On trad-rockers Natural Child's four records — the latest of which, Dancin' With Wolves, dropped Feb. 22 — the co-frontmen, guitarist Seth Murray and bassist Wes Traylor, often sing clipped lines about Southern city living, in unison, in a dry drawl reminiscent of True Detective's Rust Cohle. Talking over beers at divey East Nashville hole-in-the wall Mickey's Tavern, Murray and Traylor tend to finish each other's sentences, and there's a lot they agree on.
"We've been trying to say that we aren't a 'garage-rock' band," Murray says, explaining how frustration over being tagged a "Nashville garage-rock band" inspired them to channel their sonic fetishization for Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan records. "New Found Glory played in a garage, we don't play in a garage," Traylor chimes in.
The latter says making that clear has creatively driven Natural Child's classic-rock-reference-laden writing style since the band's inception. "When we were doing [2012's] For the Love of the Game we were consciously trying to make a rock record where we weren't a garage band," Traylor explains in regard to the band's sophomore LP. "We were outwardly throwing back to things." And even though that's still the case (Murray says he's currently cooking up "the biggest Grateful Dead rip-off you've ever heard"), the band doesn't think of itself as a throwback outfit.
"We're a rock 'n' roll band, so we're influenced by rock 'n' roll," Traylor declares. "I wanna make it clear that we play modern rock, though. ... I feel like we can just go ahead and start it over." As with the vintage Travis Tritt shirt he's sporting, it's easy to mistake what Traylor is saying for irony, but it's not. "We grew up on [Tritt, but] it's not like we're trying to write that shit," Murray says. "We don't listen to anybody current, really. I don't know who's popular right now, but I bet they're not rock 'n' roll."
When it comes to country-rock drinking songs like Wolves' "Saturday Night Blues," Natural Child is an unabashed reflection of its members' dusty record collections. "We rip off a line in every song — it's part of it," Murray says. "Out in the Country" lyrically nods to Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Looking out My Backdoor" and borrows a bass line from Bob Dylan. "I remember writing the bass riff," says Traylor. "I specifically wanted to have a song like 'You Gotta Serve Somebody.' "
"There's times I think we sound like Dire Straits and shit like that," Traylor muses at another point, his deadpan once again making it tough to tell whether he's spinning some yarn or speaking in earnest. "When you really get chooglin' on just right, then you feel like you're channeling some Dire Straits." Mark Knopfler & Co.'s jazz-rock influence rears its head on Wolves' spacey, bossa-tinged jam "Bailando con Lobos" — a title the pair claims is a Josie and the Pussycats reference. And not all of Natural Child's influences are cool. Case in point: Murray and especially Traylor are unapologetic Kid Rock apologists. They say they've covered "Only God Knows Why" before.
"It's an American quality, that you're ashamed of things that you used to like," says Murray. "We're very American," Traylor adds later. "Not just Nashville — we're just American people. All the cities, that's us."
But it's Music City the band will be repping hard this week, when their End record release show doubles as the closing night of Freakin' Weekend V, the fifth annual three-day Music City-centric punk and, yes, garage-rock festival put on by local record label/blog Nashville's Dead.
Other bands playing the Exit/In- and End-based fest include: local psych-punk faves Cheap Time and The Paperhead; Memphis hardcore troupe Ex-Cult; poppy party punkers Diarrhea Planet; stoner-rockers Turbo Fruits; Cy Barkley and Way Outsiders; Fox Fun; Deluxin'; PUJOL, who will stage-test songs from their next Saddle Creek full-length; Cincinnati Buzzcocks channelers Tweens; Nashville's Dead flagship band D. Watusi; elusive hardcore faves Slammers in a rare appearance; L.A. psych auteur Jack Name; and Upstate New York noise punks Perfect Pussy. Additionally, Freakin' Weekend will host a pair of daytime pop-up shop sales and shows at boutique Local Honey. Those will feature performances from Tristen, Study Hall, Pissbath and others.
"If anything, just the fact that nobody paid attention to Nashville for so many years made it possible for good bands to happen here," Murray says, "just because anybody could do anything they wanted and nobody was paying attention."
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