In the rainy delirium that was Lubbock Music Fest 2012, you may have missed a Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward set at the Blue Light Friday night. Which is unfortunate really, because it was a welcome reminder of the exciting promise of this band.
On “Guitars,” the single from their 2010 EP, The Apology: Part I, Parker says, “Bring me a jar full of lightning bolts.” I can’t think of a more apt caption for their sound. They broke through with The Lonesome Dirge, which was a folk country record told through jittery, driving rock. A bunch of drunken songs, brimming with chaotic tension. When they unplugged many of those songs in Parker’s own house for their Live In The Living Roomrecording, it gave new dimension to those intense moments in their music. It displayed a careful consideration for arrangement and subtlety that makes their raucous live show even more impressive. Lightning in a jar. In current Texas music, such ambition is refreshing.
My conversation with Parker touched on Belgian prison, cheap tequila, and pop music. But more importantly, he assured me that new material is finally on the way. You can listen to a new track, “I Thought Your Eyes Were Blue,” below. Parker said the song is going to be on The Apology: Part II, which will be released early next year.
New Slang: When you scheduled this gig, were y’all even aware it would be part of Lubbock Music Fest?
Rodney Parker: I think we scheduled this pretty far in advance, I didn’t find out about the fest until about three or four weeks ago and of course, you know, I was thrilled.
NS: Yeah, well, congratulations! You are now headlining Lubbock Music Fest.
RP: It’s really cool. There are some really good bands here and to get to play with Thrift Store Cowboys, who are some of our best friends.
NS: What the hell have y’all been doing over the past two years?
RP: It just takes a while to come up with new stuff! [laughs] We are in the studio right now and we’ve got “The Apology: Part II” set to come out in January. We’ve already started tracking and everything. In fact, on our website [link] we’ve got a couple of the new songs up there. I know it’s been a long time coming, it’s just one of the deals where it just takes for stuff to get done.
New Slang: I just noticed that it’s been 8 years since Blow The Soot Out. Like, wow.
RP: I know, man. Seems like so long ago, seems like a different band. I don’t listen to that record often, but sometimes I’ll hear it in someone else’s truck or at a bar or something and I think, who are these guys? Who is that guy singing? It’s weird, and we’re actually coming up on our 10-year anniversary of being 50 Peso Reward which I never thought would happen.
NS: Over the eight years, what was the weirdest place or show you’ve ever played?
RP: We’ve seen some craziness over the years. We played for a prison in Belgium, like a maximum security Belgian prison. They brought the prisoners in, sat ‘em down. It is one of those things where we were in the middle of “Firefight,” the first song and we looked around and thought, “What the hell are we even doing here?” [laughs]
NS: Like a bizarro At Folsom Prison?
RP: You know what? We even threw that in the set. “Folsom Prison Blues.”
NS: Do you remember the first time you came to play in Lubbock?
RP: Ah. Jeez. That was a long time ago. It was probably with Thrift Store Cowboy’s at Jake’s. I know we played Blue Light a long time ago but I’m unsure if that was our first time.
NS: Live In The Living Room was something I never expected from you guys. But it’s just so gorgeously arranged and well-played, do you ever stop to think about how talented the guys in your band are?
RP: Yes. Every single gig we play. I couldn’t imagine doing this without them. And that record… We’ve been playing these high-energy, rocking shows for forever, but underneath that, these guys are capable of producing these beautiful arrangements and showing what they can do beyond just putting on energetic shows. I think on that record it really came through. I’m pretty proud of it. It shows a different side of the band which was the whole point.
Some of these songs on that recording ended up sounding like different songs. Acoustic really breathed new life into some of those songs that we didn’t think had been there before. It came out even better than I had hoped, just was really happy with the sort of aesthetic that we created.
NS: What new music have you been listening to over the past year?
RB: It’s hard to narrow down. I guess I’ve been listening to a lot of Joe Ely, some Billy Bragg, Paul Simon. I do try to listen to pop music occasionally, even though it’s not really “for me.” You can get a lot of ideas and you can learn a lot from really well-made pop. It’s also a good way to keep yourself grounded and not go off making records that no one likes [laughs].
NS: You mention tequila in at least a couple of your songs, if I’m not mistaken. Are you a big tequila guy? What’s your favorite?
RP: My favorite tequila is well tequila, as a matter of fact. We are absolutely are what you would call a tequila band. That’s our shot of choice on stage. We don’t like it dressed, we don’t like limes, we don’t like it expensive.
NS: There are a lot of kids buying their first cars right now or leaving home for the first time that associate “Atlantic City” with your version and not Springsteen’s. I’m not making this up.
RP: Yeah, I didn’t expect that at all. We didn’t even think it would be recorded and it did, and we didn’t think it’d make the record but it did, and we definitely didn’t think it was going to be a single, but it was and it was a pretty successful one. We play that one so much and yeah, a lot of people don’t know that Bruce wrote it. I don’t know really how I feel about that [laughs]. I guess I wish that I had written it. Bruce’s original is sort of haunting and minimal, it’s great. But people said in the beginning, “How are you going to try and go cover Bruce like that?” And we never really thought about it that way. We knew we liked the song and that we wanted to just give it a try, you know. We’ve tried to stay ambitious—sometimes to a fault—but it’s more fun that way.