Country-Fried Rock

Austin's Mother Truckers get back to their rock roots

Austin's Mother Truckers are very familiar with the music industry. Josh Zee and Teal Collins both have recording cred: Zee was in the Bay Area rock-band Protein, which was signed to the Work subsidiary of Sony in the early '90s; and Collins, the daughter of jazz disc jockey Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins, has sung on records by Third Eye Blind and other pop and R&B artists.

But don't let those associations fool you--the Mother Truckers are a bona fide country-rock band, playing what they call "authentic country, featuring nontraditional lyrics and blazing guitars."

The Mother Truckers began in California in 2000, emerging out of a small community of musicians. Collins first met Zee at a blues jam in San Rafael well before the band even began. "He just kind of rolled up on a skateboard, if I remember correctly," she said. "I think he was probably too young to be in the bar. ... He was probably like 19 or 20, and just already played phenomenally, just totally shredded."

From there, "We would just kind of play together in rock bands in that area, just for fun, once or twice a year," said Collins. "And then after Protein, and after I was in this other ... touring band, I actually had a song I wanted him to come play guitar on, and he was like, 'I want to start a country band--do you know any cute girls that play ukulele?' I happen to play ukulele--he was just being funny."

The decision to play country was an artistic evolution: "Josh had been in the rock world, and I had sang pop, but I'd also sang a lot of R&B, and we both artistically wanted to go in a totally different direction than where we had been," said Collins.

Their first record, Something Worth Dying For, has Collins' and Zee's voices blending together flawlessly on catchy, clever songs, all proving that they were taking the authentic-country-with-nontraditional-lyric thing seriously. Then, in 2005, Zee and Collins moved to Austin, where they've found a near-obsessive, incredibly supportive fan base--they were named Best Roots Rock Band in the Austin Chronicle's 2006 Austin Music Awards, and one fan even told Collins recently that he's seen them 75 times.

Broke, Not Broken, released in 2006 and re-released last November on Tucson's own Funzalo Records, is even more catchy and clever in a smarter and more subtle way. Currently, the band--which includes bassist Danny G. and drummer Dan Thompson (who was also the drummer for Protein)--is in the studio working on their next record for Funzalo, which Collins says is "the album we've waited to make all of these years."

"I would say this album has a little bit more of a rock feel," said Collins. "We have not abandoned traditional chord progressions; we're just kind of getting back to our rock roots a little bit more. Also, with Broke, Not Broken, we tried to incorporate both Josh and my vocals on everything as much as possible, but there were a lot of songs where that didn't really make sense, to have the other person on as anything other than a background vocal. On this one, we really got a lot more interplay between us vocally, so it just feels like a more cohesive sound."

Getting back to their rock roots is just part of that artistic evolution that led the Mother Truckers to country in the first place. "You can't escape the love of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC; you just can't escape it," said Collins. "We just found ourselves writing songs that were a little more rock and not leaning on instrumentation like pedal steel and stuff like we did on Broke, Not Broken."

But in actuality, the rock element has always been there. "Even on our first record, we did a cover of Judas Priest's 'Electric Eye'; we've always incorporated the rock," Collins pointed out. "Even within the country stuff that we've done, there's always been that blazing, face-melting guitar."

Furthermore, said Collins, "We're not really aiming to be like the clean Nashville sound, like the CMT--we're not aiming for that. We're trying to appeal to a different demographic, you could say. The same one we fall into."

Which would be people who like a good helping of that face-melting guitar and clever swagger in their country--or people who just know good music when they hear it.

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