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By Tom Murphy
The new Bad Weather California album is called Young Punks. And unless you consider reverb-drenched, Stones-inspired riffs to be punk, then the title might seem like an ironic misnomer at first. Stylistically, at least, the act's rollicking psych-folk-rock is a far cry from the music of the bands that shaped frontman Chris Adolf's life growing up in Grand Junction in the '90s — groups like Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Black Flag. But while the ballast and experimentation of those bands hasn't really filtered into Bad Weather's music, their spirit certainly has.
Like those outfits, Adolf has played his share of house shows around the country with his current act and with the Love Letter Band, the group he played in with Marisa Wood that later became Bad Weather California when he moved to Denver in the early part of this decade. Sometimes that included driving all day just to play to four kids, as Adolf eloquently reflects upon on the track "1992," one of Punks' standouts: "It was 1994, we put the pedal to the floor/We hit the road, and no one came to our shows/So we moved back home to the country where we couldn't find a job to save our lives/But we wrote about a million songs, and our friends all sang along/And we were young and we got high and we were free/We were young and we got high and we were free."
"This album is kind of a tribute to our young selves — young punks," Adolf declares, noting that the title's also an homage to all the kindred bands who've worked hard to pave their own way. "A lot of those kids at Rhinoceropolis having been doing that too," he points out. "It's a tribute to those guys. It's still doable today. It's just a tribute to everyone who's doing that instead of just coming in and being like, 'Oh, lets be in the industry without knowing the history of it, without knowing the history of why Modest Mouse is able to sell out Red Rocks, without understanding that Modest Mouse played plenty of punk house shows.'"
"I was a young punk who overlooked a lot of things," he adds. "Punk music is great, and that whole culture, you know, ideology. I feel like our band is punk. But being a young teenage punk, you overlook a lot of things."
Things like, say, working at becoming a better guitar player. Before setting out to record Punks, Adolf took lessons from friends Roger Green, Nathaniel Rateliff and singer-songwriter Joseph Childress in an effort to hone his skills — not exactly the most punk thing to do. On previous Bad Weather records, he wrote three-or four-chord songs and strummed them folk style. But with some of the Young Punks songs, Adolf experimented with making songs that were more guitar-riff driven.
"In the indie punk community, being good at the guitar has been uncool since Black Flag and that stuff," Adolf says. "But what people forget is that Black Flag was coming out of the classic-rock era. I'd be tired of good guitar playing, too, coming out of that cock-rock stuff. We're coming out of an era where everyone's playing like Kurt Cobain, so it's punk for us to explore different things.
"Like folky stuff," he adds later. "You've got your three chords or whatever, and you make melodies over that. But if you listen to that James Brown stuff, no one's playing chords — it's just a bunch of melodies intertwining; you put your own singing on it. But it's not based on that. I've been trying to write songs to bass lines and stuff like that."
Adolf's lyrics have also taken a turn this time around.
"I tried to make things funner for people," he explains. "Lyrically, I started thinking, 'Don't use the words 'me' or 'I.' Change it to 'you' and 'they.'' Then people can relate to it more. If you're going to go there, then you can make the music more fun to listen to. I love folk stuff, too, but it was my experiment to make something very fun. It's not twee or silly or anything like that. They're serious songs. Having a band makes you realize, ya know, 'What's the drummer gonna do? What's the bass gonna do?' We get in the grooves. So it's been more about performance and less about, 'Here are these songs I wrote about me and about my life.' These are songs that are about you and you guys. Here is a band that's fun to listen to and that you can maybe even dance to — and it's for you, not for us. That's a big difference between the old stuff and the new stuff."
"I rely on the other guys in the band a lot to make sure the songs play well, because I don't know everything about that," he admits. "Between the four of us, we can probably figure out what to do. Sometimes I don't know how to structure a song. If you check out Adam's stuff, the Littles Paia stuff, those are pop-structured songs. I rely on Adam to make sure that I don't groove on one chord forever. And if you listen to the My Dog Paloma stuff — that's melodies and harmonies, like Beach Boys style. I rely on Joe to get the melodies and harmonies right."