There are two kinds of mysteries. The kind you figure out only to find yourself more mystified (see The Sixth Sense ) and the kind you figure out and realize you just wasted another $9 on another shitty movie (see the rest of M. Night Shyamalan's filmography). Drag the River is the former kind of mystery (the good kind).
They can't see dead people or scare the living bejesus out of you, but the Fort Collins, Colo., band somehow manages to make alt-county that owes nothing to Uncle Tupelo. As great as Tupelo (and Son Volt, Will Oldham, Calexico, et al.) was, they always sounded a little forced, as did the hundreds of bands they influenced. There's nothing like that in Drag the River. They're a band all three Hank Williamses and all five Ramones could pound old sodas to.
The mystery is how they do it.
"It's just those open guitar chords that do it," says Drag the River singer-guitarist Jon Snodgrass. (That's right, Shyamalan. You're not the only one who can blow minds with an excessively obvious twist!) "HÃ¼sker DÃ¼ and The Replacements always played those open guitar chords in G-major, and those are country chords in country keys. And that's what we do. We don't call it alt-country. We call ourselves "country and midwestern" because we grew up listening to country and Minneapolis punk.
"Well, that and The Beatles."
Snodgrass formed Drag the River when he and All frontman Chad Price starting writing songs with twang in their spare time. Without a label or a clear idea of what direction they were headed in, the two just started recording stuff wherever and whenever they had time. Between tours theyï¿½d slap what they had on records and put 'em out on their own label or through some little punk label; in the decade since forming, Drag the River's released LPs and EPs, studio and live albums, 7-inches and split singles.
"If you look at our last album [2006's It's Crazy ], those songs were recorded in Chicago, New Jersey, Tulsa and here in my garage and also in another small studio in Colorado," says Snodgrass. "And we do it all simple with no tricks to it. We're definitely from the SST [Records] school, where you just try and make the instruments sound like what they're supposed to sound like.
"I started recording on an old analog four-track and I'd ask our drummer, 'Do those sounds like drums?' He'd say, 'Yeah.' I'd say, 'Sweet. Let's do it.'"
And this is the way Drag the River does everything. Having no label telling them when and how to put out records and no money to spend on coke and laser light shows, the band is happily stuck in a rut of recording cheap and fast, touring cheap and fast, repeat cheap and fast. They never lose that punk edge because they never have the time or money for Moby remixes or jazz fusion projects.
"We have some pretty awesome wives and girlfriends who support us in all of this," says Snodgrass. "Of course, I still pay my half of the mortgage, but, luckily, I don't have much more that I like to do other than make music, so I've got nothing to spend money on anyway."
So now that you know how easy it is to make authentic country and midwestern, isn't the mystery, well, even more mysterious? (There's the double switch back--see how friggin' easy this stuff is, Shyamalan?)
Drag the River plays with Tim Barry and Cheap Leis at The Casbah on Feb. 10. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. $10. 619-232-HELL.