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Church Shoes Release Album, Then GTFO
By Ben Larson
Fort Wayne Reader
On Saturday, March 5th, Church Shoes will release their first full-length album on Chain Smoking Records. Then, on Monday the 7th, they are leaving Fort Wayne for the outskirts of Austin, TX. “I don’t want to say we’re moving, necessarily,” guitarist & singer Nick Allison told me, “because we may come back in two months with our tails between our legs . . . so let’s say it’s more of a ‘relocation’.”
That “relocation” will include a March 18th performance by the band at this year’s South by Southwest festival, on Indianapolis-based label Standard Recording Company’s stage. So I’d say they’re off to a good start already.
The band got together last spring when lead singer/guitarist/main songwriter Nick Allison, lead guitarist Mitch Fraizer, drummer Gabe Pastura and bassist Max Forbing decided to form something new upon deciding that Allison’s and Fraizer’s band at the time, The B-Sharps, were going to disband. “I don’t really like being in a band with Mitch,” Allison quipped, “but he’s good so I just have to deal with it.” Forbing explained further, saying “the idea originally was just to scratch around on acoustic guitars,” and Allison added “I played banjo originally, and then I realized that I couldn’t play the banjo, so I had to figure out something.” And that’s pretty much the gist of it. They’ve been one of the best bands in town ever since then, and now they are going to walk off into the sunset (or, in this case, drive to Texas).
“Mitch has used this line before. If I had a place to stay in New Haven, I’d go hang out in New Haven. So we might as well go to one of the coolest music cities in the country,” Allison had to say on the subject of the move, err, relocation. As it happens, though, they boys have been fortunate enough to find themselves with digs just outside of Austin, courtesy of a family member of Forbing’s. There’s more to it than that, of course. When they get down there, Church Shoes plans on devoting all of their energy toward the band, and only the band. “One of the bigger reasons behind the move is it’s so easy to not devote 100% to music living in Fort Wayne,” Allison explained. “You’ve got your job, you’ve got your friends, you’ve got your family. You want to plan a two-week tour, but you can’t get off work, and you’re not going to sacrifice your job for that. But you move down there, and all you’ve got is your band.”
It goes without saying that this still isn’t going to be easy by any means, but the band is looking forward to that, according to Forbing. “When we get down to Austin, nobody’s gonna know who we are . . . so it’s going to be a good challenge. We’re going to have to make ourselves known.”
As I said, though, before picking up and leaving, Church Shoes is releasing an album (which will still be available to buy after they leave town), and they were kind enough to give yours truly an advanced copy of it.
The album opens up with what is probably my favorite song on the album, “Odell Williamson Bridge,” a country-saturated rocker that instantly dispels any idea that Church Shoes is merely picking up where the members’ former projects left off. It also seems like a fitting soundtrack for their upcoming move. Allison proclaims “worst comes to worst this might be a good story,” with a drawl so thick you could cut it with Charlie Sheen’s coke mirror, before belting out “Indiana, kiss my ass. You took it all, what did you give me?” Fraizer’s usual frenetic soloing is missing in this track, but is replaced with some reigned-in, yet equally satisfying, melodic fretwork that’s more reminiscent of Nashville than Memphis, if you know what I mean. Pastura’s drumming is nice and straightforward, but he adds enough embellishments to give himself a distinct voice, and Forbing’s understated bass work sounds meaty but not boomy.
Songs like “Drop D Blues Weekend” and “Players and Prayers” have a bit more of a straight-ahead rock feel to them, but the latter is more representative of the Church Shoes sound — tight, controlled tempos, riffs and bass lines that, while not overly complex, seem to be there more to complement the style of the song’s vocals. On “Players,” something fast and noisy would overshadow Allison’s lyrics, and great lines like “she’s got blood on her mind, a clear-cut mission tonight, I barely know what to think” would be lost in the fray, robbing the listener of one of the best parts of Allison’s songwriting.
“Spiderz!,” co-written by Allison and Forbing, is another standout track, as is Fraizer’s “High and Naked.” “Spiderz!” is just plain weird and awesome. Upbeat and dancy, it has a driving feel that makes you want to get up and bounce around the room while singing “you’re killing your friends and having sex with spiders, making love to your color TV,” and “we could all just live like fish!” It also has a great breakdown in the middle, just before Fraizer delivers a face-melting solo and going to back into singing about aquatic lifestyles. I have no idea at all what the hell they are talking about in this song, but it makes me rage.
“High and Naked” was written, of course, by Fraizer, and begins with the telling line “I wanna die all high and naked.” If Mitch Fraizer is ever to have a personal theme song, I’m pretty sure this is it. This is the dirtiest (in terms of production . . . and yeah, probably vocals too), rowdiest song on the album, and it’s pure rock & roll in every way. Big, rolling drums, anthemic breaks, screeching guitars, gloriously messy vocals. It’s definitely the song to pump your fist to.
“Overpass Suicide,” Forbing’s song, is all mid-60’s rock, and shows off his considerable bass skills with a great solo near the end. The album also has mellower moments, like the track “Big Bad World,” which showcase the songwriting side of the group. All-in-all, Church Shoes is a great rock & roll record. The boys definitely wear their influences on their sleeves, but they do so while proclaiming a unique voice that moves effortlessly between reckless abandon and quiet introspection. This is a well-crafted, wholly satisfying work, and Austin better watch out when these guys get to town.