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Weeping rainbows

Acid Queen frontman Jack VanBaton aims for happiness with a new EP

Acid Queen: Kris Penrod, Jack VanBaton, Wesley Barnett

Greg Bollinger

When Jack VanBaton was 17 he walked from New Orleans to Tulsa. It was 2010, and he’d been living in a tent city under an overpass with survivors from Hurricane Katrina.

“Before I got out of high school I went homeless.” VanBaton said. “So, I did the whole hitchhiking thing and went all over the place. I walked all over Louisiana. I was obsessed with that whole Beat thing, you know? Like “On the Road,” Jack Kerouac. I wanted to experience it for myself. Back then I was trying eat a meal a day and playing music on the side of the road. I walked to Tulsa and got with my girl Jamie. I just kind of went from there.”

VanBaton, who is originally from Henryetta, began playing music in earnest after his long trek to Tulsa. After years of wandering, he’s releasing a new EP under the moniker Acid Queen with a live performance at The Beehive Lounge on April 27.

The cover of the self-titled EP was designed by former bandmate, guitarist Billy Reeves, and features a technicolor woman in sunglasses weeping psychedelic rainbow tears and smoking a cigarette. It’s disorienting but appropriate—this record is rife with emotional contradictions. These are polished rowdy rock anthems swarming with infectious guitar riffs and vocal hooks—but also with ambivalence. Just a few years after walking to Tulsa, VanBaton left everything behind again. He moved back to Henryetta to care for his ailing grandmother and still lives there today. It was an emotional low point, but the period got him back to writing and inspired most of the songs on the new EP.

“I lost a lot of stuff … I lost my job. I lost my house, and I was trying to have fun just by myself because it was just me and [my grandmother] back home,” VanBaton said. “I was just trying to have fun and trying to not take things too seriously. But some of these songs were also about the relationship I had in Tulsa before I went back home. It kind of went south. So, I was also pretty sad and angry, you know?  Back then I was writing a lot of songs. They were kind of like sad Beatles. Instead of [songs] about holding hands, they were all about death and debauchery.”

A chance encounter with a local producer pried VanBaton from his doldrums, and he started working on another record.

“I was planning on moving to Mexico. Then [producer] CM Rodriguez hit me up. He’d found some rough recordings I did. I made a bunch of shit on my iPhone. He was like, ‘Hit me up when you get back from Mexico and we’ll start cutting some stuff.’ He did the Planet What album recently, as well. This album’s just the two of us. CM played drums and keys and guitar on one song. He’d start laying down drums and ask if the feel was right, and then I’d lay down a guitar track and we’d go from there.”

Rodriguez channeled VanBaton’s raucous ambivalence into an energetic, accessible rock record. These songs sound fun even when the subject matter is not.

VanBaton’s voice varies between the wry, insouciant deadpan of the early Strokes albums and the raw-tape, saturated sound of classic ‘70s rock. Acid Queen embraces VanBaton’s emotional contrasts and plays them into memorable choruses. On the opening track, “You Bought It,” he laments, “I thought my mind could contain all the words been left unsaid / Girl, it burns like a flame, my heart can’t get no rest.” Then—with what sounds like abandon—he sings, “You know if you break it you bought it / You know if you break a heart it might be something you regret.”

Like the Beat poets he grew up admiring, VanBaton contemplates impermanence. Love is boobytrap on this album. It’s a fascinating object to be celebrated but never completely trusted.

For years VanBaton struggled to find bandmates. His constant travels combined with early failures left him hurt and isolated for a time. He even tried the El Paso Hot Button route, playing electric guitar and kick drum alone, but with the release of Acid Queen he’s built a three-piece, which he hopes to take on the road in the next year. Wesley Barnett, who played for the Dirty Creek Bandits, plays bass. Kris Penrod plays drums.

“We’re doing the EP release, and then we want to integrate a full set to take to the studio,” VanBaton said. “Hopefully we take that and do some touring. I just want people to have fun and not take life too seriously. Nothing lasts.  Might as well enjoy it while you can.”

Acid Queen EP release
with special guests Carlton Hesston and hUGg
Friday, April 27, 9 p.m.
The Beehive Lounge | 2405 E. Admiral Blvd.

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