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The Abigails bring more than fire and brimstone

Don't eat the flowers

Trip on SoCal psych-rock Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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Doing research about the Abigails is a fun tunnel to fall down. In interviews I found, frontman Warren Thomas is frequently, gleefully misleading when answering questions, when he's not actively making shit up about the history of the band. In our conversation, though, it was a relief to find him totally straightforward about his experiences, music and otherwise. I was especially relieved to learn something he's talked about in other interviews is totally true: his woefully wrongheaded decision to eat something called Hell's Bells.

"It's a flower that grows wild," says Thomas. "It probably has a longer and more scientific name, but you can just call it datura or Hell's Bells. ... Datura is totally psychotic. It's not fun; it's confusing. Sort of similar to if you've ever hallucinated from having an extremely high fever. It's like that times a million. If you could grasp anything, it's stuff like, ‘Am I ever going to come back from this? Am I handicapped?' Hell's Bells is pretty hardcore. You should probably stay away from it."

I won't go through the trouble to recount the entire story, which you can look up yourself, but let it be said that there were several lost hours, stumbling through backyards, nearly going blind and ending miraculously with Thomas finding himself at home, coming down in a drawn bath.

Why do I bring all of this up? The Abigails, and Thomas in particular, are fixtures in the Southern California psych-rock garage scene. Thomas has been a member of bands like the Growlers and the Grand Elegance, and fellow Abigail Kyle Mullarky has been in the Starlite Desperation - all bands that occupy a sort of LSD haze. Additionally, the Abigails are members of Burger Records, the epicenter of SoCal psych-rock.

But Thomas didn't giggle on acid; he ate a wild flower that took him on a terrifying psychotic trip. I think this highlights what separates the Abigails from a large portion of their contemporaries. The Abigails don't celebrate the '60s and '70s, but rather the age of outlaw country - the hard-drinking, hard-fighting, seriously wild and bleary-eyed arm of mid-century country music. These were men who were serious about destroying themselves, and unflinchingly dark and provocative in their music.

"I grew up on punk music," says Thomas. "I think that there's something to say about country music that kind of ties into that. I don't know how you'd explain it, really. There's this whole outlaw vibe that seems to tie into it. That kind of turned me onto it. ... It's nothing forced. I guess it just really appealed to me, and it came out in my songwriting. I didn't really put much thought into it."

When the Abigails are selling themselves, they like to describe their music as satanic country, which is fitting. The lyrical content of the Abigails largely concerns itself with matters of heaven (not so much) and hell (a whole heck of a lot). Tonally, there are echoes of the defunct Dutchess and the Duke but, while that group channeled the folk-rock dalliances of the Rolling Stones, the Abigails tend to sound like Nick Cave fronting one of those strange old fire-and-brimstone folk records you'll sometimes find in discount bins.

"I think that (Satan and hell) are really good metaphors if you're trying to get across some sort of hardship, or grief, or maybe lost love," says Thomas. "Hell's not a place of fire and a guy with a pitchfork, but more a personal place of utter loss. I'm not here worshipping the devil, or anything like that. I mean, whatever you're into, that's cool."

Of course, the Weekly Volcano does not recommend you try Hell's Bells. Of course we don't. But, I mean, if you did, you could do worse for a soundtrack than the Abigails.

THE ABIGAILS, w/ MILK, 8 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 21, The New Frontier Lounge, 301 E. 25th St., Tacoma, cover tba, 253.572.4020

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