Now Playing: Hank & Cupcakes

Atlanta’s Hank & Cupcakes are only a two-piece, but theirs is a sound that’s bigger, sonically richer and more viscerally galvanizing than that of any 12-piece funk ensemble or multiple-strat-toting metal outfit you could think to name. Married couple and Israeli ex-pats Sagit “Cupcakes” Shir and Ariel “Hank” Scherbacovsky call it “indietronic,” but there’s really no way words can do justice to their irrepressible and insistently hook-y brand of electronic indie-pop hybridized with deliriously danceable rock ‘n’ roll.

“We had just come out of being in another band, and we were experiencing a period of creative emptiness, where we just weren’t sure what our next move should be,” says Shir, explaining the band’s genesis during a recent phone interview. “Ultimately, Hank & Cupcakes was born out of that boredom and uncertainty. The two of us just started rehearsing together, with no commitments other than to enjoy being 100 percent creative, just a bass and drums.

“We began exploring very deeply, and we found a way to make up for all the musicians that were ‘missing’ from our lineup. We don’t do things in the traditional way a bassist or a drummer would do things. There’s a lot of creativity and being unconventional involved in the way we approached our instruments.”

Shir gives a good deal of the credit for crafting H&C’s rafter-shaking, multi-dimensional racket to hubby Scherbacovsky, and his ingenious four-string manipulations. “He has this incredibly complex rig, like a mad scientist kind of thing,” she says. “He splits every signal into four lines, with different effects. It makes his bass sound like a full band.”

To be sure, the story of Hank and Cupcakes’ crazy travelogue of a career, and of the consequent evolution of their one-of-a-kind, genre-redefining sound is hella fascinating all by itself.

It all began when Tel Aviv natives Scherbacovsky and Shir met while playing in a band as members of the Israeli army back in 1999. They clicked both musically and personally, and played in a couple other projects together before marrying and moving to Havana to study jazz and indigenous Cuban music.

Their Cuban sojourn was cut short by the country’s uneasy political climate, and thus the couple bounced back to Israel and undertook the aforementioned creative transformation before officially founding Hank & Cupcakes and moving to Brooklyn, NY in 2008.

Stateside, it wasn’t long before H&C’s emergent pop savvy and colorful, cathartic live sets built a buzz, turning the band into a minor New York legend. They started touring outside the state, traveling all over the U.S., playing CMJ and various other stops on  the up-and-comers festival circuit before trekking abroad to Europe and the Middle East.

A publishing deal ensued, and then, on the eve of releasing their debut record, Hank & Cupcakes signed a recording contract from major label BMG.

But the idyll of having a major label record deal proved to be short-lived. “It was a situation where we had an album ready to come out, and all of a sudden, the label started questioning things,” Shir says. “Then they demanded we bring in co-songwriters. And then they said the budget was gone. We were used to being involved in all aspects of our band, from business to music to promotion, but they didn’t want us being our own leaders. They wanted to keep us out of the loop.”

Shir says the band managed to find a loophole in their contract, then secured their release in 2013 — miraculously enough, with rights to the songs they had written still intact. Liberated, they went on to release their debut “Naked” independently in 2013.

Two more albums — including 2014’s “Cash for Gold” and last year’s “Cheap Thrill” — and a move to Atlanta later, and the buzz the band started building before the BMG derailment is mounting yet again. H & C learned to create their own videos, and have since released a slew of video singles, several of them in conjunction with famed fashion photographer Javier Ortega.

The duo have also logged literally hundreds of dates on the road; they’re currently gearing up for a four-month touring run, the end of which will see them head back to the studio to record songs for a fourth Hank & Cupcakes release in 2018.

“I think most of our growth has come thanks to playing all of those shows these last few years,” Shir says. “We’ve become much more elaborate in what we do, and it’s also helped our sound to grow much bigger. Our performance level has gone way up.

“Next up, we’re going to get back into a very intense writing and recording mode. Then we’ll see what the next album is going to be like.”

Hank & Cupcakes will play Preservation Pub Sunday, May 27 at 10 p.m.

 

Now Playing: Captain Ivory

Maybe they call it the Motor City, but Detroit, Mich. has a musical tradition as rich as its automotive one. From Motown to Mitch Ryder to Parliament-Funkadelic and the MC5, Detroit’s legacy proffers a diverse  yet distinctive mix of heartland rock and heavy metal, low-down funk and silken soul.

Captain Ivory are definitely of a piece with that tradition. The three-year-old four-piece, led by standout vocalist Jayson Traver, play straight-up rock that’s tinged with hints of trad blues and soul, an earthy kind of stomp that seems to pay homage to all of the plainspoken blue-collar values that characterize the city they call home.

“Our focus when we started was to take a blues feel and match to a Detroit kind of sound,” says Ivory bassist Brett Smith. “There’s always been an underdog spirit here, kind of a sense of Detroit vs. the world. There’s definitely a cool music scene going on.”

Captain Ivory’s was an unlikely genesis, however, sparked when guitarist Robbie Bolog found himself in the company of keyboardist/citymate Steve Zwilling on an overseas backpacking trip. The two decided to start a band upon returning home, and recruited Traver, drummer Justin Leiter, and Smith in quick succession.

Traver’s muscular vocals are a defining element of Ivory’s sound, a powerful melding of Bon Scott’s blues-rock wailing and Bob Seger’s heartfelt songwriter schtick, overlaid with a patina of blue-eyed soul. “He’s probably closer than all of us to that Detroit ethic; he grew up listening to Seger,” Smith says of his singer. “Probably his biggest vocal influence, though, was Robert Plant. That’s what gives him that stand-out-of-a-crowd delivery.”

But the unsung member of Captain Ivory, Smith says, is drummer Justin Leiter, a Neil Peart/jazz-fusion enthusiast whose deftness and versatility serve as a fulcrum for the rest of the band. “He has a vast knowledge of his craft, and we kind of feed off that,” Smith says. “He’s able to take all kinds of different ideas, absorb them, and then do exactly what a particular song needs.”

To date, Captain Ivory have released two consistently impressive studio albums — 2014’s self-titled effort, and last year’s “No Vacancy” — showcasing their mighty Midwestern rock chops. But to truly appreciate what the band is all about, Smith says you have to hear Ivory live, where the sturdy-yet-tuneful songs the band laid down on record morph into something else entirely, something wilder and more dangerously potent.

“What we do translates really well into the live experience,” Smith says. “We go over with crowds in a really cool way. The songs have more room to breathe, and they seem to pick up more energy.

“I think our latest record, ‘No Vacancy,’ has a little more of that live energy on it than the first one did. The record was really influenced by being on tour. The name, ‘No Vacancy,’ is about being out there and being afraid, not having any idea where you’re going to stay the night, and having to be somewhere else the next day. So those songs come from a little different place, a whole different set of experiences.”

Captain Ivory will play Preservation Pub Saturday, May 20 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: The Blackfoot Gypsies

Few out-of-towners have performed more often or more memorably on the stage of Preservation Pub than Nashville four-piece the Blackfoot Gypsies. The seven-year-old outfit has been playing Knoxville’s Pub since their early days as a two-piece, before singer-guitarist Matthew Paige and drummer Zach Murphy decided to expand the lineup to include harp player Ollie Dogg and bass player Dylan Whitlow.

The Gypsies are ostensibly a blues-rock outfit, though that descriptor only hints at the dense grab-bag of retro-rock and traditional influences that inform their music. Their sound is that of a blues-powered locomotive, coal-fired by the rhythmic juggernaut created when Paige’s idiosyncratic hybrid slide guitar style locks in with Murphy’s insistent rattle.

It’s the sound of country blues a la Robert Johnson and Fred McDowell, reshaped by the atavistic propulsion of bluegrass and the mournful spirit of white proto-country, the whole of it filtered through the lens of classic blues-rock assimilationists like the Rolling Stones.

At the heart of it all is Paige, who commands attention on stage with his lank mop of hair, soda-bottle glasses and long, rail-thin physique. Singing in a voice that’s at once shrill and strangely beguiling, he rocks back and forth in a weird sync with Murphy’s beat, his angular frame a marvel of physics-defying elasticity.

Paige traces his musical inspiration back to his father, who was himself a voracious consumer of traditional musics, and who gave his young son the less-than-subtle nudge that started his career. “My dad told me I had to pick an instrument and play it,” Paige remembers. “Little did he know it would dominate the rest of my life. He wasn’t always thrilled with that, but, hey, he got what he asked for.”

That led inevitably to the pre-adolescent Paige plundering dad’s vinyl record collection. “Fortunately, he liked good music,” Paige says. “Lightning Hopkins was a big one that I got from my dad. John Lee Hooker. Robert Johnson. Hank Williams. Then came my first concert,Willie Nelson.”

All that listening gradually gave rise to Paige’s distinctive guitar style. A barreling, percussive amalgamation of various picking techniques working in concert with bottleneck slide, Paige’s playing  owes as much to early country blues artists like McDowell as it does to rock ‘n’ roll slide masters like Duane Allman or Mick Taylor. “It started with me learning to play old Muddy Waters songs with the slide,” he says. “I loved the sounds I got, and I got obsessed with the slide almost immediately.”

The evolution of his uncanny man-alto singing voice, however, was another matter entirely. Paige tells that it was at first a daunting proposition, stepping up to the mic solo with his nasally twang, a keening that has more in common with high ‘n’ lonesome traditional mountain music wailers than with the gruff baritones indigenous to blues and rock ‘n’ roll. “The first time I thought about having to sing myself, it freaked me out,” says Paige. “Then I came to terms with what I had going on, and how I could use it. It was like, okay, this is what you’ve got. Now what are you going to do about it?”

After playing as a duo for the first few years of the band’s existence, Paige and Murphy added bass and harmonica to the mix four years ago; the move was a fruitful one, as the Gypsies foursome recently released their third full-length album “To the Top” on Plowboy Records. Paige says the addition of Gregg and Whitlow has been the most important factor in the band’s evolution, more important than the influence of any single artist or sound. “When you have that much sonic energy going on at once, there’s just no substitute for it,” Paige says. “It increases the chance of spontaneity.

“If I had to draw any parallels to what we’re trying to do, I’d say that what the Stones did in the early days was really cool,” he continues. “That was a great interpretation of the blues, where they really tapped into the human element of it. Their blues cover stuff was pretty sexy. I’ve heard Keith and Mick talk about how you have to conjure that unknown element, and how it’s a very visceral tap. And they did it. That’s the kind of thing we try to do, create that essence of sexy blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

The Blackfoot Gypsies will play Preservation Pub Friday, May 19 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: Blond Bones

Blond Bones’ 2016 “Few of Days” was an atypical debut, to say the least — a five-song concept EP centered around the struggles of a star-crossed southern family, a release that came off a bit like Flannery O’Connor as reimagined by circa-1981 R.E.M.

It was a lovely record, marked by stark, reverb-laden guitar lines and by bandleader Christian Barnett’s distinctive vocals — his voice recalling that of Demberist frontman Colin Meloy, a hang-dog mid-range baritone capable of modulating to a pitch-perfect high tenor when the moment is right.

It was lovely, true, but perhaps a bit precious, as evidenced by Barnett’s own feelings about the record. “When I started, I had this grand idea of this alt-country thing, probably because I felt like it’s what I should do, being from the South,” Barnett says.  “So the EP had this dark Southern vibe to it.

“Now don’t get me wrong; I could probably sing every lyric of Johnny Cash’s Fulsom Prison record, but I felt like performing that kind of music wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

Thus Barnett approached his latest release — 2017’s two-song “Sierra” mini-EP — with a different mindset. And while the key elements that made “Few of Days” worth listening to — the ruminative songwriting, the beguiling reverb, and Barnett’s own voice — are still present on the new release, “Sierra” is marked by a subtle but significant tonal shift that makes it altogether more satisfying than its predecessor.

“This time, I didn’t set out saying, I’m going to write a country record,” Barnett says. “I sat down with the rest of the band, and we said, here are some chords, let’s see where they go. It was a much more organic process.”

A talented multi-instrumentalist who studied jazz with guitarist Mark Boling at the University of Tennessee, Barnett founded the Blond Bones as a backing band for local singer-songwriter Joey English, for whom Barnett had been playing drums. But when English took a brief hiatus from music, Blond Bones suddenly took on another life, as a vehicle for Barnett’s own songs.

For a while, Bones were more a musical collective than a proper band, with Barnett serving as the only steady member. Then English returned to the fold as a guitar player, forming a solid core membership along with Barnett, Joe Rebrovick and Daniel Ryan.

“Having a settled lineup has helped us a lot,” Barnett says. “Now everyone gets more involved with the songwriting. I still bring in the basics of the songs, but now the rest of the guys all have their input in shaping where they go.

“‘Sierra’ was more about me doing the music that I actually want to do, the music that has inspired me most as a listener. And I think that goes for the rest of the band, too.”

Though the difference is subtle, ‘Sierra’ is more distinctly a work of urban indie rock than its predecessor, with its Southern and rural shadings. And while both Bones’ releases are emotionally compelling in their own right, the expressiveness of “Sierra” seems more penetrating, unhindered by the artifice of “Few of Days'” unwieldy conceptual overlay.

“From my conversations with the other guys, we’re on the same page now musically,” Barnett says. “We want to make this work artistically and professionally. And artistically, what we want to do is tap into the subconscious and find the music, and let it be what it turns out to be.

“It’s an intense, intentional process, the way we write songs. We all take it seriously.”

Blond Bones will play Preservation Pub Monday, May 1, at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: The Bourgeois Mystics

The Texas-based Bourgeois Mystics are one of those outfits that truly defy categorization, although co-founder and keyboardist Squiggly Finesse is willing to give it a try.

“We have the energy of a punk band with the freakiness of funk, the compositional acumen of classical music and the hipness of jazz, all delivered with the hard edge of hip hop and metal,” says SF, who prefers to go by his stage name.

“I guess we like to call it art-funk.”

It all makes more sense when you understand how the band began, some three years or so ago when theater/dance student Squiggly Finesse met bassist and music composition major Zenith Nadir at New Hampshire’s Keane College.

They hit it off both musically and personally, and somehow, they both ended up in Austin, Tex., rapidly accruing like-minded musical travelers along the way. The end result was the Bourgeois Mystics, an up-to-ten-piece prog-funk ensemble with an elaborately theatrical stage presentation that brings to mind erstwhile heavy metal thespians Gwar.

“Zenith and I have different writing styles,” SF says, by way of explaining the band’s profoundly weird dynamics. “He has a deep understanding of theory. He’s a classical music pedant. I have more of an intuitive feel for soul, jazz, hip hop. I have an intuitive funk groove in my soul.

“What we share is a sense of humor. We both like writing strange stories and witty lyrics.”

That Squiggly and Zenith were truly kindred spirits is perhaps evidenced by the fact that they had both already adopted their stage pseudonyms by the time they met at Keane. Theirs was a shared sense of the outrageous, and it led, organically, to the evolution of the Mystics’ unhinged stage show.

“Performance is my background,” says SF. “My theater background gave me a strong foundation for creating characters and connecting with audiences. Zenith actually has a very theatrical flair, too. He’s kind of a silly, whackadoodle dude.

“I’m a live music fan, and I’ve probably been to 400 to 500 live shows in my life. And my favorite ones were the shows where you could dance and party, where people could get silly and let their guard down a little big. That’s the kind of atmosphere I want to create at a Bourgeois Mystics show.”

On April 14, the Mystics released their first record, “Eureka!”, which they announced via the single release “Eureka! Cigarettes.” A truly bent little number, the single comes off as a smooth slice of horn-driven ’70s funk. That is to say, if ’70s funk had been typically spliced with snippets of dancehall and rap, Latin-flavored bridges, and virtuosic fusion guitar solos.

The lyrics are just as harrowingly nutty, written as a commercial for an imaginary brand of cigarettes, featuring the shifting perspectives of a morally conflicted product spokesman, a shady physician, a 19th century gold prospector, and an abominable snowman.

“Like most of what we do, it’s a fusion of the old world and the new world,” SF says of the song. “And like most of what we do, I think there’s an appeal across generations. It’s danceable and modern, with some hip-hop things thrown in. But there are some traditional elements in there, too.”

The Bourgeois Mystics will play Preservation Pub Wednesday, May 3 at 10 p.m.