CORVALLIS — First things first about Larry and His Flask: there ain’t a “Larry” among ’em, and the sounds they make couldn’t be contained in anything that’d fit in your pocket. Using their punk roots as a solid foundation, they’ve fashioned a tingling, sweat-soaked hybrid that corrals the best of bluegrass, country and folk, then tears the brakes clean off.
It’s well-trod ground, exploring the ideological similarities all of these genres share with punk. For example, folk hero Woody Guthrie famously scrawled “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS” across his acoustic guitars, and one of the most iconic images of country legend Johnny Cash is of a gesture most defiant.
But, as Flask leader Jamin Marshall, 26, says, there’s a basic relationship in the song structures, too — one that allows members of a punk institution like X to occasionally kick back as the Americana-cured Knitters. Among the latter group’s ranks is guitarist Dave Alvin, who sawed roots-style with The Blasters and briefly grumbled primal grit for The Gun Club.
“They’re definitely very close cousins,” Jamin says of the disciplines. “Folk music, bluegrass and country can all be easily transformed; you can take any country song and make it a punk song. It’s essentially the same beat, the same sort of music, just with more loudness and intensity.”
So musically, it’s no stretch for a band that in 2004 was a Redmond three-piece, sinewy and raw with three-chord gnash, to evolve over time into an acoustic-leaning sextet with that aggressive spark intact. Still, they’ve come a long way from the group Jamin Marshall founded with his younger brother Jeshua, 23 and one of the most dizzyingly feral stand-up bass thrashers you’re ever likely to witness.
“Jeshua and I listened to a lot of punk rock, anyone from Fear and the Ramones to Oi Polloi and really skanky punk-rock stuff, all the way to Bob Seger,” Jamin says. “We started the band just because we were so into music. We wanted to do something.”
There were other reasons as well.
“When I was 21, I got sick with testicular cancer,” explains Jamin, who will be cancer-free next year and who chronicled his battle in “My Name Is Cancer,” which sonically resembles the Minutemen scuffling in a briar patch, “and I thought, ‘Life’s too short to not follow what you want to do.’ So I put all my effort into music. That was my own personal inspiration for it.”
Although Larry and His Flask may no longer explode in ear-buzzing thrum and feedback, that savage spirit pulses in every sweltering show. The Marshall brothers on bass and drums (Jamin used to be the man out front, a self-described “screamer”; now he’s a looming presence behind the kit) and Ian Cook on lead vocals and guitar are the only survivors of the straight punk years. They’re augmented by Dallin Bulkey on rhythm guitar, Andrew Carew on banjo, and Kirk Statvold on mandolin. All are expert at blinding velocities. For a taste of that unbound freedom, check out the Flask’s live last-call gallop through “Beggars Will Ride” (from 2008’s “Never Long Gone”), raucously streaming at the band’s Myspace site (www.myspace.com
Their sound has attracted a large and dedicated following, thanks to a grueling tour schedule and a willingness to play any room. But it was at the Midtown Ballroom in Bend last November where they earned their biggest exposure, opening for Celtic hard-core giants the Dropkick Murphys. The Murphys liked what they saw and asked the group to join their St. Patrick’s Day tour.
“It was a hugely different thing for us,” Jamin says. “We’re used to playing basements and such, but we’ll play anywhere. It was definitely a shock in the beginning. Instead of playing to maybe 15 people when you’re that far from home, you’re looking out at a couple thousand. They were such nice guys, too. It was a positive experience; we realize what it takes to do shows that big.”
The 20-date sojourn culminated in March with the Murphys’ week-long stand at the House of Blues in Boston. Larry and His Flask opened two of those shows and used the time between dates to record.
“It was pretty intense, hectic and intense,” Jamin recalls. “(The studio was in) in a big cement building with little boxes as rooms, and it was raining and flooding outside at the same time. It was kind of rushed, like usual.”
The completed tracks, “Shakedown,” “Wolves,” and “Ready Your Roommates” (“So you can have your paper-thin walls / and your late-night business calls / we’ll be out keeping this world alive till we die” — an admirable philosophy), comprised a limited-edition pressing issued in June on both white and blood-red vinyl. All 100 copies of the former are now sold out; of the latter, only a few of the initial 900 remain. But don’t worry if you can’t buy it in time: Larry and His Flask plan to record in December.
“We’re working on it,but we got caught up in a lot of touring,” Jamin says. “The plan is to go down to California and do it there at a buddy’s studio, to take two weeks off and get it done.”