by: Thomas D. Mooney
In a lot of ways, The Dirty River Boys is the first time we’re hearing the entire Dirty River Boys. It’s not that Long Cold Fall, Train Station, or last year’s Science of Flight weren’t genuine works of art or anything. But, we’re now four years into The Dirty River Experience and it feels like a band more than ever.
For really the first time recording, each of the songs have, more or less, come from a the same period of time. There’s not any remnants from the early days. It’s like a clean slate of songs. It’s something every artist runs into at some point. You’ve had your entire life to write those 10 songs for the first album and only a year for that sophomore piece.
What’s helped skip that sophomore slump for DRB is that they aren’t relying on either guitarist/vocalist Nino Cooper or Marco Gutierrez too heavily. Sure, that’s where a good chunk of songs are stemming from, but the rhythm section, drummer Travis Stearns and bassist Colton James, have a couple of contributions as well. It’s always been an understood collaboration aspect; the band works on taking an idea for a song and makes it into an actual song. Lots of bands do that. But Stearns and James have a handful of lyrical contributions as well.
Talk about going into Dirty River Beatles territory.
Anyone who has ever attended a Dirty River Boys show knows that they’d able to transform the most catatonic crowd of hardened no-nonsense cowboys and arms-folded hipsters into a rowdy bunch of seasoned DRBelievers. In many ways, that’s what’s made them a staple and known as a band. They took a bunch of country and folk songs and gave them a punk edge and attitude.
But, they’ve shown that they’re more than just a good time (not that there’s anything wrong with that). More than anything, they’re just better songwriters than they used to be. Maybe more importantly, they’re not letting previous successes dictate what they’re going to be going forward. There are songs on The Dirty River Boys (and previous releases for that matter, but specifically here) that aren’t going to fit into the “Teenage Renegade” setting–or at least not in an obvious way.
They’re still incorporating sounds and styles that they love but haven’t been able to experiment with or show. There’s still rocking choruses that are destined to echo out of every dancehall, venue, and amphitheater in the state. You can’t tell me you’re not going to hear “Down by the River,” “Highway Love,” and “Teenage Renegade” shouted by the DRB faithful. I just want to see if, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ll be able to hear the lonesome “Falcon’s Song” performed to that same captivated crowed.
Let’s hope so.
We caught up with Marco Gutierrez last week to talk about their latest self-titled album. They’ll be performing at this year’s Kalf Fry on Friday along with Turnpike Troubadours, Whiskey Myers, Dalton Domino, and Hunter Hutchinson. Kalf Fry tickets are available from Roadhouse Tickets and can be purchased here.
New Slang: Let’s start off on “Down by the River.” That entire song, but in particular, that chorus has some great, great imagery. You guys worked with Ray Wylie Hubbard on that song. How’d that collaboration wind up happening?
Marco Gutierrez: That song started from this riff Nino had. He had this vague lyrical idea going with that riff, but we never really did anything with it. We always thought, it’d be really cool if Ray Wylie Hubbard wrote it with us. It just had his vibe in a way. So we had that riff going for about a year and hadn’t done anything with it. We ended up playing a few shows with Ray. One of them was his Grit N’ Groove Festival near New Braunfels. After that show, Nino called up Ray and asked him. “Hey man, we have this idea we think you might dig. Do you want to try and write a song together?” He said yeah. I think a couple of days later, he had a gig somewhere in Austin and he came to our tour manager’s house. We sat around for about an hour and hashed out the lyrics. We were all throwing out ideas. The song didn’t really have a chorus when we were first starting on it. Ray said he thought he may have it. Let’s see where it goes. Half way through it, he through out that “Undertaker looks like crows, red eyes dressed in black.” That’s how that chorus came to be. All Ray Wylie. We knew we wanted a stomp-clap kind of thing. Kind of a chain gain vocals.
NS: It’s a song that’s right in his wheel house. Everything about that song–the music, the lyrical content–all of it just feels so Ray Wylie Hubbard. I know he writes with people from time to time and everything, but it’s not every day he also cuts the song with them. He’s kind of selective on that.
MG: Oh yeah definitely. I was really surprised when he came into the studio. I honestly didn’t think we were cool enough [laughs]. It was really nice.
NS: [Laughs]. So I’ve gotten to know you guys the last couple years and everything. We’ve always ended up talking about music and such. Obviously, you guys do have a wide range of influences. That’s no surprise. A lot of bands say that, but you guys really do have a bunch wide range. But I don’t think you really have shown that off with your previous EPs and Science of Flight. This album though, it feels you were really able to do that.
MG: Yeah. There definitely are. You’ve hung out with us. Each of us has a completely different personality. Each of us has completely different ideas on what kind of music we should play and what our influences are. Sometimes, I think that can hold us back, but for the most part, it allows us to do what we ended up doing on the album. You have a swampy rock song and then a real country sounding song. It’ll kind of hit these different landscapes of genres.
NS: Was there any worries that they wouldn’t mesh well enough to make a complete record?
MG: I think initially, there may have been some. It was from the help of our fucking awesome producer Frenchie Smith, that we kind of tied them all together. We kind of wanted all the songs to have a borderline anthemy kind of feel. I think initially, we did think “How he hell are we going to tie all these songs together?” How is “Loser” going to go with “Falcon’s Song?” Know what I mean? But I think it call came together and a big part of that was because of our producer Frenchie.
NS: It also feels like there’s more songs that started out as collaborations and songs that feel like they’re more joint efforts. I’m not saying previous songs weren’t, but there’s some stuff on here where each of you is singing a verse. Things like that. More of a Beatles thing going. You think that kind of happens just because you are all more comfortable with each other?
MG: I think so. That’s sort of what happened when we sat down and wrote with Ray. We’re writing these verses and we’re all trying them out. I don’t think that happened where we were necessarily planning for it to happen. On the few songs that it happened on, it just kind of happened.
NS: Yeah. So for example, “Soldier in Time,” that’s where this happens. How’s that song start out and become what it is?
MG: Nino initially had the idea for that song too. That borderline Spanish sounding intro and cool chorus. The idea behind the song was about reoccurring nightmares that he had as a kid. I believe that was the inspiration. We all did some writing to that. Each one of us takes a verse on that one.
NS: Mhmm. That intro music–well, the music in general–it kind of reminds me of Batman Returns.
MG: Yeah [laughs]. It’d be cool if we were able to get that in a Batman film. When that song was done, we had an all girl choir from El Paso come sing on that song. When it was done, I thought that same thing–it needs to be in a Tim Burton film. It’d be a great bad guy theme song or something.
NS: Oh definitely. That needs to happen. So the first song we heard from the album was “Thought I’d Let You Know.” It’s really folky. I was really surprised to learn that it was a co-write with Cory Morrow. It’s not exactly something you’d expect.
MG: Yeah. I think that was before Ray. I think that was our first co-write ever. Same kind of thing. We’d been touring with Cory for a long time. We really helped us out when we were initially starting the band. It was back when we were a three-piece. He was really good to us. We’d always talked about writing together so we gave it a shot. Sat in a room. I had this real catchy chorus and some ideas for verses and after a while, “Thought I’d Let You Know” came out.
NS: Was it important for you guys to record his out at Sonic Ranch?
MG: Oh yeah. One of my buddies had come out and visited us and we were talking about how five years prior, one night we were hanging out. I was playing music with my old band and I said, “Man, it’d be so damn cool if one day, we’d go out and record at Sonic Ranch.” That’s kind of the music oasis. You kind of dream about it when you’re a musician in El Paso. It was huge for all of us. Just an amazing experience. It’s the world’s largest residential recording studio. You go out there and it’s located on this huge pecan orchard. Acre upon acre of pecan trees. You basically have no cell phone service out there. Once you’re there, you’re basically there to make music. They have in-house cooks who cook amazing Mexican food. I think there’s like four separate studios out there. So you stay up until 3 in the morning recording music. You fall asleep thinking about music. You wake up ready to work on it. It’s a really awesome experience. We did the other half at our producer’s studio in Austin called The Bubble. There we did the vocals, the guitar solos, the bells and whistles.
NS: On Science of Flight, one of the weird, cool things you guys had on there was the rattlesnake rattle on a song. Anything outside the box or that strange this time around?
MG: [Laughs]. No. I think the only thing cooler than having a rattlesnake on your last album is probably getting Ray Wylie Hubbard on your next one. That’s the only way to top that craziness [laughs].
NS: [Laughs]. Yeah, that’ll certainly do it. It feels as though your songs, they feel a little more first person than some of Nino’s or CJ’s songs. May be wrong, but it feels like there’s more I’s in your songs than in theirs. Is there ever any songs you write that you’d never share with the band? They’re just songs that you end up writing, but you feel are maybe too personal to share? They’re just for you.
MG: I don’t know. I think I’m always up for recording what I have. There’s certainly songs that fit the DRB mold, but there’s definitely songs that I’ve written that don’t fit. As far as something being too personal to record though, I don’t think I’m that good of a songwriter [laughs]. I don’t know. I’m always up for pressing record and seeing how it sounds.
NS: So what was the last great concert you attended? Something that you were just part of the audience for.
MG: Oh man. After last night, I just don’t have to go to concerts anymore. I saw Ryan Adams at the Moody Theater for an ACL taping.
NS: Super jealous right now. What was the setlist like?
MG: Yeah. He played a 70 minutes acoustic set. Just him and his four guitars. Then after that, he played a just as long electric set. He was playing a lot of the new stuff, but also playing the hits. Was just playing everything. I don’t think there was anything from Jacksonville City Nights–which kind of bummed me out since that’s such an unbelievable record. You know me. You know how much I respect that guy and his music. Just everything he’s all about. One of the best shows I’ve ever been to. And it was great, in a place as big as Moody, everyone shut up for 70 minutes and listened to all his acoustic songs and then it almost turned into a freaking punk rock show. OK, it wasn’t that crazy, but there was definitely two different moods.
NS: That’s great. I love when a crowd will just hush and hear what the artist is trying to say on stage. And Jacksonville, that’s like secretly his best record. It doesn’t have the “hits,” but it’s so damn good.
MG: Oh yeah. It never gets old. Sometimes when I don’t know what to put on, I’ll just throw Jacksonville on because it always feels right.
NS: If you were playing a show in which you guys were playing a record front to back, what would you choose?
MG: Shoot. I think I’d have to go with Rancid. I think it’d be cool to do like a folky version of And Out Come The Wolves. I think that’d be great. They’re telling stories. There’s great hooks and great harmonies. I think we need to do that one day.
NS: I concur. I can see you guys pulling that off really well. Let me know when that happens.