Published on May 23rd, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Punks&Snakes Evolves From Half-Baked Demos Into a Major Project
For years, Jack Burg has worked and played in the Charleston band scene as a skillful drummer, strummer, and collaborator in a wide variety of settings — from funk, ska, and Cuban jazz to classic rock, soul, and experimental indie projects. This year, with the release of a debut album under the moniker of Punks&Snakes, he’s expressed his own voice and rock style.
Demonstrating an amusing jumble of influences, Burg’s newly released, self-produced 10-song album No Swagger is a major step. He’s already earned a solid rep as a terrific time-keeper and tasteful multi-instrumentalist; with the sharp sounds, emotive asides, and fuzzed-up tones of No Swagger, he’s establishing a new identity as a serious songsmith and frontman.
“No Swagger started out as my New Year’s resolution for 2013,” Burg says. “I was determined to make a Punks&Snakes record because I had a bunch of original songs on a million crappy home demos. I wanted to make a real record and put it out.”
Burg started playing around town as a one-man band version of Punks&Snakes about four years ago. He’d previously played drums in the late ’90s with the ska/rock/funk band SKWZBXX, various experimental pop groups within the Chord&Pedal collective and the Shrimp Records family. He drummed with songwriter Elise Testone and her bandmates, and he played percussion with the clanky, Latin-rhythm’d Garage Cuban Band. On stage as Punks&Snakes, Burg handled a small drum kit, guitar, Casio, and singing — pretty much simultaneously.
With the release of No Swagger and the Shrimp Family Records jamboree set for the CD release show this week, the one-man band days may be over for Burg.
“I don’t know if I’m going to ever do the one-man band gigs again I’ve got a band now, and it’s so fun,” he says. “Those one-man band gigs were fun for what they were, but I just love playing with other musicians so much. I might do it again sometime, but I’m more excited about moving forward with a full band.”
No Swagger first started taking shape last fall, when Burg set up to track the basics with colleagues Joel Hamilton (Mechanical River, Southern Femisphere) and Paul Bannister. He recorded at home, too, but things never really got rolling until he hooked up with musician/engineer Andy Dixon, who oversaw the main production of the tracks in November. Josh Kaler (Slow Runner) mixed the final tracks at his studio in Nashville, adding bits of lap steel, pedal steel, synth, and backing vocals here and there.
“The year was winding down, but my good friend Andy Dixon moved to town, and he had all the gear, know-how, and a place to track everything, so we did everything at his place in West Ashley using ProTools,” Burg says. “He really stepped up as a producer. Most of the songs were done [arrangement-wise], so he was mainly helping me with ideas. He came up with great stuff, specifically in regards to my singing. He helped me get to a place with my vocals that I liked. I always kind of cringed at the sound of my own voice. Andy got me past that.”
There are two prevalent musical personalities on the new Punks&Snakes collection that range from a guitar-heavy rockers to the more delicately arranged, keyboard-accented pop anthems.
Burg’s melodies and harmonies are lively and slightly melancholic on the vocal mic on the rock-groovin’, mid-tempo opener “Day After Day.” His more sensitive, low-volume delivery is effective on more atmospheric experiments like the chiming “Start to Worry,” the piano ballad “Pirateland,” and the acoustic guitar-based closer “Light of Day.” With maracas, brushy drums, and lap steel, the acoustic ballad “Lee” veers close to vintage SoCal soft-rock.
“I think the lyrics are pretty dark, overall,” Burg says. “The songs have kind of a sadness to them. They’re are all over the place in terms of genres. Maybe the lyrics somehow tie everything together. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on this so far where a lot of people say it reminds them of Beck or the Strokes. Nobody’s said anything that has made me cringe yet. My favorite reaction so far was from a woman who said it sounded like a cross between Nick Cave and Jimmy Buffett. That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.”
Elements of late-’70s-era garage-rock, pop-punk, New Wave come through on No Swagger via the more upbeat tracks like the Ramones-inspired “Sons of Acid,” the grungy, fuzzy “Liar’s Code,” and the lively and shouty “BFG Blues.”
“The album title actually refers to the making of the song ‘BFG Blues,”’ Burg says. “The chord progression is kind of weird, but it’s pretty much a standard 1-4-5 [chord pattern] blues thing [click here for a sample]. The song really lends itself to a Stones-y swaggery feel. One day, Andy added all this slide guitar and put all this Keith Richards guitar stuff to it — and it sounded great — but something just didn’t sit right.
“I kept listening to it, and I realized that the swagger was taking over the song, and I didn’t like that. It sounded too much like a guy in bellbottoms, walking around and looking for some tail. I wanted to sound more dumb and more like the Stooges and less Stones-y. That became the rule for everyone who played on it, like Cary Ann Hearst, Michael Trent, and Michael Flynn … they had to follow the ‘no swagger’ rule.”
Burg and a team of pals from the Shrimp Records family will share the Pour House stage on Sat. May 24 to celebrate the official release of No Swagger. The Shrimp label came together on 2009 and 2010 as a collective/label with Michael Trent (of the Films, Shovels & Rope), Cary Ann Hearst (also of Shovels & Rope), Owen Beverly (of Tent Revival, the InLaws), Joel Hamilton (also of the Working Title, the InLaws), Sadler Vaden (ex-Leslie), and Bill Carson (the New Music Collective, the Opposite of a Train, Lindsay Holler’s Western Polaroids, and other projects).
Burg will have a five-piece band comprised of Shrimp players behind him during the main set at the Pour House, so he’ll handle the electric guitar on most of the songs. He’ll shed the six-string to simply become the lead singer on a few numbers, too.
“I hope this is a fun as Bill Carson’s Great Whale album release show was [in Dec. 2009],” Burg says. “That was one of the funnest shows I remember us ever doing. That was definitely the model for this show. A lot of the [Shrimp] folks haven’t played together in a long time, so everybody’s really excited to rehearse and perform on stage again.”
No Swagger is currently available on iTunes and via the Dualtone Records label. They’ll likely be stocked at Monster Music in West Ashley and other indie retail spots around town this week.
Punks&Snakes headlines the Pour House on Sat. May 24 with support from the Shrimp Family Band (featuring Michael Trent, Cary Ann Hearst, Bill Carson, Joel Hamilton, Michael Flynn, Ron Wiltrout, Andy Dixon, Jonathan Gray, and guests). Tickets are available for $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
Top photo by Ballard Lesemann.
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