By Brent Hill
August 13, 2014
There’s nothing wrong with a grown man eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Or in the case of the Charlotte band Amigo– there’s nothing wrong with three grown men eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drinking cheap beer in a rented van. That’s not as creepy as it sounds.
“Toward the end of our last tour, we were hemorraging money,” laughs Amigo’s 34 year-old lead singer/guitarist Slade Baird. “We’d blown through our budget, so we ate a lot of sandwiches.” Slade and his bandmates spent most of that last tour at an important crossroad: cash out or grow up and go for bust. Thankfully, they decided to go for bust, a decision that may seem counter-intuitive to the cultural definition of growing up.
At a certain age there’s the pressure to trade in the PB&Js for a comfy pair of PJs and just call it a night. But with the recent release of their debut album, Might Could, and over fifty gigs in the past 6 months, Amigo is far from calling it a night. In fact, they’re out to prove that growing up doesn’t mean the end of being young. It’s simply another chance to get it right(ish)– a theme that gleefully stomps through their album and live shows.
“I view the songs on Might Could as a sort of second coming of age,” says Slade. “And what that means when you become an adult as you try to navigate who you are in life. The songs are skeptical of a world that’s fucked you over several times. This album is about making peace with that and saying, ‘I’m going to get back out there, but this time I’m going to wear some battle armor.”‘
Twenty-eight year-old drummer Adam Phillips’ interpretation of the album isn’t much different than Slade’s. “I think we both have this attitude of ‘When is the other shoe going to drop? Here are all these good things happening. When’s the shitty part coming? And let’s be ready for it when it does.”’
Right now, the shitty part doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight for the Charlotte three-piece, which also includes bassist Thomas Alverson. Despite their skeptical world view, Adam and Slade are funny and forthcoming during a recent interview at Fuel Pizza. More importantly they’re friends– which is apparent when Slade grabs one of Adam’s gooey cinnamon puff things without asking. Theirs is the best kind of friendship. The kind that doesn’t ask permission.
Back in 2006 Adam and Slade were in a band together called Kimosabe (Adam promises the misspelling was intentional). Then in 2008 Slade moved to Philadelphia and tried his hand at a grown-up life — marriage, in-laws, yardwork, etc… While in Philly he took the time to “really learn to play the guitar” and unsuccessfully tried out for a punk band called Smoker & The Rollers. He assumes he didn’t get the gig because he was too old (either that or he didn’t bring any weed to the tryout).
Then a divorce for Slade in 2011 brought him back to his hometown of Clover, SC. “As a kid all I wanted to do was get the hell out of Clover, now I don’t think I’ll ever leave. I can’t really explain that.” Maybe it’s further proof that all great second coming of age stories involve a move back home (take note thirty-somethings). Meanwhile, Adam flirted with some local success in the Charlotte band Fat Camp. Which Slade confirms was “really good.” Almost immediately upon Slade’s return the two friends reunited and formed Amigo (originally called Old Milwaukee).
So what makes Amigo different than Kimosabe and Fat Camp? “The biggest difference this time around is our intentions,” Adam says. “Before– I just wanted to be in a band, play on the weekends, and have some fun. Now, we’re persistent and clear about what we want and hope for with Amigo.” And what is that exactly? “Well…” Adam says but then stops. Slade chokes down the the rest of the cinnamon dough ball and answers for him “Neither one of us feel like we’re in the careers we belong in. We want Amigo to be our full-time job.” Adam nods and smiles.
Slade insists that Amigo knows who they are — and that puts them one step closer to quitting their day jobs. “We’re more open to opportunities than we’ve ever been,” Slade says. “If something comes up, and it seems like a crazy risk, we’re going to take it. We’ve already had one missed opportunity. It won’t happen again.”
“Plus,” Slade adds “We’ve gotten a lot better at our respective instruments over the years, and we’re more in tune with our influences.” And their influences are a schizophrenic quilt of everything from Wilco to Minor Threat to Townes Van Zandt to Fugazi. The result: a sound akin to putting punk rock and country gospel in a honky tonk-style headlock. It’s a musical risk that shouldn’t work– but does. The type of risk that can only occur in the throes of second chances.
It’s a risk that works in part because of Slade’s playfully honest songwriting, a menagerie of literary and biblical imagery and clever turns of phrase– a style reminiscent of his favorite songwriter Randy Newman. “And not just the Disney shit,” Slade says. “The best songwriters, like Randy Newman, have a hidden agenda. He’s got his cute shtick, but if that’s all you know then you need to listen to his album Good Old Boys. That’s an album with something to say about the South.” Might Could feels like (and is) a good damn southern time, especially on the album-opener “Where Have All the Bad Times Gone,” but Slade admits that he too has a hidden agenda.
On one of the few slow songs on the album,”Old Testaments and Nail Bombs,” a song based on Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood, Slade examines the hypocrisy of fundamental southern Christian beliefs. It’s heavy stuff– the kind of songwriting that only comes with a little bit of age and wisdom. Then on “Gospel Ship (Just in Case)” Slade references the father of erotica, Marquis de Sade– the allusion is unexpected and insightful. “I want to write songs that are satisfying from an intellectual standpoint. I think I have something to say, but I don’t want to play it in a library where everyone quietly claps and nods when the song is over.”
The library may be where Slade finds inspiration for his lyrics but it’s the last place an Amigo show belongs. Amigo is a band best checked out in a live, where they can show off their new now-or-never attitude. “Nobody is really standing still at our shows anymore,” Adam says. “Yeah,” continues Slade. “That’s been the biggest treat over the past year. To go from people just standing around to people who are there to see us– and are singing along and dancing.” Adam interrupts, “And its not just our friends and family anymore.” Slade laughs and shakes his head. “We’re seeing lots of new faces everywhere we go,” Slade continues. “And all the fans I’ve met so far– I like. So that ‘s cool. Really the goal of our live shows is reckless abandonment, and I think we’re accomplishing that.”
But Amigo’s biggest accomplishment, besides Slade’s awesome beard, is that they exist in the same world as the rest of us– a world filled with hopes and dreams, false starts and remorse– and yet they haven’t given up. Instead they repackaged all that baggage into a raw, relentless rock ‘n’ roll album that combines the familiar twang of home with the angsty anti-authoritarian anthems of lost youth– making the listener feel safe and angry at the same time. Might Could is the raucous soundtrack to an enlightened second coming of age story. And it pairs perfectly with a smooshed peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cold can of PBR.