August Arthur Bondy used to be known as Scott, back when he was fronting Alabama rockers Verbena. But like almost everything else, he's left that behind. Before Drive-by Truckers even cut their first album, Verbena fired the first shot of the whiskey-soaked Southern country-rock revolution, only to lose their way. A cocky young kid in possession of one of the finest rock debuts you're likely to hear, Bondy and his mates rode 1997's Stones-flavored Souls for Sale into the waiting arms of a major.
"I colluded with them in robbing myself of any innocence I had as
far as making music," says Bondy. "It took a long time to get it back.
They hang that huge bag of money around your neck, which dooms you in a
ton of ways. It's like we got this ridiculous box of rock 'n' roll
clichés handed to us, and we took it all on and really got our
heads turned around."
Verbena's 1999 Capitol debut, Into the Pink, sounds beholden
to producer Dave Grohl's alt-rock background, and by 2003's disjointed
La Musica Negra, they sounded lost and desperate, probably all
too aware their career was dead. In 2005, Bondy chucked it. He sold his
Marshall stacks and electric guitars — except a $150 Alvarez
— and moved to rural upstate New York, done with trying to earn a
living making music.
As fortune would have it, Bondy married Clare Felice just as her
brothers (who record as the Felice Brothers) were embarking on their
own musical journey. Before long, Bondy returned with an acoustic
guitar and harmonica for his rustic 2007 solo debut, American
"They're partly responsible for this," says Bondy of Felice's
brothers. "They were being born right when I moved back to New York
from Los Angeles. I think some of what they were doing rubbed off on me
in terms of they don't give a fuck. They only do what they want to
Rededicated to his craft, he gave up trying to please anyone but
himself and began working a country strum with a dark, gothic
undercurrent. American Hearts opened some ears, but ultimately
Bondy felt constrained by the singer-songwriter genre. He longed to
front a band, though he couldn't afford one at first.
Bondy finally assembled a band last year, and with guitarist Ian
Felice's help, he recorded his second album, When the Devil's
Loose. Released in September, it features greater sonic depth and
detail, abetted by the warmth of the live-in-the-studio recording
ethos. From the title track, which counsels not to "carry the doom of
the living and the dying," to the folksy unrest of "Oh the Vampyre" and
the brooding martial murder-ballad lope of train song "The Coal Hits
the Fire," When the Devil's Loose evokes a forbidding, dimly lit
world slowly making its way into the light.
It's little surprise then to discover these tales of lives on the
brink or in transit dovetail with the dissolution of Bondy's marriage.
But he hesitates to call it a breakup album.
"I didn't want to tout it as that because I think it's a funny thing
to call a record," says Bondy. "I want people to attach what they want
to attach to it. I don't want anybody to be told how to feel about
something. I was unconsciously or self-consciously careful about making
things too obvious. The songs are partly about that, though not all
It was a hard-earned triumph to win back his musical innocence, and
he does what he can to retain it, surrounding himself with people he
likes and who make him laugh.
Bondy wants people to like his music, but he knows he has little
control over who might hear it or what they might think, so it's a
waste to worry about it. There's just no accounting for taste.
"People listen to my album and think it's sad, depressing and
doomed," says Bondy. "Yet they'll watch Law & Order every
night. I feel like I'm an outsider. It's like that classic situation
where you're in a movie and what you laugh at, nobody laughs at, and
what you find to be terribly sad, people laugh at. I've definitely had
some very dissonant moments in movie theaters with my fellow man."