Pop: Playing fast and loud

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Verbena's unorthodox brand of spiky, deep-south rock is backed up by their solid gigging reputation. Tim Perry talked to them as they prepared for a European tour with the Foo Fighters

Birmingham, Alabama isn't exactly a city with a rich rock reputation. There's a bit of a scene there but it's no Minneapolis or Seattle, and living in Alabama does have its drawbacks. Verbena's humorous little webpage announces that two of the four have been in jail. One of them was Anne- Marie Griffin. "I got arrested, but it was a mistake, for soliciting in downtown Birmingham. I was out real late one night walking around on my own. I think that's what drew attention to me and this cop pulled me in but nothing was done about it." Sources close to the band, however, claim it was for overdue library books.

Certainly when they hit the road things seem to go smoother for Verbena and their reputation for lively gigs has reaped rewards. They were signed by indie labels Merge (for the US) and Setanta on the strength of one gig. The major Capitol label then offered them a contract with an album out next year. And then earlier this year they played a show in Chicago. A close friend of the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl was in the crowd and she sent him a copy of their debut album. Two weeks later they got a call offering them the support slot for their European tour.

There's hundreds of young bands playing spiky, punky rock on the circuit but what sets Verbena apart is the shared male and female vocals. Principal vocalist is Scott Bondy, an embryonic star with a head of over-dyed floppy black hair. His soft wispy voice starts off each song and the trump card in the form of Griffin jumps in delivering either perfectly-timed harmonies or full on screams that always manage to come out in key. "That separates us from a straight-up rock 'n' roll band. I also think it's more old school in the approach, not too polished," reckons Griffin in a thick southern accent.

Their debut album, Souls For Sale covers ballads with a slight country air to full-on workouts and, depending how they feel, Verbena do very different sets. On their last US tour they supported Jesus Lizard and it was fast and loud, but with the Foo Fighters they'll be able to drop in some of the slower gems like "Postcard Blues". "It's great touring with the Foos. Over here we did a week and a half of dates mostly at big festivals and the biggest venues we've ever played."

Next year looks bright for Verbena (the name comes from a backwoods town in Alabama) but in these days of musical parochialism, it's a fair assumption that if they came from Birmingham, West Midlands rather than the one in the USA they'd have already been all over the music press like a rash.

Verbena (supporting the Foo Fighters) play Brixton Academy, London SW9 (0171-924 9999) 23 Nov. Then the Splash Club (supporting Toenut) at the Falcon, London NW1 (0171-485 3834) 24 Nov

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