You never know when you might hear the music of 500 Miles to Memphis. Maybe in a honky tonk in Tennessee. Maybe at a Rock show in North Carolina. Maybe at a Punk festival in their hometown of Cincinnati. Maybe in an acoustic format at the corner bar or coffeeshop. Or maybe on MTV’s Nitro Circus, soundtracking some extreme sport stunts. The band is comfortable in almost any setting, largely because their music — a mix of scrappy Country and scorching Rock & Roll — has a magnetic, wide appeal. The Hot Topic kids get juiced on the band’s adrenalized live shows, while fans of Classic Country can appreciate 500 Miles’ true, heartfelt take on vintage C&W. With Sunshine in a Shotglass, the group’s debut full-length, 500 Miles to Memphis introduced itself as a world-class Rock band with songs that are alternately shit-kicking and heartbreaking. From the fiddle-driven, broken-glass-inducing “All My Friends are Crazy” to the closing trilogy of “Let It Rain”/”Sunshine in a Shotglass”/”The Regret,” singer/songwriter Ryan Malott and his tight, rousing band concocted a true, complete album, full of plenty of soul and depth, but also lots of instantly memorable Pop hooks. Don’t believe me? Then just listen to Sunshine once or, better yet, get out to a show. 500 Miles to Memphis is one of the most promising young bands in North America right now. - Mike Breen, City Beat
Lead vocalist Ryan Malott is the impetus behind 500 MILES TO MEMPHIS’ heartache, and this soon to be acclaimed debut is undoubtedly his catharsis. While Malott’s lyrics draw from afflictive personal experience and a weary western sprawl that only true country music can evoke, these rousing tunes are cranked out with punk grit and determination and a brash rock ‘n’ roll attitude. Somehow it makes life seem a little more bearable and a hell of a lot more fun, at least for the duration of these twelve exhilarating songs. Slather on an infectious melody, some bright, brash guitars and a touch of bluegrass fiddle and suddenly tracks about cocaine-addicted friends and coma victims praying for sweet death ring out like the perfect, invigorating remedy for the honky tonk blues.
500 MILES TO MEMPHIS sound like a band you could drink a round or two with before the show…and definitely a few more afterwards. More than likely, you’ll get your chance as these boys are on a mission to play every country dive bar and punk rock club across the US. Perhaps that’s why 500 MILES TO MEMPHIS’ songs come across so warm and heart-wrenchingly familiar, even when they’re played fast, loud and with reckless abandon. It’s the type of honest music that can prompt a sentimental, liquor-tinged therapy session between old friends or incite a raucous, fist-pumping sing-along amongst perfect strangers at your neighborhood pub. And that’s a shot of firewater we’re happy to take any day of the week.
"Incredibly dark, sinister and unbelievably brilliant..." - Dayton City Paper
"An exercise in American Eclectic: gritty, dirty and damn good." - Independent Weekly
"Harnessing the bucking bronco of country punk and holding on for dear life." - Knoxville Metro Pulse
"Bridging the spirit of sweaty punk and old-school country, 500 Miles To Memphis is irresistible." - CiN Weekly
Ryan Malott - Vocals, Guitar
Jeff Snyder - Bass
Noah Sugarman - Guitar, Vocals
Kevin Hogle - Drums
David Rhodes Brown - Lap Steel
Paul Patterson - Fiddle
Elaina Brown - Keys, Vocals
"500 Miles to Memphis"
3rd Silo Records March 2005
"Sunshine In a Shot Glass"
Deep Elm Records June 2007
"Ryan Malott and Kelly Thomas"
Deep Elm Records October 2009
"We've Built Up to NOTHING"
Valentines Day 2010
Going the Distance II
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I first met Ryan Malott, mastermind and sole original member of the local "Country/Punk" band 500 Mi...I first met Ryan Malott, mastermind and sole original member of the local "Country/Punk" band 500 Miles to Memphis, four years ago. The band, a trio at the time, was fresh out of high school. Malott was 19.
He contacted me out of the blue about his band's new CD. He was persistent but polite, looking for some press for his fledgling group. I didn't know it at the time -- or maybe I didn't believe it -- but they were headed out on a long road trip that would literally take them all over the country.
I gave the CD a listen, expecting a generic, rough-around-the-edges Punk band playing Johnny Cash songs. Some of that record was just that. Back then they were less graceful at actually blending Punk and Country, more or less alternating between Punk and Country. And the playing wasn't exactly expert level.
But I heard something on that CD: Malott's genuine, raw-talent songwriting touch, especially on the tracks "'Nother Year Down the Toilet" and "Fireflies." His writing on those songs seemed like a different person than the one bashing out more Emo-y Punk Rock.
It certainly didn't seem like the work of a 19-year-old.
I set up an interview with the band, and Malott was last to arrive. Breathlessly coming through the door, he said something about being stuck at work in the small town of Milford, where he lived.
While amiable, Malott seemed a tad nervous, unsure of what to say. It was his first interview.
He told me about his brief move to Dallas, where he saw his first live Country band. This was a year prior, when he was all of 18.
I was somewhat stunned that this person sitting in front of me was the one who exhibited such a natural songwriting ability and had an instinctive, effortless style that didn't come off like someone trying to force a Country square peg into a Punk Rock round hole. Malott said he'd heard Country music all his life thanks to his grandparents but never thought much of it, especially when he got into high school and discovered Punk.
The song "'Nother Year Down the Toilet" feels like it could have been written 50 years ago. There were no phony hiccups, no "hillbillied up" gimmickry -- it just flowed like it was written by someone whose DNA was imprinted with traditional Country music.
I knew from those songs that Malott was a special talent. Talking with him, it was clear he was still pretty naive about it all.
I asked him if he'd heard Uncle Tupelo. He had no idea what I was talking about.
"'Nother Year Down the Toilet" could have been an Uncle Tupelo song. And he genuinely -- I could tell by the confused look on his face -- had no idea that they, the grandfathers of this AltCountry thing, had even existed.
That's when I was convinced that Malott wasn't just goofing off, trying to create a novelty act. It was no "See the Incredible Rowdy Band That Mixes Country Music With Punk Rock!" stunt -- although Malott was fine with marketing the band that way. The "hybrid" was just the way his songs came out.
He later tells me that he would get upset when he heard groups somewhat similar to his, like The Old 97's, a band he discovered only a year ago.
"I heard The Old 97's and I was like, 'Wow,' " Malott now says. "It hit me like a huge tidal wave. I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm not original! I thought this was totally new and no one's ever done this.' "
Four years ago, beneath the youthful wonderment and idealism, I could see that Malott was serious about his music career. He possessed a drive that seemed to say, "This is what I was meant to do. There's no way this isn't going to work."
So far so good. Today, Malott has a record deal, an electrifying band lineup, tour plans that include overseas gigging and a new album that stands as a bold statement about the fragile human condition and its ability to regenerate.
But, boy, it wasn't easy. It took way more than 500 miles to get to where Malott is today. And 42 different band members to help get him there.
High, lonesome, deep
As it happens, I not only popped Malott's interview cherry -- I'm also popping his "interview to talk about the big label-released album" cherry as well.
Malott, with his trucker cap and part-hipster/ part-Milford-boy sideburns, is eager to discuss the band's new album, Sunshine in a Shot Glass, their first for the respected North Carolina-based Punk indie label Deep Elm Records.
We meet at The Poison Room downtown. It's the first night of Eric Diedrichs' freshly relocated "Songwriter Night," something that -- in its years at Allyn's Cafe -- aided Malott and most of the other current 500 Miles band members' development as musicians.
"It's so perfect that we're meeting at Songwriter Night," Mallot says as we talk by the club's back door next to a row of garbage cans. "That's how Stephen (Kuffner, current guitarist) and I met. That's how I've met a lot of musicians in this town. That helped me get over some of my fears of playing live. It helped me hone my craft and my songwriting, hearing other songwriters and what they do. I feel like I owe a lot of my growth as a musician to Songwriter Night."
Four years ago Malott was thrown by the simplest questions about his music. The concept of a "songwriting process" seemed to be something he never thought about. But now he's effusive and reflective about his music and writing, a sign that he's found his voice and has become more comfortable in his own artistic skin.
Malott says he remembered Deep Elm from some records he heard in high school. He sent a disc -- an EP version of Sunshine -- to the label on a frustrated whim.
He was bummed about getting nary a single response from anyone after sending out bushels of discs to every label he could think of, everything from AltCountry haven Bloodshot Records to Punk indies to majors. Deep Elm contacted him two days after getting the disc.
"I couldn't believe that they actually listened to everything that comes in -- they really do," Malott says. "They called me up and set up an interview. We just talked, and six months later we were back in the studio recording the record."
As we talk throughout the night, the other band members gradually turn up over the course of three hours. First it's Jeff Snyder, who looks like the classic modern Rock star -- angular haircut, skinny as a pencil, stoic but charming. The bassist is the second longest tenured member of the band, behind lap steel player and veteran local musician David Rhodes Brown (more on him later).
Snyder played in local bands, most recently Legal in Vegas, then a glammy '80s Metal outfit. While his tastes are varied, Snyder says Roots Rock like The Old 97's is where his heart is.
He began wondering why he wasn't playing in a band like that. Then he met Malott.
Snyder has been in 500 Miles to Memphis for about a year. Malott guesses he's the band's fifth bass player.
I jokingly ask Snyder if he's worried about job security, given the high turnover rate of band members. It's clear, as each member shows up, that there is a tight camaraderie; Malott and Snyder seem especially tight.
So Snyder laughs at the concept of "job security" and jokes that he's made himself indispensable by handling all of the band's finances.
The band's revolving door of membership suggests that Malott is a bit of a tyrant. But 500 Miles to Memphis is his baby -- he writes all of the songs and for the longest time handled every aspect of the business side -- and he knows how he wants the band to sound.
Malott says that when he started he let the abilities of the band members dictate his songwriting. Then he decided to stop compromising.
He says the turnover is as much about personality as anything.
"Half the guys I've kicked out of the band were just guys I couldn't get along with," Malott says. "Not that they were bad musicians. I just couldn't get along with them on the road in a confined space."
After some horror stories about previous members (including a punch-up with a bassist), Malott insists that the current lineup -- the core of which is rounded out by Kuffner, also the singer and guitarist for local band Crazy Ivan, and drummer Kevin Hogle, who also plays with MOTH -- is the quintessential one. (Brown plays about half of the band's shows, while violinist/fiddler Paul Patterson re-creates his parts from the album only on special occasions, like their CD release party this weekend.)
Malott doesn't foresee the band changing. For now.
"The lineup we have right now is completely solid," Malott says. "I've said that before -- like, 'I think this is finally the band' -- and then something happened. But this is the best the band's ever sounded. It's like I've always heard it in my head. There's not one piece of the puzzle missing right now."
If you were looking at a photo of the band and playing a game of "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other," I would seriously recommend an eye check-up if you didn't pick David Rhodes Brown. Brown is over 60 and has been a big part of the Cincinnati music scene for decades, from his days as founder of the popular Roots outfit Warsaw Falcons to his current role as a member of Hillbilly/Rockabilly greats StarDevils.
As the band begins to tell stories of touring and living with Brown, it's clear they could go on all night. They are hysterical.
Brown sounds like a no-bullshit, git-r-done guy with a colorful eccentric streak. The band members repeatedly refer to him as "a cowboy."
"Dave is a character," Snyder says with a grin. "A great character, but a character nonetheless."
"When I first met him, I thought I was in some kind of novel or some sort of Twilight Zone," Kuffner adds. "Three or four weeks into rehearsing with the band, I kept asking when Dave was going to show up and he never did. He didn't even know I was in the band. So we had a show, I get up on stage, carrying my amp up, and he's looking at me like, 'What the hell is this guy doing?' And he goes, 'They didn't tell me it was fucking you playing with us, motherfucker! Well fuck yeah, let's give it to 'em!' Gives me a big handshake, lights up a cigarette. And that's all he fucking said to me all night."
Brown, who adds lap steel parts that can be both switchblade sharp and ocean-wave cool, literally joined the band. He wasn't necessarily asked -- he just showed up.
Malott and local musician Elliott Ruther put on a tribute to Hank Williams a couple of years ago. Malott says he kept getting voice messages from "this old guy" asking about playing the tribute.
"I just kind of blew it off, didn't even think about it," Malott remembers. "We were getting ready to take the stage and this 7-foot-tall cowboy walks in with his lap steel. He sets up on stage and says, 'Hey, I'm playing with you tonight.' I just thought, 'Alright, sure, let's try it.' He's up there making all these beautiful sounds, exactly what I had always envisioned in my head and could never play, so after the show, I was just like, 'Will you join the band?' halfway joking because I thought, 'He's never going to go on the road with me.'
"He was immediately like, 'I would love to play with you.' The rest of my bandmates (at the time) were like, 'No, we don't want him in the band, he's too old.' I kicked out every single band member. Kicked them out so I could get Dave. He just understands the music so well. He doesn't understand the Punk side of it, but he understands the Country side, and that's the most important side."
Looking for sunshine in all the wrong places
The cornerstone of Sunshine in a Shot Glass is the Abbey Road-like suite of songs that ends the album.
"Let It Rain," a sarcastic "life of the party" song, bleeds into the title track, a soul-crushed lament that comes off like a suicide note in Country ballad form as Malott talks about being "ready to drown." It's a stunning piece of songwriting that resembles Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone."
Then, for the finale, the band raves up on "The Regret," a rocket-propelled Honky Tonk thrash-about that runs as fast as it can to that light at the end of the tunnel.
Malott calls the new CD a concept album and, though he says he had it planned out that way, listening to it you get the feeling that he was simply writing about his life. And when that particularly downtrodden period was over -- voila! -- concept album.
Without the final trilogy of songs, it would be harder to figure out that the album was meant to stand as a thematic piece of work. The "story" goes something like this: Boy meet girl(s), boy meets booze, boy meets drugs, boy loses girl(s), boy loses mind, boy quits drugs, boy feels better, boy has hope.
Malott doesn't hesitate when asked if Sunshine is completely autobiographical.
"Every single song," he says, emphatically. "One of the songs ('My Time Is Up') was so personal I could barely sing it without crying. It's about my grandpa. I don't make up stories, I just write everything from how I feel. That's all I know how to do. I'm not good about making shit up."
Given the darkness of the album, the autobiographical admission is enough to make you worry about Malott's well-being. While he says he's better now, the album did come out of some very serious depression and substance abuse issues.
Malott had reached the proverbial end of his rope, and that's when the last three songs were written.
"(The song) 'Sunshine in a Shot Glass,' it's the hangover, the part where you've been drinking yourself to death and you're ready to die," Malott says. "And I was at that point when I wrote that song. I didn't know if I could go on anymore. I was so fucking depressed about life in general.
"My music wasn't going anywhere, nothing was happening. I'd worked on this band and I felt like I wasn't getting nowhere. I was in tons of debt. I couldn't stop drinking. I was doing a lot of coke at the time."
Leading up to that fertile writing spike, Malott's cocaine use had gotten out of control. He says he went on a two-week bender of coke and beer.
"I spent all the money I had saved up, every penny, everything I worked for, gone," he recalls. "I couldn't afford (coke) anymore, so I really couldn't do it. It wasn't a choice to stop doing it -- I just didn't have the money to do it. If it was available, I would have jumped on it.
"The last time I did (cocaine), we were in Dallas. We played a great show, stayed up all night and didn't go to bed until 11 o'clock the next day. We had to be in Austin to do a show at 9. You know how those hangovers are -- coming down off of that drug is the worst feeling on Earth. That's where some of my most depressed moments came from, when I was coming down off of it. I felt like I was an empty shell."
Malott blew the Austin show. His heart racing, the band was unable to play more than six songs due to his panic attacks. There were a lot people there for the show, but Malott just couldn't bring himself to finish. He went to the band's van and slept it off.
"That was when I had the realization that I couldn't do it anymore," Malott says.
He says he's now sworn off hard drugs.
"A lot of good art comes out of anguish," offers Kuffler, who has the perspective of being a fan of 500 Miles to Memphis before joining the band. "The common thread is struggle. People are always searching to grow, and that's something people can identify with in the music of 500 Miles, whether you like Country music or Punk music or whatever. You can tell there's a story behind the songs, there's personality behind the songs."
Malott's girlfriend walks up to our little makeshift interview "room" and greets him with a warm hug.
"I'm more happy now than I've ever been," he says, so I ask him whether, since Sunshine is so effective because it's so real, he can keep writing great songs without experiencing turmoil. In other words, if Elliott Smith had found some good anti-depressants, would he have turned into John Mayer?
"I told him, 'I can break up with you if you need some material,' " his girlfriend jokes.
"Nah, there's plenty of stuff to write about in the world," Malott says.
Malott and the rest of the band still indulge in alcohol. Booze has been made out to be a vital component of the Rock & Roll lifestyle, and the band loves to hang out with friends and fans after a show and toss back a few.
But Malott says they've cut back on drinking before they play, for the sake of professionalism.
Sunshine is littered with boozy imagery, and Deep Elm plays up the "hard drinking" aspect heavily in the band's official record label bio. Words like "whiskey-soaked" are common in write-ups and reviews.
Given his brush with substance abuse problems, I ask Malott if he's worried the band will become pigeonholed as "the drunk band," where, like with The Replacements or Guided By Voices, people go to the show as much to see them drink as to hear them play.
"When the record came out, I just thought, 'What's the point? Why are we going on the road?' " Malott says of his epiphany. "I really thought about why I'm doing what I'm doing. You're not there to party and get drunk. Yeah, it's fun and helps pass the time. But the reason you're there is to impress people and make them fall in love with your band. And you're not going to do that if you're drunk all the time."
Malott appreciates the lessons he's learned about himself through his darker experiences. And, artistically, his past struggles have been something of a blessing.
"You know," he says matter-of-factly, "a lot of good songs came out it."
You can take the Punk out of the Country, but you can't take the Country out of the Punk
When Kuffner arrives for the interview, he jumps right into the conversation. He is lean and tall, with sideburns to match, but he looks more like a grad student than a hipster.
"I've read a lot (of the band's press), and I don't think anyone has been able to identify precisely what's going on with this band as far as what the sound is," he says when I suggest the Country Punk label could be alienating to some potential fans. "You hear 'whiskey-infused,' you hear 'Green Day with a fiddle.' I think the best adjectives to describe the band are the really ambiguous ones: 'enthusiastic,' 'high-energy,' 'fun.' Except it doesn't tell you anything (about the sound)."
If you're unfamiliar with the rowdier side of AltCountry, when you hear the phrase "Country Punk," the first thing you probably think of is a hot mess of Hardcore screaming with maybe a little slide guitar thrown in and a few "yee-haws." And lots of drinking songs.
While it's fundamentally a perfect description of the band, the tag doesn't do justice to Malott's songs or the band's overall performance. While Malott did indeed form the band after seeing his first live Country music show and he fell into Punk Rock as a skateboarding high school kid and he says he specifically had in mind starting a "Country Punk" band, listening to Sunshine you never get the feeling that the formula is forced.
Malott's writing transcends both genres, with a confident Pop lilt that's strong enough to get the attention of music lovers who like neither Country nor Punk. His writing style is so natural it makes Country and Punk seem less like distant cousins and more like longtime lovers.
The "Country Punk" tag fits, but the band isn't as obvious as that descriptor would suggest. Still, they seem fine with the label.
"The (record) label said they didn't want to market us as a 'Country Punk' band because they couldn't market a Country band," Snyder says.
"But that's what we are," Malott inserts. "I don't want to change that."
They collectively chuckle as they start recalling some of the strange reactions they've received on the road.
Snyder says, "People go up to Dave and ask (about his lap steel), 'What the hell is that thing, like a sideways guitar?' "
Malott says he hopes that getting in front of different audiences -- their versatility has allowed them to play everything from Rockabilly festivals to all-ages Punk venues -- will turn on some people to the elements of their music with which they might be less familiar.
"Maybe when we play," Malott says, "there will be some kid in the audience who thinks, 'Oh wow, I like Country music?! I didn't even know I liked Country music.' "
"Yeah," Snyder adds, "maybe someone will hear a lap steel on a Johnny Cash song and go, 'Hey, that's that weird guitar 500 Miles to Memphis used.' "
While it remains to be seen if 500 Miles can be an effective teaching tool for the masses, Malott knows that the band has definitely given him a thorough education. While he's still booking the tours, Deep Elm has taken on promotional and licensing duties while a management company is helping to set up their upcoming U.K. tour and more.
Malott remains grateful for the experience of handling all of the band's affairs.
Throughout our conversation, he uses words like "rookie mistake" when talking about the past, and the amount of "lessons learned" have been endless.
His first tour, Malott routed the band through Tennessee, but, inexperienced, he had them ping-ponging across the state instead of setting up a more linear string of dates. He once sold an old tour van for $150 but forgot to take the plates off, something he learned he should have done when the police were looking for him after his old van was involved in a hit-and-run accident.
He's learned how to write better. He's learned how to be more confident on stage. And he's learned little tricks like, "If you hang out and make friends in every town, you never have to waste money on hotels while on tour."
But perhaps the most important lesson Malott learned was to trust his own instincts.
"I never gave up," he says. "No matter how many band members I went through, I was like, 'I know what I want to do. I don't care how much I suck.' At the time I could barely play guitar and sing at the same time. I just knew that this was what I was supposed to do, where I need to be, on the road, playing and trying to do something with my music.
"After trial and error and a lot of hard fucking work, we finally got to where we are now."
At this point -- moments after Hogle shows up -- an elderly drunk gentleman comes staggering up to us. It's weird because we were just talking about the ravages of too much drinking and drugging, but he's also singing a song by Memphis' most famous resident: Elvis.
"Y'all in a band?" he asks Malott and his mates, most of whom are trying to avoid eye contact with the hope that he'll carry on.
"Were you just singing Elvis?" I ask the man.
"Elvis is good," he slurs, rummaging through the collection of used but useable cigarette butts in his shirt pocket.
Memphis is closer than you think. Memphis is everywhere. - Mike Breen
50 Miles to Dayton
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by Paul Barbatono While searching for 500 Miles To Memphis on the Internet, I found links to such a...by Paul Barbatono
While searching for 500 Miles To Memphis on the Internet, I found links to such assorted fare as desk chairs, motorcycles, a real estate company in Texas, and a used 2001 BMW going for $21,000. I also found several band links indicating a quintet that is slowly becoming one of Cincinnati’s most revered country-punk acts. Ryan Mallot, guitarist/vocalist for 500 Miles To Memphis, provided the genre that his band most easily fits into early in our conversation last week.
“About three years ago, I was originally in a punk band without any of the guys I play with now,” he said. “I moved to Dallas with no intention of playing country music, and I was playing in my first country band within a week. I did that for a while and decided I needed some flavor with all that twang, so I moved back to Cincinnati and started the country punk band I’m currently involved with.”
The band released their self-titled debut last year on 3rd Silo Records, a label that boasts fellow Cincinnati acts Bagg, Len’s Lounge, and The Stapletons among its throng. Mallot is content with 3rd Silo for now but explains that the lure of the majors is always swimming around in his brain.
“We’re definitely ready,” he said. “But I’m not sure if I actually want to. People get screwed all the time and major labels just don’t care. All they’re worried about is making money, which is why they have so much of it. All I need from a label is good distribution, tour and promo help, and a trusting relationship.”
The 500 Miles To Memphis LP is a significant clash of punk n’ twang that would make for perfect background music to a hard-hitting docudrama about Johnny Cash or the soundtrack to your next Memorial Day cookout. The songs remind the listener of the work of guys such as Ryan Adams, Jon Langford and basically everything the Chicago label Bloodshot regularly releases. The music is heavy but familiar and impressive, and the band does their best to ably back Mallot’s shriek.
The music could almost be considered a mash-up, two significantly different types of music that mesh incredibly well together, if it wasn’t for the fact that country music (especially older country music, not so much current mainstream country music) holds many of the same ideals and notions of punk music. A lot of it is incredibly dark, sinister, and unbelievably brilliant. Mallot explained that the band begins and ends with his music, but that a sense of democracy is always existent.
“I write all the songs and lyrics and take them to practice with a pretty good idea of how I want it to sound,” he said. “Then it’s just a matter of working out certain parts and getting everyone’s input.”
Mallot also explained the precise, seemingly demanding process he’ll put himself through when writing lyrics and/or music for the band. This process can be different for any writer, in that many have different ways of going about it. Some can write on tour with the van groaning underneath their feet while others tend to write in fits and bursts wherever they’re most solitary and comfortable.
“I tend to write the lyrics and music together,” he said. “I find that if you start a ritual with songwriting, they all end up sounding the same. Hell, I’ve written songs naked in the woods before.”
Mallot’s passion for his home is evident in how he responded to the cancellation of the annual Cincinnati Pepsi Jammin’ On Main Festival — a yearly summer tradition for the city.
“Because of the cancellation of Jammin,’ myself and some friends decided to take it over and rename it Jammin’ On,” he said. “We’re gonna have over 50 bands on ten stages. It’s gonna be great. If that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is.”
500 Miles to Memphis will open for Link Wray at Canal Street Tavern, 308 E. 1st St., on Thursday, May 14. For more information, call (937) 461-9343.
Who the Hell Was That?
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500 Miles to Memphis / Self Titled CD By Alana Mattar The over-production that opens this album i...500 Miles to Memphis
/ Self Titled CD
By Alana Mattar
The over-production that opens this album is in no way an indication of the sound that follows. Actually, it distracts from the obviously talented arrangements and vitality this piece offers.
This debut album makes you want to hear 500 Miles to Memphis live, and soon, afraid you might miss the opportunity to hear these guys before they get picked up by some national act and their ticket prices sky-rocket.
The group claims to be "country punk," and I'd agree, but I prefer to use the term "country" more lightly than a B105 listener. Lead singer, Malott tells a story in each of his songs, minus a platform. The lyrics do not hide behind blaring instrumentation or angry vocal explosions. The 500 Miles boys took a chance on a sound that is very different from anything this town is familiar with. Their attempt toward originality works, and works well.
If the energy and spunk that this album generates is any indication to their live performance, sign me up. The number one thing that this album has going for it, besides exceptional song writing, is that it will appeal to a variety of original music supporters and not just the punk rock audience.
Catch them at Alchemize 6.18.05
Going the Distance
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Promising locals 500 Miles to Memphis are a little bit Country, a little bit Rock & Roll Intervie...Promising locals 500 Miles to Memphis are a little bit Country, a little bit Rock & Roll
Interview By Mike Breen
500 Miles to Memphis
The subject of distance comes up a lot when talking with area trio 500 Miles to Memphis. There's obviously the name, indicating the distance between Cincinnati and Elvis' adopted hometown. Then there's the spread-out living situation -- bassist Wade Owens currently lives in Hamilton and will soon move back to his hometown, Dayton; drummer Lee Steele calls Forest Park home; and singer/guitarist Ryan Malott lives in rural Bethel, where he was born and raised. It's seemingly a logistical nightmare, when you consider practice scheduling and gigs all over Greater Cincinnati, but the band members don't seem bothered by the mileage.
Then there's the matter of 500 Miles' sound, which, almost miraculously, makes energized Emo/Punk and traditional Country music sound like they were born to be inbred bunkmates. They are two sounds more than just a proverbial 500 miles apart, kinda like blending Polka and Death Metal. It's not Punkabilly or AltCountry, but a very distinct sound that seamlessly merges the contemporary pining of Emo, the energy of Punk and the rowdy and hallowed ache-and-rumble of vintage Country & Western, all slathered in enticing Pop melodies.
It's almost as if 500 Miles to Memphis' sound was in the air, just waiting for the band to finally catch up to it. Each member had played in Punk bands. But Malott, the main songwriter in the band, found the Country chocolate to 500 Miles' Punk peanut butter when he moved to Dallas for a brief stint. On an invitation to start a band in the Lone Star State, Malott relocated only to have the project fall through. But while in Dallas, the lifelong Bob Dylan and Neil Young fan caught a live set from a band playing traditional Country music.
"I thought 'God, what have I been missing out on,'" Malott recalls. "I just fell in love with it. I went out and bought as many Country albums as I could."
It wasn't his first introduction to the music. Growing up on a Bethel farm, where his family raised soybeans and tobacco, his grandfather frequently listened to old Country music.
"At the time I never got it," he admits. "(I thought), 'What is so good about that? It's horrible.' "
Steele says he also heard countrified sounds a lot growing up; his grandfather played upright bass in a Bluegrass band. "I really liked Bluegrass, but I always thought there needed to be more drums," he says with a laugh. "And that's kind of what we do. There's not a lot of (obvious) Bluegrass (influence) in our music, but it's real fast and there's a lot of pickin'."
After returning from Dallas, Malott was on a mission to start a Punk/Pop band with Country undertones. A classified ad landed Steele, but it wasn't until after several failed attempts with other players that they found Owens. The trio solidified near the end of 2003 and, just a few months later, recorded a self-titled, six-song demo EP, which they've been tirelessly sending to record labels and radio stations to good response.
The band gradually lost the rougher edge, drawing more from classic Country's rustic, rootsy songwriting than Punk's abrasiveness. "With Punk Rock, it wasn't something I fell in love with," Malott says. "It was just something to do while I was in high school."
The band members say they've largely received positive feedback so far, despite their unlikely sound. But, being in their early 20s, they feel like their youthfulness has created an unnecessary stigma.
"We've been through a lot of crap," Malott says of the ageism. "If I was older, I don't think we would have. When people see us get up onstage, they're like, 'Oh boy, these guys just got out of high school, here comes some Metallica.' But I think we make up for it by how we play."
Fellow musicians have particularly taken to the group. Members of Indie Pop trio The Giant Judys have championed them and Lisa Miller of wussy provided them with what Malott considers their greatest compliment, overlooking their ages by saying "don't let the boyish good looks fool you, these guys are old souls." It was a line they liked so much, they quoted it in early press kits.
"That made me feel great," says Malott. "Like, 'Thank God, someone doesn't just see us as a bunch of kids.' "
500 MILES TO MEMPHIS (milestomemphis.com) plays at the Borders in Eastgate at 8 p.m. on Saturday. On Sunday, they'll be at the Southgate House playing in Junie's Lounge before the Drive By Truckers concert.
E-mail Mike Breen
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"Editor's Pick! With summer coming to a close, it's almost time to put away those sunshine jams and ..."Editor's Pick! With summer coming to a close, it's almost time to put away those sunshine jams and break out music to get me through another Canadian winter. 500 Miles To Memphis is the perfect band to help us through that transition. Sunshine In A Shotglass goes just as well with an open window drive through the country as it does with a glass of stout by the wood stove. The band's combination of punk grit and attitude combined with country staples such as a vocal drawl and tales of remorse make the band appeal to Social Distortion's fans as much as Lucero's." - Punknews
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"An entertaining blood-and-broken bottle country punk combo, on first listen 500 Miles To Memphis so..."An entertaining blood-and-broken bottle country punk combo, on first listen 500 Miles To Memphis sound like the Old 97s fronted by Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day. On paper, it really doesn't sound like a good idea, but when you give Sunshine In A Shotglass a go it's actually rather tasty. Other current alt country brethren come into the picture now and then, with similarities to Patty Hurst Shifter, Lucero and Drive By Truckers. The combination of a punk derived vocal style over a broken bottle, blood spitting, barroom country band makes for a rousing listen. These boys must be well worth seeing live!" - Americana UK
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"It starts with some fine fiddle work in the best bluegrass tradition, then quickly switches to a th..."It starts with some fine fiddle work in the best bluegrass tradition, then quickly switches to a thrashy, punky twang. It is as great an intro tune as you'll find, setting the rowdy mood for this wonderfully demented rock 'n' roll hoedown. Welcome to Sunshine In A Shot Glass from 500 Miles To Memphis, the Cincinnati band that has truly mastered the punk-country vibe. A lot of bands have been experimenting with merging traditional hard country sounds with the alt-rock sound, but few do it as seamlessly as 500 Miles with their piercing soaring guitars, organ, fiddle and pedal steel. What really sets the album apart is Malott's deeply personal songwriting. He takes us on a debauched journey from alcohol and cocaine abuse to lost loves and finally a sort of peaceful resolution. It's not pretty, but somehow never depressing. The songs are 'whiskey-soaked,' begging to be played loud with a playful anger, waiting for a bar fight to break out. 500 Miles To Memphis has managed that rarity: a satisfying and complete work that is rowdy, heart-wrenching and full of wonderful roadhouse twangy thrashing rock." - Cincinnati Post
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"Cincinnati's favorite sons, 500 Miles To Memphis, obviously have their share of Willie and Waylon C..."Cincinnati's favorite sons, 500 Miles To Memphis, obviously have their share of Willie and Waylon CDs in constant rotation on their tour bus. Probably best described as country punk, the band blends the noise and energy of Social Distortion with the song writing of the Highwaymen. Think power chords with plenty of lap steel guitar. Sunshine in a Shot Glass is a solid take on the genre, showcasing a band that could hold its own against groups like Lucero or Drive-By Truckers. The songs take enough influence from punk and classic country that you can almost hear anyone from Johnny Cash to Rancid singing a song like Broken, Busted, Bloody. There are a dozen tracks here, and each is nearly as strong as the next." - Insite Atlanta
Our max set is four hours with three 15min set breaks.
Typical set is all original with one or two covers and lasts two hours.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.