At the intersection where cowboy boots meet Converse, where twang ties into tough-minded rock riffs, and country collides with the power of punk, you’ll find J. Charles & The Trainrobbers. To refer to them as country-rockers would be to call up a false impression of laid-back Laurel Canyon dudes lost in a cloud of pot smoke. In fact, the Dallas-based band’s insistent, urgent sound thrives within the continuum of true American originals that includes everyone from Black Flag to Billy Joe Shaver, Tom Waits to Willie Nelson, without stopping to wonder about the stylistic borders between one and the other.
So how did this roadhouse-ripping sound come together? Well, it all started in early 2010, when J. Charles Saenz, former front man for recently disbanded Southern rockers Sangre Sangre, as well as ex lead guitarist for punk rockers the Strays and Death on Wednesday, decided to make a long and permanent drive from Los Angeles to the great state of Texas. Turns out Saenz hit town with a batch of new songs in his back pocket, and one of his first moves in bringing those songs alive was to reach out to his long time buddy, drummer Steven Visneau, who had worked with pioneering pop-punk outfit The Queers and Dallas’ own Slowride under the nom du punk Stevey Stress. Something special started happening right off the bat, and from there it was simply a matter of putting the rest of the puzzle pieces together in the right order.
With the undeniable Americana element of Saenz’s songs crying out for the proper twangy touch, it was decided that the only thing missing was a pedal steel player. Enter Danny Crelin, of Dallas country heroes Eleven Hundred Springs. “The guy came in and was bigger than life,” recalls Visneau, “Aggressive, loud, smooth, just perfection.” Since no band in their right minds would tamper with perfection, this cemented the lineup. Saenz and his gang of co-conspirators in turn became J. Charles & the Trainrobbers.
In most cases, a brand new band would have had to build its following from the ground up, but J. Charles & the Trainrobbers had a handy headstart, thanks to the impressive musical backstories of each member, as fans of the guys’ former bands contributed to the quick growth of the new project’s audience. In a short period of time, the Trainrobbers have gigged alongside an impressive array of artists including Lucero, Deer Tick, Dawes, Middle Brother, Shovels and Rope, and many more. But any band that hits the stage enough to develop their own sound eventually has to take the next step and capture that sound on record, so they can share it with more than however many people the club they happen to be playing on any given night can squeeze into its doors.
Accordingly, the first J. Charles & the Trainrobbers full-length album is already completed. The recording, entitled Upon Leaving, was produced by Matt Pence, who has been the winner of the Dallas Observer music awards’ Best Engineer honor for more years than he can probably keep track of, and who also happens to be the drummer for both Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel during a non-traditional recording process that spanned a year.
What can we expect from J. Charles & the Trainrobbers’ freshman foray? The same combination of unfettered emotion, rock & roll intensity, and country-tinged reality that informs everything they’ve done from the start. In Visneau’s words, “This is just a natural progression for all of us. What we have done is nothing new, it's just honest. We have taken country music that we grew up on and the punk rock that we all spent years playing, and allowed ourselves to just play roots-based music with an aggressive style. I don't know if we have an exact sound we are striving for, but we do know that we want it only to be true to what we listen to, love, and admire.” And like the great American artists who have inspired them, you can bet that J. Charles & the Trainrobbers will continue to keep it honest, holding tight to the truths that they know best.