Banditos – “As Humans We’re Pretty Rough Around The Edges”
Banditos is a six-piece band of brothers and one sister from Birmingham; Alabama (‘ain’t no ham like Birmingham’ right?). They’re based in Nashville now, and describe themselves as “Country, Rock n Roll, Soul, Blues, Bluegrass, Hard Boogie, Retro, Gothic Lolita, Minimalist” band. Their self-titled debut album Banditos offers up all of the above mixed up in a bowl and served with grits.
Their background is punk and rock ‘n’ roll, that’s how they met up, and you can hear it rip-roaring through the album alright – with influences including “Ramones, The Stooges, New York Dolls, The Cramps, Misfits, The Germs, The Sonics, The Clash, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Black Flag, Minutemen, Hasil Adkins (he’s punk), Buzzcocks, Refused, etc. My fourteen year old self would call me a poser after reading that list” said guitarist Corey Parsons.
But those are not the only influences on the band, by any stretch of the imagination. Mary Beth Richardson for example describes her childhood as “choirs, musicals, solos, and what we would call “specials” for church”. Richardson’s voice is an exquisite juggernaut that is as happy slowing down and taking in the view, as it is crashing through your town.
“I’ve been singing ever since I could talk. I was fortunate to be raised in a very musical family. We moved up to Birmingham when I was 15, and I went to my first public school. I was very happy to be part of the weirdo theater/choir kid troupe. I met most of the guys in the band during this time. They were all in several bands that played around town in churches, skating rinks, basements, and the all ages DIY venues. That was a whole new world for me. I whined a lot to get my folks to drop me off in a seedy part of town to watch a punk, or metal band. God bless em, they let me.”
“After I graduated high school I became much more of a musical admirer than a participant. I was heavy into the scene without ever being in a band. Fast forward some years, relationships, jobs, and you arrive at that pivotal moment where Corey flipped a coin at 4 in the morning to let him and Steve know they would hop in my car, and go to New Orleans with me. That trip was a page turner in my life. Learned the songs on the way, hopped on stage, felt that feeling again, and was immediately thrown back into this wonderful energy that I had forgotten. The day after the show Randy and Corey moved me out of the house I was in at the time, and into our first band house of sorts. It all happened very quickly, and here we are!”
Parsons also shares vocals on different tracks with Richardson, and banjo player Stephen Pierce. This gives the music some very different moods and pulses. “Having three vocalists in the band helps diversify our sound. Hopefully, there’s a little bit of something for everyone in a Banditos album. It gives us a lot of room to explore different sounds and different genres. It keeps it fresh for us. Hopefully we’ll have all six members singing on the next album.”
Parsons and Pierce busked round Birmingham together. “We learned we were doing it all wrong” Says Pierce. “We were playing for people on their lunch break in Northside Birmingham most the time so they really didn’t have much interest in spending their time watching us practice. It was, however, a much better environment to practice than our small apartments we had at the time. I don’t think we met many people that weren’t asking us to play wagon wheel or foggy mountain breakdown. That was the toughest part, I think.”
Drummer Randy Wade and guitarist Jeffrey Salter bring in a whole different angle altogether. They attended music school together where they learnt classical and jazz techniques to add influences such as “Django, Miles, Coltrane, Moondog, and Mingus” to the mix. “Most of us grew up skateboarding and playing fast, so classical music seemed like the next logical progression” explains Salter.
“Studying and playing classical guitar was irreplaceable, it puts so much focus into technique and melody and all of the minute things that you don’t think about in a song. Later on I got the chance to study Jazz privately with Carlos Pino, a truly remarkable guitarist and musician who put me on the path of electricity.” They also performed in a computer music ensemble, which gave them “the chance to compose any feasible idea and create extremely weird and disturbing noises in a nice concert hall. I suppose all of these things show up in our sound one way or another.”
“Having a pool of influences across many styles and musical cultures to fish from only helps” he continued. “It’s easy to put yourself into a box with no way out. I believe our accidental sound came from a lack of cohesion that finds a beautiful medium between our interests. We all approach a song from a different place and that’s what makes this whole thing work.”
And there we have Banditos, with just one missing ingredient, bassist Danny Vines. A few articles I’ve read have given me the impression that the band are being seen as a potential Roman Guard for southern country rock n roll music – that they’re keeping things raw, ballsy, ripping the rough edges. I wondered if that was what they were aiming for. “I don’t think we’re aiming for anything more than just writing songs that we dig” responded Parsons. “As humans we’re pretty rough around the edges, so that’s the sound that naturally comes out of us.”
“There’s still some bad asses out there” he continued, “They’re just few and far between. As far as the stuff on the radio stations today, that’s just pop music. Just drop the word “country” from Pop Country. Problem solved. People put way too much weight into titles. Music is music. You dig it or you don’t.”
Right now Parsons is listening to The Flamin’ Groovies; but when it comes to music from their hometown, Pierce recommends that we “check out The Steel City Jug Slammers, they’re an old timey style jug band. Another guy to check out is Henry Dunkle. He’s one of the best songwriters in the city, next to Duquette Johnston…which if you haven’t heard of him; I’d add him to the top of this list.”
The move to Nashville was important though. “Back home, it was easy to look at the band as a bar trick that got us free drinks. We still went home each night only to get up and go back to our jobs and fret over how we were going to go anywhere with them. Nashville gave us the connection to meet supportive musicians and (the rare) good guys of the music industry that have helped us focus on the big picture.” But there are things from home that will always be missed, like “Milo’s hamburgers, the bars that stay open until daylight, and stumbling to a nearby 24hr spot called Al’s Mediterranean after those bars.”
I’ll leave the last word to Mary Beth Richardson, when I asked her about being the lone female in the band. “Perspective is the main thing we all have to keep in check in this band. My perspective is completely different than everyone else’s, and everyone has their own emotions, ticks, and nature. Being a woman, I think I feel emotions sooner than when they hit the rest of the band.”
“Our whole goal for this band is to make a worthwhile living doing what we love, as it should be for everyone, but sometimes emotions are heightened and raw, but that’s the whole beauty of it. That’s when we see the true nature of ourselves and what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s not easy, to say the least. There are so many strong, powerful women sleeping on floors and really pouring their souls into their craft out there. It’s true that we are women and that it’s really tough at times, and it seems you have to try much harder to earn respect among thousands of men that are right there with you trucking along, but we’re all in it together. “
“There’s a strong sense of community among the musicians we travel along with and meet on the road. It’s a joy to travel and be completely free of social normality, but it’s also maddening to constrict yourselves to the confines of a van for 200+ days of your year. The guys take it one day at a time, just like me. The main thing that I really miss is having a community of ladies that surround me. I love the boys, but sometimes I get so overwhelmed with dude speech, actions, aromas, and banter, that I really want for a nice bottle of wine and a conversation about feelings, pretty things, and guys(without guys). We’ve been at this for years, so it’s nothing new. People always ask this very question, and all I can say is that, yes, it’s tough sometimes, but it’s tough for everyone. BUT it’s incredibly rewarding to have those conversations all over the country, and soon to be world.”