They’re a three-man acoustic group consisting of guitar, upright bass and mandolin, but they don’t just play traditional bluegrass music. They have fast-paced, shouting songs — but they’re not a rockabilly group, either. They have well-crafted, episodic songs — but they’re not a country band. Instead, they create an unusual blend of all of those genres and add a little of the alt-country movement’s rebelliousness to the mix. Call it American music, inspired by Johnny Cash and Bill Monroe.
On their debut album, Fly A Little Higher With The Tecumseh Flyers, they manage to visit just about every kind of acoustic style in existence. There are some funny songs (“Jesus Is A Harley Davidson,” “Corn Liquor”), some old-time rave-ups (“Cup Of Coffee”) and even some pop-influenced material (“Still in Love With You”).
That’s in keeping with the band’s wishes to never become predictable. “Our music has gone from bluegrass and folk to include a broader range of rockabilly, blues and even some straight-up acoustic rock,” says guitarist/vocalist Jason Hathaway. “And we’ve always managed to get along without a drummer.”
While the band thinks of its music as being steeped in the traditions of country music, they’re shy about saying so. “Sometimes you don’t want to say that you’re country music because there’s still a stigma attached to that in the mainstream world,” Hathaway says. “People think you do Travis Tritt covers if you say that.”
The band started about three years ago in Terre Haute, but Hathaway and mandolinist/vocalist Steve Guichelaar’s musical association began years before that after meeting at a party/jam session. “He was over in the corner playing Son House, and I was like, ‘Who’s that?’” Guichelaar said.
“We’d see each other hanging out at rockabilly shows and occasionally we’d get together and jam,” Hathaway said. “We started playing more bluegrass-style stuff at first and then gradually changed.” Their album is produced by Ralph Jeffers of the Punkin Holler Boys, the Indianapolis-based acoustic band whose members have become friends and mentors to the guys in the Flyers.
“Their music is something you might not get at first,” Hathaway says, “but after a while the lyrics start sticking in your head and you really begin to relate to the songs. They’ve been great friends to us and we’ve learned a lot from them.” The Boys have also taught the band to become more loose. “We get a kick out of taking something from another genre and doing it our way,” Hathaway says. “Kind of like Hayseed Dixie did with the AC/DC stuff. Usually, people respond favorably to that.”
The Flyers’ version of Skid Row’s “18 and Life” is a crowd-pleaser in that vein. While they try to flout conventional wisdom in their music — both Guichelaar and Hathaway run their acoustic instruments through several effects pedals, for example — they maintain the old-time authenticity by using an upright bass in their music.
Bassist Jamie Walter thinks the instrument gives their music a unique sound. “The upright bass also serves as a percussive instrument,” Walter says. “It’s the drums and the bass and it’s an exciting instrument. To me, it adds to the ambience of the band.”
“It has a different sound when you hit it,” Hathaway says. “An electric bass is loud and tapers off. An upright is soft and the sound comes back at you. Once you get it going in a great rockabilly song, between the clacking of the bass and the sound of the mandolin, it’s like a snare drum.”
The band has a strong fan base in Terre Haute, Hathaway and Guichelaar’s hometown, and has been playing shows at the Story Inn in Brown County, a place that inspired “Jesus Is a Harley Davidson.”
“We were playing there one Sunday afternoon and there were a lot of Harley riders there,” Guichelaar says. “We always joke around and say we’re going to play some gospel numbers for all the people who missed church that day. One day, I said, ‘I’m going to have to write a Harley Davidson gospel song for all of you guys one day.’”
A takeoff of the traditional gospel song “Freight Train,” which compares the force of God to a locomotive, the Flyers’ song instead uses Harley terminology — verified, for accuracy with hardcore Harley riders. For more information on the Tecumseh Flyers, visit www.tecumsehflyers.com.