Fiddles and mohawks

By Rich Tupica

Annual genre-fusing show doubles as CD release party for local band

These days, if you’re talking about country music, you usually think about superstars like Kenny Chesney or the glossy pop styling of Taylor Swift – a manufactured contemporary sound that strays so far from true twang that it should be barred from claiming the genre.

Members of the local alt-country band Flatfoot, however, prefer the classic honky-tonk originators like Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash. But Flatfoot isn’t riding an old-timey shtick — the veteran band discerningly picks from a bag of influences. Their new album, “Blue Water,” might start with “Dirt Shirt,” a country-rock tune, but skip down to track 10, “Genevieve,” and the rhythm section transcends into vintage R&B territory.

“They’re all pretty eclectic,” said Flatfoot guitarists/vocalist Aaron Bales. “I think this one has a fuller sound. There’s piano organ on just about everything, there are horn parts in a bunch of spots — that is totally new for us. It’s a thick, warm record with this full, rich sound to it.”

Other tracks hazily mirror The Band, The Pogues and even has some traces of punk rock.

“There are several songs that have these big Motown soul vibes,” Bales said. “We spread out more on this than any other record we’ve done. There’s still some country in there, but it’s pretty broad sonically.”

The new CD/LP will be released Friday at the annual Punks vs. Pokes show at Mac’s Bar. Bales spearheaded the event eight years ago as a way to enjoy his two favorite music genres — punk and country — on the same bill. To make it interesting, each band has to cover one song from the opposing genre.

“There’s a real natural pairing with punk and country,” Bales said. “There are a lot of bands who blur that line. (When I was coming up with the idea for Punks vs. Pokes) I thought, ‘What bands do I want to see (and) what bands do I want to share a bill with?’ I love the energy of the punk bands, and I don’t get out to enough shows anymore.”

Yes, life has changed a lot since the band formed at Michigan State University 12 years ago, when Bales and co-founding member Thomas McCartan met in the MSU Men’s Glee Club. Today Bales is a special education teacher, husband and father.

“It gets harder every year — there used to be no kids and we were all in East Lansing,” Bales said. “Now, everyone except for me lives in the Ann Arbor area. So not only are you throwing in life, but now I have to drive an hour each way for practice. So it’s a special event when we get to have a practice, once a month or something.”

“Think of how much things change between your freshman year in college and when you’re 30,” McCartan said. “That’s my age window for Flatfoot. But we’re doing it because we enjoy it and it’s fun. None of us are trying to get rich or famous. So, for me, this has been a successful band because we’ve been able to do it for so long.”

With life changing more each year for the band members, it’s not surprising what lyrical theme accidentally appeared on “Blue Water.”

“After we were finished, we listened to see if there was any sort of theme,” Bales said. “Our guitar player Tom Green noticed every song is about travel, or a journey — going out and then coming home. So there’s a theme of movement and journey throughout the whole album. We didn’t mean it that way; it’s just sort of what happened.”

8th Annual Punks vs. Pokes
Flatfoot’s “Blue Water” CD release show
Nov, 30
9 p.m.
$7 advance, $8 door
Mac’s Bar
2700 E. Michigan Ave.
(517) 484-6795