By Simone Fohrman
If you’ve been digging into the Denver music scene you’ve most likely heard The New Country Sounds of Ryan Wong, released in May. In my ear it’s a perfect clash of the punk attitude with a gentle folk expression, and a good fit for Denver–a reconstruction of the music historically associated with old, white, conservative dudes. Inspired by this sound, I started to search for other locals taking on this modern approach to country. To my surprise, I stumbled upon the ball of energy that is Clayton Dexter’s Country Backwash.
My investigation brought me to their show at the Skylark last month. Little did I know, when I walked up those back stairs to the “Bobcat Club”, that this band was a power team. Guitarist Justin Nijssen played with Foxygen and keyboardist Jess Parsons and bassist Kramer Kelling currently play with Alex Cameron band. Drummer Joon Voigt is a solo artist known as Thunderwerld in Los Angeles, and the “auxiliary percussionist” Drew Smith) plays with Denver’s Sell Farm. Lead singer Clayton Norman is the only member without a long list of prior musical engagements.
This mix of backgrounds produces a nuanced and unique sound. The songs playfully make fun of the new age, modern country sound with Brian Eno-esque lyrics and emotionally raw post-punk vocals.
The song “The Whole Situation” started off with a classic twangy guitar lead like some country pop song about beer, fishing, and a girl in the shotgun of a truck. But then Clayton Norman squeals out in a frenzied fashion: “The whole situation’s backwards/ I lost my patience/ What a disaster/ Mr. Situation/Your whole thing is backwards/I can’t help you and it doesn’t even matter/ So why did I even bother?/ To set it straight?/ The whole situation’s backwards/ Spinning down the drain/ I don’t know what you’re after/ And I can’t relate/ But the whole situation’s backwards/ And it’s already too late”.
The innate humor and relatability of the track had the audience hooked. At the bridge of the song the lead singer asked the percussionist, “How you doing man?” The percussionist responded “Not so good, man.” They proceeded to go back and forth, one offering the other emotional support. The mini-skit simply and beautifully showed two friends in honest comradery. In the background, a bubble machine spurted out hundreds of little bubbles that caught the stage lights and billowed out over the crowd. The scene was perfectly constructed, gaudy and over the top, yet touching in its sincerity.
Another great song was “Wanna Be A Cowboy,” an absurd love song describing a girl’s dreams of being a wild rapscallion. She says to her lover, “Let me see you wax yourself/ Jump into the creek/ And do the dog paddle c’mon/ I don’t think I’ve got it in me/ Working too hard to keep ahead lately/But I think that I’m a cowboy”. The band concluded the set with the equally ridiculous, “Chipmunks Playing in the Rain.” The song laments a melancholic feeling that can’t be swayed. The narrator dreams of an alternate reality in which he could be with his loved one, free of worries. The chorus lines are sung in a passionate gospel style, “We could be/Chipmunks playing in the rain/And let go of the pain, my dear”.
Clayton Dexter’s Country Backwash finds a way to combine satire with honest expression in a way that doesn’t feel trite or cliché. The substance of the songs were cynical, yet the stage was lit up with energy and everyone was undeniably having a lot of fun. If you get a chance to check them out in the near future you won’t be disappointed! Keep the wacky country sounds alive!