The urge to group things into categories is natural and unavoidable, but when it comes to the arts, systems of classification often fall short.
In music, though broad labels such as bluegrass, hard rock or hip-hop certainly help listeners sort through the millions of song choices, genre-blurring hybrid bands and shape-shifting crossover artists have increasingly become the rule, rather than the exception, making classification difficult if not impossible.
Local bands Slow Gun Runner and Lifted Embrace, who will both be showcasing debut CDs when they share stage time at the Aurora Projekt's one-year anniversary party Saturday, are both good examples of the limitations of traditional genre labels. Here's a closer look at what goes into their music.
Slow Gun Runner
Slow Gun Runner has described itself in the past as a funk-rock-reggae band, but its self-titled debut CD covers a lot more ground than that. Guitarist and songwriter Dave Pichard said the tracks on the CD represent a variety of styles indicative of his wide-ranging tastes.
"I love all styles of music and you can see that reflected here. 'Fuzzy Bunny Pump' is just straight up, almost James Brown funk, 'Welcome to Juneau' is kind of bluegrass, 'Love Song' is jazz, 'Voice of Reason' is a ballad, 'Pretty' and 'Slow Gun Runner' are the most reggae-heavy songs, 'Adieu' is more of a Tool, kind of tribal thing, and 'Taboo' - I don't really know what that is. It's kind of a combination of funk and R&B and hip-hop. And then 'Troblems' is kind of a ... rock film-noir.'
So where does that leave those who haven't heard the band's music and wonder if they will like it? Your best bet is to listen to it, and you'll get that chance this weekend.
Slow Gun Runner performs Saturday at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar as part of a dual CD release party that also features local band Lifted Embrace. The party is sponsored by the Aurora Projekt, and celebrates the Franklin Street shop's one-year anniversary. The shop, which primarily sells clothing featuring their original designs, has hosted two similar parties in the past with the two bands singly; it is now bringing them together for one split show, said Aurora Projekt's Scott Baxter.
Slow Gun Runner has been around for about three years, and, in addition to Pichard, is comprised of lyricist and singer Nicole Skeek, bass player Jeff Goetz, and drummer Chirs Lambertson. All of the band's music, with few exceptions, is original, written by Pichard with lyrics by Skeek. Goetz and Lambertson bring their own creative interpretations to the songs in filling out their parts and improvising on stage, Pichard said.
"We've written a lot of these songs just by jamming," he said. "They come out of the environment and energy of playing together."
When they perform live, they often add to their repertoire with improvised music, Pichard said, which include lyrics Skeek makes up on the spot.
"A lot of our shows we'll just improvise on stage," he said. "Chris will start playing a drum beat and we'll just start going with it, and Niki will improvise an entire song. She s a great lyricist and improviser."
Skeek also came up with the band's name.
"I can't really remember which happened first, the song and the lyrics or the band's name," Pichard said. "Somehow, out of her lyrics, she started throwing around 'Slow Gun Runner' and it grew on us."
In addition to writing the music, Pichard, who works as a software developer for the state, recorded and produced the CD at the band's studio above Alaska Liquor Cache downtown on Franklin Street. He said recording, for him, is as important as writing the songs and playing the music.
"This has been a dream of mine since I started playing when I was 18," he said. "I got a fourtrack after I started playing (guitar), and I've been hooked on recording ever since."
Saturday's show will be the first time the band has performed since last year's Haines Fair. Pichard said he didn't know how much they'd be playing downtown this summer.
"Everybody's back in town right now, so we'll see how it goes," he said.
Slow Gun Runner's new CD is available at the Aurora Projekt, located at 171 S. Franklin St. next to the Alaskan. You can also find it online on iTunes and Amazon.
Lifted Embrace is sometimes described as a thrash metal band, but they prefer a label they came up with themselves: Groove metal.
Drummer John Perrin said the groove metal idea came about after the band observed fans' reactions to their music, which was often split along gender lines.
"While we're playing, you've got one section (of the room) where the guys are headbanging, but then you look at the girls dancing, and they look like they're on a hip-hop dance floor," Perrin said.
Seven of the band's original songs, which range from hard-hitting metal to softer, more melodic tunes, are featured on the band's debut CD, "Masking Insanity," due to be released at this weekend's Aurora Projekt anniversary party at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar. Lifted Embrace played for the Aurora Projekt's first sponsored show, at the Hangar Ballroom last April, and will share stage time with another local band, Slow Gun Runner.
Though the band has performed in many local venues, including the Rendezvous, Marlintini's and Centennial Hall, this will be its first show at the Alaskan, in part because the venue usually features quieter, more sedate acts.
"We thought people would see us setting up and think 'This will be a nice little knee-slapping band,' and then - we blow out the windows," Perrin said.
In addition to Perrin, the band's lineup includes Trevyn Days, lead vocalist and rhythm guitar; Josh Preston, lead guitar; and Rick Huteson, bass guitar.
In a previous Empire interview, Huteson was asked to describe the band's sound.
"If gods could destroy armies with music, it would be Lifted Embrace," he said.
Days, who works for Greens Creek Mine, comes up with the lyrics and basic outline of the songs, Perrin said, often using his downtime at the mine to play around with new ideas on guitar.
"He brings a very raw guitar tune to us and between me, Rick, Josh and Trev, we form it," Perrin said. "We all have our input and then we create the song together."
Perrin said, as a drummer, his rhythms usually develop out of a gut reaction to the music and what his bandmates are doing, rather than according to predetermined musical patterns or rules.
"None of us have grown up with the 'one-two-three-four' count. We all just feel the music," he said. "I don't even think about it. My body just does it."
He said the creativity and communication between band members often surprises him, and he thinks that's part of the reason they've lasted this long. The band formed in 2001 with Perrin, Days and Eric Mason, who later moved to Europe. Preston and Huteson came on board soon after. Nine years later they're still having a great time.
"We're doing this for the love of music, not because we're trying to become rock stars," he said. "This is what we all love to do. And that keeps the edge off."
Lifted Embrace's debut CD was recorded by Todd Vierra, who is the drummer for local band Moses Kane, and Jonathan Mollick. The two run Alaska Contract Studio. It took about a year to make, Perrin said, but choosing the songs only took about a half hour. Each band member made a list of their six favorites in the band's repertoire and then compared notes. About half were unanimous, he said, including "Selfish Obsessions" and "Moving On," and the rest were on more than one person's list. Then they realized they'd forgotten one they all agreed had to be included, so they upped the number of songs to seven.
For Perrin the recording experience was very rewarding, and has allowed him to hear the music with a fresh ear.
"When you're playing and you're in the moment, you're not thinking about how good you sound, ... And you're not really listening to it as a whole. So when you hear it come out of car speakers or on the stereo, it's just so crazy. It sounds really good."
Due to shipping and distribution issues, the CD is barely going to squeak into town before Saturday's show, Perrin said, which has been a little stressful for the band, but he's really looking forward to taking the stage Saturday night after such a long hiatus from the public eye.
"It's going to be a blast. I'm super excited," Perrin said Tuesday. "Last night we jammed and I was so pumped. It was good to know we were still real tight."
Lifted Embrace's new CD also is available at the Aurora Projekt, at 171 S. Franklin St., and through iTunes, Amazon and other Internet sources. Visit www.myspace.com/liftedembrace for more information.
Contact Arts and Culture editor Amy Fletcher at 523-2283 or email@example.com.