Local band The Hotshot Freight Train ‘Get Low’ on rootsy new album
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It wouldn’t be accurate to call the guys in The Hotshot Freight Train angry young rockers when they were first starting out, but they were certainly intense.
The band’s debut eight-song EP, released in 2005, channeled the intensity of Fugazi and Guided By Voices and announced to the local music scene that the five twentysomethings were playing for keeps. As earnest as they were back then, however, they didn’t foresee the band being around seven years later, much less shifting gears to the Americana sounds that proliferate the group’s new album, “Get Low.”
“At that point in 2005, the formation of the band to begin was just an idea between my brother (drummer Caleb Tipton), (lead guitarist) Josh Hutson and (multi-instrumentalist) Greg Barker,” Tipton told The Daily Times this week. “We were finishing up college and moving into our ‘mature years,’ so to speak; we knew we weren’t going to be able to travel or play out much, so we said, ‘Let’s start this thing, get together once a week, write some songs, make a record and just have some fun with it.’
“It turned out to be a lot more than we ever really anticipated. I don’t think the style we play today would have been unimaginable, just because our taste in music is so diverse. In 2005, a song off this record, we would have liked it, but we wouldn’t have been sure it would have worked with how we were back then.”
For The Hotshot Freight Train circa 2012, it works very, very well. The album’s underlying themes of family and home and identity are underscored by introspective lyrics, aching harmonies and lush instrumentation that hints at the rock ‘n’ roll power lurking beneath the surface. From the rollicking “Hello Sadness” to the soaring majesty of “Appalachia,” the guys have created an ode to who they are and where they live, and by all accounts they’re content with those things.
“There’s definitely this sense of nostalgia and family and the idea of community,” Tipton said. “This record, pretty much everything we did, we wanted to somehow give credence to our local community. The front of the album was designed by someone who’s been doing our tattoo work the entire time the band has been together; the back panel was designed by an artist at the high school where my brother and I work; the choir on the track ‘Mountain to Nowhere’ includes current members or former members of the Clinton and Powell High School show choirs.
“We wanted to get as many people involved as we could. We’re donating all the proceeds of this album to charity, and we’ve been together for seven years, and the people of our community have supported us the whole time. I think on this record, it’s probably really more evident than before. We can’t do it without the people who have been around us.”
The Hotshot Freight Train has been a work in progress since 2005, when the members assembled a new group from various local outfits — Joey’s Loss, Atropos and Atrium — and recorded “We Are The Hotshot Freight Train.” The band made a name for itself at all-ages venues like Old City Java, and on the second album, “The Devil Pays in Counterfeit” — the group’s first for its current label, Future Destination Records — the urgency and punk overtones were toned down, and for the next album, 2010’s “Poetic Devices and Personal Vices,” the Americana sound was embraced even more.
On that outing, the original foursome added guitarist Jason Chambers and mandolin player Zach Whitaker; for “Get Low,” keyboard player Jay Birkbeck has been brought into the fold. The complexities of the new record reflect the growing diversity of the lives of the members, Tipton said — as well as championing the rewards those lives have given them.
“It’s about the importance of life and the values of hard work,” he said. “I teach at Clinton High School and classes at Roane State; my brother is the principal at Clinton High; Josh works at UT Hospital; Jay does financial planning.
This album, it’s not so much about what we’re seeking anymore as it is about what we’ve discovered. Contentment, I think, is the best way to describe it.”