When punks do folk music: Fat Opie is Scott Mickelson, Robin Hildebrant, and Dave Tavel, and punk-folk, if that’s even possible, is how they sound. And by that I mean not just a punk band that went unplugged, but one that actually forged the gap into front-porch Americana and retained attitude. The proof lies in Fat Opie acoustic works such as “Gay in Texas,” “Mouth Like a Trucker,” and “Bullets in My Briefcase.” The latter, by the way, won them a $15,000 cash prize in a national songwriting contest on MTV. On Victoryville, there’s a song about living with depression, which is generally a nonstarter in the world of folk singers: “Green teeth, bad breath, one eye/ When all else fails, blame it on the monster in the room,” as sung in Mickelson’s Harry Chapin-esque quaver. But, was Fat Opie ever a punk band? No.
Mickelson describes a progression that went from high-energy grunge to him shopping pawn shops in the San Francisco Mission District, near where he lives, for banjos and mandolins. Hipsters, Freaks, Fags, & Homeboys came from such instrumentation. “‘Banjo Tune,’ from that record, is one of our classic and most requested songs. Hipsters is still our best-selling record, although, personally, I cringe when I hear it.” But don’t call it folk. “Just because music may have acoustic guitars in it doesn’t make it folksy. I think the chordal progressions, the arrangements, the dynamics of the songs, and the narrative nature of the lyrics is still more inherently rock than folk. In fact, I play a lot of solo acoustic shows along with other artists who are folksy and I stick out like a sore thumb sometimes. I think of Fat Opie as alternative folk or alternative Americana, if I have to generalize. The newer songs since Victoryville even have reggae grooves mixed with banjo.”
Fat Opie: Lestat’s, Thursday, August 16, 619-282-0437, 8:30 p.m. $6.