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Alt-country artistry with the Mallett Brothers Band

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A provincial purist might suggest that being the finest alt-country band in a New England seacoast town like Portland, Maine, is a modest achievement. "Try Austin or Nashville and get back to me," might be the attitude.

A quick listen to Portland's Mallett Brothers Band, though, would melt said purist's ears. A sextet featuring world-class chops, vocals and songwriting, the Mallett Brothers could quickly establish themselves in any musical community they deign to visit. Indeed, the band's chemistry is so fluidly intuitive that it seems almost predetermined.

Wally Wenzel, Nate Soule, Luke and Will Mallett, Nick Leen and Brian Higgins make up the band - and all of them seem to play 200 instruments and harmonize like beer-happy angels. It's odd, then, that before the Mallett Brothers Band formed, none of the musicians had displayed any particular affinity for country music.

Nonetheless, after playing together for just over a year, and producing two superb albums, the self-titled debut and "Low Down," they steamrollered the top categories at the 2011 Portland Phoenix's Best Music Awards, winning Best Local Act, Best Live Act, and Best Local Album.

Prior to an appearance Friday at Groton's Side Pocket Cafe for the weekly Blue Collar Happy Hour, Luke Mallett talked a bit about the band.

On how six guys from Maine, who had separately and together been in punk, metal, funk and hip-hop groups - even a "death lounge act" - managed to coalesce into an alt-country/rock freight train:

"It was something we all grew into. I personally spent 12 years in a hip-hop group before this project got up and going. We've got a pretty diverse group of musicians all thrown together, all coming from different projects and genres, but somehow, once we were all in a room together, the music came naturally. By the time we had played a bunch of shows and finished the first record, we had embraced it completely."

On the band's reaction to sweeping the big trophies in the 2011 Portland Phoenix Music Awards:

"It was huge motivation for us. We had put a lot into the band at that point in time, sacrificing day jobs and weekends and hours and hours in the studio. It is nice to have a sense of validity, but it's almost even better sometimes to see the faces in the crowd while we're playing. People really seem to enjoy themselves, which helps us do the same."

On how to harness the quantifiable New England momentum and spread the word:

"The plan for us has always stayed the same. Keep moving further, keep playing more and more shows, keep selling more records, keep traveling further and further. It's been fantastic to find that we've been included in playlists and radio in places like Texas and Oregon on the complete other side of the country from our home base. It's got us hungry, we plan on striking while the iron is hot. Coming soon to a town near you."

In a 2011 guide to the hottest bachelors in each of the 50 states, Cosmopolitan magazine selected the band's Will Mallett as their choice for Maine. Very cool - for Will. Which publications, then, would brother Luke suggest might feature the other band dudes as centerfolds?

"Nick Leen would be on the cover of Bass Master magazine, Nate Soule would fit nicely on the cover of Mustache Monthly, Brian Higgins is a shoe-in for the Civil War Reenactment Digest, Wally Wenzel is the top model in The Flannel Gentleman, and I myself would love to get a page in Cowboy Hat Quarterly."

The Mallett Brothers Band, Blue Collar Happy Hour, 7 p.m. Friday, Side Pocket Cafe, 1066 Poquonnock Road, Groton; free; (860) 445-1556.


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