Antietam was formed more than a quarter-century ago, a New York City first-wave indie band that rose from the ashes of Louisville, Kentucky’s Babylon Dance Band. Lead by the incendiary Les Paul guitar of Tara Key, for 20 years the group has operated as a trio, with Key’s husband Tim Harris on bass, and drummer Josh Madell. Across eight studio albums they have chiseled a sound that once was loose, chaotic, and sprawling into a fiercely focused rock ‘n’ roll maelstrom — harnessing the power of Key’s guitar and her primal singing into their own version of pop music.
Released on May 10, 2011, Antietam’s eighth studio album, Tenth Life is the culmination of a creative arc the group has followed for the last quarter-century. On 2008’s epic 2-CD, 3-LP Opus Mixtum, the band spread their wings and unleashed not just their patented guitar-heavy bombast, with Tara Key’s explosive Les Paul and emotive vocals taking the power trio through their paces, but also a more subdued, freewheeling set of instrumental explorations. This time out, the band set their sights on a pop target, making Tenth Life Antietam’s most focused, song-driven album to date.
Tara Key has explored a mellower side on a pair of critically-acclaimed “solo” albums in the mid-’90s, and more recently on a pair of lush and loopy ambient guitar collaborations with Eleventh Dream Day’s Rick Rizzo, the most recent, Double Star, just out on Thrill Jockey. But Antietam is her life’s work, and the fierce, soaring rock this trio delivers is a message from Key’s heart, blending her Kentucky roots with her New York tenure in a fiery worldview that knows no provenance.Tenth Life finds Antietam channeling their power into a set of ten hard-driving songs that deliver with a concise impact. Lyrically, there is a thread running throughout, exploring both the pursuit of artistic vitality and the commitment to an inspired, meaningful life, creative or otherwise, from the dle to the grave. Nine lives may be ok for cats, but Antietam is painfully human, and this is their Tenth Life.
Download the One Sheet for Tenth Life
When we chose the name Antietam for our band over 20 years ago, we never realized how often it would be mispronounced, misspelled, misunderstood, or just met with befuddled stares of “Huh?” In naming our band after the bloodiest day in American history, we didn’t think we were being obscure, but we proceeded to see Antietam billed as Antidam, Antetam, Antietem, Anteetam, Antitam, or even as Auntie Em.
Imagine opening the paper or pulling up to a marquee and finding your bloody band name changed into the lovely auntie in The Wizard of Oz. In the Civil War, Union troops named battles after the nearest body of water like Antietam Creek; Confederate troops used the nearest town, making Antietam the Battle of Sharpsburg in the South. Only the astute D. Boon of the Minutemen and Tara’s dad pointed out the irony of southerners calling themselves Antietam.
We just have to admit it: Antietam is a weird band. There’s nobody really like us.
It doesn’t help that our influences range from Neil Young, the Clash, the Stooges, Dead Moon, Eno and the Raiders to Chinese Opera, John Ruskin, Albert Pinkham Ryder, action painting, hitting the “sweet spot” in multiple sports, and the childhood game of 4-square. Yeah, two of us are down home folks from Kentucky...but Tara once won a David Bowie look-alike contest in New York City in the Year of the Diamond Dogs. Say what? Yes, we have a picture to prove it. One reviewer of Victory Park said the remarkable thing about Antietam was that we didn’t show any evidence of any influences. And we rather enjoyed that.
Our last work, Opus Mixtum, represented a departure for us, seventeen years into the lineup of Tara Key on guitar, Josh Madell on drums, and Tim Harris on bass. It was our first double CD and we are excited by Carrot Top’s dedication to total sound quality with the release of a triple vinyl LP edition. But beyond quantity and quality, it our vision that has expanded on Opus Mixtum.
The title comes from a method of laying brick in ancient Rome that combined rectangular and diagonal patterns, but we use it to connote the mix of three styles: Antietam rock, the acoustic pop of Tara Key solo releases, and the instrumental soundtracks of our lives.
Antietam has always been noted for Tara’s pyrotechnics on electric guitar. In 1980, The Village Voice called Tara “the best female guitarist this side of the Atlantic.” In 2005, the Voice left out the gender thing and said, “Did I mention that Tara Key is the best guitarist in the world?” Tara’s style and the energy of the Antietam live show have defined the character of our albums over the years – from the 80s lineup with two bass guitars on Antietam and Music from Elba to the leaner early 90s stylings of Burgoo and Everywhere Outside to the three-piece power rock of our live album from CBGBs, then Rope-a-Dope and 2004’s Victory Park.
We all explored life outside of Antietam at points as well, and these extracurriculars have a lot to do with the variety on this album: from Tara’s two well-received “solo” albums released on Homestead in the mid-90’s (neither album was solo by any stretch of the imagination, and both Tim and Josh figured prominently, but these records allowed Tara to explore a more acoustic, songwriterly approach to her craft, with a coterie of sidemen on strings and keys and horns), to her instrumental collaboration with Rick Rizzo of Chicago stalwarts Eleventh Dream Day (resulting in the Dark Edson Tiger album released in 2000 on Thrill Jockey), to Tim’s “lead cello” work with local psychedelic pop band The Special Pillow, to Josh’s songwriting (and drumming) for pop-punk girl group Tralala.
As snatches of melodies from these projects showed up on soundtracks as varied
as the kids’
show Pete and Pete on Nickelodeon, the NPR radio show This American Life,
and the soundtrack
for a campaign to build a memorial at the WTC site,
After recording Victory Park in a beach house, this time we stayed home and turned to hotshot producer (and now auxiliary live band member) Josh Clark at Seaside Lounge in Brooklyn, to wrestle with Tara’s signature sound like a line of discerning producers before him (Wharton Tiers, John Siket, Jon Williams, James Murphy, Ira and Georgia from Yo La Tengo, Tara Jane O’Neil). We were impressed at all the vinyl in twenty-something Clark’s record collection. He did such a bang-up job of recording our three-piece rock-outs, that we enlisted him to help stitch the instrumentals and lush acoustics into the Opus Mixtum quilt as well.
Then we pieced in Mark Howell’s horns, Katie Gentile’s violins, and Rick Rizzo on stunt guitar. The album flows effortlessly through its varying moods, instrumental passages disappearing into hooky pop, Tara’s defining guitar being enveloped by Hammond organ or a lush string passage before the pounding rock and roll of the classic trio punches through. So you get pop with “Turn It on Me,” rock with “Pennants and Flags,” and just pure melody with “March Echo” and “Steel G.” As they say in Louisville, if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes.
And, of course, when in doubt, turn it up loud!
Well, Tim’s Dad did fiddle on the Grand Ole Opry at the age of twelve. And Tara’s name does sound like the Cherokee part of her blood. And Josh loves the Louvin Brothers. We love our Hank and our Dolly, but we don’t wear it on our sleeves.
And while we never viewed our audience as cannon fodder, we have always felt that everyone could use a little dose of Antietam. After all, it was the Civil War battle that stands as the bloodiest day in American history, the catastrophic moment in the cornfields of suburban Maryland when things got so bad that never again would spectators bring picnics to Civil War battles; when America lost its innocence forever; when the “land of the free” needed major qualification; when the combatants knew finally that this war had to be fought to the finish over one issue – slavery. A few days later, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a day of reckoning.
And at the time, it seemed like a good name for a band.
2) Instant History
3) Selected Discography
Babylon Dance Band (Tim and Tara) Four On One (Matador) 1994 and 3 tracks on Bold Beginnings: A History of Louisville Punk (Noise Pollution) 2007
Drag City Supersession (Tara) Tramps, Traitors and Little Devils (Drag City) 2001
Eleventh Dream Day (Tara as guest) “The Raft” on El Moodio (Atlantic) 1992
Retsin (Josh as guest (drummer?)) Salt Lick (Simple Machines) 1995 and Egg Fusion (Simple Machines) 1996 (Tara also guests on Egg Fusion)
Rick Rizzo and Tara Key Dark Edson Tiger (Thrill Jockey) 2000
The Special Pillow (Tim) cello - Inside the Special Pillow (Zofko) 2004
Tara Key Bourbon County (Homestead) 1994 and Ear and Echo (Homestead) 1995
Tralala (Josh) Tralala (Audika) 2005 and Is That the Tralala? (Audika) 2006
Yo La Tengo
Josh as guest: percussion – “Nuclear War”, version
two on Nuclear War (Matador) 2002
Carrot Top Records Releases
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