A&E » Music

Old Man Markley bridges the gap between punk and bluegrass

Seven-piece Fat Wreck Chords-label artists from L.A. play the GLC on Friday



If you think punk and bluegrass would make strange bedfellows, well then you've probably never heard L.A. band Old Man Markley.

The seven-piece outfit that was formed over drinks at a birthday party in 2007 deftly blends the DIY punk philosophy in their lyrics with a range of instrumentation that's typical of a foot-stompin' bluegrass band.

The result is a richly layered sound and high-energy live show that's become a must-see for fans of both genres, although lead singer and guitarist Johnny Carey characterizes the group as a punk band first and foremost.

"The core members of our group came from a few different punk bands, so we've always been working towards this idea of being a punk band," he says. "When we started Old Man Markley, we were having fun with it and exploring where we could take punk rock. So it was always a punk band to me, and still is."

And while many music critics (yours truly included) have made a point of underlining the seeming gap between punk and bluegrass that Old Man Markley bridges so effectively, Carey sees more similarities between the two genres than most.

"For me, there's a common ground stylistically with bluegrass and punk. Both are fast paced with a lot of energy, and I guess you can consider both as a kind of folk music, the people's music," he says.

Clearly, punk legend and NOFX frontman Fat Mike felt the same way, signing the band in 2011 to one of punk rock's most darling labels, Fat Wreck Chords, which he co-owns, without ever having seen Old Man Markley play live.

For Carey, and bandmate Joey Garibaldi, who both grew up idolizing NOFX and played stints with pioneering punk rockers Youth Brigade, just landing on Fat Mike's radar was a dream come true.

"We wanted to be NOFX, man. We started a label called Destroy All Records, and tried to do what Fat Mike did with the DIY thing," Carey says. "Really it was us just aiming towards having the same ethics in this music business as Fat Mike established."

Now, with two lauded records under their belts — their sophomore effort, Down Side Up debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard bluegrass chart last year — Old Man Markley readies to wrap up two years of consistent touring this summer, with plans to head back to the studio in July to record an EP of classic punk covers.

With so many different personalities and perspectives in the group — all seven members have taken on songwriting duties at one point or another — Carey outlined the band's cooperative approach that's key to their continued success.

"We usually collaborate a little bit as a band when we're all coming up with raw ideas. Once we get to the studio and start working on the actual details of our arrangements, it's usually a one-on-one thing," he explains. "I have a little studio set up in my house, which we call 'The Manor,' and we basically start with a guitar and a vocal and build it from there. It's usually either the banjo or the fiddle that will become the frontline of the whole arrangement and then everything builds off that."

And even with so many cooks in the kitchen, Carey says the group isn't concerned with losing the essence of Old Man Markley's sound.

"We never really thought about that when we started this band. It was something where we were just letting our creativity flow, and that's how (debut album) Guts 'n' Teeth came about, by not really giving a shit and having fun with it," he says.

"Besides, bringing in something that's stylistically different makes it even more challenging for us to turn it into something that will work with Old Man Markley."

Whatever the recipe, it seems to be working, as Old Man Markley is regularly revered for their live performances, which includes a '60s-era vintage guitar, a custom-built washboard and a reconstructed autoharp.

"Then you throw the banjo and fiddle on there and (our live show) is kind of one of those things you walk away from and never forget," says Carey. 'There's a lot going on, and we all definitely put out a lot of energy.

"We like to give it everything we've got because these days you have to work a little harder to entertain people."

Old Man Markley make their first ever stop in Whistler on Friday, June 14, at the GLC. Doors are at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $15, available at the door or online at www.ticketzone.com.