The Alcohol Stunt Band do that thing on MySpace where they describe themselves as "crunk" and use a photo of a 1970s group as their band picture. It's a standard MySpace stab at ironic humor that's become so common now that it's even less funny than it was a couple of years ago, and it wasn't even funny then. They also list John Denver as an influence. But that part, at least, is not a joke. John Denver really is a music hero for Stunt Band singer/guitarist/songwriter Chris Crofton, who grew up listening to him on AM radio in Connecticut.
"It's not ironic," Crofton says. "I'm 39 years old. When I was growing up, my parents listened to John Denver constantly, and music you hear at that age you remember. It was a happy time for me, and I associate John Denver with that. And he wrote great vocal melodies and a million catchy songs."
Not much of that influence shows up directly in the Nashville-based Alcohol Stunt Band, however, which instead operates along an axis of amped-up honky tonk, punk rock, and AC/DC. He traces that back to his suburban youth in the 1980s, when his love for Back in Black led him to The Cult's Electric—Crofton calls it "their AC/DC record"—and then, in college, The Replacements and Hüsker Dü a few years after those bands' mid-'80s peak.
"I didn't know anything about anything," he says of his pop-music education during college. "I got into AM radio and Top 40 because that's all I had. I didn't know there was any alternative music."
After college Crofton moved to New York, where he played in an increasingly frustrating series of bands. "I was there for eight years and I was broke," he says. "I was hauling gear to shows in cabs, paying $20 each way for a show where we'd make $80 for all three of us. I was behind the eight-ball financially all the time."
So he followed a friend south to Nashville in 2001. He liked the weather, the slower pace, and the fact that the city's known for country music, not rock bands. He didn't figure on much competition, and rounded up a group of like-minded musicians that's gradually evolved into the Alcohol Stunt Band. The name comes from a song Crofton wrote several years ago called "The Alcohol Stunt Man," a weepy country-ish ballad that's not quite as cheeky as its title indicates. Though most of the band's songs tend toward bare-knuckle hard rock, "The Alcohol Stunt Man" typifies, in sentiment, anyway, if not in sound, Crofton's approach—equal parts smart-ass humor and cavernous pathos, much of it about people bottoming out on drugs, booze, and heartache and deftly treading the fine line between sarcasm and sincerity.
They've established themselves in Nashville as a reliable live band, but the very reason the city appealed to Crofton—the lack of a recognized scene—also means that his band has had a hard time getting attention outside their hometown.
Crofton hopes that starts to change soon. They're finishing up a brand-new EP, recorded with Kevin Ratterman, drummer for the up-and-coming Louisville, Ky., band Wax Fang. (Song titles include "Teenage Suicide," She's Insane," and "Before You Go to Jail.") When it's done and released this spring, Crofton plans a round of regular out-of-town shows.
"Creatively, we couldn't be happier," he says. "We have great fans here, and couldn't be happier with them. But the only way to make it out of Nashville is to tour. We're just kind of waiting till the record comes out."