The Swamp Donkey
The difference between good music and bad music is simple: Good music is made by people making music they want to listen to, and bad music is made by people who want to be famous, or get laid, or look cool. When someone makes music they’re passionate about and genuinely enjoy, it’s going to be good, regardless of genre. And whenever anyone makes music for any other reason other than their own listening pleasure, chances are it’s going to suck.
“None of us are chasing the ghost anymore,” says Julian Peach, drummer of the Reno metal band The Swamp Donkey. “We just want to play what we want to listen to.”
“Heavy” is how singer-guitarist Mark Moots describes the band’s sound. “Heavy, but melodic … Crowbar jamming the first three Kiss records.”
It’s rare these days that a band will so openly cite their musical influences. Most contemporary bands like to cast themselves as innovators and shy away from admitting that they’re directly inspired by other bands. But Crowbar, the long-running New Orleans-based sludge metal band, is an immediately recognizable influence on the thick, downtuned sounds of The Swamp Donkey. And the Donkey’s cohesive songwriting and knack for melody reveal an honest affinity for pop metal like Kiss.
Bassist Jason Thomas plays with a thick, fuzzy sound, and he and Peach whip up headbangin’ grooves as guitarists Moots and Richard Wyllie play riffs that reverberate through the skull. Moots takes occasional solos that bend and squeal without ever losing a melodic core. His vocals move from growl to wail but are sung, not screeched, and there, too, are catchy melodies distinct from the guitar lines.
For Moots there’s not much difference between writing a crushing guitar riff and a catchy vocal melody.
“They’re not that different,” he says. “Keep in mind, I want the riffs to be melodic. With that mindset, it’s not a hard bridge to cross.”
The songs are long, with many different parts, but cohesive, and with just the right amount of repetition to satisfy the headbangers. The musicians are all good without being showy. The group is something of an oddity: a mature heavy metal band.
“This doesn’t call for any dick-wagging,” says Moots. “And hopefully, there’s a catchy chorus or something that makes it a song, not just an athletic exercise.”
The band has an impressive pedigree: In the ’90s and early ’00s, Moots, Peach and Thomas all played in December, one of the bigger metal bands to ever come out of Reno. Wyllie played in Freak Hayride and Dorcia. Peach and Thomas also currently play in Above All Things, and Thomas, who apparently likes to keep busy, also plays in Cranium.
Moots started The Swamp Donkey in 2004 with a different lineup, and the current lineup has been in place for six months.
The band’s name is, according to Moots, “A term for a fat, unattractive girl, who, at a bar the end of the night, preys on a drunk guy.”
“Nothing against fat chicks,” chimes in Thomas.
The Swamp Donkey is also a nice description for the band’s sound, which is indeed “swampy,” in the sense of drawing on the sounds of Southern sludge metal, and, like a donkey, the band packs some serious kick.