To an outsider, Seattle's music scene is not known for much outside of '70s rock or, of course, dark and inevitable grunge. But in truth, it is the home of a formidable underground vintage and alt-country scene, taking everything from roots rockabilly, to Western swing, to distortion twang in its sweep. Artists like Neko Case, Old 97's, and the Souvenirs are some of the talents whose success has reached well beyond the city limits.
One local writer encapsulates their sound: "Storming through an Orbison-like vortex of honky tonk, Western swing, rockabilly, and timeless country ballads, the Souvenirs boast a triumphant sound that blurs the line between modern and vintage, country and old-time rock & roll" (see www.thesouvenirs.com). This ability to "storm" is gained in part through their focus on electric music, as opposed acoustic, and choosing Texas rockers over bluegrass ruminations. In live sets rhythm guitarist Terry Bratsch will frequently swap the acoustic for a Stratocaster, bringing the lineup to a full three to four electrics, including the bass guitar of Buck Edwards, attractive and stoic in the shadows of "stage right." Don Pawlak works his genius on the pedal steel to bring out some solos that verge on psychedelic, and embraces the instrument like a lusty cowboy in from the desert. Artists like Buck Owens, Ray Price, Patsy Cline, and Merle Haggard have been cited as influences to the band's style and sound. Likewise, lead singer and songwriter Lucky Lawrence, with his pink Fender Strat, Dwight Yoakam-like hint of sex appeal, and tight, but-not-as-tight-as-Dwight trousers, perpetuates classic country themes of heartbreak, seduction, and self-pity.
Still, the more things change, the more they stay the same. To this day, Seattle seems to be a landing point for anyone bold enough to pull up their roots and find a new hometown. Any native of the area can tell you, many people move in, but few seem to leave. It is not surprising then, that Americana has become such a cultish and mysteriously authentic form of nightlife in the city. It is also not surprising that the Souvenirs have roots ranging from Missoula to Pocatello and Arizona.
It was in Seattle that the members originally met and developed friendships. It's a familiar story: what culminated in a successful band, was founded on casual living room jam sessions, a history of unsatisfying struggles with other bands, seasoned friendships, and at least a little whiskey. "The way things happened just sort of crossed over from recreational playing to playing 'for real'," Lucky said in an interview. "We used to sit around the house pickin' and drinking. I think what we do still has a lot of that 'good time' ingredient. I mean, even if we hadn't ended up playing music together, we'd still be hanging out playing pool three nights a week."
Once the members decided to bag their previous musical projects, it took just a year of decisive action and hard work for the band to make an impression. Shows came quickly and numerously, and there was no question what the Souvenirs were, or that they were. Opening for acts like Derailers, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, and Wylie & the Wild West, it was becoming clear just what kind of music they were doing, and just what kind of hat one should wear if they were gonna head to the bar and see the Souvenirs on a Saturday night. Though their recorded material is pretty well-laden with tear songs and ballads, their live sets are bold, tight, and highly energetic -- at least one reason they thrive as a band (and evidence that they do).
It didn't take long to land a recording contract with Will Records in Seattle, where the Souvenirs laid down their debut, King of Heartache in 1999. The group even contributed to the movie soundtrack of The Gift. As of 2001, the Souvenirs had been touring nationally and globally, and of course, playing venues in their hometown and being heard on local radio -- with new material on the horizon, including a captivating ballad by the name of "Blue Valentine." ~ Lisa M. Smith