Murray Stall, drummer for new Alternative/Progressive rockers The Desert Gun, greets me in the glow. Tall, thin and always talking or moving, Stall wears skinny jeans and, on his left arm, a large tattoo peeks out from his shirt. A passionate type with a ton of energy, he started music at 14.
“When you start that young, you don’t think beyond anything other than, ‘We need to write a song,’ ” he says, joking. “There always has to be some period where you suck.”
Through broken bones, women troubles, fist fights, college stints, partying summers away in Michigan, attention deficits, a slew of different bands, playing with some kid named Beaver who bought a $3,500 guitar, loneliness and rocking out “balls to the wall,” this group of old high school friends is amazingly still alive. And after some trips through the wilderness, The Desert Gun formed last summer.
As teenagers, the first incarnation of the band was called Station 42, where they learned “how not to suck.” Today, the sound has become “dry like a desert, cold like a gun,” as Stall sees it. Recorded by Chris Schmidt, Western, Part One, a three-song EP, came out in May as a free download; Part Two is in the works.
All four members — Stall, singer/guitarist/bassist P.J. Smiarowski, guitarist Gavin Babcock and singer/bassist Shane O’Malley — have played in multiple bands for years. With heavy guitars and structured songs packed with intensity and driving, cool riffs, they’re quickly carving a Cincinnati niche, one that’s edgy and sweaty in the vein of the early Alternative days.
“There really should be one focal point,” Stall says, adding that the layers of music should bring the listener to focus on the whole overall feel. “We try to have this overarching idea without making it too fabricated.”
Stall has roomed with Smiarowski several times over the years.
He arrives at the bowling alley wearing sunglasses and cowboy boots. A guy with a big presence, Smiarowski has dark features, dark hair and a thick, short beard. A prominent influence on the band, Smiarowski’s father played bass in the Detroit Funk Rock scene during the 1960s and ’70s, doing studio work for Grand Funk Railroad and opening for Alice Cooper.
Back when Sudsy Malone’s in Coryville was a bustling local music venue, Smiarowski and Babcock played in Funk/Progressive Rock band Setori. While Smiarowski says it made them “tight musicians,” the band played out madly and he and Babcock became known as the wild ones.
“My sleeping habits and lifestyle are a little out of control at times,” Smiarowski says. “I’ve been known to stay up three days in a row. I enjoy playing with these guys because we’re all kind of equally fucked up.”
O’Malley adds, “P.J. and Gavin are more crazy, and me and Murray just kind of stand back and watch them.”
“No, we just have more foresight,” Stall says.
Smiarowski grins. “I just appreciate chaos.”
“We’re not out to ruin people’s day, but yeah, it’s fucking Rock & Roll,” Stall adds, smiling mischievously.
O’Malley — with large eyes, wide features and longish straight hair — sports a mustache the group says is officially “the fifth member of the band.” O’Malley’s first show was a Battle of the Bands at Bogart’s in front of a packed house, which left him terrified. Laid back and the “Folk/Indie guy,” he came to The Desert Gun with experience as a songwriter, previously leading his own band, Confused Youth.
“I was kind of like an outside guy,” O’Malley says. “I did my own band. I can write love ballads and Pop songs all day long.”
Smiarowski jokes about how he and O’Malley grew up on the same street, yet weren’t exactly “childhood friends.”
“We’d see each other at a distance and we’d always have that fear that one of us was gonna kill the other one,” he says, “so we kinda kept our distance.”
With no centralized leader, three songwriters and two vocalists, Smiarowski say they’re democratic about songwriting.
“The riff will go through several surgeries,” he says. “We’re finally starting to reach a minimal amount of maturity, so that we have learned how to speak to each other.”
“People’s opinions are so subjective,” Smiarowski says. “Every single person has something that they’re looking for that’s gonna move them in some way, remind them of a time in their life … we want to do something that’s challenging for us, that we’re going to enjoy, and that other people are going to enjoy as well. We’re not going to have any career or future in doing this if we do something that’s self-gratifying purely. It has to be music that can reach out to multiple genres and multiple generations, so I think we take a lot of that into account.”
The Desert Gun plans to record, tour and make things happen quickly. And when it comes to the rowdy, desert Rock sound and lifestyle, they don’t apologize. “Going on a walkabout” is the term they use for a guys’ night out, when anything might happen. Even after “completely insane” nights, New York trips, dissembling bands, being broke or burnt out and sweating/freezing while playing whiffle ball (hall ball) in practice spaces until 2 a.m., they’re still friends.
Vivid, strange and wild, the way that some people always seem to come back together.
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