by: Thomas D. Mooney
Whiskey Folk Rambler songs often play themselves out like three-minute short films. Close your eyes, you’ll think you’ve wound up on a 1960s Western set. These tales from the Fort Worth-based band are typically filled with characters who are for the most part, with a vagabond attitude and probably not anyone you’d want to meet down a dark alley. To call them down right malignant on society would be a step too far, but most wouldn’t call them holier than thou either.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Tyler Rougeux and company have so far been able to find that perfect sound to help tell their tales and dust bowl ballads. Typically, if it takes you more than a sentence to describe a band’s sound, I’d consider that a good thing. Whiskey Folk Ramblers certainly fall in that category having been able to mix trumpet epicness of spaghetti western, elements of Eastern European gypsy-folk, tidbits of country lonesomeness, and storytelling that is just as much Nick Cave gothic as it is Beat Generation underground.
You can easily picture hearing a handful of their songs in a Quentin Tarantino film just as easily as you can imagine reading the story in an actual pulp fiction publication.
The Whiskey Folk Ramblers will be joined by The Lusitania and Ivory & Ash this Friday (March 30) at the GlassyAlley Art Studio and Gallery. Like the Whiskey Folk Ramblers on Facebook here, follow them on Twitter here, and for more information on Friday’s show, click here.
New Slang: How’s it going? You guys haven’t been to Lubbock in a while.
Tyler Rougeux: Yeah, we haven’t been back in a while so it’ll be good to come back.
NS: Yeah, I think the show is going to be great. I think people are really excited about the bill overall. I guess my first question is about the spaghetti western influence on the music. Why has it had such an influence?
TR: Well, like many men around the state of Texas–and probably all of America and other countries–I’m a huge fan of movies like “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” and “Fistful of Dollars.” But the scores, the soundtracks for those movies that Ennio Morricone did, that trumpet sound to me has always been so rich. And it undeniably puts me in a good state of mind. So whenever I was starting this band, I was 21, and I wrote this song and all I could think of was that it needed a trumpet on it. And I kind of went back to those spaghetti western films and went and bought some records of Ennio Morricone’s. It was all that was in the record player for months. I just loved that sound. We found a trumpet player to record with us who ended up joining our band. So it was like “great, we have access to that sound.” We’re not a spaghetti western band or anything, but we definitely do have that influence. I think that the reason it’s incorporated in the band, not only because I love the sound–that’s a huge reason–but also I want to hopefully have somebody feel the same way about our songs in a similar way that I have for Ennio Morricone’s songs.
NS: Whenever I was listening to the albums, it seemed to me that another influence on you may be Tom Waits. I think, at least in a songwriting way, that the storytelling can be similar.
TR: Well, I am a Tom Waits fan. And there are other members of the band who are Tom Waits fans. He’s a real cool guy. Actually one thing about Tom Waits is that he’s a huge beatnik reader. He’s a huge Jack Kerouac fan. I think part of the storytelling comes from the beatnik writers and just reading enough of those books to kind of leaks into your storytelling. And it’s kind of hard not to write stories in a certain way if they make sense that way. So yes, we’re Tom Waits fans. And I think people can see those hints of darkness in our music. But I think the same goes out to guys like Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave. People like that.
NS: Now you just mentioned the whole Beat Generation thing. I’m assuming you are huge reader. What do you think it is that makes you gravitate towards that literature and time?
TR: Before I had read any of those books, I started like many people do with “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. I think it just sounded intriguing to me. And whenever I read it, our band didn’t have any money, we were going out on the road [laughs]. We had this van that was scary. We didn’t know if it’d get us to the places we were going. We thought we would break down everywhere we went. I think I could relate to it, even though it was a different generation. But as far as where he was coming from, I did. Like enjoying where you’re at even if it’s in a terrible place. It just kind of went a long way in my mind. And the words he used to describe the situation and just traveling with no money. Being freezing cold and hungry and having to drink whiskey to stay warm at night. It all just made sense to me. And it still does. I really connected. And the way he told the story, the words he used, I figured that was a really cool way to tell a story–even if it’s a stupid story about an old lady and her pie stand.
NS: Yeah. There’s this Kerouac quote–actually, I think it was someone elses’ about Kerouac–that I really like. It has to do with the his writing style and how the establishment always hates when writers come along and revolutionize how people write. It goes to your point about even if it’s a stupid story, it can be great if it’s told a specific way. It’s “it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”
TR: Exactly, and he did really change the way storytelling was told.
NS: Now, on your Facebook, you have to describe yourselves in a way “it ain’t country.” Why do you say that (now it’s changed to “We’ll die when we collapse.”)?
TR: I actually just recently noticed that was up on our Facebook page. That’s a funny thing. I think that statement came from–you know, we’re called the Whiskey Folk Ramblers–and that just sounds like we’re a country band. We’ve played with a lot of country bands. We do have a country influence on our music. Some of our songs are pretty heavily country. But, like I said, we’ve played with a lot of Texas Country and we’ve always kind have been the outcast of the group. The kind of weird band that isn’t exactly like all the other bands. We have kind of a darker vibe. Country music, it was probably the biggest transitional key out of my teenage punk-rock days.And we do have a good amount of influence from it. But calling us a country band, I think you’re neglecting all the other stuff. The jazz, folk, gypsy, and rock’n’roll influences that are also intertwined in our songs. Maybe a better way to say it would be “we’re not just a country band [laughs].”
NS: I want to talk a little about the song “Gamblin’ Preacher and His Daughter.” Where did that song come from?
TR: I wrote that song–you know, I write a lot of fictional stories. You know, growing up in the Bible belt, you see a lot of religion, you see a lot of corruption, situations and whatnot. And if you watch enough westerns, you also see that. That song, it came from just a story about a preacher that has a traveling revival. And goes through and basically acts like this good guy and gets people riled up thinking he’s changed their lives. It’s basically just a carnival act. And he’s just a big drunk and his daughter has to put up with him. She sees both sides of it. Seeing the way they are changing the way people feel and then seeing the reality of it. And then the daughter slips out and goes crazy.
NS: Was this song your fist official music video?
TR: That was our first official music video. And actually our only official music video. We just filmed that this past year. It was fun, we had never done anything like that before. We worked with a director that we know from Fort Worth. Our banjo/accordion player, he did the score for a short film that this director had made last year. So he was trying to figure out how much to pay Richard and Richard was like “well hey, how you just give us a really good deal on working with us on making a music video?” It’s always good to find people who you can work with. You can help them out and they can help you out.
NS: So what do you guys have as far as new material in the works? You guys working on a new album now?
TR: We are working on a new album now. We’ve been trying to figure out what we were going to do with this third album. We recorded five songs about six or eight months ago. And we’ve been sitting on them, trying to figure out if we anyone was going to help us get it out. If we were going to be signing to a label or if a touring agency was going to get behind us. Enough time went by and the people we were working with and us weren’t working properly together, so we’ve recently just came to the conclusion that–we have a producer in our band who has all the stuff we need. There’s six of us, and I feel like there’s enough guys with an educated understanding and good taste and good ear for music, that we actually decided we were going to use the producer we have playing guitar and we are just going to take everything back into our own hands temporarily. So we’re going to record the album ourselves and hopefully put it out that way [laughs]. We’re going to try that and I believe it’s going to sound really good. We really want to get in tune with what we sound like at live shows and get a polished sound that doesn’t sound too polished on our third album. We’re pretty excited about doing it ourselves. I think by the end of the summer, we’ll probably be done recording it. I couldn’t say when it’ll come out though.