There’s a new Southern rock sheriff and his deputies in town, and they hail from a region with a long, proud history of being a hotbed of rebel rock: Indianapolis, Indiana.
Yup, you read that correctly. Not Alabama or Georgia or Mississippi. Indiana, which is most definitely north of the Mason-Dixon line.
“We’re from what we call in between Bartlesville and Jennings County here in Indiana. We’re about 25 miles south of Indianapolis” says Beau Van, lead vocalist/guitarist of Outlaws & Moonshine. Surprisingly, Van speaks with a distinct Southern drawl. “Well, all of us are from Indiana. There’s a little bit of a drawl. Believe it or not, I moved out to California right out of high school. I wasn’t out there very long, but it was funny. People, when they would ask, ‘Man, where are you from?’ I’d say, ‘Indianapolis.’ They would go, ‘Oh, Minnesota.’ [laughs] So, yeah, there’s a lot of rednecks here in Indiana. I mean, there’s a bunch of us.”
“What we’ve got here where our location is…a lot of music history. Indianapolis is the center. We’re deep into Motown country in Detroit, and then three hours northwest, we’re in Chicago. Then three hours south of us is Nashville. So we’ve got just a big…you’ve got Bob Seger and Kid Rock up there in the north, and then REO Speedwagon type stuff and then, oh… the Seether song. You know what I’m talking about? The girl band? ‘Can’t fight the seether?’ [the band that escape’s Van’s memory is Veruca Salt].Them guys, and Smashing Pumpkins were from Chicago, and then to the south you’ve got, of course, Skynyrd and Cash and Waylon, and all them guys, man. It’s just a big mixture of sounds that just kind of smashed into each other. The perfect storm.”
In addition to Beau Van, the band consists of his brother Chris on bass, lead guitar/vocalist Mike Back and drummer Eric Piper. They play what they like to call New Southern Rock, a blend of old school Southern rock and new country. The first song on their EP 1919 is Cootie Brown, and the lyrics speak of drinking fast and hard, as Cootie Brown would. Someone who grew up in the old South would probably know all about Cootie, but when your Southern California-based writer asks if the song was based on someone Van actually met, you can almost hear him chuckle at the naivety of the query. “Well, no. What it is, is that basically I just tried to get… Cootie Brown is, like, you know the story behind Cootie Brown, right?”
“No, actually. I don’t.”
“Okay. Cootie Brown is, around here… when somebody goes out with their friends and they get drunk and they’re, like, ‘Man, he was drunker than Cootie Brown.’ You know what I mean? That’s just a saying that goes around here. So that’s just, when I’m singing in the song, that’s what I’m singing about. I’m singing about, that’s who I’m going out with. I’m gonna hang out with him. Tonight is my night, you know? What it is, we’re in a small town down there in Bartlesville with, like, literally just one single four-way stoplight in the middle of it. There was absolutely nothing to do. So we would… we were kids, and we would hide our stash from our parents. That’s what we did. We would go hang out with Cootie Brown on the weekend.”
You learn something every day.
The band’s small town, “keep it real” philosophy applies to both recording and playing live.
“We’ve thrown away more material than what we’ll ever use, and it’s because we’ve got this thing: Does that sound like us? Does this sound like us? Not, ‘Hey, do you think this person will like that, or do you think that person will like this?’ It’s, ‘Does this song sound like something that Outlaws & Moonshine will play?’ I think that as long as we stick to that simple, simple philosophy, then we’re gonna do pretty well for ourselves. Generally what I’ll do is I’ll write something. Then I’ll bring it to the guys. That’s what we did just right before I called you. We were in the process of redoing a song and getting it done, and getting a brand new song into the set here before too long, probably within the next couple of weeks or so.”
“It was all just go in and belt out everything,” says Van. “But that’s the thing that we do; that we kind of pride ourselves in, is that we have… most everything that we do comes off sounding exactly like it does on the record. We wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s really amazing, the advancements that they have come up with. I couldn’t understand it. To me, when I sit back there in the studio control room and look at that stuff, you might as well put me behind the cockpit of an airplane. I just don’t get it.”
“The way that they’ve got it, I mean, nowadays, from what I’m hearing from most of the guys who run the studios and stuff, it’s a lot simpler. Everything is real quick and easy, and it just makes things easier on them. My philosophy is, well, good. We get a discount!” [laughs] When we went into the studio, the whole thing was to make sure that we weren’t so over-processed and overproduced that we were just going to be some cookie cutter band. I don’t like that. I wanted us to be very raw and effective live. Actually, I want to be better live, and I’ve seen it a few times, where bands come out and absolutely just smoke whatever they put out on the album. But that’s kind of stuff that I like.”
In August, readers of Screamer were treated to coverage of Cathouse Live, a massive celebration of all things ’80’s hard rock and metal, including live performances from some of the most well-known bands of that era. In October there will be a similar festival in Illinois called Rock ‘n Skull, and Outlaws & Moonshine has been selected to appear, which Van is understandably proud of. “We’ve got some shows coming up in October. We’re gonna have a really, really busy October. I know that we’re working on a few things for November. The big one in October, which is kind of cool, is we’re playing a three-day festival called Rock ‘N Skull, and it’s actually gonna be pretty cool. We’re playing with some bands from back in the day. We’re gonna be playing with Steelheart, Winger, Tuff, Pretty Boy Floyd, BulletBoys…I mean, believe it or not, I grew up, yeah, on the Southern rock thing. But I also grew up listening to some of the really cool old school rock bands that I like, and those guys, the whole ‘keep it simple’ method was really just something that I like to go by. It comes off great live when you do it right.”
“Honestly, I believe that when me and my brother Chris started doing this, our whole intention was to bring the simple stuff back, instead of the stuff that’s coming out nowadays that’s just so… I mean, just real simple stuff, real basic stuff. You could pull it off live, and it makes it easier. I think people in the crowd, I think people who are in the audience, and they react to that. They sense that. They sense that this is fun. That just doesn’t happen very much anymore. I think, honestly, that’s what sets us apart in a lot of our live shows from a lot of these other bands.”
“If you would ever see us live, you’d see. I’m not that guy who’s the lead singer and wants to hog the spotlight. I’m all the way to the far left. I’m the singer and the guitar player, but I’ll stand up on stage all the way to the far left. My brother will be in the middle, and then Mike will be over there on the far side. That’s the way we do it. We’re just having fun. We’re just having fun doing what we do. We seem like we end up winning the crowd over. I think people, they don’t know what to think about it at first, and then once we get about two or three songs into the set, I think they understand it and they get it a little bit more of what they are actually seeing. They loosen up and they start having just a little bit more fun. That, to me, is what it’s all about.”
“I mean, I don’t know where it goes, honestly, from here. All I know is that right now, at this moment, we’re having one hell of a good time.”