From floor-shaking shows at JJ’s Bohemia to imaginative music videos, popular Chattanooga band Strung Like A Horse goes all in on every endeavor. On Aug. 3 fans can expect the group’s biggest spectacle yet when the band headlines the Nightfall concert series, then leads a parade down Market Street to cap the night with an EP-release show at Rhythm & Brews.
“We’ve got a troupe of belly dancers and people eating fire,” explains lead singer and guitarist Clay Maselle excitedly. “Street performers TomFoolery and MaxZine will be riding six-foot-tall unicycles and juggling knives. We’ve lined up stilt walkers with bullhorns and marching drums. Plus, we bought 200 kazoos to pass out to the crowd. It’s going to be a full blown circus.”
City officials have agreed to close Market Street for the Strut Like A Horse parade and police officers will be directing traffic at the red lights.
Only a year ago, the band was pleased to secure a coveted opening slot on the Nightfall lineup. This year, Strung Like A Horse won the McKay’s Road to Nightfall competition and will headline, with support from Jordan Hallquist & The Outfit. Following Nightfall at Miller Plaza, the parade will march to Rhythm & Brews for the release party featuring guests Another Roadside Attraction.
With influences ranging from blues to bluegrass, it’s hard to pin down the sound that comes together when Maselle takes the stage with banjo player Ben Crawford, bassist BJ Hightower, Mark the Fiddler and percussionist/drummer Sloth.
“Everybody wants to know what kind of music we are playing, and it’s kind of hard to describe, except to say it’s Strung Like A Horse Music. It’s our music,” Maselle muses as he watches the rain from his front porch in North Chattanooga during a recent interview. “Some people have coined it ‘garage grass,’ which fits really well because it is bluegrass instruments, but we’re like a garage band because the sound is a little trashy and dirty. And other people say our music is like metal with bluegrass instrumentation.”
Maselle notes that the new EP’s title track, “Glad,” zooms into metal territory, clocking in at 185 beats per minute. It is Maselle’s favorite track on the project, recorded with producer Charles Allison at Spanner Sound studio. Allison also helmed the group’s full-length debut, Live at Lindsey Street, recorded inside the former church near MLK.
Elsewhere, the new five-song set includes fan favorites “Byrd Dog” and “Gypsy Jane.” The video for “Gypsy Jane” will get a big-screen premiere at the Aug. 3 Rhythm & Brews concert. New York based director Tomas Donoso, who worked on the “Byrd Dog” video, returned to Chattanooga for the 12-day shoot.
“For the ‘Gypsy Jane’ video, we put together a story board, including a twist at the end,” says Maselle. “We used lots of different locations and did the whole thing with one camera and two lights, which is really hard. Lacy Dickerson from Zanzibar studio does belly dancing in the video and plays a heartbreaker who leaves her fiancé to run off with my character. Then her fiancé transforms into a horse-man beast and chases us.”
Enthusiastic fan response inspires the band to keep the new music and videos coming.
“We have the absolute best fans on earth,” continues Maselle, adding that another video will be shot in September. “Our fans always show up, and anytime we want people to interact or be involved they are gung-ho about it. We love it. We’re putting out material as fast as we can make it because everybody has been accepting it so well. It started with the ‘Byrd Dog’ video, which scored 1,000 unique views in the first 24 hours. We were blown away, and from then on the response has been so good that it keeps us going. It keeps me motivated.”
Though Maselle is a longtime musician, Strung Like A Horse is his first band. He traded his mandolin for a guitar when the group formed about two years ago. Maselle and Crawford, the only other original member, bonded over a shared love of the band Split Lip Rayfield, which naturally turned out to be a major influence in their collaboration.
Originally formed with a focus on bluegrass and old-time music, the band’s sound has evolved significantly since the beginning.
“We decided to take a different angle because when I started writing songs everything came out darker than all that old country,” explains Maselle. “So we started turning toward punk rock sounding stuff. Ben developed his own banjo picking style—he does the three-finger style, but not traditional rolls—and it worked really well. Today, the songs come from all different places. BJ wrote ‘Gypsy Jane’ a while back, and we decided to put it on the new EP. And Ben is really good at coming up with banjo parts that we like and then we develop a song around that.”
As for Maselle’s lyrics, he says songwriter John Hartford is his single biggest influence.
“Even though most of the songs seem to be dark and have death in them, I’m not a dark person,” he assures. “Maybe it has something to do with growing up in Mississippi and listening to the blues a lot.”
The Flowood, Miss. native settled in Chattanooga after a post-college road trip which included the Scenic City as the final stop.
Strung Like A Horse’s current lineup of members came together about a year ago. Since then the guys have scored some major gigs, including a slot at Bonnaroo 2012, where Fuse TV saluted them as “Best Band Name at Bonnaroo.” In February, they opened for bluegrass stalwart Sam Bush at Track 29, and in hindsight Maselle laughs about accidentally introducing him as “Sam Like A Bush.” Strung Like A Horse also played in Atlanta at the wrap parties for the major motion pictures “American Reunion” and “What To Expect When You’re Expecting.” After concluding a recent east coast run, the band is booked in coming months for west coast dates including Texas and Colorado.
The band’s high-energy performances have contributed mightily to its growing popularity, according to Maselle.
“Our shows have more head banging and jumping up and down than you would normally see at a punk show,” he says. “I think a lot of people come to our shows just to see BJ because he is such an eccentric character onstage. He will ride his bass, hang it from the rafters, or play upside down. He is a madman when it comes to upright bass.”
Maselle also attributes Strung Like A Horse’s success to community support, and thanks Chattanooga Presents and McKay’s for giving a local band the opportunity to headline Nightfall.
“In the four years since I moved here the music scene has grown and grown,” says Maselle. “I don’t even think it’s that there are a lot more musicians involved, but all these people who go see live music are more motivated to go see it now. It’s like everybody is finding out about this music scene that has probably been here for a long time, and word spread so well that everybody is getting involved and it’s getting bigger. I really think that someone can make it in music from here. It’s like being a big fish in a little sea—here you can build it and people are paying attention. You don’t have to be famous for people to listen.”