West End Motel: The Best of What’s Next

Music Features

“We walk out on tabs. If I made a million dollars, I’d do it more,” West End Motel frontman Tom Cheshire laughs. “We’re restaurants’ worst nightmare.”

He’s hunched over the tail-end of a barely three-person table at El Myr in Atlanta, Ga., with decades-old friend and guitarist Brent Hinds. It’s a smoke-hazed burrito bar, one that proudly sports signed photos of Jerry Springer and another one of Hinds’ bands, Mastodon, right next to the trippy landscapes of Atlanta artist R. Land; It’s a place that’s just as comfortable blaring Joy Division as it is Nick Cave or Metallica, and the food is legitimately good enough that Cheshire says it’s a shame that Anthony Bourdain hasn’t made a stop here.

The frontman’s just returned to town after a stay in New York, and it’s round two of a celebratory romp through the duo’s hometown in the peach state—which at one point came through the now-infamous burrito joint the night before. And yes, it’s a little fuzzy whether they paid their tabs last night. “We were drinking Stellas, then we went to Bud Light, then it was a downward spiral,” Cheshire chuckles. So, fewer than 12 hours after the party dissolved that morning (9 a.m. by Hinds and Cheshire’s count), we’re back at El Myr (my request, not theirs—they don’t spend all of their time here, after all) chatting about the band’s follow up to Don’t Shiver, You’re a Winner, Only Time Can Tell.

It wasn’t planned this way, but the choice to chat at El Myr gives more material than could have been expected. That’s not to say this writer overcapitalized on the amount of alcohol consumed, although our near-$200 bar tab might suggest otherwise, but through the course of the 45-minute talk, we’re huddled around the tiny table with an incredible spread of guests who just happened to show up—WEM guitarist and backup singer Ben Thrower; Marlow Sanchez, who helped with the album’s pre-production; hell, even former Peter Tosh and Isaac Hayes guitarist Daryl Thompson stopped by, beer-in-hand, to declare his admiration for the duo.

Between 7 p.m. and 11, the cast is constantly rotating with people getting off work, heading out to band practice or calling it a night to go home to their families. Here Hinds is just a dude, not the most identifiable member of one of the world’s biggest metal bands, and that seems like a massive relief. “Me going anywhere I go in my life and someone knowing my name is crazy.” If anything, it’s Cheshire’s re-emergence is the cause of most people, whether they’re strangers or friends, hobbling over to the table. People are talking work, music, working on music, a recent in-town Dracula musical and West End Motel’s upcoming U.S. tour.

“These are our people,” Hinds says.

True enough to Hinds’ word on his preferred location to go out for a beer and guacamole, this band we’re talking about is crafting the working-man’s aural bread and butter with an aftertaste these guys could leave; Inspired by love, heartbreak, tragedy, burritos, horn sections, Nick Cave, chickin’-picked guitars (if you didn’t guess already, this project is a bit of a departure for Hinds’ Mastodon fans) and, of course, a long, shitty work day. After all, Hinds and Cheshire fully cemented their friendship and the West End Motel in the ‘90s through working their asses off with manual labor, grabbing a couple beers (well, maybe a few more than that) at the end of the day and then roughing out West End Motel’s first songs at night.

“I was a brickmason, and I got [Cheshire] a job working with brickmasons” Hinds says. “The hardest motherfuckers in town.”

“I had lost my mind and quit my job,” Cheshire explains. He’d dropped a comfortable living in marketing (only monetarily) to pick up the job. “I just wanted to work in concrete.”

“I got him in with these guys, and my Mastodon situation took off,” Hinds says. “I left Tommy to hold it down, it was a good upbringing for us. There’s sweat, blood, appreciation for life. When you get off work at 3 p.m. when most assholes are waking up, like me now, I had already built a fucking fireplace out of stone in some rich motherfucker’s back yard.”

But as much as the band’s persona lies in rightfully earned good times, it would be dismissive to say that’s all there is to West End Motel. “We want to be a bar band, but we also want to have theatrics. We’re storytellers. Everything is written, there might be three serious lines, but then we make a joke,” Cheshire says.

After all, most of the inspiration for Only Time Can Tell is rooted in deep personal loss on both sides of Hinds and Cheshire’s friendship, with Cheshire going through divorce and Hinds losing his brother. Through the night, the two go back and forth, finishing each other’s sentences, laughing at the good memories, lamenting the bad and ultimately poking fun at everything—even if it’s their own songwriting or relationship.

“No matter what song it is, it comes from the crotch,” Cheshire says before Hinds chimes in. “It comes from the broken part inside of you, it comes from times of extreme despair.” Cheshire starts explaining the situation, and the back-and-forth between the two unfurls just as dramatically and hilariously (and surprisingly touchingly) as you’d expect from the guys behind Only Time Can Tell:

“I was going through a divorce…”

“…She had just fucking taken off. My brother had just passed away. What does he need when he’s going through bad times? He needs me.”

“And prostitutes.”

“And what do I need? I need him.”

“And prostitutes. And cocaine.”

“And what do we do when we hang out? We get fucking drunk and write music. We don’t like to be at the bar all the time, talking to people loudly, part because I can’t hear anything because I’m in this band and my fucking ears are about to fall off my head.”

It’s a bromance indeed (in Hinds’ words), but the guys are quick to note that it wouldn’t work without the other pieces of the West End Motel puzzle, their bandmates Thrower, Mike Shina on piano, Mark Carbone on drums and Stiff Penalty on bass, Will Raines on organ and accordion, along with engineer Ed Rawls, Sanchez and Will’s dad, Phil, recording saxophone. “I couldn’t do this without these gentlemen, and I couldn’t do it without them because the songs started to grow,” Hinds says. “Then we had to get in touch with these people, who we didn’t know at the time, but now we’re like brothers.”

It’s only nights later when that’s proven after the band takes the stage of the parking lot of the 97 Estoria, a bar that’s barely a five-minute drive from El Myr. The outing is called the Purge Apocalypse, and it’s had events like a beer shotgunning contest, a “breathalyzer contest” and a ping pong toss running since 2 p.m. that afternoon. It’s packed, and with beers at around $2, most attendees are drunk.

“Only $5 to party with Tom Cheshire,” is what the ticket guy says as you enter, and in my case this is right at the end of the aforementioned shotgunning contest that showcases three dudes take down 16-ounce PBRs faster than most people shoot whiskey. And although this would be a venue that’s celebrating booze and late nights, that’s not the band’s primary task at hand—They’ve got a new album to show off. And from the opening notes of Only Time Can Tell’s lead single, “Burn it Down,” to the party starter “El Myr,” (oh yeah, you’d better bet that they’ve got a song named after the place), to a closing cover of Misfits’ “Last Caress,” these guys show that they’re celebrating those fine-crafted tunes and partnership just as much as anything that goes along with them.

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