Music

Boise Band Hillfolk Noir Hits It Big With Junkerpunch

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We're junkerpumped for Junkerpunch (self-released, 2017), the fifth full-length album from beloved Boise indie act Hillfolk Noir.

What’s with all the “junker” talk? Hillfolk Noir describes its sound as “junkerdash,” a self-created genre that encompasses folk, bluegrass, punk and influences reminiscent of the jug bands of yore.

“It definitely grew over time,” said singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Travis Ward, who is one-third of the band, along with his wife Alison Ward and Mike Waite. “The more we played the more stripped down everything became. We were always wanting to play hard—like a punk rock band or a band that really digs in, but then we realized that doesn’t work in every environment.”

Of all the superlatives heaped on the band over the years, one of the best has to be from John Doe (of seminal L.A. punk band X and rockabilly powerhouse The Knitters): "If John Steinbeck owned a speakeasy, Hillfolk Noir would be the house band."

As Ward put it, “We kind of imagined it like those bands that played in small bars with no electricity, but still with enough raucous energy to get the crowd dancing. … Really junkerdash is the marriage of old-time music and that modern punk attitude.”

Among the 17 tracks on Junkerpunch, the tune "Billy Got Popped" landed on YouTube with a rocking video (see below) featuring with a who's who of political and artistic rebels—a young Mick Jagger in a police booking photo, Bob Dylan and John Lennon in their prime—and spiced with archival images of civil rights and anti-war activists.

Ward said the song isn’t overtly political, but it does have an undertone of protest.

“It’s a daydream about somebody getting busted, and it’s a little story with a groove that goes along with,” he said. “Everything that happens in life kind of affects the song, be it what's happening in the country or what’s happening in another country, so there is a little bit of a political tinge to it. … There’s been a lot of people who have been arrested for reasons other than crimes, and hopefully that translates in the video a little bit.”

More important than politics, “Billy Got Popped” represents the flavor of the album. Ward agreed Junkerpunch might represent the purest expression to date of Hillfolk Noir’s signature sound, which will be on full display at a CD release show Friday, May 19 at Cinder Winery, joined by Mike Coykendall (who recorded Junkerpunch at his Blue Rooms studio in Portland, Ore.) and Curtis/Sutton and The Scavengers.

Calling Junkerpunch a “sock-it-to-ya” album, Ward said it is also Hillfolk's "most mature effort."

“We’re pretty comfortable doing what we do; the sound hasn’t really changed dramatically for a number of years. [Junkerpunch] has some songs that we’ve played a lot; it has some really fresh, new ideas; and some tunes that will probably never be live tunes but worked in the studio,” he said. “It’s all just us playing in a room together. It’s very live.”

While the end product is a superb mingling of Hillfolk Noir’s many influences, Ward said working on Junkerpunch was among his more difficult efforts.

“It’s always a grand experience. This one was a great experience, too, but I kind of toiled with it and I don’t exactly know why,” he said. “I just could never tell if I was doing a good job or a bad job; I had lots of insecurities.”

There’s nothing insecure-sounding about the album, but Ward said Junkerpunch definitely shows a side the band hasn't shown before.

"There’s a little bit of a personal feel to it,” he said.

Be sure to get some face-time with Junkerpunch at Cinder Winery, because Hillfolk Noir is hitting the road for the next couple of seasons. Ward said the band is scheduled to perform at the Idaho Botanical Garden sometime in July and then will set out for a tour to Minnesota and back, followed by a Northwest tour and a trek down to California.

In the meantime, hometown audiences will have Hillfolk Noir all to themselves.

“I think a lot of Boise is in the band,” Ward said.

And into the band, too.




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