With its politically incorrect bitch-slap of a name, lots of bourbon-induced musicianship, skulls and Confederate imagery and a female roadie named Opie Taylor, Alabama Thunder Pussy is at the forefront of the proudest tradition of society-shocking, sin-loving, do-it-for-its-own-sake rock and roll.
Being based in Richmond, Virginia, has allowed ATP to grow up among the remains of rebel flags and out of the national spotlight. "If you live here, you have to have something that allows you to get out of town every so often, because there's really not that much to do except drink and go to shows," says ATP guitarist Erik Larson (a.k.a. Virgil). "But one of the cool parts about being here is you don't really get all that feedback. It's not like a bigger city, like Atlanta or L.A., where the second you start doing something everybody either jumps on the bandwagon or whips out the carving knives."
Not a bad thing, given that most of the band members have learned to play their instruments since, rather than before, the group formed. Larson had experience as a drummer, playing for five years with the Richmond punks of Avail. But Asechiah "Bog" Bogdon had never played a guitar before in his life, and ATP drummer Bryan Cox had started playing only three months before the band was created. Initially the three, themselves old friends, performed without a bass player in mutual friends' basements or anywhere else that would have them. Their first such show, Larson says, brought in "about ten stoned people." A bass player and a vocalist were both eventually added.
And now, three short years later, Alabama Thunder Pussy is playing the circuit. The transition from the basement to the highway started when Larson forwarded a six-song demo to Mike LaVella of Gearhead Magazine for potential inclusion on the seven-inch published with each issue. Little did Larson know LaVella and Frank Kozik (founder of Man's Ruin record label) shared office space. When Kozik heard the tape, he got in touch with the band about putting it out as an EP. Which he did.
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Soon ATP recorded its debut CD with Man's Ruin, Rise Again, which brought almost instant national recognition upon its release in 1997. "Being on Man's Ruin has been great," says Larson. "They're a little slow getting ... stuff to us sometimes, but they allow us to do what we want and then support it. And I don't know of any band that doesn't have one problem or another with their label, most of them a lot worse than ours."
The band then cut River City Revival and has been working on an upcoming CD, Constellation. Churning out albums so fast comes on direct orders from Kozik, who likes his bands to produce every eight months. The new disc, Larson says, will pick up right where both Rise Again and River City Revival left off, mixing in equal parts raw power, proto-metal and Southern rock. This, coupled with minimalist production values and a keep-it-simple-stupid approach to songwriting, creates a sound that is both lasting and immediate.
River City Revival, in fact, is as fine a piece of "stoner rock" as one is likely to hear this year. From the straight-ahead stomp of "Dryspell" and "Spineless" to the overdriven bass-heavy guitars of "Heathen" to the creepy crawl of "Own Worst Enemy," Revival is practically a touchable, penetrable rockscape. To top it off, ATP closes the disc with a slop-laden rendering of the Four Horsemen's "Rockin' Is Ma Business," which captures a truly important aspect of any rebel-yell band: balls-out attitude.
River City Revival continues Alabama Thunder Pussy's obsession with all things Southern, despite some ongoing questions about the band's heritage. The questions irk Larson, but he understands.
"When Rise Again came out it had very Southern imagery, with the Confederate battle flag, actually the flag of the Virginia regiment, and lots of other stuff. And people wondered if we were fence-riders or whatever," Larson says. "But to us it's always been about either having fun with it or Southern pride or both. But two of the guys in the band are Yankees, so I'm not sure how much they get into the back half of that," Larson says with a laugh. "The thing is, [Kozik] does all the artwork, and I think he was just excited to have the chance to work on something Southern. I wasn't at all disappointed when I saw it, it's cool, but I knew how some people would react and can understand that reaction."
Though not having shifted in any significant way musically over the course of its recording career, Alabama Thunder Pussy has seen each album get more focused than the last. Larson says this is because the band members simply know how to play their instruments better, the group has a better bass player (original bassist Bill Storms left after Rise Again), and the guys have a better idea of what they're doing in the studio. In addition to Larson, Bogdon and Cox, Johnny Throckmorton (vocals) and Sam Krivanec (bass) complete the current lineup.
Despite its limited musical vision, the band has earned both critical acclaim and higher visibility, even if it's still mostly rooted in the Southeast. Larson describes his success as "weird." He says: "We're looking forward to seeing how [the music] goes over on a broader basis....It's kind of funny, because we've been around for a little while now but have no idea what real people's perception of us is outside of the Southeast."
"At least we've had those trips, though," he says with a laugh. "We know what to expect....It's gonna be fun, that's for sure."
Alabama Thunder Pussy performs Saturday, November 27, at Emo's, 2700 Albany. For more information, call (713)523-8503.
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