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The Apple-Bottom Gang ‘trying to put the western back into country western music’

Columbus country western band The Apple-Bottom Gang performs.  Credit:  Courtesy of Bortmasphoto

Columbus country western band The Apple-Bottom Gang performs.
Credit: Courtesy of Bortmasphoto

In an attempt to shine light on local music, The Lantern“Columbus’ Own” is a weekly series that will profile a new Columbus band every week. 

The Apple-Bottom Gang is setting out to solve a problem. For the country western band, that problem lies in today’s most popular country music.

“There is not a lot of country in today’s country music,” said Ian Hummel, the lead vocalist and founder of The Apple-Bottom Gang. “They don’t have a lot of that soul that country music used to have. It’s pop music with fiddles and banjos thrown into the mix. We’re trying to put the western back into country western music.”

Mike Scamfer, otherwise known as “Steamboat Curly Bill,” the bass player in the group, echoed his bandmate’s sentiments.

“I wouldn’t even call myself a true country musician,” Scamfer said. “But, I can tell you that whatever they’re playing on the radio sounds to me more like pop music than country music.”

Hummel, who grew up listening to Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and George Jones, among other country music artists, said he saw the void of “real” country and sought to fill it — creating The Apple-Bottom Gang about four years ago.

“I wanted to remember the country, the old stuff, that I grew up with,” Hummel said. “I wanted to write new, old-sounding country songs. I put together The Apple-Bottom Gang with some old friends and some new friends and now it’s been about four years.”

Hummel said recreating an older sound is all about the feeling, not only of the songs themselves, but of the artists as well.

“It’s a matter of your mindset,” Hummel said. “Try to be true to the songs you cover and new songs you write and try to be true to the feel of the old stuff as well. It’s all about having fun with it, the idea is that you want to have as much fun with it as possible.”

To help formulate this older vibe, Hummel and his bandmates thought of nicknames for one another that invoke memories of old country western films. From “Cooter Houston” to “Stinky Fingers,” the names, Hummel said, are all part of the way the band continually tries to cultivate its image.

“Most musicians are kind of characters. They have a different mindset,” Hummel said. “I thought for this band, we could have some fun and have some old country-sounding names and give them a character to play off of.”

While their names might be fake, the relationships between the members of the group are not. Playing together for nearly four years, The Apple-Bottom Gang is a tight-knit group of musicians, Hummel said.

“I love them all,” Hummel said. “They’re all characters. We have just as great a time practicing as we do playing. It’s great getting together with them.”

While the group has worked together for years, the members are getting used to something new, Scamfer said. In December, The Apple-Bottom Gang signed with a new record label, Mingo Town Music.

John Joseph, founder of Mingo Town Music, said he signed The Apple-Bottom Gang to his label not only because of its talent as a group, but because he loved hanging around and playing with the band.

“My goal was to try to create a community where I liked the people as well their music,” Joseph said. “I’m looking for a certain quality of character, and The Apple-Bottom Gang definitely fit that bill. I don’t think they take themselves as serious as other artists do. I think they’re fun, first and foremost.”

With the new label propelling them, The Apple-Bottom Gang is working on a feature-length album, but it’s taking them much longer than expected.

Scamfer said the delayed release is a result of an ever-progressing and changing sound.

“We started recording the album over a year ago when we felt like we were clicking on all cylinders,” Scamfer said. “Since then, however, our sound has progressed so much that it’s taking us longer to do it.”

For now, Scamfer said the group hopes to release the album by the end of 2014, but there is no official release date set.

In the meantime, The Apple-Bottom Gang is looking forward to a couple of gigs at the end of the month. The first is at Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza in Worthington Feb. 28.

“At a place like Natalie’s, you want to make sure you get it right,” Scamfer said. “It’s our favorite place to play, so that gig will be really fun.”

The group’s next performance is the night after at Cash Only — a Johnny Cash tribute show benefitting local children’s charities that is set to be hosted by Hummel and his friend Zachariah Whitney, who together make up another group named Me and Lil’ Brother.

“It’s going to be an amazing show,” Hummel said. “There’s 10 bands in the lineup and everybody plays nothing but Johnny Cash songs. No song is played twice. They’re all amazing bands. There’s not a bad one in the bunch.”

While the group is enthusiastic about the two shows, after that, it’s all about the album.

“After we get these next two gigs out of the way, we’re going to be solely working on the album,” Scamfer said. “We’re going to be writing new material and polishing and getting songs out of the way.”

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