It keeps getting tougher for a band to be labeled "original."
Bands sound like other bands and musicians sound like other musicians. Unfortunately, that's the nature of the business. A lot of times, creating something original comes from just doing it, not necessarily setting out to do so.
One of the nation's most unusual bands will come to the Abbey Theatre on Monday. Split Lip Rayfield, the Wichita, Kan., band that plays rock music on bluegrass instruments will make its Durango debut, with Denver's Paper Bird opening.
Split Lip Rayfield is Wayne Gottsine on mandolin, Eric Mardis on banjo and Jeff Eaton on the "stitchgiver," his homemade bass, constructed out of a gas tank from an old car. They all contribute vocals.
Split Lip's history is what great rock stories are made of. Formed out of informal picking sessions at the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival held in Winfield, Kan., every year, when guitarist Kirk Rundstrom and bass player Eaton both met banjo player Mardis.
Rundstrom had been playing in a metal-country outfit called Scroat Belly with Gottsine, who joined in on mandolin. They toured all over and made some records; they took a break, got back together, toured some more and played many festivals, including Telluride.
In 2006, Rundstrom was given two to six months to live. He made it another 12, and the band continued to play, right up to his death.
Months after his death, the survivors were approached by old friend Jim Heath of the Reverend Horton Heat to open for him in Kansas, which they did as a three piece.
"I did miss playing, and I miss playing with Jeff and Eric as well," said Gottsine from his home in Wichita. "We did it, it sounded like Split Lip, and we eased our way back into it."
Easing their way back into it also meant recording their fourth studio release. "I'll Be Around" came out last October.
That sound, which has been widely influential, was something they never set out to make.
"The sound just came, I don't think it was a laborious effort to come up with it. It just happened," said Gottsine.
But what is the "sound?" Lyrically, it's all tragedy. Sordid tales of rednecks and broken hearts, factory jobs and train wrecks. Musically, they're like some bluegrass jug band that dabbles in punk rock. They're Bill Monroe, George Jones, Black Flag and Motorhead rolled into one.
They'll floor you with a crying-in-your-beer ballad, then pick you back up with what they love to do - play ridiculously fast. Techno and metal clocks in at about 130 beats per minute. That's nothing.
"I did the math one time. It's not out of the question to do 50,000 strums in one night," said Gottsine. "It seems like a preposterous number, but when you break it all down, we're playing 145 beats per minute. That can add up."
Liggettb@fortlewis.eduBryant Liggett is a freelance writer and program director of KDUR.