Restless on their Laurels: Bisbee rock group The Exbats have been hitting the used vinyl section

It’s been a healthy diet of dad rock for this father-daughter band from Bisbee, but neither are complaining. The band says their new album, Now Where Were We, is the largest music jump they’ve made, with influences including the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, and the Partridge Family—yet it remains energetic, rebellious, and very much The Exbats.

The new album’s sound is partially a result of being trapped at home during the pandemic and listening to a lot of music from the ’60s. The Exbats’ earlier music is closer to punk, with outright aggression and distortion. But Now Where Were We opens with an acoustic guitar, and features breezy, uplifting songs throughout. 

“I love our first couple records, but we have changed. We used to be more interested in sounding like the Velvet Underground, and now we’ve gone back before that,” said guitarist and vocalist Kenny McClain. “We’re now more oriented toward harmonies. Before we’d sing in unison, but we didn’t parse it out to have harmonic singing.” 

Kenny estimates the album was recorded across 30 or so Saturdays at Midtown Island Studio in Tucson. Kenny and his daughter Inez (who sings lead vocals and plays drums in the band) would drive the 90 minutes from Bisbee up to Tucson, listening back to their own music plus a mix of ’60s classics. Inez now admits she’s a little obsessed with Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson. 

“The song ‘Hey New Zealand’ is completely a response to the 1960s Laurel Canyon, California, sound,” Inez said. “Which is ironic because the song is all about wanting to move to New Zealand.” 

The blend of styles is clear: the songs feature interlacing vocal lines, a brighter sound and a subtly psychedelic palette. However, they still include a healthy dose of attitude and decry modern woes: the changing music industry, climate change, self-doubt. Yet these are all presented with playful delivery. On “Hey New Zealand,” Inez outright sings “I’m not feeling California dreamin’.”

“As much as we have these influences and we love to talk about our favorite bands, when we get to doing our stuff, it just ends up being us,” Kenny said. “They do influence us, but we’re never trying to copy anybody.” 

Another big change for the band: For the first time, they are no longer just a father-daughter duo. The Exbats’ longtime producer Matt Rendon has joined on as an additional guitarist, and Bobby Carlson joined playing bass. 

In addition to more personnel, the album features more diverse instrumentals than their previous projects thanks to Kenny’s frequent piano playing during COVID downtime. Not only piano, but harpsichord and synthesizers appear on the album as well. 

“Writing on the piano gives you a lot more of an opportunity to work with minor chords and different chord progressions,” Kenny said. “So having the extra time at home meant there was more time to play on the piano, and now there’s different twists and turns in our music that had never appeared before.” 

However, the new instrumentals and sounds were not initially accepted by Inez. This caused a bit of friction reminiscent of the headbutting in classic rock bands. 

“In the beginning of writing this album, I was irritated with Dad—I was probably just irritated in general—and I couldn’t stand that he was writing everything on piano,” Inez said. “It was a pretty hard shift, and I didn’t understand where he was coming from with it. It felt like he was trying to be Elton John with the piano. But a while later, after I got into the Beach Boys, I realized he wasn’t doing Elton John, he was doing Brian Wilson, and if anything I didn’t want to be his Mike Love, so I had to apologize.”

The more diverse influences and sound palette make Now Where Were We The Exbats’ most ambitious record so far. (Although that might not always be the case as Kenny says they are already working on a new album.) Thanks to Rendon’s production and The Exbats’  artistic growth—Inez is no longer 10 like when the band was first thought up—Now Where Were We is the band’s most enjoyable and fully realized record. 

“We’re doing our best to have an analog style, but keep it about our modern lives. It’s the point of view that we start from,” Kenny said. “Even though we listen to the Beach Boys, we wouldn’t write a surfing song.” 

Full of “coming-of-age/smartass stories,” the album concludes with a humorous ballad about stealing from church, aptly titled “I Don’t Trust Myself Around Jesus.” The cheeky blend of country rock and gospel proves the band is still as subversive as their punk roots, and hasn’t completely lost themselves to a more conservative music style. 

“The album’s a little more contemporary,” Kenny said. “And by contemporary, I mean 1965.” 

The Exbats

Now Where Were We, released Oct. 22 via Goner Records

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