If you haven’t heard of the band No Exit, it’s probably because they haven’t been No Exit for long. Originally, these four local boys called themselves Fuq Ninja. Whether it was because they were tired of feeling awkward whenever their collective Aunt Gladys asked them what the name of their band was, or if they just got sick of the “naughty” label, the band deemed Fuq Ninja a misnomer; hence, their current No Exit status.
No matter what you call them, though, No Exit continues to bring something new to the roundtable known as the Missoula music scene. Call it a roadhouse sound, if you want to call it something. But it’s important to be specific about exactly what kind of roadhouse sound we’re talking about here. It’s not the Lynyrd Skynyrd style. More like the Doors, but not “Touch Me” Doors. Think “Riders on the Storm” Doors. This rainy-day blues would provide excellent ambience for the moment in that road trip you took where you wandered into a dirty, sweaty bar and threw back some whiskey from a dirty shot glass while an older woman with dyed dirty-blonde hair danced in a dirty way as the bartender (whose teeth color almost matched that of the whiskey) gave you a dirty look. If this has never happened to you, then think of it in vicarious terms: it’s the kind of blues that might find a home in a Quentin Tarantino flick. Or, if there was someone rapping over it, No Exit’s sound could be the backdrop to the morose rhymes of the Geto Boys—especially if the subject matter were to veer toward the subject of dwarf rapper Bushwick Bill getting his eye shot out by a girlfriend. Of course, with No Exit, there’d be a touch of humor involved—maybe it would work best for the film version of Bushwick Bill’s life, which would naturally star Gary Coleman as the alcoholic, abusive dwarf from the ghetto who “had to lose an eye to see things clearly.” The point is, No Exit mixes a haunting blues sound with an occasional dab of humor to wind up with the musical equivalent of a black comedy.
There is something about slide guitar that, when played well, is haunting, and No Exit slides well. Slide guitar is often associated with the lonesome prairie, a full moon, wolves, an impending duel—at least it should be, in Montana. Guitarists and vocalists David Daniels and Nathan St. Onge do a fine job of staying out of each other’s way to bring the slide to the forefront when called for, although the rhythm guitar also takes over at times with its jangly, loose sound. Unlike the 1,001 blues bands where Member A plays loud all the time, even during member B’s solo, No Exit has a great sense of dynamics. Simply put, it appears that they actually listen to each other. This is particularly important because No Exit’s sound is somewhat naked. David Byrne of the Talking Heads called this type of guitar sound “thin,” and I think it’s an appropriate term. Indeed, this is the only way No Exit’s sound could work, because so much of it is repetitive and melodic, like waves crashing in perfect synchronicity. Were they to beef up their sound with chunky-thick blues syrup like some sort of Las Vegas blues revue, all would be lost. Forrest Guy’s wandering bass lines would be drowned out by raucous barre chords. The slide would be lost in the quagmire, as well. Instead, No Exit sticks close to as lo-fi a sound as possible.
No Exit’s weak spot might be their singing, if they let it get the best of them. Fortunately, they don’t. Following in a tradition that is more punk than blues, No Exit bellows with confidence even though none of the four Exiteers has a particularly wonderful singing voice. Reading this, you might think: “Oh God, they can’t sing that well but they still do so loudly?” Obviously, this could be a turn-off, but No Exit’s instrumentation is off-the-cuff, and so vocals that substitute charisma for technical merit only add to the band’s charm. And there’s something about this kind of sloppy blues that even encourages singing that’s not pitch perfect. Look at G Love. Or John Lee Hooker, for that matter.
No Exit can and will also rock a little harder than their forlorn blues numbers indicate. The band picks up the pace with heavier, more rock-driven anthems, at which point the lyrics match-up nicely with the simple sound. “All I ever wanted is a place to shit,” the band croons, offering up the kind of straightforwardness in rock music that will appeal to anyone who’s ever been into plain-dealers like Henry David Thoreau, or, to return to our original analogy, Jim Morrison (“Backdoor Man” Jim Morrison, that is; the one who got too drunk to remember all the metaphysical poetry stuff). And as luck would have it, Missoula happens to be home to a dive bar that promulgates these roadhouse sounds in a fashion as warm and intoxicating as the shot of Cuervo that the music may lead you toward.