Best Bet

The Drams: a power-pop response to Slobberbone’s murder ballads. Courtesy photo.
The Drams
9:30pm Fri, Feb 23
1719 Blanco Rd.
Grand designs just aren’t a part of Brent Best’s vocabulary. Anyone who followed the career of his late Dallas-based alt-country band, Slobberbone, would be hard-pressed to discern any kind of plan. The shows were fun, the musical mix of traditional country with loud, sloppy guitar was inspiring, and rarely did they do anything that could be construed as remotely careerist.

“We never made a smart commercial move in our lives,” says Best, who currently fronts the Drams. “Our name was Slobberbone for chrissakes. Toward the end, when the crowds really started getting bigger, people would tell you, ‘I heard about you for years, but always thought to myself there’s no way that band can be good.’”

After the band broke up two years ago (when bassist Brian Lane decided to move away), Best began performing solo. It wouldn’t last, but not because Best didn’t enjoy it. In fact, he rather appreciated the simplicity and immediacy.

“There’s something cool about showing up five minutes before you play and plugging in your acoustic guitar and that being it,” Best says. “Plus it’s the best way — in terms of songs — to know what you really have.”

Unburdened by the expectations that had accumulated around his old band, Best began writing and recording solo acoustic material at home. It started smoothly, with several songs concerning the music business, such as an early version of “Shortsighted,” which finds Best singing “I was so stupid, I couldn’t tell/ a low-rent heaven is the equal of hell.”

“I was sitting at home recalling things I hadn’t recalled up to that point. Like anything else in my life, whenever I sit down and say I’m going to do something specific, something else happens,” Best laughs. “So I’ve started writing these `acoustic` songs. I’m trying to finish it out, I’m in this groove. All of a sudden all these rock songs come out. I’m sure the next one will be a techno album.”

Around the same time his muse suddenly turned power-pop, Best was working with a pair old friends, Keith Killoren and Chad Stockslager, recording their band Budapest One.

When a scheduled solo performance two years ago at SXSW proved to be sandwiched between two bands, Best recruited Killoren (bass) and Stockslager (keys), as well as remaining Slobberbone bandmates, drummer Tony Harper and guitarist Jess Barr, into a makeshift group. The pairing proved fortuitous.

“The band came together quickly and it was fun. I kind of learned over the years to just go with it,” Best says. “You can bang your head against the wall trying to do something very specific. When I look back at the times I felt I was the most focused, it wasn’t because I had my nose to the grindstone. That stuff was happening because I allowed it to happen.”

A similar idea invigorates the recording of the band’s debut release, Jubilee Drive, as witnessed on the track “You Won’t Forget.” What begins as an ambling bit of jangly twang not unlike much of the album, opens up like a gaping sore in the middle eight. Out of the porthole pours an extended jam probably choreographed by Ray Manzarek, which eventually gives way to a ridiculous prog interlude featuring a harp, and concludes with a big horn-fueled blast of the most insipid ’70s soft rock heard since America roamed the earth. It’s quite unforgettable, in addition to being extremely cringe-worthy.

“That was the point, and a big part of that whole album, if there was any single unifying approach,” Best says. “If we came up with something and it made us all laugh or smile, then, ‘fuck yeah.’ And it fits what the song is about — doing it for yourself and who gives a damn?”

It’s an attitude Best has kept close to his heart, as he’s dealt with the disappointment of fans anxious for him to return to the music and sound of his old band.

“I had a drunk fan bitching at me a few months ago, ‘How come you aren’t writing any of those murder songs? You write the best murder ballads ever,’” Best recalls. “I’m like, ‘You really think that?’ He says, ‘Yes I do.’”

Best sighs and continues. “I’m like, ‘Then what’s the point? Am I going to top that?’ He says, ‘You got to keep trying.’ And I just had this visual of me locked away in my little hovel, writing murder ballads ad nauseum. ‘Well, I haven’t quite distilled it down to its essence.’ I tried to explain that notion to him, but he was too drunk.”

While Best’s new music is brighter and sounds like he’s traded his dusty Rolling Stones vinyl for the Byrds and Big Star, he argues that those influences have always been present, if not always readily apparent, in Slobberbone. The vocals — which are crisper and cleaner than on any of his prior albums — aren’t the result of over-production, as some have claimed, but simply clean vocal takes with good compression.

“It’s fascinating to see how fans have reacted to it when to me the difference between them is slight. It’s sort of a combination of things between the lyrics and the vocals,” Best says. “This is just a broader palette between Chad and having keys. The biggest thing for me is having someone else to sing with me, because I’ve never had that.”

Meanwhile, a little time away from the grind of the road served to strengthen Best’s musical convictions.

“Okay this is what I’m still spending all my time on, then I need to make sure that I’m doing it for the right reasons, and the right reasons have nothing to do with `material goods`,” Best says. “It has to do with you doing it for yourself. Even with the meager status that Slobberbone attained, it’s amazing how quickly the things that came with that can distract you from why you started out.”


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