J. Charles & the Trainrobbers
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J. Charles & the Trainrobbers

Dallas, Texas, United States | INDIE

Dallas, Texas, United States | INDIE
Band Americana Alternative

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Johnny Cash meets the Clash, Lefty Frizzell arm-wrestles with Black Flag — it’s all in a day’s work for Dallas’ country-punk band J. Charles and the Trainrobbers.
Formed in 2010, the six-member group finds sonic salvation in three chords and the truth. Country and punk music are both built around those same creative parameters. So Jeffrey Charles Saenz, Steve Visneau, Danny Crelin, Justin Young, Linc Campbell and Taylor Rea revel in that intersection between twang and bang.
“Country and punk rock have a lot in common,” says Saenz, 34, Trainrobbers lead vocalist, songwriter and guitarist, from inside his Modern Electric Sound Recorders. “I have covered Willie Nelson songs as punk rock songs and they work so well. We have covered Misfits songs and it all translates so well.”
One spin of the Trainrobbers’ debut CD, Upon Leaving, and the influences are crystal. Upon Leaving is a Drive-By-Truckers-inspired song cycle chronicling Saenz’s musical and personal journey from Los Angeles to Dallas in January 2010. Most of the tunes were written then, he confirmed, with maybe a couple penned in 2011. The record, particularly choice cuts such as “Something Wrong” and “Blood on the Wind,” works almost like a Southern rock opera. Each track is thematically connected to the other.
“It was all unintentional,” Saenz says. “It was just what I wrote. The one theme running through my entire life — leaving California, leaving the girl I was seeing and having it fall apart.”
In classic Gothic Old West style, the artwork on the CD package helps set the mood for the record. Oak Cliff-based artist Clay Stinnett provided impressionistic paintings of horses, lions, bears, tigers, wolves and eagles battling it out in the desert.
“The concept of the record is on the artwork,” says Visneau, 45, Trainrobbers drummer. “I saw that from the very beginning, very intentional. It was an epic of Jeff’s life. The songs were there, the stories were there. Then we got Clay to translate that.”
Yet in those personal stories of moving to a new city, leaving behind an old life as well as a once red-hot love, and rediscovering yourself, Saenz found a kindred spirit.
“Even though Jeff lived these songs, a lot of it is me, too,” says Crelin, 44, Trainrobbers pedal steel guitarist and a former member of Dallas’ Eleven Hundred Springs. “We found each other in a way.”
That leads us to the Dallas-Fort Worth music scene, where Saenz has embraced a nurturing spirit unlike what he encountered in Los Angeles. As the group prepares to perform during its CD release party Saturday night at Club Dada in Dallas, Saenz marvels at the local support for a new band.
“In L.A. everybody is competitive,” he says. “You might be friends with 10 bands, but nobody goes to anybody’s show because they don’t want to help them draw a crowd. I have never seen anything in the West Coast as potentially unified as the Dallas scene is becoming. It’s so helpfully proactive.” - the Dallas Morning News


In a simple world, there would only be two kinds of music: good and bad. But over-hyphenation and subgenre classification often get in the way these days, so categorizing a band’s sound poses more challenges than ever before.

Typically, it’s music fans and the various branches of the industry who indulge in such descriptive minutia. The people who actually make the music, on the other hand, tend to be at a loss for words — or at the very least, slightly uncomfortable — slapping a label on what they do.

That certainly applies to Jeffrey Charles Saenz, better known as J. Charles. The Texas singer/guitarist and his five-piece band, The Trainrobbers, were among the Best Americana/Roots Act nominees in the 2012 Dallas Observer Music Awards. He’s OK with the Americana tag, but he also throws in other terms to cover the sounds featured throughout Upon Leaving, his first full-length effort with the Trainrobbers.

J. Charles recently checked in to talk about other significant firsts in his life and music career.

His favorite first album: "Man, that's a tough one. I am a firm believer in the first album. That's when things are still pure and unrefined. Danzig is the first one that comes to mind, but Wilco’s A.M., Social Distortion’s Mommy's Little Monster and Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker are all way up there for me."

His first concert: "Technically, my first concert was the Jacksons' Victory Tour in 1984, but the first one I ever woke up at 4 a.m. to wait in front of Tower Records to buy tickets for was Guns N' Roses/Metallica at the Rose Bowl in 1992. Faith No More was supposed to open but had to cancel last minute, so Motorhead opened instead. I was always a little bummed that Faith No More canceled, but it's not like Motorhead is a poor replacement. I also sold weed in the parking lot in order to scrape up enough money for a relatively lewd GNR T-shirt that my mom would never let me wear and got kicked out during GNR's encore for lighting a fire made of beer cups in the stands. I wasn't nearly as feisty at the Jacksons show."

His first guitar: "My first guitar was a wine-red American Standard Fender Strat. I worked at a little privately owned music shop by the house where I grew up and coveted this guitar every day I would show up to work. I saved up enough money to put a down payment on it and put it on layaway, but my parents — despite being low on funds at the time — surprised me and paid it off for me for Christmas. I'll never forget the feeling I got that day, knowing the sacrifice my parents made to give me something so awesome. I still have that guitar and will never part with it. It may not be the 'best' guitar I own, but it's certainly the most valuable one to me."

First time he billed himself as J. Charles (and why): "No offense to my parents, but I never really cared too much for the name Jeff — or Jeffrey. It never meant anything to me. I always wished I was named after my dad, or one of my grandpas. Charles was my great-grandfather on my mother's side's name. He was a good man. Seeing as my middle name is Charles, I felt I would much rather represent that name rather than one that has relatively zero personal significance. I guess I started with that about five or six years ago. Most of my friends still call me Jeff, and you will rarely catch me introducing myself as J. Charles, so it can get a bit confusing from time to time."

His first impression of Dallas: "I have loved Dallas ever since I first set foot here on the last day of the first U.S. tour I ever did, which was opening for the Reverend Horton Heat in the summer of 2001. I met one of my best friends, Oliver Peck, the week before I left for the tour through a mutual friend and made plans to meet up with him to get tattooed when we got to Dallas. He and I made fast friends, and before I knew it, either he was driving out to California to tattoo my friends in my parents’ kitchen or I was flying out to Dallas for the state fair or his infamous Christmas parties. Eventually I felt so connected with Dallas that I decided to make the jump and leave Los Angeles behind. I can't say it was an easy move — which is pretty apparent on our album — but I don't regret it one bit. I have been here nearly three years now, and I don't plan on leaving anytime soon, if ever."

First song written for Upon Leaving: "I guess the first song I wrote for the album was 'My Year.' That song was a long time in the making, a series of events that transpired over the course of an entire year of my life starting with the suicide of a close friend. Not much unlike the rest of the tunes, it seems like the first verse and chorus basically wrote themselves in a matter of minutes, but the rest of the tune needed an entire mess of a story to unravel before it could let itself be finished."

First words that come to his mind when describing the sound of the Trainrobbers: "[Laughs] Your guess is as good as mine. Whenever it comes up and anyone asks what we sound like, I always find myself sticking my foot in my mouth: 'Well, we're country — I guess? But not the kind of country your thinking of. I guess we're more of a rock band with pedal steel guitar — but not the kind of rock your thinking of …' I start confusing myself sometimes! Thank god for the amazingly ambiguous genre of 'Americana'!"

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior - Medleyville


The country music that came from DFW in 2012 was perhaps even more of a mixed bag than 2011. Last year, many newcomers were featured on our list of the Ten Best Local Country Songs, but this year, the vets held their ground with authority. From stone-cold, sawdust-kicking AM gold to electric Americana, North Texas continues to be one of the great exporters to the rest of the state and beyond.

"Mercy Killing," J. Charles & the Trainrobbers
Upon the fall release of Upon Leaving, this act became more than a great bar band. "Mercy Killing" is one of a couple of songs on this list that weave a tale from both the male and female perspective, with the vocals to match. While not a slow song, it may be the most somber local country song of the year. - Dallas Observer


press release re: debut album - Altsounds.com


press release re: debut album - Altsounds.com


Press release issued by End Sounds re: the signing of J. Charles & the Trainrobbers. - PunkNews.org


Review of our show 12/17/11 at the Moon in Fort Worth, TX. - FortLive.com


Discography

Debut full length album, "Upon Leaving", available NOW on End Sounds Records.

Photos

Bio

At the intersection where cowboy boots meet Converse, where twang ties into tough-minded rock riffs, and country collides with the power of punk, you’ll find J. Charles & The Trainrobbers. To refer to them as country-rockers would be to call up a false impression of laid-back Laurel Canyon dudes lost in a cloud of pot smoke. In fact, the Dallas-based band’s insistent, urgent sound thrives within the continuum of true American originals that includes everyone from Black Flag to Billy Joe Shaver, Tom Waits to Willie Nelson, without stopping to wonder about the stylistic borders between one and the other.

So how did this roadhouse-ripping sound come together? Well, it all started in early 2010, when J. Charles Saenz, former front man for recently disbanded Southern rockers Sangre Sangre, as well as ex lead guitarist for punk rockers the Strays and Death on Wednesday, decided to make a long and permanent drive from Los Angeles to the great state of Texas. Turns out Saenz hit town with a batch of new songs in his back pocket, and one of his first moves in bringing those songs alive was to reach out to his long time buddy, drummer Steven Visneau, who had worked with pioneering pop-punk outfit The Queers and Dallas’ own Slowride under the nom du punk Stevey Stress. Something special started happening right off the bat, and from there it was simply a matter of putting the rest of the puzzle pieces together in the right order.

By the summer, after a fair amount of searching, things came together at last as bass man Omar Yee Foon of The Mag Seven (another long time friend of both Saenz and Visneau) came aboard. With the undeniable Americana element of Saenz’s songs crying out for the proper twangy touch, it was decided that the only thing missing was a pedal steel player. Enter Danny Crelin, of Dallas country heroes Eleven Hundred Springs. “The guy came in and was bigger than life,” recalls Visneau, “Aggressive, loud, smooth, just perfection.” Since no band in their right minds would tamper with perfection, this cemented the lineup. Saenz and his gang of co-conspirators in turn became J. Charles & the Trainrobbers.

In most cases, a brand new band would have had to build its following from the ground up, but J. Charles & the Trainrobbers had a handy headstart, thanks to the impressive musical backstories of each member, as fans of the guys’ former bands contributed to the quick growth of the new project’s audience. In a short period of time, the Trainrobbers have gigged alongside an impressive array of artists including Lucero, Deer Tick, Dawes, Middle Brother, Shovels and Rope, and many more. But any band that hits the stage enough to develop their own sound eventually has to take the next step and capture that sound on record, so they can share it with more than however many people the club they happen to be playing on any given night can squeeze into its doors.

Accordingly, the first J. Charles & the Trainrobbers full-length album is already underway. The recording, entitled Upon Leaving, is being produced by Matt Pence, who has been the winner of the Dallas Observer music awards’ Best Engineer honor for more years than he can probably keep track of, and who also happens to be the drummer for both Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel. The album is expected to drop in the fall of 2011, and the band will be mounting a major tour in 2012 to spread the word as far and wide as possible.

What can we expect from J. Charles & the Trainrobbers’ freshman foray? The same combination of unfettered emotion, rock & roll intensity, and country-tinged reality that informs everything they’ve done from the start. In Visneau’s words, “This is just a natural progression for all of us. What we have done is nothing new, it's just honest. We have taken country music that we grew up on and the punk rock that we all spent years playing, and allowed ourselves to just play roots-based music with an aggressive style. I don't know if we have an exact