REVERB: Brent Amaker’s Concept Country

His shitkicker satire is part band, part performance art.

"We're not just a band," says Brent Amaker, frontman of country act Brent Amaker & the Rodeo. "We're a social experiment." As a country quintet, Amaker, guitarist Steve Davis, bassist Sugar McGuinn, drummer Bryan Crawford, and guitarist Ben Strehle perform in matching cowboy outfits, remaining in character even in places where people don't like cowboys, or where people love cowboys so much that Amaker and his band aren't cowboy enough to suit them. But it should be noted that Amaker, even though he's from Oklahoma, didn't grow up riding bulls. He grew up in Oklahoma City, has been living in Seattle for well over a decade, has spent most of his music career playing punk music, and prefers vodka and wine to the shots of whiskey his fans buy him after the show."My vision for this band is Devo meets Johnny Cash," Amaker explains. The songs may sound like classic country, but the lyrics—even though they're still all about whiskey, guns, and women—are satirical, hyperbolic, and on occasion boldly vulgar. It's all meant in good fun, but to someone who takes country music seriously, Amaker's lighthearted concept band might seem offensive.In "The Man Who Writes the Country Hits," from the band's latest Gravewax Records release, Howdy Do!, Amaker sings, "I'm the man who makes your panties wet/So show me your tits"—and sometimes people do. If the band has anything in common with Devo, it's a sense of showmanship. They're as much a performance-art group as a band; a typical BA&R show may include a whiskey baptism (in which Amaker pours the baptismal liquid down a lucky audience member's throat), a burlesque dancer, and varying degrees of spontaneous mayhem. "The art part of this band flies right over hardcore country fans' heads," Amaker says.You don't have to get the joke to have a good time at a Rodeo show, of course, but it helps. And the art aspect of the band doesn't end with shows and albums. The band's next album, Please Stand By, will come with a comic book for adults tentatively titled Mescal de la Muerte. In it, artist Simon Young portrays Brent Amaker & the Rodeo as a group of boozing, womanizing antiheroes; Jay Cynik, a filmmaker who enlisted the band to perform in his recent slasher flick Punch, is writing the script. With it, Amaker hopes to build the following he's been cultivating since the band's self-titled first album came out in 2007. "We're not gonna be the next buzz band in Seattle," he says. "We're trying to be a worldwide cult band. In some places, you're a star just for being five cowboys walking down the street."

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