Loud, White and Blue
Friends, be careful what you name your group . . . you just might get called that one day.
Anyone who's tried coming up with an irresistible band handle knows it's tough sledding -- just ask the Unsavory Gastrointestinal Effects! So many odorous, odd and frankly silly band names can be traced back to a night of extreme duress in a sweaty, non-air-conditioned rehearsal space. After five or six nights of brainstorming every conceivable combination of nouns, verbs and adjectives, everyone's had it. Tensions boil over, insults are exchanged, chairs get kicked around the room until finally someone throws his arms up in disgust and says, "Fine! Call the fucking band Jars of Clay for all I care!"
Luckily, hundreds more stupid names get nipped in the bud before the official tee-shirt stage. French Cut Lowride was one such dire moniker, proposed in a moment of exasperation by guitarists Marco Holt and Matt Bannister two years ago. Drummer Steve Glickman joined up too late to have any say in the matter, but, to his credit, he didn't flinch for the eight months that followed.
Two bass players passed through French Cut Lowride before new recruit Jeff Gonzales convinced les garçons that the name sucked the wazoo and sucked it mightily. After some intense deliberation, the fellowship opted to change its name to the Loud Americans, thereby providing every cretinous goon in the Valley a reason to go up to the stage and suggest that the band "turn down, man."
"It's not a name to be taken literally, but that's ultimately the impression most people come away with," says Gonzales. "That's all right, we're up front about it."
"I don't think we're that loud," asserts Glickman, "it's just Marco and Matt's amps that are really shrill." Holt laughs, countering that there isn't a knob to turn Glickman down. "He's a loud drummer. He just likes to deny it has anything to do with him and places the blame on anybody else he can."
But let's be reasonable. You wouldn't invite the Angry Samoans to dinner and expect them to be civil, so why do people demand fewer decibels from a band called the Loud Americans? There's gotta be dozens of local groups that could make mincemeat out of an eardrum faster than these boys can, but a series of mismatched gigs almost cemented the group's reputation as a band with an overly voluminous sound.
One of the band's earliest shows was at the Jamaican Blue Coffee House in Scottsdale, of all places. There, some java jockey actually had the effrontery to tell the members, in Romper Room fashion, "You guys have got to learn to play to your space." Then there was an ear-shattering show at the now-defunct Bojo's in Tempe where a combination of talent, timbre and tiles proved near fatal. Recalls Glickman, "With the Bojo's thing, we were in a tiled room. There's no way to turn down in those places."
The pragmatic Glickman now handles the band's scheduling. Holt, a nice guy by nature, formerly booked many of their early "character building" shows, and his inability to say "no" also led Loud Americans to play a wedding (where the band went over surprisingly well) and a Horizon High School Valentine's Day dance.
"There's a group of young fans who always come to see us whenever we play all-ages shows," explains Holt. "They were in charge of organizing this dance, so I said, 'Sure.' There was gonna be a DJ -- which turned out to be a $50 boom box -- and us."
Not surprisingly, on a night where the Backstreet Boys, 'N SYNC and Sisqó kept playing every 15 minutes, the Loud Americans were able to confound the kids without too much of a struggle. Most of the TRL-loving teens were probably left asking, "Like, what are those things around their necks?"
"The kids who stayed inside during our set were mostly doing this," says Glickman, who demonstrates eardrum protection move number seven. "Most of them went outside. After we were done, some came up to the stage and said, 'I like your band a lot, but you guys have got to turn down.'" Glickman shakes his head. "We were even too loud for the kids. It was like playing for our parents."
"We're not very good playing to our space," adds guitarist Bannister, the Jamaican Blue review apparently still dogging them like a bad report card. Fortunately, there are a couple of rooms in town where the band does play to its space, and brilliantly, too. There's Nita's Hideaway, the Lucky Dragon and Modified, where the band played a blistering set the previous night.
The following evening, the Loud Americans reconvene at Glickman and Bannister's house in Tempe. Until a few hours ago, their living room was doubling as sleeping quarters for the touring band they shared the bill with at Modified. Bannister aired out the living room an hour ago and wonders if you can still smell anything, since two of the group's members were staging a contest to see who could wear the same tee shirt the longest.
Such road warrior stories wouldn't inspire most people to hop in a van and hit the highway, but the Loud Americans plan on stringing together a handful of West Coast dates shortly, now that they have some product to promote -- a self-titled, self-released and self-packaged album. Taking D.I.Y. to its logical extreme, they actually cut the covers by hand and stamped all the CDs themselves. "We've become scissor experts, although Marco had problems cutting," says Gonzales.
The Loud Americans are a curious clash of three generations. Holt, a veteran of the Phoenix music scene, is in his early 40s, Gonzales is in his late teens, while the twentysomething Bannister and Glickman fall somewhere in between. As the eldest, Holt isn't averse to using his seniority status to win arguments with the others. According to Glickman, Holt is frequently fond of reminding the band, "I was fucking before you guys were on Earth."
The age gap means influences reach as far back as the Clash and Gang of Four and move on up through Fugazi and Superchunk, Blonde Redhead and Built to Spill. Each member has turned the other guys on to his favorite band, but resistance rears its head on occasion. "Marco tried to get us to listen to the Goo Goo Dolls and Enya but we wouldn't go for it," teases Glickman.
The Clash and Gang of Four's influence certainly carries over to the band's signature anthemic choruses. And in the din of its live performances, it's easy to mistake the Loud Americans as a combo with a decidedly political agenda. However, closer scrutiny of songs like "Wind the People" and "Communications Major" reveal lyrics of a more personal and troubled nature.
"Yeah, but you forget, most of the lyrics from the Clash or the Gang of Four aren't political," says Holt, and he's right. As far back as the first Clash album there were songs about rubbers, youth centers and kids in love with rock 'n' roll. And Gang of Four did sing about sex on occasion -- it only sounded like they were yammering on about labor strikes.
"I don't know what Marco's singing most of the time and he doesn't answer our questions," says Glickman. "It wasn't until the recording of the CD that I could figure some of the lyrics out."
Holt puts his bandmates at ease telling them they won't have to make Parental Advisory stickers to paste on the homemade sleeves. "I don't think there's any message. I just try to be as cryptic as possible," says Holt, grinning. "The majority of the older stuff is about things that I've gone through, but I don't want to be explicit or too definitive. It's emotional and has meaning to me, but the last thing I want to do is to define it to somebody else and insist it's supposed to mean the same thing to them. They haven't gone through what I've gone through."
Not especially eager to dredge up his own sordid past to sell records, Holt reluctantly admits, "I had an extensive drug problem, and a lot of the album has to do with that and the way I am today. I started putting this band together after getting my shit out of pawn and buying things after being strung out on heroin for 11 years."
Technically, this Loud Americans debut represents the fourth attempt at getting this batch of songs down on tape. "The first sessions were recorded on an eight-track reel-to-reel that kept slowing down," says Glickman. "Then we scrapped the next attempt because it had our old bass player Jeff --a chronic booty shaker -- playing on it. He'd shake his butt too much at the crowd. I always associate that [recording] with him, so it got shelved."
Gonzales figured into Attempt Number Three and was the most eager to put something out. The young guitarist handles most of the onstage banter, but after a year of prefacing each song with the intro "we're working on a new CD," he just stopped mentioning it altogether.
For the fourth and final attempt, the band brought a fresh set of ears to the project. Jamal Ruhe, late of One, Sleepwalker and a dozen other bands, recorded and mixed the group on an ADAT, and the result is a splendid album just shy of 30 minutes. "I don't consider it an EP because most of my favorite albums were only 36 minutes long," maintains Holt.
Holt's soft-spoken vocals may get quashed in a live forum but command attention on the recording where they're submerged in the instrumental track similar to Bob Mould's mutterings on Hüsker Dü LPs. Take a song like "Communication Major" where Holt begins in the lower register like a man who doesn't want to call attention to himself ("I'm not going to say I love you, I'm not trying to say anything/It's just that I've been under a lot of pressure . . .") or take attention away from the churning guitars. At his angriest, the singer comes off like a guy who's mostly exasperated with himself.
While the album has its dense moments, it's when the band interlocks into a stripped-down groove that things really get exciting. Listen to "Oatmeal Cream Pie," where the dual guitars sound as if they're kicking off two different songs in the left and right channel until the rhythm section pulls both strands together. The Loud Americans' fretwork volleys between the intricate interplay of Television's Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd and the haphazard lead and rhythm separation Bob Stinson and Paul Westerberg gave the Replacements. The latter is especially evident on tunes like "Everything Broke" and "Sentimental Heart" -- both just one set of handclaps away from being pure pop.
Collectively, however, the Loud Americans are suffering from the aftereffects of recording these songs one too many times. "We're pretty much sick of the CD and we're slowly coming up with new stuff," says Gonzales. "As far as writing new stuff, I think it's natural when you've got four people wanting to try new things and are always unsatisfied, it's just gonna keep getting better and better. Good bands should evolve."
One odd evolution is that the Loud Americans have lost some of their underdog status. The band recently won in the Best College Rock Band category in New Times' Music Showcase, a fact that the noncompetitive combo doesn't make mention of unless asked. "Reportedly it was a 4 to 3 victory," laughs Holt. "We had four guys in the band and Reuben's Accomplice only had three, so . . ."
Perhaps it was the gamely fashion in which Holt ran all the way home to get some microphones -- only minutes before their showcase set began -- because the van containing the sound man's equipment was towed. Then the Valley Art Theatre experienced a power outage before the Loud Americans could begin their final number. "I didn't know the bridge of that song, so I guess I used The Force," says Glickman.
The group is starting to draw more, too, something that's probably a direct result of playing fewer shows and even fewer weddings. "When you play a lot like we have, there aren't people that are going to want to see you every time," reasons Gonzales. "Even people really into your music aren't going to go see you every week. There's parties and getting laid and trying to get laid, that takes up most of your time. Seeing us all isn't a priority next to that."
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