story and photos By O’Hara Shipe
On a sleepy Saturday morning in mid-January, the only sounds that could be heard on E Turnagain Boulevard was a cacophony of melody and profanity. Distorted by the thick basement walls of Matt Brenna’s Alpine Music Studios, the most recognizable word to escape onto the street was one not often uttered in polite company.
“Hey, good luck! Fuck you,” singer Johnny Lungs passionately wailed into the microphone as bandmate Nathan Harris slapped out a steady bassline.
Over the next eight hours, Lungs would sing the word “fuck” hundreds of times as the Shoot Dangs! recorded their first full-length album. Or, more accurately, re-recorded their first full-length album.
In February 2019, the Shoot Dangs! attempted to self-produce their album, “Drunk as Folk,” but with members split between Fairbanks and Girdwood, and minimal practice time, the album was DOA.
“I still don’t know what happened, but when we put it all together, it just didn’t sound right,” says the band’s banjo player Timmy Johnson.
A year later, and less than a month remaining before their album release party at 49th State Brewing Company on February 15, the band was under pressure to produce. However, with their characteristically laid-back personalities—and a case of White Claws at the ready—the Shoot Dangs! laid down nine live tracks in just under eight hours.
But “Drunk as Folk,” isn’t your typical album, just as the Shoot Dangs! aren’t your run-of-the-mill band.
Characterized by Lungs’ unexpected voice, perhaps best described as Southern bullfrog in need of a throat lozenge, the Shoot Dangs! combine traditional bluegrass melodies with punk-infused folky lyrics.
“We weren’t hearing other bands that sounded like us, so we came up with our own genre, and we called it bluecrass,” explains Lungs.
With deep roots in punk music, the thought of joining a bluegrass band wasn’t something on Lungs’ mind when he came to Alaska in 2011 with his New Orleans-based band, the Gutter Sheiks. But when he linked up with Johnson while on tour, Lungs knew he had found not only a new home but a new bandmate.
“I was just done with city life in New Orleans. I didn’t set out to fall in love with Alaska and to start playing this kind of music, but it honestly just felt like a natural fit,” explains Lungs, who officially moved north in 2012.
Upon assuming the helm as the Shoot Dangs! frontman, Lungs began lending his songwriting prowess, and slowly, the band’s sound began to evolve.
Citing his experience hopping trains for most of his 20s as inspiration, Lungs’ lyrics are often raw and emotional.
“A lot of my songs are kind of screwed up when you really think about what you’re dancing to, but that’s kind of what punk music is—screwed up lyrics you can dance to and get your energy out to,” explains Lungs.
Take, for example, the new album’s title track “Psycho Groupy.” The song details Lungs’ torrid relationship with an unnamed woman he describes as a stalker who would break into his house at night while he was sleeping. Despite the song’s subject matter, it’s fast-pumping beat, and war-cry like chorus make it the ideal boot-stomping anthem.
While Lungs’ contributions to the Shoot Dangs! resemble thrash punk, accordion player Leah Moraes adds a dash of folk to their sound, and Hannah Corral sprinkles in some traditional bluegrass with her steel guitar, kick drum, and honeyed vocals.
The result is a unique sound that appeals to a broad audience—from the diehard bluegrass fan to the casual listener.
“At the end of the day, we’re just a good group of friends who love to play live music that makes people want to dance and forget their problems. I think this album captures that feeling, and we’re excited to share it,” says Johnson.
The Shoot Dangs! will debut their album, “Drunk as Folk,” on Saturday, February 15, 2020, at 49th State Brewing Company (717 W 3rd Avenue). The music begins at 8 pm with Fairbanks psychobilly-rockers the Avery Wolves opening. Tickets are $15 at Eventbrite.com, and CD’s will be available for purchase.
Want to get a sneak peek at the new album? Check out our newest Basement Tape at AnchoragePress.com!