Pristine album art and fancy-dancin’ virgin 150-gram vinyl are always nice, but you know what beats that all to hell? Having a turntable you don’t care about and a stack of thrift-score records with the jackets busted up the spine and scuffed with perfect white circles where they’ve been rubbing together. Budget bounty is there for the scavenging (once you get past that cock-blocker Mantovani!) at any second-hand store, and when you find the dinged-up diamond that comes out of nowhere and blows you away it’s like your mind is living the dream of getting rich by working from home. Fifty cents for a record that might change your life? Stone deal.
That’s exactly what the Drunk Horse song “One Dollar Records” is about, says singer/guitarist Eli Eckert: buying cheap used records and listening to them REALLY LOUD, loud enough for your roommate to hear them from three blocks away on his way home from the bar.
“A lot of the quote-unquote hip music that people listen to is fairly expensive,” Eckert says. “Records that are really old and hard to find or have been re-pressed for a bunch of money. It’s all about having something that someone else doesn’t, so you can be like, ‘Oh, but have you heard...’ So the whole idea of ‘One Dollar Records’ is going to Amoeba and buying a stack of records for a dollar each that are totally amazing, just not coooool. There’s so much good music out there that people just overlook.”
What’s great about Drunk Horse is that their records actually sound like the lost Humble Pie or Thin Lizzy scores you’d dig up at a garage sale put on by some classic rocker who has finally gotten around to replacing his collection on CD. Their latest, the Tim Green-produced Adult Situations, is a classic rock-o-rama, packed with “woo-hoo” hoots and skunky riffs and tunes that could fool a Mountain fan in a double-blind taste test. Except that Eckert’s lyrics aren’t the typical fare of classic-rock radio, with its puddle-sized gene pool and unofficial motto of “A day without hearing ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ four times is like a day without sunshine.” Where Eckert does toe the classic-rock party line, his lyrics are funny in a “Yeah, we know, it’s just that no one’s actually come out and said it before” kind of way. Consider, by way of example, this sample lyric from album opener “National Lust”: “The streets are burnin’, everybody’s got a dose/Tight pants make it hard not to think about sexual intercourse.” Way to get to the bottom of it, man. The way Eckert drawls it, “dose” and “intercourse” even rhyme!
“I just like to write about things that I think are interesting,” Eckert explains, “and have lyrics that I’d like to hear. With the kind of music that we play, a lot of the lyrics are generally like ‘yeah yeah yeah, party, whatever, hot rod, baby I want you,’ and that’s not what I’m about.”
Of course, when your other renovations include songs about Bach (“He’s a pretty amazing dude,” says Eckert. “I can’t really remember what the inspiration was for writing that song. But he had nineteen kids. That at least was worth writing about.”) and a work in progress about bad-boy German architect Helmut Jahn, some people are going to come along and accuse you of farting a little higher than your ass. They’re going to accuse you of classic-rock slumming—or, more to the point, of rocking ironically. It’s a charge frequently leveled at the very much on-the-level Drunk Horse and their friends, The Champs, and one that main songwriter Eckert is rarely allowed to refute in person.
“It’s not usually something I can respond to,” Eckert snorts, “because it’s always fired from the safety of someone’s computer at home or at work, and never in a forum where I can respond to it. It’s really frustrating. The only thing I can say is that I think the word irony is far overused because people use it as a sort of catch-all for anything they deem insincere. There’s a difference between something that’s wry and something that’s ironic, and if something seems ironic, that still doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing behind it. The independent media gets confused by rock’n’roll music, like a band has to be acting because no one can possibly be sincere about that kind of music.
“It’s like the people who might chuckle to themselves as they listen to Metallica or something,” Eckert muses, “or wear a Slayer T-shirt because Slayer’s raaaad. They don’t actually love the music, so when they see a band like us they can’t fathom that someone would actually be feeling this music.”