”It’s oh so quiet…. Shhhh, shhhh, it’s oh so still…” In the summer of 1995, Bjork prophesied where society would be in the weeks leading up to the release of Cashville, the debut album by glittering cowpunk glam rockers, Volk. As the nation emerges from a year in pandemic-related hibernation, it’s time to ‘blow blow blow a fuse and fall in love’ — because the devil has never cut loose better than in the album’s lead-in track, Welcome to Cashville.’
We’ve featured Volk a few times here on Popdose. Their blitzkrieg breakthrough single, Honey Bee’, was one of my top tracks of 2018 and is now one of my favorite songs of all time (you’ll find it lurking on the new album on Side 1, Cut 3. But if this is your first introduction to the band, let’s quickly go back to the very beginning. While one could imagine a band like Volk being birthed in some two bit honkey tonk on the outskirts of town, guitarist Chris Lowe and drummer/lead vocalist Eleot Reich first met up in Berlin at a brothel-turned-bar named Madame Claude’s. When you hear their music, that origin story sounds about right.
What started out acoustic and folksy, steadily grew louder and louder — hence the name — folk fired up with pure voltage. Now, in just about every Volk song, you’ll find a hell’s bells mashup of hair metal, country & western, punk, Americana and glam rock. Back in December, when Popdose premiered the latest single from Cashville, the band gave me an advance listen to the full album. I’ve let it sit, simmer, boil over, and burn through my ear holes, body and soul in the months since. It truly is one for the ages. Much like how Guns n’ Roses came out of the gates delivering a flawless album, a feat that took most other rock icons 2 to 5 albums to summit, Cashville is on-track to be my favorite album of the year — and let’s just say, 2021 is shaping up to be a monster of a year with loads and loads of amazing albums dropping weekly. While the competition may be tough, Volk come outta the gates swinging.
To launch this album in high style, I asked Chris and Eleot to fire up the vintage Cutlass and take me for a spin around Cashville. Here is your track by track VIP tour:
Welcome to Cashville
ELEOT: This song’s M.O. is to pop the modern music industry square in the face; it’s over-the-top, eardrum bursting, and brazenly sarcastic.
CHRIS: It’s a requiem for the fading rock anthem, but it also takes aim at the cacophony of assembly-line and algorithm driven fodder that has infected so many genres and driven live music to the fringe.
CHRIS: I wrote this song after a heavy dive into the Bakersfield sound around the fall of 2018, after a good two years of living and soaking in the Country World ethos. I wanted to write a guitar riff in the style of Pete Anderson and combine it with lyrical stylings and vocal delivery of Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens. The breakdown and outro of the song repeat the Volk trope of trying to replicate sweet country twang that always devolves into duo garage rock. I literally call this song my love letter to Dwight Yoakam.
ELEOT: Honey Bee’ is an ode to pining; that kind of sickly longing for the person you love. It was written in the summer of 2016 in the midst of a long-term relationship that was slowly and painfully burning out. There’s this real psychosis that love can trigger and I think ‘Honey Bee’ really captures that irate and anxious attitude, from its speed to its chaos. It’s just this full-speed-ahead train with no intention of stopping, much like the hopeless optimism of a 20-something year old in love. It had to be ferocious, and it had to be incessant, because that’s how we like our rock n’ roll.
I Fed Animals
ELEOT: I Fed Animals’ was written back around 2014 in Berlin. It’s actually the first track we played loud as a duo together, the first day I sat down on the drums that had been left in my apartment. I was listening heavily to Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Big Mama Thornton, Blind Willie McTell, and The Gories. It’s about giving into something you know is unhealthy out of outright desperation. It’s my F-you to the good girl mythos that I’ve been entrenched in my whole life. Feed Animals’ has sort of become my mantra for Do Whatever the F*ck You Want.’
ELEOT: Atlanta Dog’ is a combo drug that Waylon Jennings once took with his drummer at one point — I think it was part Peruvian heroin and cocaine. This song was inspired in part by the jovial honky-tonk tunes of Austin swamp-country band, Mayeux & Broussard, and the brazenly honest nature of Sarah Shook’s ballads — under the great umbrella of outlaw country by way of Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver. It doesn’t boast about any kind of rough-housing or substance abuse, rather it states that in lieu of the outlaw mythos, touring full-time is exhausting on it’s own accord. From a DIY band and a female’s perspective, Atlanta Dog’ is a wink at the past and a push towards the present, the reality of working as a live musician, one in which we can’t afford to indulge as they have in the past.
Old Palestine (TX)
CHRIS: This is one of the earliest songs I ever wrote, sometime around 2013. The song is named after my hometown, mispronounced Palesteeene, Texas. Being so far from home, I felt I had a clearer view of the undealt with societal/cultural issues of my hometown, the South, and US in general, particularly in regards to dealing with national sins of slavery, Jim Crow, and today’s stubborn decline of white supremacy. Because the South, and white culture in general (represented by my hometown in the song), can’t acknowledge, much less ask for forgiveness for its wrongdoings — conversely taking an Ahab like pride in its shameful legacy — we’re all stuck in a festering, rotting, time warp slowly dragging us all down. We’ve never learned as a nation to say we are sorry. As Frederick Douglass said, when one man chains another, he chains himself.’
CHRIS: I wrote this song trying to get a young lady from Yorkshire, England, to go on a date with me. The deal was I had to make certain references (a monkey, Earl Grey tea, etc.) that the lady stipulated had to be used in the song. I did fit them all in and they actually helped me to complete the song in one sitting. I never got the date, but it is one of our favorite songs to play. The sonic style is me very much trying to write a Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern era, country song. As we’ve played it over the years, the song has morphed more into a satire on romantic comedy; the lady in the song doesn’t owe the narrator her affections; men need to come to realize that women are not just prizes to be won and it’s toxic to villainize or shame them for not reciprocating feelings.
To us, Snake Farm’ is the epitome of what good rock n’ roll songwriting can be; such a ridiculous premise, acknowledged in the chorus, but fully developed with vivid, expertly textured storytelling by Ray Wylie Hubbard. You fall in love with the masterfully realized characters of Romona and the Snake Farm itself, in all its slithering, reptilian imperfections. We felt the song fit perfectly well into our dirt/glam aesthetic, revving up the acid rock approach… it all just sounds nasty…and Ray said he liked it to boot.
CHRIS: Another of my early songs and arguably the first song I played when Eleot and I met in Berlin in 2013. I grew up Catholic in the Bible belthole of East Texas, so I’ve got a plethora of complexes dealing with fear of eternal damnation, undying Catholic guilt, religious institutional hypocrisy, all the fun. This song is an attempted exorcism of my upbringing, letting go of my anger at flawed human beings poorly interpreting millennia old texts, coming to an armistice with the idea of a supreme being. The ending of the song echoes Huckleberry Finn rebelling from southern ethics: then I’ll go to hell!’
ELEOT: This song is a lamentation on limited vision. It was written back in Berlin, when Volk was still piecing itself together. It’s really about pushing past all the bullshit that formulates what you imagine you can and cannot do. If you’re only looking towards a specific horizon you’re missing all these other facets in the atmosphere. When it came time to arrange this song we took heavy inspiration from the work of Ennio Morricone whom we love for his dramatic and mesmerizing Spaghetti Western compositions.
Simple Western Song (the SECRET TRACK — well for vinyl at least)
This is the first song we ever wrote together. It’s a delusional ode to supposed better times; nostalgia for a past that never was. The song longs for the ideals and heroes of the classic western, longing for the good ole days that are just manifestations hyper-exposed by Hollywood and American ideals. The narrator is wishing that the way the past is remembered actually had been and actually could be, just like we all wish that the ideals set forth in the unfulfilled American dream could actually be someday.
POPDOSE: OK, now that the album is dropping — it’s time to sell it to the masses. Now that we’re reaching the latter stages of this pandemic, I see you’ve returned to live performance — have these been in front of breathing human beings or online? What’s it been like so far?
CHRIS: So we have done two small runs so far that were in-person shows and we’ll be on the road extensively through the summer. It’s been quite strange; we’ve made a point of wearing masks when not on stage and have asked folks who approach our merch table to wear masks, but it’s been spotty at best. It’s just somewhat surreal; we’re still more comfortable with the outside shows, even with the new CDC guidelines, and hope to do more of those types until the fall.
Tell me about the new online Volk store; who came up with the ideas for all the different physical options plus related swag?
A lot of it was just a collection of our favorite artwork over the years and some zany designs by us and our label head, Chris Banta.
Dave Grohl recently released his documentary “What Drives Us” — though I much preferred the working title “Get in the Van!” — Will Volk be hitting the road this summer or fall? Any big gigs on the horizon?
ELEOT: Yes! We basically won’t be seeing home — it feels like for the rest of the year. We’ve got a cool festival run out to Nebraska for the amazing Pondstock in June. Then in July probably our biggest series of shows to this point will have us supporting the band Electric Six through most of July.
CHRIS: August is stacked with multiple festivals, including the awesomest of awesome festivals, Mile of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin. For the fall, can’t go into too much detail yet but will be doing a lot of support tours, which will be critical to us raising our profile. It will be busy, but we are so insanely excited to get back on the road.
Once you head out, will you be glad to get away from those you quarantined with? Or are they hitting the road with you?
CHRIS: Eleot and I actually live in the same duplex so it will basically be more of the same. We’ll both miss our significant others back home, but we are hoping they will be able to join us on the road for a couple of days… especially this wicked boat show we are playing with Electric Six in NYC!
And one parting thought, until next time. If Cashville truly existed, who would be the mayor?
ELEOT: Dolly Parton.
CHRIS: Nuff said.