Athens band is part of a powerful neo-southern rock movement
Beginning in an attic, Woman has high hopes for Knoxville
by Mike Gibson
Given that they arose from the arid soil of Athens, Ga., and sport the kind of scorched-earth dual guitar assault indigenous to classic '70s arena rock, you'd think that hard-bitten Dixieland outfit Southern Bitch was surely weaned on the likes of Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker and Molly Hatchet. Or at the very least the Allman Brothers, fellow Georgians who practically defined what it means to play southern rock.
You'd think that, and you'd be wrong. Sort of. To be sure, these guys (and one girl) have been schooled in the basics, Street Survivors and Eat a Peach and Green Grass and High Tides, plus a little Johnny Cash and George Jones thrown in for good measure. But like so many other fellow neo-southern rockers, bands like Alabama's Drive-By Truckers or Nashville's Kings of Leon and Bang Bang Bang, their exposure to southern rock comes as much second-hand--filtered through the prism of other artists--as it does from growing up in the genre's own backyard.
"I think we're part of a new cluster of rock bands coming out of the South who sound southern just by being southern," muses Bitch singer/guitarist Adam Musick, who co-founded the band along with his wife, rhythm guitarist Wendy Musick. "I always loved country music, country rock. But Neil Young and Tom Petty and the Rolling Stones played a bigger part in my songwriting.
"I guess it's just that we've been influenced by all the music that has come since southern rock first came around. It's a new combination of influences, but with a familiar feeling to it."
It's familiar, but it's all good. Listen carefully to any one of the band's three full-length CDs, and you'll hear passages that sound as much like Keith Richards and Crazy Horse as they do the Outlaws. Maybe the closest analogy would be Keif and Neil playing their own versions of country rock--as they often did on so many classic records of the last 30-odd years. Musick says it best, and most succinctly, when he notes that, "influence-wise, it's all about filters."
"The Stones were influenced by the South and the blues," says Musick. "Now we're influenced by what they did with it. It comes back around in a weird way."
Founded in 1998, the four-piece Southern Bitch have steadily built a following around the southeast through intermittent touring and through their consistently crisp, potent releases--the freshly-pressed Strong Medicine and 2004's Snake in the Grass , both on Captiva Records, as well as the self-released Thunderbolt and the Dandelion EP.
Along the way, their music has evolved in stages, from more restrained country-rock beginnings to the full-throttle Rawk juggernaut showcased on Strong Medicine --at times, the band even channels the restless energy of punk, or of balls-out proto-heshers like Aerosmith and AC/DC and the Who. "I guess we started as more of what you'd call alt-country," Musick says. "There's been less and less of the pure country influence as we've gone along."
They're just now ending a five-month hiatus, begun last fall when Wendy Musick took time off from the band for a minor medical procedure. Their CD release show in their hometown Athens on Feb. 17 was their first since the break.
Now Adam Musick says the band will spend the rest of '07 promoting Strong Medicine , though the fall may see the hard-working frontman--Musick earns his living restoring old houses, in addition to leading S.B.--begin songwriting for a fourth full-length release. Then Southern Bitch will likely have new options, their contract with tiny Captiva Records having been fulfilled, and the intriguing possibilities of a resurgent southern rock scene laid before them.
"I guess you could say there's a new generation of us now, and we've got something going on that's a little different from the generation that came first," Musick says. "I don't what it is--whether it was punk rock coming around, or alternative or whatever. But it's a good time now to be playing southern rock."
Who: Southern Bitch w/ Brendon James Wright
Just Two Mikes in a Room
by Kevin Crowe
"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."
Who: Woman and African Greys