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Shot of Twang

Two Dollar Pistols bang out a hard country sound.

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“For me, at this point,” he says, “[my] desires are not to be getting a pat on the back from [pop-country star] Kenny Chesney at some award show.”

Howie is proud, however, of the band’s July performance at the WSM Plaza Pickin’ Party in Nashville, which was arranged through and played next door to the Grand Ol’ Opry. It may not be a show on the Opry stage but, for Howie, it was a meaningful gig. Add that to ongoing East Coast club tours and the success of the group’s 2002 recording “You Ruined Everything,” and Howie has reason to be upbeat about the future.

The 34-year-old North Carolina native formed the band in 1995 as a side project. He was a drummer-for-hire for the likes of pop icons Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter. But he was also writing songs. Raised by a jazz pianist mother and a father who loved Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, Howie did his best to explore different musical directions. But he came to realize he was fighting a losing battle — at least with dad. “I realized I was writing basically country songs and trying not to sing them like they were,” he says.

So did Howie give in to natural inclinations by pursuing his current hard country sound? “It sounds cheesy, but it’s true,” Howie admits.

The band recorded its first CD, “On Down the Track,” in 1997 and the Pistols became a full-time project. Howie dropped drums to step out front and lead the band as singer, songwriter and rhythm guitarist. Work began in earnest, and Howie quickly learned it’s tough to keep a band together, given demands of families and finances.

“Especially as you get older,” he says, “it gets harder and harder to find people who want to duke that out on a daily basis.”

But Howie kept the project together. The band followed “Track” with a live recording cut in Chapel Hill. It also recorded a one-off project with an unknown Tift Merritt who has since gone on to a noteworthy Americana music career. Howie and Merritt clicked beautifully as a vocal team, but each has different musical reference points that make future projects unlikely.

“Everything” was another step forward and the band plans a new release in spring 2004. Howie says the new CD will be another slice of hard-country twang. But he admits he’s learning to let the music — and his band mates — open up.

“As time goes on, it gets easier for me to feel more comfortable letting the songs go where they’re going rather than forcing it,” he says. “If there’s a Beatles influence, I’m OK with that. ... There’s certainly some [different] stuff we’re playing now. I’m not going to be Mussolini about it. Just run with it.” S

Two Dollar Pistols play Poe’s Pub, Thursday, Oct. 9, at 9:30 p.m. $5.

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