Patty Hurst Shifter

What’s in a name? Well, Patty Hurst Shifter, the pride of Raleigh, North Carolina, get asked about theirs all the time, but that’s not the only problem. On their recent UK tour, guitarist Marc E. Smith had to put up with audience members calling out for Fall songs, while drummer Skillet Gilmore had to cope with requests for a sizzling performance. Bassist Jesse James Huebner had a different headache, being an exact visual double of UK comedian Harry Enfield. He had to learn to accept that audience members in fits of laughter weren’t commenting on his bass technique.

So already it’s a cheerful picture, and this is a band that loves to enjoy itself. The European jaunt was an example of this. An exhausting itinerary and no road crew, not to mention this being their first transatlantic trip, could have led to stress, but their “drink a few beers, meet the locals and have a good time” approach meant that they were welcomed with open arms wherever they went. As Gilmore says, “We’re friends, first and foremost. The music is the by-product of us hanging out.”

“There’s a lot of sincerity in what we do, but not in a heavy way,” adds front man and songwriter J. Chris Smith. “It’s fun, but at the same time I think we have a knack for taking painful experiences and imagery and turning it into something that rocks.” And here’s the fascinating thing about Patty Hurst Shifter (by the way, the name started out as a joke and just stuck). They may seem on the surface to be a good time rock band, but still waters run deep, and they don’t run much deeper than Chris. Answering an enquiry about how a song comes together, he gives an intriguing insight into their modus operandi:

“It usually starts with me bringing in a verse and chorus structure, and I make it a rule to leave space in the songs for input from the others. We generally play through this rough version a few times and Jesse and Skillet start to work on the rhythm section’s approach to the song and its different parts. Marc tries different guitar parts and melodies and I work out the vocal delivery. This makes for a much more cohesive final result, and it lets the people in the band really be a band. So, while I write the song and it’s still “my” song, I actually wind up playing the band’s version of it. It’s all very natural to us, and something very elusive and intangibly solid is created by having songs come together this way. It’s funny though, because after writing the songs, I’m often the last to learn my part because I’m waiting to see what it’s going to be.”

Patty Hurst Shifter started playing together around 2000. Marc and Chris are the only players left from the original line-up, but the current band has now been steady for two years. Initially, they formed for only one show to help draw attention to the Drive-By Truckers in their area, who had played a few shows in Raleigh but weren’t drawing any crowds to speak of. It was when the steady line-up gelled that the band forged a true identity. Ex-Whiskeytown drummer Gilmore (who’s married to Caitlin Cary) and the ever-dependable Huebner complete a quartet whose music is pleasingly difficult to classify (it’s not alt-country and it isn’t straight-ahead rock, and it’s serious and deep while remaining positive and “up” in its atmosphere). “Really incredible songs”, commented Ryan Adams, and PHS has patented the most concise band mission statement in history: Rock Like Hell. It couldn’t be more appropriate.

Following their last album “Too Crowded On The Losing End”, they have adopted a bold new policy (in keeping with the changing face of music releasing), namely issuing a series of EPs.

Explains Chris: “The EPs are an effort to stay productive and maintain awareness of our presence, but there’s also an element of wanting to show that we can make great records regardless of circumstance. We recorded the first EP, “Fugitive Glue”, primarily in my one room workshop/studio in my back yard and the next one is underway there as well. There’s also a freedom to this EP format that I think is going to really help us find a way to incorporate some new colors that we’ve been wanting to add, but haven’t had the proper context for. There’s less space to establish a flow on an EP with 4-5 songs, so it kind of frees us up to just put whatever we want, wherever we want.”

There’s an air of honesty and integrity about Patty Hurst Shifter. They’re a thrilling live act as well, and a great advertisement for friendship. You’ll love them.

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