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With their sleeve-length tattoos and stevedore swagger, one might mistake the members of The Drowning Men for blue-collar dockworkers in their hometown of Oceanside, CA. Perhaps they were longshoremen in another life, but in this one they are every bit a rock and roll group in the classic sense, a band of brothers who joined together to form an extended community and a family.
Formed in 2006 by grade school friends Nato, Rory, and James, the Drowning Men amplified their initial sound by adding Todd on bass guitar and Gabriel on keyboards. The line-up complete, the band proceeded to experiment with their multi-flavored musical influences, blending folk and roots Americana with sing-along sea shanties and pirate chants, with side forays into Eastern European ethnic folk delivered with the rhythmic complexity of a Brecht-Weill opera.
“I love theatrical melodies and swells, and the purity of folk music from around the world”, explains Nato, the band’s main lyricist and songwriter, whose personal influences include Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and the bleak poetry of Nick Cave, who’s novel And the Ass Saw the Angel inspired the band’s name.
With a pair of self-released efforts under their belt — 2007’s Kill the Matador EP and 2009’s full-length, The Beheading of the Songbird — the band recently signed with Los Angeles based indie Borstal Beat Records, who out of the gate are giving The Beheading of the Songbird a proper release worldwide as the band lay down the tracks for their upcoming 2012 full length release.
The Beheading of the Songbird has the timeless conceptual feel of such contemporaries as Arcade Fire, The Decemberists and My Morning Jacket. Lyrically it is a ray of light in the midst of the harbingers of doom, a clear-eyed look at how the power of rock has been co-opted and eroded. Songs like the single “Rita” (“Cuz while I’m sewing my own heart/I feel those threads as they fall apart”), “Songbird” (“No more shall I hear him sing again”), and “Caroline, You’re a Mess” (“Well, I hear all the reasons/And I’m sick of all of them”), tell the album’s story with a cohesive and at times spooky design. On “Courageous Son,” they tackle the American dream with an eye towards how immigrants come here with hope, though all too often discovering that “This is the wishy washy land/That you hold so dear/This is the final cure/This is America.”
After honing their live chops by touring with the likes of Flogging Molly, Alkaline Trio and The Airborne Toxic Event, The Drowning Men will soon re-enter the studio to start recording a new album with producer Billy Mohler whose past project include the Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlin, Samantha Ronson, Macy Gray and Jon Brion.
The Drowning Men’s music is a glorious melting pot for our uncertain times, centered on fighting the good fight, being the last bastions of hope and survival in a world rapidly coming apart at the seams, and refusing to go under as the rising tide threatens to envelope. Every night, they play their instruments as if their—and your—lives depended on it.
“We like to position ourselves as your last bit of hope,” concludes Nato. “Being on-stage and playing music ‘in the moment’ is what it’s all about for us.”
The Drowning Men have just thrown us all a life-saver. Take them up on it.