You know only good things can come from a band that named itself after a farm-equipment company. But Seattle's Massy Ferguson is not as hayseed as you'd expect. Their songs are steeped in the classic Americana of the Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks, and the Backsliders. Rich with imagery of highways, truck-stop coffee, whiskey, road-weariness, and bad motels, Massy Ferguson make cinematic roots music about the blue-collar aspects of our nation. This is what Jay Farrar might sound like without his thesaurus
Singer-bassist Ethan Anderson says the sound is Americana that leans more toward rock than country, and that's a pretty good description. Think Drive-By Truckers or some combination of Son Volt and The Hold Steady. Think Springsteen's "Greetings From Asbury Park" or "Nebraska." Those influences, 1970s Southern rock and good-time classic rock bands like Thin Lizzy, have also helped them to land gigs at festivals and clubs in Australia, Iceland, Germany, England and Mexico.
If all that means Massy Ferguson is derivative, well, that's partly true. It doesn't really matter, though, because the songs, if not particularly groundbreaking, are just plain good. And the lyrics are full of enough detail and imagery that you start to forget any objections. Take, for instance, this bit from "Powder Blue," on the 2008 album "Cold Equations":
She worked the desk at the Klose Inn Motel
We snuck in, half-price at a quarter to twelve
Orange juice and vodka in a plastic cup
In a couple of days she'll break my heart.
Now, you've probably never been to the Klose Inn Motel, and your probably don't know this girl from the song, but you can picture it and her.
"You write about things you know," Anderson says. "I used to live across the street from the Klose Inn Motel. No one knows where that is, but in a way it kind of resonates."
Indeed it does. That's thanks to the writing partnership between Anderson and singer-guitarist Adam Monda, Massy Ferguson's founding members. They started the band in 2006 as a duo, playing a farmers market in Mukilteo. (They were paid with a fruit basket.)
"Adam's pretty good with the weird, abstract details, and I'm pretty solid on the storytelling," Anderson says.
Since adding Tony Mann on keyboards and Dave Goedde on drums, the band has graduated from fruit-basket gigs to some of Seattle's most prominent stages, places like The Tractor Tavern, the seat of Seattle's roots-rock Americana scene. They've head lined regionally in Boise, Portland, Spokane, Yakima, gigged in Chicago and Minneapolis. They've toured internationally on numerous occasions and in 2010 managed to get a slot in the prestigious Iceland Airwaves Festival in Reykjavik after winning the Seattle Weekly's 2010 REVERB festival Favorite Band poll. In 2013, they played The Gorge at Watershed Festival, along with more established artists like Toby Keith, Brad Paisley and Luke Bryan. In 2014, they toured the UK for the first time, playing a memorable slot in the americana cred festival Maverick Music Fest and headlined gigs in London (Windmill Brixton) and Sheffield (Greystones) among others.
Additionally, for the first time in any of the band members' history, they signed a record deal. The results of that deal -- two albums, the new album "Victory and Ruins" and the 2010 release "Hard Water" and the accompanying support of Spark & Shine Records -- have the band primed for exposure well beyond Washington State.
"We've been very fortunate in a lot of regards," Anderson says. "Considering we started off at the Mukilteo farmers market, I think we're doing pretty well."
And, he says, it's a lot of fun. The band likes playing bars (though not exclusively), likes going on the road. The new album cover, an empty glass laying on its side atop a bar, tells you pretty much all you need to know about what to expect at a Massy Ferguson show.
"Above all, our live show is a lot of fun," Anderson says. "We're in it to have a good time. I think our songs have a certain amount of earnestness and depth, but we did that without sacrificing the fun."
That's important for a bar band, even one with aspirations.
"I don't have a problem with anybody saying we're a good bar band," Anderson says. "Some bands take that as a negative. I think of it as a positive thing."
In that way, Massy Ferguson is a bar band in the best sense -- not a band relegated to bars because it will never rise higher, but a band that plays music perfectly suited to dark, crowded rooms in which there's at least a possibility of a beer glass smashing against a wall.
The songs, filled with barflies, broken hearts and doomed late-night romance, would sound pretty good anywhere, though.
Contributing Writers: Patrick Muir (Yakima Herald), Brian J Barr (Seattle Weekly), Massy Ferguson
ARTISTS THEY'VE PLAYED WITH OR SHARED THE STAGE WITH:
Tim McGraw, CamperVan Beethoven, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, Mike Gordon of Phish, Toby Keith, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, Dodgy, Mary Gouthier, Band of Heathens, Blackberry Smoke, Brad Paisley, Billy Kruetzmann of Grateful Dead, The Bottle Rockets, Larkin Poe, Scott Kanneberg of Pavement, Max Creek, Mark Pickerel of Screaming Trees