"We were in Granada, in the south of Spain," says Chris Lowe, frontman for the relatively new Woman, a band that has, in just a few short months, helped to rekindle a flame in the heart of the Knoxville underground.
"It was very tragic," adds guitarist Tyler Mucklow, barely suppressing a chuckle. "I remember…" bassist Damion Huntoon chimes in. "I remember… Chile." He adds some extra oomph to the second syllable of Chile, as if we're in a faraway land, or a soap opera. Drummer Jason Stark remains quiet. Here, in the living room of a Fourth and Gill house, the four members of Woman are feeling pretty good, just relaxing as if this were just another Thursday evening. We just watched a few episodes of Chappelle's Show, which is always a good thing. A dog sits comfortably on the floor, slowly wagging its tail. Tonight seems to be nothing out of the ordinary.
Then the mood shifts, almost immediately. "We're living during wartime," Lowe says. "Crazy things are going on that people don't understand…. I see a lot of our songs as songs of protest. I don't think we're an overtly political band, but——"
"Tennesseans are living in a state of irony," Huntoon adds. "It's one of the most polluted places in the country…. It's also one of the most beautiful. There are a lot of amazing people here, a lot of progressive people."
You can dance to it, maybe, when Woman takes the stage, because their music is just primal enough to wake the devil in each of us. There's juju in the music, the kind of sounds that jerk the mind around when turned up to brainsick decibels, the kind of cathartic moans that have always reflected what it means to be human, from Handel's Messiah to the grittiest Mississippi blues. Whatever you feel is immaterial, so long as you're there, playing your part in a much larger drama.
"This is the perfect time to break it all up and build it up again," Lowe says. "Fuck you, come out and fucking be there. That's the point of all this. This shit is really gaining momentum."
"I'm just glad there's a commentary on what goes on in this town," Mucklow goes on. "That's what we're doing, a commentary on the soul of this town."
The song "Flood Plain," a primal chant that feels more like a rain dance than a rock song, is quickly becoming a crowd favorite. Lowe dances like an entranced medicine man, shaking a pair of maracas and chanting, a low vibrato from the back of his throat.
It was nearly spiritual, the first time I saw Woman. Sweaty bodies blended into one another as the beer took hold, colors oozing together with each frenetic movement from the crowd. Gravity lost its grip, or so it seemed, and higher mental functions were put on hold as we all joined in collective mind-trip. Maybe it was a taste of something bigger than ourselves. Maybe we were drunk. But as any member of Woman will tell you, the important thing is that we were together, experiencing it all.
"We're not saying anything that hasn't been said before," Lowe continues.
"This is a community that's been insular for so long," Stark says. In a sense, it has suddenly become viral, spreading through our ears and invading our minds. There has been talk of a New Knoxville Scene, a concentration of artistic energy that hasn't been felt in years. There's a hope right now. And, if you're out exploring and listening to what's being borne inside the minds of our local musicians, you've felt it.
"There's something," Stark says. "It's raw, fucking naked emotion. It's like someone elbowing you in the face…. I think people were just bored out of their fucking skulls. You make raw, gut-fucking music, like a fart in the car with the heat on—it feels like something's just clicked again. Just good, visceral music.
"People are tired and willing to take a chance."
For Woman, it began in an attic, with just two working mikes, and they recorded a six-track demo. Admittedly, it's not the best recording, not even by homemade standards. But it's a feral war cry, a testament to the sheer power of emotion, laid naked against breakneck sounds.
"There's an energy," Huntoon adds. Perhaps it's protection against burnout or, better yet, an expression of music as a vital part of life. For Woman, life and music are inseparable.
"Oh," comes Stark, "we also sound like Public Image meets The Fall."