It ain't traditional bluegrass

It sounds like bluegrass, but listen closer.

Who knew acoustic music could hurt that much?

Split Lip Rayfield plays bluegrass with the spirit of punk rockers and metal heads.

"I was a metal kid ... I've been in metal and punk bands constantly since college," banjo player Eric Mardis said. "How we got sucked into the country vortex, I'm not sure."

As bandmate Jeff Eaton plucks away at his homemade instrument -- a bass built from the gas tank of a Ford Marque and one weed wacker string -- it takes a toll on his hand.

"It gets pretty disgusting," Mardis said. "After a few days on tour, he usually wraps his fingers in duct tape."

The country bent started when Wayne Gottstine and Kirk Rundstrom, half of Split Lip Rayfield, started a band called Scroat Belly.

"It was kind of a countrified punk band," Mardis said.

The alternative country record label Bloodshot Records signed Scroat Belly in the 1990s.

"(Scroat Belly) were too hardcore for country and too country for hardcore," the label wrote of Scroat Belly. The band only recorded one album, and Gottstine and Rundstrom went on to twist bluegrass in the same way they had twisted country.

"We started hanging out at this bluegrass festival in (Winfield, Kan.,) and I picked up a banjo, and Wayne picked up the mandolin. We were both guitar players before," Mardis said. "This is just what we sound like on those instruments.

"We really didn't have a plan for this band. In fact, the first time I saw the gas tank bass, I thought, 'What the hell?' But it's a viable instrument and it's a hell of a foundation for our sound."

Bloodshot Records, a label out of Chicago, is known for producing what they call "insurgent country" or roots music made in the spirit of punk. They put out such bands as the Bottle Rockets, Legendary Shack Shakers and Trailer Bride.

They have released three Split Lip records.

According to the label's Web site, "(Split Lip Rayfield) have more tattoos, break more strings and drink more beer than (almost) any of our other bands."

Split Lip hails from Kansas -- Mardis from Lawrence, and guitarist Rundstrom, mandolin player Gottstine and Eaton from Wichita.

They generally rehearse right before a string of tour dates, busy with families and other bands.

Their music is 99 percent original with a few obscure cover songs.

Split Lip Rayfield will be opening for rockabilly icon Reverend Horton Heat on Thursday at Levelz.

"We give a pretty high-energy show," Mardis said. "It's just good old picking, but it's not super traditional. People should get ready to have their heads ripped off."

Community comments

Note: The Steamboat Pilot & Today doesn’t necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy.

Post a comment (Requires free registration)

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.