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by John Adamian

Heavy Drag, from Miami, play psych grunge on their forthcoming full-length debut

@johnradamian

Florida is not like other places.

There’s the heat, the snowbirds, the sinkholes, the whole peninsular situation. People and trends gather and swirl down there, sometimes seeming to exist independent of, or in contrary motion to, the larger currents in the rest of the U.S. It’s like a cultural eddy. Or it can seem that way. The Miami band Heavy Drag has elements of that trapped-in-amber counter-intuitive vibe, sounding like a distorted echo from other decades — the early ’70s or the ’90s. And yet their heavy-slow mix of psychedelic grunge makes its own sense. The band plays The Garage in Winston-Salem on Friday, July 15.

Heavy Drag’s debut full-length, Sábana Ghost, comes out later this month on Limited Fanfare Records. It’s a narcotized but forceful mix of trippy, swampy music, with plodding bass and drum patterns offset with bright surf-ish guitar lines, and layers of dreamy, effects-saturated vocals. The members of Heavy Drag obviously worship at the altar of Black Sabbath, with distorted vapor-cloud guitar sounds, and the connection to contemporary bands like Dead Meadow and Wooden Shjips can be heard in the taste for a particular kind of overdriven fuzz and sonic fog.

I spoke with drummer Andres Bedoya by phone from somewhere in the Panhandle of Florida as the band was making its way from the Sunshine State to points farther north. Having Miami as Heavy Drag’s home base means the band has to hop in the van for practically eight hours just to get to the next state. And the temperature is something one can’t escape.

“We all love the heat,” says Bedoya. “We know how to live the Miami life, but it’s definitely different.”

America is, of course, a melting pot, but Florida might be its own extra-molten melting pot. The band’s particular ethnic blend — with members that have a mix of Colombian, Chilean, Chinese, Swedish and other backgrounds — suggests as much.

Heavy Drag formed from the ashes of another band. When the singer of Little Daggers, which included all of the members of Heavy Drag, decided to depart, the remaining musicians figured they had years of experience, chemistry and fresh but incomplete material to work with, so they recalibrated their sound, got a name, and became a new separate thing.

They played their first show as Heavy Drag a little over two years ago. And they released a couple EPs in different formats since then. Their full-length was recorded almost a year ago. But Bedoya says the band understood that there was a gestation period with getting a record on tape, getting it pressed and promoting it, a lag time that some younger bands find difficult to wait through.

“We came into it understanding that this is an egg and you have to sit on it and give it some warmth,” says Bedoya.

Sábana Ghost opens with “Stoned,” a spectral bit of instrumental atmospherics that would be at home on a spaghetti Western soundtrack as imagined by Pink Floyd.

Heavy Drag is a quartet — drums, bass, guitars, vocals — but they sometimes have a few auxiliary extra members, a female harmony vocalist and a tambourine player who just, well, plays tambourine. The tambourine isn’t the most metal of instruments. Those bright jangling accents don’t always fit in with heavy music.

Heavy Drag makes good use of that hand percussion. They also do some surprising things with whistling, not the standard shoegaze-grunge flourish.

Drummer Bedoya mentions the tambourine player, who doesn’t go out on many tours with the core quartet, by way of discussing the band’s sonic palette, which tends toward the dark and thick, offset by flashes of brightness, like in the surf-y guitar touches and the metallic shaking of the tambourine.

Heavy Drag pays attention to the placement of sounds, matching dark with light, heavy with airy, thick with slight. It’s a little like the technique of chiaroscuro in painting, where a sense of depth and volume is created by strong contrasts and the close pairing of tonal opposites.

“In my case, as the drummer, I find myself using the floor tom a lot instead of the hi hat,” says Bedoya. “The brightness doesn’t come from the cymbals and the drumming.”

The point might be that, in an atmosphere of heavy and pervasive darkness, a little brightness stands out all the more brilliantly.

Most band names are essentially meaningless, but there’s an accuracy to Heavy Drag’s. This music has heft, but it also comes with a sinking feeling. A cinder block tied to the foot in murky water is one image that pops into the head. A long lung filling pull of smoke might be the idea. This isn’t music for the morning workout. More for the 2 a.m. come-down.

“Kinda Slow” is a little more truth-in-advertising, with a tempo and lyrics that pay homage to a more half-speed kind of pace. And “Bad Times” cements the ominous vibe, title-wise.

Paired with the bummer theme is also the recurring subject of consciousness expansion. On an earlier EP the band has a song called “LSD.” But, though Bedoya evidently has an in-the-band nickname of “The Trip,” he assures me the heavy psychedelics are not an everyday affair. Weed is a different matter though.

“If anything, we stick to smoking bud,” says Bedoya. “That, for sure, is a breakfastlunch-and-dinner thing. But not for all of us.”

I’m not saying it’s obvious, but you might have guessed. !

JOHN ADAMIAN lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.

WANNA go?

Heavy Drag play the Garage in Winston-Salem, Friday, July 15. Check out the-garage.ws for more.

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