With a Little Help 

Locals Bad Friend and Paris Street join forces for a dual CD release

Do you flake? Forget names or birthdays? Screen phone calls? Are you a bad friend? Stuart von Stein can sympathize. It’s the conundrum at the center of local shambling rock quintet Bad Friend.
by Chris Parker

Do you flake? Forget names or birthdays? Screen phone calls? Are you a bad friend? Stuart von Stein can sympathize. It’s the conundrum at the center of local shambling rock quintet Bad Friend.

“People are always putting a guilt trip on you, and you feel if you don’t do this, you’re a bad friend,” von Stein says. “At the same time, how can you be a ‘bad friend’? Because a friend is a good person. And that’s tough to be.”

Indeed, who are we to judge? As they point out in the somewhat undiplomatically titled “Taco,” “sometimes a bad friend can be a good friend too.” The song conjures memories of Dinosaur Jr.’s fuzzy, sun-baked warmth, Sebadoh’s ramshackle charm and the Pixies rhythmic thrum. Von Stein sings about a late-night hook-up arriving “without warning like some car crash/scam,” and confesses his worst nature: “It’s a lie when I say, ‘I’m lonely.’ It’s a lie when I say, ‘It’s strange.’ ” It’s here that a bad friend comes in handy.

“It’s one instance where you don’t really know what’s good for you, and I think that tends to happen to a lot of us in the band,” von Stein says with a snicker.

Though Bad Friend originated simply to play some shows and have fun, the band has taken on a life of its own, like an intricate series of escalating pranks between onetime friends. They’re inspired by the subversive humor of Andy Kaufman, epitomized by his increasingly psychotic freak-out “I Trusted You,” which Bad Friend covers in a track available from their label’s website, blacklabelempire.com. It’s further reinforced on their hilariously mean-spirited “Lemonhead Loser,” off last year’s Live from the Trash Gulley EP. But they’re not troublemakers.

“I’ve always liked that about bands, where you dig a little deeper and maybe there’s something there. But then again, maybe you dig a little deeper and nothing’s there,” von Stein says. “We’re just trying to get people to want to get a shovel.”

They’re celebrating their debut studio release, a split EP, titled The Healthy Home Loves Bad Friend, with Dyersburg’s The Healthy Home. It features four tracks from each band, and a two-song collaboration between Bad Friend’s other principal songwriter Joseph Garcia and The Healthy Home’s Nate Dodd, who grew up together.

Bad Friend are also working on a new album that will include finalized versions of two of the EP’s songs. Basic tracks are done, and they’re going in for mixing and overdubs next month, with an eye for release early next year, though they’re thinking of shopping it around first.

Von Stein is the roommate of Paris Street’s Carl Polgar. When the two realized they’d be finishing their respective EPs around the same time, they decided to join forces. For a few dollars more than admission, patrons will receive a gift bag featuring both bands’ EPs and possibly other goodies.

Polgar moved here from the Tampa-Orlando area, where he grew up, “just to get out of town,” and settled in Nashville to “meet some like-minded souls.” He’s always been prolific, writing songs daily and recording little EPs for friends over weekends.

Though Paris Street was initially an acoustic, home-recorded solo project along the lines of Neutral Milk Hotel, it’s become a band concern. He cites the Divine Comedy and Belle & Sebastian as influences, and indeed there’s a measured beauty and sly wit to the music. But that’s about to change with the more rocking album they’re in the process of finishing up.

“The EP is hopefully the last bit of almost everything being done by me with a bit of assistance by other people,” Polgar says. “The album that’s coming out is the four of us. It’s a full band effort. In the end it’s still my songs, but everyone gets their moment and everyone gets to sing.”

One of the EP’s highlights is “Greetings from the Penn-View Motel,” whose dark, Irish-tinged jangle sounds like The Waterboys tackling an Appalachian murder ballad. It recounts a harrowing, true-life encounter with a rundown motel that played host to huge roaches, stomach-turning smells and unknown comforter stains. “We don’t have enough weed to help us see things through,” Polgar sings of the since-shuttered dump.

Polgar apparently has a thing for poor living conditions. He had only been in Nashville for a few weeks when he was awakened by a ruckus in the room above.

“The guy upstairs from me, who was also my landlord, got stabbed in the neck by a crackhead who he was trying to seduce,” Polgar recalls. “I went upstairs and was face to face with this crackhead guy. Thankfully, my landlord had one of those alert bracelets, and the cops showed up in the middle of this very awkward confrontation between me and this crackhead…. I did write a song about it, but we’ve never gone about recording it. It’s called ‘End of the Tennessee Honeymoon.’ ”

With encounters like that, you can see how having a Bad Friend for a roommate might not be such a terrible thing.

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