Johnny Astro and the Big Bang Aim for Takeoff

 

 

If you’ve been out to see a local concert in the last six months, you’ve probably seen Johnny Astro and the Big Bang

The band—vocalist/guitarist Paul Wakefield, lead guitarist Patrick Tice, bassist Mike Carroll, and drummer Nathan Gilleran (who also drums for brother Zach’s band Lipliplip Hands)—is one of a core group of indie-rock outfits around Knoxville helmed by twentysomethings who grew up listening to both classic rock and 2000s indie rockers like Spoon. So if you’ve seen JABB, you’ve probably seen Madre, Gamenight, O Youth, and Lipliplip Hands, too. 

Wakefield, Tice, and Carroll say they don’t have any specific goals for JABB other than to record the best music possible, but just this year, they’ve played with Knoxville heavyweights the Royal Bangs and the Black Cadillacs, plus Athens, Ga., trio the Whigs, who recently performed on Late Night With David Letterman. (That’s not to mention a previous performance opening for Better Than Ezra at Sundown in the City in 2011.)

Wakefield is quick to shoot down a suggestion JABB could be heading in the same direction as the Black Cadillacs, who left their hometown for Nashville a couple of years ago and seem to have been touring ever since.

“I don’t want to do what they’re doing,” Wakefield says of the Cadillac’s extensive road schedule. “I like to think [we’re] doing what they did here”—that is, making music that doesn’t sound like anything else being played. “I care about the music first and foremost. Not to be a media rebel, but I just don’t care about our ‘brand.’”

Carroll and Tice cite bands like Queens of the Stone Age, White Denim, and the Strokes as influences on JABB’s sound. Tice says the band tries to “fill a gap” in the current music scene, and Wakefield says he’s tired of both ’80s-style synth-pop and the Mumford and Sons disciples that have cropped up over the past few years. (“There’s no clapping,” Carroll says of JABB’s music.) Instead, they look to ’70s-era hard rockers like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and even Foreigner for inspiration.

The band hasn’t exactly coasted to where they are now. Soon after forming in 2009, the original lead guitarist left, and Tice came on. That was followed by a six-month hiatus after the band’s original drummer left. During that time, Tice and Wakefield were busily writing songs and arranging them with Carroll and eventually Gilleran, who joined in the band in April 2012. 

Wakefield, the band’s lyricist, says he writes about things that frustrate him, which often translates to aggressive throwback rockers. What makes the band stand out is Tice’s “weird” guitar playing. 

“Pat just does stuff on guitar that, if someone taught you how to play it, they wouldn’t teach you how to do that,” Wakefield says. “It’s just stuff that he’s kind of come up with on his own just playing guitars. Weird patterns, not like what you’re used to.”

It’s that experimental edge that’s got the band excited about their upcoming album, Monuments, which they’re planning to release in late September or early October. Most of the songs on the album were written during the six months between drummers, though Wakefield says “we throw out a ton of stuff” that doesn’t make the cut—particularly if it sounds too much like another band’s music.

Now the album is just getting “tiny tweaks,” Carroll says, before they send it off to be mastered.

But before that, they’re playing a show at Barley’s, Tice’s favorite venue, with hometown experimental-chamber-pop queen Hudson K and Gillian, a new project from Kym Hawkins of Plainclothes Tracy.

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