Move to Nashville shapes Deadstring Brothers' evolving sound

Kurt Marschke, left, and JD Mack make up the core of the Deadstring Brothers.

Kurt Marschke, left, and JD Mack make up the core of the Deadstring Brothers.

Among the faces and stories of Detroit’s mass exodus in recent years are Deadstring Brothers. Bringing the blue-collar work ethic once typical of the old Motor City to the Music City in 2010, the act previously known for straightforward classic rock sounds has adapted to its new Nashville surroundings.

Named for vocalist Kurt Marschke’s home street in Nashville’s Gulch area, the band’s latest release “Cannery Row” is a monument to Southern and Western style, both thematically and instrumentally. While the album retains aspects of rock and blues, particularly in Marschke’s soulful, Van Morrison-reminiscent vocal delivery, Nashville twang permeates each track.

“We’re still rebuilding technically, but we’re also expanding in many senses, reaching spots the band had never been to before,” says bassist Jeremy Mackinder (JD Mack). “Kurt moved to Nashville to focus mostly. It became much more than that, strongly influencing the band and the current record, obviously. ... The country element has always been there. The first album actually features a cover of ‘Long Black Veil,’ but this is definitely the most country of all the five albums. And that certainly is influenced by Kurt’s residence there, and to some extent, my presence. Honestly, 90 percent of what both of us listen to is old country and or old blues.

“Kurt and I met because we needed each other to help expand the country/roots scene in Detroit. I emailed him before we met, told him we needed to work together, and he completely and immediately agreed and was sitting on my porch listening to George Jones the next afternoon and it formed into the best friendship I’ve ever had.”

Beyond the moniker and the fully bearded, shaggy haired look the group has collectively adopted, the Deadstring Brothers take brotherhood seriously. Perpetually touring, it is essential that these bandmates gel as a family, and the family looks to continue growing. Traveling with a base trio, the group plays with up to five members, bringing in regional friends depending on location. The band says it hopes to cement a deeper roster once it acquires a more spacious vehicle to accommodate it.

“We’re just about to play our 100th show of this year, and we didn’t start until January 31,” Mack explains. “This tour carries through until December 1, and we’re doing the same thing next year. Lots of places we love, and very few we don’t. We have to always keep our chins up. We will have played about 250 shows when this tour is done, and probably around 275 next year, plus making another album this September. There is no room for a negative vibe ever. ... Brotherhood is the only way this band works.

“The way we’re travelling at the moment, it’s a tight fit. The three that are always there are Kurt on guitar and vocals, (myself) on bass and Nathan Kalish on drums and backing vocals. We hire talented friends to roll with us and they do a great job. The lineup will become more permanent when we pick up our new van in a few weeks, complete with bunks and room to breathe.”

Performing more than 200 shows per year, the songs of Deadstring Brothers evolve gradually with time, distancing themselves from their recorded versions. Adding to this are the band’s live capabilities, which are limited by the abbreviated lineup of three. While “Cannery Row” is fully embellished with female vocal harmonies, the travel team makes due with Kalish’s backing vocals. The live show translates to a pure country sound, save a few rock classics from the band’s pre-Nashville stash.

“The live show is just different from the albums,” Mack describes. “Nathan does a great job on the backing vocals, and honestly, we’re pretty much a straight country band live, except for when we get into the rock-based older originals that people love.”

Thursday night The Deadstring Brothers take the stage at The Well with The Bearded. The show starts at 9 p.m. and costs $5.

FRUITS ROLL UP: Nashville’s Turbofruits roll in to Knoxville Saturday, performing at The Pilot Light with Ex-Gold and The Sad. Music is slated for 10 p.m., and admission is $5.

NOT TOO CRUMMY: Wednesday night Crumbsnatchers take on Soulfinger, Skytown Riot and Hudson K in the Band Eat Band competition’s semifinal round at Preservation Pub. The battle begins at 8 p.m. and is free.

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