Slobberbone – Common Sense
That name. Hard to forget, isn’t it? Like it or not, this Denton, Texas, quartet is sticking with it. They could have changed the name to accommodate a more mainstream acceptance when things started “happening” for them after they signed with Austin label Doolittle Records a couple years ago. But, as has been the case in every aspect of this young band’s existence, they let the chips continue to fall as they may.
“I was sleeping in the Doolittle offices one night and I was reading the radio station reports or comments or whatever they are, and there were a few ‘What’s up with that name?’ comments, and I got sick of it,” says Brent Best, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for Slobberbone. “I thought it was funny when we named it. I was sitting on the back lawn with Lee, our old bass player, and the dog was playing with this big ol’ bone, and we always called them slobberbones as kids. So I said, ‘That’s a nasty-ass slobberbone,’ and Lee said, ‘That’s it!’ At the time, it seemed like a good name.”
This seems to be the perfect microcosm for what this band is all about. They’re far from having one of those rotten attitudes that say “Hey, if you don’t like it, screw you.” It’s more a laid-back, laissez-faire attitude of laughing a little and saying, “Oh, well — we like it.”
Nevertheless, usually the first comment or question this band receives is about the name, and I’m guilty too; it was the first thing I asked. So let’s move on to bigger and more important things — like rock music. Slobberbone’s sound is not, hold onto your cowboy hats, country. Best says it best: “I just like to tell people that we’re a rock band. It’s not an effort to fuse two sounds together or even wave a flag for one particular movement. Who cares? Why think about it? Just write a song that makes you feel good. It may be fast or stupid or whatever. Just be happy with it.”
The band’s new album, Barrel Chested, certainly has its share of fast songs, but they’re most definitely not stupid. Bruising guitars, a steady rocking beat and Best’s deep, snarling voice will fleetly eradicate any hint of a straight country side to Slobberbone. Lyrically, the band often explores the usual rock band sum and substance: drinking. While it is a predominant theme, Barrel Chested is broader than that. The last song, a ballad titled “One Rung”, explores living a ho-hum, mundane life of lost love and clocking in and out for work. The rousing “I’ll Be Damned” looks at escape — from love and from town — and starting over.
While Slobberbone does have some country-influenced songs, the majority of Barrel Chested summons more thoughts of Jason & the Scorchers or Social Distortion than Son Volt or Uncle Tupelo. The frequent comparisons to the Uncle band often irritate Best — but not for the reason you might expect. “I’ve read so many articles about us and other bands where that name is evoked, and I wonder if that writer ever wrote anything when they were actually around,” Best says. “Where were you before, when I could never find anything to read about them?”
Slobberbone formed in early 1992, and judging by Best’s comments, it’s safe to assume they weren’t striving to become instant millionaires with big rock hits. “We played for a couple of years just for free beer,” Best says. “We were not even looking for a record deal. We just liked playing. Our first gig was at the Park ‘n’ Go in Denton — a beer store! I remember the first time we actually got paid for a show at a big club in Denton, too. We made like $175 and I was like, ‘Oh god!’ We bought a lot of beer and just had all our friends back to the house.” Three of the band members are still roommates: Best, Tony Harper (drums) and Brian Lane (bass) all share the same abode (rounding out the quartet is new guitar player Jess Barr).
“Brian’s the oldest. He was in a lot of cover bands; he ran the gamut way before we ever did. Tony was a pure garage punk kid, and Jess, our new guitar player, he’s only 21, so I have no idea where the hell he’s coming from!” Best himself admits to a fondness of Jason & the Scorchers and Rank & File. So does all that add up to an alternative-country band? “It’s such a broad thing,” Brent says of the tag. “I already hear people saying things like, ‘This is a more genuine alt-country record than that other one.’ It’s too weird. I don’t even think about it much.”
The record deal they weren’t looking for happened in early 1995. Jeff Cole, who runs Doolittle Records, kept in contact with a disc jockey friend in Houston who informed him of Slobberbone’s self-released Crow Pot Pie. “She did a syndicated radio show down there, and I went to her studio,” Cole recalled. “We were actually going to check out this other band that night and she said, ‘You gotta hear this band Slobberbone.’ She played ‘Haze of Drink’ and I called Brent almost immediately. And he was just amazed that I was calling him!”
Best and the band gladly took Cole up on his offer. “At that point we had been together a few years and all we told him was, ‘Put us on the road and help us pay for records’,” Best said.
After remixing a few cuts, Cole sent the band on the road to support the Doolittle re-release of Crow Pot Pie, and it didn’t take long for fans, writers and other bands to notice. Subsequent road trips saw Slobberbone opening for Jason & the Scorchers — a true honor for Brent, who recalled hearing “Broken Whiskey Glass” on the radio and being inspired to play the guitar. “I was talking to Jason at the end of the tour and he told me that he really didn’t like taking bands on tour with them,” Best recalled. “Then he said that we were the first band they had taken where there were people showing up not specifically for them, and they were able to make new fans. Yeah, it made my head blow up pretty big!”
Before that tour, though, there was the infamous show in Austin at the Split Rail during the 1996 South by Southwest Music Festival. Crawling with industry folk, so much so that some of those industry folk were shut out of the show because the club was at full capacity, Slobberbone proceeded to…do nothing except their regular show. Laissez faire, remember? “Yeah, looking back, that was the pre-alt-country explosion, or it was on the cusp, at least,” Best says. “I really had no idea there were these expectations of what we should sound like and all that. And I’m glad. We just went out there and did what we always do. We walked in there half-drunk and just hit it.”
Slobberbone plans to keep “just hitting it” for a while. Barrel Chested was released Aug. 19, as the band prepared to do a West Coast tour. Meanwhile, Brent Best continues to be a regular guy who just happens to play in rock band.
“Did you know that Sly & the Family Stone were from Denton?” he asks me. I reply that, no, I hadn’t known that (and, in fact, Best was stretching the truth a bit; leader Sylvester Stewart was born and raised in the area in the ’40s and ’50s, but formed Sly & the Family Stone in San Francisco in the mid-’60s). I did point out that I knew about Brave Combo, though, another Denton band. “Oh yeah, they’re great,” he says. “We played with them a couple of times. In fact, they do this thing here in Denton every January when the college kids aren’t around, so it’s just pretty much a Denton thing. This past year we played right before them, and I have to say it was one of the most fun shows we’ve played in a long, long time.”
When I ask Best if he’d like to add anything to relay to the alternative-country readers and listeners of the world, his response, at this point in our conversation, is par for the course: “Nah. I’m just going to get back to playing this new Star Wars game. Tony bought a Sony PlayStation and our lives here have been turned upside down since he brought it home. It’s fun to shoot the storm troopers because they make these noises and then they…” And so on. Laissez faire.
Jeff Copetas loves to evoke Jeffersonian terms such as “laissez faire” in alternative-country articles. He also likes ice hockey and old cars.