Johnny Astro and the Big Bang
KNOXVILLE — Less than a year old, Knoxville rock outfit Johnny Astro and the Big Bang are developing at a rate surpassing most of its young peers. Only three months after writing its first songs, the band advanced past the first round of The Square Room’s ongoing Sound Off competition.
Prioritizing quality over quantity, the group’s repertoire is barely deep enough to support a full album at this point, yet Johnny Astro maturely avoids forcing the issue, discarding most of its new material upon failure to meet the band’s ever-rising standards.
Striving for a sound it finds scarce throughout local performers, Johnny Astro and the Big Bang aims to offer an indie sound that blends old and new with hip-hop beats, simple pop bass lines, classic rock-toned guitar hooks and clear, decisive vocals. The cohesive blend of dynamic influences keeps Astro’s catalog from stagnating from track to track, combating the group’s primary fear of creating a niche for itself that would limit its future work.
“It’s more mature than anything I’ve ever played, and more innovative,” describes drummer Zach Gilleran. “That’s kind of where we want to come from. We’ve been focusing a lot on writing the kind of stuff we never hear from other bands. It’s like Black Keys meets Spoon meets Manchester Orchestra meets … classic rock? It’s definitely still evolving, but I think we know where we want to go with it.”
“A lot of it is rhythm-based,” vocalist/guitarist Paul Wakefield elaborates. “It switches back and forth from hip-hop to rock-influenced beats as the base layer of everything. Guitar-wise, it’s almost dueling at times. It’s still all over the place though. I think that’s one thing we’re going to hang on to — not developing one particular sound. All of our songs have the same kind of feel to them, the same energy — but they all sound really different.”
While the quartet exercises patience in developing the material it presents publicly, it recognizes the necessity of a tangible means of promotion. Johnny Astro began recording for its debut EP “Thick as Thieves” in August to aid in booking out-of-town shows and offer local fans a forget-me-not. The six-song CD is tentatively scheduled for release in January.
“We recorded the first weekend of August before school started,” Gilleran says. “We went to the mountains and rented a cabin. The guy we recorded with, Blake Cass, works at a studio in New Orleans, but he’s been a friend of ours for a long time. We hope to finish mastering in December and print CDs by January.”
Even as it prides itself on a varied set list, Johnny Astro’s live shows are tied together by two constants — energy and volume. No matter the intended mood cast by a song, the Big Bang promises to deliver it with these elements, cranking its amps to eleven and physically throbbing in unison.
Though its original material is still in short supply due to sheer novelty, the band’s creative selectivity has allowed it to bypass the early-phase mediocrity that dooms many young acts to irreversible reputations and public indifference.
“It’s a lot more energetic than other bands we’ve played in,” says guitarist Jackson Collier of the live show. “It’s well put-together but it’s really raw at the same time. We feel like rock ’n’ roll shows should be something you can feel in your bones. It shouldn’t be a moderate volume. You should be able to hear everything well and in a good mix, but as a whole, it should be loud as well as dynamic.”
BIRDS OF A FEATHER: The Birdhouse hosts alliteration lovers Mother Mange and Faux Ferocious at 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12. The free show admits all ages.
IN-TENSE NEW WAVE: Baltimore’s Future Islands pay a visit to Knoxville with Lonnie Walker Tuesday night, Nov. 16, at Pilot Light. Doors open at 9 p.m., and admission is $5.