Barista, bartender, record-store clerk: Virtually every lean and hungry musician in the world balances a day job against his musical ambitions. The members of Jacksonville, Fla.’s American Attitude are no different.
Except, maybe, that their day jobs deal with fighter jets instead of shots of espresso.
After 2½ years, the band members are experts at juggling the demands of a military career and the hopes of an up-and-coming rock act. By day, three of its members serve in the Air Force’s 125th Fighter Wing’s maintenance squad at Jacksonville International Airport and one stands ready in the Navy Reserve as a flight engineer out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville. On weekends, they perform on military installations in Florida or share the spotlight with national acts on civilian stages.
“Audiences kind of like the idea that we’re all military,” guitarist Master Sgt. Shawn Watchorn says. “Not that we push it down the civilians’ throats, but they know who we are. They know we love our country and what we do. That’s also helped garner a lot of additional respect for us.”
It hasn’t exactly been a tough sell for American Attitude’s mix of rock songwriting and punk energy to garner respect.
The outfit takes the expansive distortion of bands like Smashing Pumpkins and, in the tradition of The Ramones, loudly reinvents standards such as Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” while also playing a catalog of originals.
American Attitude (with guitarist Watchorn, singer Tech. Sgt. Christopher Henderson, drummer Master Sgt. Marc Myers and bass player reservist Petty Officer 1st Class Matt Smithers) was formed in spring 2007, when Watchorn and Myers decided a way to pull more of their comrades into the noncommissioned officers club would be to get a band in it. Henderson and an early bass player were brought on board, and the act started playing in front of its comrades. A lineup shakedown brought in Smithers and his Navy connections last summer, as the band began to gain recognition. Even as it gained momentum in the civilian world, American Attitude’s goal remained constant: Bring the troops together through music.
“There’s not a whole lot besides our jobs that binds us [troops] together,” Henderson says. “If there’s an activity on base, like a band is playing, there are people from supply, from maintenance and headquarters. They can all come together and relate.”
The band’s Air Force origins are a point of pride for both the band and fellow airmen.
“They own us, in a sense, because we started out here and played our first show on base,” Watchorn says. “So any time on base [that] our peers or our leadership talk about us, they go, ‘It’s our 125th band. These guys are ours.’ That’s cool. I like that.”
Fans also connect with those roots, Myers says. “A lot of the civilian people will come up and not even talk about the music and really not mention anything about the music, but just thank us. I don’t know what to say. I’m just floored. I’m glad to serve.”
Matt Schild is a music writer and founder of Aversion.com.