American Plague frontman James Alexander (aka JAW) is usually an easy-going sort, but today he's a troll. Over lunch at La Costa on Market Square, he spends the time between bites of braised pork railing against contemporary music, especially nü-metal, emo and hardcore. He rails against "people who complain all the time, but never do anything." He rails against "rock bands who sing about dragons and Orcs," and likewise against "’90s bullshit—any singer who still whines about his dad." He rails against anything that smacks of religion or politics or feel-good clichés.
And when he realizes he's hated on nearly everything that anyone who speaks English and lives on planet Earth might possibly write a song about, he even rails against his own band's latest album, God Bless the American Plague, set for a nationwide re-release on Long Live Crime Records.
"Ah, hell I'm just grouchy and hung over," he says at the end of his rant. "I don't dislike anything we've done. There are some good songs on there, but my taste in music is always shifting. I'm always thinking one record ahead."
It's understandable that Alexander might be growing weary of talking about God Bless the American Plague. It's not a new album, having seen a limited, mostly local release more than a year ago, and having been completed, awaiting a pressing, well before that.
It's not new, but it does have a new life.
On a jaunt to the West Coast last year (a showcase for Liquor and Poker Records), the band briefly weighed anchor in Salt Lake City on the way home, and their performance there drew unexpected attention from fledgling indie label Doctor Cyclops Records, who later agreed to re-release God Bless in conjunction with Los Angeles-based indie Long Live Crime.
The resulting deal at last backs the long-suffering Plague with some real promotional muscle, with print advertisements, college radio push and nationwide distribution. "When the people at Long Live Crime heard it, they flipped their wigs," Alexander says. "They thought it was the shit, and they wanted to be on board."
It's easy to see why. Alexander's hangover-fueled misgivings notwithstanding, God Bless the American Plague is a nearly flawless album, a potent distillation of the best elements of punk, metal and classic rawk. From Alexander's pleasingly gruff vocals, to since-departed lead axeman Scott Oxendine's rugged guitar heroics, to a song selection that traverses punk-shoutalong, mutant C&W, and Motorhead territory without ever missing a step, it's an epic rock 'n' roll record, in the best sense of that word.
"And it sounds great," Alexander concedes. "It's a perfect record to listen to with your headphones on."
But with Oxendine gone, the Plague are a three-piece again, as they had been when Alexander first joined with bassist Dave Dammit and founding drummer B.J. Fontana (later replaced by current skin-basher Tilmon Navare) back in 2001. And Alexander, a restless sort—especially after a night of depravity and binge drinking—is ready to forge ahead.
"When Scott left, we started writing, and now we've got an album's worth of new songs," Alexander says. "It's hard sometimes, because we've got these new songs that were meant to be played as a three-piece, but our set is drawn mostly from the current record."
Alexander says he's gotten good feedback on how well the band has managed to adapt God Bless the American Plague's burly two-guitar arrangements to a three-piece unit. If there's any dissatisfaction with the way the songs translate, it's largely his own.
"We had to rework the songs a little, and for some it works better than others," he says. "There were some dueling guitar things we had to change a lot. Scott and I were different players. He was more from the technical side; I'm more Chuck Berry. I had to learn how to do some things my way."
The new, unrecorded Plague songs Alexander and crew have been hammering out since Oxendine's departure are more a throwback to the band's first release—a self-titled EP of headlong punk rock that came off like a dirtier version of the Misfits, or maybe Social Distortion blotto drunk on cheap beer. "We're getting back to the roots, as they say," Alexander says. "There's more straight-forward punk, less of that palm-muted chunka-chunka stuff."
But for now, God Bless the American Plague is set for a second release on Oct. 17, on Doctor Cyclops/Long Live Crime, with national distribution from Koch Records. "The difference between this release and the first time we put it out is that this time, you might be able to buy it somewhere other than just the Disc Exchange in Knoxville," Alexander says.
"But we have a lot of work to do in the meantime," he adds, noting that the Plague will commence an intermittent touring schedule in November. "The word has to get out. Because if nobody orders the album, it will never be in stores."