Country rock with a punk twist

The transition from reggae to country rock was an easy one for singer and songwriter Aaron Reed. Raised in St. Louis, he moved to Los Angeles at age 19, where he played with rock band Silas and performed in Hollywood venues The Roxy Theatre, Whiskey A Go Go, Knitting Factory and others.

"Rock is the music I have a natural tendency for," says Reed, vocalist, guitarist and principal songwriter for Ashland band Buckle Rash.

Buckle Rash formed about four months ago when several of its members — Reed, lead guitarist Clay Baker and bassist T.J. Ellers — disbanded from reggae group Synrgy. Drummer Oscar Matallana came on board from Portland — where he played with reggae band Outpost — and the group put together a unit that plays a "blend of old-style country and Southern rock with an unexpected punk twist," Reed says.

The band will perform at 9:30 p.m. Friday, June 21, at Alex's Plaza Restaurant and Bar, 35 N. Main St. The cover costs $5. Call 541-482-8818 or see Buckle Rash will be joined by Reed's younger brother, Philip Reed, on guitar and vocals. The younger Reed also is a songwriter.

"T.J. and Oscar have about 10 years of playing reggae to their credit," Reed says. "But they handled the adjustment pretty well. When you play reggae, you play it the reggae way.

"If you're not hitting the guitar on the two and the four, or if you're not playing one of the three drum beats — the one drop, the rockers, or the four-to-the-floor — then you're not playing reggae. There's a specific way to play the rhythm.

"Clay's guitar style is rooted in '60s and '70s rockin' blues, like the Allman Brothers' sound. He didn't play reggae in any traditional style, for sure," Reed says. "His guitar work is the perfect fit for our new approach to music."

It's difficult to find good players who will focus on one band and commit to a songwriter's music, and most rhythm players in the area work with a revolving lineup of other musicians.

"Clay and T.J. had already heard my music," Reed says. "Sometimes I'd open Synrgy's shows with a solo performance. They're totally on board with Buckle Rash. Clay grew up listening to rock and blues, and T.J. just loves to play music."

Reed fell in love with Ashland when he first visited in 2003, and he relocated to Southern Oregon a year later. In 2004, he started playing acoustic gigs Thursday nights at the now-defunct Osprey Pub.

"My songwriting was more complicated at that time," Reed says. "Most of my songs would have three to seven different parts, and they didn't follow any verse, then chorus structure. I wanted to sound unique and different, so I wrote intricate, metaphorical songs."

Today, his songwriting is something much simpler and more listener-friendly.

"Now I think about whether or not audiences will want to hear it," he says. "I've taken a big turn in the last couple of years, and with Buckle Rash, I've come to understand that you can be unique while playing simpler tunes."

While some of Buckle Rash's material is based on Reed's older songs, his newest songwriting is specifically for the band. The group covers a few Johnny Cash, Chris Isaak and Allman Brothers songs, including "Ring of Fire," "Wicked Game" and "One Way Out."

"I find inspiration for songs in other people," Reed says. "And sometimes frustration. I don't write a lot of super-duper happy songs. I also find inspiration in sarcasm from comedians, like Bill Burr, Ron White, Bill Hicks and Louis C.K.

"I find a ton of inspiration in all of my pot-growing hippie friends. This area inspires me in all sorts of funny ways."

One of his new tunes, "Missouri Cashed," is about how marijuana isn't taken so seriously in other parts of the country, especially where he grew up.

"The song started out as a joke, but then everyone loved it," he says. " '... If you came from Arkansas, this might feel like Jamaica ...' Everyone thinks it's too catchy for us to have written it."

Buckle Rash will select six of what the band considers its best songs and release an EP in July.

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