With Teeth

Every rock band has a talker. I don’t mean a spokesperson, mind you. I mean a talker—someone who can’t abide silence, someone who regales an audience of one or 1,000 as a matter of life and death, in both a tour van and in interviews with Folio Weekly.

This is as it should be, by the way. Talk may be cheap, but it’s what interviews are made of. As for those long, empty hours between tour stops, they’re better filled with words than heavy breathing or trumpet scales. (Trust me.)

So, to reiterate, every rock band has a talker. For Jacksonville’s Chrome Fangs, it’s drummer James David McMurray. The hard-rock group’s founding members—singer/guitarist Donovan Wolf and lead guitarist Greg Black—are more measured, speaking occasionally and with evident reflection. Bassist Thad Cotton mostly just likes to watch.

The four musicians are gathered around a high-top at The Justice Pub to discuss their new EP, Witch Mountain, which dropped on the winter solstice, Dec. 22. The five-track set is a follow-up to their 2017 debut album Release the Hounds, and was recorded at the same studio (Stay Tuned), by the same engineer (Don Ringhofer).

The band’s sound has remained fairly consistent, too: fuzzed-out blues riffs, strung-out drum beats and out-there lyrics. It’s not exactly ‘fusion,’ but there is a cross-pollination of rock subcultures going on.

“The way I describe the music is something between Sonic Youth and Queens of the Stone Age,” begins McMurray (I told you he was the talker). “There’s a wide variety. With this EP, especially, every track is diverse. It adds a new element to our music.”

Wolf reflects for a moment before drawing a line under the subject: “We’d like to think of our sound as a kind of psychedelic stoner rock, but one could drown in the sea of genres and sub-genres. In the end, it’s all just rock-and-roll.”

As the title Witch Mountain suggests, esoterica figures heavily in the imagery. Wolf, the band’s designated lyricist, finds thematic inspiration in both the peyote trance of desert stoner rock and the pagan mythology of European metal. The EP cover art is borrowed from British sci-fi illustrator Bruce Pennington’s 1970s portfolio.

The Chrome Fangs formed in 2015, when Wolf reached out to Black. Both guitarists are Fort Lauderdale transplants, and they’d jammed together down south. Early iterations of the group featured a different rhythm section. McMurray actually attended the Fangs’ first-ever show, but was playing in a different group at the time. He would eventually join the toothsome ranks. Their fourth bassist, Cotton was the latest addition. Last year, he answered an open call on Craigslist—and impressed with his skill and stoic demeanor.

“We loved him right from the start,” says Wolf (to which McMurray nods and adds, “He fit right in”). “We all knew this was our guy.”

When it came time to plan their EP release soirée, the boys wanted to celebrate not just the record, but Jacksonville’s rich live music scene. They invited a cross-section of groups to share the stage: quirk-rockers Secret Cigarettes, art-punk duo Dancing with Ghosts and GovClub spin-off Send Him Off!

“There’s lots of talent in this town,” says Black (to which McMurray nods and adds, “a whole lotta talent”).

“For me, coming from Fort Lauderdale,” says Wolf, “I think Jacksonville is a good city with a lot of venues, and they’ve been supportive of us.”

His only complaint: pyramid schemes foisted on local bands by certain predatory promoters. It goes something like this: A talent “buyer” will sell stage time—sometimes a choice support slot—to the young and hungry in the form of advance tickets. (‘Put your money where your mouth is, kid.’) From there, the local band can re-sell them like Cutco Knives, or simply shred ’em; the talent buyer cares not. The support act has already underwritten the headliner’s guarantee, and the promoter needn’t assume the risk of, ya know, promoting the show.

“Pay-to-play is pretty much bullsh*t,” Wolf says. “Bands should avoid at any cost.”

The Chrome Fangs plan to ride Witch Mountain through 2019. McMurray predictably gets the last word in when asked the obligatory New Year’s question: “We’re gonna play more shows and make more music! We’ve already got new songs written.”