The bluesy Nashville rockers find a middle ground between melancholia and bliss.
Grant Gustafson laughs a lot. He laughs when describing how him and Jon Childers, the other guitarist in Blank Range, started writing songs at different stages in life (“Jon was definitely interested in that earlier on, so we strike a good balance”). He laughs when I point out that a chunk of their Facebook posts promote other artists (“Hmm”). He laughs after revealing the name of Blank Range’s homegrown cassette label, (“Yeah, we call it Sturdy Girls Records”). And once he laughs for no apparent reason at all, except maybe as an et voilà wrap-up to the band’s origin story.
He’s easy to talk to, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a band that posts Instagram photos of SwirlyGigs and waxes bro-stalgic about an absentee roommate in the catchy “Roommate’s Girlfriend.” But on their 2013 EP Phase II, Blank Range, who play Gasa Gasa tonight at 10 p.m., lament a loneliness comforting in its familiarity.
“Roommate’s Girlfriend” is “definitely humorous,” says Gustafson. But he concedes, “we use sarcasm and irony in a lot of our songs in different ways.” The song’s brooding guitar could certainly be listened to straight as an anthem for the man-child/death-of-the-wolf-pack anxiety keenly felt by many a Will Ferrell character or, for the moment, a class of 2015 graduate. Opener “Ziggy Coyote” maintains the vibe, featuring a swinging riff that will have you gleefully drumming your steering wheel despite the creepy promise (“Mr. Coyote, you’re not old enough to kill / your mother and your father / they can’t see your future still”). By the time Phase II reaches “Neon Sign,” you know the drill. Beginning like a post-apocalyptic confusion, or the first moments of a newborn’s life, which may not be that different after all in the EP’s melancholy-happy universe, “Neon Sign” goes on to tell the story of a lonely man who likes working the night shift.
But it ain’t all heavy, brother. Is the “Same Sun” line “We still managed to astound the crowd with our tightrope walking” a bitter commentary on public performance?
“That’s definitely sarcasm,” Gustafson clarifies. Fitting, since Blank Range doesn’t have much to be bitter about these days. After being voted into Bonnaroo last year, they’ve left their native Nashville to tour with Alice in Chains and Benjamin Booker. And they’re excited for their upcoming album. On their current tour they’re “bringing a lot of new instruments with us,” like a synthesizer and drum machine. “Hopefully we’ll use them tastefully,” Gustafson says in reference to the album. “But I think there’ll be a new style on there, not just guitar, bass, and rock and roll.” Blank Range may get gloomy, but they’re optimists at heart.