“Who are the Surreal McCoys? Your favorite new cowpunk band.” —LA Weekly
The Surreal McCoys are a gritty band of hardcore troubadours who worship at the moonlit crossroads of Americana and punk rock. Which sort of makes them an Americana Punk band… to the degree that’s even an actual musical genre.
The McCoys are a roots rock outfit with one foot in the garage and the other on a tippy roadhouse barstool. Their songs recall an era of lesser hygiene but greater guitar riffs, and come wafting through the car radio static of some far-off station as the band careens down the lost musical highway that connects the odd-numbered Hank Williamses to The Replacements.
“The Surreal McCoys are a unique blend of pretty much any musical styling that is cool—nods to The Stones, The Clash, Johnny Cash—and all performed with energy and a whimsical middle finger held high. Best played extremely loud, and with at least two tequilas already in the bloodstream.” —Billy Morrison (Billy Idol, Royal Machines)
The five-piece has played sweat-soaked shows to ecstatic and inebriated audiences all over America, and recorded two full-length albums of original songs: their debut LP, The Bottle & The Gun, and their latest, The Howl & The Growl (street date of September 18, 2015). And they’re not above using the stray music industry insider term like “street date” to show just how “insider” and “street” they can be when challenged.
The band formed at Notre Dame before going their separate ways to pursue vague notions of adulthood, then re-banded several years later after realizing that they were powerless to the gravitational pull of their ragged rock ‘n’ roll collective.
The blue collar “Johnny Clash” sound of their debut album The Bottle & The Gun vaulted them onto XM Satellite Radio’s X-Country’s Top 50 LP list, and earned them two songs (the title track and the cowboy ballad “$10 Hooker in a $5 Town”) in heavy rotation. The LP is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Pandora, and in your finer truck stops. They’ve shared the stage with everyone from Camp Freddy to Robert Earl Keen to the Bottle Rockets (with whom they’ll be playing at the Americana Fest in Nashville on September 17th).
For their new album, The Howl & The Growl, they teamed up with veteran producer and alt-country/rock legend Eric Ambel (Del Lords, Bottle Rockets, Steve Earle, Ryan Adams, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts) at his Cowboy Technical Studios in Brooklyn and unearthed a more muscular vintage sound. They went in to make a traditional cow punk disc in the vein of Social Distortion; what they came out with is a raunchy rock ‘n’ record straight out of Muscle Shoals in 1974.
The band release the new album on Sept 18, 2015, the day after the band plays a show with Bottle Rockets at the Americana Festival in Nashville.
“No matter what is going on in the outside lives of the Surreal McCoys, when they come together and start howling and growling, they morph into a singular 3-car garage monster that’ll rip you into pieces if you don’t sign on to their fun.” —Eric AmbelThe band’s sound on The Howl & The Growl is swampy and streetwise, evocative of both the red clay of the Mississippi Delta and the alleyways of the Lower East Side. Except more litter-strewn. The rhythm section is full and bombastic, possibly even arrogant. The guitars are heavy and anthemic and were mostly played sober. Soaring harmonies, lap steel, harmonicas and the occasional Hammond organ add texture, while, the songwriting tackles traditional “love and hope and sex and dreams” rock ‘n roll terrain with wit and masculine swagger (but the kind of swagger that clearly isn’t overcompensating for anything).
The band is anchored by a propulsive yet adequate rhythm section featuring the thunderhammer bass of Clint McCoy and the Redbull-fuelled drumming of Billy Saul McCoy. These two forge a (largely) stable foundation for lead guitarist Elvis McCoy, who shifts from lilting jangle to power chord crunch while exploring the sonic range between Telecaster twang and Les Paul power.
Goatboy McCoy overlays rhythm guitar, harmonica, lap steel and sexual tension, and well, let’s just say that if you could bottle it, you’d make a fortune. (Okay, admittedly, it’s surprisingly easy to bottle and we haven’t made one red cent.) But his impish charm and frontier banter add levity and are on full display at live gigs, where he roams the audience sparking spontaneous gyrations in an occasionally legal fashion.
The vocals of frontman Cletus McCoy—equal parts saloon singer, carnival barker and untrustworthy narrator—howl and growl over tales of romance and revenge, over-indulgence and messianic delusion. At live shows, he prowls the stage like a speed-addled panther in heat, and yes, we actually just typed that. And layered over everything are Byrds-like harmonies and a low layer of distortion, for an overall result similar to that old-timey footage of the train falling off the bridge. You know that footage—the one in grainy black and white. Damn, that thing’s funny every time.
THE THRILLING CONCLUSION
As the late Morgan Freeman once observed, “it’s a thin line that separates the sacred and profane/ when your only love’s a highway or a train.” Similarly, the music of The Surreal McCoys seeks to explore both the gutter and the stars, and all the barrooms in between that connect the two.
But in the final analysis, The Surreal McCoys are a genre-bending (and, when tequila’s involved, gender-bending) Americana Punk band that stirs an array of influences into a sonic stew that is distinctly their own. As the closing line on the new album notes, “they’re trying so hard to define me/ with words that I’d never use/ like Red and Yellow and Black to the core/ but I’ve always preferred The Blues.”
That said, they’re not technically a Blues band. Not in the traditional sense.
Also… as it turns out, we’ve been informed that Morgan Freeman is very much still with us. Sorry about that. Who’s proofreading this? Moreover, that’s not one of his quotes. It’s from the new McCoys song “Leaving to Stay (in Love with You),” a travelin’ man torch song which name checks several of the towns the band has been “asked” by the town elders to leave and never return. Bastards.
“Straight out of parts unknown, come The Surreal McCoys—a fun and exuberant cow punk act that goes all out in the name of joyful irreverence, and pure rock and roll.” —OC Reloaded
“The Surreal McCoys... any band that covers both The Replacements and Johnny Cash is a band you should pay attention to for the sheer uniqueness of their approach (and their originals are pretty good too).” —DCist