The honky tonkers with an eye towards pop from yesteryear in a sound somewhat akin to The Derailers are gaining a following with their debut, "KIngs of Heartache," released in September on the small Will Records label in Washington. The group is high on the Americana charts, an increasing rarity for bands on tiny labels, and will soon venture out of their stomping grounds in places like Nashville and Atlanta.
The quintet - now including Lucky Lawrence, songwriter and lead vocalist, Buck Edwards on bass, Mo (a first name only suffices) on guitars, Boots Kutz on drums and Don Pawlak on pedal steel - graduated from apartments to playing clubs for free to quickly garnering a local following.
Lawrence says, "We do have a shuffley Buck Owens, Ray Price thing going on," says Lawrence. "The instrumentation - pedal steel - we don't have any fiddle on our records."
"The Derailers and us really draw on a lot of the same influences. We're in the same neighborhood. Frankly, they're one of our influences too.. We love The Derailers. I love everything about those guys."
"There's a certain cleanness to it for one thing," Lawrence says of the older country songs. "If you compare to pop or rock where people are playing over each other, I love the sound and production of country where there's a walking bass, a nice full, melodic vocal. People play around each other better."
"When space is made for each thing, you're able to, as a listener, stand back," he says.
"We haven't made a science of knocking off retro music," says Lawrence, 35, about to quit his sales job with AT&T for the full-time life of a musician. "We've taken those influences and put them together with everything I've been exposed to and come up with a sound like that. It's a true reflection of all of our influences. We're able to get a very rootsy sound, but also be able to include influences that span genres as well."
Lawrence grew up on his parents' country records, though that didn't mean he fell in love with the music, but "I listened to that too, even voluntarily," he says.
"The name The Souvenirs came about after I moved out from my folks," says Lawrence. "We had played in various bands off and on together, I was visiting my parents. They hadn't owned a record player for a long time, but they had records. I went through there looking for a Buck Owens Christmas album. Then, I found some Buck Owens and some Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Charley Pride. It just sort of blew my mind. It sounded so good to me because I had grown up on it."
"That became a name idea for me after I got exposed to that country music," says Lawrence. "I started surfing country radio at that time, which I hadn't done for a long time. The only thing I liked was Dwight Yoakam."
"The more I did (listen to country music), every year it got more and more pop," Lawrence says, referring to the early '90's. That's when I first thought of the concept of The Souvenirs, but it didn't seem viable to play country music."
"Dwight Yoakam and Junior Brown seemed to be the exception, not the rule," he says.
Those beer and music sessions led to real gigs. "There was a a tavern we hung out at. They had some pretty good country on the juke box. We talked with the owner. He didn't even have (live music)."
The Souvenirs started playing Friday nights at the Court House. "Those crowds started to be quite big, quite quick, says Lawrence of the free gigs. "The next best thing would have been free beer too."
"We started to realize after our second show doing that - just the response of the crowd and how easy everything was - there was something going on. There was a good chemistry going on."
"It sort of seems like it just happened. "The music is what really carried it," Lawrence says. "We liked the music much. The crowds were so good. We decided, 'let's make a go of this.'
After doing a three-song demo, the band did a few high profile shows opening for the Derailers, "We had a real draw."
They suspect they still do. "It sort of seems like it just happened. The music is what really carried it," Lawrence says. "We liked the music much. The crowds were so good. We decided, 'let's make a go of this.'"