Broken Mouth Annie
Bloody Mary’s With Broken Mouth Annie
By Jesi Owens
Just hours after they’d been on stage, southern alternative punk band Broken Mouth Annie rallied to meet me at Taphouse for some brunch and Bloody Mary’s. There were sunglasses indoors, one weird PBR & OJ cocktail, and lots of laughs as we talked about their accomplishments.
I came about this job organically, as the six members of this southern-and-grunge dipped rock band spent the better part of 2012 in my house, which they used as a recording studio while making their debut record The Frustration King.
I was around the dozens of instruments, the rewrites, the arguments, and the high fives. But I was moreso there for the sidebar stuff, the non-musical when they needed a break, and thus interviewing them here gave me an opportunity to talk more about the actual music I’d heard as backdrop but hadn’t really assessed or delved deep into before.
2012 was a busy year for the band. It added its 6th member, bassist Steve Jones in January, played gigs everywhere from The NorVa to The Hampton Roads Show, and recorded The Frustration King, which ended up being praised by Sam MacDonald and Paul Shugrue, played on WNRN and 96X, and nominated for Veer’s Album of the Year.
I was joined by Jones, Anson Morris (Vocals, Guitar), Mike Howland (Guitar, Vocals), Chris Samulski (Violin), Victoria Hundley (Vocals, Percussion), and Adam Joline (Producer/Engineer on The Frustration King). Matt Scruggs (Drums, Vocals) was unable to make it.
Broken Mouth Annie began as a three-piece in early 2011. Morris began playing out with Howland and Scruggs, just as their previous band was ending. At that time, Scruggs played a small percussion kit with his feet while strumming bass simultaneously, and the other two sang and played guitar, assuming they’d have a unique Americana sound to the outfit.
Within months, Howland brought Samulski on as a violinist and Hundley joined on various percussion and backup vocals. By the time Jones joined, Americana was long out the door as the evolution of their sound took them to a heavier and much more full sound. In Broken Mouth Annie, I hear everything from Wilco to Violent Femmes.
Morris is happy with the description. “I’ll take that with my bare hands and run out the door with it right now. The Femmes comparison is a really good one because they could go from a country tinge, hillbilly stomp to a straight up punk song.”
Samulski is also happy to drop the Americana label because “People assume you have a violin in the band, you must play fiddle. I am tired of being called a fiddler. I am not a fiddle player. I am a violinist. I’ve been classically trained for 20 years. I always say that these guys helped me break all my good habits…But really fiddling is a style no different than playing blues guitar versus lap steel or something like that. It’s a style. And I think the style that I bring is influenced from a classical upbringing, so when you listen to my parts, they’re melodious and they’re single notes and they’re running counter melodies. They’re not chopping double-stop rhythms. I mean, I do that sometimes but I’m not a fiddle player.”
Morris and Hundley agree that getting past the idea of being an Americana band was the best move, as then everything was an open possibility.
Morris explains with more details about the progression. “I grew up playing in punk bands and rock bands my entire life and Mike came from a rock background and so did Matt really. So once we got the bass player involved, it really felt like, you know, we could be a punk band if we want to, we can be an alternative rock, punk whatever–let’s just go ahead and name a genre for ourselves. We never expected to be huge or anything so that kind of leaves you with the freedom to do whatever the hell you want to do.”
They primarily practice in a tiny room on Morris’s farm in Whaleyville, and all agree the intimate space juxtaposed with the huge expanse of land just outside creates the perfect setting to invent their unique sound.
Hundley praises the set up, as it allows each member to face everyone else in a circle, seeing all instruments being played, and making the songwriting process more visually tied together.
Samulski brings up the logical obviousness to the set up. “I think the size of our space as well as also now that we’ve got the full band, it kind of sets our sound to a certain extent. You know, we can’t really be rolling with half stacks or pedal boards the size of the table or too many more instruments than we already have because we just can’t practice with that.”
Morris speaks less on practicality and more to ambience, which goes to show how various band members balance out the full end product. “Where we are really lucky is that we are kind of in the sticks so we can go until 1 or 2 in the morning if we want to. We don’t have anyone who would call the cops on us or anything like that. And not everybody has that luxury. You know? And we can play as loud as we damn well please.”
We start talking about The Frustration King and how they took a very punk rock, DIY environment and made it as professional as possible with the help of Joline.
“We needed a tangible stamp of our sound and this was our way of doing it,” explains Hundley.
Morris explains the title’s origins, “One of the things that made it so hard to record the record was that we were still playing out while we were doing it. You know, it wasn’t like ‘Let’s just take a break and stop playing shows and get it done.’ It was more like ‘Let’s take these songs out and play them so we’ll have people knowing them when we finish this thing.’ And it became a massive thing, you know? I mean, it’s a 57 minute long record. Weezer hasn’t ever put out a 57 minute long record. No Nirvana record was ever close to being an hour.”
“Most albums aren’t these days,” says Joline.
“Right,” continues Morris. “And there are some songs on there that are seven or eight minutes long. I mean, we’re not a jam band by any stretch of the word but…we haven’t manscaped our songs yet.”
As they discuss song length and album length, it doesn’t seem they intend on trimming them later anyway. While mainstream radio likes the three minute format, Broken Mouth Annie seem to be getting by just fine as they are, and see no need to change that.
We talk a little more about 2012 accomplishments. They tell a funny story about the first time they played Peninsula Fine Arts Center’s Art After 5 show.
They show up for soundcheck and the staff is smiling nervously and asking if they plan on being that loud for the actual performance. Broken Mouth Annie agree they could turn down slightly but not by much. “Why?” they ask. “What did you think we sounded like?”
When the band hears the venue thought they were “like Bison” they decide to remain fully plugged in, resulting in all the art from the room they performed in being taken down for fear of it falling off its hooks.
The next time they played Art After 5, they played outside
“I feel like that first show was really successful. People were dancing and having a good time. And then they asked us back, so it couldn’t have been that bad!,” says Samulski.
To see Broken Mouth Annie live, check out their mash up with Skye Zentz at Veer’s Local Music Awards February 12 at The Naro.