Libby Lux, singer with Portland acoustic-punk string band The Bridge City Sinners, has a clipping from Eugene Weekly in her scrapbook.
It was around 2010, and Lux lived in Eugene at that time, busking on the corner of Broadway and Olive downtown. Her duo, Bloodbath Burlesque Orchestra, opened for Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band at WOW Hall, and EW covered it. It was her first real taste of fame, Lux says of the article. “I cut it out,” and she kept it.
Lux returns to Eugene, and EW, behind The Bridge City Sinners 2021 release Unholy Hymns, playing WOW Hall on May 4.
Unholy Hymns blends the intensity of punk rock with the dark theatricality of metal and the traditional string band arrangements of bluegrass, folk, hillbilly and pre-war jazz.
Released on the Portland independent label Flail Records, Unholy Hymns charted in the Billboard 100 Top Current Album Sales for the month of September the year it came out.
“We were right under Now That’s What I Call Country Volume 14,” a serialized compendium of best selling pop country radio singles. “That’s a win,” Lux says in a phone interview.
Raised in Corvallis, Lux bounced around the Willamette Valley before settling up north. In addition to singing and co-writing songs for the Sinners, and in keeping with her group’s medley of different sounds and styles, she often plays a hybrid banjo and ukulele instrument called a banjolele: same tuning as a ukulele, just more twang, Lux adds.
“Playing the ukulele professionally, a lot of ukuleles are garbage. They’re children’s toys. It’s hard in the ukulele world,” Lux says. Most often, with a banjolele, “it’s going to be a quality instrument.”
As a teenager, Lux was a punk rock disciple, and was only introduced to old-time, hillbilly and bluegrass music — like many others of her generation — through the O Brother, Where Art Thou? movie soundtrack, the 2000 Coen Brothers film that helped revive interest in those Americana music styles.
“I grew up in the punk rock scene. There was no other type of music. Nothing but punk rock runs in my veins,” Lux says.
When she heard the O Brother soundtrack, though, she thought, “This shit slaps. This is great! It opened my mind,” Lux explains.
Like her other musical projects, Sinners got its start busking on street corners. Those experiences have taught Lux some lessons she carries forward into other venues. “You have to demand people’s attention,” she says of her role as a singer, but that’s the fun part. “Where else do I get to be a spooky monster?”
In addition to touring, the Sinners are already at work on an Unholy Hymns follow-up, with a possible 2024 release date. It will continue their interests in blues music’s hellfire and brimstone sensibility, metal’s interest in the occult and profane and punk rock’s aggression, filtered as always through traditional string band arrangements, a sound the group calls “y’all-ternative.”
This time, though, there might be more “Old West” saloon-style piano, Lux adds. “It’s coming out very theatrical. We’re leaning into spooky musical theater.”
On the first date of a tour that will take the group across Canada and into the East Coast, The Bridge City Sinners perform with Playboy Manbaby and Beggars Canyon 8 pm Thursday, May 4, at WOW Hall; $20 advance, $25 door, all-ages.