Ever wonder what happens to angst-ridden teenage punks who don’t wind up dying young?
Some drive around and try to find places to be surly.
Some pull an unexpected emotional bungee-jump and realign themselves as crass, finance-driven corporate toadies.
And then there’s the ones that start buying a lot of country albums.
American Gun would seem to exemplify that last category, although for all I know, the members of this Columbia, S.C. indie-rock band have been listening to country all along. However, dragging out the acoustic guitar and channelling your inner Waylon has of late emerged as one of the most popular ways for an angry young man to age gracefully without turning his back on his own restless youth.
Originally a musical project devoted to exploring the country and folk genres that had long captivated tunesmiths Donald Merckle and Todd Mathis (don’t the combination of their last names just sound like a timeless C&W songwriting duo?), the band has since evolved, and now openly incorporates a more brazen, distorted, rock sound than in its infancy.
This stylistic shift has resulted in a full, archetypical, roots-rock vibe — brimming with the high-mid scrape of acoustic guitar strings, but rounded out by thick, thudding kick drum, and full-bodied slash-and-burn electric power chords.
On their debut EP one can hear echoes of many of the forefathers of this genre in the band’s melodies, progressions, vocal mannerisms and breakdowns. The influence of Paul Westerberg, The Bottle Rockets, Jay Farrar & Jeff Tweedy (of Uncle Tupelo) and Steve Earle are all on display. However, American Gun also looks to the new guard for inspiration.
Describing themselves as “a rock and roll band with Southern poise,” they’re aligned with the current crop of critically-acclaimed progressive Southern rockers — major artists like Lucero, secret heroes like Bloodkin, and fellow up-and-comers like Patty Hurst Shifter or Dodd Ferrelle & The Tinfoil Stars.
When asked what three bands he feels the band would likely drive all night to open for without pay, he answers, “Speaking for myself, I would absolutely open for The Drive-By-Truckers, Wilco or Gomez for nothing. And I don’t know if I would drive all night to do it, but I would love to play with Lucero also.”
The band hits the road as often as it can, both to win fans through their ballsy, take-no-prisoners live show, and to promote their independently-released CDs — the latest of which has already been completed and will be available soon online (through www.americangun.net) and at their gigs.
“Right now we’re just trying to hold it down and build our fan base, says Merckle. “We’re concentrating on a three or four state market. We definitely want to tour and make this thing happen in a big way, but you gotta take baby steps. We can’t afford to quit our day jobs yet, but hopefully soon.”
It’s a solid, tried-and-true plan that speaks to the lessons Merckle, Mathis and the rest of the group (guitarist Jeff Crews, bassist Kevin Kimbrell and drummer Andrew Hoose) have learned over their years in a variety of other S.C.-based bands, such as Boxing Day, Loch Ness Johnny and others.
And, it may be wise to bank on Dark Southern Hearts, as it’s a noteworthy slice of catchy, well-constructed Americana.
Tracked at The Jam Room in their hometown of Columbia, but mixed at Sound Of Music studios in Richmond, Va. (the respected , state of the art facility co-owned by Cracker frontman David Lowery), it’s their most fully-realized recording to date. Using two different facilities cost a lot more, says Merckle, but the results speak for themselves.
“We tracked in Columbia because it was close and affordable, and we knew we’d be working with a really great engineer in Steve Slavich. We had John Morand mix it in Va., because we wanted a new set of ears. John’s really creative and talented when it comes to making records, so we knew he’d be able to help us make our CD better. We were lucky to work with him and get his input. Anytime you go out of town it boosts the expense, but we think it was worth it.”
While the band has been received well in their hometown, they’ve found plenty of eager listeners out on the road, and Merckle hopes their second trip to Savannah will jump-start a solid following here as well.
“We played there earlier in the year at an Irish bar whose name escapes me at the moment. We had a good time and were treated really well, but it was more of a walk-through bar, so we didn’t feel like we got to connect — but we did make some new fans and met some good people. We’re looking very forward to the show.”
American Gun plays The Jinx Saturday at 10 pm.