Taken at face value, Colour Revolt look like prototypical Southern rockers. Yet this Mississippi group has a subversive streak that is miles wide.
Colour Revolt's emotionally conflicted tunes draw largely from their experience growing up in the South, where right-wing evangelical Christians are thick on the ground. Frontman Jesse Coppenbarger, 25, grew up in an archconservative household. His parents were Reagan Republicans.
Asked for his thoughts about religious extremism on the right, Coppenbarger does not mince words. "When I look at someone like Michelle Bachmann, I see my father," he says.
The Ole Miss alum is earnest and opinionated, especially when discussing his state's oft-backward code of ethics. Coppenbarger says living in Mississippi taught him that evangelism is more romantic in theory than in practice.
"I do identify with some Christian ideologies," he says. "But I don't identify as a Christian."
Strangely enough, he also seems to take offense to the stereotype of conservatives as self-righteous or militaristic. "Those are our family and friends, you know? I recognize what the good could be."
That is one of several dichotomies Colour Revolt explores on its Dualtone Records debut, last year's The Cradle. The album is guitar rock par excellence. Thematically, The Cradle's effects are twofold. It touches on the complexities of the band's Southern upbringing while following a familiar coming-of-age story. Indeed, as achingly personal as The Cradle often is, it strikes a universal chord.
Faith and politics intersected most messily in the summer of 2005, when Hurricane Katrina ravaged much of the South. George W. Bush's apathetic response to the disaster — which displaced many black people — raised questions about the Bible-thumping president's attitude toward race. The event left Colour Revolt reeling. There is a deep mood of uncertainty preeminent throughout the band's eponymous '05 EP, a record that saw numerous recording delays brought on by Katrina.
So they spent the next three years rebuilding. The group toured at an exhausting clip, accumulating showbiz contacts. Coppenbarger even remembers playing for Joanna Newsom and Deerhunter.
"The Breeders called us 'Mississippi boys'," Coppenbarger says. "And we were. We were just kids, struggling to stake our claim around indie rock celebrities."
Colour Revolt co-headlined a tour with alt-rockers Brand New in 2006. Within 18 months, they'd negotiated a deal with the venerable Fat Possum label, which distributed 2008's Plunder, Beg and Curse.
That's when shit started to hit the proverbial fan. Although reasonably well-reviewed, the lo-fi-leaning Plunder, Beg and Curse was met with resistance from Fat Possum execs, whose past signees included Delta bluesman Solomon Burke and Little Freddie King. As Coppenbarger quips, "We're not 80-year-old black men."
Further straining matters was the band's touring schedule, a rigorous endurance test that frayed their nerves. Most fatigued was guitarist Jimmy Cajoleas. Says Coppenbarger, "That lifestyle was killing Jimmy. Even when you're at home, it feels like more like a vacation from touring."
With that, Cajoleas departed from the group, taking drummer Len Clark and bassist Patrick Addison with him. Coppenbarger and remaining guitarist Sean Kirkpatrick ended their relationship with Fat Possum in the spring of 2008.
The Cradle, Colour Revolt's first album since that dramatic lineup overhaul, is the document of a deep transitional period. Songs like "8 Years" linger with a breeze of regret. Still, the band's trademark politicizing and garage-rock sound haven't gone anywhere — much to the apparent chagrin of outlets like Pitchfork, which dismissed The Cradle as "workmanlike."
"I mean, James Brown was the hardest-[working] man in show business," Coppenbarger jests. "If we're a blue-collar band, fuck it."