If all musicians must contend with the "fine line between stupid and clever," those of the singer-songwriter sub-species have to deal with an even finer line between wrenching and retching. Especially when it pertains to that category of punk-bred artists who come out from behind the screams and crunchy riffage to bare their souls with an unplugged guitar and comparably low-key accompaniment. With the right hands, these indie troubadours can generate spine-chilling musical moments. And with the wrong hands, well, you get the kind of emotional vacuity and odious posturing found in your average Friendster profile.
Rocky Votolato is one of those guys who falls well on the right side of the line. As The Stranger, a weekly paper in his hometown of Seattle, so aptly put it, the 20-something singer understands "how to convey honest sentiment without embarrassing `himself` or the listening audience in the process." When alerted to this appraisal, the affable Votolato lets out a hearty laugh.
"You definitely want someone to be able to express themselves and move you with their art, but yeah, it can totally make you cringe sometimes," he says. "I guess for me it just kinda happens as it does and I'm not trying to force anything or communicate with any cliché bullshit. I'm lucky people don't think it's coming off as trite or cheesy."
The Get Up Kids with Recover, Rocky Votolato
7pm Monday, March 22 $16 Emo's 603 Red River, Austin 512-477-3667
Suicide Medicine, Votolato's third full-length solo album, travels down an alt.country road that wouldn't be unfamilar to fans of the Pernice Brothers, with well-built, uncluttered tunes constructed from clean, strummed six-strings, fine-spun guitar melodies, understated drumming, and occasional dollops of harmonica, organ, mandolin, and piano. Sometimes it's just Votolato and his acoustic guitar, though on songs like the title track and "Prison is Private Property," he attacks his instrument with the staccato zeal of a punk-rocker as much as he makes it weep, sensitive indie style.
Votolato has already logged thousands of interstate miles since Suicide Medicine came out, and shows no sign of letting up.
"I definitely think that touring is the best way to touch people and get them excited about what you do," he says. "The people who come up to me after shows, they seem really connected to what I'm about and that means everything to me, makes it all worthwhile. That's the kind of music I do and what I'm going for, I want people to really be affected by it. I'm not doing this just to be background entertainment in bars while people get drunk." •