When I first encountered First Lady Assassins nearly three years ago, it was at first with caution and trepidation then unbridled enthusiasm.
As I've mentioned before, I grew up in a town that embraced punk rock and became a hotbed of activity for both local and touring bands. To hear FLA's take on the genre, a blend that falls somewhere between pop-punk and hardcore, was a breath of fresh air for me.
Since then, FLA seems to have fanned a flame that I thought had otherwise smoldered out in Tulsa. Now, we've got a handful of bands putting their own spin on punk in T-Town, from Bearhug and Lizard Police to Triple Fang and Broncho. (OK, so Broncho is more an OKC/Edmond band, but they play here enough to count them as our own.) Even Stephen Egerton has recently stepped out from behind the mixing boards to launch his solo disc recently and help prove that punk isn't dead here; although, it might have been sleeping.
With the arrival of FLA's latest EP, Limbs.Bones.Brains.Guts., the band has continued to evolve, not only in membership but in sound and style. Guitarist Jeremy Crouch moved to Los Angeles last fall, leaving a gap in the lineup that has been filled by a rotating cast of players, from current member Ben Mosier (formerly of Upside and SwampFox) to Leif West (Violence to Vegas, Wreckless Process) and Dustin Howard.
Bassist Jason Hamilton departed even earlier with that vacancy yet to be permanently filled. Depending on the night and circumstance, you might see Zach Short (SwapFox), Brennan McDonald (Violence to Vegas, Wreckless Process) or even Mosier covering low-end duties.
By lead vocalist Jordan Coon's count, FLA has had 14 members shuffle through, either on a permanent or temporary basis during the past three years. Nevertheless, the current core of Coon, guitarist Brian Bolton and drummer Brent "The Ogreslayer" Blackburn have kept FLA alive and moving forward, holding true to their vision for the band.
Blackburn has rotated out and back into the band after taking a military position that landed him in North Carolina before ending the contract and returning to Tulsa. In the interim, original drummer Blake Goodwin rejoined the group yet stepped away once Blackburn returned.
Confused yet? Don't be, because it's all really of no concern. What matters is the fact that FLA continues to slash and burn its way through the local music scene. With the arrival of a new EP, however, the band's sound has developed as well.
Now heavier and more aggressive than before, the group hasn't transitioned to hard rock by any means, but it has definitely incorporated a different set of influences, leaning more toward The Refused and Injected and less toward pop-punk mainstays.
"I was at a point in my life where I had all these new horizons and possibilities in front of me and old history was being shed," Bolton said. There was a lot for me to work through. I'd gone through a major breakup and was partying excessively, and it all just came through in the music."
"Brian and I already had these influences," Coon said. "When Blake was in the band, we were all into being a punk band but didn't have the same influences.
When Brent joined, we were finally on the same page, so it all just came naturally."
According to Bolton, however, the transition truly came after a conversation he had with Ben Mosier, who shared that the beauty of punk is that you can play whatever you want -- there are no rules.
"That really opened the doors for me and gave me some sort of personal freedom to write whatever came out and not worry about it," Bolton said.
That's not to imply that this is a huge departure for First Lady Assassins, or that the band isn't still positioned squarely in the punk rock camp. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The songs might have a darker and heavier tone to them, but the new disc is exactly what you'd expect from a maturing punk act: hard, fast and in your face. Six songs fly by and clock in at just more than 19 minutes, leaving you gasping for breath -- or ready to press play yet again.
Band consensus states that "Fix Your Fix" is the most signature sounding FLA track: A homage to classic, old school punk that still incorporates touches of metal and hardcore with a heavy breakdown and guttural vocals at the end. Just under two minutes long, it flies by at breakneck speed (with some credit going to Brennan McDonald, who tracked the bass line like a monster) and leaves you wondering what just hit you.
"It's like the new 'Pills'," Bolton said, referencing the signature track on the band's debut CD.
Although "Fix Your Fix" stands out as the track that connects the two discs, "Tazer Bear," proves to be the defining track on the latest effort.
One of the first tracks Bolton wrote in the EP, it hits heavier, shows a control of dynamics and spotlights all of the band's strengths: from Bolton and Blackburn's playing to Coon's ability to manipulate his vocals and sing in different voices.
That's one of the reasons guitarist/bassist Mosier was excited to join FLA. "It's what makes it fun playing with these guys," he said. "I like to say that really good musicians have an arsenal. Brent has a ton of ideas, and Brian is just as talented on guitar with a lot of different riffs, but Jordan has like 50 different voices and the ability to go from a banshee wail to Godzilla."
"I've always said that without Jordan, FLA is nothing," Bolton said in agreement, "but without Brent, we wouldn't have been able to keep going."
"We've been through a lot of twists and turns, but we've done a lot to NOT let this band die," Coon said.
Perhaps that's what makes the new EP, its title and the track it's taken from, "Attack Attack," all so appropriate. The only thing more fitting is the fact that the band recorded the disc with Tulsa's resident punk icon and top producer, Stephen Egerton.
Opening the disc with a smoldering, tense guitar riff, "Attack Attack" sees the band put a more angry, modern spin on its sound than in the past, a hint of what's to come. It's also a display of what the band is capable of -- not just punk, but also modern and hard rock, proving FLA to be a chameleon of a band.
When it came time to title the disc, the final line of the song seemed most appropriate and indicative of the band's efforts thus far.
"That last line is about laying it all on the line," Coon said. "It means to give it your all: your limbs, bones, brains, guts -- everything. I guess that sounds kind of gory, but whatever..."
Yes, the music might be more intense, but it's still just punk rock, and FLA knows how to keep its perspective and tongue planted firmly in cheek. That won't ever change, no matter how much the band continues to evolve.
When First Lady Assassins rolls out the new EP with a release party at The Marquee Saturday night, June 19, you can expect the best of the old and the new.
Original guitarist Jeremy Crouch returns for the weekend to revisit the songs he recorded with his compatriots and add to the fun. In turn, Ben Mosier will handle bass duties, completing the current lineup, and you'll hear a mix of the old tunes and songs from the new disc. It's an all-ages show with a $5 cover, and music starts at 8:30pm with The Physiques taking the stage first, followed by Summer on Titan, The Thrill That Kills and The Televised before First Lady Assassins finishes out the night.
Limbs.Bones.Brains.Guts. is already available digitally on iTunes and CD Baby, but the release party will provide an opportunity to get a limited edition copy of the CD, of which there are roughly 250 copies.
If you want to see how punk rock survives and thrives in Tulsa, you should start with FLA, then dig into the rest of our scene.
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