It’s Monday evening, and Ottoman Turks singer and rhythm guitarist Nathan Mongol Wells is doing his very best to avoid Margarita Monday at Ozona after a day of work and emails and preparation to make the band's Friday night show at Granada as big a party as possible.
“We really want to deliver,” Wells says. “It’s been 10 years of us being a band, so it’s a long time coming to get this album out. We want to thank all the people who have supported us along the way, so we're trying to make it the most fun it could possibly be. It’s a lot of practice.”
Ten years in the making, Ottoman Turks’ self-titled release succinctly delivers the band’s brand of gritty, booze-fueled cowpunk, with its sardonic humor, break-neck rhythms and no-holds-barred guitar breaks.
Coming off as an unstoppable force over the course of the album’s 12 tracks, it’s hard to believe the band almost hung up their hats for good a little over a year ago.
“It's hard to hold a band together,” Wells explains. “We were all in different places, and we didn't have a rudder. We decided to liquidate the account, and we're only going to take gigs that came to us until we just didn’t get booked anymore.”
It was that same week that the band was approached by Tara Wurts at the Sundown at Granada to play a Cinco de Mayo show. Their performance that night led to another show at the Granada, where Trey Johnson at State Fair Records saw them and signed them shortly thereafter.
“We're very grateful to everybody that's helped make this happen,” Wells says. “It's not just been built on our own musical prowess. It's all of the people that believed in what we do.”
In an album that musically refuses to wallow in the maudlin muck of its country predecessors, Ottoman Turks has much more emotional depth than what is readily apparent on its surface.
“When I'm writing a song, even if it's just a story, I'm trying to make it tie to real life,” Wells explains. “How else are you going to know what you are really saying? A story song can only really be compelling if it's tied to real life. You've got to put that actual emotional element into it to make it come alive and seem real. Then it is real to some degree.”
Particularly in the second half of the album, the lyrics turn their attention away from snakes, dogs and empty beer bottles to loneliness and heartbreak that hits hard and is simultaneously healed by musical therapy.
“It's a party album that doesn’t gloss over the fact that you're having fun despite what's actually going on,” Wells explains. “It's about community and friends. You get together with a couple of friends and complain about it over a beer and it turns into something you can laugh about. That's what helps turn the lining silver. It’s even better if you can write a great guitar line out of it at the end too.”
For example, through all of its lo-fi, playful, Bob Dylan mimicry, the song “Can’t Promise Nothin’” is ultimately about the feeling of powerlessness that comes with being unable meet the expectations of others. “Hands Tied” explores these same feelings of powerlessness through the more dramatic image of shackles and chains.
“People might get offended if they knew that they were about them, or maybe they already do, and that's why they don't talk to me anymore,” Wells says jokingly about the songs' subjects.
Wells says audiences can expect to get an engaging show full of lowered inhibitions and boisterous entertainment out of the band.
“I can't say we lose all dignity, but we're not worried about looking cool or anything,” he says. “We're hopping around, making guitar faces and goofing off with each other just trying to play a show that’s a lot of fun.”