Take warning 

Tidal Horn turns up the volume

Tidal Horn wants you to know something: They're not a metal band. "That is one thing we get pigeon-holed with," says guitarist/singer Sam Kaley. "I mean, we're heavy but we're not metal." They do end up with gigs playing alongside metal bands, but if you were forced at gunpoint to put a label on the Missoula quartet, you might call them stoner rock. They did, after all, fit right in when they opened up for Red Fang—Portland's PBR-guzzling heavy stoner rock band—last summer. But really, why bother with the labels?

Listening to the band's most recent album, you can imagine going on an epic Nordic journey through icy mountains and along the coasts of stormy oceans. The iron throne is almost in your sights! There are songs about Yetis and killing zombies, punctuated by wonderfully gratuitous guitar solos. But there's a little bit of garage and math rock, too. At any rate, it's not death metal or thrash metal. It's warm, thick and more slow-burning. It's mythological with a healthy dose of humor.

"I go from writing stuff I find humorous to serious," says Kaley, who writes the majority of the lyrics. "One of our songs is called 'Sidewinders,' and it's a punk rock song with lyrics about somebody I knew who had really bad drug problems. So it's a fun rockin' song, but it's also something I wrote when I was pissed off."

Kaley and guitarist Kyle McCann had already been in one band together a decade ago called Pocket Lobotomy. That band got to play its first show at the notorious Missoula rock venue Jay's Upstairs the week it shut down—just in time to say they did it. Afterward, Kaley ended up in the Inhumans, an indie hip-hop group that eventually moved to Portland, Ore., for 7 months and then disbanded. The Inhumans had a lot of fans in Missoula because of their high-energy shows, and when McCann, Kaley and drummer Johnny Hughes started Tidal Horn and played their first show on the summer solstice of 2010, the fans transferred over.

A built-in fan base—made up of a lot of friends—means Tidal Horn plays to solid crowds every two or three weeks. It can't hurt that they have a strong stage performance. They did a magnificent set of Dio covers at the Palace on Halloween night 2011, featuring Chris Bacon (Volumen, Bacon & Egg) on keys and back-up vocals and Kevin Faris (also formerly of Pocket Lobotomy) as Ronnie James Dio perfectly belting out "Holy Diver" with thundering verve. That was a show to remember, and people do, including the inordinate percentage of girl fans the band has. "We can't explain it," says McCann with sincerity. (All of them are good musicians and all of them are good-looking.) But they don't want to jinx anything, so the conversation ends there.

They might not be hard metal, but they're hard partiers.

"A certain local booking agent who should not be named hung out with us one night," says Kaley. "And he forget how it was to get super fucked up, so that was pretty funny. We have a lot of fun with it."

Tidal Horn is hilariously laid back. A soundcheck before any show entails the band asking the sound guy for one thing: to turn up the volume, taking full advantage of their oversized Marshall amps. Kaley notoriously has forgotten his guitar at out-of-town venues, forcing him to drive back to get it. Hughes has a blood spatter on his snare from when Sid La Tray of Judgment Hammer borrowed it and cut his finger open playing. No big deal.

Their onstage presence is casual, too. Kaley's grandfather is the famous jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who played on Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool, and Kaley is also trained on the sax. "I've listened to every word he's said," says Kaley of Konitz. "We talked about improvising. I've been up on stage and forgotten things. My whole thing is, if you fuck up, just be ready to cover it as opposed to train-wrecking."

Tidal Horn is strapped for time. All of them work full-time jobs. McCann is a snowboard rep, which puts him in Utah half the year. Their bassist, Mat McGrath, is a rafting guide for Bearpaw River Expeditions and he often has to leave Tidal Horn shows at 2 a.m to make it to his gig in the Lochsa by 4 a.m. But that won't stop them from kicking off a small tour this week through the much-travelled triangle from Missoula to Portland to Seattle and back again. They'll play a Missoula show with metal band Paradise in Guyana. In Portland, they'll play a couple of shows, including the New Copper Penny with an '80s-style hair metal band called Angel Steel. And in Seattle they'll play with a bunch of super heavy metal bands.

"It'll be cool," says McCann. "We'll be different. Some people will be stoked. Some people will probably boo."

It should be a smooth ride. In this band, there are no divas or hard-asses. And even if they call each other out on b.s. sometimes, no one's taking things too seriously.

McCann grins. "We crack more beers than whips."

Tidal Horn kicks off its tour with a show at the Palace Sat., Aug. 4, at 9 PM with Paradise in Guyana and Jercs. $5.

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