Slobberbone does music their way.
By Brendan Doherty
JANUARY 20, 1998: EVERYONE KNOWS GUYS like Slobberbone, who sit around a sleepy town drinking beer, fighting boredom with their guitars by pushing out noise to break the almost deafening silence.
Denton, Texas, population 25,000, is such a town, perched north of Dallas where the musicians make ends meet as pizza delivery guys. Their nights off are likely spent scoring dope and tuning guitars. Denton is also the home of North Texas State, a college known for its music. It's the birthplace of Sly Stewart of Sly and the Family Stone (before he moved to San Francisco to make it big), Toadies, Brave Combo...and Slobberbone, a little trio with some powerful songs.
"Playing music is the best way to kill time, especially in Denton," says guitarist and singer Brent Best with a slight drawl, in an echo-less Motel 6 room in Lexington, Ky. At four in the afternoon, Best and the band have been sleeping all day.
"It's the college towns that get more character, because the kids get away from home and let their hair down--restaurants turn into venues at night, and there's a healthy party scene. We played our first couple of years for free beer, and our first gig was at the beer store, a Park & Go."
The early days of freebie's are thankfully over. Billboard magazine hailed Slobberbone's first CD, Crow Pot Pie, as an "inspired frenzy." A number of other weeklies throughout the southeast have lauded their compelling live show.
"Our bass player hocked his bass to see Paul Westerberg of the Replacements," says Best. "Then the pawn shop burned down. Our devotion to Neil Young is as great as that, but Denton is one of the bigger determining factors in our songs. They all come out of being there."
The band fuses sorrow and fury with a Texas drawl and a rocking beat in the manner of early Uncle Tupelo. Whereas most of the bands placed onboard the alt.country bandwagon would like to re-write the Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling," or "Take it Easy," these boys would just as soon play a whole set of songs belonging in the record sleeves of more sorrowful AC-DC, early Crazy Horse or a more sensitive ZZ Top (think El Loco-period) tugging at the heartstrings with the occasional violin, mandolin, or steel guitar. More Neil Young than Grandpa Jones.
"Let's keep the emphasis on rock," says Best. "There are a lot of great rock bands that get roped into the alt.country label thing just because they move along with an acoustic guitar, or sing sad songs. It's distracting and I'm glad that it's started to blow over. It's just not fair to lump us together with BR-549 and do it with a straight face."
The labels came courting over the last year, working to fill the wings with a fresh crop of new bands to lasso together as the next musical trend. The alt.country trend is four or five years old in some quarters, and includes bands that have been playing (like Slobberbone) for long before that. It's already old enough to be buried in the quickly turning musical world. Rock and country are plumbed almost completely. Rarer is the small-town band that can capture the anguish, charm and longing of rural America, and convey the message with a big-town sophistication.
"Universal had something for us, but in a sick way," says Best. "They told us they wanted us because they thought the movement would be big, not because they liked us. It soured us to the whole experience. There were lots of dinners and handshakes, but nobody really wanted us."
So Slobberbone made the new record for themselves, and they're better for it. Barrel Chested, their second full-length, has its share of force. Cathartic and powerful, the melodically focused "Engine Joe" is a song about the local guy who fixes cars. "There's been girls who've loved me, but I cheated on them, with a woman named Whiskey, and Gin her best friend," sings Best in "Get Gone Again." Bruising guitars augment Best's everyday-sounding vocals. "I'll Be Damned," the record's sprawling seven-minute-long focal point, heaps on the lover's anguish, burning like a mattress on the fire-to-end-all-relationships fire. The song flares with emotional intensity, and doesn't end so much as it comes undone.
"There's a bit of a misconception that if you sing about that kind of thing you're someone who stumbles around all of the time," Best says. "Don't read my lyrics too literally. Drinking and alcoholism are perfect metaphors for other problems, like relationship problems."
For a band on the road, home isn't your address, but anywhere you happen to be. From small things, big things one day come. Denton's just as big as Lubbock, Texas, the town that spawned Buddy Holly. For better or worse, these three will try to take their musical vision somewhere...bigger. Out of the corner bar, and into every corner of the world with tales of the corner bar.
"We know that Slobberbone is a silly name," says Best. "It was one of those things we came up with when we were drinking beer and hanging out in the backyard. When we rise above the stigma of that name, we know we'll have finally made it."
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