It's a typically chaotic moment in New American Shame history. Bassist Kelly Wheeler is lobbing faux-homoerotic suggestions at drummer Geoff Reading, who shrugs them off as he eyes the inattentive waiter. The waiter should've already replaced the empty glasses littering our table in the uncrowded Pioneer Square hideaway Marcus' Martini Heaven, but he's just singed his hair while lighting a drink on fire for a group of frat types across the room.
New American Shame
Paramount Theater, 7/17
In the absence of lead guitarist Jimmy Paulson, who's off camping, and single-named vocalist Johnny, who's not really into the interview thing, rhythm guitarist Terry Bratsch temporarily fills the role of band spokesman, and he's excitedly launching into a remembrance of the night the LAPD pulled him over and nearly busted him for his reckless driving; they didn't even know about the vial of speed on his person.
The waiter preempts his story with another round of martini concoctions that balance gin and vodka with odd ingredients such as Jaegermeister, Cointreau, and bourbon. When he leaves, Bratsch continues his Cops-worthy tale. And Wheeler continues to jostle Reading. Somewhere, I'm supposed to jump in and ask these guys about New American Shame's full-length debut, released on Atlantic Records just a day prior to this martini taste test. Somehow, I'm supposed to find out why some music-biz heavyweights have decided that five guys from Auburn and Renton are supposed to kindle a straight-up rock revolution.
Fortunately, I'd made arrangements to speak with Paulson before he took off for the wilderness and at an hour too early for the two of us to drink anything but coffee. He tells me about how he and his ol' friend Johnny assembled this crew a few years back, put out an EP on Will Records, then became the latest in a long line of Seattle bands to experience the thrills, spills, and all-expense-paid frills of a major-label bidding war. Then he tells me why an unabashed AC/DC-loving, tattooed, un-P.C., chick-flaunting band should be the next big thing.
"Rock is back," he says. "That's what we're here for."
While such determination is commendable, it falls on cooler heads such as my own to assess what exactly New American Shame is pushing. I flip open the cover of the new record, which centers around a naked porn star lounging lasciviously on a crumpled American flag. The blue disc itself features the flaming-star motif that adorns not only the band's merchandise but patches of various members' skin. Then again, all these trappings are really beside the point, because it's the songs that matter, right?
"It's rock," Paulson has told me. "The rhyme has a lot to do with it. It's a pick-me-up feeling."
The first track, "Under It All," starts with an economical riff that's quickly joined by Johnny's throaty drawl. It's got the punctuated 4/4 beat that's the gravity of classic rock and some unpoetic rhymes—"can" and "hand" probably never anchored any of Dickinson's couplets—that nevertheless serve their head-banging purpose.
Subsequent songs vary in tempo, intensity, and spirit. There's a suburban-libertarian bent to the raunchy "What's It To You," while a hard-edged ode to gambling, "Rather Be Rich," uses the dream of winning it big not as a metaphor but as an anthemic rallying cry ("Shower me in money," they shout in unison). "Sex Teen" works a bunch of clich鳠into a rock stomp that wouldn't sound out of place on a Motley Cre record. And on the slightly more complex "Auburn," New American Shame pays a nearly misty-eyed tribute to the sprawl from whence it sprang.
As close as a twentysomething rock guitarist can be to a pragmatist, Paulson hints that this directness appeals to average Americans. He also professes not to care what city slickers think, slyly mentioning that like-minded rock acts such as Kid Rock, Buckcherry, and Godsmack have found appreciative and increasingly massive audiences a few exits past all those tall buildings.
"If you go to any major city and you drive 10 miles away into a suburb, you find jacked-up Camaros and people rocking out," he says. "There's an Auburn everywhere in the United States."
Back in Marcus' Martini Heaven, Auburn's come to Seattle for the moment. Three guys dressed in black and/or denim drink to their success, smiling and joking, reflecting on the good times recently past—"Toledo, Ohio has the best-looking girls," Bratsch blurts out—and speculating about the good times to come; they're about to head out on a six-week North American tour as openers for The Cult.
They're not the most stylish new band, nor are they the most original: It's impossible to deny the AC/DC similarities in many New American Shame songs. But as Paulson sees it, a generation of kids wasn't around when Back in Black came out, and these youngsters need new bands that share the AC/DC sensibility. He and his martini-sipping mates are perfectly willing to fill this need.
"Here's a toast," Reading announces, lifting his glass. "To the Rock."