Over the course of their roughly seven-year career, Charlotte four-piece Amigo outfit have largely been recognized as an Americana band, and the label isn’t entirely off base. Their two full-length album releases — this year’s “And Friends” and 2013’s “Might Could” — are rife with stripped-down, visceral roots rock, harmony-laden electric folk, and the kind of country music that went out of vogue in Nashville at roughly the same time that Garth Brooks purchased his first cowboy hat.
But there are other, more diabolical forces at work in the mechanics of Amigo’s sound — the Ramones, the Minutemen, and even ’90s-era power popsters Teenage Fanclub are listed among the band’s influences on the Amigo Facebook page, right alongside the likes of Gram Parsons, The Band and CCR. And so it is that on record, those rogue rock and punk elements weave in and out of the otherwise pastoral mix, somehow blending with Amigo’s alt-country side in a way that comes off as not only coherent but inexorable, creating songs that are propelled by a strangely seamless hybrid of headlong punkish thrust and earthy, shit-kicking grooves.
For his part, singer, guitarist and principle songwriter Slade Baird says he was weaned on the Washington, D.C. hardcore of Minor Threat and Fugazi, and that it was only later that he came to fall in love with alt-country archetypes like Parsons and Townes Van Zandt.
“We get lumped into this thing called ‘Americana,’ but when I listen to bands that define that sound, we don’t sound anything like most of them,” says Amigo guitarist Slade Baird. “Sometimes that makes me nervous, and sometimes I think it’s cool. It means that at very least, we have our own thing going on.”
Amigo got its start around 2011, when longtime friends Baird, singer-bassist Thomas Alverson, and drummer Adam Phillips started playing out in Charlotte under the moniker Old Milwaukee, in honor of the members’ favorite discount swill. After a couple of years playing for beer at local watering hole Snug Harbor, the band decided to take the party outside Charlotte, and changed their name to Amigo to avoid the likely legal hassle.
By way of explanation, Baird tells that “Amigo” met three criterion set forth by he and his ‘mates prior to choosing their new name — “It puts us first in the record bin, it has a positive connotation, and it’s something sort of exotic and not-so-obvious, divorced from our actual situation,” Baird says, chuckling a little.
Maybe the trio didn’t realize it at the time, but the name held a larger significance as well. “The three of us had been friends going back way before the band,” he says. “Whenever we’ve tried to add a member through a Craigslist ad, it has backfired epically. Having people we know — people we hold as friends — has helped make the band what it is. So many bands fall apart because they can’t stand each other. But for us, the music is only second place; the relationships come first.”
Maybe that chemistry is the magic element that explains the band’s penchant for surprisingly sweet harmonies, which are deployed often, especially on folkier numbers. “Those harmonies, they just come naturally to Adam and Thomas when they sing together; they’re like little angels when they sing,” Baird says, laughing again. “They get up on the mic together side by side and something special happens. If we bring in a new song, they’ll have harmonies worked out for it in a matter of minutes. And those will probably be the final harmonies when we get around to recording the song.”
Having just released their second platter — the aforementioned “And Friends” — Amigo have also added a fourth member — keyboardist Molly Poe — and gathered a new head of steam. Though the new record is arguably less indebted to the rock influences that infused “Might Could” and the 2016 single release “Kristmas in the Kremlin” — a Son-Volt-cum-Socia-D holiday rave-up — Baird says the band retains its punk-rock spirit, if not so much of the genre’s propulsive sound.
“As a band, we I think we have more confidence now that we did at the start,” Baird says. “We’re not afraid to make bold moves, or to bring something new to the table. We probably have more of a punk-rock attitude than we did when started, more devil-may-care, even though it doesn’t expressly sound that way on record.”
Amigo will play Preservation Pub Saturday, June 30 at 10 p.m.