The shaggy-haired leader of a formidable roots-rock act known for throwing down covers of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, Josh Roberts doesn’t seem like the kind of musician to go all-in on a night of David Bowie songs. But, he does.
“I love Bowie, always have,” Roberts confesses. “I don’t think it’s that odd when you think about it. Bowie’s first several records, up until Low and Scary Monsters and all that stuff, it basically sounded like the Rolling Stones. Bluesy rock ‘n’ roll, folk ballads, soul.”
Roberts and most of his band the Hinges spent last New Year’s Eve blowing it out with a rollicking Bowie set that hopscotched through his catalog from the ’60s to the ’80s. And while Bowie’s tunes do actually share quite a bit of DNA with Roberts’ blistering brand of rock ‘n’ roll, there’s also a deeper musical kinship that the Johns Island-based musician feels with the classic-rock icon.
“We’ve never really made a whole record this way, but there have been songs, like ‘Rabbits’ from our last record and some other stuff from this coming record, that are kind of odd or live in another place than what we usually do,” he says. “David Bowie is the perfect example of someone who always moved, always changed, but always had a core. It was soul and blues and rock ‘n’ roll. It was always there in the center of it. That’s why he could always keep changing and advancing while still making music that was solid and centered, you know?”
This thought is on the forefront of Roberts’ mind because he is in the final stages of completing his new album, which the band’s been recording throughout the past year with producer Ryan Monroe. Monroe plays keys for Band of Horses and was a Captain Easy bandmate of Roberts in the late ’90s, early 2000s.
The idea of framing a core sound makes sense for Josh Roberts and the Hinges. Since 2006, the group has built its reputation in the Southeast (and, more recently, out west) for its incendiary live show that’s equal parts Crazy Horse guitar sprawl, AC/DC-sized riffage, soaring harmonies, and surprisingly fragile songwriting.
Stopping there, though, ignores the way the band has evolved over the years. Their 2007 sophomore LP My War Cry Is Amor packed in 15 songs over nearly 70 minutes and expanded their signature roots-rock style into lengthy jams and soulful detours. Then 2012’s Mighty Old Distance and Murky Old Time saw the group doubling down on that approach while making more use of the studio, layering guitars, and vocals in a bubbling cauldron of sound and chopping up parts to create different sonic beds.
In addition to having Monroe at the production helm, the band also has a number of other advantages going into this album than they did in the past. Roberts and his bandmate/wife Leslie had long been residents of Lexington, S.C., and bassist Corey Stephens lived in Milledgeville, Ga. When Stephens moved to Charleston, Roberts saw his chance to finally get most of the band living in the same city and also be near Monroe.
“We needed a change anyway, and Corey was already down here,” Roberts says. “We’d never lived in the same town together.”
The group also sought out engineer Vic Stafford, who they spent a week with at Nashville’s famed Quad Studios and another week at Southern Tracks in Atlanta.
The band is currently finishing up the final mixes and shopping the record around, although if nothing works out, they’ll give it an independent release in the fall.
For his part, Roberts is excited and hopeful. “We’re really going all out with this one,” he says. “Now it’s time for the business phase.”
In the meantime, the band will continue cracking the live whip, with a string of dates in the Southeast in May and another jaunt out west in August.
They’ll also continue to revel in their new Lowcountry digs.
“It’s poppin’ around here, lot of good stuff going on,” Roberts says of the Charleston music scene. “I really think we sort of fit in the general zeitgeist around here.”