Modesto has become a hotbed for Americana music in recent years with a fresh crop of bands that embrace the genre’s traditional sound while also adding their own contemporary flair. The quest for an independent sound has resulted in some bands spurning the Americana title for less blanketed and more niche-specific names like bluegrass, country or folk.
For Cole Hinkle & the Debauchery, a promising Modesto act with a self-titled album set to release before year’s end, the name used to categorize their music is far less important than the foundation of the music itself.
“Americana, or whatever you want to call it — it’s roots. It comes down to blues, country, old school rock and roll — it’s roots. And Modesto is definitely a huge hotspot for that,” bassist Amie Astelle said. “It’s so unknown and so underground…People don’t realize what we have.”
Oscillating between a two-piece and three-piece band, Cole Hinkle & the Debauchery is anchored by singer-songwriter and guitarist Cole Hinkle and upright bassist Astelle, the self-described debauchery of the group. Drummer Sky Harris rounds out the band and will be featured alongside fiddler Dylan Nicholson on the upcoming album.
Currently living in the same house in North Modesto, Hinkle and Astelle have a sibling-like relationship that would lead many to assume they’ve known each other for the majority of their lives. A little more than two years ago, however, the two were complete strangers.
“It started out as a solo project. Originally I was just writing songs and playing them by myself,” Hinkle said.
After touring with musician Bob Wayne in 2018, Astelle returned home to Modesto where she started hearing whispers of a young songwriter named Cole Hinkle that her friends insisted she had to meet.
Their insistence was met with skepticism.
“No one in Modesto or the area plays what I like. They don’t get it,” Astelle explained. “I was like yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever.”
Astelle’s skepticism was put to rest after a chance encounter at the 2018 MAMA Awards where Hinkle noticed her Bob Wayne trucker hat and sparked a conversation with his future bandmate. The two were playing together onstage by November and just a year after meeting they won the 2019 MAMA Award for Best Americana Band.
“I describe our sound as dark,” Hinkle said. “I’ve always been told I write really sad songs…It’s very personal, a lot of the songs.”
“If Cole’s happy, you’re not getting music,” Astelle said.
With a gravelly, almost grunge-like delivery of country-themed lyrics, Hinkle’s words about loss and pain blend well with Astelle’s aggressive upright bass lines to create songs that can be both haunting and beautiful.
Such is the case with “Fall Will Come,” a song from their upcoming album that the band played for Studio209 in the living room of their home.
“At the time when I wrote this song I was definitely a sad child with a notebook,” Hinkle said “I tried to fool everybody because everybody told me, ‘That’s enough waltzes.’ So this is my fast song, if you will.”
A cornerstone of their stage show, “Fall Must Come” and the rest of their set list have made Cole Hinkle & the Debauchery local favorites at venues like Ralston’s Goat in Modesto, Hideout Saloon in Mariposa and Dying Breed Brewing in Oakdale.
“We have so many amazing people in our lives that have helped us along the way, that we play shows with,” Astelle said. “That’s a musical family.”
Those interested in upcoming shows can find Cole Hinkle & the Debauchery on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. And don’t forget to listen to the band’s performance of “Fall Must Come” on Episode #262 of Studio209 at Studio209.tv.