American Paint – On a white picket fence
American Paint is one of those rare bands that arrive, seemingly out of nowhere, with a sound so comfortable you’d think you’d been born listening to it, yet enough twists to knock you off guard each time you think “I’ve heard this before.”
Live, they play into every conceivable alt-country cliche — jangly dual guitars, ragged vocals, traditional harmonies. Still, there’s something about these guys that lets you know they mean it. One moment they’re headed down a well-blazed path, then a couple of glances between bandmates and they’re reeling in some totally unexpected direction. “We’ve never played country,” drummer Sean Hoffman says. “It may be that [the songs] don’t sound cliche because we don’t know what we’re doing.”
Lyrically, songwriter Bard Meier embraces country’s most well-worn topics: Lost love, kiss-offs to ex-lovers, letters to wayward friends. But he never leaves you pitying his protagonists. His lyrics leave plenty of space for the listener, and a large part of the music’s appeal is the room to find yourself in his stories.
The band began in 1996. Meier, who also plays guitar and sings lead vocals, had quit music in frustration a year and a half earlier. His longtime friend, Honeydogs bassist Trent Norton, decided he needed a good solid kick; “Trent pushed me to start writing again, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have,” Meier confesses.
From that point, the pieces began to fall into place. Meier hooked up with guitarist Darren Harff. The two began jamming with a rotating group of musicians until Hoffman settled in on drums; Meier’s longtime friend, fellow North Dakotan transplant David Schultz, completed the lineup on bass in March 1997.
Their self-titled debut captures all of the band’s live energy. Recorded and produced by Tom Herbers (Honeydogs, Jayhawks, Soul Asylum) when the band was scarcely three months old, it consists primarily of first or second takes recorded live with only a handful of overdubs.
“It took us months to learn to play as well [live] as we did on the record,” Meier laughs. “It sounds ridiculous, but it’s totally true. Everything clicked when we went into the studio. Everyone was so comfortable that it was just like, boom! — it was all there.”
Still, the most striking element of American Paint’s music is how well it captures the soul of the Heartland. If not in the lyrics, it’s in the music — from early farmland days to the Dust Bowl of the Depression to modern stretches of highway and cornfields.
“The four of us are so fucking Midwestern it’s ridiculous,” Meier says. “I mean, when I came up with the name, American Paint — it’s like, I’m ridiculously American, and it seemed to fit….Coming from North Dakota, country music is played constantly. You grow up there, and you’re like, ‘I fucking hate it! I fucking hate it!’ But man, it just seeps in.”