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(Credit: Chris Casella)

Boot Stompin', Swamp Rockin'

Local rockers Hotel War ride on with a fresh EP

By Adam Scoppa

Published April 1, 2011

“Vitality shows not only in the ability to persist, but the ability to start over.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Columbus’ soulful swamp-blues outfit Hotel War announced their own vitality last month with Rebels Out Of Time, a five-song EP of their strongest, most focused material yet. To arrive at a sound this hard-worn, you’d be right in assuming the band has weathered a few ups and downs along the road.

Their bare bones beginnings are the stuff of true basement-rock lore.

“We just kind of started on this one acoustic guitar between the two of us,” said frontman and bassist Curt Apwisch, reflecting on the early days of scribbling rough outlines of songs with his best friend, guitarist Justin Nash. “After that it was like an immediate drive to learn how to play. From then on we decided that this was going to be our first and only band.”

The two Dayton transplants, inspired by their hometown’s vintage country, classic rock and golden oldies radio stations, learned their instruments side by side. Nash, however, had a fleeting encounter with formal musical training at age nine, when he would ditch his piano lessons and use the money to buy candy.

“Recital time came and I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. The cat was out of the bag then,” he said with a laugh. “If you want to call that ‘previous experience,’ that was the closest to it.”

“My first experience was when I traded the Friday soundtrack to my brother for The Doors double disc in eighth grade,” recalled Apwisch.

The pair’s ill-fated first show at a Dayton pool party one Fourth of July only served to convince them that their rumbling sound was headed in the right direction.

“We got through one and a half songs before the cops came, and they looked at the Marshall half stack and said, ‘You can’t have this here!’” said Nash.

In the six or so years that have elapsed, Apwisch and Nash have remained the duo at the core of Hotel War. They’ve never stopped writing and exploring new directions, even as a revolving cast of drummers have come and gone. About a year ago they landed Brandon Fisher, who was more than willing to get serious behind the kit. His measured and methodical bashing was an ideal addition to a band that has rigorously adhered to the power trio format, and they began shaping a new batch of songs.

You’d be hard-pressed to find another Columbus band so deserving of the ‘boot-stomping’ descriptor: Rebels Out Of Time listens like it was cut in a barn on a deserted stretch of highway while on the run from John Q. Law. The relentless rhythm section (one could argue that Apwisch plays lead bass) is a solid backbone against Nash’s hypnotic guitar, outfitted with a tone that’s the perfect marriage of fuzz and clarity. Meanwhile, Apwisch barks out a twisted version of the great American songbook, his lyrics prowling with tales of daredevil excesses and revenge.

Yet there’s a sense of romanticism at the heart of these songs that works to balance out bawdy machismo, and that dichotomy makes the tunes truly memorable. For every cocky, strutting riff, Apwisch offers a dour existential confession.

Hotel War hopes the strength of their new EP will help them make waves on an upcoming series of tours while continuing to maintain a strong presence at home.

“We would just like to be able to tour and play in front of people,” Nash said resolutely, “whether it’s five people or a hundred people.”

Catch Hotel War at Circus (1227 North High St.) on April 8th, at the (614) Magazine Live Music Showcase at Skully's (1151 N High St.) on April 9th and at Rumba Café (2507 Summit St.) on April 15th. Check out tunes from the new EP at www.myspace.com/hotelwarband.