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Gritty alt-country

Battle Hymns espouses alt-country with a kick

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Cameron Elliott, the leader, singer, guitarist and driving force behind Battle Hymns, isn’t scared of Tacoma — at least not really.

“I’m more afraid I’ll be tempted to don an eye patch and start bossing glass blowers around, or go on a car crushing spree with my monster truck,” says the melancholy, indie rock songsmith — like a modern day Tom Petty without the bad haircut — when asked whether he was afraid of being jumped or pressured into methamphetamine use when his band plays the New Frontier Lounge this Saturday, Feb. 7.

In fairness, it’s a question I often pose, as a sort of disarmer, when a band that’s proven its worth in the indie rock cock stable of Seattle makes its way south for a show in the oft-misunderstood city to the south. Though it’s probably less than fair to compare the multidimensional Elliott to Petty — for a number of reasons, not even counting Petty’s penis-hairdo — it is fair to wonder sometimes what a band from Seattle has running through its mind heading into T-town. With Western States, it seems nothing but possibility and positives.

“I haven’t played Tacoma since The States played Hell’s Kitchen on our tour with Pedro the Lion and Tilly and The Wall four years ago. So in the words of the late great Aaliyah, ‘It’s been a long time since we left you ...’,” Elliot continues. “I’m quite excited to be coming back! My friends Damien Jurado and Pablo Trucker just played the New Frontier recently, and we’ve heard good things. So we’re looking forward to checking it out.”

“The States” Elliott speaks of? Those would be the Western States, a band you may well be familiar with (at least if you’re worth the weight of that KEXP sticker you proudly pimp). “The States” became Battle Hymns after drummer Nick Peterson resigned the skins to focus his drumming efforts on another well known Seattle band, Fleet Foxes — leaving Elliott with a decision and the band with a refined direction and purpose.

“I used to front a band called The Western States. We made a record with our friend David Bazan and toured a bit behind it. As I began writing the follow-up material to that record, I slowly realized that I was coming to a fork in my musical road. Around that same time, my longtime friend/band mate/partner in crime, Nick Peterson, left the band to keep time for Fleet Foxes. After several days of internal wrestling, it became clear that it was time to call a spade by its proper name, and publicly acknowledge this change taking place,” says Elliott. “I consider it more an evolution then a total reincarnation, but nonetheless, it was time to start a new chapter. So The Western States was laid to rest, and Battle Hymns was born.”

With the birth, err, evolution of Battle Hymns has also come one hell of a record. The band’s self-released debut, Hidden Reservations, hides very little when you get right down to it, though getting to the root sometimes requires a little digging. Through surface level alt-country goggles, Elliott reveals places often untouched within the genre. It’s a record both familiar and relatively uncharted, which is to say it’s unique — and an effort worthy of praise and attention.

“There are always things you’d change,” says Elliott of Hidden Reservations. “I don’t know any artist who ever feels completely finished with his or her creation.  I suppose, the day I do is the day I retire. But even still, I stand by these songs.

“As for the future, the best I can decipher is that there will more shows, touring, and we’re in the preliminary stages of writing a new record,” he continues. “Beyond that, the glass is too dark to determine.”

As long as there is no meth, muggings, eye patches or monster trucks, something tells me Elliott and Battle Hymns will be just fine.

I guess we’ll see what happens. You never know in Tacoma (wink wink).

[The New Frontier Lounge, with Telekenisis, Saturday, Feb. 7, 9 p.m., $5, 301 E. 25th St., Tacoma, 253.572.4020]

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