News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Sounds: Long Arms
BY ANDREW LEAHEY
FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
James Menefee was a teenage punk rocker.
Growing up in Richmond, he watched as the city’s punk scene blossomed during the 1980s and hit its stride one decade later. By the end of the ’90s, Menefee had made his own mark on the genre, logging several years as frontman of the local group Fun Size before forming a second band, River City High, as the decade drew to a close.
At first, the new millennium was kind to River City High. The boys toured the country, made friends with famous musicians and signed a record deal with MCA. Their music was rooted in punk, but splashes of pop and Southern rock crept into the mix, too, attracting an audience that went far beyond the band’s home state.
When MCA folded in 2003, spitting River City High back into the world of broke, independent bands vying for a lucky break, the magic began to dissipate. The boys stuck it out for a few more years, but Menefee wanted to explore a different sound, and River City High didn’t seem like the right vehicle. It was time for something new.
“I knew I needed to keep making music,” he explained, “but I also needed to go at a much different pace. I’d been writing all these songs that didn’t work for River City High, and I was putting them into a separate pile. Eventually, the separate pile started getting bigger than my other piles, so I decided to make my own album.”
That album was “Long Arms to Hold You.” Released in 2010, the record put a twangy spin on Menefee’s punky roots, mixing his coarse croon with violins and pedal steel guitar riffs. Menefee, a bassist by trade, played many of the songs on an acoustic guitar. This wasn’t country music by any means, but it wasn’t River City High, either.
“The point was to start anew,” Menefee said. “If you come right out of the box with a fiddle player, you make a point that you can do what you want. You can take this new sound in as many different directions as possible, and we took it in an alternative rock ’n’ roll direction, with a little bit of twang.”
Retaining some of the musicians who played on the album and extending offers to a few outsiders, Menefee formed a new band. The Long Arms hit the Richmond circuit like a sledgehammer, blasting open a unique space amid the city’s handful of country bands, rock groups and punk acts. Treesa Gold, a classically trained violinist and member of the Richmond Symphony, was one of the musicians who made the cut.
“It was daunting,” she said. “Being a classical violinist, I was uncomfortable with “making stuff up,” with amps and cables, with being loud, with remembering things without writing them down. But what attracted me to this group was the energy. Long Arms has this palpable, contagious excitement that grabs you and won’t let go.”
On Saturday, Long Arms will headline a hometown show at the Camel. The band has built up a diverse audience in Richmond—college kids, tattooed baby boomers and everyone in between—but Menefee still makes a point of cautioning his old punk rock fans before they come see their first Long Arms show.
“I tell them that it’s not what they’re expecting,” he said. “It’s not especially ‘tough.’ But River City High wasn’t really tough, either, and who wants to do something that people expect?”
Now that’s punk rock.
What: Long Arms with From Here On Blue, Justin Jones and King of Spain
Where: The Camel; 1621 W. Broad St., Richmond
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, at 8 p.m.
Andrew Leahey is a musician with arms of traditional length.