This Saturday, the whiskey-and-distortion-fueled charms of American Gun will once again take over the Art Bar on a Valentine’s Day weekend. In this eighth iteration of the group’s annual Heartbreak Valentine’s, the band and a few of its musical friends will toast rock ‘n’ roll’s undying fascination with romances gone wrong. For many around Columbia’s music scene, it’s become a traditional escape from the sappiness that descends upon us this time each year. For American Gun, it’s become one of the few constants in the group’s tumultuous tenure.
“I think we must have named it that because of the album cover [of Dark Southern Hearts, the group’s 2006 debut],” recalls guitarist and lead singer Todd Mathis. The image depicts a bare rib cage vacant except for a heart that gushes a river of blood.
The quartet comes into this weekend’s show having finished one of its quietest years yet, playing only a handful of local dates and extending a break from the studio that extends back to 2011’s Therapy. Prior to these past few years, American Gun was known regionally as a troupe of relentless weekend warriors, churning out well-regarded albums with alacrity while playing 40 or 50 shows a year in an effort to escalate its popularity.
Some of the slowdown simply stems from members getting a little older, buying houses and starting families, but a lot of it, explains Mathis, was that they “just got tired of getting in at six in the morning and only having a couple hundred bucks to show for it. It was time to stop.”
The toll of this lifestyle has been evident in the band’s shifting lineup. Only Mathis and drummer Andrew Hoose have remained constant since the group formed in 2004, with lead guitarist Noel Rodgers joining up in 2008 following the departure of Jeff Crews, and Barry Corley coming on in 2012 to replace Kevin Kimbrell. In between, the band also streamlined its vocals with the exit of co-frontman Donald Merckle in 2009.
Somewhat cruelly, the band’s slide into a more sedentary approach came just as it was turning a creative corner, replacing a little bit of its natural twang with the noisier, guitar-heavy approach of its live shows. At least a few of the songs on Therapy displayed a distinctly different sound, with songs that felt a bit more indebted to the intricacies of The Hold Steady or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club than to the country-gone-punk approach of Lucero and Uncle Tupelo. Inclusions like “Lie to Me” and “Moving Down the Line” built more on sinewy riffs than common chord progressions, and layers of pedal distortion and textured guitar created a veneer almost antithetical to the barroom tearjerkers on which the group built its reputation.
“I started bringing in songs with a lot less structure,” Mathis recalls. “Writing really became a much more collaborative process. Noel has always added hooks and different things to the songs, and he has really taken things in a much more rock direction. If it weren’t for Noel bringing in the more rock edge, we’d [probably] still just be doing alt-country.”
Thus the band has kept up its creativity even as its pace has slowed, and the group hopes to showcase these new ideas on an even noisier EP to be released later this year. Mathis has also been working with Paul Bodamer, who helped produce Therapy, on a new recording studio, which should give the band more freedom to explore different approaches without having to worry so much about budgetary constraints.
Despite a decade on the scene and some diminished expectations, it’s hard not to feel like American Gun is still brimming with potential. But as he looks to the future, Mathis says the group only hopes to keep writing and playing, regardless of anything else.
“Our goal is still the same,” he declares, “to try and make a kick-ass record.”
Art Bar is at 1211 Park Street. Doors open at 8 p.m.; music starts at 9 p.m.; admission is $5. With Zach Seibert, Youth Model and Prairie Willows. Call 929-0158 or visit artbarsc.com for more information.
3LAU on Sunday, October 26th and the Unofficial Skrillex Mothership Tour After-Party on the 27th. More information and tickets for both can be found here. VIP tables available.
The Other Place at Trustus Theatre
Juliana Smithton is a successful neurologist whose life seems to be coming unhinged. A mystery unfolds as fact blurs with fiction, past collides with present and the elusive truth of Juliana’s mental health boils to the surface in The Other Place, running at Trustus Theatre October 17th through November 1st. There will be a talk-back following the matinee on October 19th. Tickets can be purchased here or by calling the box office at 803-254-9732.
King Lear in Finlay Park
October 16th-18th and 22nd-25th, the South Carolina Shakespeare Company presents William Shakespeare’s King Lear. All performances held at the Finlay Park Ampitheatre at 7:30 PM. For tickets and more information, click here or call 803-665-2000.
Bluegrass, Bidding, and BBQ
Join The Palladium Society Thursday, October 23rd from 7-10 p.m. for its 11th annual silent auction, featuring music by The Mustache Brothers and catering by Bourbon and The Oak Table. Tickets are $30 at the door and include admission, drinks, and food. Get yours online now!
Four Miles, Twelve Doughnuts
Winston’s Wish aims to increase knowledge and understanding of children with autism, and you can help by participating in the 4.donut Race on October 25th. Start at Edventure Children’s Museum, run 2 miles to Krispy Kreme, eat 12 doughnuts, and run back! Registration is required and can be done here before October 23rd at 5 p.m.
SEARCH FREE TIMES
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Local business is searching for new associates who are looking for a fun environment to earn great wages. Great position for college students/recent graduates. Must be well-mannered with excellent customer service skills/work ethic/ability to lift heavy items/must have valid Driver’s License. Call 803-376-4884 or email resume: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cupcake now hiring a closing manager. Must be outgoing, customer service focused, able to work evenings and weekends. Apply in person. 1213 Lincoln Street, Columbia SC 29201. freshcupcakes.com
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