The legend of the insanely prolific Memphis musician Alicja Trout is firmly established in this town. From her earliest work in the mid-'90s with the synth-pop trio the Clears to the present, her many musical incarnations — which include past projects the Lost Sounds (a collaboration with the late Jay Reatard), the Ultra-Cats, and Black Sunday, as well as her current bands, Mouserocket and the River City Tanlines — have always been reliably entertaining, as well as just plain good. And despite her tough punk-rock image and penchant for noise guitar and blood-curdling screams, there are few songwriters in Memphis with a better sense for simple, soaring pop hooks than Trout.
Bolstered by the dynamic rhythm section of bass player Terrence "T-Money" Bishop and drummer John "Bubba" Bonds, said hooks are on full display on the River City Tanlines' latest, and perhaps best, album to date, Coast to Coast, which comes out this week on the Fat Possum subsidiary Big Legal Mess (also the label home of local acts Jack Oblivian and John Paul Keith, among others). In fact, the overall tone of the album is much more tuneful and calmed down than one would expect from a Tanlines offering, especially considering the band's origins as Trout's more traditional punk-rock outlet.
"I had been living a constantly touring life, doing my mail-order website, selling and trading records on the road, and I needed a touring band," Trout says. "I ran into Bubba at the Buccaneer and liked his drumming style. When I asked him if he'd like to try to play a few songs, he brought Terrence into the deal. It was my first 'power-trio.' They were easy to work with and played loud!"
The newly formed band quickly gelled and cut a string of 7-inch vinyl singles (which were eventually collected on the 2005 compilation All the 7 Inches Plus 2 More) before releasing what would become the band's excellent debut LP, I'm Your Negative, in 2006. A handful of smaller releases (as well as two excellent Mouserocket albums, 2008's Pretty Loud and last year's Cicada Sounds) arrived in the bins before the River City Tanlines finally decided to record a follow-up full-length earlier this year. Enter Bruce Watson, of Fat Possum/Big Legal Mess fame.
"For me, he is the perfect match for a label/producer, because he has strong opinions and cuts to the chase, yet he's open to something not sounding like he'd expected," Trout says. "I felt able to experiment at Dial Back Sound [Watson's studio in Water Valley, Mississippi], and Bruce and our recording engineer, Lynn Bridges, were encouraging and open-minded, so we got interesting tracks."
Indeed, Coast to Coast is full of unexpected lyrical themes and musical moments. Highlights include the straightforward plea "Pretty Please" and the album's closer, "Waiting for Nothing," which showcases Trout's underrated lead-guitar skills on the song's outtro.
"The theme for this record is definitely less about anger and frustration and more about light for most of the songs," Trout says. "Having a daughter changes your outlook on the world in so many ways.
"I've had to get rid of the screaming stuff. Some of the songs are a little more poppy and simplified, and maybe there are more medium-paced songs and less really fast songs."
Drummer John Bonds also influenced one of the album's most effective and collaborative tracks.
"We added 'Dark Matter' to the mix late in the game as Bubs [Bonds] was going through a Black Sabbath phase for the fourth or fifth time in his life," Trout says. "That was a band concoction. We worked all day at the studio until our ears were melting off, then we slept there in the apartment, even when it smelled like a dead mouse or squirrels were chewing through the walls."
The River City Tanlines will celebrate the release of Coast to Coast with a show this Saturday at the Hi-Tone. According to Trout, the band's schedule only gets busier from there.
"We are doing a short Midwest tour right after the record release and then going to the New York area at the end of August," she says. "In October, we'll go to Europe for two weeks, and after that, hopefully we can get back to being creative again."
River City Tanlines Coast to Coast release show,
with the Manatees
The Hi-Tone Café, Saturday, July 28th
Doors open at 9 p.m.; $5