Three years after forming, Poor Man's Change were in need of, well, a change. "Every person in a band at some point questions, 'Am I on the right track?'" says lead singer Rob "Red" Page. "'Do I have the tools to be successful?'"
For the blue-collar outfit, the sound of working-class rock has never been a put-on. Most of the band members make a living by getting up at 5 a.m. to bang nails on a construction site. His thick arms and legs smattered with tattoos, the redheaded Page sits with his band mates--including new guitarist Drew Michaels--during a reprieve from the working world. Bassist Andrew "Birdshot" Ballenger's boots are dirty from a day on the job. Inside their surprisingly frosty rehearsal space at Recess Studios in Santa Ana, the band run through plans for Saturday's set at the Wayfarer in honor of their forthcoming EP, Southwestern.
Though still eclectic in their influences, Poor Man's Change's identity is decidedly swinging more toward country and soulful, southern rock. Their previous album, Fire Water, was a scattershot of alt-rock, reggae, blues and acoustic singer/songwriter stuff. "We listened to the old album and said we wanted a fresh start," Ballenger says. "We love the old songs, but we . . . want to sound like we're progressing."
Signing to local label Hourglass Records provided them with the push they needed. After a chance meeting at the NAMM show in Anaheim, the band members met the Hourglass execs at their offices to see if the band would be a good fit for the budding label. Page took a guitar off the wall and strummed out a few country-sounding tunes on the spot. "Two songs in, the label execs left the room, and I thought, 'Hell, they're probably calling the cops,'" Page jokes. "But they cruised back and said they'd like to move forward."
Every song plucked from the pile for Southwestern seems to be swinging for the fences of modern country stardom. "CL Smooth" is a rockin' ode to Coors Light, the band's drink of choice, with an ice-cold, kickass bass line; "New Revolution" is a classic Springsteen, anti-establishment protest song with an extra slice of apple pie, a Ford truck and fireworks thrown in for good measure--or, as Ballenger puts it, "very American, very dick and balls."
You won't find much salty language on the new material, though. They've made it a point to cut out cursing from their lyrics (and sometimes have to get creative with their old material) so they can say their parents could actually listen to their music all the way through. "Even my girlfriend's grandpa comes to all our shows," drummer Cory Anderson says. "He's got our beer koozie, shirt and hat!"
Though they might've had their doubts about making a more definitive transition into country, Page says, he continues to see signs their efforts are paying off.
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"It's the little things, man: [seeing our] stickers on the back of cars, people coming up to us, saying, 'Thank you, this song really brought me through this time,'" Page says.
Poor Man's Change perform with Ted Z and the Wranglers and Jessica Meuse at the Wayfarer, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 764-0039; www.wayfarercm.com. Sat., 8 p.m. $5-$7. 21+.