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Catching up with: Casey Mullaney of Tugboat

Despite gleaming new downtown locales, refurbished buildings and an ever-improving sense of self, Buffalo will always be a gritty city. Craft beers and jovial Matt and Kim-served beats aside, it still marches to the beat of guitar rock riffs, ones served up by dudes who once carried combs in the back pockets of their Wranglers to tame their unkempt manes.

Guitarist Casey Mullaney and his Tugboat bandmates hear this local heartbeat, and it reverberates throughout its two EPs and 2014 album, “Escape Queen City.” Part Black Sabbath-inspired hard rock and part modern hardcore, the band’s music teams well with Buffalo’s nuanced “we hate you, too” self-respect, all while delivering the rusty-edged thrust always pumping at the city’s center.

Now booking shows and working on material for its next EP, Mullaney and Tugboat have no designs on slowing down. I caught up with the band’s guitarist to discuss his artistic influences, how the band fits into Buffalo’s current trajectory and why it likes to play Franklin Street’s Tudor Lounge.

Question: A tugboat is used for towing larger vessels to port. How does this relate to the name of your band and what you guys do on record or stage?

Answer: I’m not sure exactly how it relates to an actual boat, but I have had people come up to me after shows and say that it’s a perfect fit with the music. They seemed to enjoy our show, so I’ll take it as a compliment.

Q: Tugboat’s first full-length (“Escape Queen City”) came out last July. Do you recall any bands that specifically influenced the album and, if so, how?  

A: I’ve always been a fan of the bands that took the bluesy style of the early ‘60s and made it heavy. [Black] Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, especially. I would say anyone who knows Clutch would know that they were a definite influence on “Escape Queen City.” When I started writing the album, I wanted to combine the blues-rock feel of Clutch with the riff-driven heaviness of Mastodon and create my own thing. We couldn’t be happier with the results.

Q: Despite Buffalo’s ongoing resurgence, the city will always be a gritty place — especially through winter months. How does your and your bandmates’ music reflect this dichotomy? 

A: I think it reflects the city quite well with our mix of clean and dirty, especially since our “clean” is still a bit gritty. All of our songs have a contrast between light and dark that I think most people can relate to. 

Q: If you could have a drink with any musician, who would it be, and why? 

A: [Black Sabbath guitarist] Tony Iommi. He’s the God of riffs. 

Q: You guys are semi-regulars at the Tudor Lounge. What makes that place such a great, albeit under-the-radar downtown venue? 

A: The Tudor is a great place for us. It’s a smaller venue, and the dive-bar atmosphere fits with our dirty hard rock style. [Tudor bartender and booker] Chris Benbenek has always been good to us, and when all our friends come out to see us, it’s a real fun time. It’s definitely our favorite place to play in Buffalo.


Who: Tugboat

When: 9 p.m. Feb. 13

Where: Tudor Lounge, 335 Franklin St.

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