Fear and lounging
Folk punk, like many genres, has a reputation of being played out.
It’s easily pigeonholed into two main categories: political “folk the system” punk songs ferociously spat over grimy acoustic guitar strings, or cutesy “remember that year after high school?” punk songs gently spat over those same acoustic guitar strings (maybe with a ukelele for good measure).
Reno’s newest folk punk band, Bat Country, fortunately fits into neither.
In a dark living room a few blocks east of the University of Nevada, Reno, four of the five members lounge on armchairs and footstools, arranged haphazardly around a two-piece drum set.
“Let’s play that one … uh, ’Role Models’?” says Shane Heimerdinger, his face lit by a few strips of sunlight cutting through the blinds. “And I want you to play harder there. Harder and faster.”
The drummer, introduced only as Cactus Head, nods in agreement and the band jumps into an upbeat tune.
Heimerdinger, the band’s singer and rhythm guitarist, launches into a fast, almost rapped verse.
Jared George follows, running his fingers up and down the fret board of his acoustic bass guitar at a similar rate.
Heimerdinger’s lyrics seem to shift seamlessly between political, satirical and introspective, calling people out for blind consumerism, just as often as calling himself out for laziness. (He later sings, “My hands smell like drugs, probably because all the drugs I’ve been doing.”)
There is a definite grunge influence here. Not only the lyrical content, but in the way they’re delivered. Most of the words are sort of nasally stretched, with just a touch of throat gravel—a practice easily done wrong, but executed well in this case.
Jace Godbey’s lead guitar occasionally echoes the vocal melodies. He picks away at an electric hollow body turned down to 1, where it sits just below the acoustic instruments.
Whereas Heimerdinger’s left hand lives near the head stock, playing mostly open chords, Godbey’s hand hovers in the middle strings of the fifth fret, gliding through scales and melodies not dissimilar to George’s walking bass. He gives the sound a polished dynamic.
Patrick Kelly is the last member—he couldn’t make it to this practice—and plays banjo and mandolin.
The band always plays (mostly) acoustic, but not necessarily out of choice.
“We have a lot of serious equipment barriers,” says Heimerdinger, citing two broken guitars and the lack of an electric bass. He says it’s too difficult to fix electric instruments. “Acoustic’s just easier.”
The name Bat Country, lifted from a line in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, seems to be a fitting reference. The band has a bit of a Hunter S. Thompson feel—a sort of hectic, but oddly collected vibe.
“Sure, Hunter S. Thompson is a big influence,” says Heimerdinger, “Him and Vonnegut and Hemingway.”
Both a touch of Vonnegut’s satirical bite and a dash of Hemingway’s blunt cynicism shine through.
The music itself has a healthy mix of Nirvana and Andrew Jackson Jihad, though they list Portland-based band The Taxpayers as their number one influence—a similar take on folk punk, though fully electric with a four-piece drum set.
Powering through their practice set, George chimes in with a suggestion. “Let’s play ’Dino Song.’” He turns to me, “This is our joke song.”
Godbey adds, “We have a few of those.”
“Yeah,” Heimerdinger agrees, “This one’s about the zombie crawl.”
Each song has a jam feel, but most last less than a couple minutes—a practice most likely developed in their numerous previous punk bands.
They’re a newer band, they say, but it’s hard to mark an exact start due to a long process of formation. They seem to be settling in just fine. They can’t stop here. This is Bat Country.