Distress Signal

The Baptist Generals want to make a happy album. They just can't.

By the time Flemmons reconnected with Sub Pop, the label's payroll had grown to include a number of bands similar in sound and spirit to the Baptist Generals: Iron & Wine, Samuel Beam's one-man choir of angels; Holopaw, the answer to the unasked question, "What if Radiohead formed a country band?"; and the Fruit Bats, whose Sub Pop debut is due later this year. When Sub Pop first reached out to Flemmons, he wasn't sure where he fit in on the label's indie-rock roster. After hearing the new additions, he still wasn't sure.

"I wasn't aware that it was so well-developed, that they'd been signing all those people," he says. "I had no idea. I mean, it seems like they signed so many people just doing the same type of stuff almost, in such a short time. I was like, Jesus. I couldn't figure it out, you know? I was wondering how it was that we got signed. I was one of the last people to contact him. Iron & Wine, I think it was last spring that they met that guy. The Fruit Bats, I think they'd been talking to them already. I'm glad that we're there, but I've got a feeling that they've probably had enough of acoustic whatever." He laughs.

He's joking, but maybe Flemmons is right. Maybe Sub Pop is just throwing anyone who makes rustic and rural records against the wall, seeing which one will stick. Maybe he got lucky, and just happened to have the right sound at the right time. Maybe, maybe, maybe. It's hard to believe any of that after listening to No Silver/No Gold. It pulses with the kind of real heart that most albums lack, breathing and bleeding, crying and cursing, drinking and dying. (You can hear a little bit of everything on "Alcohol (Turn and Fall)"--the best--and, in a way, worst--song on the disc.) There's melody among the maladies, but it's still a tough listen. Not surprising since Flemmons wrote the songs while recuperating from surgery, and recovering from the loss of his father, Jerry.

Cell phones and Chris Flemmons, right, don't get along.
Peter Salisbury
Cell phones and Chris Flemmons, right, don't get along.

"I started out trying to write something that wasn't so bleak--and at points, it's not so bleak--but it's still just emotionally exhausting," he says. "I'm always stunned when people say they've listened to this thing over and over again. I'm like, why would you do that?" He laughs. "This isn't a repeat listen. How could you do that? I just really don't want to make an album that kinda tears me up just to try and get through. Next album, I'd like for it to be kinda happy." He laughs again. "But it probably won't be."

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