American Minor's debut album comes as a complete surprise, sounding like a missive from an alternate, more perfect universe where Television opened for Bad Company and the Gun Club toured with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
American Minor are five working-class boys from rural West Virginia who write songs about real life instead of their record collections. They know that Grand Funk Railroad was just the MC5 with a better-looking lead singer. Most importantly, American Minor knows more about living in house trailers than living off trust funds.
Produced by Christopher Thorn & Brad Smith (founding members of Blind Melon) and mixed by Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck, Foo Fighters, The Vines), American Minor?s eleven songs display a natural confidence and ease that spring from a lifetime of shared experiences growing up in Huntingon, West Virginia.
Unfettered by the rules and taboos of a local scene, the band?s sound developed naturally. "We didn?t have anyone telling us what and wasn?t cool," says McCutcheon. "Led Zeppelin and Pavement, Neil Young and Fugazi, Tom Waits and Elliott Smith, it was all rock music to us." That freedom allowed American Minor to develop something special: a completely contemporary sound that?s firmly grounded in classic rock records made before anyone in the band was born.
Even though American Minor played its first shows in 2002, the band?s roots go all the way back to the 2nd grade, when guitarist Josh Gragg and drummer Josh Knox were both sent to the principal?s office for setting off bottle rockets at recess. While waiting to see the man in charge, they discovered a shared interest in Aerosmith?s Pump album (especially the "Love in an Elevator" video). Gragg and Knox remained fast friends through high school, eventually landing coveted jobs at the Teays Valley Dairy Queen.
"The DQ was definitely the prestige job among kids in our hometown," says Robert McCutcheon. "Once you?d worked there long enough, you got to change the letters on the marquee out side the restaurant, using one of those long magnetic poles to reach the sign. Since a new message on the DQ sign qualified as big news in our town, everyone thought the sign was hilarious and being the Sign Guy made you a local celebrity."
DQ owner Jeff Diehl let Gragg and Knox use his barn?s attic as a practice space and they were soon joined by singer Robert McCutcheon. Bruno signed on as bassist once he promised to let the band use his Marshall JCM 800 amplifier. "His gear was nicer than ours, so we definitely had to let him in the band," says Josh Knox. "Of course, once he was in, he actually had to learn how to play."
Those Dairy Queen paychecks also paid for the band?s first van, a brown Chevy with a skull license plate. The van carried the band through a year-and-a-half of constant touring before breaking down on the wrong side of Memphis.
That breakdown coincided with Bud Carroll?s first out-of-town gigs with American Minor. "I was so eager to get out on the road that I skipped out on my finals at Marshall University," says Carroll. "I had no idea what we were in for."
The van raced South to play a big-money show at LSU in Baton Rouge, LA that would finance the rest of the tour. Unfortunately, the van gave it up in the middle of a Memphis hailstorm. "The only repairmen we could find were a couple of crackheads with some busted-up tools," says Carroll. "We were desperate to make the gig and we promised them anything ? money, drugs, women ? if they could fix the van in time for us to make it to LSU. Not surprisingly, they took two days to fix the van and we missed the show. We ended up crashing on the beach in Biloxi with no money and no tour. Eventually, we limped back to West Virginia by driving only in short spurts at night to keep the van from overheating. It was a sad day, but we had to put the van down when we got home."
Soon after the funeral, the band, still in mourning, packed up, left West Virginia, and locked themselves in a farmhouse outside Champaign, Illinois--spending the next 18 months writing and recording, emerging only to play shows and try out material.
American Minor caught the attention of producers Brad Smith and Christopher Thorn, and upon entering the studio, everything clicked right away. "They definitely created a small-town rock and roll vibe in the studio," says McCutcheon. "We ate lots of catfish and fried chicken and left with a demo that for the first time ever, captured the sound of the band on tape."
Jive signed the band immediately. Another year of songwriting, touring, and dates with Jet, Phantom Planet and the North Mississippi Allstars followed before the band reentered the studio with Thorn and Smith in fall 2004.
The band brought a collection of songs that combined keen observation with monster guitar riffs. "We didn?t think we had to choose between being sensitive singer-songwriters or a monster rock band," says McCutcheon. "From the beginning we wanted to write rock and roll that did more than tell everyone what badasses we are."
"Buffalo Creek" retells the story of a 1972 West Virginia dam collapse and flood that was caused by negligent strip mining. "Mr. Queen" describes a standoff between police and a neighbor barricaded in his apartment, threatening suicide. "One Last Supper" is a particularly haunting condemnation of President Bush?s free exercise of the death penalty while governor of Texas that segues into the fate of soliders and citizens in the Iraqi war.
American Minor emerged in early 2005 with an album of remarkable ambition and confidence. "We all learned to play in this band," says Bruno. "American Minor is the sound that the five of us make when we play together. None of us know what it?s like to be in another band and we?ve all known each other forever."
At a time when too much technology and too many stylists have paralyzed rock & roll with a synthetic sheen, American Minor breaks through the plastic with eleven timeless songs that capture an American sound that?s equal parts Skynyrd and the Pixies.
American Minor is permanently on tour, so look for them in your town soon. For now, you've got this album. Use it loudly and wisely.