Outside Lone Pine Coffee Roasters, two grown men are playing with a bullwhip. After every crack of the leather echoes through the chalked-up bricks of Tin Pan Alley, the guys laugh. I figure these bearded guys are living out a late-in-life Indiana Jones fixation, and I have no problem with this. But it turns out these two guys are James Adams and Bernie Diveley, the songwriter and drummer, respectively, of one of Bend's most intriguing new bands, The Rural Demons.
We head inside where guitarist Casey Corcoran is waiting on a cup of coffee and backup singer Moss (no last name - "It's just Moss," she insists) is knitting a "took," which is what she calls a beanie because she's Canadian. Back behind the counter of the shop, Kaycee Anseth, also a singer in the band, prepares said coffee. But all talk quickly turns to the bullwhip. There are plenty of questions - namely: why the hell would two grown men and members of an act that's tough to describe, but the band calls "roots music with an apocalyptic spin," be so fixated on this whip?
"It's for a song. That's why we need to get really good at it," says Adams, who had just picked up the whip at nearby Cowgirl Cash earlier in the day and is very much still in a honeymoon period with this tool/weapon-turned-musical-instrument.
The whip is soon put away and we begin talking about the band's transformative 2011 that saw the band (which is currently six members strong but has been comprised of as many as nine people at times) transform from a loose-knit collective that served almost as a house band at The Horned Hand to a constantly gigging act that's looking to lay down a new album in the near future.
Just a couple of weeks ago, The Rural Demons played an enigmatic, loud and ultimately impressive set at the Church of Neil concert, having sped across town from a show at the Silver Moon to make it onto the stage in time. Their sound was big, haunting and proof of a band that had created its own dark take on old-timey country music. The echo-laden, emotionally drenched style The Rural Demons purvey originated in the mind of Adams and was something he was eventually able to replicate, but only after getting creative.
"My family had a 300-gallon water tank and one day I stuck my head in there and sang," says Adams, 32, who recorded songs with this booming aesthetic in Morgan Hill, Calif. Many of those cuts eventually found their way into the Rural Demons' live catalog and will appear on a forthcoming EP, tentatively titled The Old Bog Myrtle.
"I remember wanting to express something simple, but that could also be complex," Adams says of his time writing the band's first few songs.
Adams spent his youth between Northern California and Bend where he met Corcoran and the two played in what they called "horrendous punk bands" during their junior high years. Adams eventually found himself living in Tulsa, Okla., and attending a small bible college with the intention of becoming a youth minister. He would eventually make his way back to Tulsa after stints in other cities, but had left religion far behind at that point. Still, he and other members of the Rural Demons say that they've been heavily influenced by gospel music.
"All of us cut our teeth playing church music," says Corcoran.
The gospel influence is prevalent in the band's sound, but Corcoran and Adams don't want to get too much into any bands they might have gleaned some pointers from. Rather, Corcoran explains how much of what this band does has happened almost by happenstance, including the way in which members like Dively and Moss started as fans of the band before eventually becoming members. And it's at this point when things turn philosophical.
"I think if you listen to this, there are spirits of bands that have done stuff we like, but if we try to force it, it won't come as naturally. We have to let the muses speak. It has a very alchemical feel," says Corcoran, as the rest of the assembled band members nod in agreement.
Meanwhile, the bullwhip sits coiled up and hanging from a nearby chair. And it's pretty damn likely that these guys can't wait to get back out there and crack this thing a few more times.
The Rural Demons, Briertone
8pm Saturday, December 5. The Horned Hand, 507 NW Colorado Ave. $5.