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Of all the human traits rock 'n' roll expresses -- joy, angst, rebellion, lust -- perhaps the most difficult to convey is soul. Rock 'n' roll is all about youth, while soul is eager but wise, earnest but earthy. To pull off a legitimate union of the two requires young, talented musicians with a powerful sense of history and a mission to speak to the people.
Ladies and gentlemen -- from Austin, Texas: Greyhounds.
Helmed by two fresh-faced 20-somethings who manage to cram a helluva lot of true grit into their good times, Greyhounds are one of those uncommon rock 'n' soul standard-bearers. They rate with hard-driving, heavy-touring groups like the Funky Meters and Galactic in their embrace and reinvigoration of older styles. And like those bands, they know that while there's fun in the jam, there's truth in the song.
Andrew Trube is the lead Greyhound, taking up guitar, lap steel, and harmonica and contributing gruff, thick vocals. "We're writing real tunes," he says while driving from his dad's place outside of Tyler, Texas, back to his home in Austin. "But I hope you don't listen to 'em and go, 'These are poppy and cheesy.' Hopefully, they're dirty and funky and you're having a good time, but they're real tunes too."
Trube's main foil is Anthony Farrell, keyboardist and bassist, who counters Trube's baritone with an almost kitschy falsetto wail. The pair has been making music together for more than six years, with a rotating cast of drummers. ("We're the Spinal Tap of Southern funk," Trube jokes.)
Their 2004 debut, Liberty, found Trube doing a majority of the songwriting, though Farrell stepped up to the mic for the first time on the album. Greyhounds wrote the album during sessions played in the old, vacant Liberty Theater in Tyler.
"We had this huge storyboard thing on the stage of the theater where we wrote out all the songs we were gonna do," Trube says, "and we had this cheesy tape recorder to record everything. We all don't have a really good memory for a lot of things, so we have to document shit or else we'll forget it."
After the Liberty sessions, the band recorded at Truck Farm Studio with Galactic heavy-hitters Rob Mercurio and Stanton Moore producing. Fans who know Greyhounds from their seemingly perpetual touring and lengthy live improvisation might be surprised by the tight, concise power of Liberty's tunes.
"When we play live, we have a chance to stretch it out and fuck around," Trube says, "but we're really into standard songwriting. Tell a story, have a hook, but also put an element into the music where we're not cheesing out."
The fear of "cheesing out" is one of Greyhounds' primary concerns. The band maintains its rootsy feel by playing vintage instruments, using classic amps, and writing straightforward, unfussy arrangements.
"We like to keep with the old-school approach," Trube explains, "where you literally get a cable, plug one end into the guitar and the other into the amp and just play."
It's that sense of simplicity -- and Trube's connection to Texas' musical legacy -- that brought the band back to Austin after earning its wings among the cutthroat competition of L.A. for a couple of years. "The band got together in L.A.," Trube says. "That's where me and Anthony met. We got everything from L.A. we were going to as a group. It was part of our growing process and part of our maturation, and so was leaving. We've been back here for a few years. Texas drew us back."
Though they've already got 20 songs on deck for a follow-up album to come this fall, they're concentrating on the part of the job they love the most -- playing live. Trube estimates the group played 200 to 225 dates last year. "We're a live band, totally," Trube says. "We love doing the studio shit, but we're all about entertaining, man. We like getting out, having drinks, smoking cigarettes, and playing music. That's what we're built for."
The band is familiar with South Florida, having played an opening slot for Gainesville's MOFRO at Lake Worth's Bamboo Room a couple of years back. They got such a great response that management invited them to play a headlining slot, which they did last year. Now they're back again, with nothing but great things to say about the venue and owner Russel Oxley.
"That is one of the best venues in the country," Trube declares. "Y'all are so lucky to have that place. The owner treats you so well, you can't help but play good."
The hospitality at the Bamboo Room stands out to Trube mainly because it's far from the norm. This is a blue-collar band that's not used to the rock-star treatment. "Maybe pebble star," Trube jokes.
In true form, when contacted for a follow-up interview, Trube and Farrell are standing in line at an Austin fast-food joint waiting to order lunch. It's the way a modest touring band like Greyhounds has to operate.