Now Playing: The BoomBachs

There is perhaps no better testament to the burgeoning regional success of six-piece hip hop/jazz/soul outfit the BoomBachs than the fact that the band has had a beer named after it (the Boom Bach, natch) in its hometown Denton, Tex. Though that’s hardly the only marker of the band’s ascent; the ‘bachs have also garnered a slew of regional awards and recognitions since their inception in 2011, and have graduated from playing ill-attended coffee house shows to drawing SRO crowds at big venues.

Keyboardist Matt Westmoreland tells that the band’s origin goes back to Denton’s University of North Texas in 2011, when horn and keyboard player Marcus Wheat, a music major, was assigned a class project to form an ensemble and play an original composition. “He was the only one in class who said, ‘I want to do a hip hop band,'” Westmoreland says with a laugh.

Wheat assembled seven other North Texas musicians, including singer/rapper Adonias “A.D.” Wondwessen, and the resulting unit ended up taking wing, lasting well beyond Wheat’s project presentation at the end of the semester.

Musical hybrids can be dicey, but the ‘bachs’ mixing of rap, rock, soul, jazz and R&B is both deft and seamless. Frontman Wondwessen is the key to their fluid blend; taking his cues from the Native Tongues collective of 1990s-era hip hop — De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, et al — Wondwessen can shift from the spoken word to a smooth soul croon in a way that makes the transition seem as natural as breathing. Wherever the ‘bachs’ music chooses to go, from jazzy interludes to sparse funk to biting rock, Wondwessen’s versatile vocals always make the journey make sense.

But Westmoreland says the band’s genre-blending success owes something to Wheat, as well, both in the canny choices he made in assembling the ‘bachs, and in the even-handed mix of laissez-faire and structure with which he governs their interaction.

“There were a lot of different influences coming to the table with the members of this band, yet it all came together in a very organic way,” Westmoreland says. “Marcus had a good idea of the kind of players he wanted, the instrumentation he wanted. When it comes to songwriting, Marcus will come up with a basic structure, but it’s never, ‘You have to do this and this at this time.’ He gives us lots of freedom to come up with our own ideas and melodies.

“When people ask us what kind of music we play, we don’t want to say, ‘Well, it’s this and this and this.’ So we tend to put it all under the label of Space Gospel. It’s one huge collection of styles that’s always evolving. Hip hop just happens to be where we draw our base from.”

The BoomBachs will play Preservation Pub Thursday, April 19 at 10 p.m.

 

 

Now Playing: The Barnyard Stompers

San Antone’s Barnyard Stompers mine a musical territory that exists between the twin poles of heavy rock and honky tonk. Which description doesn’t seem to make much sense, at least not until you’ve heard the Stompers at work. Led by singer-guitarist Casey Miller’s Waylon-by-way-of-Hank-Jr. growl and anchored by Megan Wise’s classic-rock-approved beats, the Stompers are equally comfortable slamming out sludgy southern rock or reverently rendering a country classic like “Jolene” or “A Country Boy Can Survive.” They’re serious road dogs, too, and recently they took a few minutes out from their heavy touring schedule to speak to Scruffington Post in advance of their upcoming performance at Preservation Pub.

SP: So how did you guys meet and start playing music together?

Casey: I met Megan when I was in a rockabilly band touring through Colorado, where she was living at the time. I knew she was an awesome drummer and had played for some bands that I really liked. I also really liked Megan, so I moved to Colorado to be with her. After two months of kicking around, trying to find a job, we decided to form Barnyard Stompers. We played our first show in Denver, July of 2012. We got a call about a week later to play a couple gigs around Sturgis, and we were off and running.

SP: What were your respective backgrounds prior to getting together?

Megan: I was a band nerd. I have a jazz background and was always drawn to older music, which is why I started playing in rockabilly bands, the most well-known being the Hillbilly Hellcats. Casey has gotten me more into punk and metal over the years.

Casey: I played a lot of metal and punk in South Texas when I was in my teens and twenties. I always had a soft spot for old country and rockabilly, as a lot of metalheads and punks do. I started Bop Kings in 2000 and rockabilly was just a perfect fit for me, but I always wanted to play country — the rowdy, hell-raising songs, the sappy stuff, all of it, but I also wanted to incorporate the rock I loved as a kid. Not having to follow a formula gives us a lot of space to do whatever we want. I feel really lucky to have that kind of freedom, as I’ve never been able to in the past except for when I played solo.

SP: Once you got together as a duo, how did your sound evolve?

Megan: Being a duo has definitely presented challenges. We’ve made a lot of changes over the past few years and we’re always doing everything we can to make the music as full as we can without using any back tracks, loops or any electronic stuff.

Casey: Yeah. That’s cheating.

Megan: People say we sound like a four- or five-piece band.

Casey: I always wanted to be Waylon and Lemmy, you know? Two outlaws who were just cool as hell. I never got to be that guy, but I love what we do. I’d say we’re more a country band than anything else, but we love to rock out and just get rowdy. We have lots of metal undertones. And you never know when we might throw out a punk-rock cover. It’s a good time.

SP: What are your audiences generally like? Country? Rock? All of the above?

Casey: A normal crowd for us is made up of honky tonkers, bikers, metalheads, punks and good-ol’-boy rednecks. We all got a lot more in common than folks might think. For sure, we’re all rebels and love to raise hell.

Megan: I love our crowds. We can play anything and the cowboys and rockers are both digging it, singing along and hanging out together.

SP: What are your live performances like?

Casey: We’ve worked on making it a pretty rowdy show. We move around a lot. In a few songs, Megan plays drums and guitar while I play harmonica, sing, and pound a drum. I mess with her a little, but I think she likes it.

Megan, rolling eyes: Oh yeah, I LOVE it.

Casey: It makes for some good banter. That’s all I’m saying.

Megan: Yeah, he drinks too much, rolls around on the floor and starts messing with the crowd, but they always seem to be cool with it. He actually holds it together and plays really good when he’s drunk. I’ve never seen anyone drink that much and keep it together. Except maybe Dallas Moore.

SP: How have you guys changed over the years, and what might be on tap for your next release?

Megan: We’ve gotten better, more fluid. We don’t force anything. We read each other and feed off each other. We’ve learned tricks to make two people sound like an actual full band. I guess we’ve found ourselves.

Casey: As far as the next record, I’m taking my time writing. I want it to be our most country and our most rocking record yet. I’m doing a little mock steel guitar, and we have some surprises.

We also want to say that we appreciate all our Knoxville and East Tennessee fans. We love playing Knoxville, and we never skip past it. We look forward to seeing you soon.

The Barnyard Stompers will play Preservation Pub Sunday, April 22 at 9 p.m.

Now Playing: The Travelin’ Kine

Slaton Glover was born with a gift for crafting heartbreaking trad-country hooks, and with the kind of voice that seems tailor-made for bringing those hooks to life in song — which he does now as frontman for his Charleston, S.C. outfit The Travelin’ Kine. But it took long years and hard times for Glover to come to grips with the nature of his gift, and to accept the life-altering challenge of cultivating it to its fullest potential.

A Charleston-area firefighter-cum-weekend-singer-songwriter for more than a decade, Glover went through a crisis of the soul when his marriage fell apart at age 32. Divorce pushed Glover to reevaluate his life’s path, and it came up wanting; pairing with local songwriter and mandolinist David Vaughan, he took a new career tack, began assembling the unit that would become The Travelin’ Kine, and dove headlong into a life as a full-time musician and bandleader.

“I had always wanted to make music more of a career, but I hesitated,” Glover says. “I’d been in some garage bands, done this and that, but I held back. Then the divorce happened, and I rethought everything. I quit my job, started playing more solo gigs, and I linked up with David.”

That was around 2012; over the next year or so, the duo added members, filling out the roster of the now-six-piece Travelin’ Kine. Since then, they’ve won a number of state and local music awards, and released their powerful debut, “Change in the Wind.”

Glover tells that he grew up listening to outlaw country staples like Cash and Nelson and Jennings, and even some 1980s-era country, as he drops George Strait’s name as an influence, as well. But come the 1990s and the advent of Garth Brooks and his lightweight pop-country contemporaries, Glover dropped out, his heart won over by the potent strains of the era’s heavy rock ‘n’ roll.

“Country started to suck in the ’90s, and I got way into Metallica,” Glover relates. “I went through a period of time where all I wanted to do was be the next James Hetfield.”

He acknowledges now that the Hetfield dream was never meant to be, though perhaps it had more to do with the nature of the aforementioned gifts than any lack of heavy mettle. Because as evidenced by the material on “Change in the Wind,” Glover has a way with writing achingly bittersweet country laments, and a voice — a leathery, agreeably worn baritone — that conveys heartache and loss with the kind of painful directness that’s endemic to but a tiny subset of accomplished country crooners.

Next up for Glover and his band is a follow-up to “Change in the Wind,” which is being produced by Josh Roberts, a well-traveled South Carolina rock musician and producer. So far, Glover says Roberts has the band poised to make a second record that’s both more accomplished and more authentic than their debut.

“Yeah, even though he’s a rock ‘n’ roll guy, there are a couple of songs where he’s actually pushing us toward very traditional country,” he says. “There are some songs with a southern rock edge, too. But he’s also made us a much tighter, better band. We put on a great live show, and I really want to have that come through on this album.”

The Travelin’ Kine will play Preservation Pub Sunday, April 29 at 9 p.m.

Now Playing: Pussyfoot

Pussyfoot vocalist Jamera Simmons was always a powerhouse frontwoman waiting to happen. But three years ago, she was still slugging it out in the workaday trenches of Atlanta, Ga., logging triple duty as a nanny, cocktail waitress, and motorcycle mechanic (yeah, you read that right), a single mom who was also an aspiring songwriter, but only in her (very limited) spare time.

Then she answered a Craig’s List ad placed by three well-traveled local musicians, including session guitarist and producer Julio Miranda. The trio had the makings of a polished pop-rock outfit, but needed a formidable frontperson to given them a proper kick in the ass.

One ass, properly kicked, coming right up. The rest is ATL history, as the band went on to record their 2017 debut “Religion,” a polished pop-rock/funk/electro/soul gem distinguished both by Simmons’ charismatic vocals and by the slick chops of Miranda and his fellow session vets. And though only Simmons and bassist Monty Conner now remain from the group that produced “Religion,” she says the project helped them find a workable sound, a genre-blending yet accessible and rock-savvy musical identity they can explore in further detail on future releases.

“On that first record, we had these guys who all had big credentials,” she says. “They’d worked with people like Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry. And there so were many genres going on, because everyone had such broad backgrounds. But we always kept it glued together. It was completely organic, the way we worked together and created songs.”

Simmons doesn’t have what you might consider a standard musician’s bio; a self-described Navy brat, she spent a good portion of her formative years moving around the country, never staying in one place long enough to set roots to ground, to establish the social ties that lead to bigger and better things.

Nonetheless, Simmons loved music, all kinds of music, soul and hip hop and R&B and reggae and pop rock, No Doubt and Outkast and Sade and Blondie and Amel Larrieux. “I don’t ever remember not singing,” Simmons says. “And as soon as I could write, I was writing songs. I made friends easily, but since I moved around so much, the friendships were only so deep. So the music became my friend.”

But though she was inspired by any number of soul/R&B crooners, Simmons tells that she always harbored a love for rock and pop as well, and a yen to perform with the kind of careless abandon that seemed indigenous to so many rock vocalists. As an African-American singer-songwriter, that didn’t make for an easy path, she says, given that black singers are often pigeon-holed, reflexively relegated to a space somewhere along the axis of R&B/soul/funk/etc. Even for the brassiest African-American female former motorcycle mechanic, it seemed a daunting prospect, breaking into the wider, and whiter world of rock ‘n’ roll.

“I had done some time in a popular pop-rock cover band, and I was always a fan of pop,” Simmons says. “But somehow making a career as a pop-rock singer didn’t seem like a viable option. I didn’t have a lot of people to look up to. But at some point, I said to heck with it, I’m going to do what I want to do. At some point, you have to throw away all the pre-supposing and the assumptions.”

And thank Moloch she did, because as a rock ‘n’ roll frontwoman, Simmons is a natural, a big-voiced belter who can also croon, coo, smolder and sizzle as the need arises, and an able lyricist who can wax ruminative or provocative with equal conviction.

“There’s a sophisticated side of me; there’s a crunchy side of me, and then there’s a ”hood’ side of me — I used to like to start fights once upon a time, but I reformed,” she says. “And all of that is part of what I do as a singer and a lyricist. It’s part of our sound — badass and sweet and dirty and gritty and sexy. But in the end, it always smooths back out.”

Pussyfoot will play Preservation Pub Wednesday, April 4 at 10 p.m.

 

 

 

 

 

Now Playing: Bended Light

 

Even a cursory listen to their first three full-length releases — two of them live, and one studio — makes it abundantly clear that Norfolk, Virginia power trio Bended Light are one of those rare outfits that manage to balance the discipline and songwriting savvy required of successful pop rockers with the creativity and improvisational aptitude of a top-notch jam band. “We like to jam and get out there, but we have a lot of structure in what we do,” says bassist Jack Gallagher. “We like strong songs, and we like to include storytelling in the way we write. We like to have a message in the songs.”

Bended Light got its start when Gallagher and guitarist/vocalist Jordan Cooper — both graduates of the same Norfolk high school, albeit a couple of years apart — started jamming together in 2013. They eventually hooked up with percussionist Hunter Rhodes, another Norfolk native, and made their live debut in April of the following year.(The band also had a fourth member for a time, a keyboard player.)

The trio’s earliest songwriting efforts were heavily influenced by guitarist Cooper’s fondness for reggae, and reggae/dancehall rhythms still saturate a good portion of Bended Light’s music, particularly when the trio are engaged in long-form improvisation. In the meantime, the members’ collective appreciation of jam-rock stalwarts like Phish and the Grateful Dead began to play more heavily into both the band’s writing and playing, as did elements of funk, fusion jazz, and modern-day psychedelia.

“We call what we do psychedelic blues rock, with the stipulation that it’s in the context of a jam band,” Gallagher says. “But what it boils down to is that we’re not afraid to play anything.”

As previously mentioned, BL have three records available right now, including the 2015 studio release “Bend a Little,” and the live efforts “2014 Live Sampler” and “Live at The NorVa 4/18/2015.” “Bend a Little” is a tight, burnished effort, with memorable songs — borne aloft by the band’s ample chops, and by Cooper’s engagingly mellow vocal — that manage to indulge BL’s love of genre blending without coming off as cluttered or busy.

Their live sets admirably preserve the integrity of their studio craft, while still affording Gallagher and company the space to stretch out on their respective instruments. Gallagher tells that he and his ‘mates gained insight into the art of the jam from an old Trey Anastasio interview, wherein Anastasio described a sort of rotating game of musical follow-the-leader that lies at the heart of his band’s seemingly telepathic improvisational rapport.

“He talked about something he called ‘chasing the jha,'” Gallagher says. “The idea is that when they get into jamming, there’s someone who has an idea, and everyone follows that person. Then at some point, someone else takes up the idea, and everyone chases him. We try to do that in our own improvisations.

“But still, we like to keep to that sense of song structure, even when we’re jamming,” Gallagher says. “We never stretch a song out for more than eight or nine minutes — we don’t go for those 15-minute jams. We don’t want to bore the audience.”

Right now, Bended Light are working on songs for another studio album, an effort they hope to record sometime in the coming months. Gallagher says BL members are staking out new territory in their latest songwriting efforts, expanding the band’s already-diverse creative palette with forays into new genres.

“We’ve got one new song that has some bluegrass influence in it,” Gallagher says. “We’re also working on some material with more southern roots, southern twang, along the lines of My Morning Jacket. And then there’s some funk stuff. Which even in our live shows now, we’re already pushing the funk more and more into our sound.”

Bended Light will play Preservation Pub Thursday, April 12 at 10 p.m.