That Rowdy Rock n’ Roll Sound

That Rowdy Rock n’ Roll Sound
American Lions (from left to right) are James “Jimmy” Velek (drums), Elliot Cotten (vocals, guitar), Jordan Ahne (guitar) and David Velek (bass, vocals), and they’re based in Conway, Ark.

Courtesy PhotoAmerican Lions (from left to right) are James “Jimmy” Velek (drums), Elliott Cotten (vocals, guitar), Jordan Ahne (guitar) and David Velek (bass, vocals), and they’re based in Conway, Ark. 

Four years ago, two brothers and a songwriter from Greenbrier, Ark., got together to make some music under the name This Holy House. Their music was “dramatic, like a soundtrack” and folksy, with some rock elements in there.

They played around for a few years, added a second guitarist in 2012, and oftentimes got mistaken as a Christian band. That all changed when the band decided to undergo a musical metamorphosis.

The music became rowdier, more rock n’ roll. After writing the big dynamic song “American Lions” for their new album, the band decided to change their name to “American Lions,” even if it may draw some Bad Company comparisons.

“American Lions are the people who love the original idea of freedom for everyone,” said Elliott Cotten, songwriter for the band. “The song was about America being a metaphor for a woman, and the protagonist is trying to save her. To me, (American Lions) looks and sounds like the spirit of what we’re trying to do with our music.”

American Lions are Cotten (vocals, guitar), David Velek (bass, vocals), James “Jimmy” Velek (drums) and Jordan Ahne (guitar), and are based in Conway, Ark.

After listening to the new album, “American Lions Vol. 1,” it’s easy to hear how the band has found their place with their new sound. The sounds are raw, but the band demonstrates they know how to bring the jams and take a song from straightforward to psychedelic, stiff-upper lip, rowdy rock n’ roll. The guitar playing is consistently on point, and the Velek brothers’ rhythm section keeps the music rockin’ throughout the mostly six-minute-plus tracks.

After undergoing the transformation, audiences and fans have really caught on to the new sound and are starting to really believe in them, Cotten said.

“We are definitely now more rock n’ roll,” he said. “When writing, we collaborate. We actually write riffs together and it works out. It’s more fun for the audience now, and we’ll write a rowdy rock n’ roll song and still have something good and meaningful to say. It took a while to get away from the dramatics.”

This past January, the band won the Little Rock Wakarusa Winter Classic, earning them two sets at the funky Ozark, Ark., music festival. Playing at Wakarusa was the most important thing to happen to the band thus far, Cotten said.

“Wakarusa was the most rewarding experience,” Cotten said. “After years of trying to get it right playing in bands, y’know, it’s coming to fruition.”

After playing Wakarusa in the sweltering heat, the band got to meet one of their musical influences J. Roddy Walston and The Business. In the aftermath the band hit an epiphany: We’re doing this. Let’s keep doing this.

“It kicked our ass,” Cotten said. “The lesson was just whatever we want out of the band, we’re going to have to do the work ourselves, and it obviously pays off. We learned the nitty-gritty of what it takes to make this a career.”

As far as their live show goes, their raw sound just gets nastier, in a good way. The band plays their live shows with the kind of intensity you’d come to expect out of bands like My Morning Jacket or Kings of Leon. It’s loud, it’s rockin’ and they tend to take their songs on musical journeys in classic jam rock style. Guitar solos are a-plenty.

“(Rock ‘n’ Roll) is getting it’s swagger back,” Cotten said about rock music today. “It’s definitely coming back around and it’s got the soul again. Racket rock n’ roll is coming back.”

If you aren’t attending the Roots Festival late night sets at George’s Majestic Lounge, be sure to check out American Lions with Comfortable Brother at Smoke and Barrel Tavern this Saturday at 9:30 p.m.

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