For about seven years, Virginia singer/guitarist Andrew Barnes headed up Gifts from Enola, a mostly instrumental post-rock band that specialized in tricky, complex song structures and progressive-rock exploration. After touring with like-minded bands like Caspian and Moving Mountains and releasing six albums between 2006 and 2012, Barnes says the band just naturally started to wind down.
"Some of the other guys in the band got kind of burnt out, went back to school or got jobs, including myself," he says. "We did it as our full-time job for a few years after college, and while it was a great experience, we reconsidered things and decided that rather than be a band that played smaller shows every year, we kind of wanted to go out on our own terms. And our last album, A Healthy Fear, seemed like a really good ending point."
Barnes moved from Virginia down to Charleston after the band's breakup with no real idea of what was next. But at around the same time, Gifts from Enola's other guitarist, CJ DeLuca, was in Steeltown coming up with something that would answer that question.
"I was writing some songs in Pittsburgh just to keep myself busy," DeLuca says. "And I knew once I got together with Barnes we could make something happen with them. I wanted to play simple, fast, to-the-point stuff. We'd been doing more intricate things in Gifts from Enola, but I fell back in love with power chords and playing as fast as I could."
So when DeLuca moved to Charleston from Pittsburgh and met back up with Barnes, the power-punk band Drunk Couples was born. DeLuca handled the guitars, Barnes played drums, and they recruited Paul King on bass. And from the start, their straight-ahead rock-now-and-ask-questions-later style was a million miles away from their former band.
"One of the reasons we moved away from that style was that I was the main songwriter and guitarist for Gifts from Enola," Barnes says. "CJ played guitar too, but it was like my little baby. We basically started Drunk Couples because CJ had all of these songs written; he really took the lead. Just having that as the setup and me playing drums instead of guitar is already going to make for a totally different sound."
But it wasn't just about a shift in songwriting. "We played in a pretty self-serious genre before," Barnes says. "We're really proud of what we did, but there just wasn't any room for fun. So we kind of wanted to start a band that was straight to the point, where people could have a good time and cut loose."
And there's absolutely no pretension on the band's 2015 debut EP, Cruisin' — just five quick shots of over-driven guitars, full-throttle tempos, and catchy hooks. The longest song on the EP clocks in at 3:06, the shortest at 1:40, and titles like "Buzzkill," "Dead Weight," and "Wet Cigarettes" are pretty indicative of the lyrical content.
Despite the cache of songs that DeLuca brought to the table, the EP ended up featuring two songs by Barnes, as well. Both men say that writing tight, catchy, verse-chorus-verse songs proved more challenging than anything they did in Gifts from Enola.
"It didn't come naturally to me as a songwriter to craft a song with a pop structure," Barnes says, "because you can't cover it up with anything. You have to nail all the parts that are in the song."
"It's something that's taken me years to figure out," DeLuca adds. "I was definitely more averse to that stuff when I was younger. I wanted to write weird. But as I've gotten older I've embraced a more pop-friendly, catchy kind of style with a little bit of grit to it.
Barnes and DeLuca continued to write feverishly after the EP was completed, resulting in a full-length album called Blasted that will be out on Mon. June 20. The instrumental tracks were laid down at the Jam Room in Columbia, and the vocals were done at the band's practice space in town.
"Aiming for a full-length's worth of songs allowed us to experiment with some other things," DeLuca says. "Blasted is a lot heavier at times, and I think there are some really cool '90s noise-rock things going on."
The band's bassist was on an extended road trip while they were writing the album, which gave Barnes and DeLuca time to collaborate more fully than they had in the past. "We wrote this one pretty much together," Barnes says. "We just holed up in our practice space and had plenty of time every week to just throw out new ideas. CJ would have a riff or the skeleton of a song that he'd feel good about. Sometimes he'd have melodies or even lyrics written. And what I added was the structure-type stuff: How many times we should do that chorus, where we should put a bridge — that kind of thing."
The band managed to bang out the basic tracks in one eight-hour session at the Jam Room, and DeLuca says he's thrilled that the trio was able to record together for Blasted, rather than individually tracking their parts as they'd done on Cruisin'. "For this band, I like the live tracking because that's a big part of what we do," he says. "These songs are meant to be played in the room together."