By Jim Schutze
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"I don't want to become a terminally local band," says Nick Nowell, guitarist and front man for Thorn vs. Side, one of the area's freshest mixes of punk, pop and metal. The band has been together two years, honing their skills in a Denton garage while trying to perfect their blend of Jawbreaker and Black Flag. At the same time, Thorn vs. Side is intent on avoiding the fate of so many bands plugging away in Deep Ellum.
"I'd feel bad asking my friends to come see us play in some dive bar," says Nowell, before asking, "For what, to pay seven bucks for beer that tastes like piss?"
Nowell, an English major at North Texas, comes across as a brutally honest, literate and resolute musician who has surveyed the local scene and has come to some dire conclusions. In order to garner a bit of mystique, the band has made the conscious decision not to play each and every weekend.
"Playing music in Dallas is a bitch," he says. "It fucking sucks." Not the most lighthearted of folk, Nowell and guitarist Zach Neeley have played in some nationally recognized metal acts such as Zao and Society's Finest. Nowell found the metal scene a bit limiting.
"Playing in a metal band is more like doing homework," Nowell says. "It was just flexing your muscles, and that leaves something to be desired in the artistic realm."
Recruiting bassist (and DISD second-grade teacher) Luis Rolong and drummer Jordan Cole, Nowell and Neeley went to work creating a band better suited to their vision. The band issued their debut EP, Arson, in July and has been venturing out into the nether reaches of Lubbock, Abilene and San Antonio to further sharpen their pop/punk skills.
Judging by the surprising depth displayed on the EP, Thorn vs. Side is already reaching heights that other bands take years to attain. Produced by Michael Havens (Polyphonic Spree, Chamillionaire), Arson takes the guitar melodies of Iron Maiden, the pop smarts of Cheap Trick and the thrust of classic punk to create a precise and metallic punch.
"Music should be cathartic for the artist and the listener," Nowell says. And songs such as "King Rhetoric" and "The Debt We All Must Pay" offer enough tempo shifts and aggressive guitar interplay to satisfy the therapeutic needs of even the most manic-depressive emo kid.
"We all cross our hearts, pretending we're in love," sings Nowell on "Way With Words," the best and pop-friendliest cut on the EP, one that also displays an expressive lyrical range that escapes most headbangers. "I think this band is coming from an emotional standpoint that many people can relate to," says Nowell.
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