Buoyant Pop 

Living Wills

Living Wills

Bill Friskics-Warren and Jim Ridley

William Tyler, the 18-year-old lead singer and guitarist for Nashville pop-rockers Lifeboy, is sick of people comparing his group to Hanson. “The whole ‘kid band’ thing is weird,” Tyler says, citing a long line of power-pop wunderkinder whose verve and craft made age irrelevant. “The Kinks, The Jam, The Undertones were all teenagers,” he explains, “but that’s not the only thing people talked about.”

Tyler and his bandmates, drummer Sam Smith, 17, and bass player Keith Lowen, 18, met and started playing together as students at University School of Nashville. They won’t have to worry too long about audiences mistaking them for Hanson. People who hear the irrepressible guitar pop of the trio’s forthcoming Sire Records debut—something of a cross between the Who, Big Star, and Elvis Costello—will know the difference soon enough.

Not only that, the members of Lifeboy display a maturity that belies their years. Favoring entertainment over alterna-posturing, Tyler insists that “punk now is total bullshit. It’s just kids trying to make their parents feel guilty.” The band’s own music is blessedly angst-free. Under its former name, Soul Surgeon, the group announced its pure-pop-for-now-people aesthetic with “Complicated,” an irresistibly hooky four-minute gem on this year’s NEA Extravaganza CD compilation.

“If it’s got guitars on it but no solos, I like it,” Tyler explains. “The guy in the Ramones is my favorite guitar player.”

In a move that must have pleased their folks, Tyler and Lowen finished up at USN after landing their record deal with Sire—and they didn’t even play hooky from school to do that. Rather, Sire president Seymour Stein, the guy who snapped up Madonna and the Ramones, met them in study hall. “Seymour wanted to do it in school,” Tyler says. “Which was kinda cool,” adds Smith, who graduates this spring. “When our friends asked, ‘What’d y’all do during fifth period?,’ we said, ‘We signed a record deal.’ ”

Tyler, Smith, and Lowen hope Sire doesn’t play up the “kid band” angle too much when the label releases their R.S. Field-produced debut in March. Age, they insist, is relative. “Rock ’n’ roll may be youth-oriented,” declares William Tyler, “but Johnny Cash is a whole lot more rock ’n’ roll than Marilyn Manson. I mean, how old is Rufus Thomas? He embodies what rock ’n’ roll is about more than anybody you’re gonna see on MTV.”

—Bill Friskics-Warren

Calling all bands! The Nashville Entertainment Association is currently accepting submissions for Extravaganza ’99, the 14th annual edition of the NEA Extrav aganza, to be held Feb. 11-13, 1999. The deadline for entries is Nov. 15, and event manager Jim Hester says that by getting the word out, he hopes to avoid any 11th-hour jockeying for slots down the line. Also, the lineup for the Extravaganza’s accompanying CD of featured artists must be in place by Dec. 1.

This year finds the three-day showcase for unsigned acts at a crossroads. After a long period of stagnation, the Extravaganza has grown from an upstart imitation of Austin’s South by Southwest into one of its chief rivals. Once held at a single club, 328 Performance Hall, the NEA fest now includes hundreds of acts at two dozen venues. Much of the credit belongs to music-biz attorney and Paladin Records chief Jim Zumwalt, whose involvement and connections helped energize the event.

As the Extravaganza’s profile has raised, however, so has the level of backstage politicking—for which Zumwalt has also received much of the blame. Last February’s event caused well-publicized hard feelings among volunteers and artists alike. Chief among the complaints was the alleged apportioning of key club dates and times (as well as multiple slots) to acts and labels with insider connections. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of balance the next Extravaganza strikes between music and music industry.

Any acts interested in performing at Extravaganza ’99 can pick up a submission form at the NEA’s offices at 1105 16th Ave. S., Suite C. Forms can also be downloaded from the event’s Web site at www.extravaganza.org. For more information, call 327-4308 or e-mail nea@isdn.net.

When last we heard from Jon Langford—the Mekons/Waco Brothers cofounder and self-described “Artiste of Renown”—the Chicago-based Welshman was raising chuckles and hackles in equal measure at the American Pop Culture Gallery, where his “Death of Country Music” exhibit in August drew one of the most eclectic gallery-opening turnouts we can remember. (If this gives you any idea, the fashion continuum extended from Katy K to Drue Smith.) The crowd was missing staffers from a certain Music Row label, which reportedly asked to be removed henceforth from the gallery’s mailing list. But that just left more tequila for everybody else.

Anyone who left the exhibit doubting Langford’s love for country music is directed to The Pine Valley Cosmonauts Salute the Majesty of Bob Wills, the King of Western Swing, a sloppy, enthusiastic 19-song tribute to the peerless Texas bandleader. Just released on Bloodshot Records, the record uses Langford and his Cosmonauts (who include members of the Waco Brothers, the Bottle Rockets, and Poi Dog Pondering) as the house band for a revolving lineup of vocalists, who cover several of Wills’ trademark tunes. Among the guest stars who contribute winning tracks are Jimmie Dale Gilmore (“Trouble in Mind”), former Jody Grinder Kelly Hogan (“Drunkard’s Blues”), Mekons singer Sally Timms (a languid “Right or Wrong”), and Langford himself with Alejandro Escovedo (“San Antonio Rose”).

The covers don’t try to recapture (or even approach) the blazing virtuosity that was Wills’ trademark, which makes it unclear just what this Salute is saluting. At worst, in place of Wills’ exacting, exuberant playing and bandleading, the record offers a lackluster “insurgent” spirit that’s a good argument for a dose of rigid professionalism. As in Langford’s live shows, however, there’s a good deal of footloose fun and self-deprecating wit in the vocals and playing. And unlike some other Bloodshot tributes, this one never places quotation marks of cutesiness or quaintness around the songs. Ironically enough, Jon Langford is proof that reports of country music’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

—Jim Ridley

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