Lost Continentals – Singin’ and swingin’
Turning down Pearl Street into the Southern gothic neighborhood of Cabbagetown near downtown Atlanta, Amy Pike belts out her take on Big Joe Turner’s “Love Roller Coaster” over the car stereo: “I’ve got atomic power,” she croons, “Going a thousand miles an hour…”
Pike is the self-described “girl singer” and leader of the lounge-swing quartet the Lost Continentals. Cabbagetown is a slowly dissolving Appalachian island, where the gloomy hulk of the old Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill is being transformed into luxury lofts. But up the blocks beyond, gentrification is just another word for a new roof. And Pike is proud to point out the shiny tin job she and her husband, photographer Adam Taylor, just finished putting on their little yellow house.
It’s apparent that the giddy incongruity contained in the title of her three-year-old band’s debut recording, Moonshine & Martinis (Landslide), is more than hip signifying — it’s pretty damn close to the everyday truth. Just beneath the smooth surface of the undulating rhythms the Lost Continentals lay down are some pretty hairy roots.
Pike’s musical trip began in a teenage punk outfit called Daughter Damage. “I shaved my head and played a Casio-tone keyboard,” she says. “It was so stupid.” She also played bass in a few other musical assemblages with equally abject names, among them Grubchild and Gutterplow. But it was Greasetrap, a gutsy country-folk partnership she formed with another bassist, Alec Feldman, that put her out front.
“I wanted to sing and write songs,” Pike says. “He wanted to play guitar. So we just decided we were gonna learn how. Before, I was always more of a side person. I got as far as I could with that, then I wanted a little more creative control.”
Greasetrap gave her the confidence to belt ’em out, but it was still a tad too confining. Sitting in with a group of ducktailed boppers called the Useless Playboys gave her glimpse at what she was after. “I really liked how they dressed up and played dance music,” Pike recalls. “I said, ‘Wow, they’re having fun. They get to wear fancy clothes, and everybody treats them like they’re kings. I want to do that.'”
Locating three kindred spirits among Atlanta band veterans, she formed the Continentals, who soon epitomized the best of the city’s swing set (they recently added “Lost” to the name to avoid a trademark conflict with a gospel group). Drummer Michael “Hammer” Wray “has a punk background too. He’s a scrappy guy, which is perfect for a drummer,” Pike says. Bassist Johnny Cowan “is the freakiest person, because he’s like a Republican; he has gun magazines in his bathroom. But he’s also very flamboyant, and he has great jackets.” And guitarist Jeff Passifiume “is the quietest person. He’s amazingly stoic; you could kick him in the nuts and he’d just sit there. But he has an incredible dry wit.”
Pike runs the band as a home-based business, handling the booking and doing promotions via phone and e-mail, while she minds her 2-year-old daughter Fiona. “That’s how I make myself more valuable,” she says. “As a girl singer, that’s important, because if you aren’t useful in other ways, you get treated like shit pretty fast. Most guitar players, especially, hate girl singers. All they have to do is stand up onstage and look cute, and everybody acts like they’re so wonderful. But that guy has to go practice for hours.”
She’s been staying busy lately tracking the progress of several songs from Moonshine & Martinis on radio stations across the country. A surprise favorite is the one about “swingin’ nights in Gay Paree,” which has hit the charts in a little town east of Atlanta that was once home to Flannery O’Connor. “‘The French Song’ is now No. 5 in Milledgeville,” Pike says with a sly giggle. “That’s where the nuthouse is.”