Three students at USC bonded last spring over their love for songwriting, and today their band is one of the most ambitious new acts in the LA Americana scene. Their social media shows they’ve been active for only about ten months, yet they have already put out a full-length record. I can’t be the only one awestruck at their efficiency. They call themselves Bannack, and the talent on display in their well-crafted Compendium LP suggests they’ll be around for quite a while longer.
The group takes its name from a ghost town in rural Montana, once connected to civilization only by the Montana Trail during the gold rush. “We liked the idea of giving new life to a place that was probably otherwise unreferenced in popular culture,” Benny Friedman told The Daily Trojan. The town’s legacy is Bannack Days, where on the third weekend in July, people re-enact the lives of miners and townsfolk as if it were still boom times. For all intents and purposes, the band makes it Bannack Days everyday, celebrating life and love through new Americana stylings.
Compendium certainly lives up to its name, as a collection of distinct personalities coalesced into a single project. While there is a great deal connecting these tracks, each song stands tall on its own. The tone of their songwriting varies wildly, but they manage to put together a relatable record reflecting on bittersweet memories in “Yellowstone” and exploring new possibilities in “Get Me Lost.” Their first single, “Slip,” features group harmonies and foot-stomping percussion, making it a good change of tone from the preceding track “Love & Oil,” which has more menacing undertones. Aside from the “Scars” trilogy, their most impressive songwriting feat comes on “The Valley,” with a minute-long outro that encompasses everything you could want out of Americana.
Like any great record bridging the gap of folk and bluegrass, guitars take mainstage, but they also are unafraid to expand their group as necessary to put their own stamp on the genre. Bannack is officially the trio of Friedman, Anna Scholfield, and Jamison Baken, but they pulled in several others to help build out their sound in the studio, including drummer Clayton Sewelson, an extra guitarist Harry Zec, and a whopping four bass players (Alexina Boudreaux, Nicholas Eisenhauer, Randon Davitt, and Joe Zec). “Friedman wrote some of our catchiest songs,” while Scholfield focused more on lyrics and harmonies, and Baken helmed the board as engineer and producer. They manage to complement each other in just the right ways, creating harmonies so beautiful, they will single-handedly usher in Bannack’s next era of prosperity.
words: Zoë Elaine