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Nashville Pussy guitarist Blaine Cartwright unplugs, but he's as naughty as ever

Naked Noise

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It's Blaine Cartwright as you've never seen him before. The singer/guitarist from rugged, hard-charging rockers Nashville Pussy is giving people what they've been clamoring for — an acoustic performance?

OK, it might not be what you expected from the co-leader of a band that put the "raw" in "rawk." Heck, it's not even something Cartwright expected. He's never played an acoustic set live in his life. He bought his first guitar just before Christmas for these shows. What some people won't do for novelty, eh?

"This is something different," says Cartwright from his family's house in Kentucky. "That's why I'm kind of excited. I've played maybe 1,200 to 1,500 shows, rocking it in every situation from small crapholes to huge European festivals and opening up for Skynyrd and ZZ Top. I've done it in every possible situation. So this is brand new, and it's going to be interesting."

If you're unfamiliar with Cartwright's main band, Nashville Pussy is a Grammy-nominated hard-rock group who formed almost 20 years ago because they were bored with all the crappy music in the world. They've released six albums formed of equal parts greasy Southern rock, outlaw country, and pulverizing rock. It's not for nothing that Cartwright counts Motörhead as heroes. None of that has changed.

"I'm still doing Nashville Pussy. We'll probably record a new album within the year," Cartwright says. "I hate when a really hard-rock band says, 'That's over with. I'm going to come with the acoustic now, because I've matured.' Well, I haven't matured at all. If anything, I've gotten more immature the last couple years."

After releasing Nashville Pussy's first album in five years, the terrific Up the Dosage — Cartwright accurately described the record as "Motörhead meets the Stones' Exile on Main Street" — the band had to take time off to find a new manager. But Cartwright is a lot like a shark, in that if he stops moving, he dies.

"I stop working, the electricity gets turned off — so it's kind of the same thing," cracks Cartwright.

His roommate Earl Crim, who accompanies him on guitar and mandolin, suggested the acoustic tour as a way to stay busy. For one thing, it's a lot easier to book, with much simpler logistics than a full band. It also satisfies Cartwright's desire to improve his singing. If this becomes something he can do on the side going forward, that's gravy.

"I'm mostly just trying to become a better singer," Cartwright says. "I have to be pressured. I'm not going to play acoustic guitar on my own. I'm not going to pick that thing up."

The stripped-down show also offers Cartwright a chance to show off his lyrical skills, more so than past electric gigs. Many of the songs will be from Nine Pound Hammer, a cowpunk band he formed a decade before Nashville Pussy, and which he continues to perform with intermittently. But Cartwright says the wit in the songs often gets lost in the roar of a Marshall amp stack.

"The words are really good. They're what I'm most proud of in the songs," he says. Nine Pound Hammer boasts song titles like "Mama's Doin' Meth Again" and "Hookers & Hot Sauce." "They're really funny, but most people don't know the lyrics are that good, because you can't hear them. I'm really screeching, so hopefully that's going to be kind of what I'm doing it for."

While playing acoustic might seem like the simplest of things, Cartwright's already tied himself in knots pondering the particulars, like should he play sitting or standing. "We're playing with this rocking Vietnamese band for a couple dates, and they're going to be loud, and then what if people are standing," he says. "I don't know if I would stand up to watch people sit."

Then there's the question of pre-show music. Cartwright's very particular about what comes over the PA prior to a Nashville Pussy performance, always careful not to have a band that rocks as hard as them playing pre-show.

"I don't want them to play 20 minutes of Motörhead before we go on stage," Cartwright says. And as for acoustic? "I don't want them to get riled up, come out with an acoustic guitar, and tell them to calm down."

Reading his audience also means realizing it's a different crowd now than it was in the '90s and early-2000s. His fans have grown up, and they don't go to shows as much, while the kids are more obsessed with dance, hip-hop, and country.

"Most people in our audience got better jobs and had kids later in life, so when the audience went from an average age of 28 to the average age of 38, they stopped going out and left their service-industry jobs, which had a more friendly schedule, and started doing the nine-to-five stuff," Cartwright says. "Then when you have kids late in life, you're kind of sitting around and watching them nonstop."

Cartwright understands and just keeps doing what he does. He's planning a Nashville Pussy greatest hits disc, and next year could see the start of a new Nashville Pussy album.

He's especially pleased to be out with Crim, whom Cartwright considers his Nashville Pussy bandmate/wife Ruyter Suys' equal.

"If you like guitar, he's one of the best players in the world as far as I'm concerned," Cartwright says. "While he's playing the solo, I'm enthralled like everybody else."

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