Carver Commodore began at the dissolution of The Bear and the Bride. Lead singer and guitarist Payton Pruitt and guitarist Phil Blevins had performed together in the latter as its members swapped spaced between Florence and Nashville. Around 2017, Pruitt and Blevins decided to chase the thing they had always wanted: “just being a rock and roll band.”
That began under the old name before Carver Commodore was officially born. For a while, Pruitt and Blevins were the only continuous members; now the four-piece includes bassist Daniel Clark and drummer Noah Freeman. Their first full-length album, “Tell Me What You Want,” was released in 2019. Then a pandemic hit.
Last year saw the band experiment a lot during the downtime. There was a Gameboy remix of the track “Black Plastic,” acoustic versions of “Can’t Stay Away” and “Pathetic Again” and even a couple of new tracks in “Revolution” and “Cancel Culture.” My favorite of Pruitt’s pandemic projects was Pontiac Sunfires, a country and western reimagining of Carver Commodore. The three track EP included versions of “Pathetic Again,” “Thumbs Up” and “Blind” and a cowboy aesthetic.
Now, there’s an end in sight to the pandemic, and Carver Commodore is back on the road. They’ll play 13 dates over the next month, including stops in Gadsden, Auburn, Florence, Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama. Payton and I spoke during the downtime about the band, the Florence and Muscle Shoals scene and the way he spent the pandemic.
How did Pontiac Sunfires happen?
We always thought it’d be funny if we had an alter ego band that played cover bars. We thought, “What if we did that and called it the Pontiac Sunfires?”
And that morphed into this weird alter-ego – like the Tim & Eric version of us, basically. We just ended up doing whatever genre we wanted to do. “Maybe we could make versions of our own songs in that genre,” and Pontiac Sunfires ended up being what it is right now.
We’re all in our mid to late 20s, so 90s country is nostalgic for us. We grew up listening to a lot of it. At the time, we probably thought it was all stupid, but now we hear it and it sounds like our childhood. We thought it’d be fun to try to play some cover songs and try to flex a muscle that we never flexed before.
When I was writing the first book, Russell Mefford told me that he was determined that he could make it work without leaving Florence. Is that how you felt when you came back from Nashville a few years ago? Was there a determination to make it work at home?
Yeah, for sure, that was part of it. I’m not sure how long ago that was for [Mefford], but I think now, it’s way easier to do that than it ever was before. When I moved back – it was around 2015 – I moved back because I couldn’t really find a community in Nashville. I have more friends and community up there now than I ever did when I was there. All of the relationships were transactional then.
As much as I missed home, it also never felt like I could have genuine relationships there. Florence doesn’t feel that way at all. It’s close enough to Nashville and Birmingham that I can get there in a couple of hours.
Most of that community in Florence now fall into “Americana,” for better or worse. And what you are doing is absolutely not that – you’re a straight forward rock and roll band. Does that make it more difficult to be accepted by audiences there?
In some ways it does. People here are used to Americana. We’re friends with a lot of the folks at Single Lock [Records], and they support us and love us. But we don’t really fit into that genre. So sometimes it does feel like we’re on the outside.
And then people are use to the Muscle Shoals Sound and FAME cover band thing. Legacy music, I guess you could call it. Then there are typical bar bands. Those are the three genres most prevalent here. So it does feel like we’re the outsiders sometimes. But it’s cool, because we can stand out as the rock band.
Looking at your catalog, you’re really prolific. You don’t really seem like you wait around to put things out. If you have a single, it seems like you just put it out. Is that the best way to operate in this world now?
It doesn’t really feel that way from the inside. It feels like we wait forever to release stuff. We made our first album in 2018, and we didn’t release it until October of 2019. We had management and such that would say, “We need to take our time and promote this well and do it the right way.” We agreed and it worked; setting a timeline and releasing things on that timeline.
Everything fell apart for everyone in 2020. It didn’t feel like there was a need to worry about self-promotion or a timeline. We put out “Cancel Culture” in September because it seemed really timely. We put out the Sunfires stuff; we really didn’t care when it came out. It was fun and that was a thing to do in 2020.
We’re working on a new record right now, and “Cancel Culture” will be on it. But it will be a while before we release anything else on it.
Carver Commodore has stops in Gadsden at Atomic Johnny’s on Saturday, April 3, Auburn for Auburn Stages on April 22, a hometown show in Florence at Singing River Brewing on April 23, Huntsville at Goldsprint on April 24 and they’ll finish this run in Birmingham at Tin Roof on May 8.