THERE IS NO SHORTAGE of drinking music in this world. But the results of liquor's sweet embrace can be far less romantic than originally conceived, not to mention quite harrowing—from the subject matter of Eric Bachmann's catalog to the toothless wasteland of Shane MacGowan's mouth. And then there is the Twang.
What the Hold Steady are to domestic bar rock, the Twang are to the British pub scene, but far less literary or cool. The Twang most definitely lack the snot-nosed confidence of their younger British rock peers; in fact, hipness is clearly not a pressing concern for this Birmingham band, who most accurately resemble a random gathering of inebriated football hooligans on holiday. They're often lumped into the simplistic genre of "lad rock" (which, when it comes down to musical tags from across the pond, sure beats "nu-rave"), putting them alongside such heavy hitters as Kasabian and Oasis. Of course, unless you want a pint tossed at your skull, perhaps it's best not to mention that term to the band.
"In my head it's a bullshit term made up by posh indie kids that used to get bullied at school," explains frontman Phil Etheridge. Bassist Jon Watkin is a bit more diplomatic. "I don't mind being labeled 'lad rock.' Everything gets labeled something in Britain, I won't get upset if people call us that."
Perhaps "lad rock" is not the designation for the Twang's upbeat pop sound—straightforward rock 'n' roll that fits nicely on the modern rock airwaves, with a liberal dose of Madchester pep thrown in as well. They've spawned a series of hits in their native land, but nary a peep on our shores. In fact, their upcoming Portland date is the first show ever in America. Don't blame them; blame us. (Okay, maybe you can blame them just a little.)
"We didn't sign a deal in America for quite a while. We had interest from a major label early on," explains Watkin. "He came to London to see us live. We ended up getting pretty pissed and I don't think he liked it. We never heard from him again." Recently the band found a domestic label that doesn't judge them for their alcohol intake, Portland indie Arena Rock, which re-released their fine Love it When I Feel Like This album.
Another factor in the Twang's struggles in this country might be the band's unapologetic British demeanor. It's an unproven theory that might also explain why names like Robbie Williams, Manic Street Preachers, and Kaiser Chiefs are pop kings in their homeland, yet utterly unknown here. "I think our label at the time thought we were a bit too British, whatever that means, and you lot wouldn't get us," Etheridge admits. "I'm going to sound British because I am British. I hate the bands from over here that sing like they're from the States."
While it's still a pricey import for us Yanks, last year's Jewellery Quarter has propelled the band to another tier of rockstardom, the kind of level of success that earns them such ridiculous praise as "They sound like Happy Mondays snorting the Clash" (from NME). Although the band's relationship with the press can be strained at times: "The British press will build up and knock down anyone, not just musicians," Watkin explains. "With certain areas of the press we are fine—the more working-class element—but with the posh nobs who live in London, funded by daddy, we're not as popular. But who wants to be liked by everyone?"
This is it, America. We only get one chance to see the Twang. Let's not mess this up.