Fourkiller Flats – Not anti-alt-country
Fourkiller Flats is all but belligerently uncowed about wearing its Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown influences on its guitar straps. It’s a refreshing posture in the wake of the occasional anti-alt-country drift, and besides, on them it sounds good.
The band’s self-released debut even includes a cover of Whiskeytown’s “Faithless Street”, but far from being a copycat effort, Fourkiller Flats represent a singular interpretation. The band substitutes updated Southern rock and Southwestern country for the brasher punk element, and while the lyrics mostly hew to themes of drinking, cheating and cars, they betray an almost quaint, if good-natured, sense of rue, reminiscent of vintage country.
Lead songwriter and vocalist Jim Cox comes by his rootsy inclinations somewhat naturally, having grown up in Knoxville, Tennessee, listening to his dad’s bluegrass records. “My dad was very much into bluegrass and ’70s singer-songwriter guys like Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker,” says Cox. “He’s a banjo player and guitar player. In the late ’60s he and my mom had a local TV show in Tennessee [where they sat] on chairs for half an hour playing folk and bluegrass songs.”
Most of the other band members say they always disliked the country music they heard on the radio, but were converted when, as avid fans of Uncle Tupelo and its offshoots, they went digging for early influences. Co-founder Jim Peeken, however, had long been a fan of Waylon, Willie and Dwight.
The band formed when Peeken was asked to open a show and tapped Cox to join him in a cover duo. After two dates, they picked up members from local indie-pop bands and began playing as Fourkiller Flats in November 1999. Drummer and harmony singer Bill Green joined six months later.
Within a year, they’d done an eight-city tour, including opening dates for the Drive-By Truckers in Chicago and Milwaukee, and played Bloodshot Records’ Yard Dog Party at SXSW, all the while struggling to keep up with demand for their home-burned EPs. They’ve since released a debut disc, recorded at Tucson’s noted Wavelab studio and produced by Craig Schumacher.
What distinguishes Fourkiller Flats from the wannabes begins with Cox’s songwriting. Says guitarist Neal Bonser, “Jim frequently writes kind of a riff-oriented chord progression into a song. And [he] just has a real gift for really memorable vocal melody. It’s a knack.”
Peeken points to the band’s emphasis on dynamics. “I like it when there are a lot of peaks and valleys,” he says. “I like to see a show where there are a lot of songs that are energetic, but also when you bring it down. It’s more emotional.” Emotion is the key, and all the band’s members play to it.