TV Eye

Tempe combo reshapes Television's art-punk sound with a lot of volume and a little bit of pop

Even in an era marked by its frequency for highly touted busts -- the Supremes reunion, Speed 2, the Steven Tyler/Justin Timberlake Super Bowl dance-off -- it's still a disappointment when a band fails to live up to its hype. Even more disheartening are those instances when a group can't even live up to its name. You know, the empty feeling that comes after rushing excitedly to a club to see an outfit billing itself as the "The Amazing Garage Rock Explosion" only to arrive to find a group wearing flouty silk shirts with woodwinds in hand.

Fortunately, such is not the case with Tempe's Loud Americans. As to the second half of the moniker, we can't be sure -- no birth certificates or citizenship papers were examined in researching this piece. As to the first part, well, that's easy to see, or, more accurately, to hear. At a recent Valley show, Bash & Pop was among those whose ears rang with the blissful sound of pounding drums, washes of counterpointed guitar lines and aching, intertwined vocals mashing together at incredible volumes, all wafting across the dance floor -- itself lined with patrons slowly stepping back from the amps, even as their bodies swayed and heads bobbed in delight.

The Loud Americans -- guitarist Matt Banister, drummer Steve Glickman, bassist/vocalist Jeff Gonzales and guitarist/vocalist Marco Holt -- didn't seem to mind all the noise, or the audience's odd, seesaw reaction to it; that sense of push and pull imbues the very nature of the band itself.

Making some noise: Loud Americans, from left, Marco Holt, Steve Glickman, Matt Banister and Jeff Gonzales.
Paolo Vescia
Making some noise: Loud Americans, from left, Marco Holt, Steve Glickman, Matt Banister and Jeff Gonzales.
Legendary saxman Steve Lacy hits the Rhythm Room this week.
Agostino Mela
Legendary saxman Steve Lacy hits the Rhythm Room this week.

The group first took shape in late 1998, when guitarists Holt and Banister -- both longtime local vets -- began woodshedding together. Adding Glickman shortly after, they dubbed themselves Praying Hands. After a change in name (and style) to the somewhat jazzier French Cut Low Ride, bassist Gonzales signed on and the combo morphed into the Loud Americans.

With Holt and Banister responsible for penning the lion's share of the new group's material, the Americans took a turn toward a more meat-and-potatoes pop-punk ethic. Holt, who lists Guided By Voices, Weezer and other '90s guitar-rock perennials as his chief sources of inspiration, doesn't view the band's distinctive style -- a cascading barrage of big riffs, shambling melodicism and lovelorn lyrics -- as anything highbrow.

"They're just pop songs," he says, "pure and simple. That's what it sounds like to me, anyway."

Even with all the talk about the pop-oriented nature of the band, the comparison the group has heard most frequently is to New York art-punks Television. With the Americans' dual six-string interplay recalling the twin-guitar sinew of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, it's easy to see why. "Oh, absolutely. That's where the two guitars come into play," says Holt. "I mean, that's what we're about, is the whole dual-guitar thing."

Admittedly, the Americans' brand of noise isn't as adventurous, or as rambling, as Television's -- no 18-minute "Little Johnny Jewel" jams in the repertoire -- and any sonic indulgences are tempered by a strict sense of songcraft that reflects their other primary influence.

"There's the [Television] thing, but there's also a lot of Clash influence as well," says Holt, citing the outfit, whose mid-period work colors several Americans tunes, most notably "Boiling Over" and "Come On."

With name-checks like GBV, Television and the Clash, the Loud Americans are something of a rock elitist's dream, taking their influences and mixing them into a stew that anyone with a high-quality record collection and a hard-on for High Fidelity snobbishness would find irresistible.

Take a track like "Sentimental Heart," for instance, where the band merges the soured-romance lyricism of the Replacements ("My time's spent in vain/'Cause you're already damaged goods/I'd send you back for repairs if I could"), the big chorus hooks of Strummer and Jones, and vocals that recall the urgent emotionalism of Superchunk.

Solidifying the band's febrile bluster is the four-on-the-floor foundation of drummer Glickman, who may be the band's most well-known name among indie-rock fans, as a result of his longtime association with South Carolina combo Sunbrain. Glickman's playing has earned him plenty of notice among musicians as well; the trapsman was recently considered to fill the vacant drum seat in Rocket From the Crypt.

The Americans have spent much of the past year recording a full-length debut at Holt's home. But before images of cramped bedroom lo-fi setups fill your head, it should be noted that Holt doesn't pay rent on the typical tiny Tempe studio apartment, but rather resides in warehouse-size living quarters in back of All Saints Center Church, where he works as the building manager.

"I'm the caretaker," he intones, in a creepy, Jack Nicholson-in-The Shining kind of way. "I keep unusual hours, so it works out that we've been able to make the record there for the most part, doing the bulk of the work live to an eight-track ADAT machine."

The group's upcoming plans include a pair of shows, the first a headlining set this weekend at the Lucky Dragon Restaurant, before a March 23 date at downtown's Modified. The Americans' live appearances have become increasingly rare lately, as the band has cut back its performing schedule in an effort to complete work on the disc, which is in the final stages.

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