by Lisa Slade
An exorcism isn't supposed to be a punishment. Instead, exorcism is considered a cure. And occasionally, it might even be pleasurable. Creech Holler, with a name that alludes to nothing specific but signifies an entire genre and geographic location, seems to conduct an exorcism of its own every time it plays. The music contains deep undertones of darkness and impurity, but it's more complicated than that. There's the exposition of good, along with exorcism of evil.
Says lead singer and guitarist Jeff Zentner, â“It's kind of an amalgamation of delta blues and this strain of old-time music from the Appalachians. It's not known very well. A lot of people know bands like Old Crowe Medicine Show, and most people know bluegrass, but not so many people know the really dark old-timey music like Doc Boggs or Robert Johnson.â”
This amalgamation is eerie. It's also powerfulâ"not for the weak of heart, but for the weak of faith, those who aren't sure if they're seeking salvation or destruction. Creech Holler offers both, in a form that's more palatable than fire and brimstone. â“We've been called a Southern Gothic band, and it's a label we embrace,â” says Zentner. The music does have gothic undertones, especially in songs like â“Black Mountainâ” and â“Wild Bill Jones,â” wherein a dark presence shines through the lyrics and steady drum. It could just as easily be the beating of your heart or the stomp of a foot on a porch during a downhome jam session. The themes are classically Southern. There's often whiskey involved, and maybe some snake handling, too.
The threesome has been playing together since December of 2004. Besides Zentner, there's Joseph Campbell (bass and vocals) and Christian Brooks (drums and tambourine). Oddly enough, the whole band has never lived in the same city. Zentner lives in Asheville, N.C., and Campbell and Brooks live in Murphreesboro, Tenn. â“We meet in the middle a lot. Knoxville is probably our key city, in terms of having a hometown. It's probably one of the closest things we have. We have so many friends there, and it's kind of between Asheville and Nashville. We'll meet up and play a show Friday night, and then we'll all drive and play another show Saturday night, and then head home,â” says Zentner.
The band's schedule is impressive, considering it plays somewhere between 20 and 25 weekends a year, and all three band members still have day jobs.
The band is going into the studio in a few months to record a second album, and the musicians expect the construction of it to be similar to their first. Creech Holler's first album, With Signs Following , was released in September of 2006, and it's a mixture of original songs and traditional ballads.
But, surprisingly, Creech Holler's biggest influence is not religion, or whiskey, or the south. It's literary. â“The greatest influence on our songwriting is Cormac McCarthy,â” says Zentner. â“One of our songs is called Lester Ballard, and it's named after a character in a Cormac McCarthy novel.â” In the novel, Child of God , Ballard is a necrophiliac and a murderer. It's another fitting metaphor for the band, though none of them are murderers or necrophiliacs. Ballard lived in a cave, and was an unpopular member of the underground. Creech Holler certainly plays to that underground, to the dark side of morality that rarely gets explored with popular music. It's easy to envision a shadowy old house, lit by only lanterns, with some strange things going on inside. It seems to come from a different time.
There's a light side to it all, though. Zentner certainly relishes playing this type of music for the audience of the South. â“It would be fun to play all sorts of places, but the place we really love to play is down here. It's where people have the most intuitive grasp of the music we love to play,â” says Zentner. While Knoxville, Memphis, Johnson City and Nashville are regulars on its touring list, the band also heads out west a few times a year, trying to spread its delta ideology in a place that's not so familiar with it.
â“So many funny things happen when we're on the road,â” says Zentner with a laugh. It doesn't sound like the laugh of someone devoted to divulging the dark side of human nature. But, just wait until the lights go out.
WHO: Creech Holler with Brendon James Wright and the Wrongs WHEN: When: Friday, May 18, 10 p.m. WHERE: Preservation Pub
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