The American South and its vast, often rural landscape may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of punk rock. Especially not in comparison with locales like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago which have fabled, well-established and oft-discussed scenes. But this understanding leaves out, among other things, the earliest days of post-hardcore’s development which happened largely in Washington D.C. It also fails to account for the frequently southerly, deeply post-hardcore-influenced Christian metalcore that was all the rage a few years ago. Beyond that, there’s a pretty healthy smattering of different personally-oriented, hardcore-rooted bands across the South. Here are a few of my personal hickory-smoked, deep-fried picks from my favorite genre.
Hot Rod Circuit – ‘Stateside’
This tragically under-covered group, which originally hails from Auburn, Alabama, was on the forefront of melding bright, glitzy pop punk with an intimate, distinctly emo lyrical approach from the late nineties into the aughts. Although their most popular track would probably be ‘The Pharmacist’ from their 2002 release Sorry About Tomorrow, in my humble opinion, ‘Stateside’ from their final release, 2007’s The Underground Is a Dying Breed, is their best work. The coursing rhythm guitar and pocketed-yet-complex rhythm work, courtesy of bassist Joe Balaro and drummer Dan Duggins, serves as the perfect backdrop for the tune’s more melodic elements. Some traditional, romantically angsty lyrics featuring the breadth of lead singer Andy Jackson’s vocal abilities give the piece a narrative quality. Right behind that, lead guitarist Casey Prestwood’s twangy, hyper-melodic riffs gives ‘Stateside’ a distinctly rural feel reminiscent of country or bluegrass.
Northstar – ‘The Pornographer’s Daughter’
Northstar is another quality band straddling the line between emo and pop punk, plus a healthy dose of country, that never quite caught the wave it needed to get big. These Huntsville, Alabama, natives led by frontman Nick Torres were known for their ever-rotating line up. Their 2002 full-length debut Is This Thing Loaded? introduced the approach of melding distinctly country elements with Torres’ beautifully cryptic lyrical sensibility. The band really came into its own on their 2004 sophomore effort Pollyanna. By then, lead guitarist Tyler Odom had become a mainstay in the group and, along with Torres, become a primary songwriter. In the aftermath of Northstar’s breakup, Torres and Odom would go onto form the alt-country project Cassino. ‘The Pornographer’s Daughter’ captures the intriguing wonder of the group’s lyricism and how Odom’s lead guitar works with, highlights and occasionally contrasts Torres’ sweet, understated crooning.
Camping In Alaska – ‘BATHE’
The music these Huntsville, Alabama natives came up with throughout the mid-2010s seems to embody emo, or maybe more specifically the stoner emo phenomenon, in the clearest, most unfettered way. That’s probably because their broadly unserious ethos, with its half-baked meme-style nihilism and unabashedly angsty, all-on-the-table lyricism, allowed them to go all in on the genre’s various well-entrenched tropes with a coarse handful of salt. From the cleaner, tighter approach to their earliest full-length release, please be nice, these guys grew into a messier lo-fi cynicism on BATHE and WELCOME HOME SON. In their work there’s a consistent tendency toward more extended, melodically ambitious guitar work in a twinkly, amorphous way. It’s far more akin to Cap’n Jazz than American Football. But any air of intentional intellectualism that might have stemmed from that was cloaked by their blown-out Mom’s basement-style production and variable vocal jankiness. These guys are probably one of the most truly punk rock emo bands out there. The band’s DIY ethic and commitment to their originalist, entirely non-commercial vision was and is unique and commendable.
Hopesfall – ‘The Bending’
These deeply influential, regrettably under-discussed Charlotte, North Carolina natives led the scene, especially the Christian metalcore scene, in the direction it took going into the 2010s. Although the band would eventually go for a more commercial sound on 2004’s A Types, their sophomore effort The Satellite Years from 2002 fuses the melodic elements of post-hardcore with the intensity of traditional metalcore. This consummate, then-original fusion was finished off with a mechanized, spacey aesthetic reminiscent of Alien or Firefly courtesy of producer Matt Talbott – also of the prolific underground alt-rock band HUM. ‘The Bending’, which closed out the album, has the fire and fury of hardcore but employs melodic guitar work and fleeting clean vocals in a way that doesn’t interrupt the track’s flow or lessen the intensity the band worked so hard to create.
Noah Zucker // IG – @zucker.n // Twitter – @zuckern13