Rock, bluegrass collide on local quartet's debut
"Explosive" is a word that typically conjures hard rock and heavy metal and thus might not be the most apt adjective for a bluegrass project. But parts of 6 Day Bender's self-titled LP practically demand it. At the top of opener "Best I Can," for example, it's hard to tell whether the momentum comes more from the dizzying banjo figures or singer Luke Nutting's maniacal laughter, but their combined strength propels the music forward for the next three tracks until the crashing guitars announcing "Jail Blues" up the ante a little more.
The band considers this its proper debut, and it's certainly a huge change from the long-form demo they released online for free in October. Many of the songs on Eastham Basement were draft versions of these same tunes, recorded in the band's practice space with extremely limited means, often with the whole band gathered around a single microphone like a bluegrass ensemble from the earliest days of the record industry.
"We got the old-timey vibe out of necessity," says Nutting.
A healthy portion of the ass-whoopin' quality probably comes from the fact that the Bender boys think of themselves primarily as a rock band. The bluegrass and old-time influences often seem to come to the forefront given that Nutting fronts the band with a banjo strapped across his chest, but rock influences ranging from the Stones to the Velvet Underground and bassist Mark Schottinger's occasional taste for bass guitar instead of upright always threaten to morph the sound into something more forceful, a twilight zone they've taken to calling "mountain rock 'n roll."
"I learned to play banjo after two of my guitars were stolen during my sophomore year of college," says Nutting. "It wasn't bluegrass that put me on the banjo, it was necessity."
That's his second use of that word in as many questions, and maybe that explains why the band's hybrid sound emerged– they're as country as circumstances dictate, but no more. "Bluegrass right now is a virtuoso game– the fastest, cleanest picker wins," he continues. "That's not at all our business. We still dig that music, but we're a lot louder and more electric."
In addition, founding fiddle player and passionate bluegrass purist Lauren Moses departed in November, leaving the band free to cannibalize the classics a bit more brutally. It's also a sausage party now, though, which is somewhat unfortunate– Moses and the backing vocals she supplied were a healthy point of contrast to Nutting's gritty drawl, and while Schottinger steps up to fill the gap on most songs, his voice is better suited to occasional leads like the hilariously anti-Philly "Philadelphia" than to playing yin to Nutting's yang.
But given that they're trying their damnedest to create mutant music, it shouldn't matter in the long run how much of the bluegrass influence comes and goes, or even whether Nutting's banjos eventually get stolen as well. They'll find their place in the middle as long as they don't really belong in either camp.
6 Day Bender turns the album loose at the Satellite Ballroom on April 18. $6-$8, 8pm.