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"I don't chase trends, categories or genres," says Walter Salas-Humera, leader of the Silos. Speaking from the tour van as the band makes its way to SXSW, Salas-Humera talks about quietly becoming the elder statesman of alt-country/Americana, even though he'd disagree that the music he makes fits neatly under any label.
"I just try to write great songs and give them the best life I can," says Salas-Humera. And for more than two decades, he has done just that. Starting with 1987's Cuba, the Silos have released as significant a body of work as anyone associated with the roots movement. Mining influences as diverse as early Rod Stewart, Neil Young, the Byrds and the Velvet Underground, Salas-Humera is a songwriter obsessed with investing everyday details with a significance that belies the songs' relatively simple backing.
In 2000, after a dizzying series of personnel changes, Salas-Humera solidified (and simplified) the band as a trio. Since then, Salas-Humera, along with bassist Drew Glackin and drummer Konrad Meissner, have released three of their best efforts, culminating with Come on Like the Fast Lane.
"The new one was recorded very quickly and spontaneously," says Salas-Humera. And where earlier efforts such as Susan Across the Ocean and Heater featured an earthy mix of ballads and rockers, Fast Lane is almost exclusively the louder stuff.
"I sang really hard, like I do live," says Salas-Humera, "so I think that adds urgency to the sound." Songs such as "Behind Me" (co-written with Steve Wynn of Dream Syndicate fame) and "Fall on Your Knees" bear out his assertion, featuring rapid tempos and a raw, punkish delivery.
"It's all about the guitars," says Humera, adding, "It's our best album." Although most would give that honor to the aforementioned Cuba, it's easy to understand Salas-Humera's enthusiasm. It's more difficult to comprehend the band's commercial anonymity, especially considering the Silos were bending the lines between punk and country some three years before Uncle Tupelo's storied debut. Having produced a discography filled with significant efforts (such as 2001's witty and biting Laser Beam Next Door), Salas-Humera's songwriter chops and the band's frenzied take on pop deserves wider renown.
Yet Salas-Humera is unfazed by the band's cult status, happy to drive his van across country, playing songs for the dedicated fans that show up in each city. "I've always tried to make the best music I'm capable of," he says, "trying to explore and learn new things."