IN THE BIBLE household, a Fisher-Price xylophone sits atop a $6,000 deer hide-wrapped piano. Pixar party decorations twirl in front of silkscreened Lucero gig posters. A sweet, oafish dog named—what else?—Hank Elvis, is playfully biting an aging, chronically sneezing cat with an Old Testament name, and The Train Wrecks' Jason Bible is cozy in his La-Z-Boy, pulling occasionally at an e-cig, as his son, Jack Bible, naps down the hall. Drummer Jeremy Hammons is right at home, disciplining the animals as if they're his own.
The park, where Bible and Jack spent the morning playing, and Elevated Basement Studios, where the Wrecks cut their long-awaited third record, are both mere minutes away from the homestead—perfect for Bible’s intertwined life of musician and proud papa.
“If it’s midnight and I want to do a vocal track, it’s right down the road,” Bible says of Kevin Rose’s studio.
For three years, word’s been floating around town about the follow-up to 2011’s Saddle Up—would it get made? Who’d be in the band? Had the whole thing been scrapped? Had the band set the demos on fire? You’d think we were talking about Chinese Democracy here.
Bible waves the talk off—“it’s all been written about”—and he’s right. The personal has been the focus of Savannah’s hardest-working band for some time now, from battling addiction to recovery to recruiting new drummers. Given what The Wrecks have been through, it makes bands breaking up over “artistic differences” seem awfully quaint.
But a decade in, Bible is still as passionate about the alt-country project as he was from day one. It’s what makes We Roll On such an apt title track (a track that almost didn’t even make the record), and keeps Savannah rooting for our own local-boys-done-good.
“Through everybody’s personal lives, and band life and party life, the goal is just to keep persevering,” he says. “That’s the central theme running through a lot of songs. We’ve been through a lot as a band. My vision is always to keep the band together, to keep rolling on—and here we are.”
“We started playing, I don’t know, almost 10 years ago,” Bible reflects. “I guess that’s beating a lot of odds these days. With bands, with marriages.”
“A band kind of is a marriage,” I note as Hank Elvis nuzzles me.
“It is,” Bible agrees. “It’s dysfunctional, but sometimes dysfunction and resentment can form the best working music sometimes. Because you’re pissed. You want to play your best for everyone in the band. You give 180 percent, or you just stay home.”
Guitarist Bible and bassist Eric Dunn are the remaining founding members; Bible says their longtime bond has given them a rare kind of telepathy onstage. “It’s like brothers...that are married,” he laughs.
When they initially set out to cut We Roll On, Bible, Dunn, dobro/guitar/banjo player Stuart Harmening, and then-drummer Paxton Willis sought isolation in the form of a farmhouse outside of town.
“There was nobody there but some horses in a field, and a train going by every five hours,” Bible remembers. “We went in with 36 songs and cut 18 of them.”
While paring down tracks and being in an environment that allowed for complete focus helped, the decision to handle all duties in-house presented a new set of challenges.
“We were trying to engineer it, produce it,” says Bible. “And you know how it is when you have a lot of creative minds.”
Bible took the files to Rose at Elevated Basement to have a listen and see what could be improved. In the end, the farmhouse cuts were scrapped.
“After this long of doing this, it’s good to have a team,” Bible notes. “There are those cats who engineer, write, master it all themselves. I admire that, I love that. But it’s great to have a team effort.”
After plenty of rehearsals and live gigs to tighten up the new material, the band booked three days at Elevated Basement. Jared Hall added keyboards, the record was mixed, and, just like that—complete.
It was all worth it. We Roll On strikes the perfect balance between the raucously mesmerizing experience of watching the Train Wrecks live and capturing a clean (but not too clean) recording that allows the tones and lyrics to be fully appreciated.
“We didn’t use the studio as an instrument as much,” says Bible.
Hammons, Wrecks drummer of two years, calls the first two Wrecks albums “fantasy records,” with their female backup singers and extra percussion tracks. For We Roll On, the band decided to strip down to the bare essentials.
“If there’s a stacked vocal harmony, it’s me, Stu and Eric doing three-part harmonies live,” says Hammons. “There’s one guitar solo. Everything we’re doing, we can play the album a hundred percent how it sounds live.”
We Roll On is a grungier, dirty rock ‘n’ roll record (with his caustic, bloody-raw vocals, Bible is a country Cobain—look no further than their “All Apologies” cover). Where Saddle Up and Whiskey and War dwelled on tradition, We Roll On reads like a toughed-up Wilco, with inspiration derived from Lucero, John Prine, and even Reverend Horton Heat (see track nine, the wicked ‘Reverend’s Jacket,’ which Bible immediately wrote after attending a RHH concert).
The Wrecks have mastered the ebb and flow of a record. The delicate picking and sincerity of “Rain Clouds” eases beautifully into barn-burner “Far Enough.” With Hall wailing on a Hammond B3 organ, Hammons throwing down those freight-train rhythms, and chill-inducing harmonies swelling beneath a big, catchy chorus, it may be the strongest song they’ve ever recorded.
Bible can spin a transfixing story as easily as he can write a barroom chant; from Paradise Lost to Parker’s gas stations, We Roll On is a captivating journey studded with a myriad of characters and locales.
“I like to try to cover as much subject matter as we can,” says Bible. “You got 40 minutes to grab somebody.”
Now working with a booking agent, the band will hit the road off and on through September to promote the album, heading out in one and two-week jaunts. Bible looks forward to bringing the band home to Texas—a first.
As Bible and Hammons list their upcoming tour dates, little Jack wakes up down the hall. Bible carries him into the living room, swinging him into his lap. He notes that the CDs shipped four days ago.
“I’m surprised they’re not here right now,” says Hammons.
The Wrecks will celebrate their release at The Jinx; they’re longtime regulars on the Congress Street stage.
“That room is never going to be the same again without Athon’s red beard over there, laughing with Igor,” Bible says quietly. “It’s exciting to release the album, but at the same time, I can feel the sadness of the music community. It’s blowing through the air.”
“Anytime we’ve lost someone in music, it’s pushed me,” he says. “As in, this could be the last chance to record. Tonight. Let’s make it count.”
Hank Elvis interrupts with a loud bark directed at an approaching vehicle.
“Oh, Stu might be here,” Bible guesses; they’re practicing tonight.
Hammons opens the door and swivels around with a huge grin—the CDs have arrived.
Bible’s face lights up. “I can’t believe it! Let’s crack open a box!”
Alabama boy Hammons whips a knife off his belt and slices through the packing tape, revealing sleeve upon sleeve of We Roll On. Three years in the making, and it’s officially arrived.
“I think I’m gonna weep, curl up in a ball,” says Bible. Sleeping two-year-old in one hand, CD in the other, he checks the casing for the right finish, barcode and spelling.
“I can’t believe I’m holding this right now!” exclaims Jeremy, shaking his head, pouring over the artwork. “I think I’m gonna cry.”
“I hope this helps move the band forward,” says Bible. “Playing in Savannah for so long, we beat this town to death. ‘Hardest-gigging band in town,’ I guess people called us.
“For a time, anytime we could play, we’d play. I just wanted to pay the bills and drink.”
Those times have come and gone for the now-sober family man, but the goals, admirably, haven’t. “Traveling and music are the two best things in the world,” says Bible. “The goal is to be in it. To make it work. Because there is no other option than to stay in it. There’s no retirement or 401k. I hope that I’m 80 and still able to play ‘Reverend’s Jacket’ and scream my ass off and not care. I hope life is that kind to me.”
Jack wakes up and Bible excitedly holds the album in front of him. “DaDa’s CD is here!” he says, bouncing him on his knee.
Relief floods the room, and a new kind of excitement swells; there’s nothing like holding your CD in your hands for the first time. And for The Train Wrecks, that feeling’s not fading any time soon.
The Train Wrecks CD release party with Everymen
Saturday, November 22
The Jinx, $5
@ Daffin Park – Rescheduled due to Hurricane Matthew, Food Truck Festival 2 celebrates… (more)
@ The Sentient Bean – A poetry and music open mic with an emphasis on… (more)