Little says punk rock these days like a well-placed banjo solo. Of course, little says punk rock these days, period. But San Diego's ScotchGreens-Idaho transplants who write songs with spaghetti-western titles like "Saddle Sore," "Hot as Texas" and "Drink. Smoke. Fish."-play in one of the few subsets of the genre that bands like Flogging Molly and Social Distortion have proven you simply can't go wrong with: roots punk.
"Nowadays we call it bluegrass punk-rock," says drummer Luke Kristensen, who along with fellow San Diegan and bassist C.J. Cnossen, joined founders Zander Cox and Wes Walsworth when they moved to Southern California. "This is just the music that came out when we started playing."
A far cry from the weird cowpunk tradition carved out in the '80s by San Diego's own Beat Farmers and Mojo Nixon, the ScotchGreens are first and foremost a punk band-Cox's vocals are gruff and road-worn, Walsworth's guitar leads are straight-ahead loud and Cnossen and Kristensen's rhythm section sticks hard and fast to the high-octane Western two-step. Featured banjo and mandolin backings and folksy lyrical send-ups (like the Woody Guthrie-penned "some will rob you with a pistol and others with a pen") make no mistake as to the ScotchGreens' influences.
Since establishing themselves in San Diego, the band's live shows have won the type of instant-party notoriety familiar to other accomplished roots-punk acts. Just as hearing the bagpipes seemingly makes a Scotsman out of anyone, there's something about updating that banjo twang that makes one want to pick up a sixer and hit the dusty trail. No strangers to the Casbah or the Kensington Club, the ScotchGreens are also the current Tuesday night house band at Molly Malone's Irish pub in Los Angeles-the place where their friends Flogging Molly made their name.
Their 2000 debut on San Diego's Hairball 8 Records, the rockabilly-tinged ¡Draw!, won the band nominations for Best Rock Album and Album of the Year at the San Diego Music Awards, and in 2002 the group released the live O.C.6.16.02 on Accident Prone, documenting the addition of banjo and mando to the lineup. The band's been in the studio for over a year, recording for a new album they hope to release in early 2005. First, however, they'll need a contract.
"We draw people who want to hear something a little different," Kristensen explains. "It's one of the hardest selling points for labels. They don't know what to do with us." B