It hasn’t all been done

May Harpoon

May Harpoon creates original punk that is a far cry from your grandson’s fuzzy three-chord pop-punk.

May Harpoon creates original punk that is a far cry from your grandson’s fuzzy three-chord pop-punk.

Photo By David Robert

With the recent wave of blues and ‘80s revivalists in the indie-music scene (e.g., The White Stripes and Black Keys in the former, The Strokes and Interpol in the latter), there has been a dismissive attack from certain critics taking the form of “this has all been done before.” The implicit point in this attack is that music evolves, so if a musician hasn’t done something on par with adding a wall of distortion or making a guitar sound like turntable scratching, he hasn’t done anything new.

The problem with this interpretation is that people notice how bands sound similar but not how they sound different. Interpol does sound like Joy Division vocally and in mood, but musically they are more reminiscent of The Smiths and Television. It’s a subtle form of musical evolution, and there’s an inherent danger; if you copy your influences rather than personalizing them, you become a parody.

One of the better local bands to walk this fine line and put out solid, original music is May Harpoon (previously called Silver Shield).

“We’re the best band here,” says Patrick Burkett, the drummer, tongue-in-cheek.

A three piece, the band was formed at Lake Tahoe in 2001. “We’re all from little white-trash towns, and we came to Tahoe—the white-trash magnet,” says Burkett.

The band’s sound shares similarities with And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and Fugazi. It’s melodic, crisp, metallic and filled with unusual tunings; this isn’t your grandson’s fuzzy three-chord pop-punk. The band’s newer songs incorporate the use of a baritone guitar, played by Aldo Fernandez, with David Thornton playing more lead parts.

“No other band in Reno or Tahoe sounds like us,” says Thornton.

“When we were first starting, we’d do things like playing three chords in a four-chord pattern,” explains Fernandez.

“We’re trying to push music as a whole,” says Burkett. “If you listen, we’re pushing the boundaries of structure. We’re really anti-blues.”

Fernandez and Thornton split vocal duty, each singing their own songs. The contrast in styles is apparent: Fernandez’s lyrics are more abstract and metaphorical ("Hangman in the tightrope band"), while Thornton’s create a narrative, usually from the perspective of a different character (the song “Origin Maker,” about serial arsonist John Orr, is a good example).

“We’re not trying to do the I-love-you-you-love-me bullshit,” says Thornton.

The band has already put out two CDs, and a third will be recorded this summer. On CD, their music has a claustrophobic quality that sounds more aggressive live. The newer baritone guitar songs also hint at retro dance punk, which Fernandez admits is an influence.

“Reno is still growing out of nu metal. It could have a music explosion,” says Fernandez.

Burkett adds: "Hopefully we can turn some kids around."