The Athens music scene is a bit of a bubble. Local musicians know that it's one thing to make a name for themselves in the bars and basements of Athens, but making it out and into the rest of the world is another. It's a raw deal that demands another beer, a good sense of humor, and a toast to hometown rockers Wheels on Fire.
For the past five years Wheels On Fire have been taking their bluesy brand of five-piece rock out of the garage and into headlining slots at bars and street fests around Athens. They've also completed two European tours and one tour of the states. The band's hard work has paid off "“ last year they signed on with Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum Records and cut their second album, "œGet Famous!" The band is celebrating the release by playing home turf at Casa Cantina Friday night before embarking on another tour through the United States.
Yep, it seems like Wheels on Fire have finally made it beyond last call at The Union, but, as guitarist and vocalist Mike Chaney explains, the idea of "getting famous" is as funny as ever.
"We we're just thinking how funny it is to think that, as a rock 'n roll band, you can make money and get famous," Chaney says about the humor in the title "Get Famous!"
The 11 tracks on the new album carry the same attitude. It's serious rock 'n roll that doesn't take itself too seriously. Every song is upbeat and in your face. Wheels on Fire describes their sound as "Elvis Costello meets The Stooges," but it's more like Costello's dance moves challenging Iggy Pop to a bar fight. Common lyrical themes seem to be booze, bad women gone good and good women gone bad.
"Get Famous" opens with "Midnight School," revealing the band's roots in the psychedelic sounds of 1960s era garage rock. The song celebrates young love with thrashing guitar riffs and a zany organ solo from keyboard player Susan Musser. Just sit back and imagine members of The13th Floor Elevators making fun of Van Morrison's pickup lines at a party.
"Midnight School" sets the tone for several tracks on the slightly repetitive album. "Metal Mandy" and "Can't Get a Line" have a similar feel that's reminiscent of early Rolling Stones, and Mike Chaney's vocals on the track "Three Sisters" sound eerily like a young Mick Jagger. But hell, it's good time rock 'n roll.
"I'm Turning Into You," the only single released off the album, has even more old-school pop to it. Tamborine, anyone? It's a catchy and whimsical love song that could have been played beside radio hits from The Zombies and The Animals. Listen to it, but don't let it get stuck in your head.
The entire album isn't purely a flashback to some neon-lit garage, however. Several tracks are simply hard, blues-driven rock. "Gallon of Gin" and "Corkscrew Blues" take a Southern country approach to the drinker's blues. The members of Wheels on Fire may not be Delta bluesmen, but they have been drinking in Athens long enough to write some convincing riffs. Then there's "Hit You With a Kiss." The song is exactly the high-energy rock 'n roll you would want to have blasting from the radio as you embark on a road trip to Vegas or initiate a high-speed chase with the Blues Brothers. Hold on and remember to take a breath at the breakdown.
"Get Famous!" has the unique rawness of self-recorded project, and that's because it mostly is. Mike Chaney says most of the album was recorded on tape through microphones at home and in the small studio at The Union. Wheels on Fire sent the tape to be mastered at Peachfork Studios in Pomoroy before looking for a label, so "Get Famous!" was a local product before Fat Possum Records even picked it up.
While a deal with Fat Possum is no guarantee that Wheels on Fire will get famous, the band is joining the ranks of seasoned blues acts and an eclectic mix of up-and-coming bands, including Al Green, The Black Keys, Dinosaur Jr. and Andrew Bird, to name a few.
So who knows "“ Friday as Casa Cantina could be the last chance to see the members of Wheels on Fire as humble, un-famous musicians who work at Avalanche Pizza and O'Betty's! Show starts at 10:30. The Hairy Hearts are opening. Copies of the new album will be available. "I'm Turning Into You" will be available on 7-inch vinyl.