The number of young Memphians leaving town to live in other places has been an ongoing issue in recent years. But The Gunslingers, both 24, are the antithesis of this problem. Native Cody Lee Fletcher and transplant Lydia Gilman have found the heartfelt, unabashed feeling that runs through Memphis' music scene, and it's motivated them to root themselves here.
Upon first listen, it's clear that the Gunslingers' music is steeped in Memphis sounds: garage punk, dirty blues, rockabilly, and old-time rock-and-roll. But in this mix of familiar sounds, the band creates something distinctive. Add their ages to their ambition and ability to deploy traditional Memphis styles, and there's something surprising and encouraging to be found here.
"The Sam Phillips story is what inspired me to move here," says Gilman, a Dallas native who set her sights on Memphis shortly after getting a recording-arts degree in Orlando. She found a roommate on Craigslist and headed to Tennessee, lining up a job at Sun Studio, where she met fellow tour guide Fletcher. The two quickly realized they shared a devotion to the music they spent their working hours explaining to the public.
"I've worked at Sun for three years, and you get baptized in that '50s music," Fletcher says. He was itching to put together something similar on his own, and Gilman — well, she had a drum kit.
She laughs, remembering, "He said, 'Can you play?' and I was like, 'Not really.'"
Adds Fletcher: "So then we started playing."
That was June 2009, and by Christmas the duo had a handful of shows and an album under their belts. Both admit that they rushed into the recording, which was done at Ardent, where Gilman's an assistant engineer. But the unfinished edges of the Gunslingers' bluesy, garage-y, rockabilly sound are what most intrigues fans and the duo alike.
"I think that's what makes it interesting — the fact that we could screw up at any moment," Fletcher says. "But we still finish the song." Blame it on Gilman's improvised drumming, Fletcher's frenzied shrieks and slamming guitar, or the uncalculated brevity of most of the songs, but the way this duo comes undone is downright charming.
And more than just locals have taken an interest in the Gunslingers. One year after first playing together, their song "Tennessee Baby" scored a spot on a sampler by VoxPop France. For their part, the Gunslingers hope to keep developing their sound, getting tighter, stronger, and closer to the sincerity achieved by their idols. "One of the things we really strive for is that unrestrained enthusiasm and feeling," says Fletcher, pointing to the Cramps, Bo Diddley, Reigning Sound, and the Memphis music they pull into their own work. And the intensity with which the duo attacks each show demands the same response from their audiences.
In the future, the band hopes to expand their touring. Besides the plethora of local shows the band has played since the beginning of 2010, they toured the eastern U.S. in April with locals Angel Sluts and are planning another tour with All Howlers (also locals) this fall.
"We want it to be long-term," Gilman says, considering the evolution the band's already made from Gilman's first attempts at drumming. "I already feel like I know what I'm doing."
Fletcher agrees. "I think we're right on track. Hopefully."
It's clear that whatever track the Gunslingers end up on, it'll always circle back home.
The Gunslingers, opening for The Coathangers and Predator
Thursday, July 22nd
10 p.m.; $8