Brent Best Talks About Going Solo, The Legacy of Slobberbone and Having Rachel Maddow As a Fan
On and off, for nearly three decades, Brent Best has fronted Slobberbone, arguably the best alt-country act to emerge from the local scene. Beginning in the mid-'90s, the group produced a series of albums that culminated in 2000's Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today, which remains a landmark release.
Internal tensions resulted in the band calling it quits in 2005. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the band came back, stronger than ever, late in 2009. Speaking from Denton in anticipation of tonight's solo show at the Belmont Hotel, Best spoke about his upcoming solo album and a possible new studio effort from Slobberbone.
Tonight at the Belmont, you are playing solo. Do you play solo often?
Yeah, I do actually. I was doing a lot more solo stuff when Slobberbone was shutting down, back in 2003 or 2004, whenever that was. I did a solo tour of Europe. It's a good thing. It keeps you working.
Is it more fun playing solo or in a band?
One kind of makes the other better. Playing solo, the songs have to work on their own without all the bombast. When you write a song with that in mind, it's just going to be that much better.
How do you go about making a set list?
Well, there are some songs that were written just for me to play solo. But I'll do stuff from Slobberbone's first album. It's actually a bigger pool of songs to draw from when I play solo than when I play with a band. I can do songs from the Drams that I would never do when playing with Slobberbone.
For several years, there has been talk of a solo album. When are you going to get around to that?
I've shelved it twice now. I wasn't happy with it the first time and the second time I lost it to a hard drive crash. It's a fan-funded album and I've realized that maybe I am a little too precious with it. When I was making albums for a label, at some point, it was always, "Fuck it. Here's your album." But these are my fans and I cannot have an adversarial relationship with the fans. Perhaps I need to treat it more like work and just get it done.
What didn't you like about the first recordings?
I think I overcooked it. I needed it to be simple and sparse. That's part of the danger of having a home studio. I think, ultimately, what I am doing right now will be the demos for the solo record.
What's the time line for the release?
I am hoping in the next couple of months. Once it's done, because I am not doing it for a label, I won't have to wait around for six months. Once it's done, it's done. It's just a matter of getting it mastered and pressed up.
When Slobberbone got back together in 2009, were you surprised by the large crowds and enthusiastic reception?
It was cool. During the time we were away, we kind of became a better-known band. We were on a trajectory. We were bigger than we had ever been at the time when we broke up. The time following that, a lot of things happened. Bands like the Drive-by Truckers became huge. They were a huge champion for us. For years after we were not a band, I would get emails from people I didn't know who had just discovered us. When we first started playing again, it was because [bassist] Brian [Lane] had moved back to Texas. We just got together for fun, but the reception was surprising. We did a couple of tours that were great.
Did it make you regret breaking up in the first place?
No, I don't think so. We needed to take care of ourselves at the time. We had kind of run ourselves into the ground. If we all had different mindsets at the time, it would have been great. But where we were at the time, we all needed to go away for a while.
Do you have a favorite Slobberbone album?
I like Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today a lot. I think that's the album most people enjoy the most. Once an album is done, the songs become part of a larger thing. But we had a good time making that record. We did it in Memphis. We had carte blanche to do what we wanted. That said, I really enjoyed making the next record [Slippage]. We went to L.A. and even though I hate L.A., I had a wonderful time recording it. The first two records, making those records was horrible.
Why do you hate L.A.?
I don't hate it. Compared to Memphis, which I think of as a music town, L.A. is more of an industry town. I don't think I could ever live there.
Slobberbone is hugely popular in the Netherlands. How did that happen?
I don't know. I think, just in general, bands like us succeeded because there is a heightened awareness over there. When that first started happening, around 1997, the first record had done really well through mail order. We didn't have a distributor or a label. I was getting calls from promoters over there. We put together a tour over there in '98 and we were blown away. We played this incredible venue called the Paradiso and it was sold out two weeks before we got there. The crowd knew the words to every song. It was a great thing at the time because we were touring like crazy over here and maybe we could pack a club on the weekend, but Europe allowed us to really keep going over here. To this day, I can still book a solo tour of Europe and it would be cool.
With such renewed interest in the band, will there be another Slobberbone record?
We're talking about it. We've been getting together periodically and just fucking around. We've written a few songs here and there. We have to have an appreciation of what we're doing, and make sure that we're doing it for fun. Once it's there and we have an album's worth of songs, we will record them.
Stephen King is an admirer of Slobberbone. Any other famous fans?
Someone sent me an interview with Rachel Maddow and she said her favorite song was "Placemat Blues." That was interesting. My favorite author in the world is Larry Brown. He is a big influence on me. Back on the album Barrel Chested, I wrote a song based on one of his short stories. We became really good friends before he died.
From the beginning, Slobberbone was always labeled an alt-country band. What did you think about that term?
We always thought of ourselves as a rock band. I mean, the Rolling Stones put out a country sounding album, but no one calls them a country-rock band. It doesn't bother me and when we were getting going in the '90s, the alt-country thing was really blowing up. It definitely helped get us some attention, because I don't think a band named Slobberbone would have been brought to that many people's attentions.
Brent Best plays tonight, April 6, at the Belmont Hotel.