The .357 String Band
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The .357 String Band

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | SELF

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | SELF
Band Americana Bluegrass


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"Gig roundup: .357 String Band fires salvo with third disc"

Everyone knew The .357 String Band was popular here at home, but it took a sell-out crowd at Turner Hall early last year to really knock it home that this raucous roots rock band had jumped up to another level.

That the venue ran out of PBR that night is a testament to the thirst that this band can whip up in its fans!

Now, The .357 String Band has a new disc, "Lightning From the North" -- its third full-length -- and it celebrates the release here in Milwaukee with a gig at -- where else? -- Turner Hall on Friday, Feb. 12.
Opening the $10, 7 p.m. show are Pupy Costello and His Big City Honky Tonk and 6 Day Bender.

"We feel thrilled and honored that Milwaukee has supported us the way it has," says Derek Dunn, guitarist for the band that has spent the last year ripping up stages at venues around the country and around the world.

"We love playing Milwaukee more than anywhere else in the world."

The new disc -- which has a great paean to Cream City called "Milwaukee, Here I Come" -- has all the fire and fury of previous outings, mixing bluegrass sounds and traditions with a punk spirit and attitude ... with no drums. Think Bill Monroe meets Shane MacGowan.

"I think this record is a reflection of the places that we've gone and the changes that we've made in the last two years, both personally and as a band," says Dunn.

"That being said, a lot of those changes are natural expressions of growth very firmly rooted in the things that we've already done, and the territory that we've already covered." --Bobby Tanzilo

"Milwaukee's Best Alt-Country Band (2009 winner)"

.357 String Band has been called a “speedgrass” group, which is as good a term as any to describe their high-octane take on bluegrass, rockabilly and rowdy outlaw country. The group, which next year will release its third album, Lightning From the North, writes snide, drunken songs about evil acts and the devil, but no amount of cynicism and punk-rock attitude can disguise the group’s obvious reverence for traditional bluegrass (they do, after all, stick entirely to acoustic instruments). Their bar-band energy and instrumental prowess have made them a favorite of rockers, neo-hippies and country fans alike. - Shephard Express

".357 String Band bottle Lightning on new album"

Stabbing Riverwest basement-punk attitude into the seedy underbelly of traditional bluegrass—a sound the band aptly dubs “streetgrass”—.357 String Band is far more unconventional than its Americana trappings might suggest. The band's music is fast, raucous, and drenched in PBR-sweats, a phenomenon that started in and around Riverwest’s Circle-A Café in 2004. It has since been exported across the U.S. and Europe, with the band playing some 500 shows in 10 countries, a constant string of extended van tours reaching Bozeman, Budapest, and beyond. The band comes home for the release of its third full-length album, Lightning From The North, Friday at Turner Hall. In advance of the show, The A.V. Club talked to singer-guitarist Derek Dunn about how streetgrass saved his life, even if the band has put his life in danger more than a few times.

The A.V. Club: How has the “streetgrass” sound evolved since the Circle-A Café days?

Derek Dunn: What's changed is us, personally. When we started this band, I was smoking a pack a day, drinking myself to death. It was getting to the point that I couldn't sing anymore, I couldn't write. Over the course of a few years, I went to rehab, quit smoking, finally quit drinking. In a lot of ways this band saved my soul. I think any changes in our music is just the natural progression of that type of thing, of us basically growing up. We don't just sit around discussing what direction the band is going or anything like that; it's just whatever we've been writing that ends up working.
AVC: You guys have been on a relentless touring schedule for years. How do you keep yourselves together on the road?

DD: A lot of it has to do with finding ways to be alone while you're shoved in a van with three or four other people for six weeks at a time. We keep our van pretty clean on the road, and over the course of time, we've all learned to get sleep when we need it. Staying hydrated is big. It’s also important to avoid fast food like the plague. We drink Emergen-C and things like that.

AVC: You’ve recently toured across Europe. How is playing European clubs different from playing in the States?

DD: The sound is usually better. With the crowds, though, it varies. Crowds in Serbia and Spain, for instance, were way rowdier than the crowds in Belgium or Holland, where people tend to stand back and really listen to the songs rather than dance. So it varies as much as, say, American shows in New York are different than shows in L.A., which are different than shows in Fargo. Really, it all depends on the individuals in the crowd.

AVC: Of all the places you’ve been, where do they drink the hardest?

DD: First and foremost, nobody drinks like they do in Milwaukee, period. After that is Fort Wayne, Ind., then Bozeman, Mont. But sometimes I wish that Milwaukee had a bit less of a drinking culture. I think other things, like music for instance, suffer because of it; getting drunk is a higher priority than getting a band together. Plus, why do we have 8 million bars and no skate park? Drinking can be awesome, but it's not an artistic endeavor.

AVC: Tell me a good tour anecdote.

DD: Let's see. We got jumped by five good ol' boys in Anaconda, Mont., and had to beat them with the golf clubs they'd been planning on using on us—they actually ended up calling the cops to come save them, which was funny. We've had our van towed by the Serbian army; we were searched by the Hungarian army, the German police, and a bunch of times by U.S. police. We burn about 45,000 miles a year on the highway, so we've definitely had our fair share of near-death experiences. Right now we're on our way to play Churchill's Pub, in little Haiti in Miami, so who knows? Maybe we'll have another harrowing near-death experience tonight. Every day is a new adventure.
- The Onion A.V. Club

"From Riverwest To Rome"

Milwaukee; "the Germanic beer hub." Or is it, Milwaukee; "the Cream City". Maybe... "Milwaukee; the most Northern city in Appalachia?" We're well on our way if you go by the strength of our latest export; the .357 String Band, who graced the stage at Turner Hall February 12th, gearing up for a big push for their latest album Lightning from the North.

For those of you who might not be aware, a major paradigm shift in Country music has occurred in the years just prior to the formation of the .357 String Band. As a reaction to the transformation of mainstream country into a banal and unidentifiable form of light pop (or perhaps in spite of it), an entire counter culture has sprung up, reclaiming ownership of the music of their grandparents. Maybe even their great grandparents in some cases. What's most curious though is that the whole isn't pulling it's numbers from some kind of musty preservationist society. It's pulling from underground punk, among others. Although it makes no sense to simplify the broad base of support that the .357 String Band has built, it's not really overreaching to say that many in the movement are more fundamentally connected to Black Flag than Bocephus.

In a way though it makes perfect sense. There's always been a kind of philosophical divide in punk, between the gutter and the art museum. Groups like The Fall, Gang of Four, or Talking Heads are probably more at home on a college campus. That's not a condemnation by any means, just an observation. On the other end of it though is all of those forms within punk that appeal to, dare I say "working class sensibilities." Many of the narratives in underground punk are essentially based around the survival mentality, (the ability to continue to maintain individual identity in the face of overwhelming forces) the misunderstood outsider (you don't get it, you don't get me, stay away), or the hunt for cheap thrills (I'm drinking). The life of "the Rebel" - plain and simple. Sure, there's more to it than that, but if you take those themes away, you've ripped away much of the story.

Many of these ideas are not exclusive to punk by any means. In fact most of them owe royalties to the music and people of Appalachia. A people with a troubled history with governments that sought to use them as a 'buffer" against the warlike natives, whether in Kentucky or Northern Ireland. Calling on them for loyal assistance when it was most convenient, neglecting them when it was not. This is to saying nothing of the many documented abuses of the Appalachian people at the hands of the coal mining industry. No wonder the rebellious nature of the music rings true with so many of us today.

Maybe the only ideas slightly different to many in punk are the religious elements, which have been whole heartedly embraced, not cast aside as one might think. Though some of it might be slightly tongue-in-cheek ("..satan is real, working in spirit...). Outside of the lyrical themes involved, the speed of bluegrass translates very well for many. Not all of it is break neck, but the far end of the speed limit is high. Some of the differences lie in the Scots-Irish scale that one needs to know in order to really pull it off, and maybe the circular structure of the song forms (many songs lack bridges and the common breaks of rock music), not to mention the increased importance of vocal ability. One could get away with being a bad singer in this form, but you' d be exposed as a hack much quicker. Harmonies are always tricky regardless of the style of music and are so integral to any type of bluegrass. All of these points might actually be a pull factor for many; it's a real challenge.

The .357 String Band rises to this challenge, and in many ways a continuation of that back and forth movement within music. They're contributing to the eternal process of breaking down traditions, and reassembling them in a way which reflects our times best. Like using a set of antique tools to carve something new, as opposed to hanging them on the wall like knickknacks to be admired. Not that the boys are doing it in a way as premeditated and obvious as I am making it out to be, (I just happen to be overstating the whole thing). Certainly they aren't the first to head down this path, (the Pogues, X, the Gun Club, etc.), but they own it in a big way, which is no small feat.

What is likewise no small feat is the fact that the boys have been doing it for six plus years, and it only seems to be growing. I mean, they've been able to take this thing overseas. They've been able to take this thing to the Turner Hall level. They've been able to move it from Riverwest to Rome.

They're out there slapping and claw hammering at lightning speed through the countryside, headed south bound or jumping the pond. Hitting the harmonies and hitting the bottle. And what's best about it for them, no damn drum set to haul. -


"Ghost Town" LP 2006.
"Fire & Hail" LP 2008.
"Lightning From The North" LP 2010.



The Wisconsin state motto is simple - “Forward.” Milwaukee’s own .357 String Band epitomizes this spirit. Established in 2004, they have brought their inimitably relentless style of Americana from the West Coast of the United States to as far east as Serbia, playing over 600 shows in 10 different countries, and honing their razor sharp sound and adrenaline-fueled live show with a grueling tour schedule.
Anything but derivative, The .357 String Band pays homage to both the dark roots of Americana - the fatalistic murder ballads, sneering Outlaw Country and unforgiving Gospel. The result is a faster, more frenzied folk music - something the band calls “Streetgrass.”
Forgoing drums and using only stringed instruments, The .357 String Band plays with all the fire and fury of Rock & Roll; with an often surprising musical and lyrical refinement. Replete with mythology and mysticism, religious imagery and Biblical reference, The .357 String Band’s music ultimately engages with life here on Earth - the struggle of human beings to reconcile conflicting impulses and emotions is at the core of their music. With lyrics that can be as dark as the human soul at its worst, the music can’t be called negative - rather, it serves as a grim-yet-hopeful reminder that only by fully embracing the demons inside each of us can we exorcise them.
Impossible to pin down to any one genre, The .357 String Band have won accolades from fans of many different styles of music, and they were voted “Best Country” by the Shepherd Express’ People’s Choice Awards in 2007, “Best Alt-Country” in 2009, as well as winning “Best Bluegrass” in the 2008 and 2011 Wisconsin Area Music Industry Awards. They have played with bands from many different genres, successfully sharing the stage with Old Time American string bands like Old Crow Medicine Show and The Hackensaw Boys; Outlaw Country like Hank Williams III and Wayne “The Train” Hancock; Blues bands like Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band and The Black Diamond Heavies; Punk bands, including the infamous ANTiSEEN and Exploited; as well as many bands that, like .357 themselves, defy easy categorization, such as The Avett Brothers, Wovenhand and Th’ Legendary Shack* Shakers.
The .357 String Band has released three albums - 2006’s Ghost Town, featuring performances by Lonesome Wyatt from Those Poor Bastards, Rebecca Manthe from the Tossers, and Jeff Hamilton of the Violent Femmes, as well as co-production from Col. JD Wilkes of Th’ Legendary Shack*Shakers; 2008’s Fire & Hail, which was recorded by and features performances by Andy Gibson of Hank III’s Damn Band, as well as performances by Donnie Herron, of BR549; and 2010’s Lightning From The North, also recorded by and featuring performances by Andy Gibson.