MILWAUKEE RECORD - JULY 12, 2019
t takes approximately 15 seconds before prison is mentioned on the new Liar’s Trial album, Friends In No Places. This should come as no surprise: the Milwaukee country band named its 2016 album Songs About Momma, Trains, Trucks, Prison, And Gettin’ Drunk, a reference to the spoken word bit in David Allan Coe’s classic “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.” But what is surprising is just how well the group continues to combine a classic country sound with something darker and more modern. One minute you’re listening to Coe, Willie, and/or Cash crackling over a beat-up radio in a beat-up diner in the middle of nowhere circa 1975; the next you’re in a David Lynch fever dream circa 2019.
Let’s start with the former. Opener “That Ain’t Livin'” is a bright and twangy ode to following your dreams and telling the daily grind to shove it. The gnawing guilt of life on the road is the subject of the equally toe-tapping “The Road I’m On,” which features a typically bellowing vocal from frontman Bryan T. Kroes. (“I’m guil-TAYYYYYYY!”) Then there’s the almost-too-good-to-be-true “I’m Too Lonesome (To Play Those Lonesome Songs).” Does the song name check classic country artists? Yes it does. Is it stuffed with steel guitars, fiddles, and winsome backing vocals? Yes it is. Does it have a chorus that should be blasting from every honky tonk in the country? You bet it does. (Oh yeah, Coe himself is the subject of the hilarious album closer, “David Allan Coe Put Me Back On The Wagon.”)
Then there’s the darker material. Songs like “Walls Come Down,” “Just Me And The Silence,” and “Fire On The Horizon” may not be as jukebox-friendly as the other tracks, but they show a more sinister and gothic side to Liar’s Trial that should appeal to fans of, say, The Handsome Family. Also, try not to picture the red drapes of Twin Peaks‘ Black Lodge fading up with opening guitar chord of “I Don’t Deserve Love.”
Liar’s Trail have a busy week ahead of them: they’ll play Stolley’s Hogg Alley in Oconomowoc July 12; McAuliffe’s Pub in Racine July 13; and Shank Hall in Milwaukee July 16. (The first two gigs will be with legendary country songwriter/producer Billy Don Burns; a cover of Burns’ “Diablo’s Highway” appears on Friends In No Places.) Before those shows, sober up, hop in your truck, pick up your momma from prison (in the rain), and listen to the new record below.
Shepherd Express - January 31, 2017
For three albums, Milwaukee's Liar's Trial have blurred the lines between punk rock and outlaw country. On their latest disc, though, they're mostly just interested in country. Armadillo By Morning is their most western record yet, an album so cowboy-minded you can almost taste the desert sand in the back of your throat when you listen to it. It contains some of their strongest songs yet, including "Nashville Ain't The Same," which sounds like a lost track Waylon Jennings might have recorded with R.E.M. Like much of the record, it's doused in layers of pedal-steel guitar...
Ever notice how a lot of Milwaukee bands are doing some sort of musical hybrid? I’ve seen
Punk Pop, Power Pop, Doom Pop, Grunge Pop. I’m waiting to see if anyone is going to come out
with Gansta Pop, or maybe Speed Metal Pop. Some of these hybrids leave me a little confused,
and then there are the ones that have really created something new.
Liar’s Trial is a local band made up of guys who came out of the Punk Rock scene, and have busted in on Outlaw Country. The blend of genre here is compelling, if you like your music loud, powerful, uncompromising, and a little (or a lot) dark.
Songs like “Hard, Hard Livin’” felt like an assault from the first note. There is nothing subtle in
the message that “It’s hard, hard livin’ knowing everyone you love has got to die.” There is something that feels like the Fist of Life punching you in the gut when you hear the most dreaded of life’s events thrust in your face so forcefully. Yet there is humor, as on “I Don’t Care” when he says “I don’t care “bout the shit comin’ out yo’ mouth” yeah, it’s funny and it’s true. I can relate.
The similarity in the vocals (that I’m hearing) between Bryan Thomas and Tom Waits is not a phony affectation, it’s just raw, heartfelt, gut wrenching truth; and the way the band plays together is purely professional. This is no garage band, these guys are great. Just so we’re clear, this is not music for people who need to have it nice and clean, politically correct or gentle.
Liar’s Trial plays Milwaukee all the time. Get out and experience this… if you think you can handle it!
I got to talk with them recently and got a brief glimpse into their world:
When did you start playing music?
Liar’s Trial has been together since 2011, however, vocalist and acoustic guitarist, Bryan, and electric guitarist, Johnson, have played together in various bands for the past 15 years.
How did the band come together?
In 2011, Milwaukee band, The Church of Abject Sorrow (Bryan: ex-Avoided, Highlonesome, Silentium Amoris and Chris Johnson: ex –Cocksmokers, Highlonesome, Silentium Amoris) asked Chuck Engel (ex-White Problems, Skull Time, Crossed Wires) to play drums for a concert commemorating the life of former Milwaukee punk singer, Reed Avoided. After the concert, Bryan, Johnson and Chuck decided to continue playing together and soon added Erv (ex-Molitor) on bass. They quickly realized that the music they were making out-grew the narrow musical confines of The Church of Abject Sorrow and they decided to start Liar’s Trial. Chuck left the band and was replaced by drummer, Patrick. Recently, we have added Jean as a second vocalist.
Who are some artists that have influenced?
We have a wide variety of influences from a wide variety of genres, the continuity of which may not be immediately apparent, however, each influences different parts of our songwriting. That being said: Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, New York Dolls, The Cure, Skinny Puppy, Ray Price, David Allan Coe, Nausea, Bauhaus, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Willie Nelson, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Merle Haggard, Motley Crue, George Jones, Hank Williams, and Leadbelly… to name a few.
How would you describe your music?
We use the term “outlaw country.” That term originated out of Nashville in the 60’s and 70’s with artists such as Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings, who refused to adhere to the “Nashville sound” that was prevalent at the time and refused to play by the rules that the Nashville record executives required of musicians. Instead, they believed that their music should not be constrained by rigid rules and boundaries, but instead, it should be created and appreciated in a way that reflects how the music was intended to be released and heard by the musicians themselves. That mentality started a whole movement that we embrace to this day. We, too, have never been able to fit into one specific genre (we have played punk shows, country shows and everything in between), but regardless, believe that our music should speak for itself. Some folks like it; some folks don’t, but we continue to make music that is personal to us.
Who else do you listen to?
We listen to a lot of old country pioneers – besides the folks listed above, musicians such as Lefty Frizzell, Flatt and Scruggs, Jimmie Rodgers, Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb, Jim Reeves and Roy Orbison. We also love old school punk – The Dead Boys, The Germs, The Stooges, The Misfits, Discharge, TSOL, etc. Additionally, we love a lot of old soul and R&B – Sam Cooke, The Isley Brothers, Jackie Wilson, etc. Lastly, we have a deep appreciation for old new wave, goth and industrial music – Depeche Mode, Christian Death, Peter Murphy, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, London After Midnight, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc.
Any local bands you really like?
Milwaukee and Wisconsin has one of the best music scenes in our opinion – for some reason, it just seems like it gets overlooked. Folks are willing to come out to a show for a touring band or a cover band, but unfortunately, do not give the same support to the musicians playing original music in this city. Hopefully that will turn around soon. That being said, and to name just a few of the many: Doghouse Flowers, Indonesian Junk, The Cow Ponies, Christopher Gold (from Appleton), The Glacial Speed, Zebras, The Whiskeybelles.
Do you ever collaborate with other artists?
No, we have never really tried that.
When you create new songs, what comes first, the lyrics or the music?
A little from column A, and a little from column B. Usually a melody or some lyrics pop up when there is absolutely no possible way to get them down – like in the shower or while driving.
What’s it like in the studio when you are working?
Hot and sweaty – very literally. We just recorded a new record last month and we were all dripping with sweat the entire time because you can’t really have air conditioning running when recording otherwise you will get a hum on the tracks. Overall though, it is just a lot of fun – some good friends just making music that we love.
Do you usually play Milwaukee?
Yes. While we have all been in bands that have toured the U.S. in various forms, Liar’s Trial has never played out of Milwaukee. It is not for a lack of trying however – for some reason, we have had a hard time breaking into other cities.
What about upcoming dates?
None at the moment. We just played a slew of shows in August (including one with one of our personal influences, Billy Joe Shaver) and the biggest thing on our plate is trying to get the new record finished.
Any albums or EPs coming out soon?
Our new record is going to be called “Armadillo By Morning.” At the moment, we are mixing. Then, off to mastering and the record pressing plant down in Nashville. We hope to have it out in a few months – just keep checking back on the website.
What are your plans for the future?
In an ideal world? To quit our day jobs and make a living strictly off of our music. In a realistic world, to just be able to continue to play our music – whether folks dig it or not – music is our passion and we don’t foresee us stopping anytime soon.
William James is sold on his vision. The former Milwaukeean has been promoting the induction of “cosmic American music” trailblazer Gram Parsons into the Country Music Hall of Fame for the better part of a decade. Working in conjunction with his online petition abetting that end has been an annual tribute concert tour commemorating the late Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers member and solo artist.
The novel catch to each tour date is that it’s comprised of acts local to each city. Parsons’ material comprises some of each band’s set, but not its entirety. The point is to not only eulogize the man, but to showcase his ongoing influence in others continuing to negotiate the connections between country and rock. To those ends, James’ Gram Parsons 70th Birthday Bash at Linneman’s Saturday night wasn’t only the remembrance of a singular figure in American pop music history, but a great sampler of rootsy local music.
With a bassist out for the night due to last-minute food poisoning and another member missing, Milwaukee outlaw country outfit Liar’s Trial commenced the six-hour mini-fest a touch tentatively. Still, numbers from their first two long-players, Cowboys From Hell andSongs About Momma, Trains, Trucks, Prison and Gettin’ Drunk, as well as forthcoming album with a hilariously George Strait-baiting title, Armadillo By Morning, showcase strongly narrative songwriting. A highlight was the duet between the band’s lead-singing guitarist and its new female singer on Parsons’ and protégé Emmylou Harris’ “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning.” …
Riverwest Currents - Rob Schreiner - March 1, 2016
Milwaukee’s own country punks, Liar’s Trial, will be celebrating the release of their sophomore album on February 26th at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn. The album titled Songs About Momma, Trains, Trucks, Prison, and Gettin’ Drunk opens with a dirty, indistinguishable growl, and yet, the painfully true message of ‘Hard, Hard Livin’’ has no trouble delivering itself to the listener’s ears. What follows is a slew of rockabilly hybrids; grungy southern blues licks and a punk rock rhythm section accompany passionate, whiskey-soaked vocals that remind the listener that life, like the album, is hard and short. Recorded in 2013, the album spent 2+ years in limbo, anxiously awaiting its debut. When questioned about this conspicuous gap between recording and release, the band opted not to comment, vaguely citing confidentiality, and suitably adding to the outlaw mystique of Liar’s Trial.
Upon visiting the band's Bandcamp profile, one is greeted by a riffy, swinging tune by the name of ‘Anaconda’. At first listen, the punk rock pedigree of the band is obvious, as are their southern sensibilities. Their sound is driving, intense, and unmistakably heartfelt. This tasteful union of ferocity with the bounce and twang of country music makes for a unique and satisfying listening experience that does not compromise the authenticity of the band, nor does it allow any room for misinterpretation of intent; the band remains true to their roots, despite the seemingly paradoxical nature of their sound.
The members of Liar's Trial have successfully married two genres that, from a distance, appear to dwell at opposite ends of the musical spectrum. Though this perception may be true to some extent, the two share much more in common than one might realize. As stated by frontman and lyricist Bryan (who, in true outlaw spirit, has requested that his last name be omitted):
“There are a lot of parallels between both genres - lyrically, both can tend to speak to hard times, life struggles, addiction, depression, working-class ideals and a push back against an authoritative majority designed to further the interests of those in power. More importantly and viscerally, both genres speak to the human condition. Folks (including us) playing punk and outlaw country music are not rock stars, nor do they usually have aspirations to become rock stars. We do not play this kind of music because it will sell well or because it is marketable in the eyes of a record executive; we play this music because it is what comes from the heart. It is cathartic. It is what helps us get through life - the nights between the work-a-day world, the good times and the bad times. It is a great unifier by real people, for real people.”
As is customary of the genre known as "outlaw country," Songs About Momma, Trains, Trucks, Prison, and Gettin’ Drunk speaks of both dark times and long nights, sometimes simultaneously. Despite the sometimes heavy lyrical content, by the looks and sounds of things, these boys know how to party perhaps too well. If your idea of a good time lies somewhere between the mosh pit and a footstomping hardcore hoedown, and includes the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol, you’d best be at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn on February 26th.
Forest Bride - Jim Hanke - February 26, 2016
Milwaukee quartet LIAR'S TRIAL celebrate new album at Linneman's
Opening with a whiskey-soaked howl leading into a maelstrom of fury, Liar's Trial roars out of the gate -- guns blazing, outlaw flag proudly waving -- on Songs About Momma, Trains, Trucks, Prison, and Gettin' Drunk, the band's sophomore LP.
"Interestingly enough, there are a ton of similarities between punk rock and country--especially in the outlaw mindset," says vocalist/guitarist/banjoist Bryan. "No one wants to be told what to do or how to do it, especially when it comes to the music. A whole new generation of punks are getting into country. I have noticed that once folks start to approach 30, that country gene kicks in and I have seen a lot of folks who played punk in their teens and twenties start playing country or bluegrass later on."
This mindset, this push-back against authority, this refusal to play by anyone else's rules, permeates the band's every aspect. While the band's debut, Cowboys From Hell, cheekily name- checked Pantera, Songs About Momma... is a reference to outlaw country legend David Allan
Coe's song "You Never Even Called Me By My Name," in which Coe lists the elements of "the perfect country and western song." (And Coe is an authority on the last item in the list--when Bryan met Coe in 2014, the night proved so raucous Bryan couldn’t touch alcohol for the next eight months). Pulling influences from sources as disparate as Waylon Jennings, the New York Dolls, Bauhaus, the Isley Brothers, Sam Cooke, Merle Haggard and Nick Cave, Bryan--along with guitarist Johnson, bassist Erv, current drummer Patrick and original drummer Chuck (who appears on both the band's studio records) have crafted a unique sound that is hard to define, but easy to enjoy.
Songs About Momma... was recorded in one day in 2013, just before Engel left for a new job in Washington, D.C. and, as the band had exhausted their budget in the studio, they teamed up with Milwaukee's One Track Mind Records for the album's February 26 release--one month shy of three years from the recording session. The album, as mentioned, starts with the kick-in-the-teeth opener of "Hard, Hard Livin'," leading into the Tom Waits-on-uppers vibe of "Tomorrow You'll Be Diggin' Your Own Hole." "Bad Dreams, Cocaine & Whiskey" continues the tirade, before slowing down on the Lucero-leaning, acoustic-driven "I Don't Care."
"Early on, we used to never really listen to each other," Bryan said of the album's creation. "We all came from different schools of musical thought and never stood back to see how we could make them gel into something cohesive. As you listen to the record, Side A is decidedly more 'punk,' whereas Side B is more 'country.' I think [the country songs are] a good reflection of where we are going as a band. As we get older, I hate to say it, but it is getting harder to play full sets at break- neck speeds. We are all finding the enjoyment in playing and writing songs that are more melody- driven."
Indeed, the record's back half eases off the speed and amps up the twang. "Birth-Cursed Man" features some fancy fretwork by Erv and jagged start-stop guitars by Johnson, as well as perhaps the record's best example of Bryan's unlikely sense of melody. "I know a man can’t win every time," he rasps, "but it’s gettin’ kinda hard comin’ in dead last over every finish line."
The bluesy swagger of "Anaconda" boasts a particularly interesting backstory from Bryan and Johnson's pre-Liar's Trial touring days. Referring not to the snake but to the mining town in Montana, the lyrics tell the story of an eerily-quiet, packed show next door to a mental institution, a tainted water supply, a possibly-haunted hotel room, a dust-up between some locals and folk singer Graham Lindsey involving a spilled drink and a mess of golf clubs, and a 90-foot tall illuminated statue of the Virgin Mary. It's really quite the story.
Recognizing that a record as eclectic as Songs About Momma... needed a proper launch party, Liar's Trial didn't pick the supporting acts from their sizeable stable of known associates, but picked two groups they've known and respected but never shared the stage with: country act Doghouse Flowers and indie-alt-folk group Glacial Speed, both fellow Milwaukee natives. The show is set to be unlike any other this year, but pace yourself--you don't want to find yourself swearing off alcohol the next morning. Details below:
FRI 2/26 @ Linneman's River West Inn, 1001 E. Locust St. (Milwaukee, WI)
Liar's Trial with Doghouse Flowers and Glacial Speed
9pm // 21+ // $5 door or $15 for show + album
To interview Liar's Trial, share music from the new album with your readers/listeners, or to review the new album/live performance, please reach email@example.com.
Milwaukee Record - DJ Hostettler - February 25, 2016
Liar's Trial Get Dark on New Album
On Friday, outlaw country combo Liar’s Trial will celebrate an album release three years in the making, as Songs About Mama, Trains, Trucks, Prison & Gettin’ Drunk finally sees the light of day after having been recorded in 2013. The band will celebrate at Linneman’s with Doghouse Flowers and The Glacial Speed, but first, frontman Bryan Thomas, guitarist Chris Johnson, drummer Patrick Tomter, and bassist Erv Tang sat down with Milwaukee Record to discuss mama, death, drugs, and the whole point of even putting out music when you’re just going to die anyway. Uplifting stuff!
Milwaukee Record: How psyched are you guys to finally have this record out? I know it’s been a long time coming.
Bryan Thomas: Yeah, it’s gonna be one month short of three years from recording to release.
MR: Have you kind of moved away from the songs in your set already?
BT: Kinda, yeah. (laughs) We have another record we’re recording in June already with Shane (Hochstetler) again.
Erv Tang: One of the reasons why it took so long was because we had to find a new drummer to play our songs with again. And you have to get everyone acclimated, and one of the ways to do that when finding new band members is to write new songs, so yeah, we have a whole new album written now.
BT: Well, the thing is, we recorded it on a Saturday, mixed it on a Sunday, and I think (former drummer) Chuck (Engel) left that Monday for DC. And then he lived in DC for a while, moved to New Orleans, lived there for a while, came back, and the album’s still not released!
MR: It’s tough to find a drummer in Milwaukee.
ET: It’s tough to find a drummer anywhere! You gotta find a somebody that actually fits, too—it’s not just about finding somebody that’s like, “Oh yes, I’m good at keeping a tempo!” You have to find someone that meshes with the people in the band.
BT: When you’re in your mid-30s, I know a lot of people who I used to play with who just don’t. They just stopped. In our early 20s, it was so easy to find people to play with, and now it’s like, everyone’s…
Chris Johnson: Well, I go to bed early now, I can’t go to practice until 2 a.m. and get up for work in the morning and be fine. Just getting too old to pull that off. (laughs)
ET: This sounds silly and vain, but we also had a hard time with the design. This is the first actual vinyl that any of us have ever been on, and releasing something on vinyl, you wanna put a little something extra into it. I don’t wanna just slap something together.
MR: What made you want to do vinyl this time? The first record was digital only, right?
BT: It was digital only because we blew our budget on recording.
ET: But we don’t talk about that. (everyone laughs)
MR: I think that’s a totally valid thing to talk about, though, because a lot of bands these days are struggling with that.
ET: Exactly. In this day and age, it’s so easy to say, “Well, I just call up Spotify on my phone, and I find this band right here.” Whatever, it’s cool. They just released this record. Not actually thinking that it cost this band upwards of a thousand dollars to record. You forget sometimes how much money gets invested in this before anyone even gets to look at it.
Patrick Tomter: I have a bunch of friends in bands who’ve released an album, but didn’t do a vinyl release, and it’s sort of like there’s one night where everyone’s excited that they released an album, and then it’s almost like the album doesn’t exist anymore.
MR: So let’s talk about the subject matter of the record. It’s country music, of course, and country music often has a dark edge to it. Is that what drew you to it in the first place?
BT: My mom raised me on country when I was a kid. So it’s kind of a homecoming, almost. I can remember being on tour with a punk band I was in and making them stop in Nashville between stops so I could shop at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, and they were like, “You are a fucking idiot.” (laughs)
But I’ve always been drawn to really dark shit, too. My mom died when I was really young, and that sent me into this weird depression, and alcohol abuse and shit, and a lot of that comes out in the music, even though it’s twenty-five years later. The first song on the album is called “Hard, Hard Livin,'” and it’s summed up in this one line: “It’s hard hard livin’ knowin’ everyone you love has got to die.” You build all this shit up, and regardless of what you do, everyone you love and everything you do really means nothing. It’s a very nihilistic kind of thing, because in the end, you’re worm food. That sentiment runs through every single song on the album.
My wife and I were thinking about having a kid, and we do now, we have one and one on the way, but one of our songs, “Fever Taken Hold of Me,” is about trying to reconcile the happiness of childbirth with knowing you’re imposing a death sentence on that child that you’re bringing into the world, by virtue of bringing them into the world.
MR: It’s like the sentiment of bringing a pet into the world, like, “I brought this dog into the family,” and was it Louis CK who said you’re just telling your family you’re going to be sad in fourteen years? I’ve never heard that extrapolated to a human before.
BT: It is a really hard one to reconcile! Another song, “Bad Dreams, Cocaine & Whiskey,” the punk band I was in, our singer offed himself with heroin, and it was hard to reconcile that one too, because the entire time I knew him, he wanted to die. So when he finally did it, you know, we were all sad, but it was much more of a selfish sadness because we wanted our friend there. For him though, he finally got the ultimate end that he wanted. So “Bad Dreams” is about reconciling missing your friend, but also trying to accept that he is quote-unquote “happy” and that he wanted that.
MR: So what’s the point of a creative process, of even putting anything out if the fixation is on the point where it ends and nothing matters?
PT: Well, the music’s gonna outlive you, ya know?
BT: Right. It’s catharsis. Otherwise if I don’t put it down…it’s like people writing in journals or diaries. It’s like, hey, something’s on my mind, I’ve gotta get it out, and I get can get it out in a song, and it’s a weight off my shoulders. So it’s sort of a self-medication kind of thing.
CJ: I don’t wanna put words in your mouth, but maybe it’s a way of, instead of condoning nihilism, a way of fighting through it, saying, you know, this is one way of looking at it. Is it the right way, is it the way I should be looking at it? I dunno, but this is one way and maybe it’s about the struggle to get through that.
ET: Going back to even asking why put anything out physically anymore when it costs so much. I wanna make sure that something I did at some point, somebody later on that I may have no idea who they are looks at it and says, “Oh, that’s cool!” And then puts it on and maybe has some type of connection to what one of us did. And then you sort of exist through them.
MR: You’re dealing with death by…
ET: Cheating it.
MR: That’s sort of the central point of art or doing anything creative.
ET: Yeah, to make a connection that outlasts you.
Liar’s Trial will celebrate the release of Songs About Mama, Trains, Trucks, Prison & Gettin’ Drunk Friday, February 26 at 9 p.m. at Linneman’s. Doghouse Flowers and The Glacial Speed will play in support. The cover is $5, or $15 with a CD.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Piet Levy - February 25, 2016
Liar's Trial, "Songs About Mama, Trains, Trucks, Prison & Gettin' Drunk" (liarstrial.com)
I'm not going to lie: Liar's Trial frontman Bryan Johnson's vocals, on the first two tracks particularly, are hideous, like he's in the midst of a bender from hell. But no one wants an outlaw country man to sing like an angel, and the band's Western punk style sure sounds dangerous. "Fever Taken Hold of Me" might be the only song in the world that could trigger both a mosh pit melee and a honky-tonk brawl.
Next gig: 9 p.m. Friday, Linneman's Riverwest Inn, 1001 E. Locust St. $5, $15 with record.
Shepherd Express - Joshua Miller - February 24, 2016
Liar's Trial Create Their Own Brand of Outlaw Country
In the past few years outlaw country has made a major comeback, with artists like Chris Stapleton taking cues from country greats in making music that goes against the grain. In addition, many musicians who were in punk bands in their teens and 20s have turned to more melodic genres like country that resonate more to their life experience. Milwaukee’s own Liar’s Trial knows a thing or two about that sonic movement. With the release this week of their sophomore album Songs About Momma, Trains, Trucks, Prison, and Gettin’ Drunk, the band showcases a potent, wide-ranging mix of punk and country.
“You can go from one song and say, ‘Hey, that sounds like Nick Cave’ and go to the next song and say, ‘Hey, that sounds like Hank Williams.’ And then the next one you’re like ‘Oh, you pulled from Delta blues,’” singer Bryan Thomas says.
Thomas says his love for country and bluegrass music is indebted to his mother, who instilled a love of the genres during his childhood before her death. After he turned 14, he discovered that punk music was a more suitable outlet for his teenage angst and played in punk bands into his late 20s. But country music always had a special place for him. It was a revelation then when he discovered the exciting results of mixing punk and other styles with country music. Country music and punk share many of the same elements, he says.
“They all speak to the same thing,” he says. “Nobody wants to be told what to do. The plights are the same. Money, government, world problems, etc. [The difference is that you] scream about them in the context of a punk song.”
The band recorded Songs About Momma over a single day at Howl Street Recordings back in 2013. Thomas credits producer Shane Hochstetler for helping them capture the raw energy of their live sound. “He’s able to get a sound that really captures the essence of a band,” he says. “He’s able to capture that dynamic and really embodies the soul of the music in his recordings.”
The band’s country influence is becoming more prevalent as they’ve recorded more, Thomas says.
“They are less screamy shout-along choruses and fewer faster-tempo songs,” he says. “It’s harder to play a full set at breakneck speed. I don’t want to admit that but it’s true. It’s more fun to experiment with melodies.”
The album’s title is indicative of the band’s “funny little twisted humor that you get when you’ve been friends with each other for years and get your own inside jokes.” While their debut name-checked a Pantera album, Songs About Momma references country outlaw great David Allan Coe and particularly his song “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.” In that song Coe lists the elements of the perfect country song. Thomas thought it would be funny to list those elements as the title.
Since they sat on this album for years before releasing it, the band already has another batch of songs. They hope to record them for their next album, tentatively titled Armadillo by Morning after the George Strait song of the same name, in June. Thomas says that the new songs they’re writing are slower and more melodic. It’s a result of getting older, he concluded.
“We had more time back in the day,” he says. “I have a kid and another on the way. If the baby cries I have to stop. So I sing and write in the shower or while I’m driving in my car.”
Still, Thomas feels that the band is doing things their own way. “People are really starting to like this outlaw country music and it’s becoming what it was in the ’70s I think,” he says. “It’s nice to help bring that resurgence back and hopefully bring it back to the forefront.”
Liar’s Trial play an album release show Friday, Feb. 26 at 9 p.m. at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn with Doghouse Flowers and The Glacial Speed. There is a $5 cover, or $15 with CD.
The third installment of Riverwest Fest (Dec. 21-22) brings together 65 bands playing 17 shows in nine venues over the course of two days, highlighting one of Milwaukee’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The lineup runs the gamut of style and sound. Liar’s Trial is but one of the bands which speaks to the Fest’s variety. The Milwaukee outfit melds punk rock and country influence to form a distinct sound all its own. That sound, combined with the lineup’s decades of combined experience has found Liar’s Trial playing a strange variety of shows with an array of different bands in its first 15 months on the scene.
Prior to its show at Quarter’s Rock ‘N Roll Palace on Saturday, Music Notes caught up with Liar’s Trial drummer Chuck Engel to talk about the band’s formation, how it arrived at the country punk sound and what the second full year of Liar’s Trial will bring.
The band was initially formed for a benefit?
The way it all came together, almost 10 years ago, I played with Bryan [Kroes] and Chris [Johnson] called Silentium Amoris and we did that for probably a year. I mean, I was in three different bands at the time and eventually just cut that out. I got to be too busy. We kind of went our separate ways. Then two years ago around February, they asked me to play a reunion show with them for some band they’d started after I had quit that band. Kind of complicated stuff [laughs].
Anyhow, they asked me to do it, and I wasn’t really playing in a band at the point. I’ve always liked Bryan’s songwriting. He has a great ear for melody. He needs feedback. I felt like we wrote really great songs together, even 10 years ago. I did a reunion with them for The Church Of Abject Sorrow, and I insisted that first they’d have to change the name. Eventually, they changed it. We kept at it and talked to Erv [Aaron Larry], who wanted to play bass, and eight months after that, he joined and we started playing out as Liar’s Trial. We’re still playing some songs that The Church Of Abject Sorrow wrote, but we changed the arrangement around, simplified them and sped them up.
How did you land on the country punk sound?
That’s vaguely what Church Of Abject Sorrow was. It was two guitar players – one electric, one acoustic, sometimes two electric, or one electric and one banjo and a drummer. They didn’t have bass or a huge backbone to what they were doing. But they had a lot of the songs there, and when I came in, we just fleshed out a lot of the sound. Church Of Abject Sorrow sounded like demo tapes to what we’re doing, basically. The sound that we want was there, and as we started writing our own Liar’s Trial songs, they all started following a similar tone, you know, like Supersuckers and things like that. If anyone ever calls us “rockabilly,” I’ll punch them in the nose.
It seems that the mixture of drastically different influences rolled into one kind of allows you to play with a myriad of different acts –from punk and rock ’n’ roll bands to bands like The WhiskeyBelles, bands with more of a classic country influence. Was that intentional?
It’s one of those things where those roots make you stick where you go. We’re the kind of band that can peek up on a bill. We’ve got a little bit of this sound, a little bit of that sound and somebody might appreciate that. Also, someone might not appreciate that. We played a show in Chicago last weekend where the entire room except our five friends in Chicago cleared out during us and repopulated after for some run-of-the-mill, cookie-monster hardcore band that could’ve existed 10 years ago or now. They all had fancy haircuts and their friends didn’t like us, so I don’t know. Where was I going with that?
Has the genre crossing helped you or hurt you? Both?
I think it’s been a little bit of both. It helps us get onto bills, to get on to different shows. There will always be that one guy with a pompadour that comes up and is like, “Wow, I didn’t expect you guys to be playing,” or something like that, which is always kind of cool. I personally don’t think too much about genre anymore or how a show will come together. I just think about things like volume level.
What does the next year-plus hold for the band, in terms of goals you have?
We finished recording finally. We’ve got all the tracks mixed; it’s just a matter of mastering and sequencing them. We want to put out a record. We’ve got some funds saved up, but we’re trying to get a label or two involved in putting it out on vinyl.
So you don’t know when it will be out? You’re just exploring the label avenue and playing a bunch to save up?
We’re still trying to get funding for it basically. You know we’ve played two shows recently and we have like three or four shows lined up through January. It’s fun and exciting to do, and it also helps us save up and try to find a way to put out this record.
What can you tell us about Riverwest Fest?
I know that Kelsey [Kaufmann] from Centipedes is kind of spearheading all this. I think it’s a really great thing to involve the businesses in it also and get a little bit of sponsorship and a grassroots level music festival. This is how a lot of great things started. And to make it to a third year and to only seemingly be getting bigger is really impressive. It’s a great thing for the city and a great thing for the neighborhood. I honestly hope it keeps growing. I hope 10 years from now it’s still carrying on, generations of scene followers later, it would be really great.
Engel’s former band, White Problems, will also play Riverwest Fest, filling in for Death Dream at the Rio West Cantina in support of John The Savage’s album release show Friday. The entire Riverwest Fest 3 schedule can be seen here.