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Sons Had Father: Punk as f***

By Staff | Dec 29, 2009

The most punk rock thing I’ve seen in the local music scene this year has to be the handful of times I watched Parkersburg-based post-rock band Sons Had Father play area watering holes.

The quintet doesn’t particularly look punk rock. They don’t really act it either. But when the band strikes up the first few notes of an opening song and proceeds to blast audiences with a wall of cacophonous, emotion-filled instrumental music that’s overflowing with layers of distortion, clean, interweaving melodies and epic ambition on the scale of the Grand Canyon — well that’s pretty f***ing punk rock. Particularly in a bar scene that’s too often filled with water-downed pop and folk rock too satisfied with covers and sing-alongs to play original music this challenging, fierce and fearless.

Audiences across the Mountain State seem to be picking up on it, too. Go to any Sons Had Father show and watch the confused looks of revelers turn into unabashedly enthusiastic head-nods and smiles. Oh shit, now I get it.

Guitarist and songwriter Trent Holbert said the band’s aware of this initial apprehension and confusion and it’s one of the things they enjoy most about playing in the Mountain State.

“We always have our doubts of how we’re going to go over locally,” he said. “We typically play with bands that are absolutely nothing like us. We just go up there and do what we do and sometimes it feels awkward, but most of the time we get good feedback after.”

One such experience came after an acoustic set at the Parkersburg Borders bookstore. An Athens, Ohio, filmmaker saw the show and loved what the band was doing so much, he has since commissioned them to do the soundtrack for a new 35-minute short film he’s working on. Tentatively titled, “Fail Me,” the movie is slated to debut at the 2010 Athens Film Festival.

The songs from this movie will be released on vinyl sometime next spring, too.

“We’ve yet to see any of the movie, so hopefully it’s good,” joked keyboardist Andrew Husk. “(If it’s bad) we could just say, ‘what are you talking about? We didn’t release this for (the movie); he just used it. We have nothing to do with it.’”

In addition to Holbert and Husk, the band is comprised of bassist Jeremy Dingey, guitarist Aaron Romans and drummer Jimmy Sams. The band’s debut LP, “The Bearing, The Celebration,” a concept album built around the birth, death and afterlife of a person, was released in July.

“That (album) started after we wrote the first song, called ‘Afterdeath,’” Holbert said. “So we started thinking about piecing it together from life to death to afterdeath. At the time I was going through my grandfather dying. I was just going through one of those times and it seemed everyone connected with that whole feeling. So we set out to write a whole piece of music for an album based around that concept.”

The album has an undertone of spirituality to it, but it’s not part of any overall message from the band or its members.

“We think when we play it’s very spiritual, but we never have a specific message or anything behind it,” Holbert explained. “Spirituality’s just such a big part of our lives as individuals that it just kind of overflows.”

Indeed, the cover for the debut LP features a man flying through the air in a birdcage attached to a hot air balloon. One interpretation of the artwork could suggest that it’s a metaphor for religion in the way it depicts mankind’s attempt to reach the heavens through man-made devices.

Band members said the artwork has stood for several different meanings over time.

And while the music on the disc is well crafted for a self-produced project, it’s the live show that’s the real soul of the band.  

Sons Had Father has already made a name for itself at the hotspots in the Parkersburg-region, and has played Huntington’s popular The V Club. The venerable Morgantown venue 123 Pleasant St. had also tentatively booked a show with the group for January, but band members say that’s looking even less like a possibility. As it stands, the next opportunity to check out the quintet looks to be New Years Eve in Marietta, Ohio, when the group will play Riverside 181 around 10 p.m.

At a live show, it’s much easier to pick out the two complementary —  and often competing — guitar melodies, the haunting and moody synths and the steady rhythmic pulse of the drums and bass.

Influences for the group at first appear obvious: Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You being the two main signifiers. But Dingey said it’s almost easier to explain the group’s dynamic to non-post-rock fans.

“It’s actually harder to explain to people who listen to Explosions in the Sky what we’re like … because I don’t think we use the same (song) structure. The way our parts flow is different. Sometimes we use verses and structured parts that we go back to. A lot of (post-rock bands) don’t do that.”

But there are other, less obvious influences at work, too.

Band members cited artists as wide ranging as Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, before finally settling on the formative emo band Mineral.

“That’s one of the biggest things I bring to the table,” Holbert said. “I feel like I kind of write how they do, just really raw emotions and in-your-face, dramatic stuff.”

“You can always play any chord, but the way Mineral plays a chord, the way they strum it, it’s different,” Dingey said.

When writing a new song, the group typically starts with a simple guitar-based melody. From there, band members begin crafting the song into something richer, fuller, more ambiguous — much like a sculptor beginning with a lump of clay and chipping away at the clump repeatedly until something beautiful is revealed.

“We just put everything into (our music),” Holbert said. “We try to connect with what we’re trying to express. Someone will come up with a melody that kind of has a sad or epic feeling and we’ll all just try to connect with it and go in that direction. It’s difficult sometimes because our melodies are so obscure you don’t really know what kind of feeling it is because it sounds happy but at the same time it’s kind of dark and slow. So it’s hard for us to even put specific feelings behind (the music). We just know that when we play there’s a connection to that feeling that we had when we wrote. We’re hoping people can connect with that, too.”

Contact Justin at jmcintosh@graffitiwv.com