Guitarist Bill Anderson and singer Joe Doerr made great music together with cult favorite Ballad Shambles in the mid ‘80s and quickly followed that with the Pearl Jam blueprint Hand of Glory. So when Anderson and drummer Julien Peterson approached Doerr in 2008 about starting a new blues band with a Captain Beefheart/Nick Cave feel, Doerr was in. As a member of nascent blues/punk band Poison 13, Anderson had gone to the delta with both gun blazing before.
"I think that if you’re a white guy you can be really proficient in the blues, but you can’t totally own it," says Anderson. "Unless you bring something new to it and a bit of yourself."
Besides Doerr and Peterson, Anderson chose guitarist Billy Steve Korpi from the Crackpipes and ex-Invisible Czars bassist Adam Kahan, and Churchwood was baptized. They live in the dark and dangerous, dressed in suits like the "Roadhouse Dogs" of a Tarantino flick.
To hear St. Edward’s students call him "Professor Doerr" brings a smile to anyone who knew Doerr as the brooding, long-haired, ‘80s and ‘90s rocker who heard way too many comparisons to Jim Morrison. But Doerr’s goal of being a poet, which he carried since a high school obsession with the French surrealists such as Rimbaud and Baudelaire, eventually won out. He went to Notre Dame in the late ‘90s to study under John Matthias and eventually earned his PhD. He and wife Mary returned to Austin in 2003 and he got back into the Leroi Brothers, led by his brother Steve.
But then he had that talk with Anderson and realized that throwing himself into a blues trance, which the music of Junior Kimbrough and others put him in, was a good vessel for his dark lyrical instincts. You won’t find many hellhound tales that start off like this: "Aranzazu, you there in the briars/ the hounds pursue me and I’m redolent of fire." But, really, it’s the band’s intensity, with weird time signatures and nasty guitar riffs, that you’ll walk out of a Churchwood show remembering.
"Joe can write lyrics to any kind of music," says Anderson. "I can give him a riff, an idea, and he’ll have something that fits perfectly before you know it." The rhythm section of bassist Kahan and drummer Peterson, who was originally the band’s bassist but had a fresh idea on how the drums should sound, puts their own stamp on the songs.
Produced by Chico Jones at Austin’s OHM studio and released by prolific Saustex Records, the howling new LP "2" has a prog-like thickness while staying grounded in roots rock. It’s the band’s second album in two years, which Anderson credits to their collaborative instincts. "Right now, we have 30 songs," he says. "If we practiced two or three times a week instead of once, we’d have twice that many. Things just click when we’re all together in a room jamming."
This is challenging stuff, but when it hits it will knock you down. Most of the old Doerr/Anderson fans like it, though some must wonder why it has to be so in their faces. Like the old wooden Baptist church on a country road that gave them their name, Churchwood houses a whole lot of frantic energy during their blues services.