Lucas Alberg, front man for the The Beautiful Train Wrecks, is a renaissance man.
The lanky 33-year-old Bend resident brews beer, builds hip websites and collects cool art. He also runs sub-three hour marathons, plays guitar and writes songs—good ones.In 2007, Alberg, then in Portland, formed a roots rock band and named it The Beautiful Train Wrecks. They put out an 11-track album, Rainy Day Parade, which received lots of positive reviews, and the band booked shows all over the Rose City, including at the Doug Fir.
Then in 2011, they did what most bands do. They broke up.
Alberg focused his energies elsewhere. With degrees in journalism and psychology already under his belt, Alberg went back to school for web design. He played music at home, went on adventures with his girlfriend Rae (they’re now engaged), tried new beer recipes, conceptualized interesting homepages and went on long runs.
Lucky for us, Alberg, now the marketing manager at Hydro Flask, decided to give gigging another go. He gathered up former BTW guitarist Jeff Koch and the two put together a new band, but one that would play under the familiar BTW name. Once sharp, they raised the roughly $2,000 they needed to make an album from Kickstarter, a fundraising platform. Then, the four-piece band went to Portland’s 8 Ball Studios and laid down a kick-ass five-track album called In the Midnight Blue that officially drops on May 29.
The album retains that alt-country tinge that so endeared BTW to critics in the first place, but the songs are darker this time around. And lest you take the lyrics too literally, Alberg said the songs aren’t autobiographical.
He’s never held a warm gun, confronted a killer (in his parents’ house or otherwise) or lost his mind.
What he has done, however, is create a driving alt-country album that mixes grim tales with high energy, up-tempo rock.
“I am a pretty happy guy. I don’t think it [the dark music] is reflective of me or the band. And it’s funny, we’re a really happy group when we play live,” Alberg said in a recent interview.
Like most memorable songwriters, Alberg is a fine storyteller and, in the tradition of bands like Wilco and even The Band, he weaves tales of tragedy and sorrow into his songs in such a way that the lyrics stick with you.
“Blood on Walls,” for example, is a gory song about a dude who comes home to find his parents murdered and the killer still in the house. The lyrics are layered over the hard drumming of Tony Howard and Amanda Breese’s heavy bass lines.
Despite the song’s wonderful gothic-country feel, the “country” or, more specifically, the “alt-country” moniker is one that Alberg was trying to shed.
“One thing we wanted to do was not put out such a country album,” Alberg said. “We got pigeon-holed in that [alt-country] genre, and so many people don’t understand what that is.”
While based in Portland, the band would sometimes get overlooked as booking agents incorrectly assumed that BTW was a country band. Alberg had to correct more than one agent.
Maybe BTW were ahead of their time the first time around, but abandoning the alt-country sound altogether would be a damn shame. It’s a good part of where Alberg’s roots lie. Born and reared in Kansas and with a penchant for hard-luck stories of the dust bowl era, Alberg almost can’t help adding a down-home feel to his songs. His low voice combined with Koch’s lonesome guitar lines walk the edge of alt-country, and BTW should embrace that rather than shy away from it.
Like other bands in the genre (Wilco, Drive-by Truckers), BTW puts on a hell of a live show. Their ability to connect with an audience and feed off their collective energy is undeniable. Having long since given up on being the next Jeff Tweedy, Alberg and company are content playing Northwest shows and enjoying the other aspects of life—like running and beer making.
“My dreams of being a well-paid rockstar are over and done with. Obviously, if it turned into something more…,” Alberg trailed off. “But there’s nothing better than the energy of the band, with the crowd. The ultimate goal is to have fun while making and playing good music.”
The Beautiful Train Wrecks, album release party
with Boxcar String Band and Third Seven
$6. 8pm, Saturday, May 26
The Horned Hand, 507 NW Colorado Ave.
Spotify these tracks:
“Eliza,” “California,” “Country Boy,” “Cocaine Woman”