Despite its location just over the Gaston County border, closer to Charlotte than more popular spots like Crowders Mountain or Kings mountains, most Queen City residents are not familiar with Cramer Mountain.
That may be due to its exclusivity, as it’s not a tourist venue like others in the area. The mountain is home to Cramer Mountain Club, a country club that caters to some of the more affluent folks living in and around Cramerton, a town of less than 5,000 people on the banks of the South Fork Catawba River.
It was in the club that local musician and restaurateur Scott Blackwood opened Khakis and brought on his brother Justin Aswell and longtime friend Robert Childers to work there. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the trio found themselves in what they now call a “bizarre” situation, dealing with the “Gaston County rich” who weren’t interested in taking orders from any government or health official.
“Being at the country club during the start of it, it was a hotbed for a lot of alt, right-wing takes on a lot of shit,” recalls Aswell. “It was pretty intense.”
“People [were] screaming at you for wearing your mask at work, which you have to do, but they’re mad about it,” Childers continues, shaking his head. Though never proven, he’s convinced his own bout of COVID-19 came at the hands of one of the club’s members.
And yet, the group of longtime friends couldn’t be happier with what came out of the otherwise hellish experience: Ogres, their genre-bending punk, hip-hop, Southern rock experiment.
“We’re serving [club members], and in our leisure time writing these subversive songs that are coming out of our experiences with people who think we’re their fucking servant,” Childers says. “That’s all in there, and the project probably would not have happened had it not been for that.”
Since finishing their first track in September 2020, the group has brought on guitarist Cody Bennett, and will play their first live show together at Snug Harbor on Sept. 18 alongside Telepathetics, Adam Cope and Duke Massive.
They say they have two projects worth of material ready to go, and hope to release one of them in October. The group has been releasing singles weekly in the lead-up to their Sept. 18 show, including today. You can listen to “Satanic Graffiti” hot off the presses below.
Old friends make a new sound
While their most recent coworking experience may have brought the crew together in its most official manifestation, one could argue that Ogres has been in the works for decades.
Each of the members share childhood stories with one another from growing up in Gaston County together, namely in Mount Holly, where they all gathered at the pool every summer as kids. Aswell and Blackwood are brothers. Bennett and Aswell were classmates, as were Childers and Blackwood.
Childers was the first person to record Aswell playing drums when the latter was 11 years old. The two even still remember an especially physical, tense game of backyard basketball in which they almost had it out.
When I meet with the four guys in the open-air dining room at Miguel’s Restaurant on Little Rock Road, close to the Gaston County border, the bonds they have built over years of friendship are clear. Their musical connections, on the other hand, would only be apparent to those who have paid close attention to each of their careers.
Aswell is best known around the city as a producer and DJ, building his name at hip-hop and b-boy events like Knocturnal. Blackwood built his rep as a promoter and manager, though he’s also a producer, most recently working with Aswell on a freestyle production series called Brotherly Love. Bennett is best known as the bassist for once-popular Charlotte Southern rock band Swamp da Wamp.
Childers’ resume is familiar to folks in all corners of Charlotte’s music scenes. He’s played drums with his father in David Childers & the Serpents, as well as with the “abrasize jazz” trio Brut Beat. He’s also played in punk bands 2013 Wolves and The Luciferean Agenda, among others.
As Ogres, the band members have put together all their diverse areas of expertise to craft a mashup of genres that changes as the tracks do, while persistent songwriter Childers continues to employ the Queen City as his muse.
“This area is so rich with inspiration, you know,” Childers says. “I take from the city of Charlotte and being around here and what I see is what I write about, and it syncs up with the music somehow.”
‘What Gaston County sounds like’
Each Ogres track starts with a loop. Aswell creates a beat — maybe just the drums, but oftentimes with at least one guitar worked in — and loops it for two to three minutes. He sends that off to Childers, who writes lyrics based on how the track hits him.
Once Aswell gets it back, he teams with Blackwood and Bennett to create a more complete instrumental around Childers’ lyrics. Of course, this cycle sometimes has to repeat itself a few times before it’s complete, says Aswell.
“There are times when [Robert] will give me stuff and by the time I’m done with it he listens and says, ‘Oh shit, I gotta re-record my parts. I was singing to that other stuff,’” he explains. “He needs to reinterpret his stylings to match the new instrumental.”
“Which is a great, true form of collaboration that I really dig,” Childers continues. And then there are times when they approach it in a more straightforward way.
“I’ve seen it to where [Robert] will walk into the studio, Justin will play him a beat, and he’ll pull a scratch piece of paper out and write a song to it,” Blackwood says. “It’s kind of incredible to watch.”
What comes out is a mashup of all the influences the group has grown up with and performed in their respective projects. “Proletariat Gate Guard” has a dance vibe reminiscent of Beck, while Childers’ Americana roots are apparent in “Gone To Harlow.”
According to Childers, the band’s sound goes back to those days at the Mount Holly community pool.
“When we were kids we would make mixtapes and trade them amongst each other, and it was like a circle of dudes in Mount Holly that would do that,” Childers recalls. “And I feel like this band is one of those mixtapes coming to life. It is everything that we’ve been growing up on and listening to coming out.”
One connecting theme throughout is the hip-hop influence, though no single song could necessarily be labeled as such. Childers says that’s another product of the small Gaston County town.
“In Mount Holly, cypher culture, be it drum battling to rap battles, it was like something you grew up doing, it was everywhere,” he says. “It was at all the parks and basketball courts. It was multi-racial and there were different groups that would rap together, and there would be battles. It was just how we grew up, and it was a natural thing.”
He insists that, though no one would call him a rapper, it’s always been present in his music.
“I make the hip-hop that comes out of being a weird-ass dude from Mount Holly that’s always grown up going to punk rock shows and loves Wu Tang Clan,” he says. “I was definitely very much inspired by that no matter what. I’ve always lyrically and vocally approached it like a hip-hop song while still singing and being punk rock with it.”
“It’s what Gaston County sounds like,” explains Blackwood.
Angst and opportunity
Another theme running through the Ogres tracks is apparent both in the lyrics and production: angst.
Though not uncommon in Childers’ songs with past bands, the regular references to life and death are hard to ignore in light of the pandemic that underscored the band’s formation.
In “Proletariat Gate Guard,” Childers ends with the lyrics, “Maybe God ain’t real, maybe death is nothing, maybe everything we’ve been told’s a lie.”
In “Fences,” which Childers says was inspired by his experience at the country club, he repeats the refrain, “Stay alive ‘til we end up dead.” He wrote the song while fighting off his own COVID infection.
In a less terrifying way, COVID also influenced the sound of Ogres. Unable to play his regular DJ gigs around the city, Aswell decided to pick up a bass guitar his friend had lent him. It was his first time playing guitar since he was a child. The riffs he came up with were the foundation for what would become Ogres.
“I was like, ‘Oh shit, I kinda remember how to play this thing, that’s cool,’ and then I just started making instrumentals,” Aswell recalls. “Maybe even the first one I played for Robert, he was like, ‘Oh hell yeah, I’ll kill this.’”Some of the songs Aswell and Childers had worked on together for a Luciferean Agenda album that never came to be have been repurposed for Ogres. Even some years-old instrumentals that Aswell had sitting in forgotten folders have been brought into the mix.
“Some of them have been outside of what I thought Ogres was going to be originally, but then I’ll realize that it doesn’t make any sense to determine what Ogres is until Robert hears it,” Aswell explains. “If Robert hears an instrumental and is like, ‘I want to get on that,’ I’m like, ‘Well now it’s Ogres.’ That’s about all it takes at this point.”
The team is comfortable with their process at this point and is now preparing for their first live performance. Friend of the band Adam Parrish has been working on live projections to add a “psychedelia weirdness” to the show, while Childers is preparing for what will be a rare first-time musical experience as front man.
“I fronted Luciferean Agenda, but I mean, I had an instrument. Now it’s just me stomping around,” he says. Still, he’s excited to share what he and his longtime pals have been working on. “Ogres is a garage band — a punk band that uses MPCs, electronic devices, turntables and samples while still being a punk band that has live instrumentation. We will bring the same energy as a punk rock show or a hip-hop show, where it’s hype.”
Despite their wide range of musical backgrounds and busy schedules, all four members agree that Ogres will be the priority moving forward.
“We’re all pretty diversified with our artistic endeavors, but I think when we all get together, it’s pretty clear that the synergy of all of us getting in the same lane has proven to be very rewarding and exciting and just feels like it’s got a good amount of potential to it, too,” Aswell says. “This is the focal thing now.”
And so after the show, it’s back to the kitchen (just not the country club kitchen).