Nine Pound Hammer
I interviewed Blaine Cartwright over the phone when he was in L.A. on their recent tour. We had a few problems getting the interview set up. It seemed like fate was conspiring against us, what with a car crash and all, but it eventually happened. "Hayseed Timebomb" is probably the premier shit-kickin' album of the year. Buy it, listen to it, fear its raging guitar power. When the band played in San Diego, they faced an apathetic crowd. Rather than play a boring set in response, they got pissed off and ruled the night.
Has this been a calamitous tour so far?
Blaine: We've had a couple of bad things. The van broke down three times, it didn't get fixed right and stuff. It's boring to sit here and talk about, but other than that, it's going really well.
What happened with the wreck?
B: Oh yeah, well, that pales in comparison to the other stuff because that can get fixed, but someone ran into the side of us as we were pulling out of a parking lot up in Canada.
Is that unusual for an indie band to go all the way into Canada, come down the Pacific Coast and then cut back across?
B: Well, it's a little extensive for a band like us, but it happens all the time actually.
Where all have you gone?
B: We've gone up the East Coast, across Canada, then we're going down the West Coast, then to Texas. We're going everywhere but the South pretty much.
So how's the new album doing?
B: The album's doing really well. I was out in L.A. and I met all these people last night that had heard it and liked it, so it's doing really, really well. It's really cool.
I know this is an extension of the previous two albums, but how is it different?
B: The sound's a little better and the songwriting is a little better. It's longer for one thing. It's the same stuff though, basically the same style.
So what do you call it? I thought about the Ramones meeting Merle Haggard.
B: Yeah, that's basically it. It's pretty easy to name it, like cowpunk, or the Ramones meet Merle Haggard or Johnny Cash.
Yeah, you actually do a Johnny Cash cover on this record, don't you?
B: Yeah, "Wreck of the Ol' 97." It's his version of it. It's an old folk song about a train wreck. There's a zillion versions. The actual original version, the folk song, there's about 15 verses in it. This is like a condensed version and he performed it.
So what's the songwriting process like? How do you come up with a song like "Hayseed Timebomb"?
B: I wrote all the lyrics to those and I was just trying to think really weird sayings and stuff. We mostly work on some weird slang or something like that. It just sticks in our head.
So how does that evolve into a song?
B: It's pretty easy actually. We just keep our eyes out for really weird stuff, something weird someone says and so forth. Then once you get the idea as far as a concept and title, it's really easy to write after that.
So how do go about searching out this weird stuff, or does it just hit you?
B: It hits us. We don't really search it out that much.
So it could be something as simple as sitting in a truck stop and seeing a bumper sticker.
B: Yeah, exactly. Or something we make up or something someone says that most times people let go by, but sometimes it's like, "Hey, that could be a song."
Has anyone criticized the way you portray people in your songs?
B: Here and there. One time some guy was criticizing us, saying it was all shock value, but I don't know. There's a certain affinity for it if that's the right word, a certain love for it. We have a certain appreciation for it that we've gathered over the years, plus I ended up living that lifestyle whether I meant to or not. I drive an ice cream truck in Nashville, Tennessee and I work with rednecks and most of our friends are rednecks and stuff so I ended up living that lifestyle. So it's okay for us to make fun of it in a way.
I looked at some of this and I laughed because I recognized the people.
B: Yeah. Well, that's what most people do. It's a relief. Actually, too, no one considers themself a redneck is one thing I've noticed. No one considers themself a redneck. We talk in such extremes that even if people are like that, they think it's about someone else that's really like that.
Yeah, it makes Jeff Foxworthy look positively cultured.
B: Yeah, pretty much. But Jeff Foxworthy, I don't know. But see, that's the whole thing. Jeff Foxworthy is probably more popular among rednecks than anything else. He does redneck humor and everyone else laughs at it, but at the same time, rednecks laugh at it really hard. I always look at truck stops and his tapes sell really well there. It comes from people in the South having a good laugh at themselves mostly I think.
So do people who like country come to your shows or is it just punks?
B: Naw, we get everybody. Mostly it's hard rock stuff, like people like metalheads or punks, or people who like classic rock 'n' roll or think we're like AC/DC. We do get people who like country, but we don't get the flat-out country people as much, mostly because even though it's got a country beat to it, the main thrust of it is still punk and fast and hard.
So you haven't had much line dancing at your concerts lately?
B: No. We have people who do little jigs and stuff like that.
So how did the music evolve over the course of these three records? How did it combine country and punk?
B: Well, I actually ripped a lot of it off from a band called Jason and the Scorchers. They're from Nashville and they were like our heroes. That's why we started the band in the first place. So that was pretty much it and we've really been trying really hard to keep it cowpunk and we've had to battle with other members of the band in past lineups and stuff to get it to this level. This is something me and the singer, Scott, have always wanted to do, pretty much exclusively do for the most part, is cowpunk, since that's really our strong point and so forth. It's just like doing hardcore or whatever.
It just seems like it's so fun.
B: It is, it's really fun. That's the main thing is that it's fun. Mostly, we just try to make it funny and silly, and it's silly, but if you play really hard fast, you can get away with playing silly stuff.
It seems like playing hard and fast covers up some of the goofiness.
B: Oh sure, that's exactly right.
I have to ask you about some of these lyrics. "Stranded Outside Tater Knob," the line, "My ex-wife ran the whorehouse on the highway out of town/ They used to give special trucker's rates before the Baptists burned it down."
B: There's little snippets of truth in all of that. There actually was a small whorehouse outside a town in Indiana that's about 10 miles from Kentucky. You go across the bridge and there's this place in Patronville and it did get burned out, but I don't know who burned it down. I just assumed it was Baptists or something. There's a lot of Baptists around there. So that's how that evolved. There's snippets of stuff here and there. Some stuff exaggerates it, like "Wax museum of dead 'Hee Haw' stars." There's no such place. That's something I made up in my head, but most of the rest of the stuff in there is slight or truth for sure. There's little snippets of truth in most of the stuff. It's just stuff I combined together. It's weird because we talk in first person and a lot of people think those songs are really true.
Some of the lines, like "Livin' on crank, pork rinds and cold beer" and "Raised on a diet of No Doz, donuts and diesel emissions," really set this mood of a downtrodden existence where people sit in recliners, drinking beer and watching football on a wood paneled TV.
B: Yeah. Pretty much. The whole thing there was that I wanted to write a parody of a trucker song. I love trucker songs and I always thought they were really funny, so I thought, "Well, I'll write a trucker parody." A lot of the songs are like that. It's already a parody and it ends up being an actual trucker song.
So "Stranded Outside Tater Knob" is a parody song. What other parody songs are on the album?
B: That was the one. Something like "Outta My Way Pigfucker" is more like out and out pissed off. I was working in a place and had to deal with a bunch of dumb rednecks. I like rednecks for the most part, but these guys drove me nuts and that just stuck in my head. As far as other parodies on there, that's mainly the only one that I can think of, but other ones are silly, like "Skin A Buck."
Yeah, "I shot my cousin's butt off."
B: Yeah. Well see, there's a dude I know who did shoot his cousin's butt off in a hunting accident, but the thing about ducking every time a door slams, I don't think that's true. But there is a dude who shot his cousin's butt off, and he was weird after that. That's pretty bad actually. He ended up being a freaky guy because of that, the guy who shot him. I never met the guy who got shot, but he did have a heavy limp, like a raised shoe and stuff.
These songs seem to play off stereotypes that people see in the media and read about in books, and the way people perceive rednecks.
B: Yeah, pretty much. It plays off that but it takes it one step further and shows that it really does exist, that this stuff really does go on. and it's a lot heavier than that. I was talking to these girls here today in L.A. that think [they know] what the South is like and I was trying to convince them that it ain't that much different. The differences between Nashville and Los Angeles aren't that apparent. There's parts of both where you wouldn't know which city you're in. It's basically the same shit, it's just that things are more subtle. These girls thought that everyone there was in the KKK and stuff and I was trying to tell them it's not like that. They were convinced. I said that aspect is there, the same as there's gangs and stuff here but you don't run into them constantly and they're not in the 7-11s in the suburbs. There is that stuff out there, but they're an extreme or people you usually don't deal with or just hear about them or people tell you some crazy stories about people like that. It just registers. Basically, when we'd go away when we were younger, we'd tell people all these crazy stories about all the rednecks we grew up with and people used to really like that. They'd laugh a lot, so we just played on that as far as writing songs.
It seems like anywhere you go now, every place is the same.
B: Yeah, it is to a certain degree and that's what I'm telling them. They were talking about having tattoos and getting in trouble or something like that in Nashville or Atlanta, and I was like, "You're crazy, there's tattoo parlors on the corner of every small town in the USA. They're everywhere." The same trends you have here are the same trends we have back home, it just takes a little longer for it to hit and basically it is the same stores and so forth. But yeah, for sure, it seems like more and more it's the same. Regionalism is not as apparent as it once was but it's still there. You go to Nashville and you'll see regionalism is not dead, it's still really strong, but you can find most anything you could in L.A. in Nashville, pretty much.
The last time I was through Nashville, about 10 or 15 years ago, it seemed really mellow.
B: It's really laid back. It's really loose too. It's very loose. It's still a big city. It's like people from small towns. Everyone there grew up in small towns and then moved to the big city so that's pretty nice. That makes it a little tolerable because they don't have that small town attitude. That's what I was mostly pissed off about when I was growing up. I thought it was pretty much exclusive just to the South, but it's this certain small town attitude. Close-minded, like saying "This is all there is whether you like it," not acknowledging there's a whole world out there. It's just having the rules in your head defined just by the small town. That's pretty much what got us and made us really antsy and restless when we were younger.
I know what you mean. I used to spend a lot of time in Brookhaven, Mississippi, and that town was still stuck in the 1930s in their attitudes.
B: Yeah, it's still like that. There are some places where you've got the 70's or something now, but there's a lot of places that are still like the 60's. Parts of Nashville are still like that.
It's amazing how people try to maintain things the way they are. It seems like people don't want things to change.
B: There's that for sure. That's one thing about the South, it does tend to be like that. There are certain people that just want it to be basically like it is forever.
One of the other questions I had, and this goes back to the question I asked you about people criticizing your portrayals, is about the line in "Hayseed Timebomb" about "Saturday night/ Time to go hunt some queers." Have you gotten any criticism on that?
B: No, because most people think rednecks go out and hunt queers and that was an extreme. When I was working at the Sizzler when I was a kid, this guy said he wanted to go out fag bashing, like going down the river and beating fags up with baseball bats which actually didn't go on. I think they just rode down there and yelled at them, but at the same time, they would say "It's time to hunt queers," and so forth. So it did go on some.
It seems like in "Hayseed Timebomb," you're basically caricaturing the stereotypical redneck who drinks cheap beer and runs around with a gun rack in the back of the pickup.
B: Oh, for sure. It's really stereotypical actually, but it's to an extreme where it's not boring. That's my whole thing. It's to an extreme where it's ridiculous, like the guy using his mom's .38 to go hunt queers and living on crank and pork rinds. It's really extreme, trying to throw everything in there, or using stereotypes to throw some comedy in there and make it crazy.
The thing that really interested me was the way you finished that off with "He can blow away all his fears." It sounds like what you're setting up is that this character is really homophobic but it's because he's afraid he might be gay.
B: Yeah, I think that's what most people do. I'm always really suspicious of anyone who says they really hate queers and so forth to the point that they say it all the time or want to do something about it or feel threatened by them. That's strange.
It seems like there's a lot of things like that going on in these records. Do you consciously put twists in there to make the listener think about these things?
B: Yeah, for sure. We spend more time on our lyrics than anything. The whole thing is we don't want to write anything stupid. I mean, not silly, but stupid. I don't want to write anything dumb and it's hard for Scott to sing something stupid, so I try to keep everything funny or witty at some level or descriptive. I try really hard to have a lot of alliteration and so forth. As it goes on, it gets blurry as to whether we're for these people or against them sometimes, but that's cool, or if that's us or people we hate and so forth, and that's cool. I like keeping it like that.
That also makes people think more about it. I mean, people are laughing, but they're also thinking.
B: Yeah. That's mainly our whole thing too. We were younger, we had pretty much made fun of what we didn't like and just continued to do so.
I noticed in the photos that you guys are all wearing T-shirts and stuff, but I haven't seen a cowboy hat yet.
B: No. I'm not going to wear a cowboy hat. No way. We had some cool ones but the Supersuckers pretty much wear those all the time, really cool ones. In fact, everything from that Pleasure Fuckers T-shirt to the Cat hat, which is Cat diesel, I've seen Eddie Supersucker wear about everything I've pretty much put on. I don't know. We play it up to a certain degree. I have a cowboy shirt and we have some cowboy shirts, but not to the extreme that we have tassels on them or anything like that. They're still cool shirts, they're not ironed or pressed or anything like that. Plus, I don't usually want to wear them when I play because they get in the way. Basically, I think we're trying to look more like Southern drifters if we're trying to put any Southern image up instead of some star spangled cowboy.
I've seen the Supersuckers a few times, but I've never seen Eddie wearing a Cat diesel hat.
B: Naw, that was an old picture for the first CD, that first compilation of singles they did. I just saw he had that and it was weird because the last time I saw him, he was wearing a Pleasure Fuckers T-shirt and I was too and I had bought one of those hats. Eddie's a cool guy though.
So what is an average Nine Pound Hammer show like?
B: Pretty crazy, usually. We jump around, go nuts, play our songs. Then at the very end, I usually do a version of "Train Kept A'Rollin'" or something while Scott plays guitar and I sing. I just scream. It's a lot more chaotic, a lot more intense than the record, a whole lot more. The lyrics don't come into play as much because you can't really hear the real subtleties and stuff. The only way you could do that would be playing acoustic or something, but the emphasis is mostly on energy when we play live, keeping the rhythm going and stuff. That's more like a rock 'n' roll show. Pretty much, if you want to hear they lyrics, you have to read the lyrics sheet.
So it sounds like you're like the New Bomb Turks, where you have a crazy live show and then on the album there's a lot of thoughtful things you might not pick up in the live show.
B: Yeah, I think so. Actually, their shows are about as crazy as their records are. Ours work out that the show is a lot more intense than the record. We still haven't totally captured a live sound like the Turks have on record. The Turks have a really good, crazy, all-out record where you picture them jumping around and stuff. Ours, you really don't know. You have to see us and then, after you see us, you picture it in your head as you're listening to the record. Those guys, I picture them right off the bat going crazy because it sounds like it's nuts. The sounds on the Turks records are crazy, especially the guitar sounds. They're just over the top.
I think that's about it unless there's anything you think I need to know.
B: That's cool, it sounded good.