On the Scene: The Fishing Journal’s second release

otaylor@thestate.comDecember 21, 2012 

  • If you go The Fishing Journal and T.C. Costello When: 11 tonight Where: Hunter-Gatherer, 900 Main St. Tickets: $5 Crafts: There will be a local arts and crafts sale. Information: (803) 748-0540

GONE FISHING: The Fishing Journal is a punk band. Well, kind of.

Punk, as music terminology, has been so democratized that it alludes to so much — and nothing at all. Post-punk, a more experimental rock subgenre that retains a punk ethos, gets closer to describing The Fishing Journal’s sound. When asked what he thought, Chris Powell, the band’s front man, referred to the music as indie-thrash post-punk.

“Something like that,” he added.

However the music is categorized, The Fishing Journal became one of the bands to watch on the scene in 2012. Tonight, the trio — drummer Josh Latham, bassist Chuck Sligh and Powell, who sings and plays guitar — will release “Ditch” at Hunter-Gatherer. The six-song EP was recorded at The Jam Room by Jay Matheson and mastered at Studio B by Dave Harris.

“Ditch,” The Fishing Journal’s second release, is named after Powell’s cat, which he found in an actual ditch while on a bike ride in Congaree National Park. The record is a collision of the band’s past and present. After releasing a self-titled debut EP in October 2011, Powell added Latham and bassist Reno Gooch for live shows.

Latham, has remained with the band while Gooch, who is involved with several projects, including Space Coke, left. He was replaced by Sligh, guitarist for experimental punks Burnt Books and a former member of Tunguska. Gooch is on two songs on the record and Sligh plays on four.

Their differing approach to playing bass is apparent when listening to “Ditch,” a record for those nostalgic of the days when indie-rock was unrefined.

“Reno is virtuosic, as far as a bass player is concerned,” Powell said. “He would come in and throw down bass lines, but not so much communication of, ‘What if we tried it this way?’ It was more like, ‘All right, this song is written, I got it, boom.’”

With Sligh, the transposition of parts are discussed. As a result, there’s more in the way of melodic progressions and perceptible transitions, whereas Gooch superbly steamrolled through songs.

“Now there’s this crazy dialogue in the band,” Powell said.

Powell, who played all of the instruments on The Fishing Journal’s debut EP, has always wanted to incorporate band members, musicians he could trust with his songs.

“How am I going to make it interesting to them or make it worthwhile if I just come and say, ‘Well, the first record was mine, why wouldn’t the second one?’ ” Powell said. “We’re not going to keep playing it my way. I want it to be fun for everybody.”

Powell has experience as a sideman. He played drums in Haunted Bulldozer, Mercy Shot and Death Becomes Even the Maiden, the band now known as Parlour Tricks. This is his first go as a frontman since the short-lived American Ninja almost a decade ago.

“I know what things suck to hear as a drummer,” he said. “Sometimes I will sacrifice my vision a little bit to make sure things are fun for everybody, and a lot of times I’m pleasantly surprised by (stuff) I never would’ve thought of.

“There’s been parts in songs and parts in promotion and things like that where I won’t budge on.”

He wants to keep the sound edgy and, as Powell said, punky, while avoiding what he calls the Rock 93.5 territory where bands slow the tempo as if to say, “Here’s where you head nod” to listeners.

“Not that I wouldn’t want to be immensely popular and sell a million records, but I don’t want to change the sound to do it,” Powell said.

The title track includes these lyrics, delivered in a measured screech: “Ditch, I love you / Ditch, I hate you” and “You eat so fast / Too fast / And you throw up your food.” The latter refers to the cat’s digestive habits. (The cat hung out while Powell previewed the record.)

Powell’s vocals alternate, going from pinched-nose snarl to a growl to a scratchy croon. On “Kids Electric,” a song about being kid who orders a kids meal only to be surprised that there is no prize, Powell emotes like a kid who’s been stiffed too many times. Childhood themes reemerge in “Standardized Testing,” a song Powell said is about general nervousness kids sometimes feel. The song also references napping, but the music, powerful and active, suggests a kid bouncing off the walls rather than one being put down to sleep.

The EP contains “Moons,” a reworked American Ninja song, and there’s a cover of “Jagged Slide” by Utah Package, a former Spartanburg band that featured Powell’s guitar teacher who now plays in the Austin-based jazz and ragtime cabaret band White Ghost Shivers.

There’s no such thing as the Year of the Fish, but in popular culture, at least locally, fish had a good year in 2012. Remember Reptar, the fish that traveled with USC baseball team sparking the “Fear the Fish” movement? And then there’s The Fishing Journal, which looks to continue its success in 2013.

It’s not like Powell will spend time worrying about what’s next — or worrying about much of anything.

“I fish a lot,” said Powell, who has rigged a fishing-pole adapter on his bike. “It clears my head.”

He throws what he catches back, if you were wondering. That’s the punk thing to do.

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