On New Year's Eve 2014, Joshua Fleming inadvertently made one hell of a New Year's Resolution. He'd already had an eventful and tumultuous year with his band, local punk trio the Phuss, where he plays guitar and is lead vocalist. While he was in the Double Wide's outdoor space selling albums and chatting with a few friends, he made a passing remark that deserved a great deal more emphasis: "I'm going to make a country record."
Enter the Vandoliers.
Talk about a dude putting out some serious New Year's Resolutions. The Phuss' 2014 record, On the Prowl, is about as non-country as music can get. But after further thought, it wasn't quite as wild as it initially seemed. Punk heroes from Social Distortion to Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry have embraced the rootsier side of musical life, and there's no arguing Fleming, who had played some solo-acoustic gigs over the past couple of years, knows how to write a hell of a tune.
"After finishing the touring with the Phuss," explains Fleming from Three Links in Deep Ellum, "I wrote some songs that I knew wouldn't be Phuss songs. I reached out on Facebook to some local musicians to get some people to play on these songs I had written."
Before he could get too far, Fleming was repeatedly recommended to touch base with John Pedigo of the O's. As a veteran of the Dallas country scene, Pedigo knows his way around a catchy tune and when he heard Fleming's demos, he was ready to jump into recording, acting as engineer and banjo player at his own home studio.
"I've never been a massive country music fan," admits Fleming, who became more of a country music fan after seeing a few episodes of the Marty Stuart Show on RFDTV. "But after finishing the last tour, it was refreshing to start listening to something so different than what I had been playing and listening to for so long. As I was writing these songs, I really wanted to get down the common denominator of all great songs. I was going for that classic three chords and the truth sort of thing."
As Fleming and Pedigo began to lay down vocals and acoustic guitar earlier this year, it was time for the recruited musicians to join in and lend a raucous flavor to what had been a rough-hewn set of sparse tunes. Jack Russell and Corey Graves of Whiskey Folk, drummer Guyton Sanders, and guitarist Dustin Fleming (no relation to Joshua) eagerly joined, forming a veteran crew that can turn any tune into a stomping country-rock song, as evidenced by the first two songs the group has released, "Runaway Sons" and "Bottom Dollar Boy."
Fleming says the group has enough recorded material to form an EP, and he has enough songs ready to complete for a full-length release. And make no mistake: This is not a time-wasting side project. Fleming has legit plans for Vandoliers.
"This group has been purposely comprised of guys that are tour-ready," says Fleming. "I want to tour. With Trey [Alfaro of the Phuss] having another kid, and the various things going on with the Phuss right now, I need something like this to work on."
With the hopes of scheduling a tour soon and landing more gigs (with the next one set for May 21 at Lola's in Fort Worth), the Vandoliers have already mastered the rollicking, stomping feel of an established roots-rock act. Their music isn't straight country, straight rock or folk. Fleming says he and the group have termed their sound "Ameri-kinda," which is certainly a fitting label. For now, Fleming is upbeat about the future of the new band and knows that it's a vehicle that will simply let him do what he loves to do.
"I love performing live," he says. "And I've been in the Phuss for seven years now, so I've paid some dues. But this is a whole new thing that puts me back to square-one in many ways. It's scary, but it's fun, too."
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