Featured Music: Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Like their previous incarnation, The Fellow Americans are heavy enough to sate the metal-heads, non-hardcore enough to please the indie-rockers, and singular enough to write home about.
Your Fellow Americans

Ex-members of the Rio Grande Babies got a new project, but their unique approach to songcraft remains.


Before breaking up a few years ago, the Rio Grande Babies were on to something. While no one would have confused them with a thinking-man’s metal outfit or anything, they were smarter than most of their brethren in hard music. By cranking up the reverb, they stayed heavy. By slowing down the tempo, they stayed indie-poppish. And by keeping their sound crystal clean, they somehow achieved uniqueness.

Though the RGB’s are long gone, the band’s memory is manifest in The Fellow Americans, a new project by two former Babies, Matt Hickey (guitar) and Hal Welch (bass), plus two newcomers, drummer Caleb Dissmore and frontman and lyricist Jeff Price.

Yes, that Jeff Price, the tender-hearted singer-songwriter and younger brother of equally tender-hearted singer-songwriter John Price. The young one said that, while he enjoys listening to hard rock, he just never got into playing it until about a year ago, when he responded to a classified advertisement from Hickey and Welsh. “The ad said they wanted a singer for a ‘straight-ahead rock group,’” Price said. He called and landed an audition. “I was skeptical of the sound,” he said. “But once they started playing, my face turned serious.”

The fit was perfect, according to Price, who said he never realized he wanted to rock out until he started doing it. “I instantly liked the guys,” he said, noting that he had never heard of the RGB’s before. He only recently relocated to Fort Worth from Austin, where he earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas. “I saw a lot of potential,” he said. “The guys are all cool and laid-back, and we’re having fun.”

“We didn’t just want to jump on one of the first guys we auditioned,” Welch said. “But we knew he was for us.”

The band immediately inaugurated what has become its standard m.o. — write, rehearse, write, rehearse, record all the rehearsals and listen to them carefully, and then write and rehearse some more. From the ballooning catalog they’ve assembled, The Fellow Americans have whittled their set down to about nine solid tracks.

The band played its first show a couple of months ago at the Wreck Room and has been gigging only sporadically since. The goal now, according to Price, is to get into the studio, specifically Bass Propulsion Laboratories (John Price, Hi-Fi Drowning, Tim Locke) in Dallas. They plan to begin recording in March and may not play live again until the disc is complete. There isn’t a lot of time to do much else: Welch and Hickey have full-time jobs, Dissmore is a college student, and Price is a bartender.

The owners and knob-twiddlers of BPL, Todd and Toby Pipes, are known for their bright-pop sensibility — as members of the band Deep Blue Something, the brothers scored a Top-40 smash back in the day with the candy-sweet “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The collision between their endearingly un-ironic sonic opulence and The Fellow Americans’ brand of heaviness should be interesting. “We wanna make it the best we can but keep our stripped-down integrity,” Price said. “It’s a compulsion for me, personally. I like putting a c.d. together. I like doing the artwork. I like to have something at [the merchandise booths] at shows. You’ve got a finished product that you’ve put a lot of effort into.

“It’s all about being professional,” he continued. “It’s all about being a pro.”

Probably as a byproduct of their individualist DNA, The Fellow Americans are unlike any other Metroplex group in that they’ve somehow managed to perfect the art of the stylishly tattered garage-rock song. A handful of tracks recently sampled could serve as templates. (You hear that, Julian Casablancas?!) The Fellow Americans don’t mis-play their instruments or fuck around with uneven time signatures or anything like that. Rather, they come up with ultra-simplistic riffs and beats and play them crisply, precisely, perfectly. The trick, as The Fellow Americans explain, isn’t to play sloppily. It’s to play sloppily conceived music perfectly.

“The Other Side of the City” is just a simple beat, a couple of barre chords, and, during the bridge, just guitar and bass (sweet). But once the chaotic and often dissonant tune reaches the chorus and all of the elements unexpectedly come together and sound like the handiwork of a tight veteran rock outfit, you realize you’ve been listening attentively for a couple of minutes and are completely hooked.

Though The Fellow Americans can churn out the brilliant rococo rot, they can also kick out the “straight-ahead rock” jams. Most of the tracks sway back and forth between punkishly offensive and in-your-face to indie-friendly and catchy (though always heavy). The lyrics are sometimes full of anti-establishment rage, sometimes loaded with heartbreak, and sometimes reflective of where the twain meet.

You can also detect more than a little early Rolling Stones in The Fellow Americans sound, courtesy mainly of Price, whose bratty, mealy-mouthed delivery harks to Mick Jagger back before the Stones frontman got all into yoga and health food and crap, back when he was the penultimate nightclub stud who wasn’t only smarter than you but also more successful with the ladies. Like young Jagger, Price is long-limbed and charismatic. When he asks you to meet him “in the corner” or accompany him on some other back-alley, bright-midnight trip, you believe he knows of which he speaks.

A lot of bands feign primitivism, but not many of them can make it sing like The Fellow Americans. The band’s sights “aren’t set anywhere,” Price said, lending the perfect exclamation point to The Fellow Americans’ dedication to honest musicmaking as opposed to copping trends. “We have no agenda. We just wanna rock ‘n’ roll. We just like to play.”

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