Love finds a way through primitive garage rock


Joshua Johnson and Lindsey Sprague of Wahyas are also a couple. (photo by Ethan Green)

by Jordan Green

The date is etched into his memory: Nov. 30, 2013.

An itinerant musician performing for a spell as the one-man band Pinche Gringo, Joshua Johnson had long ago switched from guitar to drums, and had been playing with a Charlotte garage-punk band. He landed in Greensboro with nothing but “a drum set and a suitcase of clothes,” as he put it.

“It was the end of a Paint Fumes tour and I had nowhere to go,” Johnson recalls. “I ran into this lovely lady. I woke up the next morning surrounded by scrambled eggs.”

Lindsey Sprague, the woman in question, noted that the eggs had been cooked by Lauren Holt, her former bandmate in the now defunct girl group Daddy Issues.

Sprague and Johnson began playing music and writing songs together almost from the outset of their relationship. The band they formed, Wahyas, reflects their shared love of stripped-down, lo-fi garage rock and roll. As the lead guitarist in Daddy Issues, Sprague relished the opportunity to learn to play drums for Wahyas, while Johnson got to scratch the itch as a guitarist once more.

“I haven’t played guitar in forever,” Johnson said, as the couple shared tequila shots and PBRs after a Valentine’s eve set at Krankies Coffee in Winston-Salem. “It’s cool to play out of your comfort zone.”

For her part, Sprague found playing drums to be liberating.

“It’s a more pure feeling,” she said. “It’s not as technical as guitar. I don’t have to worry about hitting the right notes.”

Hunched over his guitar during Wahyas set opening for the Tills, Johnson bashed out a loud, raw groove on his guitar stripped of flashy solos or processed manipulation, with vocals that were simultaneously agitated and laconic, as Sprague pounded out a primal rhythm, standing upright and striking a hi-tom and snare.

“Third Eye,” a highlight of the show, matched sweaty desire with psychedelic warp, representing a calling card of sorts for the band.

“Won’t you take me to the coast,” Johnson deadpanned with a rising undercurrent of excitement. “Drink tequila and f*** a ghost/ Stay up all night, yeah ’til the sun/ And I just want to, girl, make you cum.”

Sprague reciprocated with winsome, ’60s girl-group vocals that complemented Johnson’s primitive instrument: “Heartache, it’s what you give/ You don’t tell me how to live/ Heartache when you lie/ Because you open my third eye.”

It’s one of a pair of songs recorded at Legitimate Business in Greensboro in October 2014 that were released earlier this month in a limited-edition split production with Sprague and Johnson’s Shipwrecked Recs and Six Tonnes De Chair Records in France.

After schlepping their gear off the stage and repairing to the bar for drinks, the couple looked forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day. They had booked a hotel room in Winston-Salem so they wouldn’t have to drive back to Greensboro, and planned to get brunch in the morning.

The Tills, an impossibly catchy garage-punk band whose members are split between Asheville and New York City, had just wrapped a recording session at Fidelitorium Recordings in Kernersville. With their last show two months behind them and eager to hit the stage again after their session with Rebecca Mueller, aka Missy Thangs, they came on with a vengeance.

They got started with a pair of songs from their 2014 “Howlin’” 7-inch, released on Winston-Salem indie-rock impresario Philip Pledger’s Phuzz Records. In contrast to Wahyas’ minimalism, the Tills painted from a broader palette, with the Ramones-eque power pop matched with Replacements-like heartworn but manic vocals displaying only a sliver of their range. The band’s prolific output includes two full-lengths’ worth of material (Mixtape Vol. 1 and Mixtape Vol. 2, the former of which is posted on Bandcamp), but their forthcoming album scheduled for release this summer will be their first proper album.

Tills credit Ethan Green
The Tills (photo by Ethan Green)

While the Tills’ appearances at Phuzz Phest in Winston-Salem over the past two years have drawn enthusiastic crowds, the handful of songs they performed from their forthcoming album revealed a new level of focus and stylistic breadth, from catchy vocals set to scrappy garage rock to synchronized, rapid-fire drumming and guitar playing with quick chord changes that hinted at the power and thrust of early ’70s Alice Cooper.

Guitarist Harry Harrison and drummer Marty Martier, traded vocals on many of the songs, acting as a foil for one another. Dressed in a red, satin Cheerwine jacket with a short moptop, Harrison’s playing was all manic uptightness to Martier’s muppet-like looseness. The comparatively stoic lead guitarist Jesse Meyers and bassist Tom Peters, who also contribute vocals, provided crucial ballast to the performance.

Just before the Tills’ last number, replete with Meyers’ turning his instrument towards his amp to draw out a squall of feedback and Harrison leaping off the bass drum, Martier paid a holiday-appropriate tribute to Wahyas.

“That first band that opened for us was Valentines Day to me,” he said. “Stripped-down rock and roll. I love it. I mean, they’re all love songs to me.”