Alt-country has become an all-encompassing term for bands (like Wilco and Ryan Adams and the Cardinals) that mix country and rock. The Fallen Stars, a five-piece band from the LA/OC area used to think they were alt-country but found they just didn't fit that mold. So they created their own file under category: Americana Rock. Bobbo Byrnes and Gregg Braught of The Fallen Stars sat down with me to discuss why they think the band is not alt-country.
Bobbo Byrnes (B): Don’t say nothin’ stupid now.
Gregg Braught (G): Then I better not talk at all. I’ll just sit here quiet.
(B) I’m a fan of the double negative. Don’t say nothin’ stupid. I don’t know nothin’.
On your page, you mention that you thought you were alt-country. What made you decide that you’re not?
(B) We’re too much rock and roll. It’s like punk for a long time. Punk painted itself into this corner. Alt-country kinda does the same thing. It all has to fit in this nice, neat little box. We have alt-country leanings, but we’re mostly rock and roll with country fringes.
(G) The country is right there. We’re not really twangy, but it’s there.
I noticed some Flying Burrito Brothers/Gram Parsons.
(G) We like that comparison.
(B) That’s kinda where we got the name too. Gram had The Fallen Angels. We’re The Fallen Stars. Plus, I’ve fallen no less than six times on stage.
I can keep that under wraps if you want.
(B) No, that’s fine.
(G) People are gonna see it anyways, if they come to the show.
(B) Only once have I lost the cord though.
I’ll give you a chance to answer the question in your one blog. What is wrong with country music today?
(B) There’s a couple answers. My favorite answer is Toby Keith. I can’t stand Toby Keith. You know that guitar with the American flag on it…Japanese-made.
I noticed that. By the way, how’s that song coming along?
(B) I haven’t written that one yet. “Toby Keith Plays a Japanese Guitar,” that’s gonna be a hit.
I think so.
(B) The problem with country music is it’s too [pauses] crappy. We’re huge fans of Kathleen Edwards, Blue Rodeo, Matt Mays. Kathleen Edwards is like Sheryl Crow and Lucinda Williams, but more rock. Blue Rodeo is awesome. They have country songs that are popular in Canada, but they’ll come to LA and play The Roxy and twenty-seven people will show up. They play stadiums in Canada. It’s just good music, like when you listen to The Band. It’s just timeless. Country music seems to cater a lot to the Wal-Mart audience.
(G) It’s very homogenized now. You had that blog and my response was “Nobody says country and western anymore.” You never hear anything like Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Hank Thompson, Gram Parsons. Hank Thompson was huge in the house when I was a kid. It was country-western, it was Texas swing, but it did rock in its own way.
(B) Charlie Rich. Classic Charlie Rich. I love the album Behind Closed Doors. There are some really great songs on that album. He took country and made it for the masses and took the hick twang out of it. Charlie Rich started making albums in the early fifties. He was a contemporary of Elvis. Twenty years into his career, he hits with Behind Closed Doors. That’s huge right there.
(G) Creedence Clearwater Revival is more country than most country bands that are out now. Just listen to “Lookin’ Out My Back Door.”
(B) All the best country music is not being heard. Around here, there’s Tracy Huffman. Tracy Huffman is awesome. Jukebox Junkies. A lot of Pete Yorn’s stuff.
(B) Wayne Hancock, The Snake Handlers, Mini-bar. All of our favorite music…nobody hears it.
(G) It’s become a fashion statement. I don’t give a damn about Brooks and Dunn. Who’s those other guys I tell you I can’t stand? The one with the gigantic hat.
(B) Big and Rich.
(G) No, not Big and Rich. The one guy’s got a Freddy Mercury sawed-off mic. He’s got that gigantic black flat hat and the other guy…
(B) Oh, the country guy that wears a cowboy hat? [laughs] What do you think?
I think you guys are right on. You (Gregg) said it right at the top. Country has become pop. You look at the artists they’re playing on CMT and it’s Faith Hill. When was the last time Faith Hill had anything remotely country about her? Aside from her husband who is a supposedly country singer too. You think about Wayne Hancock, getting back to him. When he comes out here, he plays at The Juke Joint. You can fit about two dozen people in there.
(G) Music in general has just deteriorated to this. It’s all pre-packaged. It’s so safe.
(G) There’s no edges. There’s no bands right now that I’m gonna run out and buy their album. At least not in the United States. Like Bobbo said, Kathleen Edwards. In March, her new album is coming. I cannot wait to hear it. I know it’s going to be good and not force-fed like the radio. I couldn’t care less about the radio.
I think it’s safe to assume you don’t play any Toby Keith covers.
(G) Negatory, good buddy.
What’s one of your shows like?
(B) Sometimes we start acoustic and then it gradually turns into the rock. We’ll play songs that make you cry, songs that make you happy.
(G) There’s a lot of foot tapping I’d say. We don’t see a lot of people doing this [imitates a person chatting and ignoring the band]. We get a lot of looking at us. We just let the music do what it’s gonna do. We get up there and we’re committed to it and we love the songs.
On your Myspace, you list a lot of influences, but one really caught my attention and I have to ask you about it. How has Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem most influenced you?
(B) One of the Muppets episodes, I think Dr. Teeth turned to the bass player and said, “We’ll just play some of your stuff.” The bass player said, “Man, my stuff’s so heavy, I don’t even dig it.” [laughter]
You can’t beat Animal on the drums.
(B) Very much modeled after Keith Moon, I think everyone knows. That (the list of influences) was part of a free-form thinking thing I had.
I noticed it was kind of a stream of consciousness.
(G) The Red Green Show and all that.
(B) The Red Green Show. Keep your stick on the ice.
(G) That’s right, eh?
(B) I sometimes wish we were up in Canada because it seems like there’s a lot of great music up there.
(G) Canada probably would be more open to what we’re doing. It just seems like they actually listen to the music. It’s not, “Hey they look cool. What do they sound like?”
(B) We have a pretty dedicated following where we are. Our fans are awesome. We had some fans…I told you we have the truckin’ song, which is the dumbest song we have. On my birthday they brought a sign that says Truckin Boulevard.
(G) Big-Ass Truck Drive.
(B) Big-Ass Truck Drive. That was it.
(G) They gave him this gigantic foam cowboy hat.
(B) You can’t beat that. Sometimes it feels like LA and the OC are a really tough nut to crack. We played in Idaho, in this little town called Bliss. We found out that a bar (Outlaws and Angels ) was using one of our songs (“Double Down”) for their commercials. We’re playing Idaho and it’s snowing up there. People drove ninety miles to come hear us. They told us “I heard your song on the radio. It sounded pretty good. Thought we’d come check it out.” If it’s raining here…
Oh yeah, forget about it. If it’s too far away, people are reluctant to go out.
(B) In reality, it’s kinda scary driving here in the rain.
That’s true. There is an entirely different scene here than other places I’ve been. I grew up in Ohio and went to Ohio State. We’d go out and we didn’t really care who was playing. We’d just go hang out.
(G) See live music and dig it.
Here, it’s like your friend has to be playing in one of the bands. And once they’re done playing, you leave.
(B) I'm guilty of that too.
What would you be doing if you weren’t playing music?
(B) I don’t really think I have much of an option. I’ve been fired from most jobs I’ve ever had.
(G) Tell him about the sticker on your guitar.
(B) A sticker on my guitar says “Unemployable,” which was a lot funnier before it was true. I’m a piano tuner by day because I can’t maintain any sort of job. And the hardest part of being self-employed is I don’t know who to call in sick to. I can usually tell if I’m faking it too.
(G) I’d probably want to work for Gibson or Fender, maybe making guitars. Not so much the sales end of things. I can’t sell anything. I can sell The Fallen Stars, but my heart is in that.
(B) There’s no money in making guitars either. Probably less money in that.
(G) Even live sound. I’d love to do live sound. I think that’d be great.
(B) No you wouldn’t. [laughter]
Then you’d have to deal with people like this guy (Bobbo).
(G) Again, there may not be much money in it, but that’d be sweet. That would be enjoyable.
(B) What would you be doing?
What would I be doing if I weren’t writing?
That’s a good question. Part of the reason I came to writing is because it’s one thing I’m good at. I’m not always a people person and I can’t sell to save my life. Writing, I can be on my own and I can crank out stuff. I don’t need anyone else.
(G) You’re happy doing it. You’re good at it, you dig it.
I’m happy doing it because I’m decent at it. If I were in a sales job, my soul would be crushed.
(G) I could not do the cubicle thing.
(B) No way! The first time I was on stage, I felt like I was in my living room. I was at home.
(G) I can agree with that. If you’re fortunate enough to do what you love, that’s what matters. So many people out there hate their jobs.
(B) Can we send shout-outs to the rest of our bandmates?
(B) I'd like to send a shout-out to John, Tracy and Geoff.
We’ve concluded the Carson Daly part of the interview.
The Fallen Stars will play at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on 19 January. for more information about the band, visit http://thefallenstars.com/index.cfm.