A revolutionary gambit

From the start, their love is doomed. He’s a reluctant soldier, trying to fight for his nation’s independence from a tyrannical king. She, by a cruel twist of fate, is a loyalist to the Crown.

Though their feelings are true, destiny has placed a pair of seemingly insurmountable obstacles between them: (1) An epic battle that will determine the fate of nations, and (2) Her job (she’s a stripper).

This is the story of Tory, the latest album from the Boone-based garage group The Port Huron Statement — and if it sounds strange now, just wait till you see the gorilla.

“Through most of [the songs] is the recurring theme of a doomed romance set back during the American Revolution,” explains PHS front man Chip Taylor. “But it’s real anachronistic, because there’s all these references to this girl named Tory working in a strip club.”

Underneath all the oddities is a simple explanation: “I can’t seem to write songs about ‘larger’ themes like love and death and God,” says Taylor, “unless I wrap them up in some story line like the American Revolution.”

Not all of Tory’s songs revolve around the doomed love affair of its aptly named title character. Originally, Taylor had intended to release the album as an EP, but as the project came closer to completion he found himself adding additional material.

“I’ve really gotten into disappearing into the basement with the four-track all night,” he explains, “and that, I think, is where I really learned how to become a better songwriter.” Before long, Tory had become a full-length album.

Releasing a record like Tory is something of a risk for the band. While the duo has gained a small regional following — largely due to its previous album, Home Recordings 1997-1999 — it has yet to make a major impact on fans outside Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. If the album were poorly received, with previous fans unhappy with the new direction and no new fans to take their place, it would be a major loss on a great investment of time, effort and money. But a flop isn’t likely.

Stylistically similar to the band’s previous effort, Tory is an album filled with garage-rock songs that are often both powerful and introspective. “It’s definitely more produced and lush than the first album,” says Taylor. “The melodies are still there, but it does tend to rock a little harder. I’m really proud of it.”

The band has been highly successful translating its music live, often down to the same distortion and electronic effects heard on the album. “We aren’t into shoegazing and acting like we’re too cool for school,” as Taylor puts it.

Even with an energetic stage presence, however, the band has resorted to theatrics to keep the attention of its crowds. Their ace in the hole is the PHS Gorilla (actually a friend coaxed into a gorilla suit).

“There’s plenty of competition for your entertainment dollar,” Taylor explains, “and if you’re gonna invest an evening in The Port Huron Statement, well, by God, we’re going to give you a dancing gorilla and some theatrics.”

Thus far, the gimmick has worked, making the band one of the most talked-about garage acts on the local circuit. If their further gamble on their new high-concept album pays off, The Port Huron Statement could become a regional headlining act, possibly gaining the attention of a major label. If it doesn’t pay off, it would be a case of history repeating itself.

Chip Taylor’s previous band, Sticky, was one of several acts to get signed by a subsidiary of Virgin Records. “We were playing this poppy-punky garage rock and it was the flavor of the day in the mid-’90s. Bands like Green Day and Weezer were getting huge, and major labels were gobbling up bands like Sticky.”

But Sticky never stuck. When the band broke up, Taylor moved on, recording a 70-minute CD of intensely personal and surprisingly pop-oriented songs that were independently released as Home Recordings 1997-1999.

Now, Taylor and Todd Henderson, the other half of The Port Huron Statement, are trying again to make their mark. This time, however, they’re a bit more pragmatic about the band’s future.

“Hopefully we will make a bit of a dent with the release of this next album,” Taylor explains. “As far as pursuing this as a living, I’m just not going to do this ‘at all costs.’ Screw it. I’ve got a wife, a house, a job, and I’m thrilled to go off and play short little tours and record these albums.”

Even if the album is successful, Taylor admits he’d be a little reluctant to try the same strategy he used with Sticky. “Sure, we could jump in the van, and do the overdone ‘Maximum Rock and Roll’ type tour, but I think Todd and I are too high-maintenance for that lifestyle. Having said that, if a record deal, tour support and a nice advance landed in my lap, I’d be in that van tomorrow. With my wife’s approval, of course.”


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