When The Ongoing Concept unleashed Saloon two years ago, it taught those lucky enough to stumble upon it two key things: 1) less is most definitely not more and 2) banjos are fucking ace.
The Idaho four-piece, featuring no fewer than three brothers in Dawson (vox/guitars), Kyle (vox/keyboards) and Parker Scholz (drums), plus childhood friend TJ Nichols (bass), had crafted a stunner of a debut; a whirlwind Wild West opera sounding something like Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster (remember them?) if they’d spent their spare time brawling with Every Time I Die in, rather appropriately, a saloon bar. The mix of crushing, scattershot riffage, poppy hooks, gospel-styled choruses and eclectic instrumentation singled them out as one of the most fascinating, unique young forces in heavy music – and the good news is that their new follow-up, Handmade has gone bigger, bolder and even barmier than before.
“Honestly, I don’t even know,” offers Dawson, the band’s chief songwriter and de facto leader, when asked where the inspiration for such a maddening clash of sounds comes from. “I have always been into soundtracks and how they bring out the dynamics and suspense of movies, and we’ve always been ones to love the old-time 1800s. We’re drawn to the honky-tonk, ragtime thing, banjos and whatever else. When we were writing Saloon, we thought it would be cool if we added some of that. I was watching a lot of Looney Tunes at the time, and they do a lot of that big-band, orchestra stuff in their shows. I added that to our music, and it kinda…just… worked.”
Let’s be honest; in the context of being influenced by movies, life in the 1800s Wild West and Wile E Coyote falling off cliff edges, it’s hardly surprising that The Ongoing Concept have stumbled upon such a riotous cacophony of noise. That said, given that Saloon set the bar so high in terms of pure musicality and straight-up, all-out bonks-ness, was it not a tad difficult to work out the next logical step? When you’ve thrown in the kitchen sink, what is there left to do?!
“Saloon was a year in the making and had ideas that I’d had for many years,” says Dawson, “so I approached this record kinda afraid that we weren’t going to make anything better. It was hard on my end, very stressful, but I think that over the past two years, our band has matured a lot and I think I’ve become a better songwriter. I honestly think that I had a better frame of mind this time around.”
It’s a mindframe that’s paid wonderful dividends. Poppier than its predecessor yet still retaining enough heavy riffage to have people circle-pitting in barns around the world, Handmade boasts enough singalongs, clap-alongs and hoedown-ready slammers to soundtrack any willing metalhead’s summer. But what is perhaps most interesting about The Ongoing Concept’s sophomore is its inception. As its title suggests, the album was crafted using instruments built from scratch, by the band, using the woody habitat surrounding their Idaho hideaway. A fascinating, pro-active gesture, for sure, but didn’t it ultimately result in a lot of unnecessary extra graft?
“We are a broke band!” exclaims Dawson on the unusual move. “We don’t have a ton of money, and we’ve always had this sense of DIY and building things for ourselves. Two of the members of the band are my brothers, and our dad is like frickin’ [TV secret agent handyman hero] MacGyver! We learned from our parents how to do things cheaper by making things ourselves. I built my guitar cabs years ago and have built lots of things for the band over the years that have saved us a lot of money, so it just made sense. And we live in North Idaho where we’re surrounded by trees, so it was like, ‘Why don’t we cut some down and make our instruments out of them?’ It seemed like an impossible task at the time and it’s been a journey to get it all together, but now that it’s all here and done, I’m pretty proud of our band!”
Dawson should be proud: in The Ongoing Concept, he has an inventive, unique band of brothers under his wings, and with the music to match. Watch these guys go.
Handmade is out now via Solid State