Those who think a certain city’s music scene is dead will never admit – to themselves or anyone else – that at some point they simply stopped looking for it. No matter what the timeline, the trend, or the temptation, the truth is that a city’s creative vibrancy is often lurking in the shadows, in the bunkers, and just outside public view. Here in Boston, the much maligned and debated music scene is still thriving – but folks just have to know where, and how to look.
“Iron Bottom Sound”, the new single from Crow Follow, out now, raises a glass to New England musicians past, present, and future, and sets a striking low-end tone for the urban cabaret and velvet shaman swamp rock project’s forthcoming debut album Red Velvet Radio. Fueled by six previous singles and four new tracks, the self-released record is set for release on September 30 on compact disc and digitally, with a celebration of a release party that same night at The Square Root in Roslindale with The Jacklights and The Daylilies.
And no one needs to hunt high and low to find this kind of party, the type Crow Follow toast in “Iron Bottom Sound”, which takes the band’s post-punk vibe and coats it in a seductive low-end moonlit groove buoyed by John Keegan’s baritone saxophone, the type of tune heard in smoky bars that shake with the rumble of elevated train tracks, that soundtrack a joint next door to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and the off-the-beaten path dive where the stage is propped up with milk crates but the sound is divine. When co-vocalists and co-conspirators Tim Sprague and Agent Judy tease some “big fun” in the track’s chorus, it’s pretty clear what they’re alluding to.
“It’s about the music scene, going out, playing out; the underneath places where local music tends to be,” says Judy. “It’s about seeking out the scene. Looking for those badass women playing amazing rock. We have role models amongst them too numerous to name.”
On The “Iron Bottom Sound” artwork, across a bridge arcing over a nod to the actual Iron Bottom Sound, located roughly 1,300 miles northeast of Brisbane, Australia, and over silhouettes of musicians rocking out, a layer of eyes are displayed, collected from performance shots of women rocking out around Boston. It’s the look through the mist and the smoke, the ghosts of Irene, Shelly, and Petra, peering out from the distance.
“Some folks have been saying that original music, indie rock, original rock, punk rock in Boston is dead, or ‘not what it used to be,’ for years,” says Sprague. “Every time an iconic club dies, like The Rat, or The Underground, or The Abbey, some folks will say that the scene is over. The fact is, independent, original music, the urge to make it, the urge to witness it, never goes away. It mutates, evolves, and always finds new ways to express and manifest itself.”
Sprague says he found inspiration shortly after the dissolution of a prior band, when curiosity brought him back out to see live music. He lent Linnea Herzog his guitar for an open mic show at Central Square’s Out of the Blue gallery in Cambridge, and a piqued interest in her music led to him to see her band Powerslut and Stars Like Ours at ONCE Lounge in Somerville.
“Here was a crowd – mostly women, flash, and punk – that was into it!” Sprague recalls. “The bands were insanely energetic and inspiring. Fronted by women, engaging women in a joyous, collaborative instigation of power and fun. My inner thoughts to the skeletons of the mind was, ‘Rock ain’t dead, it just changed gender!’ There has always been a strong legacy of women making music in the Boston scene – Robin Lane, Barb Kitson, Judy Grunwald, The Bristols, Linda Viens, to name a few – but this was something different, an evolution of context.”
Sprague counts himself as someone “who would pick Patti Smith over the Pistols,” and wanted to capture that feeling of excitement of discovery after seeking out a new and different sound. “‘Iron Bottom Sound’ is about looking for it, getting there, finding it, making it, and getting it,” he adds. “Music, the ultimate subversion of square expectation.”
Of course, “Iron Bottom Sound,” musically, grew slowly. Inspired by a somewhat bizarre blended idea of two struggles – that of independent original music, particularly made by women, and the historical struggle in World War II over the island of Guadalcanal, where the track draws its title.
“When I heard Michelle Yvette Paulhus tear out her bass lines with that huge voice of hers in Stars like Ours, I thought ‘Now there’s an Iron Bottom Sound!’ and the first key line gelled,” Sprague says. “‘Iron Bottom Sound’s’ vibe was inspired by the kind of low-key groove found in a tune like Tom Waits’ ‘Walking Spanish’ or Miles Davis’ ‘So What’. By the time the tail comes around it’s all whirring tires on wet midnight pavement and street lights with halos in the rain. Cool feels easy in the stride, but it never comes for free. The second verse just rose up from how truly inhospitable the infrastructure those first generation Boston punk clubs could be. Restrooms flooded with duckboards on the floor. Rain soaked cement back stairs where drug addled bouncers would throw people. And the feeling as a first generation punk that you were navigating through a vaguely hostile foreign territory. Those ratholes with the glowing music became our sanctuary and our grail.”
Combine that vibe with a collection of musicians raised on a steady diet of Boston rock but also looking forward, gravitating towards what’s new and exciting as we get our live music sea legs back after the pandemic, and the sonic cocktail almost serves itself. “Just coming up in that era, of The Rat when we were young, of The Space, The Underground, Cantone’s, a ton of small clubs often in basements,” Judy adds “It had a certain crawliness about it. You had to know where to go. And these incredible bands, so many. I’m not a very nostalgic person. The stuff I see all around me from young artists and musicians blows me away daily. There’s so much happening. But this song is almost a ballad about a particular time in our histories.”
But it also firmly plants Crow Follow as a band for right now, taking the gritty baton from the summer’s “Indiana Line” music video and casting a smooth, speakeasy like invitation to the world of Red Velvet Radio, where 10 tracks twist and crawl across a spectrum of art-rock and weave a tapestry of weathered tales of American life.
“‘Iron Bottom Sound’ kicks off what would be Side 2 on the vinyl version, welcoming you back in with a more urban, relaxed groove,” says Sprague. “We have Pete Danilchuk laying down a Fender Rhodes city vibe that is a bit different from the psychedelic guitar bends of the side one closer. And on baritone sax, John Keegan finds his own vibe and makes his own path through these tunes like an ice sculptor riding between cars on a downtown train. During mixing, I wanted some spark to complement John’s sax lines, so off the cuff I threw in some trumpet licks. I don’t get to play trumpet live with John because I’m holding down the guitar, but it was a blast vamping with his sax in the studio! The offer and challenge of ‘Big Fun’ invites our listeners to dive in for the next round! It’s dark, but there’s sequins in those shadows.”