The Big Iron rocks to its own time
05/27/2014 4:43 PM
06/03/2014 10:17 AM
Three albums in 14 years may not sound like prolific production for a rock band, but the members of the Big Iron aren’t too concerned with things like strategy or game plans.
“I think that’s one reason for our longevity,” said Jeff Pendergraft, the band’s lead vocalist. “We have no real plan, and there’s a benefit to that. If you have no expectations, you can’t set yourself up for disappointment. We’re just close friends who like to hang out and create music.”
Friday night, the Big Iron will celebrate the release of “We Will Fall,” its latest music creation. It’s the band’s third full-length and the follow-up to 2008’s “Thanks for the Therapy,” which was the successor to its debut, “Bury My Mistakes,” released in 2001.
All three albums live up to the band’s description of itself on Facebook: “A punk/garage/rock/twang sandwich washed down with a glass of pure disgust.”
But with each recording, the band has evolved, Pendergraft said, and “Fall” represents both a recording produced the way Big Iron has always wished for and the band’s growth stylistically.
“We made the first one in a basement and the second one in a barn,” he said. “It was very raw and live. Everything bled through the mics. And that was fine for us.
“This one we made at Element Recording with Joel (Nanos), a friend with a kick-ass studio. We wanted to take advantage of what he has to offer.”
The Big Iron started in 2000 as five people who had been in other bands. Three original members are still in the band: Pendergraft, Jon Paul on drums and Ricky Reyes on guitar. The band has been through a few bassists and guitarists, including Rich Smith, Dominic Black and Chubby Smith. Current members Mike Farren (bass) and Paul Krowas (guitar) have been in the band since 2011. Pendergraft said the philosophy of the band hasn’t changed much over the years and through lineup changes.
“We were all musicians who’d been in bands and wanted to be in another,” he said. “Everybody had busy lives, and no one had been able to finance their lives through music, but no one wanted to leave music behind.
“When you play music, you get to a point where it has to be in your life or your happiness is at risk. None of us had played together before, but we thought we’d see what would happen. We were surprised right away at the level of our chemistry.”
The band took a hiatus from 2003 to 2005 but otherwise has kept up a very steadfast pace: Practice every Thursday, play live shows when they can be arranged and write music and get it recorded.
“We Will Fall” was two years in the making. Songwriting went much as it had for previous albums.
“A song usually starts with guitar parts from Ricky,” Pendergraft said. “Then Paul and Mike and J.P. kick in. And the song takes form. Then I’ll get a melody before I write any words — maybe hum over the top of what they’re doing. Then eventually the words will come.
“Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes we labor over it. But it’s always very collaborative. Everyone’s in charge of their own parts.”
The songwriting on “Fall” showcases a band that has forged its own sound but doesn’t want to be pinned down.
“We tackle a lot of styles,” Pendergraft said, “mainly because we have lots of music interests in the band. Guys our age have been doing music a long time. We don’t want to be playing just straight rock ’n’ roll or just hardcore rock or Americana all the time. We get bored easily.
“We have punk influences and underground rock influences. But on this record, we have an anti-Fred Phelps punk tune and a really sparse song that has only a vocal and guitar.”
Yet even on that song, the Big Iron unleashes the hellfire sound it has long been known for. Time hasn’t tempered its ferocity or its ability to conflagrate a room with volume and ferocity.
“One of my influences goes back to the Beasts of Bourbon,” Pendergraft said. “When you hear Tex Perkins sing, you immediately know it’s him. And I think no matter what we do, it sounds like the Big Iron. Whether it’s Ricky’s guitar tone or JP’s drumming style that’s always there, you know it’s us.”
They’ve captured that sound on “We Will Fall,” which took awhile to complete but was recorded briskly. The band went to Nanos at Element Recording and laid down about 20 rough demos, then waited nearly a year to go back in and lay down the real thing.
“Once it was time to actually record the final versions, they shattered any record I’ve ever seen for how quick a band can throw down,” said Nanos, who produced and mixed the record.
“I always tell the story that we started setting up to record and get sounds around 6:30 p.m. and were ready to run some test tracks around 8:30 p.m. Around 10:30 p.m. I was grabbing a drink at Chez Charlie because we’d already had eight songs tracked. Everyone kind of looked at each other and chuckled like, ‘Huh, well that was easy.’”
“It was all recorded live, then we added some guitars and my vocals,” Pendergraft said. “We’re not a band that does a lot of punching-in of stuff. We just like to go in and get it done, in two or three takes.
“We’re really pleased with the record overall, the artwork and the recording. We really want to get it out and let people enjoy it as well.”
Friday night at the RecordBar, they will give people the chance to buy the album (vinyl and CD) and hear it live. Live or recorded, listeners will get a loud, heavy dose of a band that for almost 15 years has enjoyed a journey with no destination.
“We don’t play out a lot, and we’re not a working band, so to speak, but we’ve always taken it seriously when it comes to what we present to the public,” Pendergraft said. “I feel really fortunate to be playing with these guys. They’re all great musicians. We all really appreciate the outlet, the hanging out together and creating the art. For me, my state of mind relies on it.”
Read more from music writer Timothy Finn on The Star’s music blog, Back to Rockville. Twitter: @KCStarRockville.
The Big Iron will celebrate the release of its new full-length, “We Will Fall,” Friday night at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road. The Death Scene and the Philistines are also on the bill. Showtime is 10 p.m. Admission is $7. It’s an 18-and-older show.