There's only one way to describe the sound of the Vandoliers —Texas music. That's because the six-man band mixes up genres — punk, country, Tejano, psychedelia, folk, and blues — that could only have come from the Lone Star State. And on Forever, their Bloodshot Records debut, they do so with confidence, verve, and their own sense of style.
"That's exactly what we were trying to accomplish," Vandoliers' leader Joshua Fleming says of the "Texas music" tag. "We're big fans of the Texas Tornados, Alejandro Escovedo, Joe Ely, and Robert Earl Keen. But there's a lot of different sounds in Texas. The Austin scene is where psychedelic music started in the '60s, with the 13th Floor Elevators. There was a big punk scene in Austin. When I found out The Clash backed Joe Ely, that was kind of the vibe I was working at — taking the sounds of Texas and adding my story to it. The older you get, the more you realize you're a product of your environment. We're a Texas band. There's no other genre."
- The Vandoliers
Fleming, a native Texan, put together The Vandoliers four years ago, and the group released two albums on indie label State Fair Records — Ameri-Kinda (2016) and The Native (2017) — before signing to Bloodshot. But Fleming was far from a beginner when he started the Vandoliers. "I played my first show when I was 12 in an original-music band," he says. "I've been playing in bands for 17 years. The last band I had, The Pulses, was the first band to tour and be signed. I'm not saying it worked out because it didn't."
In fact, the punk-rock lifestyle of The Pulses almost destroyed Fleming, who, among other things, had an eye ailment that left him nearly blind for months after the band broke up. But it was that downturn that led him to the music that became the Vandoliers' musical foundation.
"It got dark, and I needed a lifestyle change," he says. "It got really dark. I got attuned to the music of Marty Stuart, it was kind of rockin' country. That sent me down a wormhole of my dad's record collection, listening to the stuff I'd heard my whole life.
"When I was doing the punk stuff, I heard it and thought 'I could do that.' The same thing happened with country music. I took my stuff and moved from electric guitar to acoustic guitar, minor scale to major scales."
Such influences come more to the fore with the new album, which was produced and recorded by Memphis' own Adam Hill (Low Cut Connie, The Bo-Keys, Deer Tick, Don Bryant, Zeshan B) at American Recording Studios.
Recording in Memphis helped give Forever that perfect raw mix of defiant punk, rugged Red Dirt country, and vibrant Tejano. The full-length's 10 songs blend emblematic rock-and-roll with bold horns, violin, and a slather of twang. Meanwhile, the band — bassist Mark Moncrieff, drummer Guyton Sanders, fiddler Travis Curry, electric guitarist Dustin Fleming, and multi-instrumentalist Cory Graves — have honed in on a blend that's uniquely their own, equally informed by the country and Tex-Mex sounds of their home state and the unbridled music of their youth. And, as the Vandoliers have taken up the Texas music mantle, with the fiddle, trumpet, and pedal steel helping to cover the stylistic range, Fleming has cleaned up his act.
"It's a lot less sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll and more me getting married and having a cocktail with my buddies," he says. "Right now, I'm not drinking. I lost my voice the last time we were on the road. I didn't want that to happen again. So I've done even more lifestyle changes. I'm kind of boring now, but I feel great."
Not only does Fleming feel great. He's grateful. "I'm grateful I have the opportunity to be on a label like Bloodshot," Fleming says. "I'm grateful I get to go out and play in towns I've never been to."
The Vandoliers play at the Hi Tone on Friday, August 9th, $10.