Among the forms of musical youth are The School of Rock (both the movie and the institution where young musicians learn the finer points of shredding) and the 27 Club (rockers become legendary by not making it to age 30). Then there are talented musicians whose sophisticated playing belies the low candle count on their birthday cakes. They’re probably the ones Pete Townshend had in mind when he penned "The Kids Are Alright." Two such acts — Joe Lasher Jr. and The Mobros have picked Saturday, Feb. 1 to launch new albums in Asheville.
While many of Joe Lasher Jr.'s classmates are occupied with weekend parties, midterm grades and prom dates, the North Buncombe High junior has been focused on polishing an unusual line for his college resume: up-and-coming country rocker.
The 17-year-old singer-songwriter got his first guitar at age 8, began writing songs for talent shows in middle school and started playing solo at open mics in April of last year. His take on Southern outlaw, country rock ’n’ roll quickly found a fan base. Open mic nights at Blue Mountain Pizza in Weaverville soon gave way to rodeo show gigs and county fair stages. In June, Lasher assembled a band with Zach Haney on lead guitar and vocals, Jason Surrett on bass and vocals and Will "The Animal" Beverly on drums and vocals.
Six months later, Lasher and his band have upward of 5,000 fans on social media and a release date for their first album, Devil in a Jar. They’ll perform at a release party at Highland Brewing Co. Saturday, Feb. 1.
Baby-faced Lasher may be, but Devil in a Jar isn’t your typical after-school project. His deep, bass vocals, big drum beats and alt-rock-style guitar licks, complete with feel-good, pop country lyrics — Bud Light, fishing holes and hanging with buddies included — make for a mature (not to mention fun) offering.
Despite his laid-back Southern drawl and songs like “How a Country Boy Rides” and “Cowboy Love Song,” Lasher hopes he won't be pigeonholed as solely a country artist. And his music will certainly appeal to a particular sector of the rock ’n’ roll crowd. Influences range from Bon Jovi to Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot, as well as “some harder-edged stuff” like Metallica. He also admits to harboring a “strange addiction” to Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and George Strait. “The music that I write is just a combination of all those put together,” says Lasher.
If his rapidly growing success surprises anyone, it’s probably Lasher himself. “Back in April, I walked downstairs one day, and I said, ‘Dad, let's make a fan page on Facebook and see if we can get anybody to follow me,’” he says. “At that point, we had no idea what we were getting into. From then on, it just took off.”
Luckily for Lasher, his family is overwhelmingly supportive. His dad, Joe Sr., who’s taken on the role of the young musician’s manager and publicist, knows the music business firsthand from his days as a guitarist for the local ’90s rock band Mother Soul. “Family support has been incredible,” says Lasher Jr. “Everybody in the family is just behind my back the whole time, and they’re there for whatever I need and make everything possible.” Lasher adds that while his guitar skills may have been inherited from his father, he credits his mom for his vocal talent.
“As far as the fan following goes,” he continues, “it's been crazy. I never thought in April that by Jan. 1, 2014, I'd have 5,000 fans. And I definitely didn't think we would have a full, 11-song album being released this soon either.”
Juggling school and his new life as a musician can be a challenge, says Lasher; nonetheless, he’s eager to go deeper into the music scene and dreams of touring after getting his high school diploma. He’s also interested in studying agriculture as a backup plan.
For now, Lasher is focused on his album and making sure the release party gives fans a good time. “Fans are friends, you know,” says Lasher. “I couldn't do anything without them. The support that I have, the love for my music from them, the support at the shows — it’s unbelievable, and I love them to death. I love the music and I love them, and I just want to see people happy listening to my music.” — L.M.
Like Blazing Saddles
It started with a high school talent show. Brothers Kelly and Patrick Morris can’t remember what the prize was — maybe $100? — but it was enough to motivate them to enter. Kelly, the elder by two years, was dedicated to the guitar, inspired by the likes of the Gypsy Kings and the King. Patrick, after trying a number of instruments, had settled on drums. The duo won the contest that year, and every year after that, until it just got embarrassing. But anyone who’s heard The Mobros would think twice before going head to head against them.
The band plays the Emerald Lounge Saturday, Feb. 1, as part of the launch for its new album, Walking with a Different Stride. The 20-plus dates make this the first real tour for the siblings from Camden, S.C. They’re no strangers to Asheville, though, having performed at CCX Music Fest and Jack of the Wood.
Stride marks another first: The Mobros’ debut full-length release. But it doesn’t play like a novice effort. The guitar positively struts and, when you least expect it, rears back and strikes. The drums are equal parts aggression and flourish. The album’s 10 tracks range from the nasty slink of “Friday Night” to the aerobic jostle of “Trampstamp,” the grungy blues of “Pride & Praise” to the raw swing of “Corrina.”
“The thread throughout is soul and rock ’n’ roll with a Western thing,” says Patrick.
“Like Blazing Saddles,” adds Kelly, referencing the 1974 Mel Brooks satire that had Cleavon Little playing a cowboy. It’s one of the many black-white dichotomies that seem to inform the Morrises’ work. “Say you have a Led Zeppelin backup band with Jackie Wilson leading it,” says Kelly. “Not to compare us to either of those, but there’s that Stax [Records] kind of drive that we like.”
The brothers — now in their early 20s, though they sound seasoned beyond their years — write separately, bringing individual song ideas to the table. But there’s also an intuitive connectivity to their creative process, from the way Patrick harmonizes with Kelly’s formidable vocals (recalling, by turns, Otis Redding and Prince) to certain obscure references to their shared past.
“On our new song, ‘Corrina,’ the outro sort of sounds like Tears For Fears,” says Kelly. “That’s totally Cincinnati for me.” Though they’ve spent most of their lives in South Carolina, the Morrises came from that Ohio city, which Kelly describes as “such a dark, German, rainy, artsy town.”
He continues, “I want to make more music like that. It’s kind of dreamy.” But any songs inspired by the nostalgic, urban world of the Morrises’ childhood would certainly be filtered through their determinedly rootsy, acoustic aesthetic. “Coming down here was such a shock to the senses,” says Patrick. “Without it, I don’t think we’d have the soul aspect to our music.”
The Mobros spent about a year working on a video for their song “Mississippi Woman.” Made on a tiny budget, it’s an artful telling, in music and images, of a Deep South story. Equal parts O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Cool Hand Luke (they pay tribute to the latter), it was filmed in an abandoned South Carolina town. It captures the desperation of black prisoners and the kind of rhythmic, driving blues associated with early Fat Possum releases, tempered by rugged romance.
“The funny thing is, that song is not really what we do,” says Patrick. But the brothers liked being able to introduce viewers to lesser-known sites and spots around their adopted home state. And with the release of Stride, they’ll be able to acquaint listeners with the full sonic spectrum that is The Mobros. — A.M.
who: Joe Lasher, Jr., at Highland Brewing
what: Saturday, Feb. 1, 6-8 p.m. Free.
where: The Mobros, at Emerald Lounge
when: Saturday, Feb. 1, 10:30 p.m.
Wham Bam Bowie Band performs at 11:30 p.m. as part of a free Pixies afterparty.