Formed three years ago, Truckstop Coffee has established itself as one of the top twang-rock outfits in the area (the quartet hails from Lake Worth). Led by sandpaper-but-sweet vocalist Pete Stein, the band confidently alternates between rollicking whiskey songs and somber ballads.
Truckstop Coffee has one foot in country, another in rock
Knoxville Daily Times - July 19, 2007
By Steve Wildsmith
of The Daily Times Staff
You can’t really blame Pete Stein for embracing the Americana way of life, given his background.
He isn’t a bandwagon fan who thought it might be cool to throw in his lot with the Whiskeytown/Uncle Tupelo/Jayhawks crowd. He simply didn’t know, growing up in rural Virginia miles from the nearest record store, that alternative-country was the label that fit the songs he started writing in his teens.
“It’s a funny thing about groups like Lucero and the Drive-By Truckers,” Stein told The Daily Times this week. “Growing up on a farm, I wrote these country-ish rock songs that made me feel kind of silly, because I didn’t know there was such a thing as alternative-country. I honestly didn’t know much about those groups. So when we were putting a band together, I just kind of played what came naturally.”
The band he speaks of is Truckstop Coffee, performing Saturday at Manhattan’s Bistro and Bar in Knoxville’s Old City. With one foot rooted in country and another in rock and a sound that’s eerily reminiscent of Memphis alt-country act Lucero, the band wears the Americana mantle well.
Not that it’s an easy hat to wear, given the bar set by the aforementioned bands, Stein said.
“As we try and progress, it’s a hard row to hoe, because those guys have been out there and are lifers,” he said. “They’ve made a lifetime commitment out of it. What they’ve done, I don’t even think you could duplicate it if you tried.”
Damned if Truckstop Coffee isn’t giving it the old college try, however. The band — which now calls Lake Worth, Fla., home — came together when Stein met three other expatriates after life brought them all to South Florida. Guitarist Caleb James hails from outside Pittsburgh; bassist Nick Orow is from Michigan; and drummer Vanancio Portalatin grew up near Stone Mountain, Ga. Stein himself had been in a band in his teens, but it took the other three members to draw out the music he’d been working on since those days on a Virginia farm.
“I had some songs written, and we originally jammed out on those,” he said. “As it progressed, we started growing in different directions, trying to keep one foot in rock and one in country. A lot of our songs are about getting out of small towns to go see other towns, and that’s something we can all relate to.”
On “One Damn Thing to Redeem,” the band’s first full-length album (recorded, incidentally, with Michael Seaman at Jinx Productions in Knoxville), the guys straddle that line perfectly. Stein’s vocals evoke the cigarettes-and-whiskey coarsened range of some of alt-country’s finest (Jeff Tweedy after a couple of packs of Marlboros, for example, or Blue Mountain’s Cary Hudson), and the band draws on elements of honky-tonk, barroom balladry and highway-driving licks to weave a tapestry of Americana as worn as an old quilt stitched by a Southern grandmother — and just as comfortable as one, too.
The guys make no bones about wearing their influences on their sleeves, but the group does a fine job of taking those elements and making them their own. The key, Stein said, was in the members’ joint development as musicians.
“I met these guys, and we’ve all really grown together,” he said. “Whatever our sound is, we grew into it together, because none of us really had a sound before this band. I always had an ear for that mid-range guitar sound, which I liked when I first listened to Son Volt, and bands like that are definitely big influences on us.
“It’s been done before, but I see part of our charm as having that Uncle Tupelo thing — doing a rock song, and then throw back to more of a country song. We’re trying to be a live performance band, and we’re definitely in that category of do-it-yourself bands, and we’re just sort of making our way, looking to expand out of Florida and find ourselves some label and booking agent support.”
One Damn Thing to Redeem
Ninebullets.net April 4, 2007
Truckstop Coffee serves up a breed of alt.country/southern rock with songs about whiskey, women, heartache, and interstate highways. Their sound is probably best compared to fellow whiskey, women and heartache stalwarts Lucero or The Drive-by Truckers. Hailing from Lake Worth, FL, Truckstop Coffee is Pete Stein, Caleb James, Nick Orow and Venny Portalatin.
In December of 2006 they released thier debut LP (a 5 song EP was released in 2004), One Damn Thing to Redeem. Partially recorded in South Florida and part in Knoxville, Tennessee. The cd opens up with a barn burner and possibly the best track on the cd, Way Down South, which is followed by Pretty Lil’ Smile, a fantastic song that sounds like it could turn up on the next Lucero disc. The cd then downshifts and cranks up the pedal steel for Madison County a fond recollection of someone’s hometown. There are stories of lost farms, lost women, and memories made sweeter with whiskey. The cd closes with a track about something I am probably way too familiar with, Whiskey Shivers, a song about trying to get out of a town you’ve become to comfortable in. Whiskey Shivers also contains my favorite lines on the entire album:
Ain’t that the truth.
Although, I worry that the “whiskey soaked heartbroken miles on a midnight highway” sound might be so dominated that they may have a hard time getting noticed outside of the local market, but with over 100 shows under their belt, a gig as openers for Brooks and Dunn, and having earned the title “Best Country Band — 2005” by Florida’s Citylink Magazine would suggest otherwise.
New Times Magazine December 13, 2006
One Damn Thing to Redeem
Truckstop Coffee is a good enough live band — it's the reason the Palm Beach County quartet gets booked to play all those Honeycomb.com-sponsored street parties in West Palm. But even so, TSC through a live PA system isn't the same as TSC recorded. One Damn Thing to Redeem is easily the band's greatest accomplishment to date, and it exemplifies all that's right with studio recording: Every piano, fiddle, mandolin, and harmonica the band has added fits seamlessly into the mix, thanks to masterful knob-twiddling by Christopher Moll. And the songs themselves? There isn't a throwaway track on this disc. Guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter Pete Stein tears things up while carving out a sweet melody or two, starting with album opener "Way Down South," a scorching, Southern-rock-styled barnburner that wastes no time with polite introductions. Things slow down for a bit with the Replacements-like "Pretty Lil Smile" and the slide guitar-driven country of "Madison County." From there, it's an amalgam of uptempo romps and wispy ballads, ending with the soothing, introspective "Whiskey Shivers." Call it alt-country, Americana, roots-rock — whatever. It's good music, period, whether you're on the road to El Paso or on the subway to Manhattan. And if you're one of the first 100 to show up at Saturday's CD-release party, the album's free.
LIVE ON STAGE MAGAZINE
August 2006 Issue
ITS ALL ABOUT THE SONGS
By Audra Hodges
Click here to view article
Sun Sentinal - Showtime Section
Posted June 16 2006
Home Grown by Beth Feinstein-Bartl
Truckstop Coffee had a stormy start when the group formed in summer 2004. Rhythm guitarist and lead singer Pete Stein remembers their first gig, playing on the eve of an approaching hurricane.
"If it's possible to be called familiar and original at the same time, it would suit us just fine," Stein says. "I didn't even like country music growing up. Couldn't stand it. And I didn't know there was such a thing as alt-country, but a couple years ago someone told me about Uncle Tupelo and I listened to them. Wow. It was country music that wasn't poppy or sugary. It had meaning."
As does Truckstop Coffee, which shows that the "alt" in alt-country stems from roots in rock.
On a recent Thursday at Dada in Delray Beach, Stein, Smith, and bassist Nick Orow dressed in country plaids and denim, but played like demolition men on Stein's raucous Wrecking Ball. "So many good girls to choose from," he sang in the song's first verse, which led to the infectious chorus of "I want the wrong one tonight."
Rootsy elements of Wilco and Neil Young, Son Volt and the Ramones crept into the rollicking Midwestern Holiday, a tune describing the kind of working vacation this future touring act envisions.
Longer To Stay had the feel of the Rolling Stones' country-influenced tunes, and segued nicely into an uptempo cover of that band's Dead Flowers.
Smith bounced and twitched whether soloing or accompanying on the caffeinated Madison County, and trucker cap-clad drummer Sean Houlihan (who'll depart the band this summer) downshifted and sang backing vocals on the mid-tempo rocker Pretty Little Smile. To emphasize its country-rebel colors, TSC closed a set with Johnny Cash's energetic Folsom Prison Blues.
See Truckstop Coffee at 11 p.m. every other Thursday (June 9 and 23) at Dada, 52 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Phone: (561) 330-3232. The group also appears at 10 p.m. June 10 at the Red Lion Pub, 10114 S. Military Trail, Boynton Beach. Phone: (561) 737-0434).
On the Web: truckstopcoffee.com
An alt country twang rings through South Florida
Does anyone remember alternative country? It had those endearing nicknames like "insurgent country" and even the silly "y'alternative." It's not exactly gone, but it seems to have been forgotten.
Other than the fact that trends come and go, it's probably been lost from the radar because its main progenitors, Wilco, have abandoned its conventions for more adventurous plains. But for those who carry the torch of music rooted in a bygone era of traditional country and folk, it's still alive and well.
Believe it or not, in the glitz and sun of South Florida, there are musicians who twang a little. One such example is the newly-formed band Truck Stop Coffee. They are by no means country, but they do have a folk-rock sound reminiscent of Neil Young, Crazy Horse and other guitar-driven Americana music.
Singer Pete Stein has been a staple at Palm Beach County open mikes for several years. With a little help from father fate, he met creative partner Caleb Smith. Both are temping at the same office in Delray Beach. Actually, they work in neighboring cubicles.
"Caleb and I are the original two driving forces of the band," Stein said. "I have written most of the songs we are currently playing, but Caleb has a few in the works that are really gonna turn some heads."
Smith's song Raw Dog is a punk-inspired barn burner that gets friends and new recruits in the mood. "It's the hardest thing we play, and people scream for it at every show," Stein said.
Some artists in alternative country are urban converts. But Stein actually grew up on a farm in New York, far from any hipster revival of traditional country or folk.
"In 2002 I began playing out and meeting really cool people who turned me on to something called `alt country' and bands like Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Son Volt and Ryan Adams," he said. "Having grown up on a farm with hardly any radio reception, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. These guys would play straight-up country with pedal steel and fiddles on one track and then hit you hard with twangy, blues-based electric guitar riffs on the next.
"The first time I listened to Son Volt's Trace I felt this overwhelming sense of belonging and purpose."
Smith's story sounds like the bio you would expect from a band called Truck Stop Coffee. He grew up on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, where everyone's parents were steel mill workers.
"I spent a lot of time listening to the classic rock that all teenagers listen to at sometime in their adolescence ... Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Grateful Dead, Yardbirds and Jimi Hendrix."
Recent open mikes hosted by Stein were Smith's first real experience as a performer and songwriter.
Truck Stop Coffee's songs are about everyday experiences. "Heartbreak, hope, hitting the road for a new town, drinking, living hard, love," as Stein described them.
"It all sounds cliché," he said with a chuckle. "But people often experience the same emotions in their own way. I've always admired songwriting that touches on the familiar while providing something all together new and fresh."
The rhythm section has amicably parted ways, with newcomer Sean Houlihan behind the kit now and a bass player slot that remains unfilled. Like most people who make music in their 20s, they'd like to do some touring. But there are no grand schemes.
"Caleb and I want to hit the road really bad. Who knows if we'll ever `make it', but that's not the point," Stein said. "Right now the goal is to use music to give us a chance to go see a million little towns that we might never see."
Their hope is to say something thoughtful and insightful where many have treaded -- and failed -- before them. For every Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty, there are hundreds of bar band hacks singing about the perils of life on the road. Writing about loathing a lost love and drowning yourself in drink may be cliché. But, if it's done well -- like in the case of Truck Stop Coffee -- audiences will connect.
To learn more about Truck Stop Coffee go to www.truckstopcoffee.com. The band's next show is Wednesday at The Lounge, 517 Clematis St., West Palm Beach (561-655-9747).
Jason Knapfel's local scene appears the last Friday of the month in Showtime. Please send news to Local Scene, 2605 E. Atlantic Blvd. No. 212, Pompano Beach, FL 33062 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternative Plans, No tix needed for these shows
If you time it right, you can see three shows in one night this Friday. So if you're bummed out about the cancellations of the Le Tigre and Coheed & Cambria shows, hang tough. There are plenty of alternatives that'll more than make up for any spoiled plans.
The six bands performing Friday at Solid Sound Studios (4616 N. Powerline Rd., Pompano Beach) will help wipe away any emo tears you may be shedding. And they'll give you a good kick in the ass as well. The night starts at 6:30 with metal-tinged sets by Osiris Rising, Sense of Being, Filth Tree, Slapstick Remedy, Quixotik, and Dr. Gonzo's Bazooka Circus. It's good to get that aggression out early, before the alcohol takes over. Admission costs $7. Call 954-974-1466.
Of course, your tastes might not venture to the heavier side of rock, in which case you'd do better to join Truckstop Coffee and the Freakin' Hott for a night of alt-country and Americana-inspired rock 'n' roll at the Red Lion Pub (10114 S. Military Trl., Boynton Beach). While newcomers in name, Truckstop Coffee features Pete Stein and Caleb Smith, staples of the local singer/songwriter scene. Two great bands for the price of none (it's free!). The show starts at 9 p.m. Call 561-737-0434.
While you're on the alt-country kick, you might as well top off the evening by checking out the guy who was mixing blues and punk when you were still listening to Thriller -- Charlie Pickett. The Miami alt-country/blues rocker is joined by former bandmate John Salton and the Psycho Daisies for a midnight show Friday at Alligator Alley (1321 E. Commercial Blvd., Oakland Park). Call 954-771-2220.
Next time you plunk down half your paycheck for a Ticketmaster show, make sure you've got a backup plan as good as this one; we don't always learn of these cancellations before deadline. -- Jason Budjinski
newtimesbpb.com | originally published: December 2, 2004
The magic kingdom of Boca
When alt-country bands play a surf club in a strip mall, you know it's a small world after all.
by Dan Sweeney
February 23 2005
In a fine example of dramatic irony, Homer Simpson once called Tijuana, Mexico, "the happiest place on earth." It's a phrase I use often to describe Boca Raton, and for similar reasons. Tijuana, filled with beggars, shoddy merchandise and bad weed, is hardly the happiest place on earth. As for Boca, any place that glorifies the strip mall with a massive pink example of the building deserves its own place in hell. When you look at it properly, Mizner Park makes for a perfect description of the whole town -- a giant pink façade.
But for a while in the 1990s, Boca Raton actually registered a pulse, which was partially due to the efforts of Baby Robots singer-guitarist Bobby Baker, who founded the Ant Lunch Musick record label/starving-artist collective. But the whole group -- which included South Florida acts such as The Ex-Cretins, Mr. Entertainment and the Pookiesmackers and Wolfboy and the Fantods -- spun off in various directions after the centrifugal force of Baker fled to Austin, Texas, in 2002. Many of those bands are gone now, but when Baby Robots played a show at Club M a few weeks back, all the old boys crawled out of the dirt to be there.
Given the enthusiastic turnout, I had to find out if Boca still had life, which brought me to the Surf Café to catch Truckstop Coffee, Humbert and Two Story Double Wide. With the exception of Humbert, this was an alt-country show, and despite the fact that you don't hear much about the genre ever since Wilco went sideways and started getting all experimental, this gig showed that, at least locally, the style is as vital as ever.
Boca being what it is, the Surf Café is in a strip mall. With its TVs constantly tuned to footage of surfers riding colossal waves, its hula-girl beaded curtain and its other beachy accouterments, Surf Café seemed an odd fit for this type of music. But after Truckstop Coffee hit the stage and the bartender poured me a nosebleed shot -- half Jägermeister, half Goldschläger, for the uninitiated -- such thoughts quickly vanished. Truckstop Coffee seemed right at home.
Pete Stein has played rhythm guitar and sung lead for the band since it formed in October, and the Delray Beach-based group shows that there is life yet in southern Palm Beach County. The quartet revels in the rapid-fire, rockin' side of alt-country and ripped through four songs before Stein announced that the band's next piece was brand-new. The tune was its best of the night. For the final song of the set, lead guitarist Caleb Smith took over on vocals, sounding like a growling, drunken Mick Jagger.
After the set, I leaned against the bar as Stein walked over, shoving his trucker cap in his back pocket. I took a long pull on my beer as he went through his group's tragic history with Mother Nature: "Our first show got canceled because of the hurricanes. It seems like every time we play, there's a major weather event -- hurricane, cold front, whatever."
I finished off my beer and slid the bottle down the bar before commenting, "Yeah, it's cold out there tonight."
Stein nodded and said with a grin, "It never fails." Barring a natural disaster, the band's next show should take place Friday at Red Lion Pub in Boynton Beach.
The rest of our would-be conversation was cut short by the opening salvo of the Two Story Double Wide assault, which took no prisoners for the next hour. The band launched into a scorching, revved-up version of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and lead guitarist Andrew Rockwell did a manic jig that would make Ashlee Simpson proud.
Before following up "Circle" with the always-awesome "Fell in Love With a Lesbian," lead singer Matt Edrington wondered into the mike, "How many emo fans does it take to screw in a light bulb?" After a suitable pause, he answered, "None, they just sit around in the dark and cry about it." Now, that's funny.
Less amusing was the absence of Humbert when Two Story Double Wide finished its set. A miscommunication between the band and the promoter meant that the Hialeah-based act was an hour behind schedule. So the audience was treated to a sort of Truckstop Coffee/Two Story Double Wide all-star jam, including covers such as "Dead Flowers" by the Rolling Stones and "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash. It seemed a better fit, in any case.
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