Music News

The Informants don't need to play other people's songs to move you

The Informants don't really play cover songs. They don't need to.

"People seem to think they need a cover because it makes them feel like, 'If I can hear a cover, I can have a good time,'" Kerry Pastine points out. "We give them a good time no matter what, and they're hooked after the first song. They're like, 'Cover? What? I didn't ask for a cover. I love you guys.' People tend to need a cover, but when they hear us, they're like, 'Never mind.'"

Once in a great while, the outfit will pull out one of the few covers it has worked out, like Wynona Carr's "Please Mr. Jailer," which the band does with burlesque performer Orchid Mai. But it's not often. Most of the time, the band sticks to what it does best.

"That's kind of why this band is doing what it's doing," says Mark Richardson, the band's chief songwriter, who joined the Informants shortly after Pastine and bassist Mac McMurry formed the group in 2005. "There was a point very early on where I told Mac, 'I don't wanna play in another cover band.' At this point in my musical career, I've done too many things to just play in another band that's just going to sit in bars. We have to do something that makes us feel good, and that's write our own music."

And the strength of those originals is obvious: The band's latest album, Crime Scene Queen, was just named Best Self-Produced Blues CD in the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge, where it was up against three other national bands. Every blues society in the country submits one album from their region, and the Colorado Blues Society chose Queen.

The album, which was released last July, has garnered praise around the country as well as gotten airplay abroad in countries like France, Italy and Spain. Both Queen, produced by Jeremy Lawton of Big Head Todd & the Monsters, and the band's outstanding 2007 debut, Stiletto Angel, garnered spins on the House of Blues Radio Hour, hosted by Dan Aykroyd.

While there's no question that the Informants have a firm grasp on the blues, there's a lot more to the group. "They slide us into the blues category, but I'm not sure that's accurate," Richardson declares. "We play a lot of blues-based music, but we're not like Chicago blues. We're not like New Orleans-style blues. We play lots of different styles all around."

Indeed. Throughout its latest record, the band also delves into swing, rockabilly and soul and takes a stab at zydeco on songs like "Marilon." Songs like "Don't Talk Betty," meanwhile, boast a twangy spy-rock sound and features the dueling saxes of Jonny Love and Kenny "The Neck" Plum.

There's an easy explanation for the variety. Although the Informants started off with a bunch of jump boogie songs, they've since evolved. Mostly because Richardson, like the other members of the group, has played just about every style of music you can think of, and those vast influences are helping shape the sound. For her part, Pastine gravitates toward more of a vintage big-band and Western swing sound, while guitarist Paul Shellooe says he started off with blues but then moved toward heavier stuff like roots and garage rock. "I like to wear the guitar low," he enthuses, "and turn it up loud."

"Me, I just like listening to Mozart," adds Love. "I know that sounds crazy. But everybody's always like, 'I can't believe you play rock and roll and R&B and you listen to classical music. I'm like, 'That's what I like.' I dig 'em both, and it's really fun to do a little bit of both."

Former Brethren Fast drummer Nate Nicholson, who replaced longtime Informants drummer Paul Christophersen this past September, grew up around classical and gospel, then got into punk and metal, and has played everything from country funk to hardcore.

While both albums do a great job of showcasing such variety, the band may take things in yet another direction. Richardson has already written about a dozen songs for the next album, and evidently, they're fairly wide-ranging. After listening to Tokyo Sex Destruction, the Sonics and Joy Division — bands that haven't been part of his staple listening diet — he says that his attitude has changed on some of the songs and that he's been going back and changing them a bit.

"I can't help it," he says. "They just kind of come out the way they come out."

While the followup to Crime Scene Queen might incorporate a few new styles, there's a good chance it will still have one of the main ingredients that helps the band appeal to a large number of fans.

"We were having this conversation the other night," Richardson recalls, "and the question came up: 'Would you rather play in a really cool band that plays far out, inaccessible music, or would you like to play in a band that plays accessible music that people react to?' All of us said 'accessible.' And to play something that makes people get off on."

"That makes people drink," adds Shellooe.

"It makes 'em drink and dry-hump and stuff," Pastine chimes in with a laugh.

"The problem is that she dry-humps my leg," Love fires back. "Our music is fun. That's how I see it."

"And naughty," Pastine adds.

"The one thing I've heard the most is that crowds see us having fun," notes Shellooe. "I've been in bands a long time. It was hard to keep a three-piece together. There are seven of us. If we're partying up on stage, it seems to bleed out into the crowd. So even if a bar is kind of lackluster, three songs in and they're bouncing off the walls."

"It's fun," Pastine adds, "but there's an element of where it sounds dirty and dangerous, but it's a big, really fun happy sound. So there's that allure to it, and of course, we're naughty. So I suppose it makes other people want to be naughty, too."

"There's a show, too," Shellooe interjects. "It's not just a bunch of people standing around."

"That first song in, Jonny and I jump off the stage onto the dance floor and start swing dancing," says Pastine. "And they're like, 'Oh, let's start dancing." So we do attract a lot of dancers. More drinkers than dancers, but eventually they're all out on the floor."

"As I always say," McMurry offers, "'Either get on the freight train with us or get off — or else get run over.' We bring a lot of energy, and the energy is, in a lot of ways, because of all the different sounds and tempos. We keep it moving from song to song, with little or no messing around between songs. Bring your dancing shoes and get on board."

"A lot of people are looking for a sound that they haven't heard in a long time, a sound that made people move," Richardson points out. "I go to shows and I see people, and nobody's even dancing. It's music you can't dance to. I think it's basic: Music is for dancing. Music is made so it moves you."

And it's moving more than just the baby boomers. The Informants appeal to a pretty wide audience, which excites Pastine and her bandmates. "At first we were like, 'Oh, maybe we'll just attract swing dancers,'" she says. "Oh, hey, we attract drinkers. We attract 47- to 60-year-olds. We attract everybody. At festivals, people are going apeshit — kids, teenagers. Everybody digs our stuff. And it's so cool to see that everybody feels good."

Feels even better knowing it's your songs that move them.

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon