Only rock ’n’ roll
Rock ’n’ roll trio Memory Motel often starts its sets off with a song called “Once Upon a Time (About a Girl),” a bluesy garage rock tune clearly and unabashedly indebted to the White Stripes. Memory Motel’s 17-year-old vocalist and guitarist, Chris Gibson, uses an Airline guitar and Digitech Whammy pedal, both tools straight out of Jack White’s toolbox.
But then, just a song or two later, the band shifts gears for “Reno,” an acoustic tune about wanting to move away from the titular town, with a folk rock vibe that sounds like something from side two of Led Zeppelin IV.
Like Led Zep and the Stripes, Memory Motel plays both heavy, bluesy rockers and folk ditties—and songs that combine both. The band members also incorporate some electronica elements and unusual instrumentation. Bassist Sam Ashlock, 18, also plays synthesizer and the charango, a Peruvian lute that looks and sounds like something halfway between a ukulele and a mandolin.
Songs like “Of Life and Death,” feature warm organ sounds from the electronic keyboard and a warbling, tremolo-heavy guitar tone.
“My goal to shoot for is garagey space-rock,” says Gibson.
His speaking voice, like his singing voice, is pleasant and soft. He says he takes his lyric-writing inspiration from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and he likes his lyrics vague and open to interpretation.
“I just write what any kid who’s 17 sings about,” he says.
Radiohead is another noticable influence, especially in some of Memory Motel’s extended instrumental passages.
Interestingly, guitarist Gibson is the band member most interested in electronic textures, and Ashlock, who plays synthesizer on many of the songs, is actually the rock ’n’ roll purist.
“We like to play what people want to hear,” says Ashlock.
“He’s good at reminding me that this is a form of pop music,” says Gibson.
The band started as a duo but recently added Ashlock’s brother Ben, 14, on drums.
“Sam and I can both play just about everything—” says Gibson.
“—except drums,” chimes in Ben, with a sly grin.
The band name is also a Rolling Stones song, but Gibson says the Stones are not a primary influence.
“The Stones song is named after an actual motel that Andy Warhol used to own,” he says. “We took the name from the same place they did.”
These are young guys with ambition that might exceed their current abilities. Ben, for example, will sometimes play really cool fills that don’t quite land back on the beat. Gibson’s influences are readily apparent, and Sam will occasionally make the common bass player mistake of letting notes ring out a little too long. But the enthusiasm, open-mindedness, creativity and potential are there—expect good things in the future.
The band sounds best when they incorporate a little looseness into their songs. “El Cortez,” a fuzzy, garage-rock blow-out, gives the band members a chance to stretch and rock out. A little bit more no-holds-barred rockin’ and rollin’ and Memory Motel’s youthful roughness around the edges could mature into adult rough and readiness.