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New Band, Old Memories

New Mary Jane Delivers ‘Grifter’ Comfort
by Sean Boone

Defining the indie-art genre of the 1990s, The Grifters gained a reputation for being one of the South’s great underground rock bands.Now, after a decade-long hiatus, Grifters mates Scott Taylor (vocalist/guitarist) and David Shouse (lead guitar) have collaborated for the first time on a project known as The New Mary Jane.

Showcasing the same distorted blues chords, rugged lyrics and Memphis charm, the band looks to pick up where they left off—unnoticed by the masses.

“The one element of The Grifters that we still want in our sound is the intuitive path to nowhere,” says Shouse.

Although The New Mary Jane shares a lot of the same elements as their previous tenure, Shouse hopes to evolve and grow as musicians.

“I started The Grifters with Scott Taylor in 1989 as a way to de-evolve. The ‘pop music through a vegematic’ aesthetic appealed to us,” says Shouse. “I think evolving is about the continuing search for ways to make music that define you as a person, without falling back on old patterns.”

The New Mary Jane (composed of Taylor, Shouse, John Argroves and James Godwin) was actually formed in 2008, but this month marks the first time the band will tour—hitting Birmingham on Oct. 15, and Pensacola (Sluggo’s) on Oct. 17.

The band’s MySpace page lists them as experimental rock, but Shouse says right now it is impossible to label their sound because it is ever-changing.

“The band is still relatively young,” says Shouse. “We only practice two hours a week…everybody’s got work and other bands, so the process of figuring things out has been slow.”

Shouse has been heavily involved with Bloodthirsty Lovers and Those Bastard Souls (featuring The Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd and the Dambuilders’ Joan Wasser), and with Taylor with Hot Monkey, The Porch Ghouls (who spent time touring with Aerosmith at Joe Perry’s request) and Memphis Babylon.

The New Mary Jane is being managed by an agency in New York that Shouse says is “patiently waiting” for the band to release material.

“(The new material) could be (released) this spring if we get three new songs recorded and a bale of cash falls into my backyard.”

But for many long-time Grifters fans, the idea alone of new material from the same musical veins has instilled a sense of “reunion”—particularly in Pensacola, where a large following still exists.

“They picked Sluggo’s (as one of their stops) because they have a large community of Grifters fans here,” says Patrick Jennings, a Sluggo’s promoter who booked the upcoming New Mary Jane show. “I consider them the best band ever. In the 90s, they consistently put out great records…(and) had great reviews.

“This is the first time they have performed outside of their hometown of Memphis, so we are understandably excited to host the event, as are The Acorns and Imaginary Airshow (who asked to be involved to share the stage with some of their musical heroes),” he adds.

For more than a decade, The Grifters sat well with Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Sub Pop and other music notorieties and even held the likes of late rocker Jeff Buckley. They were often compared to more widely known indie rock staples such as Sebadoh, Pavement, Guided by Voices and Archers of Loaf.

But the group ultimately remained out of the mainstream, while holding on to an underground following that interestingly festered in northwest Florida.

“Seems to be a Grifters enclave down here,” says Shouse. “We played the old Sluggo’s in the mid-90s, and I’d see familiar faces at shows in Tallahassee. Pat (Jennings) has been trying to get us here for some time.”
sean@inweekly.net

THE NEW MARY JANE
WHAT: The New Mary Jane with The Acorns and Imaginary Airshow
WHEN: Doors open at 8 p.m., show begins at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17.
WHERE: Sluggo’s Vegetarian Restaurant, 101 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $6
DETAILS: myspace.com/thenewmaryjane