Them Damned Young Livers have a method to their madness
The black-and-white video for “All Hell” is a Midwestern rockabilly fantasy, heavy on leopard-print-wearing dancers, sledgehammers and PBR. But it also embodies Them Damned Young Livers’ lifestyle.
“A dude in Minneapolis once said to us, ‘Everybody else always sings about it, but you guys live it,'” drummer Bob Lyons says. “We are in it as much for ourselves as anything else, just to have a goddamn good time.”
Settling into a booth by the window at Mike’s Tavern — the recently remodeled bar where Them Damned Young Livers (TDYL) played its first live gig — the local cowpunk rockers teasingly asked not to be confused with the Young Livers, the Florida screamo band. (“We heard they were touring Europe and shit, so we were like, ‘OK, you guys win,'” guitarist Tripp Kirby says, not that they’re competing for fans. )
Lyons, Kirby, bassist Ryan Cummings and frontman Jody Hendrix aren’t screamo scenesters, but there’s plenty of screaming to be heard on the band’s new release, Psalms of Ill-Repute. Unlike the group’s debut album, Let the Sin Begin, TDYL’s latest effort was recorded at Lyons’ house in Liberty, complete with smokers hacking, bottles clanking, mics falling and a baby crying.
The sound of Let the Sin Begin was a little too clean and crisp, band members say now. “That ridiculously live, raw feel is what we were desiring the whole time on this new CD,” Lyons says. “We needed something more representational of what it’s like onstage. Precision and planning just don’t work for us.”
A TDYL show is pure, unadulterated chaos, thanks to the charismatic Hendrix, who drags bandmates around by their shirts, spits beer, dances on tables and taunts audiences. He’s like a younger, less sloppy Ernie Locke; he doesn’t play the harmonica, but he’s as captivating as a train wreck.
“Every physical break this asshole [Hendrix] got, he was back there behind the drum set, combin’ his hair or just dancin’ up a storm, goofy as all shit,” says Lyons, who was present at that first Mike’s Tavern show but didn’t join the band until 2008. “It was one of the most remarkable stage presences I’d ever seen,” he says.
“The rest of us have just been catching up ever since,” Kirby says.
Hendrix credits his onstage work ethic to the theatrical Nashville blues-rock artist J.D. Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers. “In 2002, I saw them at the Grand Emporium, and there were, like, six people in the crowd,” he says. “I went up to the frontman later on and said, ‘Man, you guys tore it up!’ And he said, ‘Know what, man? It’s not your fault only six people showed up. You’re gonna get the same show whether or not there are six or 600 people.'”
In one moment of immaculate hellfire, Hendrix channeled Wilkes at TDYL’s first show in Joplin, at the Keystone Lounge. Lyons says that performance remains a “consistent topic of conversation” in Joplin.
“There were hardly any people there, maybe 10. The sound system broke, and instead of singing it through the mic, Jody just got up on tables and yelled in everyone’s faces,” Kirby says. “We could have quit and walked off, but now every time we go back to Joplin, there’s usually more and more people.”
“We’re big in Joplin!” Hendrix says. “I learned to let people have it. That’s how you make long-term fans.”
With simple rhymes and kitschy undertones, the band’s tunes are easy enough to sing along with, even if you’re jumping up and down with a tallboy: You had a little too much whiskey, I had too much gin/Pop a couple pills and let the sin begin. It’s the kind of music that inspires neck tattoos and late-night shots of room-temperature Kentucky Gentleman.
In Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, Las Vegas or Des Moines, TDYL turns first-time spectators into believers. The secret isn’t in the playing. According to Hendrix, he and his bandmates aren’t very good. “There are way better musicians than every single one of us individually,” he says. “But nobody’s up there to be as shameless as we are.”
On his third whiskey, Lyons sums up the TDYL experience.
“Live, when that much is going on, the musicality can only hold the thread so much,” he says. “It’s a performance. We’ve adapted it to a musical art.”