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.
We Practice After Hours Too!
Midlands Orthopedics clinics are open when young athletes need us most. Locations and hours can be found here.
Now Hiring in the Vista!
Hickory Tavern is opening mid-December and looking for bartenders, servers, hosts and kitchen staff. Apply in person: Click for details!
A Re-Imagined Christmas Carol at Trustus
Watch as five actors perform all the characters of Charles Dickens’ classic story and create a live musical score in a production that had audiences and critics raving last year. Get your tickets here!
Ice Skate on Main Street
Columbia’s famously hot skating rink opens Thanksgiving Day! Additional information and discounts can be found here.
Surreal Innovation Salon Now Open
Columbia’s newest total care spa is now taking appointments and offering $10 off services $25 or more for first time clients. Location, hours, and more info here.
Make Your Own Beer and Wine!
Come get started on your “liquid hobby” and help us celebrate our 46th year in the Columbia area. Bet Mar Liquid Hobby Shop: 736 St. Andrews Road.
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Holiday Wish ListWhere to shop for gift ideas in Columbia this season:
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Real Estate Spotlight
Coldwell Banker United, Realtors Welcome To Our Neighborhood! Work With The Best! CBCarolinas.com
The Lake Carolina new home community has it all! 1 YMCA, 3 pools, 10 parks, 20+ community events each year, and much more! Learn more. www.lakecarolina.com
BB&T Home Mortgage Sharing knowledge with satisfied homeowners. BBT.com/Mortgage
WE’LL HELP YOU CREATE YOUR WISHLIST FOR YOUR NEW HOME! Choose from 11 communities & over 30 home designs. Personalize your home at our Selections Gallery. Our Customer Service Team gives you peace of mind in your new home. Got land? We can build Your Home Your Way on Your Land. 803-917-5583 3300. Sunset Blvd. West Columbia 29169 Click here for more info
Town Center Apartment Homes in Lake Carolina THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Bran new apartments inside award-winning Lake Carolina. towncenteratlakecarolina.com