Hardcore with Heart
Sadville reveals its kinder, gentler side
HELP, I’VE FALLEN: Travis Flatt’s youthful agility allows him to get back up beating after beating.
Maybe it’s the telltale sign of pinkeye, a swollen red welt on his lower left eyelid, or maybe it’s the quilted red plaid shirt swaddling his shoulders that makes drummer Andy Kohler look kiddish and innocent. Or perhaps it’s that he orders an apple juice when we meet at Old City Java to discuss his hardcore punk band, Sadville, that makes you want to give him a hug. His band mate, singer Travis Flatt, seems a little more weathered, opting for black coffee and donning a tattered jean jacket speckled with pins of bands I’ve never heard of. But even Flatt speaks in a startlingly mild, petulant voice—a very distant cousin of the one he uses in concert, when he shrieks into the microphone with throat-raking vigor.
To run into these guys on the street, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine either one mustering the malice to pluck a hair from a kitten, much less partaking in thrashing onstage antics that have sent them both to the hospital on occasion. But things are not always what they seem, and the members of Sadville don’t seem to fit completely into either of their two polar personas; perhaps they need one to counterbalance the other.
Growing up in Cookeville, Kohler and Flatt began experimenting with punk and hardcore music in high school, at first inspired by megastars like The Clash, for lack of local influences. “There was no scene in Cookeville then,” says Kohler. “But now Sam [Matson], one of our two guitarists, has been working to create a scene there.” Matson and fellow guitarist Lucas Flatt attend Tennessee Tech, and ever since Kohler and Flatt settled in Knoxville to go to UT, they migrate back home to Cookeville to practice and play shows. The band also recently acquired a new bassist named Mike Dean.
Mostly, Sadville’s gig list features non-venues like “Justin’s House” in Cookeville and “Party Awesome House” in Milwaukee, Wis. They explain that the hardcore scene is subversive by nature, as well as by principle. “I personally really like the DIY part about it. I hate the whole press kit thing,” says Kohler. “I’d rather play in someone’s living room for some nice kids than somewhere they’re going to charge 10 bucks…It’s crazy though, playing in someone’s house. The high school kids get drunk and circle-pit and slam dance. There’s surprisingly few injuries that way.” “Circle-pitting,” he explains, is literally running in circles with clenched fists raised in the air, revolution-style.
When Sadville does play in public venues, it’s usually for an all-ages audience, which seems to be common among the harder genres of rock, metal and punk. “A lot of punk and hardcore bands insist on all-ages shows, even bands that are getting really big. I think that’s really respectable, because music needs to be accessible to everyone,” says Flatt.
And while some particularly jarring hard music might attract exclusively rebellious teens hoping to kill some brain cells, Sadville’s brand of metal-tinged punk has a wider, more cerebral appeal. Sure, there’s a fair amount of screaming, but it laces, almost daintily, the edges of a swirling mosh of Southern gothic murk, buoyed by upbeat punk hankerings and alternately drug deep by its grinding hard-rock anchorage.
So despite Flatt and Kohler’s mild-mannered demeanor, there are demons lurking below. Befittingly illustrating their paradoxical personalities, these rockers with hearts-of-gold have helped organize the upcoming benefit at Pilot Light for the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, a global peacenik organization that works to feed the hungry and protest war. Of course, Kohler admits that he first got involved because, “They were going to write off a lot of my community service hours [for a legal entanglement he’d rather not see in print]. But I’d also like to say that I really believe in the cause they are working for.”
While such a pacifistic venture might seem contrary to Sadville’s hard-rocking ways, Flatt and Kohler seem to thrive amidst contradiction. Having drained our coffees and apple juice, the conversation deteriorates into the sort of shit-talking banter you might expect from a couple of metal kids. “We’ve probably had more shows end in the emergency room than most bands,” says Kohler.
“I’ve got some pretty cool scars, and the kids like it if you get bloody,” follows Flatt. “Yeah, if you feel like you’re bombing, you can always crack your head open and things turn right around for you. The audience feels like they’re getting their money’s worth,” says Kohler, only half-jokingly.
Now that’s dedication.
Who: Sadville w/ Platonic Disease, Burnin’ Doobage, ADD/C, hoth, Mitchell W.K. and Lucas Flatt