- Its nice to see a ne-country band rock a Gwar shirt.
Sure, you could apply the blanket sobriquet of "alt-country" to Drag the River. You'd only be partially on target, though. While the Fort Collins quintet, playing the Navajo Hogan on Friday, June 17, does stem from the tradition of rockers-gone-twang that spawned Wilco and, further back, Uncle Tupelo, it lacks the pop experimentation and, for that matter, the affectedness, that engender the "alt."
Besides, you might piss the band off.
"I slowly have really grown to not like that term," says singer and guitarist Jon Snodgrass. "The whole idea of it is that it's not mainstream country. In that case, yeah, we're alt-country. I like to think of it as, we're just a rock band that plays some country songs and some rock songs."
Drag the River creates a blend of back-porch woe and whiskey- and beer-soaked heartbreak, routed through a pair of guitars and pedal steel. It sounds second nature, which makes it all the more weird that members' pedigrees are punk instead of plink. Snodgrass and Chad Price, of Armchair Martian and ALL respectively, share guitar and vocal duties; JJ Nobody of the Nobodys plays bass; Casey Prestwood from the New England rock outfit Hot Rod Circuit is on pedal steel; and Pinhead Circus/Love Me Destroyer veteran Dave Barker bangs the drums.
That it's a supergroup of sorts may have been in the band's initial sales pitch, but it doesn't rely on "members of" laurels.
"It was helpful," Snodgrass says of the members' histories. "It wasn't just a band starting from scratch. [But] it's something we definitely didn't try to exploit."
Starting in 1996 with a series of off-the-cuff sessions that became the widely bootlegged Hobo's Demos (later officially re-released on Fort Collins' Upland/O&O Records), Drag grew more focused with its lauded "real" studio debut, Closed.
With the addition of Nobody on bass, the group began touring more seriously and branched out with a pair of live albums, Live at the Starlight and At the Green Door O.K.C. Both garnered critical praise, mostly for Drag's ability to accomplish atmospheric melancholy without seeming inauthentic.
"As I lay down to sleep, she lays a bottle at my feet/Knowin' when I wake up I'll be shaking," they sing on "Medicine." It's to their credit that such a line can come across with validity and soul and leave you thinking, Jesus, that's depressing.
"It's just honesty," says Snodgrass. "I just pick up a guitar and things come out. I don't lay myself as much on the line as much as other people I respect, but I like it when people can get something out of a song that wasn't necessarily there to begin with."
Drag's newest effort, the six-song Hey Buddies EP, is a tour through similarly liquored lament, ache and hopeful resignation. Riding the back of that release, the band is embarking on a nationwide summer tour, its first with new drummer Barker and steel player Prestwood. Barker, Snodgrass notes, played with the band for the first time in Colorado Springs.
"He knew six songs and I think we played 26 -- just kept going with it," he says.
That honky-tonk spirit, along with a refreshing lack of pretentiousness, endears Drag the River to so many listeners and fans of their live show.
"It's like Steve Earle said about his kind of country: 'It's just good, honest music,'" says Snodgrass.
-- Aaron Retka
Drag the River with Virginia Sisters, Goodbye Daylight and Abracastabya
The Navajo Hogan, 2817 N. Nevada Ave.
Friday, June 17, 7:30 p.m.
$6; call 632-5490 or check out dragtheriver.com.