A lot of musicians think their music can become oversimplified or even misrepresented by labels such as “alternative” and “independent.”
While none of the four members of Fort Worth’s Left Arm Tan likes to be pigeonholed, they all recognize that one-word descriptions can be a handy guide to what an artist does and, more importantly, does not do. And so LAT guitarist/co-songwriter Daniel Hines says the band definitely has a preference for what it wants to be called.
“We consider ourselves an Americana band,” said Hines of their catchy but brainy brand of country- and pop-oriented guitar rock. “We’re very cautious about how we approach the Texas Music scene, because it’s easy for us to get lumped into a category where we don’t belong. … For instance, our name: 50 percent of our audience thinks of it as hanging your arm out of the window while you drive around and listen to country music. The other half recognizes it as a Wilco reference from their song ‘Monday.’ ”
Hines summarizes Left Arm Tan’s divided fanship another way, by citing one of the band’s promotional t-shirts. It reads, “NPR + PBR = LAT.” But the whole point of good music is that it’s supposed to bring people together, right? LAT’s new album Alticana is an agreeably smooth, infectious blend of potent hooks and rootsy instrumentation like harmonica, banjo, and mandolin. The 13 tunes represent both a stripping down and a refinement of the somewhat rougher sound the band championed on its 2010 debut album Jim and subsequent EP Thurm, both of which LAT collectively self-produced.
The first two releases resulted in national critical acclaim and radio play on stations as near as The Ranch in little ol’ Fort Worth and as far afield as Ireland, Norway, Belgium, and Australia. Because of that, Hines said he and lead singer/guitarist/co-songwriter Troy Austin, drummer Tim Manders, and bassist Jeff Scroggins were aware they had earned something of a following that needed to be nurtured. For Alticana (the name is a combo of the words “alternative” and “Americana”), they recruited North Texas super-producer Salim Nourallah and his studio partner, engineer Rip Rowan. Hines had played in a band called Rockingham with Nourallah a few years ago and been a member with Rowan of the Bad Haskells. Rockingham had recorded an album that was intended to be shopped around to various major labels, so Hines was familiar with Nourallah’s work methods in the studio.
“We’d been looking for an opportunity to work with those guys,” Hines said, noting more of a shared musical sensibility than might be apparent listening to their respective projects. “All of us love the British invasion bands from the ’60s. We also bonded over things like Ryan Adams and Wilco, melodies that dig into you. So we surrendered this album over [to Nourallah and Rowan], which wasn’t always an easy thing to do. All the band members have very strong opinions. But we dropped all our expectations and went with whatever the songs deserved.”
If Hines sounds unusually grounded for a musician, his age and experience have a lot to do with it: Most of the members of Left Arm Tan are around 40 and are veterans of the North Texas music scene going back to the ’90s. They’ve applied that hard-earned wisdom to their expectations and attitudes about LAT. All the players support themselves with full-time jobs that are flexible enough to allow them to do limited out-of-town touring throughout Texas, the South, and the Midwest. (They recently had to turn down an invitation to play Australia because their schedules didn’t permit it.) No one wants to fall back into the grinding routine of year-round club gigs that they’d experienced as younger musicians. They’re more interested in writing and recording songs –– “creating content,” as Hines calls it –– and slowly developing a solid fan base via the radio, the internet, and select festivals. Indeed, they’re about to embark on a small tour of radio station appearances to promote Alticana in Colorado, Missouri, Kansas, Alabama, and Georgia
Locally, Left Arm Tan makes a point of performing only a handful of North Texas shows each year. They don’t want to “hit Fort Worth people over the head” with their music, Hines said with a chuckle.
“We like to make our shows an event for family, friends, and listeners,” he continued. “If you buy too much into the musician’s lifestyle [of constant touring], you end up starving yourself, and you don’t have the money to create the music that fans want. We love playing live, but we’d rather play less and focus on quality content that we can sell or give away. Our goal is to continue to reach more people that way.”
Left Arm Tan
Fri w/The Hawkes at 9pm at Magnolia Motor Lounge, 3005 Morton St, FW. 817-332-3344.