Nobody's creekbed

songs, prayers, poetry, stories, art, photographs, moving pictures, fondnesses, tall-tales and meditations

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The Anterior Insula and Hwy W

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Some words about the Stags

These are the songs you would write if you could. These are the songs about your hometown, your ex-girlfriend, your lover, your asshole friends, your confidante, your epiphanies, your frustrations, your hopes, your midnight fears, your afternoon bike ride, your all-night bender, your morning reflection, your looking glass, your desire to utterly lose yourself in music and life and wanderlust. Such is my profound fascination and love for the music of the Stags that it is difficult for me to write about the band with a minimum of emotional language. I found the Stags in El Paso, an enigmatic southwestern town under a mountain, on the border between so many different worlds. A wild town. Old world. Desert vibration. Mountain sounds. Midnight spaces. Magic and paranoia. Something else. It makes a weird sense that here in this land is where I would find a thing like the Stags. I first watched them share a bill with a band made up of my friends, one night in a glorious hole-in-the-wall bar. Obviously, I had come to see my friends. But I was told to watch this band, the Stags. Okay, I thought, whatever. Another band in another bar on another night. Let me tell you, I was hooked from the very first hook. And the hooks did not stop for the entirety of a set that was, to say the least, ridiculously mind-boggling. I turned to my friend and asked Who are these guys?! The songs were literate, rootsy, abstract, pure, simple, complex, heady, visceral, emotional and epic. I was to stay in El Paso for some time, and I was to see the Stags perform again and again, every chance I could get. I am afraid my obsession was almost grotesque. There were just so many songs, so many parts, so many ideas. You had to listen and then listen again, and still you weren’t sure what you had just heard, but it was so catchy and so weird and it made people dance. It fucking kicked your ass, I’ll say that. Redolent with attitude. But also thick with heart, soul and humility. Two song writers, two lifelong friends: Ben McCormack, a lyrical gunslinger, a deep pocket guitar attack, renaissance man and abstractionist, truly a force to be reckoned with; and Joseph Hodges, an old poet in a young man’s body, a guttural folk instinct, a stunning world-weariness, a sense and feeling that is just so pure, like a million emotions on a single desert breeze. You would hear one of these guy give it to you, and you’d be floored, and then the next song would come, and the other would give it to you, and you just couldn’t believe what you were hearing. And that rhythm section: Will Tanner on bass and Jimmy Sochat on drums. These two lifelong friends provide the foundation on which this mammoth brokedown palace is built, and without which wouldn’t stand. The grooves just lock you in. I can’t say it any other way. Roots you to rhythm, the Earth, and blasts you into outer space, the deep highway, way the fuck out of town and back again. Punchy and direct. Melodic, inventive bass. Juke joint get you hopping. The Stags: two sets of lifelong friends, a foursome come together to create a classic family: fractured, loud, reflective, psychic, symbiotic, belly laughter and shared stories. I had the good fortune to become friends with these guys, after attending many shows and committing many drunken sing-alongs. I can still remember delivering fawning admiration outside on the sidewalk to raised eyebrows after the shows. And these individuals are just as cool, just as weird and smart and complex and down-to-Earth as their music. I count them among my best friends, and this to me is an honor, because the music, the songs, are just as rich and illuminating today as that first night in that hole-in-the-wall bar. Eventually I moved away from El Paso. And I begged these guys to please record these songs. They recorded four or five of the songs for an e.p. and it was like the biggest goddamn tease of my life. Because, as I said, the sheer number of original tunes these guys had at their disposal was ridiculous. And then through the grapevine I heard that they were finally at work, deep in basements, experimenting, dealing with the devil, digging, chopping chords from old musical timber, field recording and going insane. My hunger grew. Holy shit. What is coming? And one day there in the mail came two discs of music. A double album. Holding the music in my hands, I felt I almost had to be disappointed. There was simply no way the work could hold up to the legendary expectations I had. I put disc one in and hit play. My roommate at the time had never heard the Stags. And there came from the speakers something distant and so close. I listened. And listened. And listened. What the fuck? My ass was kicked all over again. My roommate and I sat dazzled. Dazzled. Ensconced. Locked in. Grooved. These recorded songs were a revelation. They rocked, they laid out stories, they created puzzles within puzzles, they were thick with experience. There was literature, anger, disgust, zen, confessions, protest, barnstorming and faith, all of which was carried on chord progressions and melodies and rhythms that just kept delivering. I had thought I had heard everything in these tunes, when in acuality it is as though I hadn’t heard anything yet. The enormity of this double album, Humble (part one) and Welcome to Apathy (part two), was breathtaking. A throwback to the days of complete albums. A thing you put on and let play while you and your friends sit and listen close, appreciate the time together—this ain’t background music, this is music that commands the attention. The songs are each a journey unto themselves, and the whole of them brings an epic feeling of discovery. I sat and dissected these songs. Tried to divine the lyrics. Created myths and interpretations in my head. Turned up the car stereo and drove and drove. I fairly demanded that everybody I knew—mostly all music geeks and emotional outcasts themselves—listen to these records! The experience of the album for me is analagous to the Stags’ live shows in that with the start of a song--these so enigmatic riffs and lyrics!--I think Yes. This is a great song. This is my favorite song. But then after that song, the next song kicks in and I think Oh, god, yes. This song! How could I forget about this song. I love this song. This is my favorite song. And the experience continues like this, song to song to song. I’m not exaggerating. How can I make this any clearer? There are so many bands today, and quite popular bands, that I think would kill for a catalogue like this unsigned band currently living in Austin, Texas has. The Stags. God, I could go on and on. And let me say: I listen to a lot of music. I like to think I have one ear living in the history of rock n’ roll, folk, the blues, and the other ear firmly in the world of today. I seek things out. Geek out. Obsess and cry and holler and drive great distances with these varied voices of distinction in my brain. And the Stags have long been my great discovery. I am hard-pressed to name a better band, a better whole of individual parts. They distill the many essences of rock n’ roll into a homemade spirit that will cross your eyes. Moonshine, friends. And now I can play the music for others. ((The word I cannot now get out of my head is epic.)) Time and time again, the reaction of the listener is like mine that first night: Who are these guys?

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