Jaren Johnston -— vocals, guitar
Ben Brown — guitar
Kelby Ray — bass
Neil Mason — drums
American Bang’s self-titled, loud, sexy, and soulful major-label debut album is a memorable and melodic introduction to the Nashville-based rock group. The album successfully captures all the amazing grace and guts of their deep musical roots and Southern accent. From the pounding and gritty opening of “Whiskey Walk,” to the instantly anthemic “Wild & Young,” to the messy, Stonesy romance of “Hurts Like Hell,” it’s clear that American Bang shoots straight at the heart of great American rock ‘n roll.
Produced by the legendary Bob Rock, American Bang has been crafted by a wildly talented gang of young rock ‘n rollers who’ve been playing together in assorted combinations all their lives. The son of a respected Grand Ole Opry drummer, Jaren Johnston (lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist) literally grew up backstage at Nashville’s illustrious Grand Ole Opry. He first followed in his dad's footsteps by playing drums, but soon decided to follow his father’s advice instead: "If you want to pay the bills, you play the drums. If you want to make a living, you'll learn how to write songs.” And with that, a young Johnston picked up the guitar and began to hone his songwriting skills.
After many incarnations of local bands, all four members – Johnston, lead guitarist Ben Brown, bassist Kelby Ray, and drummer Neil Mason – came of age musically as students of rock ‘n roll in the heart of Music City, which has paid off in the group’s confident sense of song craft.
“If you’re playing any kind of music in Nashville, you really can’t get away with having a bad song because people around here will notice, and they will call you out on it in a heartbeat,” explains Johnston. In fact, with a grimace, Johnston still recalls the very first review that the band received – one that criticized a song for having “a b-level rock riff” and a lyric that was “cliché.” As Johnston remembers, “I was so furious that it was all I could do not to go down to the paper and whup that critic’s ass! Instead, I decided to spend a little more time on writing the songs.”
That time soon paid off in a big way. Before long, American Bang was earning straight A’s from the local press and rock fans. That same excitement was gradually shared by some extremely high-profile folks – including producer Bob Rock. After recording at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, the band moved on to work closely with Rock at his home studio in Hawaii. “We were living in a little surf house exactly 208 steps from the ocean,” recalls Ray. Ultimately, though, Rock had a lot more to offer American Bang than just some nice days at the beach.
As Ray explains, “Bob’s a true mad scientist of music and we all loved what he did. He captured us as who we are, and who we want to be too. This is the album that we’ve all waited to make.”
“From the first demos that were sent to me, I felt there was something special and different about this band,” Rock says. “They had a connection to some of my favorite classic rock bands – like Tom Petty, Humble Pie, and Lynyrd Skynyrd – but it wasn’t just nostalgia. There was a modern side to them as well. It actually kicked my ass, which doesn't happen much these days. After I saw them live, I knew I had to produce their album. It was really important for us to capture their live feel in the studio. When you hear the album, you’ll know what it’s like to see them live. And when you see them live, you’ll understand what I see in American Bang. That rock ‘n roll is alive and well in America.”
Clearly others agreed, as American Bang was invited to go on the road to open for some of rock ‘n roll’s most respected artists, including ZZ Top and The Pretenders, whose audiences gave them standing ovations on several occasions. “Opening up for these acts is not just an honor,” says Brown, “it’s also a really great test for a band because their audiences are really not there to see you. So if you don’t own the stage, they will let you know."
And so it is that American Bang have been owning stages nationwide in recent years, having already established themselves as a consistently popular attraction in Nashville, while also joining the ranks of many well-known rock counterparts on the national festival circuit, including Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, SXSW, Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Voodoo Festival. Drawing upon a wide range of influences (you may hear the occasional echoes of some of the many bands they collectively love, such as The Faces and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), American Bang gradually forged their own distinctive sound in their own surprisingly classic yet decidedly fresh brand of rock ‘n roll that shines through.
Not long ago, being a rock band from Nashville might have been seen as a liability. “There’s always been some prejudice because certain people still think Nashville makes nothing but country music, but that’s far from true,” says Mason. “Everyone from Bob Dylan to Neil Young made some of their best rock ‘n roll records ever right here.” And now with Nashville area acts on the top of the charts—the stage seems set for another Music City act to make some noise.
American Bang will be released Summer 2010 on Reprise Records.