Gambling-town grit

The Trainwrecks

Mitch Gallagher, Leroy Brownstone, Anthony Wood and James Wilsey are The Trainwrecks.

Mitch Gallagher, Leroy Brownstone, Anthony Wood and James Wilsey are The Trainwrecks.

If Reno had an indigenous sound, what would it be? Something that captures the reckless sensation of being reeling-drunk on a Saturday night in a smoky, creaky-floored honky-tonk? Lonesome freight train whistles late at night? Brothels, nickel slots, whiskey, speed?

That’s what the members of the new “honk-a-billy” sensation, The Trainwrecks, see in Northern Nevada’s grittiest little city. Since last October, the side-burned quartet has been tearing up stages with their version of Reno rockabilly. They play classics by Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Carl Perkins, as well as original works—all infused with a frenetic energy that’s sometimes reminiscent of hardcore punk.

The band, consisting of Mitch Gallagher, Leroy Brownstone, Anthony Wood and James Wilsey, sings about blowing paychecks on “purty” girls, denying paternity on the Jerry Springer Show and true love. They sing about the Reno where Johnny Cash “shot a man … just to watch him die.”

On a frosty night at Great Basin Brewery, there isn’t a boot in the house that isn’t tapping. Sharing the stage with local glam-a-billy favorite, the Saddle Tramps, The Trainwrecks power through songs like “Ring of Fire” and “I Ain’t Your Baby’s Daddy.” The band’s passion sometimes verges on the deranged, especially when lead singer Brownstone takes the mic. Jumping on the railings that separate the stage from the bar, Brownstone teeters precariously, guitar in hand, grinning maniacally, while other band members watch nervously.

“The heck with Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. Country music should be about gettin’ drunk, livin’ fast and dyin’ young,” says Brownstone, a 21-year-old transplant from Aberdeen, Wash. He cites both George Jones and AC/DC as musical influences. It’s largely Brownstone’s gifts as a performer, songwriter and singer that give the band its extra kick. His voice is strong and appealing, his range large and his versatility amazing. But sometimes, the older members of the band feel the need to rein him in.

“No more,” says bass player, Wood, pulling a drink out of Brownstone’s hands before they go on stage.

“They all act like they’re my pa,” Brownstone complains.

It’s the balance between band members that makes The Trainwrecks’ sound unique. On the opposite end of the musical spectrum from Brownstone is Wilsey, the band’s other lead singer. He likes Chris Isaak and Depeche Mode. Wilsey’s style is soulful and his voice buttery. He likes to play love ballads.

It’s an odd combination, and as the two singers trade off on the microphone every couple of songs, it’s easy to foresee conflicts that could make the band’s name apropos. But somehow it all fits together. Girls swoon, punk kids dance, older couples two-step.

“My happiest moment is when I see people dancing, diggin’ it,” Gallagher says.

“Seventy-year-old people dancing,” agrees Wood. “We appeal to a wide audience. We get up there and have fun, and so does the audience. I think sometimes people take music way too seriously.”

The band is planning a tour through rural Nevada—Gabbs, Hawthorne, Winnemucca. They want to play in real honky-tonks, where people still appreciate a little piss and vinegar and old-timey good times.

At Great Basin, the diverse crowd appreciates them just fine. "They really go with the Saddle Tramps," says one audience member, sweaty and flushed from dancing. "If Reno’s ever going to market a sound of its own, I think this would be it."