Tuesday, April 03, 2001

We're An American Band

The Artist Formerly Known as the Acolyte Rizla has a new project in the works (doesn’t he always?): a zine devoted entirely to fictional bands. He’s put out a general call for folks to whip up bogus NME-styled band profiles and pictures—either détourned photographs or drawings—and send ’em in.

I was intrigued. I’m horribly disillusioned about most of what I hear on the radio these days, and this gave me an excuse to think for a while about the kind of band I’d like to hear. To that end I came up with a concept and a blurb...
Soldier’s Joy: Achtung, Baby!

In the post-Pogues musical landscape, whither folk-rock? To southeastern Massachusetts, apparently, where the three men and four women who make up the songwriting collective Soldier’s Joy have been tearing up local venues with their ramshackle, ecstatic reinventions of the American and Anglo-Irish songbooks.

All the good stuff is there—frantic acoustic strumming, swirling Hammond organ, impassioned boy-girl harmonies (all the band members sing), squalling guitar/violin duels, fat basslines, clattering multiethnic beats—all put together in constantly surprising combinations, with weird splashes of instrumental color enlivening both heady originals like “Kate On A Hot Tin Roof” (with its epic guitar coda), “Purple Jesus,” and “We Who Love The Sun,” and reworked traditional songs like “The Buffalo Skinners” (done up as a rattling spaghetti-western death march) and the eerie, chiming “Searching For Lambs,” as well as the occasional wild card (a storming krautrock-informed cover of Nick Drake’s “Know”).

Certain touchstones are apparent—the street-gang camaraderie of Les Negresses Vertes, the brooding power of the Bad Seeds, the angular guitar heroics of Richard Thompson or Television—along with a taste for quote-unquote “world music” and a widescreen sensibility: but Soldier’s Joy (named for a traditional dance tune) undercuts the earnest worthiness of po-faced crusaders like the Levellers with healthy doses of sleazy glamour and sexual heat, the former supplied by guitarists Ricky Hero and Kaz Haxsaw, the latter enhanced by the deep, warm grooves from bassist Jay Vincent and twin percussionists Tara K and Snigda Chatterjee. The band’s enormous musical reach is expanded by multi-instrumentalists Lydia Christian (keyboards, fiddles, and Celtic harp) and Drew Magyar (banjo, whistles, bouzouki, mandolin, reeds, and god knows what else).

With their debut disc Key on a Kite String (on their own Plaid Pyjama label) picked up for UK distribution and a summer tour to follow, look for the Joy to spread far and wide.

Now, that should’ve been the end of it. But goddammit, the more I thought about it the more desperately I wanted this band to really exist. The songs are real: if only the band were, too...

Last week, along with the “band pics” (an amusing hour’s worth of PhotoShop wankery on a scanned sketch from my notebooks), I sent Riz the following e-mail:

I’ll tell you, Ben, this is addictive stuff: Soldier’s Joy is the band I always wanted to be in, and the people are becoming increasingly real to me. Their whole career is laying itself out in a series of articles and interviews slowly coalescing in my head, and all written in that slightly-obnoxious NME voice—from the review of the first date of their UK tour, playing a community hall in Swansea (“To have won the Welsh over any more effectively, they’d have had to wear leeks in their fucking hats...”), to individual interviews and album reviews.

Plus it’s great fun coming up with those poncy music-journalist names (“Nigel Dykes-Grunton” is a current favorite) and lame photo-caption puns using the words “soldier” and “joy.” Fertile ground indeed.

It’s projection, to an extent. The band is peopled with a mix of figures: composites of real people, individuals who embody aspects of my personality and interests, and characters from my various fictions: Ricky and Lydia, for instance, are the leads in a comics series I’ve been developing for some time—she under the same name, he under another. Their music is only tangential to that story, a part of the "deep background”—but here it is the story. Which fascinates me. Another layer to the metafiction.

More than any of that, though, it’s wish-fulfillment, pure and simple. Soldier’s Joy is the great lost opportunity, the girl you should have married when you had the chance, the band that might have been had the people involved not been such neurotic, thoughtless ego-junkies.

Myself most definitely included.

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