We all mature at different rates: Like adolescents entering puberty, bands will sometimes undergo dramatic growth spurts. In 2004, that's what started to happen with River City Rebels, suddenly transforming them into something beyond run-of-the-mill punk revivalists.
They adopted a grittier sound that owed significant debts to producer Syl Sylvain's beloved New York Dolls for their fourth album, Hate to Be Loved. On its follow-up, Keepsake of Luck, the band embraced growth, radically expanding its sound to range from baroque pop to country twang.
"We're not the Bouncing Souls. We're not Anti-Flag. We're not these bands that will keep putting out the same record to capitalize on whatever stardom they have," says singer/guitarist Dan O'Day. "I'd rather push the limit and see how far we can take it."
The album certainly took them far: They'd been working on it for a year when Victory Records dropped them (to O'Day's relief). The sextet relocated from Vermont to Tacoma, Wash., and spent another year perfecting the songs before a production company stepped up with $80,000, allowing the Rebels to "make the record we always wanted to make," O'Day says. They recorded for two months in a San Diego studio, then spent another year in court winning back the rights to the unreleased album from the production company. Morale suffered and members departed, but O'Day persisted.
It was worth it: Keepsake's a vibrant, eclectic album, from the harmonica-fueled folk-punk of "Farmhouse Blues" to the lovelorn, bluegrass-tinged "Letter in Transit" to the poignant, album-closing ballad "Little to Offer," which surveys O'Day's limited prospects.
"It was about when I was living in a box truck after tour in the middle of winter, depressed as hell," says O'Day of the string-fueled paean to hope. "It's a battle because the industry stinks, good music isn't heard, and we obviously don't fit in anywhere, but I don't want to be one of these puppets that play generic street punk music. I want to stand up on our own."
River City Rebels plays The Brewery Monday, Oct. 22 at 8:30 p.m.