Straight from Nashville, Lambchop is adding new life to old country sounds
Their work is a concoction of country, indie rock, soul and punk rendered by a band, which, on stage, numbers over nine musicians on instruments that include guitars, winds and percussion. Their songs delve into simple daily matters that attempt to cover stories about the human soul. Just days before the group’s performance in Athens this Friday night, Kathimerini spoke to Lambchop’s main songwriter and arranger, Kurt Wagner. This enchanting act’s roots reach back to 1986 when a bunch of youngsters, with Wagner as the most active force, held regular jam sessions at a record store in Nashville to entertain customers. They called themselves Poster Children and decided to take their playing to various clubs. During those post-punk days, the nascent group played country, which, however, sounded nothing like the style’s stereotyped sound in America’s South. By the time the band renamed itself Lamchop in the early 1990s, it had begun drawing the interest of indie rock circles, which grew out of the precursor punk movement. The act’s unique sound fitted nicely into the indie scene, one whose participants strove for new, fresh ways in contemporary music. «I don’t think I’d be able to characterize Lambchop’s music, considering the various elements that make up its total. It’s probably better that music tags don’t interest me, because this way I can fantasize that we’re doing something unique,» jested Wagner. Despite having established a sturdy reputation in New York, Los Angeles and throughout Europe, the band has never abandoned its home city, Nashville, one of the main reasons, according to Wagner, being its affordable cost of living. «Nashville is a wonderful and cheap city. Compared to New York, I can live in a big house with my three dogs and wife,» said Wagner. Since 1992, when Lambchop released their album «Nine,» the act has, besides the music, also developed an odd and recognizable style of lyrics that often border with grotesque territory. The material and words on 1994’s «Rows of Teeth» 1997’s «Thriller» – humorously inspired by the Michael Jackson album of the same name – and «Nixon» in 2000 helped bolster the act’s oddball reputation. «Most of the [album] titles are taken from the cover art of albums, all done by a friend painter, Wayne White. He always plays around with slogans or words. He considered the material on the ‘Nixon’ album to be tragicomic, and an image of [former president Richard] Nixon came to mind,» noted Wagner. «The same goes for our new album, ‘Aw C’Mon – No You C’mon,’ where mumbled words replace meaning. Today, of course, we have another president, Mr [George W.] Bush, whom we must not re-elect if we want to stop being in trouble,» he added. Lambchop’s latest project, an inspired effort spread over two CDs, resulted from Wagner’s idea of writing a song a day. «I decided to write a song a day with the objective of improving as a composer and also as an attempt to find perfection in simplicity – because you can only work on simple melodies for a few hours – and leave the anxiety of whether a song’s good or not for later,» explained Wagner. «As for the lyrics, I penned stories about everyday life. I’d take a piece of the day’s information and interpret it through music – something like a diary,» he added. On the songs «Four Pounds in Two Days» and «Steve McQueen,» Wagner describes how he quit smoking, fearing that he too, like the well-known actor, would be struck by throat cancer. «And then I started smoking again. I managed without for two months, which is how long the recordings lasted,» quipped Wagner. Responding to a question on music’s new digital age, and his group’s place in this environment, Wagner said he believes Lambchop mixes tradition with newer ways. «I think that as a band we belong in both the world of acoustic music and analog sound, as well as that of the digital recording,» said Wagner. «We combine these two worlds by adding technology to the warmth of fingers touching guitar strings. Important things are occurring in music technology and we’re trying to discover the right way to use them,» he added. As a songwriter fed by common, everyday themes for subject matter, Wagner has no need to portray himself as a «progressive» figure. Yet, despite his seemingly simple ways, he has sparked considerable respect amid the contemporary scene. David Byrne’s cover of the Lambchop song «The Man Who Loved Beer» is a firm indicator. «David Byrne had performed this song at a concert with Yo La Tengo in New York. I suppose he liked it and then decided to record it alone. But you’d have to ask the man himself for the details. I’m simply honored by the fact…» Lambchop perform in Athens this Friday at the Gagarin 205 club (205 Liosion, tel 210.854.7600-2).