By Danny R. Phillips
The Heartland of America has given fully to both respected culture and pop culture. Missouri, the literal “heart” of the Heartland, can lay claim to the old-West Robin Hood Jesse James, writer Mark Twain, painter Thomas Hart Benton, The Pony Express, the world’s greatest barbecue, Brad Pitt, Walter Cronkite and now, a rock band known throughout our land as The Architects.
I will not foolishly attempt to compare a punk-ish rock band from Kansas City with the likes of Twain or Cronkite but judging by the lyrics and attitude spewed onto their most recent Anodyne Records release Vice, it would be totally justifiable to place The Architects in the same headspace as the country’s legendary outlaw.
Kansas City’s scene is thriving like never before with bands like The Architects, Federation of Horsepower, The Republic Tigers, Lights and Siren, In the Pines and Sister Mary Rotten Crotch leading the charge. But Brandon Phillips, singer and guitarist for The Architects doesn’t seem to want to go into great detail about the city’s scene. "The K.C. scene takes pretty good care of it’s own. That said, I almost prefer to avoid 'scene stuff’" he continued, “it can be very political in a smallish town. I came to play and sing not whip votes in a city wide alterna-popularity contest.”
Play and sing they do. I am not basing this opinion solely on what I hear on a disc or some shit ass recording on a MySpace page. I am going by what I’ve experienced first hand. A few years ago, I happened into The Jackpot Saloon, one of my preferred Lawrence, Kansas haunts, while I was in town to cover a Sonic Youth show for another publication that shall remain nameless. After two hours of art rock no wave, all I wanted was a tall glass of Maker’s Mark with Coke. The drink was doable but considering it was a Monday night at 11, the odds of seeing a good band or any band for that matter, were slim to none. But as luck would have it, myself and the thirty other people that happened to be in the bar that night were in for a special treat.
Not only did the Jackpot's management let all of us in sans cover charge, there was a band and a great one at that. The Architects played like they were the headliners at Reading; “The size of the crowd only matters in my head,” lead singer/guitarist Brandon Phillips recently told me. “There is a certain pride and satisfaction that comes with clobbering a near-empty bar like it’s Wembley Stadium.”
With their combination of classic rock hooks and the occasional punk rock kick to the throat, The Architects are easily one of the best bands Kansas City has to offer but they are far from new to the game.
Like The James Gang of yore, The Architects are a family enterprise. “We three brothers (Brandon, Zach and Adam Phillips; Keenan Nichols rounds out the four-piece) have been doing this since we were wee little tots. I’d say it makes everything a lot simpler; most of the dumb bullshit that other bands fight about was already covered years ago.”
Not only are the Phillips boys family, they’ve already served time together in another iconic Kansas City band, The Gadjits. The brothers played long and hard releasing four albums (Da Gravy on Your Grits, At Ease, Wish We Never Met and Today is My Day) before The Gadjits hung it up five years ago. “We just got fed up with being in that band. There was some perceived dumb baggage that came along with being in The Gadjits.”
Then, the final piece in the Architects creation slid into place: In 2003, The Gadjits were dropped by RCA. “When we were dropped we took a breath, renamed the band, retooled a bit and became The Architects.”
Once The Gadjits were history, local Kansas City record label Andoyne Records, also home to country acid punk legends The Meat Puppets, came calling. “Andoyne wanted to release our first record.” Phillips said. “We’ve been lucky enough to release two more with them.”
But since the release of Vice, some things have changed. “We liked being with Andoyne but we recently moved over to Skeleton Crew, a label owned by Frank Iero of My Chemical Romance. "We’ll be making a new record with Skeleton Crew in January that will likely come out in early Summer 2009.”
While some bands, both big and small, are content with latching on to whatever sound is popular or deemed hip by “cool” local publications (in K.C.’s case that “cool” publication would be The Pitch Weekly), The Architects are unapologetic about their sound and influences.
They are a great rock band with a sound that is fairly easily pinned down: Social Distortion, Johnny Cash, AC/DC and Cheap Trick are front and center depending on the track your listing to at the time. However, Brandon listed a few that I didn’t hear as readily at first. “Yeah, we are definitely into AC/DC and The Who a lot. Those two always seem to come through along with The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers. Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings are influences in the sense that they are damn good with narratives and scenery… and Lucinda Williams gets a big nod as well.”
Sighting bases for their sound such as these, would The Architects classify themselves as a punk band? “Yeah, I’d consider us a punk band only insofar as that is a huge part of where we come from and why we persist in doing this.” However, as Phillips explains, they aren’t punks in the classic public perception. “In order to meet the burden of most people’s common definition of a 'punk band' we would need a lot of help with the 1978 period costume.”
Though their sonic forefathers are easily distinguishable, that does not mean they are one of the many run of the mill copycats that flood the music world today. No, they are clearly their own being that is simply not afraid to let the music that shaped them show through their wall of sound.
Yes,The Architects have accomplished much over the last five years. They played on the Vans Warped Tour in 2006 and 2008. Brandon said playing the annual tour was like if you took "parts of John McCain’s book about waking up all sweaty with dysentery in a North Vietnamese prison and the parts of David Lee Roth’s book about waking up all sweaty in a sleeping bag on tour with Van Halen... well you’d have a pretty accurate description of what it’s like to do Warped Tour in a van.”
“We’ve know each other for a long time now.” Brandon told me when explaining his band’s good fortune. “ Our old band, The Gadjits, were one of Tim Armstrong’s first signings when he launched ,a href="http://www.hell-cat.com/" target="new">Hellcat Records back in 1997 or ‘98. So, when they came through town on this last tour we were fortunate enough to get the call.” The luck keeps on coming for the boys in The Architects; a new record deal, opening shows for punk heroes like Rancid, a great new record and summers spent seeing the country while playing for larger and larger crowds. Lucky bastards, indeed.
Whatever category you choose to put The Architects in: hard rock, punk, good old straight ahead rock 'n' roll, a few things are of absolute certainty; they put on a hell of a show, the band believes 1000% in what they do and (hopefully) they won’t compromise their music or change to please anyone but themselves. I hope against all hope that they’ll stay true to who they are and not forget where they come from. But I’m a bit of a pessimist from Missouri so The Architects are gonna have to Show-Me.