Because Memphis music is so consumed by its roots heritage — blues, soul, rockabilly, garage-rock, alt-country — creative success can often be had by fighting against those expectations. In recent years, artists such as Snowglobe, The Coach and Four, Lost Sounds, and Jay Reatard (among others) have made some of the most exciting local music outside the boundaries of what most listeners immediately associate with Memphis music. And so it is with The Third Man.
The Third Man is composed of multi-instrumentalists Jake Vest and elder brother Toby Vest, guitarist/keyboardist Jeff Schmidtke, bassist/keyboardist/trombonist Dirk Kitterlin, and drummer Preston Todd. At this juncture, the band is probably better known to local music fans by its original name: Augustine.
"There is a Hawaiian nü-metal band called Augustine," says Jake Vest, explaining the name change. "They sound like P.O.D. or Disturbed and sent us a few e-mails that stated they were about to go on tour and if we didn't change our name, they would take us to court." Something else also helped the band with their decision: "All of their e-mails were in all-caps, and I don't like it when people send us e-mails in all-caps," Vest says.
Along with a name taken from the classic 1949 film that stars Orson Welles, another noticeable change came with the sound of the band's new album, Among the Wolves.
When they were known as Augustine, these local faves probably deserved a few of the Radiohead comparisons with which they were saddled. But, as the Third Man, the band has dialed down that frame of reference with an incredibly realized, catchy blend of '70s hard rock, bluesy boogie, and '60s psychedelia. This bevy of interesting influences does wonders with the band's lingering indie-rock elements, emerging as a best-case scenario of what might happen if Scandinavian cult favorites Dungen were, well, from the South.
"The Stones' Exile on Main Street was a big influence on the making of this record, as was the Love, Peace, and Poetry series of compilations, especially the Brazilian one," explains Jake Vest. Each volume of the Love, Peace, and Poetry compilations, released by Normal Records, showcases a selection of late-'60s/early-'70s garage/psychedelic tracks from a particular country or continent. But a local influence in the same vein also provided inspiration for the Third Man's current direction: underground Memphis rock band Moloch.
"I love that self-titled album by Moloch from '69," says Vest, a longtime friend of Ben Baker, son of the late Moloch guitarist and Memphis music legend Lee Baker.
The Third Man is a team effort (all of the members are in their early-to-mid 20s), though the Vest brothers form the songwriting core. "At this point, my brother and I come up with the basic ideas for the songs, which we then bring to the band for everyone to work out," Jake says.
Keyboards, a Mellotron, and a 12-string acoustic guitar are among the instruments that take a front seat on Among the Wolves. "We were going with a more organic sound with this record, but it's a natural progression," Jake continues. "You can hear those instruments creeping in on the Augustine album."
Augustine's 2005 debut Broadcast was released to local critical acclaim on the Makeshift Music imprint and was recorded at Easley/McCain Studios. Among the Wolves will be self-released and was recorded at Young Avenue Sound. Continuing with the band's DIY approach, the Third Man plans on self-releasing future albums, and they are in the midst of constructing their own practice space and studio.
To support Among the Wolves, the band plans on organizing a tour in early 2008 around a performance at Austin's South By Southwest Music Festival.