Blank Range: Nashville's Avant-Garde Rockers - Rolling Stone
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Blank Range: Nashville’s Avant-Garde Rockers

Indie group makes its mark in a talent-loaded town by thinking (and playing) out of the box

Blank RangeBlank Range

Blank Range have opened for Spoon and the Drive-By Truckers.

Don VanCleave

Their sound: That magical combination of dissonant, Pavement-esque and pavement-ready garage rock & roll with a keen grasp of how to make it all wildly melodic — thanks to super-sticky riffs, restrained psychedelia and a sense of composition that’s restless, surprising and pretty fearless.

Big Break: There is certainly no shortage of bands in Music City, so like many fledgling artists in the saturated town, Blank Range’s first battle was to simply get some time on stage. One evening, they played a quick set at a showcase dedicated to up-and-coming talent called New Faces Night, hosted at local club the Basement. The venue’s owner, Mike Grimes, took an instant liking to the quintet (with Jonathon Childers on guitar/vocals, Matt Novotny on drums, Jonathan Rainville on keys, Grant Gustafson on vocals/baritone guitar and Taylor Zachry on bass) and started slotting them in whenever he could.

“He was really into it, and started giving us calls every time anybody dropped off the bill at the Basement,” says Rainville. “So we started playing there two or three times a month for a good stretch of time. That’s when we saw our first response and decided to get this thing going.”

After steadily building a following, they entered The Road to Bonnaroo, a competition for Nashville-based bands that rewards the winner with a slot at the famed Manchester festival. They won – and gigs opening for Spoon, Alice in Chains and the Drive-By Truckers soon followed.

Why We’re Listening: In an age when you’re as likely to find a synthesizer on a rock record as a mandolin, Blank Range play music that uses tools like distortion pedals, ample fuzz and out-of-the-box vamps to mold their sound – not the trendy tool du jour. Their 2013 EP, Phase II, stands out as not being particularly vintage (a common point of view in a town enamored with the past) without ringing as cloyingly futuristic, either: It’s a natural evolution from the likes of Seattle grunge and post-new wave, the Strokes-inspired New York without heading the way of anything overly orchestral, intentionally weird or dripped in throwback blues. Songs like “Last Crash Landing” and “Same Sun” meld whirling, Seventies style piano with clangy guitar riffs that run an unpredictable line from Childers’ and Gustafson’s dual vocals. It’s inventive rock & roll free of prefixes and modifiers.

They also have an ace work ethic that has kept them on the road, writing a new album and holding down day jobs back at home. “We have been working harder and harder at songwriting as a band,” says Childers about preparation for their forthcoming debut LP. “The last couple things we put out, we recorded them right when we wrote them. But we had a great chance this summer to tour new songs and work on the vocal harmonies, and think about orchestration a little bit more.” They also took plenty of advice from some of the storied acts they opened for. “Mostly to trust yourself and what you’re doing,” he adds.

Favorite Nashville Music Venues: “The Basement is really near and dear to our hearts, not only because of the staff and ownership and because it sounds awesome, but they gave us some great opportunities in the beginning when it was really hard to book shows,” says Childers. “They are really good about that with a lot of bands in town, getting people out there and giving them a chance.”

Before the Basement (or Bonnaroo) the band also took advantage of Nashville’s house show scene. Adds Gustafson, “Early on, before we were playing in venues, we played a lot of house shows. There is a decent house show circuit in Nashville and those are a great time.” They also give nods to record store Fond Object, which has held up the spirit and intimacy of those performances in an in-store environment.

Nashville Scoop: “One thing that’s really good about Nashville is its supportive group of musicians,” says Childers. “And everybody here is really good. Not that that that’s not true in other scenes, but it pushes you to be the best when you are kind of being compared to [others] and there is so much friendly competition. But the sharing of ideas is really nice.”

“People are really avid listeners around here,” adds Gustafson. “Everyone is already checking out new music or older more obscure stuff. The record store circuit really helps out with that, and the community is really aware here.”

Aside from the creative scene, they also like to urge friends and visitors to see the town as they do — checking out local venues like the Stone Fox, record stores, and getting outside to places like East Nashville’s Shelby Park. “I always try to get them to eat hot chicken, too,” says Childers. “Especially Prince’s.”

Watch for yourself: “Scrapin’,” off of their first cassette release, snarls like the product of an imaginary Lou Reed-Mac Demarco punk band, packed with so many clever, catchy riffs and rip-rolling percussion it’s hard to believe it all clocks in at just under three minutes.

In This Article: Blank Range


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