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Ragged honky-tonkers the Banditos get psychedelic

Far Out

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"A band has their entire life to write their first record," the old music-industry saying goes, "and three months to write their second." That's the situation that the Birmingham, Ala. sextet Banditos found themselves in as they began to write songs for the follow-up to their self-titled 2015 debut.

Released on Bloodshot Records, that disc was a raucous blend of ragged rock 'n' roll and ready-for-the-honky-tonk country, with a liberal dash of soulful, tear-stained balladry from singer Mary Beth Richardson. It was a powerful, intoxicating brew of different styles that seemed to catch on immediately with critics, garnering rave reviews from Rolling Stone, NPR, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and many more. Meanwhile, their on-stage performances, honed to a knife's-edge from playing 700 shows in three years, walked a tightrope between chaos and precision without ever tipping fully one way or the other. And with a back catalog stretching back to their formation in 2010, the band had plenty to draw from.

Led by the founding nucleus of singer-guitarist Corey Parsons and singer-banjo player Stephen Alan Pierce II, today's Banditos are still road dogs, but they have been working on songs for their next album as well. At the moment, they're about halfway through the process. "It was kind of intimidating at first," Parsons says of creating new material. "We'd been a band for four and a half years when we made that first album, so we had a lot of songs to choose from. We actually ended up with about 10 songs that didn't make it onto the album."

The Banditos are feeling a bit of pressure to come up with a winner the second time out, but not from the media or their record label or even their fans. "It's all internal," he says. "We're trying to top the last album and make something interesting to the fans and something that we want to play for the rest of our lives."

What's most interesting, however, is the direction the songs seem to be taking the band. Parsons says the new tracks are of a more psychedelic stripe, describing them as both "heady" and "trippy." But that's par for the course for a group that didn't set any boundaries for themselves in the first place. "It's just our dynamic," he says. "It's the way we work together. We don't really have any parameters to stay in. We didn't start this off five years ago saying that we were going to be a certain kind of band. We just had fun with it; that's what it's all about, anyway. And the variety on this one is starting to look really far out. But we're still writing some classic country tunes, too."

The band co-produced the first record with engineer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Langhorne Slim & the Law), and they learned a great deal from the recording process that they can apply to the next album. "The more comfortable we are with our surroundings and our producer, the better," Parsons says. "And that even includes the time of day that we record. We are not morning people. If we go into the studio at 10 in the morning, we won't get anything done then. We're more likely to get stuff done at two or three in the morning. It's all about being comfortable."

It's hard to imagine a band that's spent about four of the last five years crammed into a van together being excited about getting together in the studio, but the Banditos have a different perspective on that. They actually all lived together in Birmingham before they started touring nationally. "We bonded a lot. It helped us realize that we were all in it together and we were giving it 100 percent," Parsons says. "We all know each other better than we know ourselves. We don't even really have to communicate verbally. And that helps with playing. We're kind of all in tune with one another on the same wavelength."

That being said, there are things that go by the wayside when a band decides to make a full commitment to their music, and Parsons says that sacrifices have to be made. "Relationships are hard," he says. "Not just with significant others, but relationships outside the band in general. Keeping any sort of job or hobby or house, all that is difficult because we're spending most of our time on the road. But in the long run, in the big picture, I'm totally fine with that. I'd rather be doing this than anything else."

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