Akimbo vocalist Jon Weisnewski’s gruff, bilious holler on disc and onstage is nowhere to be heard while we talk via cell phone as the band transverse Louisiana en route to Texas. Perhaps it’s because the reality of being on tour in a rock band is littered by constant and tiring contrasts. Sedate drives last for hours and hours, only to be punctuated by the routine of arrival, sound check, and, ultimately, an exhausting performance. And, for their part, Akimbo have seen their share of time in the van when not at home in the Seattle area practicing at least twice a week and playing a steady string of shows. The hard work has paid off, as Akimbo stand as one of Seattle’s premier heavy rock bands, with their rhythmically rugged and searingly precise instrumental approach.
Akimbo began with the partnership of Weisnewski and drummer Nat Damm. Friends and musical collaborators since high school, the two began exploring the edgy and fractious nature of hardcore punk in the late ’90s and early ’00s. After several years of playing locally, the group ultimately found the state of contemporary hardcore unsatisfying.
“When we first started, we always had an appreciation for classic rock, but we never listened to it actively,” says Weisnewski. “Then as we hit our 20s, we got a little bit tired of the current hardcore stuff and started listening to a lot more riff-intensive classic rock, definitely a lot of Sabbath, a lot of Led Zeppelin, and it was just sort of like how our music naturally came out… [Also] we kind of stopped caring about trying to do something new and trying to be the next band with a fresh sound or something. We’re just like, ‘Fuck it, we’re just going to do what we like, what sounds good to us!’”
Eventually anchored by guitarist Jared Burke Eglington, the group cut their first album, Harshing Your Mellow, which only hinted at the coming transition that would herald 2003’s Elephantine. Fusing West Coast hardcore’s intense, shambolic punk energy with the crushing riffology of ’70s rock, the group’s musical attack was noticeably more explosive. Throughout this time, Akimbo could be heard in a variety of contexts, as openers for touring headliners at local clubs, at packed all-ages shows at places like the Old Firehouse and the Vera Project, and in the most cramped DIY house shows.
Regardless of setting, the band’s appeal was readily apparent. “It’s kind of cool, because I think we’re a little transgenre,” explains Damm. “We can play metal shows and hardcore shows and rock-and-roll shows and punk shows, and I think that it’s good and it also gives you exposure to different demographics and you make more friends and you can get people to have a good time.”
Akimbo’s lack of pretension is at the root of their identity as a band. Less concerned with genre constraints and foggy notions of genius, they do what they do best and, more importantly, what they love. After years of putting out records and playing across the U.S. and Europe on tours booked DIY style, Akimbo issued their newest album, Forging Steel and Laying Stone, on Alternative Tentacles, a label curated by punk icon Jello Biafra. With such a solid foundation to build upon, Akimbo sound as if they’re returning to their roots, albeit with all the lumbering glory that they’ve perfected in the last couple of years.
“It’s sort of an obvious natural progression from the first three albums,” Weisnewski observes. “City of the Stars [Akimbo’s third album] was our most rock and laid-back and groovy record. But with this one, we were intentionally trying to get a little bit more of a crazy punk-rock vibe [that we had] in Harshing Your Mellow, [which was] the first album where I think we kind of mixed it pretty well.”
With an acidic sound and a work ethic that echoes My War–era Black Flag that they’ve developed after years of tireless refinement, Akimbo could rest on their laurels, but that seems against the trio’s nature. What is exciting is seeing yet another Seattle rock group rise from the basement to the cusp of national—albeit underground—prominence. For years, Seattle has had a distinctively daunting musical history, and powerful groups like Akimbo may be catalysts to return the city to its previous national firstname.lastname@example.org