Hit the road
Unusual rock/metal band Four Stroke Baron motors away with a European tour and nationally released album
One memorable offstage moment during Four Stroke Baron’s recent European tour was straight out of the cinema, or at least a popular rock doc that’s streaming somewhere. At 2 a.m., near Warsaw, Poland, the Reno band left their bass player behind.
When they talked about tour highlights over beers about a month after the tour, the members of Four Stroke Baron—guitarist Kirk Watt, drummer Matt Vallarino and bassist Keegan Ferrari—laughed about this incident, but at the time it was a bit rattling. Vallarino unspooled the story, which started as he woke up from trying to sleep on a squeaking, noisy tour bus.
“I checked my phone and saw four messages from Keegan,” Vallarino said. “So I looked for him in his bunk, and he wasn’t there. ‘Holy fuck, Keegan’s not on the bus!’ So I called him back, and he’s just huffing and puffing: ‘Dude. The bus. Left me.’ And I’m like, ‘Dude, we can’t turn around, man, we’re behind schedule.'”
Of course, the bus did come back around to pick Ferrari up, who was talking to his girlfriend on the phone before it pulled away. As it happens, his watch was about 15 minutes off so he missed the 2 a.m. call to get back on the bus from a stop on the road.
“So I start sprinting, trying to catch up to the bus, and I’m at eye-level with the driver and they didn’t see me,” Ferrari said. “And I’m screaming, ‘Wait! Stop! Wait, wait wait!'”
Apart from that touring rite of passage—whether you are in a bus or your buddy’s van—Four Stroke Baron’s 14-date tour wasn’t really ripped from a screenplay.
“We don’t have tour stories like you hear: ‘Oh, the women and the drugs,'” Watt said. “We did get really hammered and hung out with the band, though,” Vallarino adds.
Oh, and they did go bowling at a German truck stop with the touring bands on a day off.
So, it’s not exactly Crüe-worthy, but it is an exciting time for this intriguing band that has taken a less obvious path toward international tours and national record contracts. From its ‘80s-pop-meets-snarling-metal sound to its way with a bizarre lyric, Four Stroke Baron’s not playing by the rules—yet it’s paying off.
Sweet smell of success
For starters, Four Stroke Baron only played Reno, Los Angeles and Oregon before its run of February shows in Europe. The bandmates played in Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
The band’s management got them the tour, with some help from the headliners, the excellent jazz-meets-metal band Shining. Their founder and sax player, Jorgen Munkeby, made a guest appearance on 4SB’s “Planet Silver Screen,” which was released late last year on national metal label Prosthetic Records. They signed the band after hearing their self-released work on the Bandcamp music site.
The tour was hectic, with only two days off. “It was back-to-back-to-back shows with three showers for the whole tour and we smelled great,” Vallarino said.
The reactions were positive for the most part, and the band loved the camaraderie between the other touring bands and crew. They also got to meet a ton of new fans, sign some autographs and sell a ton of albums and merch.
“It was just a very positive reaction,” Vallarino said. “Everyone there was super nice.”
Now, back down to Earth as well as Reno, the members of Four Stroke Baron hope to join another band’s U.S. tour sometime this year, but in the meantime they will be playing one-off shows when they can. That includes the Spring Meltdown metal festival on May 18 at Whiskey Dick’s in South Lake Tahoe.
The journey to being a band with some buzz started from humble beginnings. In 2011, Watt answered a Craiglist “band wanted” ad from Vallarino. With another bassist for a time, the duo just played around with song ideas and genres, with no ambitions to play shows or even record.
“We were just hanging out and jamming, and we did that for several years, but I was starting to get kind of bored with it,” Watt said. “One day, we just hit on the idea to play this weird, really sludgy stuff, just fun and easy-to-play metal.”
From there, the band released a self-titled EP in 2014 and an album, King Radio, in 2015. By this time, they had to find a new bassist. Watt knew Ferrari and asked him to jam with the band in 2016.
“We still didn’t have any plans to do some crazy live thing,” Vallarino said. “We just wanted to put our music up for free online so more people could hear it.”
The folks at Prosthetic Records did hear it on Bandcamp, which is known for its cadre of committed music fans. They liked the band enough to give them a shot at a national release for their next record, Planet Silver Screen. The results have been great, as rock and metal playlists on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have led Four Stroke Baron to a much wider audience than just their pals in Reno.
“We have also been published in a bunch of magazines now, and the reviews have been fairly positive,” Ferrari said. “There’s been nothing that’s overwhelmingly bad. Some just say, ‘This is a band that’s just starting out, but I think they can go somewhere.'”
Work in progress
Here’s where explaining what Four Stroke Baron does gets tricky. Yes, they are on a label with metal bands, but they instead write songs that cross genre lines like bootleggers cross county lines with the cops on their tails. UK post-punk, ‘90s noise rock, straight-up classic rock and pop, and stoner/doom metal all get a place at the table for a heady mix that gets its hooks into you once you get acclimated.
Plus, they don’t write conventional metal lyrics, although they did point out that there is a lot of death at the end of their songs. Written collectively and often coming to the group in the form of wacky dreams or crazy ideas, they include songs about a kid who is struck by lightning, a cop who is really happy about a new pair of shoes, and a professional bear wrestler who meets a gruesome, ignoble ending. (That last one, “A Matter of Seconds,” will be the band’s next video.)
The band knows it’s in a weird genre spot, but it isn’t going to change, either.
“I think we’d be better marketed as an alternative rock band, if we were to set up the best expectations,” Watt said. “I just like metal production, but on pop songs.”
“Since our sound is so different, we get labeled as progressive metal, but then you can see where we’re probably not progressive enough for some people,” Ferrari said. “There’s no shredding or 18-minute songs. So they may start with a notion that isn’t correct and then grade it on that.”
“I think one of the coolest complements we got on tour was from this guy who said, ‘We know you guys aren’t a metal band—you’re a pop band that plays heavy-ass music,'” Vallarino said. “That’s a good way to explain it.”
Reno rock band Four Stroke Baron playing at Club Pralnia in Wroclaw, Poland, during their recent European tour. Photo by Andrzej Olechnowski, courtesy Four Stroke Baron
During their tour, Four Stroke Baron played a progressive metal event called Complexity Fest in Haarlem, the Netherlands. Photo by Hughes Vanhoucke, courtesy Four Stroke Baron