Interview with Brent Best-3/29/03-Iota Café-Arlington, VA
By Sean Koepenick

Slobberbone may not be a name that you have heard before, but that has recently changed for many music fans with the release of their latest and best CD-Slippage released on New West Records at the tail end of 2002. While the comparisons to other bands like Cracker, Wilco, and even Neil Young & Crazy Horse have always been there like a smoky cloud in a beer-stained pool-hall, this CD finally sees the band coming into their own. Slippage careens from full tilt rockers like "Springfield, IL" and "Write Me Off" to mid-tempo melodic tunes like "Sister Beams" and "Sweetness, That's Your Cue." But somehow it all holds together and will probably have you humming the songs in your head for weeks to come.

Slobberbone (the name is from a dog's play-toy) started in the early 1990's originally just for free beers and some fun on the weekends. But after finishing college in the small town of Denton, Texas, the band members released that maybe there was something more here than just some good times. Singer/guitarist Brent Best, along with Tony Harper on drums and some other friends from school put out their first album (Crow Pot Pie) in 1994 on their own. Solidifying the line-up with bassist Brian Lane in 1996 and guitarist Jess Barr in 1997, Slobberbone has pretty much never looked back. After 4 records and endless touring, Slippage seems to have finally put them on the map. These are just a few reasons why fans of straight ahead rock with a small shot of sarcasm will dig Slobberbone after just one listen. Recently I was able to sit down with Brent Best as this second leg of their US tour was winding down to talk about the band, the music and how it all came together.

Right: Slobberbone (from left to right)Tony Harper, Brent Best (with shades), Jess Barr and Brian Lane.

E.C.: Could you describe how and when your first started playing music?

Brent: I think I started kinda towards the end of high school-me and a couple other buddies that I had grown up with. We grew up in a small town so anyone you knew who played guitar was doing like the Eddie Van Halen thing or something- that was never appealing. We just started writing songs I guess-me and a good friend of mine. We were about 16 or 17. So we figured if we wrote cool songs that had nothing to do with all that then who cared how we played guitar. It's kinda how I got going and consequently I've never been a good guitar player-(laughs).

E.C.: Were you in any band before Slobberbone?

Brent: No, I played with him and a couple buddies and one of them actually was a guy who started Slobberbone with me years later. But Slobberbone didn't actually get going until my last years of college around '92 or so. It was just a joke, it was just to play. Denton where we're from had a big party scene. Basically your friend would have a party and tell you to play-even though you weren't really a band. So you would throw a band together real quick and make flyers and come up with a horrible name and that was it. That's what happened and ten years later- we're still doing it.

E.C.: How did Slobberbone eventually come together?

Brent: Yeah, there was a little bit of a line-up change. I started with a buddy of mine I grew up with and he moved to Austin about '94 or '95. That was right when we recorded the first version of Crow Pot Pie the one we did ourselves. That was just to try and get some gigs outside of Denton. A few months later Doolittle our first label came across us and picked us up. At the end of '95, early 1996 we started touring and stuff. Tony and Brian were on board by then and that's when we really kind of became a real band I guess. We finished the second album in early '97 and Jess joined right after we finished the album. That's been the line-up ever since.

E.C.: When Crow Pot Pie first came out in 1994 did you just decide that you had to start touring relentlessly to make your mark?

Brent: You could always play, there were lots of parties. A lot of clubs and bands since it was a big college town-we were playing for fun. Back then the big thing-grunge was coming in and there was a lot of bad "white boy" funk kind of stuff. We were a loud guitar band and it was different in that we played kind of these folky songs. So we never really took it that seriously at home and when the first label thing happened-I remember Tony and I talked and we just wanted to go get the van and go tour. That's pretty much what all our heroes had done. We had come up on Husker Du and stuff like that. It just seemed like the thing to do. We were out of college and nobody really wanted to go get a job or anything; we were all crap jobs. So we told them (the label) that if they would help us do that then we would do whatever. Eight years later you're like "oh, man-what have I done!" (Laughs). Yeah, I don't think we ever had any real big plan or anything but everything has always just kind of progressed.

E.C.: Barrel Chested was your last record with Doolittle Records. How did you get hooked up with New West Records?

Brent: Yeah, actually the third record-the one after Barrel-Chested we recorded for Doolittle-we were still with them when we went into the studio. We finished that up at the beginning of 2000 and it wasn't going to be released until that summer. And actually within that time-that spring we had just finished the album Doolittle merged with New West. It became New West by the time it was released.

E.C.: The last couple of CD's especially Slippage have leaned more towards your harder rocking side. Do you think this had anything to do with your choice of producers-Jim Dickinson (The Replacements) and now Don Smith (Bash & Pop, Cracker) ?

Brent: Yeah, well Barrel Chested as a pretty hard rock album. It had steel guitar and it had some other flourishes like that. Even the third album, Everything… had a lot of straight up rock songs on it. But for every straight up rock song there was a "porchy" banjo tune. By that point, in 2000 we had been touring almost five years I guess-doing the loud rock thing. So we kind of consciously on the third album; I mean that's the way we played at home. I think that having toured that album for three years and screwing with a banjo every night-that's probably what kind of made us want to do a straight rock album again. We didn't mean Don until right before we did the album. He ended up being the perfect guy for that sort of thing. That's why all those guys like Petty and The Stones loved working with Don cause he's really more of a great engineer than a producer. So, what he's good at is getting a band in a room and letting them do what they do and making sure that that gets to tape without being altered in any kind of weird way.

E.C.: I read in an interview you did that one of the reasons that you picked Don Smith was because of the work he did on the Bash & Pop (Tommy Stinson's first post- Replacements band) record.

Brent: Yeah. That's one of my favorite rock records. I still think that was the next great Replacements records that everyone wanted but never came. He did a lot of stuff besides the real big names. He did the first couple Cracker records which are really great sounding records. But yeah, we had a thing going on this one. I didn't want to use headphones. We don't most of it live with very little overdubs, all in the same room. And we didn't use headphones. A lot of other producer guys would balk at that-with all the separation that come in. So we basically had floor monitors-finely tuned floor monitors and we were all in one big room. That's part of what makes a rock album sound like a rock album. The cool thing was, in like doing that I would hear all these things going on. These like atmospheric things that would just happen naturally from recording that way. Having gone back now and listened to the Bash & Pop album you hear all sorts of stuff coming through. I realize that's a big part of that energy of that Bash & Pop album. Because not only was the energy there because the band wasn't freaked out because they didn't have to use headphones and not having to do a thousand takes. But the energy's there because there is that bleed- through, the slapping off the walls like what happens in a club.

E.C.: One of the songs on Slippage almost sounds like it could have been on that Bash & Pop album-"Sweetness, That's Your Cue".

Brent: Oh, yeah. And "Write Me Off" is kind of a blatant Replacements, early Soul Asylum kind of thing.

E.C.: What have been some of your most memorable gigs and can you remember some that you would like to forget?

Brent: We got tons of those to forget. There's different kinds. There's some-you know we've toured so long. There's been some really unlikely places that we could never not go back to anymore. There's a place in rural Ohio a place called Wapakoneta. It's a guy and his wife and they run this little roadhouse basically. I forget how he found out about us but they were just huge fans. So basically you drive out in the middle of nowhere and you play for his 50 friends. The first time we came you know he was so excited. They put you up and they feed you and now we try to get back at least a couple times a year. It's like going to a family reunion now. Things like that you could have never imagined. The really cool thing in the past 2-3 years has getting to tour a lot with people that were your heroes when we first started the band. We've done a lot of stuff with The Jayhawks the last couple years. The Cheap Trick thing was totally out of left field. I had no idea that they knew who we were, much less fans. I remember the first night we did the Cheap Trick thing and they're coming up telling me that the last album was one of their favorite things to listen to on the bus. I'm instantly transported back, 8 years old at Target with my Mom asking her if I can buy Live at Budokan. Stuff like that is really cool. We started going to Europe around '98 and that's insane. Our first couple albums had done OK but we hadn't even been there yet. So our first time playing in Amsterdam we were playing to like 2200 people who knew every word to every song.

E.C.: Which artists/bands out there now would you like to collaborate with?

Brent: Yeah, but the only guy I've really ever been able to co-write with was the person I started the band with. I tend to write in spurts-but maybe it just takes trying it some more. I mean there's definitely some people I'd like to (work with). Actually, Dave Pirner and I got together and I think Peter Jesperson from our label who used to run Twin-Tone brought it up. I was a huge fan of the early Soul Asylum stuff. I think if he had known if I knew he was gonna be there I would have told him no. I'm kind of weird about meeting people in artificial ways. But there was one night we were opening for The Jayhawks in Minneapolis at First Ave which used to have big 'Mats shows. We had a great show I get off and there was Dave. He's like-"Are we gonna do this or what?" It took awhile and I think maybe the next time we were in town we ended up at his house. It was bad-we didn't get to his house until 2 or 3 after 3 hours of drinking. Then at like 4:30 in the morning we go down to his basement where he has all this recording gear. He's trying to figure out how to get his computer working. Can't. So Jess, our guitar player is; I'm ready to crash and he's like (in gruff voice) "Dude, ditch your band so we can write some tunes." (Laughs). Then he's like "I'm serious." So they leave and we wrote like 5 "half" tunes and he kept running upstairs to get us more Fresca or whatever to try and keep us awake. I ran into him about 6 months after that and he'd said he'd kind of finished one of them and I couldn't remember and he was like remember that one; it was kind of a children's song that had a trumpet on it. He said "I'm sending you a disc" but I haven't got the disc yet so we'll see. That was kind of fun but it's weird you know? I've done some stuff with friends at home. Centromatic-they have a side band called South San Gabriel that's kind of a more low-key sort of thing. They just re- recorded their 2nd album at my house last year and that's about to come out. I'm hoping to do some touring with them. If I ever finish the stuff with Dave we might put it on a record. Of course I have pipe dreams of people to play with, it's pretty cool just to do shows with some of them. It's pretty cool to get to do this for a living.

E.C.: What new music have you been listening to currently?

Brent: There's been a lot of bands that we've met through touring that I really like. There's a band from Columbus, they're all in their twenties called Two Cow Garage. They've kind of got like a bluesy Husker Du thing going. It's kind of like where we were headed when we first started and they're already light years ahead of where we were when we started. I usually listen to people that I come into contact with through touring.

E.C.: What music while you were growing up and playing guitar influenced your songwriting?

Brent: My Dad didn't listen to a whole lot of music. But I was born in Austin in like the early 70's. He would play like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash stuff. That was like the first stuff I heard when I was a kid and I was real into it but by the time you are a teenager you don't want to really listen to what your Dad listens to. So that was mid '80's. That was bands came out that really got me going. The Mats and stuff. But also The Long Ryders, Green on Red, The Del Fuegos, bands like that. Then I realized why those bands appealed to me and why the early outlaw thing appealed to me-it was all kind of one thing. You just take away the sonic aspects of it. I think that's probably what kind of freaked me out when I started writing songs. I tried to just not worry what anyone else thought. Definitely when I started playing guitar it was right in the middle of all that stuff. I guess The 'Mats were just about done but there was just a lot of great stuff. Late '80's, early '90's that wasn't stuff that you necessarily heard on the radio, unless it was on college shows and stuff like that. That was definitely sort of the period that got me going. It was like two different things for me. I can remember seeing like Soul Asylum when I was like 16 in like a tiny club. None of those guys were great musicians but it didn't matter. They just kicked your ass you know as if there were like 3000 people. At the same time I remember I saw that same year I saw Peter Case on his first solo tour. It was just him and a guitar. It was just him doing his Dylan thing and he kind of became my Dylan in that the idea that (you could do that). My first guitar was a crappy 12 string that's how I started out the first few years. A buddy of mine had an acoustic and we turned them more into songs. That definitely came from that end of it. But once I got out of college and you're just looking for something to do because you have no money. The big, loud electric thing became more appealing. I've always tried to ride somewhere in the middle. Usually one thing or the other wins out. The loud thing has been winning for awhile-I'm fixing to retreat back the other way.

E.C.: What songs are you having the most fun playing live right now?

Brent: Well, when we did the record-the cool thing was doing it that way, the way we did it-kind of raw and stuff. The stuff that you did flesh out a little bit more; because you started raw but with good sounds it made it harder to over-do anything. I think we may have over-done some stuff on the last record. But this one, the songs are a little bit more melodic, a lot of this songs on the record, then the last one. Songs like "Find the Out" and "Sister Beams" were really gratifying to do. To have these kind of subtle things in your head. To pull them off and still be subtle can be really effective. We wouldn't have been able to do that three years ago. We might have been able to do that in the studio but not turn around and do it live again. It's gratifying now that we've been doing it long enough as a unit that we can do those things. And we're kind of at a point now where we feel we don't have to prove ourselves as much. It's been great the last few months of touring. Especially now because almost any song that we'll pull out of the new album, live, people know it now. It's cool-I guess that's when you know you've actually established an audience, however big or small it is. It's when you can show up and do what you want to do.

E.C.: With Slippage did you try and make a clean break from the "alt-country" tag that some people had lumped you into based on some of your previous records?

Brent: I don't know. I think we had kind of written that off a few years before. We just always considered ourselves a rock band. If we wanted to use some country-ish instrumentation we weren't gonna not do it. We didn't think one way or the other about it. It wasn't a real conscious thing to go in that direction. Generally how I know sound wise how we are headed on an album it just depends on the songs. Who knows? The next album could be electronic or something. Probably not (laughs).

E.C.: Slippage to me is impressive in that the songs switch gears pretty quickly but the maturity of the songwriting flows through out the CD. How do you approach the process of songwriting?

Brent: It's different every time. Historically my favorite ones tend to be the ones that kind of wrote themselves really fast. There's a core of idea, whether it is musically, lyrically or whatever. If all those elements come at one time and you can just stay out of the way and let that happen those always end up being the best songs. But there have been some songs that I've maybe sat on for awhile for more than a year and ended up kind of becoming their own thing. So a long time ago I quit thinking that I had to do anything one way or the other. The best thing you can do is-if I sit down and say OK I'm going to write a song I either won't or I'll write something that's crap. The best thing I can do when I'm home is to always have the tools there to do it, be receptive to it. The new album, a lot of those songs came out after I had just finished recording the previous album, I was kind of in the mode at that point. But one of the things that has helped a lot has been using other things to write with instead of guitar. If I pick up a guitar I'm always going to pick up the same three chords-my hands are just gonna go there. You can re-arrange it and it's kind of going to be the same. When I was coming back from Memphis after the 3rd album I picked up this old Hammond church organ and it's got like this single chord button. It's got all these church chords- diminished and 9ths, chords that I would never ever play on guitar. But because I'd sit there with one hand and just randomly come up with these progressions; I'd end up playing these progressions that I would never play on guitar. I would transfer them back to guitar eventually. But you would end up hearing different melodies. Anything new would kind of give you a new mood or different lyrics or whatever. I just try to keep it different now. I have a small studio in my house now. There are times where I just really want to mike up a loud amp and make some noise. But when I do that now I do one thing differently-maybe it's a tuning or maybe it's a crappy $20 pedal that I bought at a garage sale. The cool thing too, with us having been together so long is I realize that no matter what kind of song I bring to the band now-it can be really different from something we've done before but there's still going to be a character to it that sounds like us-since it's us doing it. Once I realized that and kind of really believed that it kind of freaked me out, to not worry about trying to write stuff that people are going to think doesn't sound like us. I just try and be as diverse as I can. Not everything makes it onto an album. There's a lot of whacked-out stuff sitting on tapes at home. But it's cool to kind of air all that out you know? It kind of clears the decks I guess.

E.C.: What tracks are your favorite on Slippage ?

Brent: "Find The Out" was probably the hardest one before we went in for the band to get a handle on. That one turned out great-I really like that one a lot. I really haven't listened to the album since we finished it. You kind of gauge it more by what goes on show-wise.

E.C.: To music fans who have never heard your songs, how would you describe Slobberbone's sound?

Brent: I always just tell people we're a rock band. It's funny because nowadays it doesn't matter if you are talking to a 10-year old kid or a 60 year old woman if you tell them "a rock band" the first thing they ask you is "what kind of rock band?" Everything is so pigeonholed now and that's kind of weird for me. So I just tell people we're a rock band and if they're really interested they can figure it out themselves or call us whatever they want. Years ago I maybe tried to be more explicit about it but even now I feel differently day to day in terms of exactly what kind of band we are. It's funny because it's only nowadays that people make a big deal about things like that. Look at The Rolling Stones-they used all sorts of weird instrumentation and they had their country periods. The Beatles for God's sakes. But nobody ever thought of calling those bands anything other than rock bands. It's funny now if you push in any kind of direction sort of off the standard rock path they want to call you something else.

E.C.: What keeps Slobberbone going on these really long tours?

Brent: Shit, I don't know! We're all Grade-A smart asses. We're insular in our abrasiveness towards each other. We kind of have like this pressure system where any one of use can go off on the other and it's OK. It's funny when we get back home and we are still in that mode and even people who really know us really well- I'll hear the rumor mill-"oh, man I think they're breaking up-did you hear what Brent said to Jess?" But that's the shit that goes on everyday. But again, we've toured too much probably-at an unhealthy kind of clip. You can be having a crappy run and all it takes is one really good night or something really cool happening that kind of fuels you up for another month of doing it. That said, we're a little bit smarter about it now but we still tour way too much. I think we are a little more conscious about engineering it. Now, really for me at least, diversifying it helps a lot, playing with other people when I get a chance at home or just diversifying in terms of what I write. As long as it stays minutely interesting, more interesting than the warehouse job I had back home I guess we'll keep it going.

E.C.: What's next for Slobberbone?

Brent: I have no idea. Go to Europe. Then we're going to come back. Jess is getting married in November I think. So I think we will just keep touring hardcore until about August or so. Then we will kind of wind things down a bit. I'm going to work on some other projects like I said. I record bands at home too. In terms of the next record and stuff I never know until I write it. It could be that electronic album- you know I could pick up a couple new moves.(Laughs)

E.C.: Thanks again.

Brent: Sure, thank you.

Slobberbone Selected Discography-

1994 Crow Pot Pie-(Initial Independent Release)

1996 Re-release-Doolittle Records

1997 Barrel Chested-Doolittle Records

1998 Your Excuse(EP)-Doolittle Records

2000 Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today -New West Records

2002 Slippage-New West Records

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