You don't need to earn a degree from Berklee School of Music to play rock 'n roll, but that was how Bottom Dollars frontman Brian Cherchiglia met drummer Evan Berg and bassist Chris Urriola.
The Brooklyn-based trio's technical proficiency is laudable. But, at heart, Bottom Dollars are an old-fashioned rock band equally indebted to Neil Young and the Stones, doused in the Replacements' grimy devil-may-care charm, and sharpened into four-minute bursts of escapism.
"Hell yeah, and that's the thing about rock 'n roll, there's poetry — in the subtext," says the Cleveland-born Cherchiglia, aka "Cherch," who'll be playing solo at this Thursday's Gold Room show. "One of my favorite Stones songs is 'Bitch,' but it's probably the worst collection of lyrics ever. That's rock 'n roll. There can be poetry, but the main thing you're trying to do is recreate a feeling that you can't really manifest."
After scoring a van through the kindness of strangers, the three music business grads toured the Northeast and released 2011's debut EP, The Halcyon Days. A week later, the band received an offer to appear at a SXSW showcase.
Day jobs soon became a necessary sacrifice — if not entirely by choice.
"I asked my boss and she was like, 'You got into SXSW? You have to go!' and I was like, you know, you're right," Cherch recalls. "So we did, and I came back and got canned immediately.
"A few years of crippling poverty later, I'm finally on my feet making this music thing work," he continues. "It develops a very honest cynicism in how you see the world, and you'd be surprised how people connect to cynicism — as much as they connect to romance and happiness."
The Bottom Dollars began concurrent with their punk-funk outfit Deathrow Tull, to which they devoted most of their energy in the beginning. For them, the Bottom Dollars were pure Id. "Everyone told us that Deathrow Tull was the ticket. The Dollars was just fun for us," he says. When both bands vied for an online honor, they knew which horse to back. "We pushed Deathrow Tull, and The Dollars lost big time."
Last year, the group released its first proper full-length, Meet Me In Cognito. The soul-soaked roots-rock collection suggests The Gaslight Anthem if they smoked a bowl, chilled and embraced the moment.
The album opens with the chunky blues stomp "Peace & Anarchy" and the wild-eyed rockabilly rave "Devil's Night." It reaches its apogee with "Whoa," evoking the Memphis soul of Lucero channeled into a blue-collar ode to the way life goes.
They recorded the album with producers John Siket (Sonic Youth, Paul Westerberg) and David Brandwein (Turkuaz, Futurist). They holed up in an empty McMansion in Windham, N.Y., and spent a week culling Cherch's 25 songs down to In Cognito's 10.
"We kind of took the Exile on Main Street approach," he says of the 1972 Stones. "We set up in the living room for a week and took our time thinking about shit. It came out a lot more patient."
As for his Springs solo show — Urriola flew back to Brooklyn shortly after we spoke, and Berg sat this tour out — Cherch doesn't mind.
"I'm having fun beta testing," he says. "You can expect analog equipment and things getting even more spacious."