By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Danbom did drop by to add his keys, and there are a few other guest shots here and there. But the quartet cut the rest of the record live in the studio--Rumbo Recorders in Canoga Park, California, specifically: "It was the '80s, hair-metal place," Best says--with Don Smith at the controls. If you don't know Smith's name, you likely know his work; he's recorded albums by Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty, among many others. Best liked the idea because Smith recorded one of his "favorite-sounding rock records ever," Bash & Pop's Friday Night Is Killing Me, the first (and only) album by Tommy Stinson's post-Replacements outfit.
"Don, you know, there's a reason why the Stones and Petty and all those guys use him," Best says. "Because he's not the producer who tells you, 'OK, this is how you're going to sound.' He's just the guy that knows, whatever you're doing soundwise, especially kind of subtle or specific things, he knows how to get it all onto tape without screwing it up. Like, without screwing it up for the sake of, say, a more commercial sound or whatever. He's just a kick-ass engineer, instead of Mr. Godhead Producer Guy. And that's what we wanted, just a really natural, kind of classic rock-rock album sounds. And he did it. There were times where I wanted guitars louder than vocals, even, you know, and most big-time producer guys would scoff at that. Call your label guy on you. Tell them what an asshole you're being. But Don would be like, 'Yes, I agree.'"
Obviously, Smith was right to trust Best and the band's instincts. Despite Best's kind words for Smith, they could probably make the records without anyone's help if they wanted to; after four albums, they know what works for them and what doesn't. Even the group's cover of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" makes sense, once you hear it, at least. Funny thing about that? Best didn't even know it was a Bee Gees song.
"We'd just started doing it, actually, a few weeks before we went to record," Best says, setting up the story. "There was a time there when [Pleasant Grove's] Joe Butcher had been playing steel guitar with us and stuff. And I had a version of it from a Flying Burrito Brothers album. I didn't even know it was a Bee Gees song until we played it with Joe, who was raised on the Bee Gees. He's like, yeah, it's a Bee Gees song. 'What? Bullshit.' Turns out I was the only guy in the world that didn't know. And I think when we recorded it, we were just planning on using it for a B-side or something. Then we went back and listened to it in the control room. Everybody kind of had goosebumps and stuff. It was like, 'Ah, shit. Now we gotta put a damn Bee Gees song on the album.'" He laughs. "But I like it. With everybody making a big deal out of this being a rock and not very country-ish album, I kinda like the idea that one of the most rootsiest things on the album is a Bee Gees cover." He laughs again.
About that last part: Slobberbone's never been a country band, no matter how many times it's taken home the Best Country trophy at the annual Dallas Observer Music Awards. (No one seems to know what category to put the group in, though "rock" has always fit just fine.) No matter how often they've been written up in No Depression. (The magazine has lately featured more "whatever that is" than "alternative country music," to corrupt its cover tagline a bit.) No matter how much twang people got for their buck on their debut, Crow Pot Pie. (They had a fiddle player back then, and they'll never be able to help growing up in Texas.) Slobberbone has always just made music without every worrying where it'll end up, which genre will claim the group this time. Because, as they've found out, most people will come around to their way of thinking eventually.
"It's not like we've ever truly considered ourselves even remotely country," Best says. "But I guess with a big majority of fans, that had always kind of been the thing. You know, early on, like, the first couple of records, when the alt-country thing had just kinda blown up, that was something we would get slammed for back then. Being too loud and too sloppy. Not enough 'true country' or whatever, which we didn't give a shit about. But everything we got slammed for back then, I swear to God, I've read reviews and articles now from the same authors, people in Chicago or somewhere, and everything they slammed us for back then is what they praise us for now." He laughs. "I'm glad we never wavered."