Punk Rock Redneck
A founding member of The Oi! Scouts and later Squiggy almuni, Gabe has played in many bands and has been a huge supporter of the NJ Punk for decades. In search of something new Gabe picked up an acoustic and started mixing his punk rock attitude and spirit with the Country sounds of his youth. Upon relocating to Nashville Gabe picked up even more inspiration to create this great material that can be enjoyed by anyone! A truly spectacular sound, reminds me of old Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson mixed with the driving rhythm of Charlie Daniels and with lyrics about real life, there's no taking the 'nice' approach here for the sake of airplay, this is true working class country! For PUNK or COUNTRY lovers!!!! 'Ask Gabe Zander about how unique he is and he'll wave you off. 'Plenty of people have done what I'm doing now,' he insists. Ask what his songs - those raw, sometimes nasty, often moving, always eloquent songs - say about him as a writer, and he'll throw you a look and snap, 'They say I've got something on my mind and I wrote a song about it. There's nothing special about that.' He is, luckily, wrong on both counts. The proof is on Punk Rock Redneck, his yet-to-be-released, 11-song debut CD. Not to get too poetic about it, but this music has a sense of landscape, although it's not exactly a postcard-perfect vista. Instead, it takes us to a place in the American soul where two rivers crash noisily and dangerously into each other. One rises from the wellspring of pure country, where Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, and further downstream, Johnny Cash were nourished. The other comes from a more devastated land and runs dark with the righteous grime that once baptized the Misfits, the Ramones, and the Germs. These currents bust open the dam with the opener, 'Bobby Lee,' a brutal hoedown/murder ballad that bristles with graphic threats to 'beat you blue and black with a baseball bat and swing you by the neck from a tree.' Next is 'Whiskey Heroes', a slanderous barroom brawler with music that gives definitive testimony to Zander's hard-rock roots, while still 'keeping it Country'. They slow to a solemn flow through 'Harder Time', a tragedy about a twenty-year-old marijuana dealer who is murdered in jail after being turned in by a 'so-called friend', and 'Old Prison,' whose bare lyrics paint a picture of hopeless injustice, and then turn bone cold in 'I Could've Killed You.' For a moment light sparkles on the surface of 'Next to You,' a catchy, romantic ballad whose pristine acoustic texture disguises only for a moment the obsession that surges in it's deeper, darker currents, only to rage back into the fighting spirit with the title track, a Bluegrass-Hardcore hybrid called 'Punk Rock Redneck'. Throw in a slow, passionate love ballad called 'Andrea's Song' and the closer, a drinking sing-along entitled 'Steel Reserve' (which Zander brags with a most good-natured arrogance as being 'the first Country song about malt liquor', which, as far as I know, may or may not be true), and you have a rickety, State-Fair roller-coaster ride in your stereo. Listen to the album front to back, and by the time you reach the chorus of 'Another Pint of Whiskey' (I'll save that for the listener), you realize that Zander has achieved a rare epiphany. In his music, punk and country, romance and violence, fine craftsmanship and anarchy, collide on the common ground they uncomfortably share. Over thrashing drums and whining guitars Zander sings each song's story, with laconic irony or in a confrontational snarl, depending on the moment. Everything, from the music to the intensity of the vocal to the narrative itself, erupts from some place strange yet familiar to those who have forgotten or learned to ignore the passions that life can stir. Zander reaches this place precisely because he isn't the kind of 'artist' or media creation that fixates the industry in his adopted hometown of Nashville. 'I ain't no poser,' he insists. 'I don't wear the right clothes and 'make' music. I'm not a musician. A musician is somebody who makes music. What I do comes out of me because of who I am. It comes from what I see around me. Really, I'm a reactionary - a crybaby.' Again, he's wrong, at least about being a crybaby, but we wouldn't say it to his face. Zander is tall, with a face like a young Popeye. His long arms are well muscled. He's not shy about carrying a hunting knife on his belt. His tattoos - Eddie, the zombie Iron Maiden mascot, and Homer Simpson with a Mohawk haircut, to name only a couple - offer a pretty good insight into his outlook. Yet Zander is no stranger to the finer sides of culture. He was born and raised in Sussex County, Northwestern New Jersey, in the Kittatinny Mountains that connect to the Appalachian chain, and raised with an appreciation for the wisdom of both the academic and the working man. His father, an English professor, published three books of poetry and also wrote songs with titles like 'Goin' to New Jersey Blues' and 'Does Your Mother Know You're Sleeping with a Hippie?' Bluegrass and earlier country was the music of choice in this household and the foundation of what has become Zander's sound. But when Gabe was just four or five years old, his older brother introduced him to rock & roll, and suddenly Billy Idol and Spinal Tap found places in his pantheon. By his early teens he was seriously into punk and hardcore; that, and a desire to perform that stems back to before he can remember, led him to form or join bands like the Oi! Scouts, Squiggy, the Outsiders, and the Hate Trash Disasters. Once he got out on his own Zander supported himself through doing construction and, for two years, working in a warehouse until he was fired for leading a failed effort to unionize. For a while he thought about 'going savage' and surviving in the wild, 'hunting and gathering and building lean-to shelters. I've done that for really brief periods, but I've always come back. I've always got to impress someone, I guess.' And so he roamed to Nashville, a town he has come to love and despise. Through solo gigs as a street performer on the sidewalks of Lower Broadway, outside of tourist-crammed honky-tonks, and gigs at clubs with the growing number of local musicians who, drawn to his music, were willing to work for the door, or for nothing at all, he fell in with a group of singer/songwriters - Kenneth Brian, Phil Hummer, Joshua Black Wilkins, Chele Frizell - who share his conviction that country and punk, when brought together, uncover a special kind of truth. 'What we're doing isn't different from what Willie, Waylon, and Johnny Cash did before us, except that the times are different,' Zander insists. 'More things have had a chance to influence us. But we're not trying to exemplify or mix anything; it's just what comes out of us. I'll repeat and repeat and repeat that until everybody gets the message.' Even within this company, though, Zander has a distinctive identity. His shows are the stuff of legend, driven by manic rants, bare-chested histrionics, and complete unpredictability. Bits and pieces of what he offers onstage have been hinted at on the occasional demo. But capturing the full flavor had to wait until one fateful night, when a stranger approached him at the Bluegrass Inn. 'Bart Weilberg, a very popular session guitarist who works on Lower Broadway, came up and mentioned that he'd seen me at a show I'd done, just me and my guitar, and asked about working with me,' Zander says. 'At the time I wanted to do everything acoustic, and he's definitely an electric player. But then I went next door and saw the band that he was sitting in with do their version of 'Folsom Prison Blues'. When Bart hit his solo, that changed everything, and I told him I definitely, totally had to work with him.' Weilberg called a bunch of other musicians (including BR549 bassist Mark Miller, fiddler Avery Anderson, 'Mandolin Mike' Slusser, and drummers J. J. Murphy and Larry London) who were maybe getting a little tired of limping through dreary demo dates, and brought them together with Zander at the studio of Scott McEwen, whose profile as bassist/producer with Rosie Flores and Hank Williams III, to name a couple, helped make him the top-call sound craftsman within Nashville's alternative community. What they came up with was Punk Rock Redneck. Not just one of the most provocative debuts among Music City's indie artists, this album is a portent of things to come, like dark clouds rumbling unexpectedly overhead. It takes just one spin to make the central point, which is that Gabe Zander is a talent to reckon with by any measure of songwriting, performance, or generally causing trouble. Yeah, definitely that last one.... To use his own words: 'Any 'Country Music Revolution' isn't gonna be won by a bunch of jackass musicians who think they're better than everybody else, playing music that they think is better than everything else in bars full of other jackasses who think they're better than everybody else; it has to be treated like complete and total warfare and will require actual strategies and action; that's why so few, if any, of us are actually getting anywhere with it. Music ain't nothing if it's just being made for the sake of making music and there ain't nothing behind it from within.' Here, of course, he's right. If that makes Gabe Zander a hero, so be it. If not, then Punk Rock Redneck is a harbinger of heroic changes to come, from somebody out there. Either way, for now, there's an album to put out. Robert L. Doerschuk Former editor, Musician magazine.