"We're kind of like the hardcore band for not hardcore people," says Just Die! guitarist and de facto front man Matt Evans.
But don't be fooled. Evans is referring more to the band's onstage demeanor and wide-ranging fan base than their music. Just Die!'s frantic percussion, screeching riffs, growling screams and catalog of tracks clocking in at less than a minute certainly fit the hardcore label. And the band (featuring Steve Shell on vox, Dave Reinhardt on drums and Josh McDowell on bass) has had no trouble assimilating itself into the tight-knit and often unseen Asheville punk scene, performing with nearly every local punk band and forming close ties with the city's venues and artists.
They're just in it to have fun, though. "We're like the high-fiving, good times, keeping-a-smile-on-our-face guys as we play music," Evans explains, "and I think we've started to establish ourselves, after everywhere we've played, as really positive about what we do. And the effect is that it brings out people who just wanna have a good time. I'm not necessarily saying the frat boys who like to throw down beers all the time, but we're definitely not just a straight punk-rock group."
The shows, he says, are frequented by the young and old, including some types you wouldn't necessarily expect to be listening to hardcore. "We have friends and friends of friends who come out who are teachers and professionals. There are people who don't have money, people who do have money, people who like this kind of music and that kind of music."
In the early days, it was the band's unofficial policy to accept any show they were offered, which led to some strange bedfellows, but also exposed them to fans who would have otherwise never sought out a Just Die! record. "We would play any show that would ask us," says Evans. "We just attacked them all, even if they were super, super strange bands."
It's been an effective strategy, earning the band a devoted local following that just voted it Best Punk Band in the 2009 Mountain Xpress readers poll. And the shows are growing too. Their latest excursion, a two-week stint up the Northeast coast that included shows in Boston, New York City and D.C., drew consistent and surprisingly large crowds, especially a sweaty basement show in New Brunswick, N.J. which Evans recalls drew "80 or 90 kids" with particular enthusiasm.
Still, he is humbled by the band's recent inclusion in the Best of WNC poll.
"We all voted for Nasty Ponies," Evans admits. "I looked at the little form and it wasn't like a multiple choice thing, so it wasn't set in stone who the candidates were. There are so many good bands in town," he adds with a mixture of pride and surprise. "I don't know who voted for us, but I thank them."
Many of those votes undoubtedly came from Asheville's burgeoning punk scene, a relatively invisible community to outsiders, but one that has been thriving for years in the open, anything-goes environment the city has long cultivated.
While Asheville might be known more for bluegrass and jam bands, there is an equally prominent alternative scene that includes a wide range of less commercial elements ranging from experimental noise bands to punk and hardcore. And although it may at first be surprising, when Evans offers his take on the scene, it makes perfect sense.
"Asheville is the melting pot of North Carolina," he begins. "There are a lot of ideas in Asheville that aren't traditional in North Carolina. It's very liberal. There's a lot of open mindedness. There's a really big gay and lesbian community, which is great. And there are a lot of ideals here that I think reflect what punk rock would initially be about."
It's easy to overlook. And Evans acknowledges that the punk scene has made an effort, conscious or otherwise, to keep a low profile.
"There are so many good shows that happen that no one knows about," he says. "It seems to be a tight community. I don't know if they're trying to keep it local, or keep it small. I don't even know if that's intentional or not. But there are a few bands from the punk scene here that have toured across the country and established Asheville. But if you're an outsider, or even an insider, I don't think you'd have any idea."
Now, with the release of their latest effort, the aptly titled 7" Garages and Basements, Just Die! is poised to be the next ambassador of the Asheville punk scene. And again, Evans points out that the album has a little something for everyone.
"It's a good flavor for anyone who likes music and likes to have a good time," he says. "We've always had a tendency to write 30-second songs, and this has some 30-second songs on it, but it also has some pretty epic parts.
"There's even a song on it that has piano, which is interesting for us. But you'll definitely know it's a Just Die! song because it's so spastic. You're not going to have that hook, because everything in the song is going to be the hook. It's just chaotic, energetic good times."
[Dane Smith can be reached at email@example.com.]
who: Just Die! and Nasty Ponies
what: Punk band Garages and Basements 7"-release show
where: Static Age Records
when: Saturday, Oct. 17 (8 p.m. All-ages. $5 gets you in and a copy of the new 7").