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It's a Mother Trucker: The Bay Area's best up-and-coming alt-country band opens the KPIG Humbug Hoedown Dec. 6.

Can't Stop the Rock

The Mother Truckers have country in their hearts and AC/DC in their blood--and they're bringing it all to the KPIG Humbug Hoedown

By Mike Connor

When Josh Zee and Teal Collins set out to start a country band, they knew they'd never be able to stifle the ghosts of the rawk music they grew up with. Once bands like AC/DC, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin and Motorhead have gotten into your soul, they won't ever be silenced. But like any truly honest country band, the Mother Truckers just let it all bleed through.

"We like to keep that flavor in there for sure," explains Collins, who sings and plays guitar and ukulele for the band. "You just can't leave the rock behind."

Hell mothertruckin' yes, that's what I'm talking about!

See, because countrified covers of rock songs like AC/DC's "TNT" and Judas Priest's "Electric Eye" are loads of fun for fans of both country and rock, but they serve another purpose as well. It's like a Sistine Chapel finger-to-finger transmission of all the wild, destructive energy of cock-rock straight into the deepest, darkest depths of country. So when they play one of their chugging country burners like "Save My Soul" with enough intensity to singe your lashes and soak your bedsheets, you know they're not fucking around.

Their song about getting high--aptly titled "We Were Getting High"--is a singalong that rings with enough truth to inspire nostalgia about speed and heroin binges (not that we condone that sort of thing): "Last Saturday night about four a.m., we were getting high/ Sitting around waiting for the day to begin, we were getting high/ Doing it again: methamphetamine, so I could say bye bye."

But if cryin' in yer beer is your deal, the Mother Truckers have still got a seat with your name on it. Saddle up to the bar and lament with "My Only Friend," on which Zee slows it down with the pedal steel and sings: "Ain't got no faith, ain't got no hope, ain't got no god at all/ But at least I got a friend in alcohol."

But wait--it gets darker. On "If I Die," Collins muses good-naturedly about suicide: "Would they send my body south/ If I crammed this knife here into an open toaster mouth?/ And would I feel much pain/ If I jumped off an overpass onto an oncoming lane?" Then, the happy-happy-fun-fun verses are followed by the victorious chorus: "If I died today/ I wouldn't have to see you with her/And If I died today/ I wouldn't have to go to work."

"It's funny," says Collins; "to us, they're serious lyrics. People say they're really bizarre, but stuff like "If I Died"--I was actually thinking that death, in a way, is comforting. When you're done and get to the end of it all, all the stuff you're worrying about is really not gonna matter. So that's kind of my morbid fascination with death coming through."

But if she's a twisted freak, at least she's not the only one in the band.

"Growing up, I loved horror movies and gory dreams, and Josh and I share that in common, so when we got together to start a band, we knew it definitely wasn't going to be clichéd lyrics," he says. "That's just kind of how we are: fascinated with weird and macabre."

For Those Who Used to Rock

It's clear from his playing that Zee is also fascinated by guitar-driven rock. For those of us weaned on the wailing guitar solos of Angus Young and Jimmy Page, the idea that the guitar solo went "out" back in the late '90s doesn't sit none too well. Some of us have just blamed it all on Steve Vai and Joe Satriani and cut our losses. Others, like Zee the Budding Bay Area Guitar God, hung on until the bitter end. His guitar-heavy rock band Protein scored a deal with Sony and a slot on the '97 Warped tour with Limp Bizkit and Social Distortion, but eventually the well ran dry.

So how did a bunch of ex-rockers figure out how to write great country songs? Plenty of booze, plenty of drugs and plenty of disappointment.

"I think maybe at this point," says Collins, "Josh and I have been doing the music thing for so long, suffering through band after band, that you're familiar with disappointment. When you're 17, you're like, 'This band I'm in now is gonna be it, I'm gonna be a rock star!' Now we're familiar with the devastations year in and year out--and I think that's why Josh and I can hopefully write a good country song."

The Mother Truckers open for Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men at the KPIG Humbug Hoedown on Saturday, Dec. 6, at 9pm at the Catalyst. Tickets $23/adv., $25/door. Call 831.479.9421 for tickets.

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From the December 3-10, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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