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They call the sound "outlaw country." It comes off like a modern take on classic Hank Williams and Johnny Cash played by tattoo-sleeved graduates of punk and hardcore bands—cranked-up tempo, gritty, soaked in cheap beer.
It's not exactly the kind of sound you'd expect from two guys who met a few years ago at church and decided to start a band. Of course, when it comes to reflecting on the consequences of sinning, who better to sing about it than a pair of religious types? Meet Alex Coulter and Zach Mishler, the guitar-plucking front men of Angel and the Badman. They pen songs about hard drinkin' ("Blackout"), giving up hard drinkin' ("15 Days"), robbing banks ("The Robbery"), chasing the wrong women ("Tattooed Woman") and, for good measure, redemption ("Better Man").
"A lot of our songs are about our vices and things we struggle with," Coulter says. "We have a fair amount of songs that aren't based on vices, though, such as 'Homeward Bound,' which is about being stuck at sea and missing your loved one back home. . . . However, most of our songs are about drinking."
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Region: Costa Mesa
There's nothing wrong with drinking songs, especially for a band who play regular gigs at some of OC's classic juke-joint dives: 2J's Lounge in Fullerton and 2nd Floor in Huntington Beach. In places such as these, aggressively strummed cowboy chords, tobacco spit and slurred lines such as "Won't get no sleep till I'm passed out on the floor" tend to go over pretty well.
The band's moniker comes from the 1947 John Wayne film of the same name, in which the Duke plays notorious dueling gunman Quirt Evans, who collapses in the remote backcountry while on the lam and is nursed back to fighting form by a sweet Quaker girl. It's this type of good-evil dichotomy that Coulter and Mishler played up during their first gigs as a guitar duo.
"We liked that we could play off the whole 'Which one is the angel, and which one is the bad man?'" Coulter says. "We liked the idea that all of us have both inside of us, to some extent. . . . John Wayne is an outlaw who gets his life turned around by a woman who ends up saving him, and that's something we can relate to, especially with Zach's recent marriage."
For the band's first couple years, they were just a guitar duo—a dynamic that worked well right off the bat, Coulter says.
"It started as sort of just a jam between Zach and me. We were showing each other some songs we had written and talking about ideas. . . . Everything happened so easily and naturally," he says. "Our voices meshed well, so we ran with it. We played an open-mic night to see if it was interesting to people, and it was. So, we started writing songs together."
To fill out their sound, the duo recruited a pair of Musicians Institute grads: Willy Blesener on upright bass and backing vocals, and Ryan Morales on drums. And they enlisted fellow church pal David Sorenson to play banjo. Now they have hard-hitting jams to accompany their narratives.
While there currently isn't a set-in-stone release date for their debut EP, Coulter indicates it'll be out "real soon." Until then, there are plenty of opportunities to catch these guys at a hard-drinkin' dive near you.
This column appeared in print as "Saintly Devils."