Punk is not dead, but it may be getting back to its roots—newgrass, folk-punk, alt-country, whatever you want to call it.
Since 2007, Los Angeles bluegrass-punk rockers Old Man Markley have been leading the way toward a new brand of old-timey tunes that will shake you down like a San Francisco earthquake.
Long gone are the days of slurred vocals and single-chord progressions. Now, all nine pieces to the OMM puzzle are changing up the chords and adding traditional bluegrass elements without sacrificing a modicum of pure punk energy. Not to mention these guys and gals have an affinity for coaxing a cohesive sound from their instruments.
On songs like “The Party Shack,” the husband-wife duet between Johnny Carey (guitar and vocals) and Annie Detemple (autoharp and vocals) melds into the masterful rolls and drones of John Rosen’s banjo. Katie Weed takes over to shred a little on her fiddle (she’s only been playing since she was a toddler), and it’s all backed by Joey “Balls” Garibaldi’s harmonizing and homemade upright washtub bass. Jeff Fuller’s drumbeat brings something less conventional to the bluegrass table, and Ryan Markley (the band’s namesake) drags spoons up and down a washboard as a nostalgic nod to the music they play.
When OMM started in 2007, they played their first show at a small Pasadena pub. That night, no one could have expected the down-home chaos that would ensue. Nor would they have imagined people up dancing on tabletops or mohawked punks swingin’ each other around like Sadie Hawkins partners.
In a perfect storm of seasoned punks getting down to Johnny Cash and Old Crow Medicine Show, Garibaldi told Punknews in 2011 that OMM just sort of “happened.”
“As the legend goes,” says Garibaldi, “it started with Ryan (Markley), who was living with Johnny and Annie. After one drunken night of basically just playing instruments that were around their house, they were like, ‘this is really fun—it’s definitely worth getting together and doing it again. It was never like, let’s start a bluegrass-type of band.’”
“We were all playing in punk bands at the time. Johnny and I were playing in a band called Blue Collar Special and that kind of dissipated. Ryan and Alex (Zablotsky), the mandolin player, had been playing in Angel City Outcasts for years and they both wanted to do something different—we’ve always liked playing fast, energetic music. So after that one fateful night, we were really stoked on the sounds we were making and we kept doing it. It was a very natural thing.”
Since that night, these savage entertainers have done all but look back. They’ve released a couple seven-inch records, a full-length album called Guts ‘n’ Teeth, and are gearing up for the next, tentatively slated for a fall release on the punk heavyweight label Fat Wreck Chords.
“Fat Mike (NOFX frontman and big cheese at FWC) said the album is ‘amazing,’” says Jeff Fuller, OMM’s drummer and newest lineup addition. He continues with a laugh, “I think those were his exact words.”
Wait a minute. A bluegrass band steeped in punk on such a notorious Los Angeles label? How in the world does one stumble upon bluegrass in the City of Angels?
Historically, the movement dug its roots in the Dust Bowl-era. Farming families from America’s heartland brought front porch pickin’ and singin’ to the sandy shores and shady orchards of California, and the migrant camp bands shook some dirt during Saturday night dances.
In the ’60s, Fuller notes, bands like the Doors and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young dusted off the blues in Laurel Canyon, Calif., adding a modern, synth-riddled touch.
“Bluegrass has always been here, it can just be hard to find,” says Fuller. “It’s not ‘til you seek out one band, then another and another. There are just so many distractions (in L.A.) that keep things hidden.”
These bluesy, psychedelic rock bands paved the way for West Coast surf punk a decade or so later, and now bands like OMM are once again stirring the genre mélange.
OMM’s differences lie in their punk-rock roots. The bands they tour with, as well as Carey’s rockin’ grit and smooth vocals backed by his red, white and blue acoustic truly speak to the music they’ve been playing all their lives.
The Garibaldi-Carey-Detemple harmony trio complements Johnny’s über-relatable, sage-like lyricism and nails the emotional bond between music and listener in “Song Songs.”
“Songs to help you forget about how you hate your life/your job, your wife/Songs that call out to broken hearts/Sung so damn loud, heavens part/Yeah, that’s my favorite part/Songs written down to say it’s gonna be OK/Even on a rainy day/or when your best friend goes away,” sings Carey in the more somber verse of “Song Songs.”
As Guts ‘n’ Teeth started picking up steam, audiences in clubs all over the world who came out to see humungous acts like NOFX, Against Me! and Reverend Horton Heat began to notice OMM’s potential as more than an overly entertaining opening band.
“When we play with NOFX,” says Fuller, “a lot of people come up and say, ‘I didn’t know who you were, but, oh my God, am I glad I came early.’”
The scores of fans who brought home the record noted these ladies and gents are supremely more than a great recording act.
“It’s a very entertaining, energetic show that will definitely not bore you,” says Fuller. “Everybody from newborns to the elderly can get into our music.”
Watch Old Man Markley tear up the Flagstaff Brewing Co. Party on the Patio, 16 E. Rte. 66, on Sat, July 28at 10p.m. There will be a $5 cover at the door. For more info, visit www.oldmanmarkley.com or call 773-1442.