Rock and Roll is not an immutable, stationary entity. It has, and always will be, a living, breathing, transient thing. For all intents and purposes, no matter how many times it’s been declared dead, it is immortal. Yes, it may have lost it’s way, it may wander off into some strange places from time to time, but it’s not going anywhere.
They’re Not a Folk Band
So for a band like our very own Frontier Folk Nebraska, what does this mean? With the release of their third full-length, Frontier F**k Nebraska, just happening, and a release show to celebrate only days away, they are a band who remain steadfast in their love of what Rock and Roll was, with an eye towards what they can turn it into. After all, the best Rock and Roll is a kind of alchemy, taking disparate ingredients, adding them to the basest of elements, and turning them into something else, something mythical.
Let’s say there are some Cincinnatians who don’t know who Frontier Folk Nebraska is. Can you give us a little background on the band? When did you start? How many records have you released?
Travis Talbert, Guitarist: “The band started in 2006 as a frontier folk-rock trio around the songwriting of Michael Hensley and general wizardry of Steven Oder. The band has since morphed through a few lineups, releasing now it's third full length album, along with five EPs, all the while focusing on the frontier, and heading more towards Hensley's original vision of a loud rock and roll band ever since. Oder exited the band for graduate film school last year and the current lineup consists of Michael Hensley, Travis Talbert, Matt "Mook" McCormick, and Mark Becknell, as well as Chris Alley lately on drums.”
You’ve been around for a while, so you’ve seen Cincinnati’s music scene change quite a bit. Can you talk a little about your relationship with Cincinnati, being a local band and finding your place in and outside of the “scene?”
TT: “Given the common misconceptions about what we do by people too tied to the words in our name, we've found ourselves in all manner of gigs around the country, and definitely here at home too. We take pride in not fitting into a mold as much as we sometimes resent feeling like outsiders. At this point we've all been playing music in Cincinnati for about 15 years, and Cincinnati remains a great place to be a band. Period. There are so many great places to play around town, and all manner of "types" of music happening every single night, as musicians we can't really ask for anything more. This town has allowed us to give ample time to becoming good at what we do, and that has served us well when we've gone on the road. We are ready to go when we show up in whatever town we come through.
It's also been beneficial in this past year as we adjusted for the exit of our old rhythm section. Matt McCormick, Mark Becknell, and Chris Alley are all three professional musicians of the highest esteem; and they're all great dudes too. Cincinnati has made us feel grateful to have so many friends/musicians that we were able to find new members like these guys that have made Michael and Travis feel more proud of the tunes than they ever had before. Not that they hadn't in the past, but having people step in with the level of professionalism that these guys have, and showing the songs and work of the band the love that they have has given us a kind of validation we'd never felt before. Humbling and awesome.”
This Isn’t a Folk Album
The new album - which has been given one of the best titles I’ve ever seen for a record, local or otherwise - isn’t so much a meditation, as it is an examination of what it means to play pure Rock and Roll in a scene - local or otherwise - that seems to enjoy mixing genres to the point where some might be confused enough to think it’s died, or is at least on it’s deathbed. Frontier Folk Nebraska is a band that tends to wear it’s love of 70’s and 80’s rock on it’s sleeve - and no, not the glamorous, theatrical offerings of bands like Kiss, but the unadulterated guitar worship and sincerity of acts like Dinosaur Jr. and Tom Petty, or Neil Young and the Allman Brothers. Some might find the sound antiquated - which is kind of ironic considering the resurgence of the 90’s Alt/Grunge sound - but Frontier F**k Nebraska has enough dexterity and flourish to know when to stake claim on it’s own territory.
Was the writing and recording process for Frontier F**k Nebraska any different than previous records?
TT: “The writing and recording of this record were a continuation of the evolution of FFN. As always, we built the tunes around Mike's primary songwriting, and Steve recorded everything in Mike's house. We worked through the winter of 2013 to the early summer when Steve moved. We've always worked in a non-studio space and handled all the aspects of production on our own, but this time we had a true focus on making a pop record of sorts. Pop to us being things like Guided By Voices, Tom Petty, Dinosaur Jr., Dead Moon, and plenty of others. We aimed for great choruses, early 45 side song lengths, and staying away from certain cliche words and phrases. Too many rules are no fun, and we broke a few, but we think we created what we set out to do better than we've ever done in the past with this record. We all agree it's our strongest and most focused piece of work to date.”
Frontier F**k Nebraska is an easy record to listen to, but never focuses on “easy listening.” Strong, unfettered musicianship, coupled with the desire and the means to create in their own way, in their own time, and at their own pace, give the album an appropriately homegrown feel. With each track finding it’s way at the start instead of meandering in to areas of disinterest, the album also has a decidedly focused way about it. Coupled with a kind of nonchalant swagger - with, I might add, the skills necessary to actually back it up - this is the kind of Rock and Roll album you don’t hear so much anymore. These kinds of bands are out there, but man, it’s incredible to have one so close to home. While listening to music can be a passive experience, turning this album up as loud as you can, or digging into its meat and bones with a good pair of headphones, is a primary, important part of the overall experience.
And yeah, you can download the album online, or just stream it if that’s your thing, but the real, tangible experience of listening to the album on it’s intended medium - vinyl - is something I can’t recommend enough. It’s a raucous ode to everything good about Rock and Roll, and is plays perfectly for the early fall days coming up. Heavy without getting overbearing, charismatic without being cloying, and vital without becoming too full of itself. You can hear the TLC that went into crafting the album, and that tangible sense of fun and excitement comes through in every track.
This Isn’t a Folk Show
One of the most crucial aspects of any city’s music scene is it’s ability to both create and sustain acts of various genres and strength’s, fanbases and sub-cultures. Each show held in Cincinnati is a testament to our re-burgeoning, reinvigorated local scene, one that’s fostered by our love and support of the bands we call ours, as well as an understanding that it takes creating, maintaining, and sustaining that local scene in order to take part in anything larger.
They’ve been on the road. They know what makes a good show.
What’s been the best tour or show experience you’ve had so far - locally or otherwise?
TT: “There have been countless great experiences touring. A couple come to mind quickly: a St. Louis show that was attended by our good friends from Dayton, OH, Jordan and Kylea, who were in town and made a special trip to come see us for the 100th time during their vacation, any place we've shown up and they had our name on the billboard (and correctly written), watching drunk couples dance to our tunes in Muncie one evening, watching our drummer sing Amazing Grace during karaoke in a dimly lit Indiana bar, sleeping in a Walmart parking lot in the truck waiting for a hotel to start check in on a summer Alabama morning so we only had to pay for one day, or guys in Milwaukee yelling requests for our tunes from a huge crowd when we toured on our first record (we thought our parents had driven up or something), and just making friends wherever we go with other people that are making this stuff continue to exist. Lots of good times.”
So when a local band - especially one as well-versed and seasoned as Frontier Folk Nebraska - decides to throw a record release show, it’s for good reason. They feel like they have something to say, that they have something worth sharing. It takes an equally special band to join them.
What made you choose Wussy Duo in particular to play with?
TT: “We absolutely love Wussy, and find it humbling that they love us back. They're great examples to us of the kind of people that we strive to be in this business of being a band, and in following our vision of what that means. Having Chuck and Lisa open for us probably isn't the correct marquee placement, but we feel honored that they wanted to play with us. They're a great band and we're happy to call them friends.”
Travis, what else do they need to know?
“The album is available on the greatest label ever, No Chaser Records and for sale locally at Shake It Records, online at www.frontierfolknebraska.bandcamp.com, and distributed nationally by Revolver to all the other great independent record stores of the country. Get out and buy some music please.”
On Friday, September 12th at MOTR Pub, on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, Frontier Folk Nebraska and their good friends Wussy Duo will share the stage to celebrate the release of Frontier F**k Nebraska. It will be a night that’s focused on music, in the same way their new album is focused on exactly the kind of music Frontier Folk Nebraska has set out to make. It’s not meticulously crafted, it is a little rough around the edges, but in all the right ways. I imagine the night will play out much the same way.
So like Travis said, get out and listen to some music. And support good music. And buy some music.