American Drag
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American Drag

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""These guys can F#cking play""

"Too new to be known" Feature:

1. AMERICAN DRAG: San Francisco, CA


“We had big delusions of grandeur about what we expected from the American rock and roll dream,” says American Drag frontman Will Evankovich. Having chased it through the ‘90s in various permutations —Mason Lane, Stereo Flyers, Grace (with Peter Cornell)—these five musical soul brothers found themselves still working shitty day jobs and sidelining in bar mitzvah jazz combos. They’ve joined forces to record a hook-heavy rock album—and their live show kicks, especially when de facto keyboardist Eric Levy (Garaj Mahal) shows up. Evankovich has serious pipes, sometimes reminiscent of Chris Robinson. Jason Thwaites is a rising guitar hero with fat Les Paul tone in the Page-Allman- Slash tradition. Bassist Joe Shaughnessy has chops like a Chicago butcher—hear him lock in with Thwaites and drummer Ethan Turner, whose tricks include triggered samples that bring 21st century crispness to AD’s big ‘70s rock sound. Guitarist Monroe Grisman (yeah, his old man’s the Dawg) weaves it all together with fresh rhythm licks and tight vocal harmonies. Background in prog, powerpop, and grunge translates to big melodic riffs that turn on a dime, and when they bring it out to the edge of the cliff, it’s clear: These guys can fucking play.

-Richard B. Simon

- Relix Magazine

"Life's anything but a drag for Marin band"

Elsa Knox Butler
Tuesday, May 17, 2005

- Marin rock band American Drag is on a roll. They've just released a self-titled debut album and they're one of the five nominees for the first annual North Bay Music Award in the Best Rock Band category along with the likes of Les Claypool of Primus, New Monsoon and the Santa Rosa indie rock group Velvet Teen.

"We approached all kinds of influential people in the music industry," says Scott McKeown, executive director of the Harmony Festival, which will host the NORBAYS, a fund-raiser for Musicians Helping Musicians and the Sonoma County Music Association's Music for Kids at Risk program. "We wanted to reflect a critical consensus. The American Drag name came up consistently, among the 60 or so people polled, as a hot new band that should be in the Top 5. I liked what I heard."

The Harmony Festival was founded in 1978 and draws 20,000 people annually.

Before American Drag formed 2 years ago, the members performed, recorded and toured Europe and the United States together in various combinations for years, even touring with Green Day and Train. Disillusioned by the pitfalls and near-successes of trying to "make it big," the band - front man Will Evankovich, guitarist Monroe Grisman, drummer Ethan Turner, bass player Joe Shaughnessy and lead guitarist Jason Thwaites - collectively decided to stick to making the music they like to listen to, regardless of what people think. The name is a nod to the struggle to achieve the all-too-often illusive American dream.

"As soon as you start chasing the dream, it's over, in my book. We were trying to write pop songs for the radio. People see through that," the 32-year-old Grisman says.

"The art suffers as a result. You're not happy, and neither is the listener. We finally made a record that we want to hear and people have reacted overwhelmingly to it."

This time, they all share the vision about where they want to go artistically. "American Drag has magical elements from any of the bands we've been a part of. We've built a kinship over the years and have the wherewithal to handle anything that gets thrown at us," vocalist and guitarist Evankovich, 27, says.

Says Turner, a part-time carpenter who grew up in Point Reyes and lives in San Rafael, "It's hard to be unique. There're a lot of rock bands out there and we're one of them. If we catch on, that's fine, but if not, we'll keep doing this because we love it."

Turner, 30, is steeped in old-school rock ' n' roll traditions. His father is a well-known guitar maker who built instruments for Fleetwood Mac. David Hayes, the bass player for Van Morrison and the Youngbloods, played a pivotal role in Turner's music career by giving him his first set of Mickey Mouse drums when he was 4 years old.

Turner's childhood friend, merchandiser Grisman, also grew up surrounded by musicians. His father is David Grisman, the bluegrass virtuoso and his mother, Harmony, is an accomplished singer, songwriter, pianist and blues guitarist.

"My dad's cornered the market on mandolin playing so I had to do something different," Grisman says.

He would have found rock 'n' roll anyway. At age 13, he was hooked by the power and spectacle of his first Van Halen concert.

The band's mission is to return to the traditions of rock 'n' roll while throwing some modernity into the mix. All band members collaborate on the music. Evankovich writes all the lyrics.

"We want to go back to the values that rock had in the '60s and '70s," Evankovich says . "We're going back to the basics when bands had personality. Right now, it's all about a label manufacturing an individual. We just want to have functional songwriting and put out a great sound."

"What makes us different," Grisman says, "is that everyone brings variety of influences and experiences. We're a very interesting mix of people. We put a lot of thought into the details."

"We can't live without doing this. Whether we make it or not, cursed or blessed, we're going to do this as long as we can. And we're proud of what we've created," he says.

The group is contributing to a sense of community that had disappeared in the early '90s, a time when musicians were highly competitive. These days, local bands are doing whatever it takes to help each other out.

"We're putting links to other bands on our Web sites, putting each other on bills, rounding up cheers and applause and pushing each other's CDs," Evankovich says .

The band recognizes there's always room for growth. "What holds us back is having to have day jobs and having to put food on the table," Grisman says.

"That takes us away from our music. Growth will come if we can make this an opportunity to do more gigs and record more albums together."

Copyright and permissions
- Marin Independent Journal

"The American Drag: "Out of the sky""

The second CD turns out to be the charm for the American Drag.

With this sophomore album, the five-year-old band has found the balance between classic roots rock and a genuine indie-alternative sound.

The six-piece group is fronted by lead singer-guitarist Will Evankovich, whose reedy tenor has been compared to the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson.

He wrote or co-wrote all of the 13 songs on "Out of the Sky," including the anthemic lead track, "Enemy's God," with its crunching guitars intertwined with snaky electronic keyboard lines. With some added production by the Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees), it's by far the most-played song on the band's MySpace page.

The title track, an impressive rock ballad, opens with acoustic guitar and builds into a larger ensemble sound highlighted by a searing solo by lead guitarist James DePrato, formerly of Chuck Prophet.

The song "Inside" has perhaps the sweetest melody on the CD and the "Hottest Day of the Year" breaks up the hard-rock numbers with some tasty acoustic finger-picked guitar and a simple folky vocal by Evankovich. "Carton Horse" recalls psychedelic-era Beatles.

The American Drag is lineup is rounded out by rhythm guitarist-backup singer Monroe Grisman (son of David Grisman), bassist Joseph Shaughnessy, keyboardist Eric Levy from the jam band Garaj Mahal and drummer John Mader.

With this inventive, creative and progressive CD, the American Drag has taken off, rising high above the local music scene.

- Paul Liberatore for The Independent Journal and HERE magazine - Here Magazine


On a roll with a new album, a European tour and a Green Day collaboration, North Bay rockers' dream is taking shape
By Jeff Burkhart
Marin Independent Journal
Posted:08/14/2009 01:00:00 AM PDT

It was late 2004 when guitarist Monroe Grisman, singer/guitarist Will Evankovich and bassist Joe Shaughnessy came together to form a band. The U.S. economy was in hyperdrive, and it seemed that the American dream was finally beginning to manifest itself for many, although they realized perhaps not for them. The three tossed about ideas for a name, eventually embracing American Drag.

Five years later, the name would prove strangely ironic, as fortunes for the band and the economy have changed.

"The name is a marker for that experience, as a reminder to us," says Shaughnessy, 38, of Petaluma. "The rest of the country was experiencing this explosive wealth during the dot-com era and we kind of struggled through that time, being on the outside of that whole thing."

A new album, an indie record deal, a Green Day project and an impending European tour have a way of changing things, including perspective. As a result, the North Bay band just might be on the verge of breaking through and dedicating all their time to American Drag.

"(American Drag) is comprised of professional working musicians," explains Grisman as he is making his way to a recent gig at the Alameda County Fair with the 85's, one of the two cover bands in which he plays.

"All the guys in our band do session work for various people, but the music we create in this band is our real love and passion," says Grisman, 41, who also plays with the Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers tribute band Petty Theft.

To call this band "working musicians" is a bit of an understatement. Evankovich and Shaughnessy have just been hired as band members in the forthcoming theatrical version of Green Day's multiplatinum "American Idiot" album. The play, which is being directed by Tony Award-winner Michael Mayer, debuts at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in September.

The details of the show are still being ironed out, but one thing is clear: Evankovich, Shaughnessy and others will be playing Green Day's music live onstage, not hidden behind a curtain or in an orchestra pit.

But they're no Green Day wannabes.

"We'll play with the same conviction (as Green Day), but I don't think that they are going to cover me with tattoos," Shaughnessy says with a laugh. Still, he plans to sling his bass just a little lower a la Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt.

The experience also is affecting the music American Drag members are writing for their third album.

"I don't think anyone will ever accuse us of sounding like Green Day, but the influence is there," Shaughnessy says. "We are writing heavier rock tunes, and I think that the next record will reflect that (influence)."

Robert Riedel, former booking agent for the Faultline, a defunct San Rafael nightclub, sees American Drag as a sort of all-star band. "It's really great to see these top guns from all the local bands get together and form their own posse," he says. "It's about time they kick some ass together."

Evankovich, who lives in Santa Rosa, recently completed a national tour as the third member of Shaw-Blades, the acoustic project involving Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Tommy Shaw of Styx.

It was a "grand education for me," Evankovich says. "Those two are fearless in their ability to do anything when on stage and bring the room along with them it's inspiring to take part in that and I strive to bring that to bear with AD."

There have been more concrete results as well. Blades offered some suggestions while they were recording "Out of the Sky," American Drag's critically lauded sophomore record. Blades also provided the circa World War I aviation photos taken by his grandfather for the CD cover. And the band was invited to open two shows for Styx, one at the House of Blues in Los Angeles and another at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga.

Local bands are nothing new for the threesome. Evankovich and Shaughnessy both played in the high-speed folk-fusion band Mason Lane, and Grisman - son of singer/songwriter Harmony Grisman and mandolinist David Grisman - has a resume that includes other semi-experimental bands such as Sapphire, Pump Mother, Feed and Gahundza.

"Bands are different than being a musical mercenary," Shaughnessy says. "There's a certain kind of rapport that you get in a band. They develop a voice and a personality that is the combined group effort."

"A musician needs to understand what he contributes to the band and focus on that contribution to the best of his ability," Evankovich says. He then uses an AC/DC reference to the roles of rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young and wild lead guitarist Angus Young to hammer his point: "A player who's got Malcolm Young's job and thinks he's Angus is going waste a lot of his energy and his bandmates' goodwill."

So what makes them work?

As Grisman says, American Drag is a culmination of all the experiences in all the various bands and musical situations into which the three have thrown themselves.

The proof is in "Out of the Sky," featuring songs that weave alliterative narratives like a Train or a Matchbox 20, adding catchy melodies and topping it all off with a rock 'n' roll snarl not unlike the Black Crowes.

"We aspire to make albums like we grew up listening to, with every song being compelling from beginning to end, not just writing a pop hit," Grisman says. "We feel like we have gotten a grasp on writing a good song, but are also able to stretch out dynamically."

It is that dynamic between being progressive and pragmatic that makes American Drag so intriguing. Their eponymous debut album, released in 2005, and their extensive touring have garnered them a solid local following evidenced by their 2007 best local rock band award, voted them by the readers of the North Bay Bohemian magazine.

"Out of the Sky" also saw the departure of original guitarist Jason Thwaites and drummer Alan Hertz and the introduction of drummer John Mader who, in keeping with the band's tradition, has been playing drums for the stage production of "Wicked" at San Francisco's Orpheum Theater. Then there's keyboardist Eric Levy, who also plays in the critically acclaimed jam band Garaj Mahal.

All of which has brought the band to the attention of a new indie German label. American Drag will be the first American act signed to the label, which will release "Out of the Sky" in Germany, the United Kingdom and France. If all goes well, next year, they'll be on tour in Europe.

"We are following our bliss and making our music without darking out on whether or not anyone will hear these records or give a shit," Grisman says. "That is kind of our dream turned drag."

If this group of pragmatic musical veterans is not careful, their American Drag might turn out to be their American dream after all. - Here Magazine

"Owl Mag CD Review"

The Owl Mag June, 2005

American Drag

The American Drag time warp has got quite a pull. When their music filters into your ears, you're instantly whisked back to the 90s (where flannel shirts, beepers, and cream colored jeans were all the rage).

The trials and tribulations of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" are what make American Drag's music unique and profound. They play with the idea of "The American Dream" and point out that working 9-5 (to move on up "to a deluxe apartment in the sky") isn't all that it's cracked up to be. On the song "Greed" we can see these life struggles: "It's someone else's bread/ why don't you give it up instead/ we're drowning in the shallow water/ would I kill to give you what some others have?"

The nostalgic sound of American Drag is what brings you back to the alternative rock of yesteryear...but it's the raw, piercing vocals, hard edged guitar riffs, intense drum beats, and thought provoking lyrics that will carry their music into the future. In the end, the American Drag experience begs the question: "What's your dream?"
- Alison Manuel
- The Owl Mag


American Drag (self titled) 2005 release

2ND ALBUM "Out of the Sky" to be released in 2010 on PanMondial!



A gang of unapologetic rockers, The American Drag is a kicking live band from the San Francisco Bay Area with songs to match. Since 2004, AD has electrified audiences with its classic rock power combined with a fearless indie vibe. The band's sophomore album “Out of the Sky” is currently charting at iTunes and CD Baby. The title is also set for release in the EU, through the German label and publisher, PHLONQ. The songs journey through the human spirit’s struggle in Americana— the “American Dream” turned “American Drag.”

In a modern-classic landscape of hard-edged roots rock and electronic textures, front man Will Evankovich casts his bittersweet narrations with a timber reminiscent of Peter Gabriel and grit of the Black Crowes Chris Robinson. In addition to Will’s long-time band mates, bassist Joseph Shaughnessy and guitarist, vocalist Monroe Grisman, now drummer John Mader and piano/keyboardist Eric Levy from the Bay Area jam/jazz fusion band Garaj Mahal round out the band. While "Out of the Sky" saw the departure of original guitarist Jason Thwaites and drummer Alan Hertz, the introduction of Mader and Levy has added an infusion of power and psychedel-i-funk to the live show.

While recording “Out of the Sky,” Will was recruited by veteran rocker/producer Jack Blades (Night ranger/Damn Yankees) as a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist with Shaw-Blades, featuring Tommy Shaw (Styx/Damn Yankees). After a national tour of the “Influences” record, AD was invited to open some shows for Styx gaining many new die-hard fans along the way with their explosive live show. When not performing with The American Drag this Fall, Will and Joe are performing on the world premier of Green Day's "American Idiot" musical, directed by Michael Mayer, who won a Tony Award for “Spring Awakening,” and Mader will continue his run as the drummer for the hit Wicked.

As the members of The American Drag have been developing loyal fans working in various combinations over several years: making albums, playing clubs and theatres, climbing in and out of vans across the US and in Europe. The band is now preparing to put their new music on national and international stages with this exciting new release.

It’s music with substance:

And today, Marin's great musical tradition continues with a dynamic local band called American Drag... I suggest you catch their live show now, because they're about to rocket through the stratosphere. Rodger Cambria/ Spin (writing for The News Marin)

These boys rock steady, in a way that's been forgotten by most of today's so-called alt-rock bands. R.V. Scheide/ North Bay Bohemian

Background in prog, power pop, and grunge translates to big melodic riffs that turn on a dime, and when they bring it out to the edge of the cliff, it’s clear: These guys can fucking play.
Richard B. Simon / Relix Magazine

2007 North Bay Bohemian readers poll award recipients for “Best Local Rock Band”