There was no shortage of live music choices Friday night in the city of our forgotten lord Charleston, West Virginia. By the time I got to the World Famous Empty Glass for a two-pronged punk rock extravaganza featuring Ravenswood’s Atomic Peasant and Charleston’s Jay Parade, the sun had long since turned the day into night whilst somehow managing to leave the muggy heat behind. No worries though. It was apparent by last call that both these bands for all their differences thrived on an ethos of sweat, raw talent, and an almost pure unadulterated belief in themselves. But especially sweat. They relished in it to spite themselves, or maybe to purify.
It wasn’t long after my discreet arrival that I sat myself down at the bar and tried to hide among the patrons when I was suddenly introduced to Nathan Miller, rhythm guitarist for Atomic Peasant. He’s an affable guy in his late 30’s who exudes a natural gift for conversation. Nathan came off like he either never met a stranger or the guy from Atomic Peasant most willing to speak with me. He could have lost a coin toss for all I know. It was my first assignment.
Either way, pretty soon we’re talking about all the things that come with keeping your dreams afloat with at least one foot planted firmly in reality: the mortgages, the wives, the kids, the full-time 40+ hour jobs. As much as I’d love to play working class hero, our initial conversation is cut short as he’s pulled to the stage to join his bandmates in Atomic Peasant for what I can only describe as a swift kick to the teeth. I was immediately hooked on the mix of melodic shout-along fist-pumping choruses with classic hardcore riffage in between to keep the toes tapping (and the heads banging.) Their songs “Basements” and “Crooked Smile” are both available on Spotify for download and I suggest you do that now as your friend and humble servant. Paul Lumley (bass/vocals) described the former as an ode to everyone who ever somehow had given up on the transformative power of punk rock itself. He and guitarist/vocalist Chris Randolph traded off songs with an intensity I assume akin to playing with a gun pointed straight at your head. This was true, passionate rock n roll from guys who have lived it. Pure and simple.
Nathan tells me the next day over the phone while the other guys are up to “something,” kayaking he thinks, that three out of the four members of Atomic Peasant are veterans, and this is their hobby he says. Hobby. I only use the word because he did. He went on to clarify that “some people join motorcycle clubs, we play music.” Fair enough, although I admit I have a hard time reconciling this attitude with what I had thought was one of the best and most intense live sets I’ve seen from any band, punk or otherwise, in Charleston in some time. Then it clicks as we start talking about mortgages again, families, work, rent. The panic of the day-to-day grind and the escape that music offers. But only it’s not really an escape, at least it doesn’t feel that trivial to me. It feels free, if only for a fleeting moment. And at the end of the day we all do need something or someone to believe in, which reminds me the last thing Nathan said to me before was ended our talk: “Always believe what you are singing about on a personal level no matter what. That’s what it’s all about.” As simple but as complicated as a nine to five. And then we hung up. I could still see the sweat dripping off Paul and Chris, shouting to the heavens with both feet planted firmly on the floor. I actually can’t think of anything more punk rock than that.
So how does one follow Atomic Peasant, you may ask? Well, Charleston’s Jay Parade were more than happy to melt a few faces doing just that. The band is a three piece who somehow manage to seamlessly go from third wave ska to hardcore to pop-punk and back again in the length of a set, or sometimes a song, as you can witness on their awesome new EP “Crying Over Spilt Coffee,” available for download through their bandcamp and various streaming services such as Spotify. Give it the old college try, you will not be disappointed. Jay Parade is all about musical experimentation within the collaborative songwriting efforts of Josh Connelly (bass/vocals) and Dave Gunnoe (guitars/vocal). Jay Parade rounds out their pop-punk trio with Johnathan Shank on drums. Josh tells me over a post-show phone call that the genre-hopping isn’t an accident. He and Dave Gunnoe take turns trading off on the songwriting duties in an almost 50/50 split but are encouraging Johnathan to get in on the fun as well.
Depending on how Jay Parade starts their set (or whether you play their new EP on shuffle) they could be described as that pop-punk band, or that third wave ska band, but whatever you start out pigeonholing Jay Parade as, just give it a verse and they will seamlessly prove you, the listener, wrong. Jay Parade may have its influences, but they are the band that they will themselves to be. Josh tells me that he and Dave Gunnoe love deconstructing the various motifs and styles of rock music and building them back up to make a different whole, and they manage to do so in a way that never loses sight of the song itself or looks down on its audience. They are an extremely smart, yet completely genuine band whose charm shines through not only on their new EP, but even more so if you’re lucky enough to catch them live. If their eclectic set doesn’t bring a smile to your face and get your tired bones shaking, you may want to consult a physician. Josh Connelly and and Dave Gunnnoe are a songwriting team not to be slept on and drummer Johnathan Shank provides much more than an ample foundation for the sonic experimentation that is Jay Parade.
Speaking of being lucky enough to catch Jay Parade live, they will be back in Charleston on August 28th at The Bakery as part of one of two benefit shows coming up for The Bakery, the other being hosted by downtown’s The Blue Parrot. You can download both Jay Parade’s newest EP “Crying Over Spilt Coffee” and Atomic Peasant’s single “Basements” now.
This is Steve Wandling, signing off. DON”T FORGET TO MAKE SOME NOISE!!!