No Rock for Old Men

Litz is Awash in Skill, Arrogance, Purpose and Baaaad Attitude

By David Morreale | Photography by Andrew Murdock | Posted on 01.27.14 – In the Studio, Lifestyles, Music

Rock’N’Roll is a young person’s game. Let there be no doubt. If Jimi Hendrix were alive today, he would in all likelihood still be playing music and it would probably be some mind blowing stuff, but it wouldn’t be rock ’n’ roll. Even if he were to still play loud, silken, gorgeous, distorted guitar, it wouldn’t be rock ’n’ roll by definition, because he would be old.

Just watch the ridiculous ramblings and chicken-prancing wandering parody of themselves that The Rolling Stones have become, or the Sex Pistols “Filthy Lucre Tour” when Johnny Rotten tossed away whatever street cred he may have had remaining when in response to the question, “Why?” he replied, “We’re in it for the money, man.”

By definition therefore, rock ’n’ roll is exclusively a young person’s province. Old guys can rock out, (witness John Hiatt, Neil Young, Muse and The Who, currently joined by Middletown’s own Scott Deavours on drums), but the steaming, roiling, real deal testicular thump and grind can only be boiled up in a cauldron of equal parts arrogance, musical skill, certainty of purpose, drink, and baaad attitude.

All of which, Litz, has in abundance. The brothers Litz—Mike, Logan and Austin—are joined by friends Justin Robb and Nick Thrasher in the band, itself the result of several generations of musicians from the D.C. area. Musicians for miles around will recognize the name Victor Litz Music, the store where generations of guitarists, bassists, drummers, horn players and more got their chops chopped and polished. If they didn’t learn there, they shopped there.

Listening to Litz play live is the only way to hear them until this month when their first CD hits, and listening to Litz live is an experience all to itself. When vocalist Austin Litz opens his mouth as vocalist, he has a Joe Cocker-esque (there’s a word never before spoken) rasp made musical by his inventive melodies. These tunes swirl around through an iron-dark funky cloud of chord structures and rhythms that fill the place to the rafters.

These dudes have no fear of complexity in their music. Austin, being the only member of the band with a degree in music, takes a gleeful interest in more complex chord sequences and structures. He is known for his employment of the tritone, that interval between notes that the Catholic church once called “The Devil’s Tone,” which, in the Middle Ages would result in excommunication for the composer that dared to use it in a composition. (Of course, once American blues musicians got hold of tritones and learned to shake them, live in them and bend them to their will, they became just a blue note, a flattened fifth that just sounds blue, even to untrained ears.) In Austin’s hands, the tritone is a beautifully arrogant and pompous thing to be admired.

He explains, “Harmonically, we write songs with unstable chords that represent our unstable times. For example, [we use] diminished/ augmented chords and chord progressions that fit in with and represent natural growth by use of the Fibonacci sequence and the ‘Golden Ratio’ in chordal structures.” Got that? Maybe it’s better explained by Austin this way: “These progressions are metaphors for the spirals of a sunflower or nautilus shell.”

The various styles of music that tweaked the young ears of Litz members are as dissimilar as they are. Being from D.C., go-go music is a prevalent influence, but ska, funk, reggae and dance all find a way to shoulder their way forward when necessary. The band began, in its present form, in 2012 when Austin heard a band called The Motet, a jam band of similarly unafraid performers. The instant gravitational field exerted on him made him pick up the phone to start calling old friends into the fold. His brothers were a natural choice, but the outfit lacked guitar and percussion. So Justin and Nick got the call and joined up immediately.

“Harmonically, we write songs with unstable chords that represent our unstable times.”  –Austin Litz

Justin brings his guitar, with velocity, distortion and power chords galore. Frankly, he brings the Eddie Van Halen into the band, and Nick rounds things out with a positive vibe on percussion and electronics.

During a recent performance at Acre 121 in Washington, D.C., the stage was about half the size necessary to contain all the gear and strength of conviction that fuels the music, and the place struggled to keep up. The next band to play the joint had extra work on its hands getting Litz out of the walls and woodwork of the place. These dudes sweat rock ’n’ roll.

Improvisation plays a role in most great rock ’n’ roll, and it’s integral to what these guys do. According to Logan Litz, it’s about 60 percent of what the band does in any given show. This is a requirement in the jam band scene, and Litz has it down. The tunes are catchy without being pandering, and powerful without the cheap theatrics that can sometimes accompany this kind of music.

The band plays the Frederick area regularly, and will be hosting a release party for their first CD on Jan. 18 at Cafe 611. Hosted by Get Funk productions, the show will feature the album’s 12 original tracks. According to Austin, “The overall theme and approach of the CD is to create something modern with organic roots and respect for sustainability; basically a giant musical metaphor for a realistic, modern, green lifestyle.”

Blending organic themes, aggressive methods of composition and world rhythms with modern electronic sounds and dance-able beats and using powerful lyrics is producing a sound that folks are keying off on. “For example, the song Tomatoes in Summertime promotes sustainability and organic lifestyle with lyrics about the beauty of growing your own food and comparing the growth of vegetables to the growth of love.”

The band walks the walk, too. “We’ve been recording in a free studio run by volunteers and students. The CD will be self-produced by the band, allowing us to record it without any financing/artistic input from the major record labels,” Austin says. He personifies the socially concerned lead-singer image most recently embodied in Bono’s career. “We want to open the mind and spirit—we call it awaken the sheep—through our art. The album will be self-titled unless a name comes to one of us in a dream, or some unconscious way.”

The band’s schedule can be found at www.facebook.com/litzjams.“Like” them there, because folks are falling in love with them in person, and one day, they’ll be too old to rock ’n’ roll. But that day is a long way off.