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.
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.
While the band members engineered the sessions themselves, they will turn over mix duties to Valley sound guru Jamal Ruhe, who's set to finish up the Americans project before he leaves town (see related item below) at the end of the month.
After that, Holt says, the band members may shop the record to a handful of indie labels to gauge industry reaction, before ultimately, he predicts, releasing the disc themselves.
"Regardless of what happens, we're going to put it out. We'll probably do it ourselves, although it'd be nice to get it distributed through a label. That is, if it turns out good," he adds, joking, "I sure don't want to get it distributed if it sucks."
Holt needn't worry on that last count. Even a cursory listen to a handful of rough tracks shows that the group has managed to make its live wall-of-sound stick to tape.
"That's always the hardest part," he adds. "Just getting down what you really sound like. And we're not experts by any stretch, but I think we've gotten it close enough that we're satisfied. And that's all that really matters."
The Loud Americans are scheduled to perform on Saturday, March 3, at the Lucky Dragon Restaurant in Tempe, with the Real Diffs Deluxe, and A Starlit Pond. Showtime is 9 p.m. Texassed Out: Spring is right around the corner, and that means another South by Southwest music conference. Sadly, this year's event -- which runs from March 14-18 in Austin, Texas -- is marked by a dearth of Arizona bands. While part of that is because several of the best local groups missed deadlines or did not submit entries at all, it's still a disappointing turnout for desert acts that seemed to be passed over en masse in favor of bands from the Netherlands.
Among the 'zonies who did make the cut are Tucson-based, French indie-folk tandem the Amor Belholm Duo, former Doo Rag member turned solo artist Bob Log III, Tempe's Gas Giants, who will appear courtesy of music publisher ASCAP, local faves the Pistoleros, Phoenix Christian synth-poppers Fine China, and rap-rockers the Phunk Junkeez.
Look for New Times to provide full local and national recaps of all the artists and festivities in the coming weeks.
Sax Sells: Valley jazzniks should turn their attention to the Rhythm Room's calendar this week as Steve Lacy makes a rare Valley visit this Saturday, March 3. The legendary soprano saxman has been one of jazz's premier innovators for the past 40 years, having shared stages and studios with the likes of fellow cutting-edge artists Thelonious Monk, Gil Evans and Cecil Taylor. Lacy -- who has been living in Paris for the past three decades -- will be bringing his combo into town for an early 6 p.m. showtime. Bluesman Big Pete Pearson will headline the club's late-night bill.
Au Revoir, Mon Jamal: As we've reported previously, local music fixture Jamal Ruhe will be bringing the curtain down on his "Farewell Tempe" tour this weekend with a show at Nita's Hideaway. Ruhe will dust off his much-loved dream-pop trio Sleepwalker -- which features steel-guitarist-to-the-stars Jon Rauhouse -- for a final gig this Saturday, March 3. The band will perform a middle slot sandwiched in between the Slow Down and a headlining set from Lance Lammers' new/old outfit Seven Storey. Showtime is 9 p.m.
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