Getting funny with Bandway, Raleigh's cock-rock wonder | Music Feature | Indy Week
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Getting funny with Bandway, Raleigh's cock-rock wonder 

Bill Mooney remembers fondly the time two of his old friends, known together as Bandway, sang along to a cassette deck at a sushi restaurant full of New York suits and got paid. It was weird.

In 1999, Mooney accompanied Bandway on a short tour of the East Coast. Back at home, he was busy with Tannis Root, his Raleigh merchandising company that, for three decades, has helped produce everything from Sonic Youth T-shirts to Beck Hansen-designed sunglasses. But when a New York ad agency invited the comic rockers of Bandway to play its annual Christmas party, the trip looked too surreal and fun to pass up. Mooney, along with singing drummer Brooks Carter, guitarist Bo Taylor and their backing tape, piled into a rented Lincoln Town Car. He drove.

The people who had invited Bandway up knew the music: They'd listened to Bandway's ridiculous, riff-loaded 1998 debut, Balls Out, at the office, and they were excited to experience the comedic cock-rock live. But they'd never let the agency executives and salespeople in on the joke.

"The writers and the creative people at the agency got it, found it funny," Mooney says. "Half of the audience was baffled and thought, 'Why are these two weirdos playing our expensive sushi Christmas party lunch?' Brooks and Bo would refer to their backing tape on the cassette deck as 'our music machine.' There wasn't a DJ—even that was confounding."

Mooney has just returned from Festival Supreme, an annual consortium of comedy and music—comedic and otherwise—organized every year in Los Angeles by Tannis Root clients Tenacious D. But he isn't finished laughing quite yet: Bandway—like Tenacious D, an overblown comedy rock duo—will soon return to the stage for their first show in four years and first since releasing their third album in 13 years, Buddies, in April. As with the pricy New York sushi restaurant years ago, not everyone's going to get it or like it.

"It's like karaoke, which I'm a fan of," Mooney says. "It's far more entertaining to do karaoke or to watch someone do karaoke in front of a confused audience or a hostile audience, rather than a group of friends or American Idol devotees who are trying to be really serious."

Still, there will be people who remember every word of "Four Day Weekend" or who know to throw cans at the stage during "Sustainable." Despite infrequent live performances and releases, Bandway has cultivated a chuckling cult.

And for all the silence between shows and records, Bandway never went on hiatus. True to the album title, Carter and Taylor are buddies. They get together when they have time. They never force the songs or rush things, and, in the end, they're the ones laughing the hardest.

Mooney knew Carter and Taylor before they even formed the foul-mouthed duo. The bond was instant.

"They were like boys at a slumber party. They would start riffing and making each other laugh really hard," he says. "I would see them get together, and they were like two old friends."

On a weekday evening late last summer inside the Chapel Hill restaurant La Hacienda, little seemed to have changed for the buddies.

Taylor, 48, and Carter, 46, sat next to each other and regularly giggled—indeed, like boys at a slumber party—until their eyes watered. Some of their in-jokes were obvious or band-related (many song and album titles were slipped carefully into conversation), but some were so specific they only made sense to the two pals. Both have families and careers now. Taylor is a woodworker and cabinet maker in Raleigh, while Carter lives in Winston-Salem and is a psychiatrist. When they're together, crying from quips, you'd never guess they would embrace such adult duties.

Between jokes, they talk about Buddies, which has been in the works since the bulk of it was recorded in 2004. A few years ago, they added two new tracks. Only recently did they realize it was done.

"This is just the right time to release it," Taylor says, laughing at his own earnestness. "It just happens naturally. We've been doing this for a long time, so it's just one of the things that we do ... as buddies."

"Trademark," Carter says quickly.

"Trademark," Taylor fires back.

They're laughing again.

Carter and Taylor trace the band's beginnings to 1996. Carter had been living in Athens, Georgia, but he wasn't sure what to do with his life just yet. He moved in with his parents in Danville, Virginia, and reconnected with his high-school friend Taylor, already living in Raleigh.

"We got together that summer and started jamming and recording. It's been in the same model ever since," Carter says.

"We wrote four or five songs and tried to figure out what to do with them. Bo had a roommate, Clif Mann," Carter continues. "Clif just popped his head in the door one night and said, 'Why don't you just pop in the cassette tape and sing on top of it?'"

The buddies didn't have to form a full band at all; they were the band.

"It seemed like a no-brainer to use the tapes and sing and play along," Mann recalls. He liked the smart, funny Taylor as soon as they met. But when Taylor and Carter got together, the humor leveled up. "You don't want to mess up the chemistry those two had together."

The arrangement worked well, because the music was always secondary to the friendship. They'd rather be lazy, Taylor says, and sit around making jokes than worry about setting up a recorder. "How do you work this thing?" he says, pantomiming himself in a studio. "We're the type of buddies that, when we get together, shit just gets silly."

The setup remains low pressure even now—if a song comes together, great. If one doesn't, they just sit around, cracking each other up.

"That's probably why it's taken 12 years to get it out," Carter says.

But the pair's easy pace and low-stress approach did produce a consistent half-hour of comedy. Buddies opens with "Hot Zone," a fist-pumping '80s party-rock overture with squealing guitars and Carter's preposterous hair metal vocals. "There's a hero in my pants/and all he wants to do is dance," he growls.

"Indecent Proposal" culminates in a B-movie monologue. "Why don't you come over here," Carter says in his best bad actor voice, "and take this one million dollars to your husband/and tell him I'm about to sleep"—dramatic pause—"with his"—again, pause—"wife." There's as much Walker, Texas Ranger tough-guy posturing as real cock-rock swagger.

Bandway may be two grown men making dick jokes, but the duo goes far beyond the macho innuendo of '80s dude-rock, rendering it gleefully absurd. It's like a fourth-grader, circa 1986, imagining what cool adult life is like. These silly gag songs come couched in memorable hooks, too. The lyrics may be riddled with punch lines, but the playing is no joke.

"The musical references they pick don't seem tongue-in-cheek, necessarily," Mooney says, noting that Carter and Taylor's love of Southern rock, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin is sincere. Instead, the idea of people who hang onto dreams of stardom or the stereotypical rock lifestyle too long cracks them up and powers the sound. "That person who is still trying to live the rock 'n' roll dream and is into Molly Hatchet and some of the lesser Southern rock bands, that's the comedic inspiration."

Mooney would love to see such a person at a Bandway show, perhaps in North Carolina cities like Goldsboro or Fayetteville, where past-their-prime rockers seem abundant. Such audiences might love Bandway without needing the jokes at all, he says—unlike that sushi restaurant full of advertising executives.

Back at La Hacienda, Taylor says his youngest son, Theo, wants to sing like Carter when he's older. He already likes to imitate his vocals on "Hot Zone," and he understands the absurdity.

"My kids are scared of it, actually," Carter admits. "I'll play it and they're like, 'Dad, your voice is kind of scary. I don't like it. You said a bad word.'"

His children may be embarrassed by Bandway well into their 40s, he announces with satisfaction. Considering the duo's unrushed arc, Bandway might still be around at that point, anyway, possibly with a fourth album.

"We never went away," Carter says. "We always just take a long time between any kind of work and performance."

"I hope it's not the last one," Taylor says of Buddies. "If it is, I think it's a good one."

For once, neither buddy laughs.

  • On Bandway's first album in 13 years, the old buddies bring the jokes and the riffs back out

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