High Hopes: Banditos

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“People sometimes call us a country band, but our shows are rowdy,” says Corey Parsons, lead singer and guitarist with hairy US sextet Banditos. “We grew up with punk and metal, so we were always going to be very loud. We think a show should be a fuckin’ show!”

After notching up more than 600 gigs in three years, Banditos are a weighty live proposition. Indeed such was their effect on the people at Bloodshot Records, who stumbled across them at last year’s SXSW, that they swiftly signed the band to the label. The upshot is a self-titled debut album that bristles with raw intensity and darts between musical modes like a restless flea. It’s a heady pluralism that pits barrelling country-punk against southern rock’n’roll, boogified blues against Stax soul. Factor in the odd psychedelic jam, plus a little jug band stomp, and you have a mighty rumble of Creedence, Green On Red and The Band.

“We didn’t intentionally set out to play all types of music, but it’s a lot more fun this way,” Parsons explains. “We’re all big fans of The Last Waltz. What appeals about The Band is that cohesiveness and how they blurred the lines between genres. We’re all huge fans of nineties country, too, just before country radio turned to shit.”

The members of Banditos have known one another since their youth in Birmingham, Alabama. Most of them started out in heavy rock bands. “But growing up in Alabama meant that we couldn’t avoid having twang in our music. Country music is in the water.”

Parsons and fellow vocalist/banjo player Stephen Pierce began as a duo in late 2010, busking for beer money. They eventually added drummer Randy Wade, though it wasn’t until months later, when they were asked to play at the local Bottletree Cafe, that Banditos finally came into being. Two key additions were ace guitarist Jeff Salter, and Mary Beth Richardson, a singer blessed with the tones of Lone Justice-era Maria McKee.

“Me and Steve were really nervous about that show,” Parsons recalls, “because it was going to be our biggest to date. Mary had mentioned that she wanted to sing and invited us to New Orleans with her, two nights before the gig. In New Orleans we wrote down the lyrics for Mary and Jeff in a Gideon’s Bible from the hotel and made it back for Bottletree, without ever having played together. It turned out to be a hell of a starting point for us. The crowd were super-receptive.”

It’s entirely fitting, you feel, that Banditos were born on the road. They’ve since moved to Nashville, not that they see a great deal of their adopted city. And their touring schedule is now likely to include the UK and Europe in the very near future. “It’s not the easiest lifestyle,” Parsons concedes, “but you can get used to anything if you want it badly enough. And doing this for a living is all we ever really wanted.”

Banditos is out now via Bloodshot Records.

FOR FANS OF: Paul Simon

“I’m not saying Still Crazy sums up our sound, but Paul Simon is one of our biggest influences,” says Parsons. “His chord progressions are incredible, and lyrically he’s a genius. Above all it’s his ability to make any style of music he wants that’s always impressed me. He’s one of the greatest songwriters we have.”

Classic Rock 211: News & Regulars