By Jim Schutze
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A few days before going out on tour, Alex Bhore, drummer for alt-country rockers The New Frontiers, wants people to know that his group is definitely from Dallas.
"We play a lot more outside of Texas," says Bhore from his Waxahachie home. "The fact that we've been touring so much is probably why some folks around here haven't heard of us."
Part of the problem might be the result of a name change. Originally called Stellamaris, the band discovered an Israeli band with the same name that had been releasing albums for more than a decade. The other Stellamaris refused to share the name, so the local boys had to come up with another. Bhore claims no one can remember who came up with The New Frontiers' moniker, but understands how well it fits the band's sound.
"We get the 'epic' comment a lot," says Bhore, "and I'm OK with that since we do want to incorporate some spacier elements into our sound."
Despite the unique take on alt-country and some glowing national reviews, The New Frontiers has yet to receive much local attention. Bhore hopes the band's recently released debut, Mending, will end the band's local anonymity.
"We're having a lot of fun, and I think that's the point," says Bhore, who helped form the band in 2004. "But with this new album, we are definitely ready to step it up."
Recorded in April of 2007, Mending was not released until this year because of various label snafus. Bhore admits that he and his band mates were worried that what they had worked so hard on might never see the light of day.
"We didn't even know that, when it finally did come out, if anyone would like the record," Bhore says. "Luckily the reaction has been very good, and we already have enough songs written for another record."
After a few listens to Mending, it becomes clear that the band needn't worry about the quality of its work. Pop and rock hooks mingle with pedal steel guitar as singer Nathan Pettijohn's graceful wail hovers over the proceedings like a ghost at a New Orleans funeral. Songs such as "Black Lungs," "Walking on Stones" and "Spirit and Skin" are dense and, indeed, epic performances filled with just the right amount of angst and sonic sheen.
But Bhore thinks the production might have been a bit too slick.
"I don't think the clean sound is necessarily what we envisioned," he admits. "We are all more fans of records that are thought of being on the dirty side."
Yet Mending doesn't really suffer from its sparkling production. With each cut overloaded with instrumentation and emotional intensity, it may have been necessary to smooth some rough edges just to keep things from spiraling into chaos. Either way, the results sound something akin to The Who tackling The Decemberists' songbook with a healthy reverence for the godfather of alt-country, the late Gram Parsons.
"We like timeless songs," says Bhore. "We wanted to make music that's not going to be outdated, stuff that doesn't have a time limit."
Interestingly, some cuts such as "The Day You Fell Apart" and "This is My Home" have an '80s rock feel while others fit comfortably in the Americana tradition of Uncle Tupelo, albeit with more interest in three-part vocal harmonies.
"We all try and listen to and digest a lot of old and new music," says Bhore, "Gram Parsons as well as stuff that came out last month."
With three contributing singers and songwriters, The New Frontiers is, according to Bhore, a collective of friends whose ideas are worked out in hotel rooms on tour and in recording studio writing sessions. Although Pettijohn, guitarist/vocalist Jacob Chaney and bassist/vocalist Ryan Henry do the bulk of the songwriting, each member provides input that helps shape the songs into the masses of sound presented on Mending.
"We've all come a long way," says Bhore. "We've learned to pull things together collectively. "
Much of that pulling together has meant each of these five 20-somethings forsaking the traditional family lifestyle for a cramped existence in a tour van and various blue-collar jobs when not on the road. Bhore is the only member whose job (as a recording engineer) remotely approaches steady work. The other members pick up work painting houses.
"We do whatever we can when we are back home," says Bhore. "We're trying to make this band the type of thing that pays the bills."
Opening for bands such as Manchester Orchestra and Limbeck has opened a few doors, but having two songs featured on the season finale of MTV's The Real World: Hollywood (the show was broadcast July 9) brought a big surge in the number of views of the band's MySpace page.
"The day after the show, the songs on our page had more plays than ever before," says Bhore.
The two songs that were used, the aforementioned "The Day You Fell Apart" and the tender ballad "Strangers," are two of the band's best efforts. However, as Bhore painfully found out, the payment from MTV was decidedly low.
"It kind of sucked that we didn't get paid much," he says. "But we didn't treat it as a big deal, just part of getting our name out there."