What the hell is Saloon Punk?
And who the f*ck are the Stranded Bandits?
Questions often asked by first-time listeners and viewers of the up-and-coming punk and blues band from Raleigh, North Carolina. Though already filling the empty halls of dive bars and local venues for the better part of the last two years, the Bandits just released their first official EP. Any habitual dive bar patron in the greater Raleigh area has likely heard the band more than they care to remember, but they’re reaching new eardrums every day, even in quarantine.
Artists and bands often find themselves fitting into hyper categories and super defined genres so that a member of any niche or clique can find exactly what they are looking for. Stranded Bandits, from the beginning, set out to pull from many of their own personal favorites on their path to creating an entirely new genre: saloon punk. Oddly named, but perhaps a combination of ideas too alluring to ignore, the band knew that establishing this genre and uniting as many music lovers as possible into one room at a time was their destiny. Using classical riffs and structures inspired by the longstanding traditions of blues and rock n’ roll, their sound is topped with blistering pace and a finish of blended energy and passion.
Clouds Following Me might be the track with the most shining example of the mixture. A consistent, bouncing pace laid down by the bass and drums constructs an anthem surrounding the gloom and doom of negativity (energy, people, situations) that follows everyone. The chorus kicks the listener into an atmosphere full of anger, grief, and doubt fueled by feedback and overdrive pedals. Isaac (lead singer and rhythm guitar) displays this distaste for old, lingering feelings via physical breakdowns on stage. These moments of overdrive punched into tight rhythms encapsulate the energy all four are trying to produce; one where everyone is unsure what’s next, sometimes even the band.
“We’re very f*cking loud.”
The album juxtaposes many emotional scapes in its five tracks, but all of them create a memorable experience each unto its own. Dubbed “the worst song they’ve ever written,” Shrimp Fried F*ck is not only a crowd-pleaser that ascends any room into a firey mosh pit, but one of the band’s most treasured songs. A sizzling drum beat rippled with distorted bass sets the mood before the entire song descends into chaos. It repetitively speeds up and melts into madness, dragging each listener through a vicious journey. But it’s all about the attitude.
The record inserts a certain disposition that outlines various degrees of life. They compact just enough vibrant positivity but batter you down with just enough violence to put everything right where it should be. Reflecting on all those little things that make up each day, even the tempered sections songs find some meaning of hope in the bleakness. “I think the songs are all very reflective of the experiences we had during the writing process and what was fun is that since we sat on them for so long, a lot of the songs evolved and kind of developed to new meanings along the way. We were able to add in little things to each song. Clouds Following Me has matured and evolved since it’s conception,” said Isaac.
After gigging around North Carolina for the majority of 2018 and 2019, the band was able to settle into the studio over this past winter. Four months later with new songs and polished oldies, they crafted five tracks that represent their ideas both individually and as a group. “It’s the personification of us as a group. I think we all bring in our own experiences, I don’t think necessarily there was one we pulled straight from Isaac’s experiences or straight from DJ’s, we all kind of threw our own twists in there”, said Matt.
“The songs get progressively worse as you go through the album whether you start from the back or front.”
They never really settle into one sound or area, constantly changing pace and mood, with both lighthearted and angry styles. Their shows often follow suit, keeping you guessing which mood the band will lean on more. On the tracklist, immediately following the boiling rage of Shrimp Fried F*ck comes Good Times, their most well-known hit, spanning all the way back to the band’s earliest jam sessions. A joyous ring of the chords quiet enough to highlight the bar chatter in any venue embodies the true spirit of their music and companionship. Showcasing their love of all the watering holes they’ve played or watered themselves in, and all the friends you meet along the way, it is a superb way to end the EP.
Perhaps the best features of Stranded Bandits lays in each members’ personality. Every practice and every gig is a big hangout fest full of jokes and cheeky behavior, with the band’s next great idea hidden away in a comical situation that has yet to play out.
“We haven’t actually listened to any of them [the songs]. We don’t know what they sound like, we just turn on subtitles in Pro Tools.”
The band’s release show slotted for downtown Raleigh’s Kings in early March was postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19. They never imagined that this release would be under the shroud of quarantine and social distancing, but such is the way of the world sometimes. “We had a really fun time making this. We’re really bummed that we can’t be playing for people right now. So hopefully, listening at home, blaring your speakers does justice for now until we can get out there. But we hope you have as much fun listening to it as we did making it because we had a whole lot of fun making it” said Matt.
Comprised of Matt Barton (Lead Guitar, wears sunglasses during gigs [yes, even night gigs]), Arjun Sheth (Bass Guitar), Isaac McDaniel (Rythym Guitar, Lead Vocals), and DJ Schilens (Drums), they utilize those four pieces to their max potential. The grooves and jams don’t stop, as the group uses plenty of high energy beats to carry out complex solos and patterns. DJ and Arjun particularly create a beautiful scene for every song that allows the guitars to explode through any of your preconceived notions. Punk influences like Nirvana, Sex Pistols and the drumming of young Dave Grohl in Queens of the Stone Age influence the backing section of the band while Isaac and Matt draw from bands like The Strokes and The Grateful Dead in their overlapping rhythms. Tapping, shredding, pounding chords, nifty bass diddlies and ceremonies of rolls and fills are all present.
Then again, don’t take my word for it. Go listen to it.