MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE's place in the annals of rock history is impossible to overstate, from Sun to Stax, from Elvis to Big Star. That's the obvious stuff, but in the '90s, Bluff City was a lot louder. Bands like the Oblivians, '68 Comeback, and Impala offered skuzzy, skewed takes on the city's trademark sounds, which gave rise to Goner Records, one of garage rock's most trustworthy imprints.
Chris Shaw was too young to catch those groups in their heyday, but he was around for the next few waves: Final Solutions, Angry Angles, Lost Sounds (all featuring the late Jay Reatard). Shaw's band Ex-Cult, which has just released its second full-length on Goner, is one of the flagship groups in the newest generation of Memphis punk.
"I think it helps us register with people that they already kinda know the history of what's been going on with Memphis," says the singer, "but it's not a shadow or a level of expectations that you have to live up to."
The band got its start as Sex Cult, releasing a few singles and catching the attention of Ty Segall, who recorded the group's 2012 self-titled album after a New York label sent the band a cease-and-desist letter, forcing the name change. The fiercer follow-up, Midnight Passenger, stretches the band's repertoire as well as the sonic spectrum. Unlike the first album, this one's mixed in stereo.
"It's more about getting the best sound out of the record, rather than going into it and being like, 'this should be in mono' or 'this should be in stereo' or 'this should sound like a '70s record' or 'this should sound like a modern record,'" says Shaw. "I think people read too much into that, to try and define us as a band that records in that way or in that style. We're just trying to make records that sound good."
After a few years of relative disinterest, people have started noticing Memphis again. "I think that people are paying more attention to it now than they have been," Shaw says of the outside attention, but clarifies: "Locally, it hasn't picked up any more steam. No one comes out to shows. On a national radar, it might be picking up more steam, but locally, I don't think anyone's gotten the message yet."