Sol with producer, engineer, and neighbor Eric Heigle. They split time between Heigle’s studio (Wix Mix Productions) and their own home studio a block away to produce the dynamic 10 song LP, which will
release in July of 2019. The record will be accompanied by a five week summer tour supporting Austin-based indie band Summer Salt.
The album title “Siesta Del Sol “ was derived from a jukebox song the band heard at a bar in Marfa, TX during their first tour of the west coast. It was a nostalgic and defining moment for the group: four musicians who had started as college roommates simultaneously felt a cosmic emotion and awareness of what they’d been building together. They realized they were chasing something bigger than themselves as they continued their journey west.
Since their last release (Desert Surf Films EP 2016), the band has played festivals across the U.S. (New Orleans Jazz Fest, Firefly Festival, Voodoo, and SXSW to name a few), and opened for artists like Kurt Vile, Moon Taxi, Drive By Truckers, Dylan LeBlanc and Summer Salt.
Stick your head out the window and sniff the air: there’s a blizzard of badness brewing, and it’s not blowing over anytime soon. Sure, the political leaders, bullies, and other villains of various venoms are dominating the headlines, but these days the list of troublemakers extends well beyond the usual suspects.
From their home base in the Heartland, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s BRONCHO have a unique vantage point from which to survey the sins. Churning out thoughtful, nuanced rock and roll with an art school spirit and a punk rock heart since 2010, the band’s fourth album, Bad Behavior, finds them leaning into their strengths for their strongest effort yet. Following the catchy, playful vibe of previous albums Can’t Get Past the Lips(2011) and Just Enough Hip to BeWoman(2014), as well as the deliberate sonic intent of 2016’s sludgy, moodier art piece Double Vanity, the new record reveals BRONCHO’s fly-on-the-crumbling-wall vision of our moral climate, complete with a reenergized, accessible sound and the charmingly sardonic, smiling-while-sneering delivery of singer and bandleader Ryan Lindsey.
“It’s a reflection of the current world: everybody’s been acting badly over the last few years so we made a record about it,” Lindsey says. “There are multiple ways of portraying something as ‘bad,’ and there are moments of self-reflection throughout the record as though we could be talking about ourselves—but not necessarily. It’s observational, like we’re looking through muddy binoculars from a distance. It’s a blurry mirror image of the times from where we sit.”
Lindsey (vocals/guitar) and the band—Nathan Price (drums), Ben King (guitar), and Penny Pitchlynn (bass)—are a tight unit who have seen their songs featured at influential TV and radio and have toured the U.S. andEurope, including arenas with the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, The Growlers, Portugal.The Man, and Cage The Elephant. In the gritty warehouse district of Downtown Tulsa they have carved out a physical place for themselves, an industrial blank space where BRONCHO can experiment with sounds, performance, visuals, and more. It’s where they recorded Bad Behavior with producer Chad Copelin in the first half of 2018, a controlled process that allowed them to work at their own pace and by their own standards, almost like a secret club.
Bad Behavior slinks and purrs with a sense of lascivious flirtation. Lindsey sings with a mischievous twinkle in his voice, peppering his verses with suggestive uh-ohs and ahhs and at times barely pushing out his words to the point of whispering. Lines like “You caught me in the weekend/You caught me with your boyfriend” (“Weekend”) and “I got a thing for your mother/I got a thing to teach your father” (“Family Values”) match the primal pulse of the songs’ moods and vibes, and their pop sensibilities create a world where T. Rex, Tom Petty, The Cars, and The Strokes collide. “Keep It in Line” chimes along to a driving, pepped-up beat and serves as both the album’s catchiest moment and its closest swerve toward ethical commentary, as Lindsey’s narrator demands to be reminded of his place in the world while attempting to submit to his misgivings. The result is less an act of penance and more of honest reproach, an ultimate judgment that is matched in its directness only by the following track, “Sandman,” an overt yearning for pleasure that Lindsey calls the band’s answer to The Chordettes classic “Mr. Sandman.”
The record is filled with references to religion, sin, drugs, vice, and scandal bubbling just under the surface. It’s a palette familiar to anyone who has ever turned on the evening news, which Lindsey admits was a huge influence on him. “Through the writing process I watched a lot of CNN, and man there’s a lot of bad behavior there,” he says. “Not to mention that there’s a company making money off of people watching their depiction of it all. From an entertainer’s standpoint I get what they’re doing, calling everything ‘breaking news’ and keeping people glued, but taking up that kind of space can’t be good for society. Although it’s pretty fun to watch.”
Can all this unsavory activity exist without taking sides? Lindsey holds tight to his role as a relayer and is comfortable with leaving it to the audience to cast their own lot. “We’re assuming that everybody is coming from a certain set of values, but ultimately that’s impossible,” he says. “There’s a lot of people who think a certain way about the world and aren’t as shocked by these things. Maybe we’re simply trying to start the conversation. The best news is just a report of what’s going on, without bias. This record is a non-biased, non-profit reporting on what’s going on in the world. Part of it’s an exploration in solving those problems, on a personal level and ultimately on a cultural level.”
Bad Behavior represents a picture of a band that have crushed their own commercial expectations and are doing what they want to do at their own pace. They’ve cleaned the slate and quietly made a return with urgent, bonafide pop songs. If you want to catch a whiff of Bad Behavior, simply stick your head out the window and breathe.
Starcrawler is an American rock band from Los Angeles, formed in 2015. The band consists of lead singer Arrow de Wilde, guitarist Henri Cash, bassist Tim Franco and drummer Austin Smith. They have released two studio albums, Starcrawler and Devour You.
Starcrawler lead singer Arrow de Wilde and guitarist Henri Cash both attended Los Angeles' Grand Arts High School. De Wilde is the daughter of photographer Autumn de Wilde and drummer Aaron Sperske.
Get Gone, the potent debut album by the Shreveport, Louisiana natives in Seratones, makes a strong case that this little-known corner of the state is fertile ground, musically speaking. A.J. Haynes (vocals), Connor Davis (guitar), Adam Davis (bass) and Jesse Gabriel (drums) serve up a combination of Southern musicality, garage rock ferocity, and general badassery.
Haynes’s powerful singing voice, first honed at Brownsville Baptist Church in Columbia, Louisiana at age 6, rings across every track. Davis’s bass and Gabriel’s playing propel every song with the grit, energy, and rawness of punk, the feeling of soul, and occasionally, a little jazz swing. The other Davis offers a clinic in guitar riffs, from swaggering blues to searing interstellar leads.
Recorded at Dial Back Sound studios in Mississippi, Get Gone is all live takes, a portrait of the Seratones in their element. Add the soul and swagger of a juke joint with the electricity coursing through a basement DIY show, and you’d begin to approach the experience of seeing this foursome live. The well-paced, multi-faceted set showcases a band dedicated to sonic exploration. “Don’t Need It,” which opens with a muscular swing and tight guitar lines, builds into a monster finish with a nasty corkscrew of a guitar line. “Sun,” a brawny thrasher, courses with huge, raw voltage riffs. “Chandelier,” a mid-tempo burner and vocal workout by Haynes, goes from croon to a crescendo that would shake any crystals hanging from the rafters.
Shared history in the city’s music scene brought the Seratones together a few years ago. All four had played together with one or another in various local punk bands, bonding through all-ages basement shows, gigs at skate parks and BBQ joints, and late nights listening to jazz and blues records. In a city of multiple genres, no fixed musical identity and a flood of cover bands, these adventurous musicians carved out their own path, personifying the do-it-yourself ethos. The group was quickly recognized after forming, winning the Louisiana Music Prize in 2013.
“Shreveport is always shifting its identity,” says Haynes. “You can do a lot of different things when it seems like every band is its own genre.”
Seratones’s music, created with collaborative songwriting and spontaneous creativity, is certainly their own, due perhaps in part to Shreveport’s unique sonic geography. The city sits at a nexus roughly equidistant from Memphis soul, Mississippi Delta Blues, and New Orleans jazz, with Texas swing located just over the nearby state border. The band’s sound draws from those touch points and more, ranging from Black Sabbath’s Paranoid to Kind of Blue. They’ll happily connect the dots between Ornette Coleman and Jello Biafra.
Seratones have different names for the amalgamation of styles found on their debut: Their own “expression of freedom,” music that’s “all about waking people up,” a safe space to feel what you want. However you choose to describe it, Get Gone is unexpected and unbowed, a head-snapping showcase of the twin pillars of Southern music, restlessness and resourcefulness.
by Patrick Sisson