Blag'ard's injuries have been numerous and fancifully acquired. The Chapel Hill duo of singer/ guitarist Joe Taylor, 36, and drummer Adam Brinson, 26, seems destined for near-misses and closeness-to-catastrophe. Lucky for us, that spirit of physical abandon translates to the band's tightly wound, super-energetic rock music. As it's been said, play what you know.
Brinson, for instance, got hit by car in July. "A friend of mine was on one side of the street and I was on the other side," he remembers. "He was crossing over to my side, and just to mess with him, I started crossing over to his side. I was watching him instead of traffic, and I got hit by an F-150. It threw me 20 feet through the air. I didn't hit my head or anything, but my knee swelled up real big." The same knee already sports a gnarly bite scar, courtesy one of Brinson's four dogs.
"It was like a Hitchcock movie," Taylor says. "I was at home washing dishes, and I dropped a plate. Just as it broke in half, the phone rang. It was Adam, telling me he'd just been hit by a car."
Brinson and Taylor make a striking pair: Sitting on a bench outside of the Chelsea movie theater, Brinson bears a beatific Californian look, with long blonde hair and a beard, although he's lived in North Carolina his entire life. Taylor is tall and imposing, with piercing eyes hidden under prominent brows and a distinctive grunge-era haircut—long on top, shaved almost bald around the sides and back.
Today, he has some fresh-looking stitches on his left forefinger. A sledgehammer accident, of course: "I could see the tendon in there," says Taylor, "which allows the finger to extend. If I'd nailed that tendon my guitar playing days would've been done." The scar on his finger will become part of Taylor's physical record of crashes and scrapes, just like the older one under his chin. He explains that one best.
"A bar where I was working was having a private party. This guy got mad at me because his girlfriend was being argumentative, and I told them to get out. I was a little rude, not professional. So he came around the bar at me, swinging wildly like Captain Caveman. I'd taken like half a year of jujitsu, so I spun him around and pinned him on the ground. But I didn't pin down his head with my forearm like I should have. I just had his arms pinned down to his sides and was looking down into his face, and I said, 'How do you like me now?' That's when he bit me on the chin."
Chaotic mischief, close calls and good stories drawn from weird mundanity: This is what Blag'ard is all about. The shenanigans are apparent on Bobcat, the band's jumpy yet highly melodic debut LP, which profits from Brinson's kinetic drumming and Taylor's highly recognizable guitar style, at once lyrical and neurotic. His melodic lines skitter into queasy string-bends; for a vocal equivalent, imagine someone singing a sprightly melody but vomiting at the end of each line.
"If you know Joe and have a feeling for his personality, his guitar playing makes sense," says Brinson. "You get the sense listening to it that this isn't your ordinary person. I mean, look at his haircut."
Brinson's post-punky rolls and weird fills are a sure fit for that anxious guitar style. On Blag'ard's debut EP, Blank Faced Clocks, drummer Bill Buckley provided a steady, classic rock-influenced backbeat. This pairing works better.
Taylor came to Brinson because of a common problem for musicians in their 30s: "When I moved back to N.C.," Taylor says, "I was playing with a three-piece, and the guys I was playing with each got their significant others pregnant, and quit." When Taylor recruited Brinson, he told him, "You're going to get your girlfriend pregnant."
And that's exactly what happened. Brinson, now married, is the proud father of three-month-old Buck. But it's another near-miss, as Taylor's sticking with the band. They simply practice during the day, agreeing that one reason for keeping Blag'ard a two-piece is not having too many schedules to coordinate.
Taylor knows a thing or two about another sort of near-miss, too: During the Chapel Hill indie rock boom of the early-to-mid-90s, which vaulted bands such as Superchunk and Archers of Loaf to semi-fame, Taylor fronted Capsize 7, which was signed (and subsequently dropped) by major label Caroline. Taylor became understandably disillusioned with the record industry.
"We had our share of brushes with big labels back in the Capsize days," he explains, "and when I was playing with Lystra in L.A., I got a few phone calls like, 'You guys are great; you're going to be the next whatever.' They make you feel great for a couple weeks, and then you feel like crap because they've raised your expectations and nothing comes of it."
So Taylor started Pig Zen Space, a burgeoning label through which he has self-released both Blag'ard recordings and some Capsize 7 seven-inches, and where he eventually hopes to release the "lost" Capsize album, which they recorded after being dropped from Caroline. The label's online component (www.pigzenspace.com) will offer high-quality downloads of that music for a reasonable price: "I am no longer waiting for [Mr.] Mxyzptlk [a D.C. Comics trickster character] to pop out of thin air and sign me."
Blag'ard's unusual name comes from the phrase "Black Guard," which Taylor discovered while reading a series of books on the British Navy's role in the Napoleonic Wars. "One thing they would say as an insult," explains Taylor, "is, 'That was really blag'ardly.'" Such obscure details, drawn from life, inform Taylor's lyrics as well. While many of the songs on Bobcat focus on the usual stuff—emotional states, romance and so on—a few stand out for their curious subject matter and their strong sense of the local. "30 Flavors" laments Chapel Hill's changing socioeconomic environment. "R.E.M. Song" deals with a secret (and ultimately nonexistent) R.E.M. show that was rumored to be happening at the Cat's Cradle back when it was still on Franklin Street. It's an outsized metaphor for thwarted expectations and a pseudo-mythical Chapel Hill indie rock past.
Appropriately, Bobcat's cover ties these aspects of Blag'ard together—physical pain, failed expectations, humor and a little craziness. As Taylor and Brinson practice, a skinny woman in a bobcat suit crouches in front of the drums, staring at the camera. Taylor came back to Chapel Hill from Los Angeles to celebrate the birth of his niece, Olwen, four years ago. He was planning on returning to L.A., but an area front porch was having none of it.
"I got really drunk one night, and I was lying on a porch railing. I dared myself to roll off the railing, which was about eight feet up in the air. ... I rolled off and broke my ankle, which facilitated me moving back from L.A. because I couldn't work. So thank you, Olwen, for giving me that gift," he remembers. "Then, she learned the words 'vomit' and 'bobcat' in the same week, and would get them switched around. So she would talk about the dog vomiting by saying, 'Freddy got bobcat all over Maevy's shoes,' or 'Maevy slipped in the bobcat.' I just thought that was funny, and that's where the title of the album came from."
Here you have to pause and be thankful that Taylor didn't choose Olwen's other new word as his record's motif. One can only imagine what the model for that photo shoot would've had to endure. Well, it'd make for one helluva Blag'ard story, at least.
Blag'ard plays Local 506 Thursday, Oct. 2, with Detroit's Child Bite. The 9:30 p.m. show is free.