When Jonathan Krentz returned from his six-year service in the National Guard band, he joined the first country band he could find.
When that band fell apart, he and bassist Drew Sherman started their own. The two found singers Channing Himes and Jesse Becker, fiddler Zachary Scanlan and drummer Tyler Kloewer; Maiden Dixie was born.
Once a punk rocker, Krentz converted to country after listening to Brad Paisley during his service.
“There was just a tune [that] hit me in a way where I paid attention to the lyrics for the first time,” Krentz said. “I just fell in love with it.”
Krentz met Sherman while playing in the National Guard band. The two played in a seven-piece group that played mostly pop, funk and rhythm and blues, and served a year-long deployment in Iraq. When the two returned to the U.S., Sherman continued working for the National Guard. When Krentz asked him to join,
Sherman said genre didn’t matter — he just wanted to join a band.
“Jon really got into country music in Iraq; I didn’t really start listening to it until we started playing some tunes,” Sherman said. “Through learning how to play tunes, that’s how I learned which country artists I appreciate.”
The band started as a country cover band until it took on different members and Himes and Krentz took charge of songwriting.
The two said they meet regularly for writing sessions and visit Nashville almost monthly to collaborate with songwriters like Roy Holdren who, they said, helped with their latest album. Becker’s brother, Graham Becker, also contributes, Himes said.
Though visiting the country music hub of Nashville allows the band to progress, Krentz said, the musicians aren’t looking to follow the city’s rules with “Unsafe and Sound.”
“The ‘Unsafe’ part [of the album title] came specifically from going against the grain when it came to the Nashville format,” Krentz said. “So it wasn’t the safe way.
We were trying to compete to be relevant in an industry that had a certain standard, and we were not following the standard.”
Krentz said rather than hiring studio players — which is the norm in Nashville — the musicians recorded only with original band members. Also, he said the fact
that he and Himes write most of the music breaks from the Nashville tradition of having separate singers and songwriters.
Krentz, Himes and Sherman said they didn’t notice any differences between performing country music in the Midwest and in southern states, though both Krentz and Sherman noted that there are benefits to working from Minnesota.
“A benefit is not being close to Nashville and not being stuck in whatever is popular down there — ’cause that’s what everybody’s doing. We kind of have an outside mindset. We can create and make our own thing,” Sherman said.
The band’s originality shines in the track “The Road” off of “Unsafe and Sound.” The slow and steady tune stars Himes’ earnest tone, a dreamy melody and inventive guitar, showcased in a tranquil, intricate solo.
Krentz said unlike most songs, he wrote the melody first and the lyrics second.
He said the grind that accompanies chasing one’s dream provided inspiration for the tune.
“Sometimes [it] feels like one step forward, two steps back, but you get up and do it again,” Krentz said.
When they’re not recording music or attending songwriting sessions, the band’s members are delivering energetic sets on stage. Himes and Sherman said the concert jamming has resulted in a few injuries.
“There’s been ripped pants and twisted ankles,” Sherman said. “We just have so much fun on stage. We love each other.”
Where The Cabooze, 917 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
When 9:30 p.m. Friday