Growing Up With The Redwalls

Three years ago this summer I was in Indianapolis the same weekend as the Midwest Music Conference. A beautifully warm Friday night took a detour when I couldn’t follow directions that ended up taking me all around Conseco Fieldhouse, but not to the venue where Cat Power was playing.

I headed back uptown to the quaint bar district that is the haunt of the Butler University student body when school is in session. Some friends in a now-kaput power-pop band called The Red Hot Valentines were scheduled for an early set at The Patio, a comfy club with an easy-to-reach bar to the side. I took the time between bands to walk around the corner to La Bamba’s to treat myself to a burrito as big as my head. After wiping the salsa from my hands, I came back to find a forgettable band trying, unsuccessfully, to be Superdrag pups. The place was lightly populated with enough standing room for a short parade of pachyderms (two elephants, tops—but you get the picture). The two doors at the front entrance were open wide to ventilate the steamy room as much as possible with just-as-hot outside air.

The Pages, a sharp quartet from Chicago outfitted in natty thrift store suit coats and slacks, got its amps set and drummer Ben Greeno took a seat behind the community drum kit bolted to the stage’s plywood floor. One song in and there was no longer any room for elephants. You could barely catch your breath. Windows steamed over with white fog and the band—now Capitol Records’ The Redwalls—couldn’t lose. A week before the show, the band had signed the recording contract, and it wouldn’t have taken Stephen Hawking to explain why. It was perfect and, dare I say, a bit magical.

The band didn’t have anything to sell that night. Not a record, not a cassette tape, not a simple, one-color T-shirt with its name across it, nor any stickers or buttons to wing out at audience hands. It was incredible, the crowd’s reaction: completely spontaneous and earned by these teenagers (two not even yet graduated from Deerfield High School). It was love at first sight for a couple hundred, stricken down right there in the hometown of Kurt Vonnegut and that 500-mile auto race. Then there was poor, fucking Will Hoge, a tight songwriter in the vein of Jason Falkner and Mike Viola who can do a just Mick Jagger impersonation, coming off as an iceman with crap for ability, having to go next.

Redwalls bassist and one of three vocalists, Justin Baren, sympathizes with Hoge and the long list of luckless, lifeless headliners that his band had already upstaged. “I feel sorry for them all the time, man,” he said. “I feel bad for anyone that has to follow us. I don’t want to follow us. Our goal every night is the same: It’s to win over fans. The Zutons were tough to beat when we opened for them, and we ain’t going to show up Oasis, that’s for damn sure.”

The band—Baren, his brother/vocalist/guitarist Logan Baren, vocalist/guitarist Andrew Langer, and Greeno—was hand-picked by the Gallagher brothers to open for them on their summer tour. Both bands share a deep-seated love for the Fab Four, but it’s the four members of The Redwalls—newcomers who are still learning—who have already begun to shy away from the strong Beatles influence that was more than evident on their indie-released debut record, Universal Blues (Undertow). Noel and Liam Gallagher have been mining the same rocks since the landmark Definitely Maybe came out in 1994, never thinking to get a new trick. In the three voices that soufflé to make The Redwalls’ sound are streams of the smoking rhythm and blues that The Rolling Stones first began doctoring in the ’60s and legions of playful weariness that could be the Dylan factor showing itself off. After being handed a copy of The Redwalls’ CD, Oasis invited the boys to play with them in London earlier this year.

“We thought they were going to be dicks because that’s what you always hear, but they were great,” Baren said. “The thing about Oasis is that they don’t have an opening act unless they actually like them. Every night they stood by the side of the stage and watched our set. If I were them, I wouldn’t watch a fucking opening band. We didn’t get a chance to talk to them much because we had to fly out the next day. There’s no rest for the weary.”

It wasn’t until last summer that the band got the go-ahead to enter the Capitol Records studio for its major-label debut. The four have been writing more and more songs, already claiming to have more than enough for the next record—but the wait was agonizing. “We were sitting around for a year. It takes so long to get in to make a record when you’re on a major label,” Baren said. “We were ready to go in immediately, but we were sitting around for a while. It felt like, ‘What the fuck?’ We feel like we’ve written better songs since then and we’re already sick of playing these songs on the new record. But The Stones have been playing the same shit for years.”

With a combined age of 83 (21 years younger than the combined ages of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger), The Redwalls already feel haggard. Said Baren, “One year on tour is like six years working at a regular job. I don’t feel young no more.”

Leave it to The Redwalls’ music to make you feel young—or, at the very least, alive.

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