10 American Artists Who Don’t Sound American

Spoon's Britt Daniel at Houston's House of Blues, December 2014
Spoon's Britt Daniel at Houston's House of Blues, December 2014
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

July 4 weekend is a time to celebrate all things America. This includes barbecue, domestic beer, baseball and, perhaps most notable, music. After all, what makes Americans feel more patriotic than the right song, everything from Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” to Tom Petty's "American Girl?"

Not all American music is patriotic in tone. In fact, some of the best American music ever produced was created by bands and artists many didn’t even know were American to begin with. On that note, fire up the grill, break out the sunblock and check out ten American musicians you, at one point or other, may not have known were American at all. (Note: List is in alphabetical order.)

Look at this video. This is the most British video ever conceived. Synth-pop. Check. Shot in black and white. Check. Dour, sullen front man. Major check. Weird imagery, courtesy of the falling dominoes. You see where we’re going with this. Point being, the Bravery – for its brief run in the mid-2000s – were that band with the one big song that sounded British. Turns out the band hails from New York, and to those few who managed to stick around, the Bravery’s sophomore album, The Sun and the Moon, far outpaces its self-titled predecessor.

The Illinois outfit rose to prominence in the '70s, when American bands were borrowing from their British contemporaries, and vice versa. Not only did Cheap Trick have the look of a European band, the band’s biggest hit – 1988’s “The Flame” – was written by a pair of British songwriters and initially offered to a British singer (Elkie Brooks). The band outright admitted that “I Want You to Want Me” was a blend of metal and ABBA. To top it off, Cheap Trick front man Robin Zander was allegedly once approached to front British glam-rock band The Sweet.

The Dandy Warhols are infamous in many circles for their rivalry with The Brian Jonestown Massacre, as chronicled in the awesome rockumentary Dig (props to the Warhols; they handled that rivalry far better than did BJM front man Anton Newcombe). To others, they’re simply a solid rock band out of Portland, Oregon, one that sounds British and looks the part even more so.

Maybe it’s a Pacific Northwest thing. Like the Dandy Warhols, the Decemberists are a band that hails from Portland but that sounds like it’s from halfway around the world. Lead singer Colin Meloy is so pronounced in his lyrics, one can’t help but wonder if he’s British. Nope, dude is from Montana.

When you share a name with an international/intergovernmental organization, as Interpol does, your origins are ambiguous to begin with. Tack on the fact that you look and sound British, and you can certainly understand why many casual listeners previously had no idea that Interpol is, in fact, a New York band. Hell, a British band was even responsible for a member leaving Interpol. According to former Interpol bassist Carlos D, he elected to leave the band after checking out Coldplay on Saturday Night Live in 2008. “When Coldplay came on, I felt bored, quite frankly,” he told Bedford + Bowery after exiting. “I knew then that there was something going on with me, some kind of identity shift, really. It really troubled me."

A ton of folks didn’t know the Killers were from Las Vegas until the release of their sophomore effort, Sam’s Town, which paid tribute to their hometown and aspired to be their very own Born to Run (it succeeded to an extent, despite initial criticism from fans and critics alike). That’s mostly because the Killers’ smash debut, Hot Fuss, was a living, breathing tribute to non-American influences like the Cure, David Bowie, the Smiths, Depeche Mode and New Order. The Killers have strayed from their British influences with subsequent releases, to mixed results, but did a damn fine job paying homage to those influences with one of the best albums of 2004.

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