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Plugged In: The Drowning Men


Plugged In: The Drowning Men 

Plugged In is an ongoing feature on Fender.com highlighting up-and-coming Fender artists who we strongly recommend you “plug in” and give a listen to.

By Pauline France

Meet the Drowning Men, a quintet of indie-rockers hailing from Oceanside, Calif. But, to tag them solely as indie-rockers would undermine the musical cornucopia they represent. Formed six years ago in the outskirts of San Diego, the Drowning Men is a vintage-indie rock band that blends the liveliness of Irish folk with the dark and ominous sounds of gypsy music. 

“I’m pretty simple; I’m not a crazy gear guy,” said lead guitarist James Smith. “I’ve got a few Telecasters, and a Fender Hot Rod DeVille that I love”. Smith said that he’s played every kind of venue with his Hot Rod “and it’s always sounded great.” 


Their diversity has led them from playing local gigs to full-blown touring action with big names like Alkaline Trio and Celtic-folk-punk-rockers Flogging Molly. And for Nato Bardeen on vocals and mandolin, James Smith on lead guitar, Todd Eisenkerch on the bass, Rory Dolan on the drums, and Gabelani Messer on the keyboard, playing with bands they admire is a dream come true. 

“You always hope to get these kind of breaks,” said Smith. “You always want to play with people that you respect and you’re fans of, for sure.” 

The quintet enjoyed a three-month summer tour sharing the stage with Alkaline Trio and Flogging Molly, and also headlining their own shows. Along the way, the Drowning Men played in everything from large venues to dive-bars. 

“I actually like smaller shows,” Smith said. “You have more time with the people you meet. You’re not playing in front of a million people, but the people that are there care, and you really get to spend some time with them and form a relationship.” 

The Drowning Men have developed a particularly strong relationship with their touring sidekicks Flogging Molly, an outfit they have often been compared to in the past. 

“It’s a great fit; there’s a blue collar aspect in both bands,” said. “We both use semi-unorthodox instruments; It’s putting folk and punk together. I think there are some similarities, and I think we put on a good show together.” 

Called by other fans “the modern version of the Doors,” the Drowning Men create music that could be enjoyed by a drunken crowd in a broken-down bar, or appreciated by a refined multitude of people in a massive arena. 

And although they’ve been compared to other bands, they do a mighty fine job at creating their own style. 

“We strive to do our own thing,” said Smith. “We’ve had a couple of reviews that people flat out say we sound like this guy or that, but most of the feedback that I get is people being surprised they can’t really compare us to anything.” 

Bassist Todd Eisenkerch playing his Squier Matt Freeman Precision Bass

For instance, just listen to the mysterious “Oracle Meets Weeping Willows,” or the bright and upbeat “Get a Heart” from 2009’s Beheading of the Songbird. The album could easily be featured as the soundtrack to a suspense motion picture or a romantic summer chick flick. 

The Drowning Men’s sundry sounds are a result of the musical diversity within the band members. Collectively, they are influenced by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Nick Cave. They also listen to a mixed variety of styles, especially meaningful, heartfelt music. 

“My favorite singers don’t know how to sing; my favorite guitar players are not the best guitarists,” said Smith. “There’s realness when you know someone’s doing it and it’s not a cerebral thing, but is coming from the heart.” 

The Drowning Men convey passion in their music. Using minimalistic gear, they create a musical labor of love that sounds simple, yet complex; dark, yet sunny. 

Although the band’s discography is small in quantity, it’s rich in quality. Beheading of the Songbird is preceded by their 2002 EP Kill The Matador, and fans can expect either an EP or a full-length album by January 2012. 

“When I make something, I want people to hear it as soon as possible,” said Smith. “We already have an EP completely finished so hopefully by the beginning of January, we’ll have something ready. Maybe even sooner.”

In the meantime, fans can catch the Drowning Men this fall as they support the Airborne Toxic Event on a U.S. tour followed by a handful of gigs, including one in their hometown of San Diego. 

Check tour dates and listen to their music by visiting www.thedrowningmen.com

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