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Anchorhead mention whiskey every other song and they write "Thank you, beer" in their liner-notes acknowledgments. They mention double-soy-vanilla-lattes and pumpkin-chocolate muffins...um...never. Anchorhead's almost-bluegrass roots rock just begs for booze. And so, though the honky- tonk rockers agreed to meet me at a smoke-free coffee shop in Minneapolis on a recent Thursday evening, drummer Nick Holz mentions more than once that he has a six-pack in the car, just in case we wanna make things interesting.
The four band members in attendance sink into the green leather sofa, looking only slightly conspicuous: They're wearing jeans and flannels that recall either grunge rock or afternoon chores (possibly both), even though they're in a Banana Republic part of town. They greet affectionately, patting one another on the knees.
The same roll with it attitude that carries Anchorhead breezily though a booze-free interview is what allows them to have three songwriters coexist happily on their latest album, Love and the Color Blue (Machine Shop Records). Vocalist/guitarist/mandolin player Tony Thomas--who contributes the ridiculously catchy "Unkle Ray" to the song list--leans toward an old-time bluegrass flavor, complete with storytelling lyrics and redneck-next-door musical style. Joshua Hill Lemon (guitar, vocals) favors a roots-rock format: "[My lyrics] are all about heartbreak and going home," he says. Still, he doesn't drop that statement to win anybody's pity: "I'm really quite happy," he insists.
Lemon remembers someone referring to Anchorhead's sound as "farmcore," and feels that's the most apt description of their sound. "Nick spends 90 percent of his day listening to the Rolling Stones," he points out about Holz, adding that Thomas, by contrast, listens to absolutely nothing but bluegrass. Lemon maintains that the combination of this breadth of taste and the band's democratic, collaborative songwriting practices gives them a sound that's as much punk as it is old-time. Normally a statement like this would read: wanky bullshit. But for an eclectic band like Anchorhead, it feels spot on.
Case in point: Check the song "Next Spring," which is just as suited for a polka as it is for a mosh pit (albeit a damn happy mosh pit). "County Fair" furthers the light mood, opening with three measures of narrative in which we discover that "Johnny was a carny after being in the navy." The inevitable alcoholic downfall of Johnny and his drunk-tank darling Lisa occurs approximately three verses, a few choruses, and a bridge later, in a flurry of front-porch guitar strumming and mandolin twitter. "St. Paul" comes in somewhere between the styles of "County Fair" and "Next Spring," using both rock and classic country progressions to back funny couplets like "If you live in Minnesota at all/You could at least live in St. Paul."
The real joy of Anchorhead's work, though, is the unpretentious way it's performed. Band members sing in their natural Midwestern accents, instead of opting for the affected and appropriated Nashville twang. Their pace is not rushed and there's not a "stage persona" to be found in the group. Lemon comments, "I don't think any of us have any delusions of becoming rock stars." And none of his comrades counters that thought; their faces don't show so much as a twitch.
If they're not rock stars, then they're something better. Anchorhead are the band next door, simply playing their songs and speaking their minds without annoying the hell out of you. Listening to their music, you can just kick back and be comfortable in your own skin--although if you're part of their typical Lee's Liquor Lounge or Terminal Bar crowd, you know nothing says "the band next door" quite like a cold beer. Thank you, beer.