In an era of declining album sales and manufactured Billboard hits, it’s easy to assume rock ‘n’ roll has lost its place as the central force in American popular music. Lately, the Hot 100 chart has been caught up in a whirlwind of folk, country, R&B, and electronic dance music. But one band wants to prove that rock is not dead: Nashville’s Fly Golden Eagle.
Led by band mastermind Ben Trimble, this young psych-funk quintet makes new the sounds of old. Ripping from the playbook of groups like 13th Floor Elevators, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, T.Rex, and Sly & the Family Stone, Fly Golden Eagle possess both garage-band rambunctiousness and jam-band dexterity. Organs and rich bass lines compete with distorted guitar, reverb-soaked leads, and Trimble’s cracked-yet-soulful delivery, creating a sound that feels woozily old-school yet splashed with a fresh coat of possibility. Their 2014 release Quartz is an epic, 26-song double-album (there’s another, more concise 12-song version that their label ATO Records released) that meanders with a warm, lo-fi haze through tripped-out genre digressions and psychedelic flights of fancy. Trimble ties everything together with hook-driven choruses and catchy melodies to create a patchwork of quality music.
“It’s sort of like if you’re a painter and you have to do all of this work to go to the school and get an apprenticeship,” he explains. “It’s not because that’s what it takes to become a great painter. It’s just that’s what it takes to have context about what you’re doing. I feel like what we’re doing fits in a bigger context of the music we like and of how pop music has evolved.”
Trimble grew up with a gospel and country background, but an early love for a wider range of music blossomed when he moved from Detroit to Nashville about eight years ago. His first job was as an assistant to music producer Rick Clark, who had a vast record collection of over 40,000 LPs that the nascent frontman dove into with glee.
“He could go through and tell you the moment he purchased each of them and what it was like to go home and listen to it for the first time,” which was often the week they came out, recalls Trimble. “It was really cool to get his perspective on all of those old records.”
This deep sense of history gives Trimble the ability to recognize with pinpoint precision the places his band can renew or expand upon tradition. And it’s that nuanced perspective that is the key to understanding how and why the group’s freewheeling eclecticism has a more distinctively modern feel than revivalist-minded peers like Alabama Shakes or The Black Keys.
“It’s always seemed like a very modern sort of thing to take a lot of old things that really were universal and still keep coming back up, to take those and use all these different colors and textures into something that fits in your mind with what you’re feeling and trying to express,” Trimble says. “It’s really the modern mind that is able to accumulate the whole of history and see how it fits together. I feel comfortable using old influences and styles with whatever’s available now.”
For Trimble, this makes Fly Golden Eagle far from a revivalist project that’s unlike the old-timey, pre-World War I music a lot of his friends are playing right now. He says, “So there’s one end of music where people are digging further and further back into stuff like vaudeville, and on the other end you have very modern sounds that are at the extremes of building up music and then slowing it down. And I feel like we fit somewhere in the middle of that.”