Altered Statesman and Lone Official are easily two of the hardest-working bands in Nashville. Between them, they share members with Lambchop, Hands Off Cuba and Taiwan Deth, to name but a few.
Steve Poulton, the brains behind Altered Statesman, recently returned from playing a handful of Northern gigs with saxophonist Steve Mackay, best known for his work with The Stooges. Not long before that, Altered Statesman opened a series of shows for Wilco.
Poulton's plan for the coming weeks is an ambitious one: He hopes to release 12 singles in as many months. "Stolen Steaks"/"Horseapple Junction," a 7-inch split with Lone Official and the first in Poulton's series, is a 500-copy pressing complete with digital downloads and an alleged surprise included with each record.
Altered Statesman's "Stolen Steaks" was recorded at WaterWorks in East Nashville and Joe McMahan's Wow and Flutter. Lone Official tracked "Horseapple Junction"—along with two other songs slated for later release—at House of David, a Music Row studio that has hosted the talents of Justin Townes Earle, among others.
The entire recordings were done in the time-tested tradition of off-the-clock sessions—the type of recording that has long powered the tireless (and increasingly incestuous) indie community behind the scenes of Nashville's more notorious country scene. But unlike many recordings hashed out after hours at the studios of friends and acquaintances, these shine with quality and professionalism.
Poulton demonstrates on "Stolen Steaks" that his years of touring, writing and improvising with a stable of skilled musicians have made him a master of dynamics. The track drifts between jazzy, diverse interludes and emotive moments as violinist Jennifer Halenar saws away at her graceful, heart-wrenching parts. Vocals and subtle, layers-deep instrumentation give the song breadth as drummer Scott Martin's ride cymbal forms the spine of the track.
"Horseapple Junction," which, at three-and-a-half minutes, is just seconds shorter than "Stolen Steaks," feels like the perfect follow-up to Lone Official's 2006 release Tuckasee Take. That album's songs are arranged immaculately, and frontman Matt Button's conversational inflection and thoughtful lyrics bear more than a passing resemblance to Jim O'Rourke and Stephen Malkmus. Tuckasee was one of the most noteworthy local efforts in the past five years, and "Horseapple Junction" retains its creativity with a healthy shot of up-tempo energy.
"The songs we recorded harken back a little more to that [Tuckasee Take] sound," says Button. "But we definitely picked the most rocking song for the split."
Both Button and Poulton are family men deeply rooted in Nashville. That's admittedly a dynamic that shapes their bands' existence both logistically and creatively. "The unreleased songs from our session have to do with that homey thing," says Button, a father of three. "You know, singing about dishes. Dishes in the sink."
Being part of a local band that hones its sound carefully and strives for longevity can often feel like a fruitless endeavor—especially when there are bills to pay and dishes in the sink. But everything both Lone Official and Altered Statesman produce is a labor of love, and their passion shines through on each track.
Poulton, who was once a fellow Springwater bartender with Button, admits that "Stolen Steaks"/"Horseapple Junction" was inspired and made possible by his longstanding relationship with Music City. "[The split] is kind of a West Nashville shot," says Poulton, who goes on to explain the code of his community: "We don't beat our women and we don't steal shit from each other."