Thrash-and-twang duo VOLK set expectations on fire with their explosive brand of cowpunk and glam rock. Small in size yet big in sound, VOLK is Chris Lowe (electric guitar, vocals) and Eleot Reich (drums, lead vocals). Together they kick out the jams with a high-octane show combining politics, poetry, and pageantry. Their upcoming album, Cashville, is their first full-length release and the first to capture the full range of their cinematic style.
VOLK has come a long way since Reich and Lowe met in Berlin, Germany circa 2013 at a brothel-turned-bar called Madame Claude’s. Lowe taught at an international school; Reich was completing her theater degree; both turned to songwriting as a refuge for creativity. They ran across each other one fateful Sunday at Madame Claude’s open mic night where both were trying out their original songs, Lowe on the slide guitar, Reich belting out the blues. Their initial folksy acoustic collaboration eventually needed more—the songs were calling out for it. They added a drummer for a month, but when he split town, leaving behind a drum set in their apartment, Lowe asked Reich to give the abandoned drums a try in a moment of inspiration.
They’ve been doing the reverse White Stripes set-up ever since.
While Berlin gave them the freedom to openly experiment and dive into music without pressure in true punk rock fashion, VOLK ultimately realized the city’s EDM/anti-folk music scene no longer felt like home. In 2016 they headed back to the U.S., landed in Nashville, and promptly hit the road. Touring the States gave them the opportunity to soak up every dive bar’s grit and stories along the way. Reich tells of a pivotal moment: “I ran into a Goodwill during one tour, in Augusta, Georgia—the hometown of James Brown—and bought this short blue sequin dress. The moment I put it on and sat down behind the drums that night, it’s like something clicked. From then on we’ve been crystalizing our look, our feel. VOLK wouldn’t have become a band without Berlin. Likewise, it needed that next layer of American soil to pump blood into what was until then a partially realized dream.”
The recording of Cashville also represents a dream fulfilled. EPs released in 2015 and 2018 allowed only a small window into what they call VOLK World and its genre-defying excess. Lowe explains, “Cashville provides a much wider spectrum of our sonic journey. It’s what we’ve been doing live for years encapsulated into an LP.” Listeners can expect a genre-bending journey; equal parts rock-roaring, twanging, honky-tonking, acid-tripping, American-ing, and spaghetti western-ing.
Recorded at Threshold Studio in Indianapolis, Cashville captures the bigness of VOLK in a way that’s upfront and instinctive. It’s also a reminder for audiences not to be over-dazzled by their carnival-like atmosphere—ultimately they hope to challenge their listeners’ lethargy and content with the status quo.
To that end Cashville covers a lot of thematic ground, from tackling the lack of authenticity in the music industry to pointing a finger at American society’s ugly underbelly of hypocrisy and cruelty to marginalized groups and the poor. VOLK reinvents itself with each song, contrasting the hard-partying Waylon of legend with the reality of the tour grind (“Atlanta Dog”) giving a middle finger to the good-girl mythos (“I Fed Animals”) exploring an exorcism of Catholic Southern guilt (“Revelator’s Bottleneck”) and diving into slithering reptilian imperfections (VOLK’s cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Snake Farm).”
Leading things off is “Welcome to Cashville,” a swaggering AC/DC-style song with an over-the-top intro from Romanus Record’s label head Chris Banta, who sets the tone by emulating a sleazy vaudeville promoter on the hustle. Reich’s keening yelp on vocals anchors the mood with fierceness and a take-no-prisoners bravado. Countering the bombastic “Welcome to Cashville” is “Old Palestine (TX),” Lowe’s foray into Americana and Jason Isbell territory. Written in Berlin with the insight brought by distance, the song uses his small hometown as the lens to examine the national sins of slavery, Jim Crow, and white supremacy.
Tying it all together is VOLK’s dedication to punk. “Punk has always been about people,” Reich says. “It’s a genre that stems from a place of utter discontent with society, with the world. Punk literally has no rules. Punk is independence and freedom. Punk is straight from the gut and the heart. It doesn’t have the patience for coddling. It’s the perfect realm for speaking your truth. It has also been incredibly segregated and whitewashed. To me, cowpunk provides a unique channel for uprooting racism within our community.
“At the end of the day, we’d like to do what Willie did in Austin, bring together the rednecks and the hippies and the hipsters and the rockers, but this time in the spirit of true equality.”
VOLK’s music comes from an honest, authentic, and even vulnerable place; genre is tossed aside to allow the songs to be what they want to be. Messier, glitzier, and more punk than your average country band, VOLK is loud suits and loud amps, shiny dresses and shiny drum sets, growling tones and thunderous beats, East Texas and California, Nashville and Berlin. As Ray Wylie Hubbard put it, “if I’m ever short on attitude and badassedness . . . I know where to find some.”