As this story goes live, I am still debating the sequence of my 2020 Best Albums List — and yet, I am going to take the bold stand, right here and right now, to call the Best New Album of 2021. Cashville drops March 13, 2021 on Romanus Records. This flaming hot love child of sunshine and moonshine was birthed by a Nashville band you’re about to meet right here — Volk.
Now loyal readers might remember the inclusion of their single, ”Honey Bee”, in a little round-up of ass kicking singles I did a while back. And since then, that song (blissfully included on the new album) has steadily risen in the ranks to become my favorite rock and roll track of this barely legal century. As I preached back then, ”gird your loins my friends for nothing can possibly prepare you for the awesome sonic ear hole sandblasting this track will throttle into your brain cave”, and it keeps getting better with every subsequent listen. I put it on when I’m blue, when I’m happy, when I’m feeling sexy, and when I just need to just bang my head, jiggle my keester, and Beavis and/or Butthead the fuck out.
Granted — now we’ve reached the pivotal moment of this band’s young legacy. When you achieve that level of sonic perfection, the only way forward tends to be a downward spiral. Thank Goddess, not in this case. I’ve listened to an advance of Cashville and it is truly astounding. Rock and Roll, in its purest form, is a call to action — to stand up, protest, make out, make love, and let your freak flag fly. Cashville hits all these notes and more, with fresh surprises at every turn. The hooks are massive. The passion, energy, invention, and unpredictability are world class. Critical darling art rock shit this ain’t — Cashville is 12 tracks of catharsis, jubilation, piss, vinegar, whiskey, bravado, libido, and jalapeno in a deliciously messy sonic cocktail.
Popdose had the pleasure of catching up with the band this past week, to celebrate the release of the latest Cashville single — Welcome to Cashville’. Is it about selling out? The Man in Black? That remains a mystery for you to solve. But we’ll answer some other burning questions here.
Every great band has an origin story — be it real, embellished or just an epic myth — what’s yours?
CHRIS LOWE (guitar): Well, our origin story is at least continent spanning: Eleot (Reich, drums and lead vocals) and I met in Berlin, Germany circa 2013 at a brothel-turned-bar called Madame Claude’s. On Sunday nights, they have an open mic where we both cut our teeth playing our first quirky attempts at original songs.
I had moved to Berlin to teach at an international school; Eleot had come to the city to complete her degree in theater from NYU. Neither of us was really jiving with our original intentions of moving to the city, however, we found respite in songwriting. We ran across each other one fateful Sunday night at Open Michael J Fox at Madame Claude’s, me nervously playing slide guitar and Eleot belting out the blues.
ELEOT REICH: We eventually started collaborating and formed the nebulous beginnings of what would become Volk. We were playing folksy versions of songs but had full machinations of playing them in the loud, obnoxious, ZZ/DC style of music that we both love.
CHRIS: We added a drummer named Jim from Greece for about a month in those early days, but he disappeared under some rather cryptic circumstances and left a drum set at Eleot’s apartment. In a moment of inspiration/desperation at one practice, I asked Eleot to start playing the abandoned drum kit. We’ve been doing this reverse White Stripes set up ever since, where she is the main singer and plays a massive drum kit while I have spent the last six years figuring out how to make believe there is a bass in my guitar rig. Sometimes I’ll sing too and pretend I’m Dwight Yoakam.
ELEOT: Around 2016, as we developed more into a hard rock duo, we started to feel we weren’t going to find our place in the Berlin EDM/Anti-folk music scene. We decided to head back to the States and eventually landed in Nashville.
CHRIS: The past 4 years have been a definite evolution for Volk, where we’ve certainly taken on more of the Nudie Suit glitz and glam in our aesthetic and also adding a bit of Waylon Jennings swagger in our playing/singing. I just tell everyone we’re like if Jack and Meg White did too much acid and started believing they were Johnny Cash and June Carter…cowpunk glam dirt rock…country-fried rock’n’roll…or something.
So the name — what is ”Volk” — my initial thoughts were ”folk” with ”voltage”, volume or venom….
CHRIS: Yeah, folk plus voltage: Volk. I wasn’t even actually thinking of the German word ‘volk’ (people) when we came up with the name.
ELEOT: But volume + venom sounds pretty rad; we might have to steal that as an alternate origin story.
How would you describe the evolution of your sound from the first EPs through the first album?
CHRIS: Well, there’s definitely a blending of caustic rock ’n roll attitude with cocksure country swagger that has become more polished as we’ve progressed.
ELEOT: I think with Boutique Western Swing Compositions we wanted to exhibit our song writing and composition skills, and then with Average American Band we wanted everyone to know that we will rock the fuck out harder than anyone else. With the upcoming album, Cashville, I think there is a good balance of both, and hopefully some maturation in our ability to capture better what we know we can do live.
CHRIS: As stated before, there’s definitely more twang, Eleot got in about three yeehaws and I name drop a couple of old or dead country dudes.
Who are you working with (if anyone) on the production side? Any guests in the studio?
CHRIS: We’ve self-produced everything so far; we just road test our songs as much as possible and hone them until we know they don’t suck. Best way to know if a song is finished is to play it in front of people.
ELEOT: I made Chris Banta, our label head from Romanus Records, do another guest yell on the single like he did previously on Honey Bee.’ His directive was to channel his inner greedy, angry-white-male music executive. He aced it.
With live shows out of the mix for the time being, what is Volk doing to stay busy (and keep the lights on) during the pandemic?
CHRIS: We’ve been doing a lot of songwriting and some recording. Also, we’ve been doing a lot of research in promo for the single/album — I unfortunately now know what a tik tok influencer is. We’re starting to dip our toes in other streams of revenue, getting our live streaming game up where we can play loud, setting up a Patreon, filming a vlogcast.
ELEOT: We played the Moon Runners (online) Music Festival on Thanksgiving weekend and hope to do more similar content as we release the single and the album.
CHRIS: Keeping the lights on during the pandemic isn’t much different than pre-pandemic. Eleot joked the other day that DIY bands have the greatest advantage because we are the most used to scraping by as music continues not to pay.
ELEOT: Part joke, all truth. Luckily we aren’t tied to any binding contract with other artist services. It’s the hustle and grind as always, just without touring. Which is a big just. We haven’t crowd-funded in a long while, so we’ve always taken our personal investment in the band very seriously. Making sure we can do that is integral for us, and yes, that sometimes means cleaning homes, and taking out the trash… Basically doing the dirty work no one else wants to.
You shout out to your heroes in the new song — have you met any of them in person? If so, do tell a tale ….
CHRIS: I met Steve Earle once at the Americana Music Awards in 2016. I got really nervous and all I could blurt out was ”I’m from Texas too,” to which Earle replied unimpressed, ”That’s great kid.” I’m an expert at blowing it with my heroes. Ask me about when I met Sturgill Simpson in the next interview.
Are you in Nashville now? Texas? And if the latter, where (since it’s another country in itself).
ELEOT: We’ve been in Nashville since 2016. We flirted with Austin for a hot minute but decided we didn’t want to pay that Texas tax of spending a whole tank of gas or two just to get out of the state to go on tour somewhere.
CHRIS: For a DIY rock duo in the mainstream Country Mecca, Nashville’s main appeal for us is that it’s super easy to line up tours out of.
Earlier this year, AC/DC racked up a #1 album in countries around the world, so rock and roll isn’t as dead as it’s made out to be — does the business model pretty much rely on live shows?
CHRIS: As an unknown DIY rock band, our business model definitely depended heavily on shows. After a couple of years doing 200 plus shows though, we were seeing it wasn’t necessary (nor beneficial) to run ourselves down like that, however. A silver lining hopefully this year is that we’ve taken the time to up our social media and streaming game which will should be more up and running as the year ends.
What’s your plans for vinyl? CD? Streaming? Licensing? I can totally see one of your gonzo choruses in a commercial, a video game, or the action sequence of a movie….
CHRIS: Romanus Records has some pretty wicked vinyl plans for our first album, we’re not allowed to reveal them yet, but we’re excited to see em spin. Fans of Romanus should be on the lookout next month for some customs in honor of the single release.
Sync Licensing is the holy grail for a band in the 21st century and we have no idea how to break into that world. We totally write and compose our songs as if they are supposed to be in a film.
ELEOT: Our ultimate goal as a band is to make it into a Quentin Tarantino film, playing one of our songs in a bar scene only to be violently killed off by the film’s protagonist.
CHRIS: Do you know who we can sell out to? Mother of God we desperately just want to sell out, just give me the email of the music supervisor on Peaky Blinders and I’ll sell you my soul!
The country remains divided — and yet, within your music barroom rock and roll, country/western, hair metal, blues and punk all seem to get along — can Volk music heal a wounded nation?
CHRIS: Depends. Yes, we understand the need for reconciliation; peace, love, and understanding. BUT if someone’s point of view advocates or permits racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, hatred of the poor, and just utter denial of objective truth, then those folks can absolutely get fucked. As MLK said, peace isn’t the absence of tension but the presence of justice, and justice can’t exist when someone’s worldview provides for the oppression of others.
Sure, art can have the purpose to soothe society woes, that’s why a guy like Stan Lee is so important because his ”feel good” stories help people feel better and get through the day. But the highest of art – like Socrates and Oscar Wilde level – is supposed to challenge and hold up a mirror to society, make it see and improve its failings; scream truth to power. In that sense, the (formerly Dixie) Chicks are the real outlaws, and the more and more I’ve thought about it, the Chicks, Dolly, and definitely Linda Martell (look her up!) much more deserved that shout out at the end of Welcome to Cashville’. I’ve got to work on that line…
ELEOT: We try to primarily deal with the emotional realm with our music. Catharsis and what not. If anyone is leading the effort in healing this nation right now it’s Black Femme organizers. And it’s unfair to put that burden on them. We must all ask ourselves in what ways our lifestyle invests in white supremacy. I can’t separate myself from racism as a white female, and so I continue to untangle how that is woven into my life. The work is never over. If you’re looking to learn more, I highly suggest activists and world shakers: Sonya Renee Taylor, Feminista Jones, and Ericka Hart.
CHRIS: It’s a true honor and a high responsibility to be an artist because we live outside of society and get to try and help steer it to be better. Music is a form of literature that can help people empathize with one another and help us remember we are all human, we all love, feel anger, feel loss, and we need to forgive each other and take care of each other.
We’ll sing Kumbaya if that’s what folks are truly bringing to the barroom, but if we catch whiff of anything smelling like Q’anon or Proud Boys, well, then it’s time to rage against the mother fucking machine.
Look for the world premiere of the ‘Welcome to Cashville’ music video this Christmas on Nashville Scene: