American Culture's New Album Got Some Help From Post-Punk Royalty

Glancing at the lineup for this year’s Goldrush Music Festival it doesn’t take a music scholar to notice that one of the acts doesn’t quite fit in. Among the slew of acoustic and atmospheric artists sits Denver’s American Culture sticking out like a reverb-soaked soar thumb.

It’s an observation the band’s frontman Chris Adolf made right off the bat. But that’s about as far as the thought went.

“We were thinking we don’t really fit in,” says Adolf. “But I like mixing it up. I’m always open to play with whoever. I just wonder if the crowd’s really prepared for us.” 

For the uninitiated, Adolf is as close to rock royalty as Denver gets. He fronted the now-legendary Bad Weather California and has spent the better part of his life spreading the gospel of low-fi, noisy pop music with punk ideals. Earlier this month, the band he currently fronts, American Culture, released The Olympia Sessions, a collection of songs recorded in 2013 at Calvin Johnson’s (Beat Happening, K Records, Dub Narcotic Sound System) Dub Narcotic Studios in Olympia Washington.

The Olympia Sessions is a bit of a throwback for American Culture, as it was recorded well before the band’s full-length Pure American Gum. Adolf says the release order was intentional.

“It was a different lineup then,” says Adolf of The Olympia Sessions. “It was more of a collaborative thing. The stuff we put out last year [Pure American Gum], that was exactly what I wanted American Culture to sound like.”

While Pure American Gum was meant to have a “slick, late-‘80s sound, like later Jesus and Mary Chain,” Adolf says he was going for something different on The Olympia Sessions.

“I wanted it to be simple,” says Adolf. “Three chords … simple, in a minimalist art way, not lowbrow simple.”

The record is just that: nine tracks of straightforward, bubblegum pop with lyrics about being a teenager in the ’90s. Songs like “Blood Sugar,” which references the decade-defining Red Hot Chili Peppers Album, and “At the Mall” do a good job of summing up what it was like to grow up two decades ago in suburban America.

But more than that, the record is an homage to the music and scene that gave life to Adolf and American Culture. Adolf says he has always admired the whole K Records sound, even hosting Johnson and his band when they were touring through Colorado.
“That was the first scene that took me and my music seriously,” says Adolf.

When Adolf was asked to play guitar tracks for the Mirah song “Special Death,” which appeared on the hit FX show “American Horror Story,” he jumped at the chance in part because he got to record at Dub Narcotic.

“They didn’t open it up to the public until recently,” says Adolf. “It was only for K Records artists and people in that circle. Ever since then I’ve really wanted to record there.”

The Olympia Sessions stands up on its own as a great record, but the cherry on top is a guest-solo by guitar genius and Dinosaur Jr. frontman J. Mascis on the song “Princess Music.”

“The song, it was reminding us of him,” says Adolf. “So we sent him a track. In true, J, monosyllabic form, he said, ‘Cool song. I’ll do that.’”

The band was excited he accepted but didn’t realize until they met Mascis’ manager later that year just how lucky there were.
“He was like, ‘Man, that’s crazy that J did that. We get offers all the time for him to play on stuff for big money,’” says Adolf. “To set up mics, to load the tracks into the computer, record the solo … that’s at least four to five hours of work. He did that for us, for free.”

Adolf says American Culture has its next record nearly written but adds the band isn’t trying to keep to any  schedule. They recently lost their practice space so are taking things as they come.

“We’re not really trying to be that ambitious,” says Adolf. “Artistically we are ambitious, but as far as making moves in the music industry … we’re just making music.”

American Culture opens the Goldrush Music Festival on Friday, Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. on the IMPOSE Stage.