No we haven’t turned into one of those conspicuous Russian websites that promises you a wife that looks like Anna Kournikova (deletes Internet history), we’re actually introducing you to American punk rockers Russian Girlfriends.
Despite not actually having Russian girlfriends – no, none of them, boring! – the New Mexico five-piece have honed a style that they seductively refer to as “aggressive adult contemporary” – which sounds like something someone who wants to buy a Russian girlfriend/wife might disguise their browsing history under.
Anyway, the good news is that these guys make awesome, angsty punk rock. They’ve just re-released their debut album All Around, in partnership with German label Gunner Records.
Confusing right? Yeah, we asked guitarist Colin Dowell to give us a bit of clarity. “We self-released All Around out here in the States 2 years ago,” Colin explains. “We were aware of Gunner Records re-releasing material in Europe so we were going to approach them and, as we were having that conversation, Gunnar approached us! It was a happy coincidence. This was a little over a year ago and we’ve spent this time re-packaging the album.
“We’re record nerds and we love finding different versions of the same record so its cool to participate in that. The album looks completely different. It has all new artwork but the coolest part is that we kick off the B-side of the record with a cover of The Biggest Lie by Husker Du. Half of the band is from the midwestern US and we’re all huge fans of that scene so its cool to pay homage to that.”
Colin and fellow guitarist Ian Jarrell played in a band back in 2008, before the latter was recruited to a big psychobilly band called Koffin Kats, while Colin continued playing in local bands including a reforming band called Stabbed in Back, which was in need of a singer and found renowned Albuqerque lead vocalist Adam Hooks. Ian quit his band, joined up with Colin and Adam and, while in Toronto on tour, they stayed with a friend who “had a Crazy Russian girlfriend.” The new band was born in the summer of 2014 and its lineup was soon completed by bassist Jeremy Ketih and drummer Sasha Horn (whose place is being filled by Kris Kerby for their upcoming European tour).
Colin tells us the new lineup allows them the freedom to write music that isn’t “universally punk,” which comes across in the diverse mix of tracks on All Around. It kicks off impressively, with the fast-paced Theme From Stripes, with big punk riffs and gnarled vocals that eventually give way to an awesome guitar solo, then a big blast of punk noise and another, faster solo to bring the track to a big ending. What a way to start an album.
That punky energy is maintain in Rollerskating Jam Named Regret, followed by probably my favourite track on the record, Bones of a Saint. It opens up with a quick hit of drums before a rolling guitar riff that feeds into an opening verse that builds in intensity woth vocals that become increasingly gritty, including the awesome line “Fight like lovers, fuck like rivals.” That gives way to the singalong vocals “She has the heart of a saint beneath her bones, hallelujah,” before the building verse returns. Check it out in the video below:
The heavier side of Russian Girlfriends comes across in the equally good A New Sense of Self, which starts with a funky guitar riff, a big guitar slide and screamed vocals, that briefly give way to a singalong section supported by fast-paced guitars then return again and repeat throughout.
This is an awesome punk album chocked full of angst, masterful fast-paced riffing and Adam’s vocals are hugely enjoyable to listen to – so bravo to Gunner Records for re-releasing it for our pleasure.
In terms of what inspires their music, Colin says: “Adam pens all of the songs. He’s been writing songs since he was kid. He doesn’t shy away from personal stuff. He also likes to tell stories that include everything from love songs to murder ballads. He’s also an American history buff, so you’ll hear a lot of that in his writing.”
Given Russian Girlfriends are the first band we’ve spoken to from New Mexico, we asked Colin for an overview of the local music scene. He told us: “We have a small but significant scene. Metal is a big deal out here. Noisear is definitely a big deal to anyone who listens to grindcore / metal. Any one out there who follows 90’s punk rock might remember Scared of Chaka, The Eyeliners, Logical Nonsense, Word Salad, and The Drags.
“This state tends to attract creative-artsy types so there’s never a shortage of good bands and artists. It can be tough to play out here because there isn’t a lot of people but we’re lucky to have supportive venues and promoters. I feel like the scene is making a come back from its ‘heyday.’ Check out Rock Jong Il (great name!), Talking Hours, Crushed?!, Distances, Get Action! and definitely Leeches of Lore to name a few.”
If you like the sound of Russian Girlfriends then they’re here in the UK on tour next week, beginning at Old England in Bristol on Tuesday (12 September), then gigs at Redrum in Stafford and Yardbirds in Grimsby the following two evenings. Full details of their European tour are here.