From the battlefields of Fallujah, Iraq to America’s Got Talent, Utah-based band American Hitmen have had quite a unique journey in the music business. If you haven’t heard of them already, you surely will soon. When have you heard of a band that actually formed in a war zone on the other side of the world, had the opportunity to be the first rock band to play in a country in decades, and then competed on a reality TV show? It has to have been a wild ride, and vocalist Tim Cord sat down to tell Screamer all the details.
“My brother and I, Dan, who plays guitar, joined the Marine Corps back in 2003 and we were deployed to Fallujah at the end of 2004,” said Cord. “We met Jay, our bassist – he was actually Dan’s platoon sergeant. Dan and I got an acoustic guitar from the little chapel, and after missions we went back and would sit in the smoke pit and just jam- acoustic jams- to just kind of boost morale.” Dan “Jay” Jarmon enjoyed what the Cord brothers were doing, and informed them that he could play bass if they wanted to actually start a band. Ben Porterfield joined them on drums and they got their first big break while still in Iraq: “In 2006, Charlie Daniels came out to Iraq on a USO tour and we performed on stage with him and his band in Iraq in front of all our peers. Once that hit, we got national recognition through the Marine Corps Times and stuff like that. That was when we decided that we really wanted to go full speed ahead and be musicians.” Their former drummer decided to stay in the Marine Corps when the others were honorably discharged in 2007. Shortly thereafter, the band moved to Utah and met their current drummer, Phil Snyder and it was a perfect fit.
In 2009, the band had the amazing opportunity of being the first American rock band to play in Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) in 36 years. Said Cord, “They decided they wanted to open up a Hard Rock Cafe and try to bridge the gap between Western culture rock and roll since the war.” It wasn’t necessarily an easy process to get the go ahead, though: “It was really random. We had, like, three days to decide. We said ‘Yeah, why not?’ We had to go out there and actually get approved by the Socialist Republic Minister of Cultures. So basically they flew us out to Vietnam. We had to perform for these three guys that basically decided if this was something that they wanted in their country. And if they had decided no, we would have just turned around and gone home. So we performed for them. They didn’t applaud, they didn’t do anything but they went in a back room and basically said ‘Yeah we want them.’ …So we ended up being the first band that had ever played there since the war. It was just a really amazing experience for us and for them.”
It became clear to the Hitmen how long it had been since the people of Vietnam had been in contact with the outside world, musically that is. “One of the funniest events is that we played Hey Jude at the end of one of our sets and they asked where the song was on our album and we were like ‘Oh that’s a Beatles song!’ They had no idea who the Beatles were and they thought we had written it,” shared Cord. “So it was kind of a cool experience for us just to show them what it was all about because up until that point they just had whatever the government allowed them to have and what the government allowed them to be exposed to. It was crazy. They flew Darryl McDaniels from Run DMC out for the grand opening and he did a set and we ended up doing Walk This Way with him on stage, like Aerosmith back in the 80’s… It was insane!”
American Hitmen have amassed a large following in many countries and to this point have sold over 20,000 albums internationally and have become a leader in the music scene in their now home state of Utah.
In 2013, the band went through 3 rounds on the popular television show, America’s Got Talent. Cord, who is a fan of Howard Stern, a judge on the show, knew that Stern had mentioned that he wanted a rock band to go through on the show, so when a friend tipped them off about a “by invite only” casting in Salt Lake City, the band decided to take the chance. Though they knew that they would not be able to play their own music, they decided that it would be a great way to get their name out to the masses. According to Cord, they decided, “Even if we get on one episode, it would be good exposure. We never had any delusions of winning… We just wanted to get our name out there and have them say American Hitmen at least once on national TV.” At the audition, the Hitmen put in a DVD of a live performance and a music video and nonchalantly told them, “If you want a rock band, choose us.”
“We didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks and we were like ‘Ahh whatever, no big deal.’Then they called us and asked us what city we wanted to audition in and we went to Chicago.We honestly never watched the show, so we didn’t have any clue how big it was,” said Cord. “I mean I knew it was a thing, but I thought American Idol was much more popular at the time. We stood up in Chicago and played and got a standing ovation and we were like ‘Oh, this is real, this is huge.’ They didn’t air that first episode for two months, so for two months we couldn’t tell anybody if we’d made it. We went through the second filming in Vegas before the first episode even aired.”
As the band had hoped, their appearance on the show put the name American Hitmen in front of a massive audience that they may not have been able to reach through traditional means: “After we filmed the second episode, they aired the first one and overnight our Facebook likes went from 1800 to like 10,000 and we got, at one point, 7 million hits in the month of July on our website and it was insane. So when they finally flew us out for the live rounds in New York, we were just walking around and everywhere we went, people recognized us, people were asking for our autographs and it was absolutely insane. We played live at Radio City Music Hall in front of millions of people and when we got cut, it was not a bittersweet thing at all. It was actually a relief, because from that point on we were able to use the popularity that we gained from AGT to do our own thing. On the show you only play for 90 seconds and they tell you what to play and you have no control over what songs you perform. So we felt like our hands were tied but at the same time… it was a vehicle for bigger and better things.”
And all of these things were accomplished through the sheer hard work and determination of the band, because, until recently they did not have the professional backing of a manager or promoter.
Out of all of the tunes in the American Hitmen songbook, which is Cord most proud of? “We have a song called Born Again and typically we write songs that are pretty vague about what they are about because we like the listener to interpret it how they want. People come up to me all the time and are like, ‘Oh I love that song about this’ and it’s totally not even remotely about that but I just like hearing people’s interpretations. But Born Again was a song about our experiences in combat. It’s a pretty brutally honest song but it’s one of my favorites that I’m proud of. The lyrics are some of the best I’ve ever written.”
Cord also shared an exclusive bit of info with Screamer: “We’ve actually got a single that we’re going to release and you’re actually going to be the first publication that we’ve told that! We’re releasing a single called Contagious that we are releasing on February 21st and as a B side on that single we’re going to release a song called Cold Woman. It’s going to be like the old A and B side records and its gonna knock everybody’s socks off. It’s gonna be sweet.”
After the release of Contagious, American Hitmen are prepared to rock 2014. Said Cord: “We’re gonna kind of hit the ground running. We hired a new manager, Don Osmond, and we’re just gonna see where it takes us. We’ve got a show with Charlie Daniels out in Nashville on March 25th, we’ve got a big biker rally, we’re playing at the NAMM show next weekend which is huge… I don’t know, I just think this year is gonna be the year we go from being a local band from Utah to being a nationally recognized name so that’s pretty sweet.” Pretty sweet indeed.