Published on November 5th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Elim Bolt’s Johnnie and Jess Get Dirty on ‘Dingy, Slimy, Scummy!’
Elim Bolt’s Johnnie Matthews doesn’t mind taking a musical detour from time to time. The singer, guitarist, and songwriter displayed his sharp sense of pop song craft last year on the Charleston-based band’s grand collection Nude South (their debut on the Hearts & Plugs label). Their newly released EP, Dingy, Slimy, Scummy! rumbles with a much rougher garage-rock sound than some might have expected.
“I’m excited about the new sound, and I hope people receive it well,” Matthews tells Metronome Charleston. “It’s a little different, but it’s still the same Elim Bolt songwriting. I don’t know if the next release will sound anything like this. Maybe there’ll be a middle ground that we find.”
Matthews tracked the three-song collection with drummer Jessica Oliver (of Can’t Kids) over the summer. Wolfgang (Ryan) Zimmerman (of H&P labelmates Brave Baby) was at the helm of the sessions at his downtown facility the Space. Hearts & Plugs issued the three-song blast on Oct. 29 on vinyl as a limited edition 7-inch and digitally via Bandcamp.com.
“The track names all work, so it’s just a general theme with a darker tone, I guess.” Matthews says. “Part of it has to do what I’ve been listening to lately, and part of it is how Jess and I write together. She’s into a lot of grunge stuff, and I’ve been more into that and some garage stuff more recently. We’ve gotten into some of that. But I don’t want to lose the songwriter approach to the music overall.”
“I guess it is kind of a concept EP, but it wasn’t planned that way,” he adds. “I was just writing some new songs after I started hanging out with Jess around this time last year.”
The guitar-driven “Dingy” — a full-throttle, sneery garage rawker that would fit nicely on an old Sonics or Oblivions b-side — may be the heaviest, nastiest piece of work Elim Bolt has released (click the audio sample below). There’s a similar rhythm and power-chord churn to “Scummy,” a heavily syncopated, minor key, Mudhoney-styled stomper accented with a freaky-mad, catchy chorus. Matthews sounds strained and drained as he belts out his lyrics.
“‘Dingy’ is about spending a lot of time in Columbia and it being just a bummer town,” Matthews says. “The people there are great, but it’s such a bummer town — it just gives me such a feeling.”
“We wrote and arranged ‘Dingy’ together after we started playing and recording. I wrote the lyrics the morning we recorded it. Jess came up with that drumbeat, which creates the mood of the song, and she helped me put things together. Before that, I always came to everyone with the basic song and we’d all create an overall sound together without restructuring it too much.”
“Slime Queen” (a.k.a. “Slimy”) is a slower-paced mope-pop anthem in 6/8 time that resembles the band’s more elegant, reverby Nude South material. Matthews’ clever minor key progressions, quivering moans, and dynamic detours sound familiar here.
“‘Slime Queen’ is blatantly about Jess in a funny way,” Matthews says. “It still has a Springsteen, storytelling type thing going on, but just with a rougher sound.”
Elim Bolt celebrated the release of Dingy, Slimy, Scummy! at a Nov. 1 show at the Tin Roof in Charleston. Fans were treated to a couple of new members on stage, as well as George Baerreis (of Matadero) and Brian Hannon (of Company), who recently joined the ever-evolving Elim Bolt rotation of players alongside H&P exec Dan McCurry (on organ and keys) and bassist Christian Chidester and guitarist Jordan Hicks (both also of Brave Baby).
“We started playing with George on a weekly basis, and Jess and I have enjoyed a writing a few new things with him,” Matthews says. “I think George will pretty much be our bass player for now. Brian has joined in on guitar, too, which is great. He’s worked on news songs with us as well. I think we’ll have a rotation of different member for the time being. I like it that way.”
It looks like Elim Bolt will push ahead as a tight four-piece this season. The lineup of Matthews, Oliver, Baerreis, and Hannon will share the Royal American stage with New York rock quartet Spirit Animal this weekend (Nov. 9).
“I’d love nothing than to have a set band in which everyone is totally dedicated to writing and touring all the time,” Matthews says. “Realistically, in such a small city with so many great artists, it’s hard to find good players who aren’t playing in at least one other band.”
Currently, a limited supply of physical copies of Dingy, Slimy, Scummy! is available around Charleston in a few shops like Earshot and Early Bird Diner. The three-song EP is available digitally at the usual online spots.
“We only pressed 100 copies on CD, and it has artwork that resembles some old cleaning product,” Matthews says.
A little antiseptic cleanliness on the outside might provide the perfect contrast to the dirty rock and pop inside.
Top and bottom photos by Apartment A, courtesy of Hearts & Plugs.
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