Playing dirty

In the year or year-and-a-half or several years (depending on how you count it) that The Trainwreks (formerly No Good and the Trainwreks) have been playing, they’ve managed to establish their own genre, of which they are the “self-proclaimed kings”—at least according to guitarist/vocalist Micha Fishman.

Some might argue that former Asheville group The Unholy Trio, with their driving mix of soul, country blues, rock and honky-tonk, preceded the Trainwreks as the kings of recently coined “dirty tonk,” but since they’re not around to battle for that title, the six-member Trainwreks are so far undisputed.

All aboard: The Trainwrecks welcome impromptu jams, guest musicians and self-imposed titles.

But, while it’s easy to rise to the top of a genre of one, winning over fans isn’t so cut and dried, and the Asheville-based outfit isn’t out to make it easy on itself. For starters, there’s the name, intentionally misspelled, says bassist Lindsey Liden, because “someone stole the C.”

And then there’s a matter of an album. “We’ve been touring the Southeast for a year and a half, and we didn’t even have a CD,” Fishman reports. Well, other incarnations of the group have put out discs, but as the lineup has changed, so has the music. And this latest, most-of-a-year-old version (what guitarist/vocalist Ram Mandelkorn calls “the powerhouse”), is finally committing their dirty-tonk sound to an album.

Titled Ready to Die—a questionable career jump-off, especially for a band with a proclivity for naming their own fate—the Echo Mountain recording is purportedly a cross section of all that dirty tonk has to offer. The nearly all-original tracks range from country to swing and dark to upbeat. Liden says that “in a weird way, it works.”

Pedal-steel guitarist Matt Smith explains, “The record does a good job of recording the live show,” which is at the heart of the Trainwreks’ performance. Despite the expense of Echo Mountain studio time (“We paid for it ourselves, by playing lots of shows,” notes fiddle and mandolin player Ben Riva), that locale was chosen for its live room.

The real-time experience is ingrained in the Trainwreks largely because, until the current lineup was established, the group was a work-in-progress. “Whoever showed up was in the band,” laughs Liden.

“That’s just part of being in Asheville,” drummer Jacob Baumann adds. “Everyone’s looking out for everyone. If you’re not an a**hole and you can play the hell out of your instrument, you can jump on stage with us.”

The Trainwreks still welcome sit-ins, naming the Asheville Horns, Woody Wood, Scott Sharp and Dave Brown among their favorite collaborators. Even Die features an extensive cast of guest musicians. Of course, eclecticism is hardly new in Asheville, and that freeform, sideshow ambiance that comes from sharing the spotlight (“We’re known for being the band with having other musicians on stage,” Fishman insists) was perfected by the likes of Snake Oil Medicine Show and Jar-E long before the Trainwreks rolled into the local-music scene.

Still, it doesn’t require a reinvention of the wheel to put out a solid debut (or sophomore or third, depending on how you count it) album. And the Trainwreks are counting on Die to propel their career to the next level.

“Ideally we can all quit our day jobs and be doing this full time: touring and recording,” Fishman says. Upcoming tour dates on the group’s MySpace page run through June as of press time, and take them only as far away as Georgia, but they do have a booking agent for out-of-town shows and promise that more dates are in the works.

Then again, dirty tonk suggests a whiskey-soaked, freight-hopping suggestion of unpredictability. When asked what the future holds for the Trainwreks, Baumann’s view is short-term. “Go get drunk,” he says.

who:Trainwreks with Seth Kauffman
what:Multifaceted country rock
where:Grey Eagle
when:Friday, April 25. 9 p.m. ($7. 232-5800)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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