Over the Wires : Brent Best

I've been fortunate to see some pretty outstanding rock n' roll in my life. Although my tastes can sometimes steer towards the quieter songwriter types (Townes, Rouse, Buckner), when it comes to my love affair with music, there's still nothing that can touch an impassioned rock n' roll show. This is why I've squandered savings and spent chunks of paychecks to see live music for the greater part of the past 15+ years.

When thinking of the most memorable shows, those shows where I walk out sweaty, raspy-voiced and feeling as if I saw and felt something beyond explanation, I revisit about 40 Springsteen shows, along with incredible late nights with Marah, Wilco, Arcade Fire, Centro-matic, The Gourds, Brakes and Apollo Sunshine, to name a few. And then there's the afternoon of March 18, 1999. I was in Austin for my first of six trips to the South by Southwest music conference. Now ten years later, those rainy few hours at Club de Ville in Austin, Texas stand firmly as the day that I was on hand for what I consider the greatest rock show of my life. And the band to put on that set was Denton, Texas' Slobberbone.

If memory serves, this was my second Slobberbone show (Brownies in NYC being the first). Performing in an absolute downpour with nothing but a scant tent to cover their equipment, Brent Best, Jess Barr, Tony Harper and Brian Lane reminded maybe 100 people that sometimes nothing, absolutely nothing, can transcend the spirit like rock n' roll. After blasting through hard-charging Slobberbone songs, suddenly came the words: "Look out mama, there's a white boat coming up the river, with a big red beacon and a flag and a man on the rail." As the rain drenched us all, I'll never forget turning around to locate my friends in the rear of the venue. Everyone was smiling, dancing, and screaming the lines to Neil Young's "Powderfinger." And after "Barrel Chested," "Front Porch," Judas Priest's "Breakin' the Law" and The Gourds' "Web Before You Walk Into It," to name a few, my favorite Neil Young song was the perfect inclusion.

I've gone on to see Slobberbone, and its sister band The Drams, whenever in Austin or when they make the all-too-rare jaunt out west. Most nights down at South by Southwest, when not watching Brent and his band perform, it seems as if we're almost always at the same shows, taking it in from the audience. Over the years, we've talked about music, books, sports and just about every other topic of interest over beers and smokes, often until the pub doors closed for the night. I consider Brent Best not only one of the greatest songwriters and rock n' roll voices of our time, but also a friend.

In 2004, after four incredible albums, highlighted by 1997's Barrel Chested and 2000s Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today, the band posted a message on their website informing fans that the run was over. Best would gather the majority of Slobberbone to form The Drams, who released the fantastic Jubilee Dive in 2006. But the Slobberbone story wasn't over. Early this year they resurfaced and have since played a date here and there. Despite the excitement surrounding their return, no one knows for sure what's next. I figured it was time we just ask Brent.

I suppose I should just get the obvious one out of the way first. I see that you're playing dates with Slobberbone and solo. Since there's been no official announcement, what does this mean for the band situation? Are The Drams still active? How's it all shaking out?

Drams are still semi-active. We just played a show last night. The idea is to do both but obviously we'll have to kinda focus on one or the other at one time and it looks like we're gonna focus on some Slobberbone stuff for now. Keith and Chad are playing and doing quite well in The King Bucks right now and with Brian back it seems like a good time to fire up Slobbebone and maybe start laying down some tracks. And then hopefully do it all again with The Drams in a year or so. I like the idea of having both and having them be very different things. Solo shows just sorta fill the cracks in between.

How has it been maturing with Jess, Tony and now Brian back in the mix? With families and such, how has that played into the decisions you make around the band(s)?

We're definitely not as balls-out as we once were in regards to just touring all the time like we used to. We have to plan and be a bit more surgical with it but that seems to suit us all just fine nowadays. It could change to some degree once we have a new album we're psyched over but it's fair to say our approach has softened for now to some degree.

I've always thought that "Placemat Blues" was about the music industry/business. I'm guessing its open to interpretation, but am I onto something? Either way, can you share your thoughts on the business.

Most definitely. It was directed a little more to radio at the time (1999) but obviously nothing's gotten better on that front and certainly not with the rest of the old-school industry at large. Of course the internet has leveled the field a great deal but they still seem to be just as backassward as they always were inasmuch as not embracing the inevitable but rather fighting to maintain a status quo that has sucked for years. It's lined their pockets for ages but sucked for everyone else. Now when I see them trying to do things like fight Net Neutrality and suing kids for downloading it just confirms that they are clueless as to what it means to actually be innovative and competitive as companies. Unfortunately, we see that in all areas in these days of bailouts for giant corporations. They got so used to running the show that when they fuck it all up they suddenly abandon all their free-market principles, really, by demonstrating they don't actually want to have to compete or be innovative, but would rather fight to keep an always changing marketplace from changing. Sucks.

What's your relationship with New West right now? Every time I've seen Slobberbone or The Drams play at SXSW, I've always seen Peter Jesperson (A&R for New West, signed and managed The Replacements) and he always looks like a wide-eyed kid.

Haven't talked much with them as of late but it's because I haven't done anything really since the Drams record. We love Peter very much. He's always graciously hosted us when we were in LA and it's always a blast to get to pick his brain and hear some of the old stories. He is a died-in-the-wool music lover for sure.

As I mention in the introduction, I still cite your SXSW show at Club de Ville in 1999 as the greatest rock n' roll show I've ever attended. I stood next to (The Gourds') Jimmy Smith for most of the show. That is, until he went onstage to sing one of his own songs before forgetting the words and turning it over to you. Given the pouring rain and amount of water that was onstage, people in the crowd were actually a bit worried about you guys. Do you recall that show?

Oh yeah, we still remember that one. We were more than ready to be off that stage once the water rose more than an inch above our pedals but I seem to remember it was Jimmy that was egging us on and then left! It was fun, though, and a lot of people seem to have fond memories of that show. I do remember that none of our shit worked the next night at our actual showcase.

Slobberbone's Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today finished at #2 in the Postcard From Hell poll of the best records of the 2000s (Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came in first). Better than a Grammy?

Had not heard that. Crazy. What the hell do you do with a Grammy anyways? Can you Ebay them for cash?

Can you tell me about the song "Robert Cole?"

I wrote that some time after SB broke up. I hadn't really written in a while and then that just presented itself one night almost fully formed and really kinda got the wheels cranking for me again. It wasn't really connected to anything else at the time, other than another song I had just written called 'Aunt Ramona' and I didn't really know what it was for. Some time later I was contacted by Tim Lee who was putting together the Larry Brown tribute album Just One More and then I knew what it was for. That was a cool little gift at a time when I was sort of rudderless. It'll probably show up some day on an album of like-minded songs.

One late night at SXSW, I recall you mentioned that your home is basically nothing but CDs. I hate to ask, but can you share some favorites? I won't say "top five or ten," but that's really what I'm getting at.

Yeah, that's tough. A few years ago I moved out to the country into a little shotgun house and all those CD's are behind me in my main center studio room. They just kinda loom there at a time when I rarely buy CD's ever. People give me stuff and I listen online and record a lot of other people's stuff so I've kinda become disjointed from the process of coming in and putting on a record and I don't know how I feel about that. I listen as much as I ever did but the ritual seems to have changed. They're still there and I can't ever relinquish them 'cuz there's always that night when I've got some old thing in my head and am maybe kinda drunk and I can't sleep until I find it and listen to it and then get online and search it and youtube it and read a bunch of bullshit blog posts about it and play some video games and read some more and then maybe go to sleep. I have uncles who can barely get out of their chairs but still keep 7 or 8 tractors in their barns. It's kinda like that.

What are you listening to lately?

Changes weekly, almost daily these days. I guess I've succumbed to the modern-day-induced short attention span but I always end up fixating and staying with the things that grab and shake me. Love The Hold Steady. Love the new Low Anthem disc. Isbell's newest. A lot of local stuff here, The Slow Burners in particular and a duo called RTB2. And of course, Glossary. Best band in America, maybe.

Got a good book recommendation?

Larry Brown, always. Cormac of course, Crews. There's so much, you just gotta dig. Right now I'm reading a book on the history of Amsterdam by Geert Mak that a friend of mine from there gave me and I'm totally enthralled. Sometimes I need great fiction and sometimes I need compelling facts and in the end they mostly do the same thing for me.

And lastly, for fans who are itching for something new out of Slobberbone or The Drams, anything we can pass along?

We're looking to start woodshedding and screwing around with some new Slobberbone demos so we'll just have to see what happens. We never ever really had a plan before we ever started anything and we still don't. We'll just let it tell us what to do, if anything.

Also, I don't know when you're planning to post this, but being how my online acumen has severely waned the last few years and I don't have a lot of outlets on my own, I'd like to let people know that Slobberbone will be on the road starting Dec. 1 in Little Rock at The Whitewater Taven, Dec. 2 at Newby's in Memphis, Dec. 3 in Nashville, Dec. 4 in Knoxville, and Dec. 5 at Smith's Old Bar in Atlanta. Come see us and let's have a drink. Thanks for the interest and take care, buddy,



themikedubose said...

Damnit, next time ask him when he's going to come around here...no Wapak show?

Nice piece. I have a particularly strong love for both 'bone and The Drams, which makes their overly long absence from my life really painful.

PearlSnapMan said...

I agree Mike, I'd love to see them in Wapak too. Great interview!

sotampacane said...

Outstanding work Chris. Glad to hear that the Drams are still going along in some capacity. I'm looking forward to seeing them Saturday night in the ATL.

The Judge said...

nice job, chris...i'm kinda sick over the fact that I can't join my little brother at the show in ATL this weekend

Daryl P said...

Nice work K-fly ! This band has to be my favorite bar band of the decade .

Jeff said...

Great interview, thanks!

Noodle Brains said...

Great Post. Fan fucking tastic band

Jay said...

Good work, Chris. And the Glossary plug is tremendous.

Campbell said...

Thank you all for reading. And thanks to Brent for being a class act, as always. I owe you a beer....