The hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation wouldn’t be thrilled with being the name-sake of a rowdy band. An outspoken leader of the temperance movement pre-dating prohibition, Nation would attack saloons with rocks and other primitive implements of destruction around Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas at the turn of the 19th century to stop men from consuming booze.
While I can’t speak for the personal decisions of the band regarding alcohol, naming your aggressive band after an aggressive, take-the-law into your own hands type of woman is fitting. The Kansas-based Carrie Nation and The Speakeasy will return to Durango Friday night, performing at The Balcony Backstage.
It’s like Tom Waits took a big blast of speed and went on stage to front a revved up jug band. Two albums worth of music and nonstop touring has produced a sound that’s gritty and aggressive, sometimes serious and sometimes fun, as mostly up-tempo songs lyrically explore the American Civil War, the devil, and the woes of love and life. Their influences dig into American music, as blues, early jazz and country, genres it seems music-loving teens discover soon after their first bong hits and bottles of whiskey while their Black Sabbath and Black Flag records get less time on the turntable. Fans of White Ghost Shivers or Truckstop Honeymoon will be able to relate, along with fans of more traditional sounds of the Tin-Pan Alley era. Yet they also relate to American hardcore via their punk tempos and do-it-yourself ethic; it’s a mindset that keeps you knee-deep in the work of being a touring musician. When booking, promotion, press inquiries and tour vehicle maintenance are also your job, it makes it not only art, but a trade. Every step of the process keeps the musician grounded in reality, closer to the work, and closer to the fans.
“There’s really nothing that needs to be done that we don’t do ourselves” said guitar player and vocalist Jarrod Starling.
Their story is similar to the story of many rock bands, starting with brothers hanging out and learning folk songs, which eventually gives way to getting booked for a show. A new bass player brought along a friend with a trombone, something they didn’t need, yet they found a way to fit it in. “We definitely didn’t look for a trombone at first, because it was a folk project,” said Starling. “He tagged along and has been with us ever since, and is now an important part of the writing and musicianship.”
It’s important to be a sponge of all genres of music, especially in a band like Carrie Nation and The Speakeasy, where horned instruments mix with a banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, bass, drums and sometimes washboard to reflect historical American music meshed with roots and rock ’n’ roll.
“One of the cool things I think about our band [is] there’s a lot of different influences from each of us,” said drummer and other Starling brother, Zach. “When (mandolin player) Grubb came into the band he was rocking out, all these different influences from different things. Jarrod was in punk bands in high school, and while he was listening to punk bands I was listening to old Motown and classical. It’s a broad range from all of us.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].