Brooding hardcore fans with blue bandannas in their back pockets rub shoulders with longhaired death-metal men and skinny, fashionable high-schoolers in white belts when Job for a Cowboy is about to go on at the PHiX. Typically, the hardcore crowd hates the self-indulgent nature of heavy metal, the metal kids think hardcore is too serious, and both mock the scenesters for lack of musical taste. Yet all three groups are packed like sardines into the Grand Avenue art gallery.
When pounding drumbeats fill the room, the scene's melting pot squishes toward the small stage, where five guys in girls' jeans and tight band tee shirts are holding their instruments and staring at the floor. They launch into "Entombment of a Machine," embarking on a 30-minute onslaught of blast beats and heavy, squealing guitars -- all done at breakneck speed. The entire crowd looks excited, but it's easy to pick out who's who; the hardcore kids unfold their arms and flail them about, the metalheads immediately head-bang, and the scene kids nod along in approval.
They're all here because Job for a Cowboy offers what the Phoenix heavy music community wants: serious music played by lighthearted musicians. They make melodramatic "metal" faces, bust out ninja moves, and indulge in scene commentary onstage. Guitarist Andrew Acurio tries to infuse fun into his band's metal tirade by imitating the vocalist from Incantation. After each song, in a deep, gravelly voice, the 17-year-old quickly says, "Hell-fucking-yeah."
Job for a Cowboy
Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe
CD release party is scheduled for Friday, December 2
The Glendale quintet may look like scenesters with shaggy emo haircuts and tight pants, and may mock metal greats, but this death-metal band is for real. Merging hardcore into its death-metal style, Job for a Cowboy's unique sound is characterized by vocalist Jonny Davy's signature pig-squeal scream and drummer Elliott Sellers' tremendous speed and barrage of blast beats. It's no wonder established artists like Crematorium are singing the band's praises.
Job for a Cowboy formed in December 2003 with Davy, 18, and guitarists Acurio and Ravi Bhadriraju, both 17. The three went through five different bassists and drummers, but finally found Brent Riggs, 17, and Sellers, 16. Acurio and Davy spotted Sellers performing with his old hardcore band, Lifeless Embrace. Once they saw his creative use of drum triggers, they sought him out. Sellers agreed to join, but there was one little problem -- he wasn't into metal.
"Honestly, when I was first introduced to crazy stuff like Daughters and Locust, the really noisy stuff, it scared the shit out of me," he says. Now, he dons an Animosity shirt and says he can't get enough of the new Beneath the Massacre disc.
Acurio says he loves the album, too, but would never want to be in a band with a stereotypical extreme music name like Beneath the Massacre. "I hate names that come off too serious, with blood and dying," Acurio says. "It's just so generic."
Instead of going the slaughter route with their name, the teenagers opted for something fun that Davy says is a gimmick, because all of the members are Arizona natives. The downside is that occasionally people mistake Job for a Cowboy for a joke band.
"[People at shows say] 'When I heard your name, I thought you were going to be really shitty, but you turned out to be not that bad,'" Sellers says.
Sellers is overly modest. Nearly 100 fans lined up to buy the band's shirts before doors even opened at a recent California show, and on MySpace.com alone, Job for a Cowboy has more than 13,000 friends.
"If MySpace closed down, we'd be fucked," says Davy. Since June, many of those Net friends have been messaging the band to pre-order its upcoming EP, Doom. That certainly puts extra pressure on the band, and yet Acurio's only worry is if the record is heavy enough to live up to its title.
Don't worry -- the record is crushing. These six tracks could easily annihilate a small village. "Knee Deep" would do the most damage, though, with nonstop blast beats that pause to accentuate the tail end of guitar sweeps. "Suspended by the Throat" also includes a kick-drum pummeling, but notably incorporates dark, heavy hardcore breakdowns balanced out on the metal side with squealing guitars and dramatic solos -- very Between the Buried and Me. The songs on Doom, with their sheer speed, focused use of cymbals (especially on "Entombment of a Machine") and feverish guitar solos, garner the death metalers comparisons to Bodies in the Gears of the Apparatus, and Ed Gein.
The band doesn't care if listeners pick up on the influences, but there is one thing Job for a Cowboy wants them to take away from its music. "We just want kids to listen to it and say, 'I can kill someone to this,'" Acurio says.
Job for a Cowboy's deliberately evil sound, with its grind guitars, death metal and hardcore drums, and unique guttural vocals, has quickly caught the attention of record labels specializing in heavy metal, hardcore and metalcore. Abacus/Century Media (Sworn Enemy, Glass Casket), Pluto Records (As I Lay Dying, HORSE the Band) and Lifeforce Records (Caliban, All That Remains) have already come calling.
However, Job for a Cowboy isn't inking record deals just yet. Aside from working with Phoenix-based King of Monsters (Locust, Digital Leather) to release Doom, the band says it isn't willing to sign a contract. "We can't really do anything," says Acurio. "We're still in school."
Lifeforce offered to work with their schedules, but they say they don't want to rush things. For now, the teenagers would rather enjoy the rest of their high school years and just tour on weekends.
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"Plus, the longer we wait, the better offer we can get," Sellers says. "At least, that's how we see it."
They're probably right. Without any label help, they've already toured with top acts like Crematorium, As I Lay Dying, and Through the Eyes of the Dead, and frequently done their own weekend tours to California. This winter, they'll head out on their first two-week tour with Taste of Blood (Chase Fraser of Animosity's side project) and Suicide Silence, and for March, they recently confirmed a spring break tour with All Shall Perish.
From playing so much, they've developed a strong stage presence. A typical Job for a Cowboy show involves Davy rolling around on the floor, Sellers standing behind his drum kit pounding on his cymbals, and Acurio making ridiculous faces at people in the crowd, who dance the entire set and occasionally sneak onstage to scream along -- though the fans' guttural vocals sound more like sea lions than like Davy's pig squeal. Acurio says one of the best shows the band has played was to 750 people in Yuma, with As I Lay Dying. "The show was awesome," he says. "There were two separate pits: a dance pit and a push pit."
This kind of cross-genre appeal isn't unheard of, but in the metal and hardcore scenes -- which have a history of keeping to themselves -- it still stands out. Rather than seeking out one underground audience, Job for a Cowboy welcomes all the dancing, moshing, and head-banging. "It's amazing that we have such a mixture of fans," Acurio says. "It's nice seeing so many different people coming to our shows these days."