4th City Rag To Release Their First-Ever EP On Saturday
Local musicians Matt Maher, Brandon Karras, Glenister Wells and Knighton Clark started out as a ragtime four-piece performing at various happy hours, birthday parties and wedding events. Maher started messing around with the genre by learning the various riffs and lines of Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy and other guitarists he admired. “I got really into that style of playing because I came from a classical background,” Maher explains.
As Maher continued teaching guitar and learning more about the ragtime genre, he formed a trio with local bass player Clark and drummer Wells. After a few rehearsals without Karras, Maher says, “I convinced Brandon to learn mandolin, which he never played before.” Quickly picking up the instrument, and adding that extra sound to an already tight group, 4th City Rag took off.
In the early days, Maher and Karras played together in Carbondale, Illinois with an indie pop band. After much success—playing Adult Swim’s Block Party and opening for Kendrick Lamar—the band had to fold. “With that group, it was like me and Matt were the driving forces,” Karras says. That drive explains why the two kept with it after the band crumbled. “There came an understanding that we both wanted the same thing,” says Maher.
After some time playing together, the boys of 4th City decided to up the ante. “We wanted to play original music, and I wanted to play electric guitar,” Maher says. He presented the group with a number of songs he had written outside of the ragtime genre.
“I progressed into listening to more country guitar like Vince Gill, Brent Mason,” Maher explains of the genre shift. “As a ragtime band, we were kind of selective of where we could play or what we could do.”
“We wanted to be able to play those bigger shows, the acoustic sound was a little bit reserved,” Karras adds.
4th City Rag’s new sound draws on influences from rockabilly music, country blues and the grittiness of Southern rock and roll, though Maher says, “I think you can still tell we’re a ragtime band.”
However, there was one minor hiccup in the operation—”the problem was, I had never sang before,” says Maher. As a classically trained guitarist, his draw to music was understanding the instrument. “I wanted to play flashy enough, where singing was second to the instruments,” he says.
The new 4th City Rag album, “Hot Damn,” is to release April 2 at the Bootleg at Atomic Cowboy. It’s a seven-song EP that includes title track and hit single “Hot Damn”—a song that encapsulates the ego of a man, while incorporating signature Eddie Cochran whammy bar licks and hard country rock turns.
“There’s a running theme on the record about women—either being betrayed by or bragging about,’” Maher explains. To further this message, their song, “Best In Town,” repeats the line “my baby don’t mess around, she’s got the best man in town.” It’s a theme that comes from classic Western films or folk tales surrounding the idea of “the big man in town”—everyone knows not to mess with him, his lady or his land.
“Money Train” is another gritty country song with a “modern, whacked-out guitar solo at the end,”says Maher. It features two other local musicians—Drew Schaefor (who also captured the 4th City Rag band photos) and Neil C. Luke from Old Souls Revival (who we interviewed back in January). Though, a lot of South City musicians and friends made a debut: “There’s 60 of our friends on the album and they don’t even know it,” Maher says.
How is this possible? 4th City Rag used rowdy bar noise as a constant throughout the album. The Livery Co. on Cherokee, being the place where most of the band met and performed together for the first time, seemed like the perfect place to grab honest grit.
“We were recording and it was sort of a relaxed night, but we wanted people to be screaming,” Karras explains. “So Emily [bar owner] grabbed two mason jars and smashed them on the floor. She took stools off of tables and was throwing them,” he recalls.
“Lorraine,” a slower, Chet Atkins-style instrumental ballad stands out as the final track of the EP. Including the Livery Co.’s bar noise, the sad song is almost like a farewell to the place where 4th City Rag had many great nights—Livery Co. since has closed its doors.
The EP was recorded over the course of three days at Loudhouse Studios under engineer, Zagk Gibbons. “Gibbons was awesome to work with, especially during vocals because I was self-conscious,” says Maher.
The release show includes local bands Brother Lee & the Leather Jackals and Old Souls Revival (who both have released albums in the past three months). Be sure to stop by The Bootleg at Atomic Cowboy to check these guys out—they are a must-see for local music-lovers. (And it’s only $5 at the door!)