Accident Clearinghouse – Studies in contrast
In the land where Lake Wobegon meets the Mall of America, Accident Clearinghouse seems perfectly indigenous. Hailing from a prefab suburb north of the Twin Cities, the group is comprised of six twentysomethings fronted by Quillan Roe, an art-school grad who was weaned on metal and punk. But there they are, in bolo ties and rhinestones, making honky-tonk music from the old-time traditions of country, swing, and a little boogie-woogie.
“It’s no wonder we come off as a bastard hybrid,” reflects Roe. Since forming in 1993 from the musical collaborations of Roe and classmates Jeff Tranberry and Mike Brady at St. Paul’s College of Visual Arts, contrasts have come to define Accident Clearinghouse.
The band’s evolving sound is a case in point. Saginaw Sweetheart, their 1996 debut, evoked the brooding country-folk of Son Volt. “It was our most personal album. The stories were basically true and reflected a lot of the stuff I was slogging through at the time,” recalls Roe. But it was not the particular brand of honky-tonk to which Accident Clearinghouse aspired — not the kind of high volume, show-stopping numbers one might expect from a quirky-looking six-piece band.
That sound fully emerged on their fourth album, released earlier this year under the title By Blood And Marriage: The Accident Clearinghouse Story. “We wanted to have more fun and show our audiences a better time,” explains Roe. Musically, this meant adding horns, swing beats and jazz influences to a foundation that remained squarely grounded in country. Lyrically, it meant taking the risk of occasional silliness, evident in the sing-along tracks “Do You Like The Hula?” and “If I Said You Were A Nurse (Could I Look Into Your Purse?)”.
From a songwriter who can talk intelligently about hip-hop and Gershwin in the same breath, the musical challenge was engaging. Roe says he relied partially on skills he picked up in art school, when he first learned how to paint. “As I studied more and more artists,” says Roe, “all of their various approaches got mixed together, strained through my own ideas. I do the same thing with music and songwriting.”
A growing ensemble of bandmates is giving Roe greater compositional choices. The current lineup includes Brady on vocals, electric guitar and banjo, Matt Marohl on pedal steel, Rufus Moon on washboard, Kevin Riach on drums, Roe on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, and Tranberry on upright bass.
As for the band’s unusual name, which was taken from the mental collision of a traffic report and a sideways glance at a Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes envelope: “It doesn’t mean anything,” Roe claims. Then again, to borrow a phrase from Ed McMahon, they may already be a winner.