“You can pound your fist on my front door / But it’s been too long, I don’t need you anymore.” Laurence Scott sings the opening line of “Better Things,” from the Famous’ debut "Light, Sweet Crude", like he really means it. He might be singing about an old lover, an old friend – heck, even an old car – but the line could just as well be a kiss-off to the staid country and Americana his band seems all too happy to leave behind in a cloud of dust.
Mix that with the exhaust fumes of a 1965 Ford Galaxie – the four-wheeled talisman that led to the formation of the band in 2003 when Victor Barclay (lead guitar, vocals) spotted Scott (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and his ride outside a Bay Area laundromat and remarked that he owned the very same car – and you get an idea of what the Famous is all about. To put it another way: take the ‘50s-era country of Hank Williams, Sr. and filter it through ‘70s punk rock, ‘80s psychobilly, and ‘90s post-punk. You’ll find yourself staring eye-to-eye with San Francisco’s own “Pixies in a cowboy hat.”
The band’s latest, 2010’s "Come Home to Me", finds Scott and Barclay refining Light, Sweet Crude. They’ve perfected their signature raw-country-meets-post-punk sound while maturing some of the more manic elements that made their debut such a bold statement. From Pixies-esque pop gem “Mano Negra” to warm-hearted ballad “Every Day,” Scott’s vocals are more self-assured and effective than ever and Barclay’s guitar a master of country twang, rock crunch, and searing solos. Behind them are Chris Fruhauf (drums), G.D. Hensley (bass), and a crew of equally adept guests.
Anyone who liked Light, Sweet Crude will love this; anyone just discovering the Famous may rightly deem them one of the Bay Area’s finest rock acts. Written among the cacti of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona; recorded on the band’s home turf in San Francisco and San Rafael; mixed in Texas by Grammy winner Stuart Sikes (Loretta Lynn, Cat Power, the White Stripes); and performed at festivals including Toronto’s North by Northeast and Denver’s South Park Music Festival, the new songs have been forged by the open road and the American West.
Beyond their shared musical sensibilities and taste in vintage Fords, Scott and Barclay bring to the Famous notable histories in Bay Area rock. Scott co-founded and fronted quirk-rock quartet Laurence Iconoclast, some of whose jilted pop makes its way into the Famous – such as in the bastardized country-surf-rock song “Frumpy,” which resurfaces on Light, Sweet Crude.
Barclay, a veteran of the Bay Area music scene, produced and recorded a number of local punk and indie bands during the mid-‘90s including Portraits of Past, Oranger, Poundsign, and Your Mother. He is also the original drummer for influential surf/garage band The Aquamen and studied guitar with renowned guitarist Jim Campilongo (Little Willies, Martha Wainwright).
What holds the band’s sound together is a compelling balance between irreverence and intensity. Light, Sweet Crude runs the gamut of emotions – from sad (“Tear”) to angry (“Get You Back”) to plain playful (“Deconstruction Worker”). A dynamic yet direct vocalist, Scott is perfectly at home in every mood, while Barclay’s standout guitar work fills the space around him with just the right amount of tact and skill. Upon its release, the record garnered rave reviews from fans and critics and enjoyed heavy rotation on college and Internet radio. Come Home to Me is poised to take the band even further.
Only a wise old ‘65 Galaxie can say where they’re headed next.