Line up the list of Old Man Markley’s instruments next to a list of its influences, and you get a pretty clear picture of what kind of sound comes out of this Los Angeles band.
Fiddle. Mandolin. Banjo. Guitar. Washboard and washtub bass. Autoharp!
And drums. So they’re a bluegrass band, but one of those modern bluegrass bands that ignores the traditional rules of the genre.
That’s not wrong, but when you listen to Old Man Markley — whose name we’ll occasionally shorten to OMM from here on out — it’s instantly clear that it’s not quite right either.
The pace of the band’s ’grass comes from punk, and the soaring melodies are straight-up pop.
“We’re heavily influenced by the Beatles and (pop-punk giants) NOFX, the Descendents and Bad Religion. All bands that are extremely melodic, always incorporating amazing melodies and harmonies,” OMM frontman Johnny Carey said in a recent telephone interview from the road. The band will play in Bend on Thursday (see “If you go”).
“To me, a song is the melody,” Carey said. “It’s what has always drawn me. My favorite songs, I walk way and I have a melody stuck in my head for six months.”
Old Man Markley’s 2013 album “Down Side Up” is packed with exactly those kinds of earworms. Musically, the band is capable of rollicking, high-speed hoedowns, not unlike Bend’s own Larry and His Flask. But vocally, Carey’s voice — both its timbre and the notes it sings — recalls classic ’90s pop-punk. When his wife, Annie Detemple, kicks in with the harmony vocals, OMM sounds as syrupy sweet (in a good way) as anything you’ll hear on the radio.
The band started in 2007, a fun project among friends who had previously played in punk bands, Carey said.
“Old Man Markley was somewhat of a collaboration of a few different bands, and different influences and ideas. The appeal (of) acoustic music, folk and bluegrass was, I think, a natural progression coming from punk rock,” he said. “We were just trying to do something a little different. We really were having fun with the different instrumentation. It all kind of came together over a bottle of whiskey at a couple of parties.”
OMM started as an 11-piece before whittling down to the current seven-member lineup: Carey, Detemple, bassist Joey Garibaldi, drummer Jeff Fuller, washboard player Ryan Markley, banjo man John Rosen and fiddler/mandolinist Katie Weed. The band began booking shows and touring like crazy, eventually opening for NOFX and meeting that band’s singer and bassist Fat Mike, who also owns pop-punk mega-label Fat Wreck Chords.
Fat Mike signed Old Man Markley and put out the group’s debut album “Guts N’ Teeth” in 2011. Carey credits the law of attraction for OMM’s relationship with Fat Wreck Chords.
“We’ve been fans of theirs for as long as I can remember,” he said.
The Fat label is punk-focused, for sure, and Old Man Markley is one of the few acoustic bands on its roster. But they’re far from the only band currently mixing bluegrass and punk rock. A wave of those kinds of bands has been cresting over the past few years, something Carey readily acknowledges.
“I don’t feel like we were trying to do anything necessarily new,” he said. “We were starting to listen to different bands like Old Crow Medicine Show or The Devil Makes 3, bands that kind of stood for the qualities of punk rock that we stood behind also.”
In fact, he not only acknowledges the crowded field of punk-grass bands out there crisscrossing the country just like OMM, he appreciates it.
“It’s great to see more and more bands coming out and really embracing this hybrid of folk and punk or whatever you want to call it. We’re lucky to be a part of it,” Carey said. “We got really fortunate signing to Fat when we did. It helped us establish our name and what we were doing and our part of this whole little scene.”
How Old Man Markley got to that point, however, remains a bit of a mystery.
“I don’t know what really drew us to (acoustic music) at first,” Carey said. “It just seemed so natural to us.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0377, email@example.com