"The lion costumes ... hmm," says Stuart Mackenzie with a wry chuckle. "It wasn't something we planned, you know, we weren't looking for any shtick. But it ended up being fun ... plus, it's just about impossible to take yourself too seriously when you're 'that jerk in the lion suit!' We're definitely not your average jeans-and-T-shirt band — we want to have fun, we want our audience to have fun. It's back-to-basics Rock & Roll. I think it's working, it's getting reactions. We'll see."
Meet The Lions Rampant. In addition to many other things, the trio are a raucous hairball of unfettered energy, mauling the local music scene and dragging it right back where it belongs: in your face. And for no additional charge, they'll let you pet them.
Mackenzie is wiry, strutting and preening like Mick Jagger. The drummer, Alex — who refuses to don the mane, but concedes to wearing a plain shirt with a lion emblem — would make a great assassin with his silent smile. A bearded guy called Paul Bunyan waves dismissively, a mock-diva when his moniker is called into question.
"I already told you guys," Bunyan says. And indeed he has: A recent CityBeat article profiles Bunyan and his other band, The Sheds (See "Without Burnout," issue Nov. 21). Between scouring the karaoke bible for "a real damn song," he talks a little about juggling two new musical projects.
"That's why I love making music with Stu," says Bunyan of his role as the Lions' bassist. "He likes to work hard, but he knows I'm committed to my other band, too, so I can exist on the periphery. That makes it easier." In lieu of a complicated "how-the-band-got-together" story, he states simply: "Stu stays at my house a lot. Drinks my coffee. Eats my food."
The band recently wrapped home-recording on their first EP, Half Alcohol Half Women, a five-song experience whose title describes its focus with pinpoint accuracy. The women of Mackenzie's telling are too big for their britches. They can't stay home; they're constantly traipsing in and out between benders; they chain-smoke; they curse him. He couldn't love them more. Mackenzie is funny and bittersweet, melding the stomp and shimmy of legendary Blues Rock (Doors, Stones, Zep) with the mod urgency of current Euro Pop purveyors, an influence that can be largely attributed to the time Mackenzie spent in Scotland.
"If you told us we sound like the Arctic Monkeys, it's not like we'd be mad," says Mackenzie. "There's more to it, but Pop (read: hooks) is the ideal. It sets us apart from just 'fuck you' Punk." His most recent flattery, he says, came by way of a young child gyrating innocently to a Lions song. It's a testament, he says, to the value of a catchy tune, and kids are the perfect barometers to gauge that quality in music.
"Yeah," Bunyan interjects, laughing, "but I wouldn't really want anyone's kids learning the words to 'Cocaine Anne.' That would be wrong.' "
OK, while the songs are agreeably far too mature for anyone under the age of 100, they are incredibly infectious, serving, at instances, as faithful parody of the Blues Rock genre. "Cigarettes and Gin" opens with an indignant tirade: "Listen up, women/I thought I told you/That the last time you walk out that door/Will be the Last. Time. You. Walk. Out. That. Door." Soon, though, Mackenzie is a southern preacher, slurrin' and slangin' some. He really gets going and — in but one small wonder of the oddly gorgeous disc — all composure is lost and he erupts into self-effacing laughter. Such nuances seem effortless, an uncalculated mixture of confidence and silliness. Thanks to the slick, bawdy nature of the writing, each song is free from overdone production. In fact, too much planning would undoubtedly sour the pride's chemistry and imitable spontaneity.
Plans for the immediate future include getting to work on a full-length record and testing their sound in foreign waters through friends and contacts in the UK.
"Oh, and we're thinking about getting a keyboardist, a lioness," Mackenzie says. He reasons, eyes twinkling, "Our mistakes will be less obvious with four people in the band."
At some point during Bunyan's perfect execution of Bob Seger's "Main Street," a woman approaches the table. "Are you musicians?" she asks them, obviously impressed with the night's impromptu karaoke performances.
Stuart sips and winks, paw extended, "Yes'm. We are."
THE LIONS RAMPANT (thelionsrampant.com) release their new EP Saturday at the Northside Tavern. The show and EP are free.