By Matt Greenia
Blues wave pop group The 22-20s played Tuesday, August 31 at The Masquerade as part of their current tour with Hot Hot Heat and Hey Rosetta! The sparse but enthusiastic crowd eagerly devoured these out of town sounds from Canada and England. Hey, if Kenny Crucial’s there, you know it must be the place to be.
I walked in just as The 22-20s were kicking off “Latest Heartbreak,” the title track from their live EP. It was immediately clear that these guys know how to play. Martin Trimble is a hell of a frontman, one who is both able to lead by example and participate in near telepathic communication with his bandmates. While he’s a sick lead guitarist, he only offers small glimpses of what he’s really capable of on the instrument. Trimble will occasionally do a fiery but brief flourish during a musical crescendo, or perhaps provide an interesting contrapuntal guitar harmony with newest member Dan Hare, but he never overdoes it at the cost of the song. James Irving is perfectly capable of banging out standard rock beats with passion and precision, but he seems to shine best when executing sparse, well-thought-out arrangements like the hi-hat strikes and precise kicks on “Shiver/Shake/Moan.” And there’s something I just plain like about Glen Bartup and the way he drops the bass guitar out of the sound, making his re-appearances in the mix all the more impactful. These sensitivities to nuance allow their live performances to translate intact from the record studio onto the stage. Their stage show, however, shows you that they’re just as comfortable playing instrumentally as they are singing songs. One feels as though The 22-20s could play the blues for you all night long, but they’re just too bored with blues-as-tradition to do anything but re-establish the preeminent role of blues-as-experiment.
While they’re currently taking charge of their direction and their sound, The 22-20s have had to face the advantages and the limitations of being a major label band for most of their career. Their original aspirations of playing the blues were simple enough, but finding an audience for their original material was complicated by blues traditionalists on the English festival circuit that were determined to maintain the status quo. Seeking an outlet for the original songs that were pouring out of them, they made a demo and starting sending it out to labels, resulting in a ridiculous bidding war and subsequent deal with Heavenly Records. As a result of this good fortune, and the outside forces that came with it, their early recordings were well-made and widely marketed, but there’s a sense that everything happened a little too fast. After touring and recording constantly for several years, they practically broke up between 2006–2008. This time away, however, seems to have provided them with the growing experiences they may have been robbed of in their youth. After touring in secret as The Bitter Pills for a while, they’ve officially returned as a recharged and re-branded 22-20s, back to claim the opportunity to one day make a truly classic record.
“We’re not Hot Hot Heat” quips Martin. We’re standing out behind the Masquerade on that smelly loading dock shortly after Hot Hot Heat has closed out the show. Two pretty girls have just approached the 22-20s and asked them to sign the setlists they were clever enough to take off the stage. Martin’s convinced that they must not be setlists for the 22-20s, but when he sees that the girls have got it right he asks me for a pen.
How’s the tour going? Who were you touring with before Hot Hot Heat?
James Irving: This tour started about two weeks ago in Portland. Before that we played with bands like Cage the Elephant and Band of Skulls. One of the bands we’ve met up with on tour that we think fits with us the most is The Whigs.
That’s awesome, The Whigs are from around here. I know their manager, Josh Rifkin. What do you think of playing in Atlanta?
Martin Trimble: The last time we were here was six years ago with The Black Crowes. And that was, well, an older crowd.
Yeah, they draw more of that Allman Brothers kind of crowd.
MT: Exactly. The crowd tonight was totally different.
JI: And everyone here has been incredibly friendly.
You guys have toured all over the world for years, and for you, this is an international stop. I wonder what impressions you have about touring internationally. Is it better or worse now than when you first came to the states? Is the music market just as troubled internationally, or is it really as bad here as we all think?
JI: The United States is great. You have to remember, there’s such a rich heritage of touring culture here.
You’re right, in a sense. It’s constantly happening and never stops. There’s always someone touring somewhere.
Glen Bartup: In England, you’re always under the microscope. It’s so small that people notice if a band does something like go on tour. It can make it hard to exist as a band. In the states, there are so many places to play that a band can tour for years and really develop into something great by the time anybody notices.
How does your version of the rock star lifestyle differ from popular impressions people have of rock stars on tour? I’m always curious to find out how touring musicians live when they get back home. Some guys tour all the time, but back home they work at a pet shop or manage hedge funds. Would you consider music to be your full time job? Or is it all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll with you guys?
MT: We just want to make a great record. That’s what we want.
GB: It’s all about trying to get to that point.
MT: We make about half as much money as we would make if we had regular jobs. It doesn’t really matter, except in those situations where your girlfriend makes twice as much as you and you might have trouble paying the rent. But, we get to go from city to city playing our music, and we get to make records.
JI: It’s our job. You have to make sacrifices, but it’s worth it.
Tell our readers something about how you formed, where you’re at, and where you think the 22-20’s are headed. Something that we can’t find out by researching you online.
MT: Me and Glen met at school. We used to play football together. When we were 14 or 15, we started getting into the blues.
GB: We realized we weren’t going to be professional football players.
MT: We were really into Skip James, Robert Johnson. Dylan. Dylan was huge. By the time we were 17 or 18, we started playing lots of blues festivals. It was all these middle aged guys in their pork pie hats. We decided to make a demo and send it out to labels, but we wanted to do it in a scruffy way. Our drummer at the time left the band, but about three months before we were signed to Heavenly we got James here. That has turned out to be a good thing.
Which one of you is the “crazy” one?
JI: I don’t know if there is a crazy one. Dan is the most irrational. Or is it rational? No, irrational.
Dan Hare: Do you know this place, The Clermont Lounge? Do you know how to get there from here?