Okeanas play music as refreshing as a cold beer and as honest as a three-aspirin hangover. Their fine debut CD, Butler County, features 11 Country-tinged Rock tales that reflect that locale, but the themes of raising hell, drinking, loving, lusting, dying and hurting are universal.
Okeana (pronounced "Okie-Anna") is a small town in —where else? — Butler County, and the place singer Ernie Mills has called home for the last five years.
"I always liked the sound of that name long before I ever thought about living there," the Ross, Ohio, native explains. "It just sounds cool, sorta like 'Okie from Muskogee,' and nobody else had it."
Finding a name no one else had was important. The band spent over a decade slugging it out on the Butler County bar scene under the name The Prophets before adopting their current moniker.
"On our MySpace page we asked for all bands named The Prophets to sign in," guitarist Dan Andrews says. "There are dozens of just 'The Prophets' and even more 'The Whatever Prophets'."
It was as The Prophets that they gained some local attention with their raucous tribute to the Old Lefthander called, simply, "Joe Nuxhall."
The name of the band and the CD notwithstanding, they maintain they're not obsessed with geography. They are, however, keenly aware of their roots and the reputation Butler County has with some people.
"I was in a band years ago and we'd play on Mount Adams and the bar manager would tell us how much he liked us but there was a problem. He'd say, 'You bring all these Butler County people down here and they break stuff'," Mills recalls. "Now when you tell someone you're in a band from Butler County they think, 'Oh boy, here comes the Lynyrd Skynyrd Express'."
Instead of Skynyrd (dude), they lengthen their club sets with covers of everyone from Jerry Reed to The Godfathers. Still, it gets back to Country.
"We think we're a Rock & Roll band, but when we start playing, it comes out kind of Country. That's the Butler County in us," Mills says.
All the Okeanas members saw their 35th birthday long ago, so they're old enough to remember when Country was good, before tractors were sexy and honky-tonks were full of ba-donkee-donks.
"In Hamilton there's a bar every three blocks and when we were little you had kids going into the bar to buy gum or pop and you would hear the bar music. You'd hear Country music," bass player Randy Fugate explains.
"And some of the kids were filling gallon jugs with draft beer for their dads," Andrews remembers fondly. "I did that. Also, when I'd come home from my paper route, I'd hear my dad blasting Ernest Tubb from three blocks away."
The quartet has decades of playing experience. Andrews was a member of the ferocious Punk outfit Chem-Dyne 20 years ago. Mills, Fugate and drummer Jeff Wilson have all been regulars on the band scene since before McFly first went Back to the Future.
They specialize in fun, honest music delivered in a no-nonsense fashion. Mills sings in an effective straightforward manner. He doesn't swing for the fences but sprays solid doubles all over the field. Andrews' impressive guitar work goes from jazzy to screaming to soaring effortlessly and seamlessly. Fugate's expansive bass lines allow the band's sound to stretch out and sound bigger than three pieces. Drummer Jeff Wilson is ridiculously solid as he keeps the songs moving and dance floor full.
As veteran musicians, they keep their expectations reasonable.
"We just want some people to hear the new CD and say, 'Hey, that's pretty cool'," Fugate says. "And we'd like to make enough money to do another one."
"Yes, we have songs in us and we have to get them out," Andrews continues. "We don't want song constipation."
"Nothing is more painful than an impacted song," Fugate jokes.
What will that second CD be called?
Andrews laughs. "McGonigle," he says, while Fugate favors "Overpeck."
OKEANAS (okeanas.com) hosts a CD release party Saturday at Kiatta Saloon in Okeana.