downtown dirty by manhole: January

wqwm4Longtime readers (that is to say, both of you) may have noticed that Scruffington Post took a brief hiatus at the end of 2016, a rejuvenating little intermission necessary to recover from the enervating effects of a dreadful election cycle and an all-around lousy year.

But we’re back now, lured by the tantalizing promise of a brand New Year. To wit, we’re already in the publicity phase of the release of Scott West’s The Crook Books, Volume One, the compendium of fun facts, autobiographical weirdness, history, personal musing and criminal philosophy West wrote whilst spending time in the lock-up for money laundering in a massive marijuana peddling scheme — see the review in this issue of Scruffington Post for deets, and visit Earth to Old City on Market Square to purchase your copy.

Also in this issue is a visit with Preservation Pub’s de facto house band, Realm, featuring bartender/drummer Nick Leichtweis and bassist/keyboardist Kurt Bell. Realm are making their welcome return to the Pub stage Jan. 13, with special guests Indighost in tow. The Johnson City-based band ply a brand of alternately fierce and mesmerizing psych-rock — they recall Austin-based psych-rockers the Black Angels just a bit, if the Angels had a powerhouse female vocalist — and would be worth the cover charge even if our favorite beer-battered southern sci-fi power trio wasn’t on the bill.

Moving through the month, the Pub’s Speakeasy second floor stage will host Lebanon outfit Sugar Lime Blue on Jan. 19. Look out for these folks; theirs is a smooth blend of blues, classic southern rock and Americana, heavy with allusions to likes of Brothers and Sisters-era Allman Brothers and Bonnie Raitt.

Also well-worth your hard-earned shekels, come Jan. 21, is Baltimore-based band Community Center. Chamber rock? We didn’t know what the hell it was, either, but suffice to say that this Maryland six-piece is far more intriguing than their prosaic name would seem to allow, offering rich, textured, and wonderfully moody rock that occasionally aspires to high drama, with a hint of cabaret.

We probably don’t have to prompt you much to come out Jan. 27, for Roman Reese’s latest appearance at Preservation Pub with the Cardinal Sins — their socially conscious brand of Americana has long been a favorite in these halls. But be sure and stick around for the second set, from Atlanta’s Copious Jones.

Copious Jones brand themselves as “progressive jam,” but their online oeuvre indicates the band has a lot more songwriting savvy than most of their peers in the progressive/jam/hippie milieu.

And finally, Jan. 29 will see Virginia’s Dawn Drapes mount the stage at Preservation Pub. Though ostensibly a southern outfit, the band draws inspiration from the sophisticated side of 70s rock — think Steely Dan, rather than Skynyrd, with a dollop of bell-bottom-era singer-songwriter sensitivity.

Now Playing: Realm

Roundabout 2014, Preservation Pub employees Jake Lonas, Kurt Bell, and Nick Leichtweis got together in a heavily sound-proofed practice room and founded a three-piece metal outfit they dubbed Realm, a doomy little trio with a penchant for beer-drinking, big riffs and sci-fi musings.

They aspired to little more than having a good time. “It was very humble beginnings, very organic, ‘Dude, do you want to get together and jam?'” explains drummer Leichtweis. “An unlikely gathering of the kitchen guy, the sound guy, and the bartender.

“We’d all seen each other play with other projects, and we all wanted to do something different. So we started bullshitting about starting a rock band.”

Over time, Realm gathered steam. They released a four-song demo forthwith, designed a handful of T-shirts, which were readily purchased by eager Pub patrons. And in early 2016, they released their self-titled full-length debut on Bandcamp, nine insistent, Sabbath-inspired metal tracks notable for the band members’ musical sympatico, their collective obsession with literate science fiction, and for Lonas’ stentorian baritone.

Now the band is standing on the cusp of recording another five-song release — “It’s an EP, but the songs are long enough to call it an LP,” Leichtweis says — and embarking on their first mini-tour, a 12-day jaunt in support of popular Knoxville metal act 10 Years in the latter part of January.

“It’s our first real tour, and we’ve been wringing ourselves out to get money together for gas, and to stock up on merchandise,” Leichtweis says. “We’re mainly doing it for the exposure, but maybe we’ll luck out and see just a little in the way of merch sales. Who knows, if three people like us enough to buy T-shirts, maybe we’ll be able to eat.”

Though Realm songs are certainly all of a piece in certain key respects — bracing, generally heavy and guitar-centric, anchored by Lonas’ distinctive howl — Leichtweis says there’s still an appealing elasticity in the band’s approach to songwriting. “In previous bands, I’ve played metalcore, hardcore — you know, basically your regular brand of unentertaining metal,” the drummer says wryly. “And I’d been stuck in that loop for about 10 years.

“In this band, I don’t feel like we’ve been stuck to one sound or one direction. And I love that about what we do. Every song has a little different feel. All we set out to do is to make music that we like. And sticking to just one thing stifles your creativity.”

Of the new album Realm is set to record, Leichtweis says, “We want an EP that will be like a journey, where you won’t see the next song coming. We have a blues-driven number, a song with a swing-y feel, a straight-forward heavy song, and a couple of in-between songs.  It’s not that we’re scatterbrained; it’s just that there’s so much we want to do.”

While previous Realm songs — “Sleeper,” “Fatman” and “Desert King” being prime examples — were inspired by Frank Herbert’s space-opera classic “Dune,” Leichtweis says the most recent material stakes out new conceptual territory, while still cleaving to sci-fi themes. He gives a lot of the credit for that to singer-guitarist Lonas, who took on a heavier burden of the songwriting chores for the upcoming EP.

“Jake came to us and said, ‘hey, I’ve got these three songs written; let’s explore them,'” Leichtweis tells. “He really took the lead on this record in coming forth with the skeletons of the songs.

“I think we’re starting down the path of creating our own sort of sci-fi universe, the kind of direction that a band like Coheed and Cambria has taken. We’re creating our own worlds, taking it in a more original and creative direction.”

Realm will play Preservation Pub Friday, Jan. 13 at 10 p.m. with special guests Indighost.


Review: The Crook Books Vol. 1

15400975_726875727464831_4674864004204867460_n“Throughout his treatment, Mr. West used his dry cynical sense of humor to emotionally distance himself from others… Because of his reliance on the intellectual, Mr. West relies on, and is skilled with, rational challenges of his criminal thoughts.”

— residential drug treatment program summary for Scott West, Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2010.

Say whatever else you will about the man, but don’t ever say that Preservation Pub co-founder Scott West doesn’t have brass ones, a set of big, clanking balls, cajones the size of church bells. Once recognized as pillars of the community, Scott and wife Bernadette were shamed, brought low before God and man alike when it was revealed that the duo had participated in a massive drug-smuggling and money-laundering scheme that poured millions of dollars of illicit cash into downtown revitalization efforts.

West was sentenced to years in federal prison, and saw most of his assets stripped by Johnny Law. Cue the mea culpas, the public self-flagellation, the Behind-the-Music-cum-come-to-Jesus fall-and-redemption arc that sees him reemerge as a poster boy for Humble Contrition.

Yeah, well, F@#$ all that. Because instead of ruminating on the terrible magnitude of his sins, West spent his years in the big house planning his comeback (which is going rather well now, F@#$ you very much) and writing a series of books chronicling both his own story and his thoughts on crime, punishment, and the weird, savage herd instincts of American society circa the 21st century.

“In some sense, mug shot newspapers are a more civilized throwback to the good old days when Romans mobbed the Colosseum to see the lions ripe the genitals off naked criminals.”

— Scott West, TCBVOGIBG

The Crook Books Volume One: Good Intentioned Bad Guys is the first book of that series, and it is available now in… well, mostly in places owned by the West family, like Earth to Old City, and maybe Preservation Pub, if you’re lucky…

And this is why you should purchase a copy for yourself, or else steal someone else’s, if you have a half a chance: Reading this book is just about the most fun as you can possibly have for $16 without risking jail, or maybe waking up in the emergency room…

TCBVOGIBG is what might have happened if Fyodor Dostoyevsky had lived in America in the 21st century, and decided to author a bathroom reader in the bleary throes of a whiskey bender. It’s part personal musing, part biography, part history lesson, and part philosophical treatise, if sociopaths wrote philosophical treatises.

It’s also got some really mad cool pictures, mostly courtesy of jailhouse artist and fellow conspirator Mark Cort. If necessity is the mother of invention, then prison is the mother of all necessity: Cort, aka the D-Pod Da Vinci, made most of the clever caricatures and cartoons featured in the book with art utensils cobbled from weird prison detritus. Paint brushes fashioned from plastic sporks, tied with mattress threads, tipped with human hair. Paints created from coffee grounds and melted M&M shells… you get the idea.

Is the book self-serving? Hell, yes it’s self-serving, and you can make damn sure there are no apologies for that. But if you read TCBVOGIBG with anything like an open mind, you may find yourself slightly swayed, if not outright won over to West’s perspective. At the very least, you won’t look at issues of crime, punishment, and public morality in quite the same way ever again.

“The point of being a good-intentioned rule-breaker, after all, is freedom from bosses and bureaucracies, not to commit crimes.”

— Old School, jailhouse sage


Now Playing: Guy Marshall

Country rock and honky-tonk outfit Guy Marshall rate as one of Knoxville’s best bands due in part to the caliber of their sidemen — talented players like lead guitarist Eric Griffin, or pedal steel/multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Keeney. Yet the newest addition to the Marshall family will neither play nor sing so much as a single note on stage.

“We just got a new member, in the form of a business consulting manager,” enthuses Adam McNulty, who started Guy Marshall along with wife Sarrenna McNulty back in 2011. “We’re preparing to go out into the wide world. In the past, we’ve gone out and toured just a bit. But we’re preparing now to tour as a band a lot harder in 2017.

“We want to take the family group we’ve started in Knoxville, and create other family groups in other places.”

McNulty refers to the group of friends and followers who attend Guy Marshall performances as his “family group,” and it’s an apt phrase, in so many ways. The band was founded by a husband-wife duo, and named after Adam’s grandfather Guy Marshall Shirley, who loomed large as both a colorful family patriarch and in his encouragement of McNulty’s early love of bluegrass.

And there’s a familial sort of intimacy at Guy Marshall performances, a sense that Adam and Sarrenna, their soulful harmonizing the beating heart of the band’s sound, are sharing a special moment, a beautiful secret with everyone in the room.

Now McNulty wants to share that secret with the rest of the world. “We’ve been writing a lot as a band,” McNulty says. “Playing more venues is our goal, and we want to have a full album of work ready by the middle of the year, maybe an early fall release.

“These are all what-ifs, but that’s the plan right now.”

It hasn’t been all that long since Guy Marshall’s last (and first) release, The Depression Blues from June of last year. But because that record, as far as first records go, was so long in coming, McNulty says there’s been lots of change afoot as the band tackles new material, songs written in the wake of TDP.

“The way music goes with me is that the music I write changes about two years behind the music that I’m listening to,” McNulty says. “It takes a while for it to sink in. And the last few years, I’ve been listening to a lot of old country. So the songs that are coming out now have more traditional country influences, as opposed to the first record, which had more of a Neil Young, rock ‘n’ roll fell to it.”

McNulty has said in interviews past that the band’s earliest inclinations were toward bedrock country and mountain music, and that changed somewhat as he grew more comfortable incorporating his latter-day fondness for rock music into Guy Marshall’s songwriting. But a shift back toward more rural and southern influences had already begun prior to the release of The Depression Blues, as Marshall assimilated Keeney’s pedal steel, and took a turn toward honky tonk and outlaw country.

“Maybe the others would kick me for saying it, but our newest music definitely has a different feeling,” McNulty says. “And it’s a more country feeling.

“The last record had a singular feeling, and it had a lot of pedal steel, which helped give it a consistent feel. This next one will have that consistency, too, but in a whole different way.”

Guy Marshall will play Preservation Pub Thursday, Nov. 24 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: Roman Reese and the Cardinal Sins

Despite being a full-time attorney, Knoxville singer, songwriter and bandleader Roman Reese says he finds plenty of time for writing songs, but not so much of it for the recording studio. Reese’s last project was 2009’s Listen Before Dialing with his backing band the Cardinal Sins, which came a full four years after his 2005 solo album Gritty City.

Of course, his situation is complicated not only by his own job and family obligations, but by those of his ‘mates in the Cardinal Sins, as well. “At one point, we were ready to record, and my drummer went to China for six months, so that slowed us down,” Reese laughs.

“We’ve got the material, and every day I think man, I’ve got to get to this. We may have double-album set if I’m not careful.”

Reese, who plays Preservation Pub Nov. 26, held forth recently on both his songwriting process, and the prospects for that next album.

On his inspirations: Reese says he relishes writing about social issues, but not so much the politics that surround them. “I don’t do politics,” he says. “I’m not a huge fan. But a lot of my most recent songs have been about social issues. Songs about welfare, a guy on death row. I don’t write a lot of love songs, and if I do write a love song, it’s from a sad perspective. I’m not a sappy love-song writer.”

On his time in the military: Reese served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Military Police Corps when he was deployed in 2004. “I’ve got lots of songs about war because of my time in the military,” he says. “But again, I don’t look at it from a political perspective. I’ve got one song on YouTube, ‘Get Your Pistols and Your Guns,’ about the realities of combat, and it’s got a George McGovern quote in it. But it’s still not really political.

“I’m not a huge fan of Toby Keith-type military songs. I try to present the good and bad of what it’s like. Most soldiers do believe they’re doing the right thing. But they also come home and face lots of problems.”

On being an attorney: Reese says his job provides plenty of fodder for songwriting. “I deal with a lot of people on welfare, and I’m not sure we’re doing it the best way we could be doing it. It’s not about being a Democrat of a Republican. ‘Belly of the Beast’ is a song about welfare and the prison system based on what I’ve seen as an attorney. It’s warm in the belly of the beast tonight… It’s kind of a Tom Waits-y song.

On his elusive next record: “We have a few shows coming up, but nothing too crazy. I have a four-year-old and a demanding job, and my drummer and bass player both tour with a lot of other bands. I want to record as soon as I can, but I don’t want to make any promises yet.”

Roman Reese and the Cardinal Sins will play Preservation Pub Saturday, Nov. 26 at 10 p.m.