Lone Official – The only quarterhorse in this stock car race
Plopped down within shouting distance of the replica of the Parthenon that dominates Nashville’s Centennial Park, the Springwater Supper Club & Lounge is a classically dysfunctional breeding ground for talent. A dingy, intermittently friendly place where musicians can try out their stuff as part of a three-band bill and regulars can smoke pot on the screened-in porch, it’s rock ‘n’ roll and it’s ahistorical.
But for Matt Button, leader of Nashville’s Lone Official, the Springwater is where everything has happened since he hit town six years ago. Along with Button’s other great passion, horse racing, his Springwater experiences inform the songs he’s written for the band’s new album, Tuckassee Take. The disc, recently issued in Europe on Honest Jon’s Records, has been picked up by Astralwerks for upcoming release in the United States.
Button, 28, moved to Nashville with few notions of what the city had in store. “I was in college [at Murray State University in Kentucky], in art school, and I knew I didn’t want to be an art teacher. I always liked music, and decided to get into it,” he says from a booth at another venerable Nashville dive, the Gold Rush, where the other five members of Lone Official have joined him.
“So I didn’t really think about it as, ‘Let’s go to the Music City,'” Button continues. “I wanted to do something by myself, and came here and met people.”
Having grown up in Louisville — “It’s a little more citified where I grew up; even the downtown in Nashville, I don’t feel like I’m downtown,” he says — and lived in a rural setting in college, Button was struck by the “little things” that take on significance out in the country. And, too, Button says, “When I moved here, I was breaking up with a girl I’d been with forever, and you get a lot of ideas in that transitional period.”
He promptly got a job at the Springwater, where the management let him have a crack at working the door. He began writing the songs that would compose Lone Official’s self-titled 2003 debut, and met drummer Ben Martin, who had been playing with Lambchop and Justin Earle, and with guitarist Sami El Amri in local group Snakewind. Along with bassist Eric Williams, keyboardist Ryan Norris and lap steel player Brian Nicholls, Martin fleshed out the songs with his subtle, jazzy drumming. “It’s not jazzy, it’s ‘slinky and buoyant,'” Martin laughs, referring to an apparently beloved phrase coined by a reviewer.
Although Button says he currently listens to a lot of bossa nova, and the band’s collective taste is typically scattershot, they share an affection for the indie-pop that came out of Louisville and Chicago in the 1990s. “We cut our teeth on Louisville-based bands like Slint, David Grubbs, and then a lot of Sub Pop music, and Dinosaur Jr., that kind of thing,” Amri says.
If some of Lone Official’s material sounded like Antonio Carlos Jobim punked out and adrift on I-65 between Louisville and Nashville, Mark Nevers’ production of Tuckassee Take adds an elegant edge to Button’s music. “Fight Song”, with its couplet, “To win in a bar fight in Tennessee/You must be proficient left-handedly,” is a gorgeous waltz, and the way Nevers records and layers guitars, horns, keyboards, pedal steel and lap steel is as seductive and visionary as on his work with Lambchop.
Tuckassee Take might also stand as one of the greatest records ever made about horse racing. “I write about failure and success, in one sense, but not necessarily the rock sense,” Button says. “I talk about horse racing a lot; I try to get that feeling of betting and winning and losing, and I think I pull it off sometimes.”
Certainly, lyrics such as, “You call me lucky strike/Like I’m some fly-by-night mistake,” get at something deep in the heart of Tuckassee — some truculence in the face of defeat that is only underscored by the offhanded elegance of the music itself.