Southern rock is kind of like pornography—hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. Or hear it, as the case may be.
It’s in the winding guitars and the drawling vocals. It might also have something to do with the tendency of the vocalist to start high and sing down, and it for damn sure has to do with a guitarist who isn’t shy about stepping up to deliver a for-real triumphant guitar solo from time to time. Southern rock isn’t everybody’s rock, but one sidelong listen of The Brought Low’s self-titled debut long-player should ring large for anyone who’s ever heard a Lynyrd Skynyrd or Allman Brothers song on the radio. And—surprise—they’re based out of Brooklyn.
That’s another thing about Southern rock. It’s not a b’guess-or-b’gosh thing a band just kind of arrives at. It’s a sound to be striven for, and in the hands of the dilettantish it just sounds like rank appropriation. But the bands who play it well sound like they’ve been doing it their whole lives—even the ones from New York. You’d never guess it to hear them, but the band (Ben Smith, Dean Rispler, and Nick Heller) have only been playing together as The Brought Low since 1999.
“We don’t try to pretend,” says guitarist/vocalist Smith on his cell phone, somewhere in Illinois, where the band is waiting to go down to the club to play the night’s show. “We’re not into Confederate flags or Dixie or anything. I mean, I’m from Queens, born and bred. We’re not going to front it like that.”
Furthermore, Smith continues, Southern rock is not anyone’s exclusive property. In fact, he claims, the prototypical Southern rock song was neither southern nor even American in origin.
“The first Southern rock song, I think, was ‘Honky Tonk Woman,’ which is by a bunch of British dudes. Rock ‘n’ roll has always been fascinated with its own southern origins, like blues and old school country and southern soul. We’re influenced by that stuff as much as hard rock and stuff like that, and I think that’s what you hear in a lot of so-called Southern rock music,” says Smith. “Also, the Rolling Stones happen to be one of our biggest influences. There’s a certain refraction going on when it comes to who’s influenced by who, but really it’s just playing good rock ‘n’ roll with roots influences.” How about the recent slew of sped-up bands claiming roots in Dixie-fried rock—Nashville Pussy and the Supersuckers, to name just two?
“There’s been this whole white trash culture kick for the past, I dunno, five years or so,” Smith points out. “There are certain things about it that I find interesting, but—and not to dis any of these other bands—on the whole I find them kind of shticky. We call [that kind of rock] “flaming dice.” But the flip side of that is that, you know what? We’re not rednecks, we’re all pretty smart guys, and most of the guys in the flaming dice bands aren’t rednecks, either. Glorifying that redneck aesthetic is one thing, but real rednecks aren’t playing punk rock. They’re beating up punk rockers. So it’s like, ‘Come on, guys, get your priorities straight!’ I’m not trying to knock it, but I think when it becomes a shtick it gets a little silly.”
Smith is more dismissive of the unfortunate recent trend toward “rocking out” as a refuge of hipster irony. Since when was it ever cool to rock out ironically?
“We all want to rock out and play the boogie riffs and we’re not scared to revel in a lot of the ‘70s hard rock bands,” Smith ventures.
“But we’re trying to do something on our own, too. I really hate the ironic hipster rock attitude. A lot of bands these days say, ‘Oh, let’s rock out,’ and it’s a tongue-in-cheek thing. Screw you, man, this is serious! I’m not doing this to impress some college professor! I enjoy ironic humor, but all this Sonic Youth-influenced fuckin’ postmodern ironic shit … if only we could just destroy that once and for all!”
The Brought Low play Jay’s Upstairs Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 10 PM. Cover TBA.