It's early on a Thursday evening inside a blue-roofed Charlotte warehouse on North Davidson Street. Outside, a pop-up rain shower has finished its assault on the sun-blasted asphalt, and an urban fog is rising from the road. Inside, amidst a honeycomb of practice spaces, Joint D≠ (pronounced "Joint Damage") is ready to rehearse. Like the frying-pan pavement and the cooling rain, the garage-punk trio is a pleasantly disorienting by-product of opposing forces.
Drummer Michael Houseman's concussive avalanche descends upon bassist Thomas Berkau, who dodges to and fro amidst the onslaught, his sinewy progressions lending traction to Houseman's momentum. Guitarist Nick Goode tears through with vicious riffs that unleash themselves in powerful gusts, carrying the group's torrid rhythms to kinetic conclusions. Goode's feral bark struggles to be heard amidst the clamor, his vocal fury heightened by the effort. At times, Joint D≠'s players crash in contrasting directions, but the effect is always unified, a thundering force that maintains more energy than most bands reach at their boiling points.
As a punk rock outfit, the trio has little in common with its Charlotte-based peers. And yet, the band's prowess is an anomaly that has everything to do with the conditions in their hometown.
"All the weird things that go into the sound are things that it would be cool to have a band that could play shows who do those things," Goode says.
In other words, the absence of another band like Joint D≠ is one of the chief reasons the trio sounds the way it does. The group's influences are such that few bands would be aware of them in the first place.
Sure, Joint D≠'s heft harkens to hallmarks like Hawkwind, but the group's tenacity is sourced from obscure Americans (Void) and Europeans (Totalitär) who rarely show up in record collections on this side of the pond. With a wealth of interests that no one around the band was pursuing, Joint D≠ fused a disparate palette into a uniquely powerful whole.
"You're filling a void," Goode continues. "It's easy to branch out in a lot of ways if you don't feel like there are bands that are doing this stuff. You don't feel pressure to narrow your style or anything."
Gathered up for a quick run-through before a gig in Columbia, S.C., the members' apparel match their contrasting contributions and backgrounds. Goode covers greasy hair with a thick navy toboggan despite the summer heat, matching his headgear with a steely gray button down and darkly dyed skinny jeans. He's a linchpin in the area punk scene who also plays in such bands as Logic Problem and Brain F≠. (The similar names are no coincidence, the parallel structure a nod to the dominant guitar sound that Goode brings to both bands.)
Berkau, a veteran of Yardwork's explosive posi-pop, sports a ratty Brain F≠ T-shirt that clashes wonderfully with his blue khaki shorts and boat shoes.
Houseman pairs his crisp orange Tee with blue Chucks and knee-high white socks with matching blue-and-orange stripes. A key cog in Great Architect's avant-jazz explorations, he looks every bit the genre-bridging hipster that he is.
"You can't think about it too much," Houseman says of the divergent histories that influence Joint D≠'s sound. The band started in late 2009 when Goode and Berkau began running through ideas on their own. Realizing their limitations behind the kit, they recruited Houseman and played their first show in the spring of 2010. Despite varied backgrounds, they insist that their music is a spontaneous expression of shared influence.
"The second you start dissecting it, the less natural it feels," Houseman says. "That's the joy of playing in this band. We'll try things, like Nick will come in with a riff, and we just sort of mess around and see what it feels like. Maybe I'll change the drum beat to this way or that way, but generally, the first go at it is typically what your natural instinct would be. And it's usually right."
The trio's unfussed approach is key to the elemental intensity of its ironically titled LP, Strike Gently. The 11 songs tumble along with unrelenting force, condensing an onslaught of exhilarating rage into 24 smash-mouth minutes. The music moves with a quickness that resembles Brain F≠. But while Goode's other band grabs you with its engrossing vocal interplay, Joint D≠ gets its hooks from the high-impact tension of the guitarist's searing riffs. For instance, "(I'm) Haunted" has a cameo caterwaul from Brain F≠'s Elise Anderson, but what sticks most are the taut tones Goode unleashes in the cataclysmic bridge.
"I feel like we're really starting to develop more of an original sound," Houseman says. The band's live run-throughs back up his claim as the members heighten the instrumental complexity with unexpected fills and counterpoint melodies.
"When we started we would write something, and we wouldn't talk about it too much, but when we were done we'd be like, 'Oh man, this totally sounds like a Void song or whatever.' Now, it doesn't sound like anything. It sounds like us."
It's taken Joint D≠ two years to unite disparate influences into a unified force, a pursuit the trio says could only have been completed in Charlotte. With a minimal number of all-ages venues, the Queen City lacks the youthful punk scene of a town like Raleigh. In its place is a support structure of musicians who didn't pursue music until their 20s, and since most of them explored a great deal of music before they started playing out, they're open to a wide array of sounds. The result is a richly interwoven scene where stylistically varied acts embrace each others' strengths.
"It's very important to embrace this weird connectivity that we have," Goode says. "I wouldn't say that we're actively trying to cultivate what it is, but it just happens by the fact that we all come from different backgrounds and drew different people when we started. It's important to retain that. But that goes hand-in-hand with the fact that we wouldn't change our ideals from when we started."
Joint D≠ didn't create its scene, but the group is certainly one of its leaders. The band has made inroads in neighboring cities like Raleigh and Columbia, spreading the word about Charlotte's bustling punk scene wherever they go. Goode frequently books shows in town, inviting bands that wouldn't otherwise play here and booking them at his house if he can't find a venue. For Joint D≠, it's not so much about giving back to the community as it is simply taking part, sharing the group's energy and encouraging others to do the same.
"When we bring bands to town, we want people to be able to know that this is going to be some good shit," Goode says. "We're not going to invite Casualties' ska-punk and be like, 'Why aren't you guys into this?' We're going to bring something that rules. It's going to be disparate, and it's going to be interesting. It's very important — to me at least — that you uphold that."
Joint D≠ with Milk Youth, Infinite Void, One Another. $5. Aug. 12. Snug Harbor. www.snugrock.com.