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Western Star melds punk rock ethos, Americana songwriting

From the outside looking in, a midtour lineup change often is interpreted as a sign of sudden conflict within a band, especially when the split involves siblings.

That wasn’t the case in 2016 when bassist Nick Jeffers left Western Star, according to Max Jeffers, his older brother and singer-guitarist for the Baltimore-based rock band. 

“We were at South by Southwest,” Max recalls, “and Nick had some medical issues that ended up being the reason why he eventually left life on the road.

“It didn’t have anything to do with creative differences or brotherly rivalry,” Max adds. “It came down to a simple fact that it’s not healthy for him to be on the road up until 2 a.m., then up at 6 a.m. driving to the next town.

“It was not an easy change for either of us, but we both came out of it on the other side in a positive way.”

For Max Jeffers, that means carrying on without Nick: “We all wanted to continue on as Western Star, and I know he [wanted that for us], too.”

By fall 2016, Matt Milner was handling bass duties, and since spring 2017, he’s been “full-on” with Western Star, says Max, who has a long history with Milner.

“He was at our very first gig [in Towson, Maryland], unbeknownst to us,” Max says. “Then he saw us open for the Old 97’s back in 2015 and became a fan of ours. We did a couple of gigs with his band, The Golden Sombreros, and I had run into him and some [open-mike nights].”

Just as important as their familiarity with one another, Max and Milner hit it off from a stylistic standpoint.

“He’s a big alt-country and Replacements fan,” says Max. “We have a lot of common ground, and his ear was in the right spot. He had that punk rock ethos but was into Americana songwriting, and that’s where we saw the band going.”

Those influences are apparent throughout Any Way How, the second Western Star album, released in mid-November on Saustex Records. (Without being specific, Max says his brother “helped out” on a few tunes; the 10-track collection is dedicated to Nick.) The band recorded everything for the full-length within Charm City limits, working with producer J. Robbins of Jawbox fame at his Magpie Cage studio as well as tracking background vocals and pedal steel with engineer Garrett Long at The Watermelon Room.

“It’s a small but close-knit music scene,” Max says of Baltimore, his home since about 2012, the year before Western Star formed. “There aren’t a whole lot of bands or a whole lot of clubs, but it’s a little bit cheaper and more [screwed] up, so it’s little bit better for a rock ’n’ roll band, I think.”

— By Chris M. Junior

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