White Cowbell Oklahoma
Published May 23, 2009A decade is a long time for any band to stick together in the trenches, let alone one perceived as little more than a local gimmick. That's pretty much what Toronto's White Cowbell Oklahoma feel like they've been cast off as over the years. While they understand the tendency, given live performances that seem to feature more people onstage than in the audience, chainsaws, strippers, decimated stuffed things (turkeys, play toys and so on), they do aspire to have their music appreciated to the same extent that their image is co-opted, gawked at and gossiped about. Fourth full-length Bombardero strives to alter that mentality. Somewhat. As guitarist/vocalist Clem C. Clemson relates, the 'Bell (or WCO as they refer to themselves) will always feature some sort of stage antics but there are a lot of blood sweat and tears pushed into Bombardero. It was recorded at the band's own Magpie Manor and LiveWire Remote with mixing handled by former Tricky Woo guitarist Adrian Popovich and is released through their own Slick Monkey Records. The end result is a fist-pumping, anthemnic set of songs thick on low-end, pelvic thrust and grit. Easily their most confident effort to date, it displays a new Bell that is streamlined and primed for attack. Celebrating its release, Clemson relates the hard truth and hilarious fantasy of life in the WCO compound.
Bombardero seems to be your most "serious" effort yet. Is that so?
Clem C. Clemson: I think WCO's live reputation probably coloured the way the last two albums were received, at least by much of the Toronto press. Both those records had some moments that were hardly party rock. But Bombardero is admittedly the doomiest and most conceptual yet. It's like the third, infernal frame in a Bosch painting. Although Casa Diablo also had its dark moments, that one was perhaps our Paul's Boutique. True connoisseurs will go back to it, as it was a concept album too. Some reviewers from Toronto tend to get all hot and bothered if the concept involves sex.
Your numbers are thinning with this album. Exactly who is in the band at present?
WCO has always been a bastion of rock'n'roll volatility. We're kinda like those high-watt, environmentally unsound neon light bulbs. Occasionally one gets smashed and spews toxicity everywhere. But that's just how we roll. In the last two years we've gone from nine to six, which isn't as sexy as it sounds. But it has made morning hotel lobby call at least 33 percent more efficient. Most of the (2006) Casa Diablo band is still here and (vocalist) the Sergeant and (keyboardist) Jesse did indeed play on the album. We still have them on retainer, in cryogenic tanks.
Something seems different with WCO on this record sonically though, not just in terms of members.
After touring Europe a half dozen times we suddenly realized that besides all the over-the-top showmanship we're known for, WCO is a kick-ass heavy prog-rock jam band. Europeans certainly seem to think so. As much as we still love the regal blues minimalism of ZZ Top, we also love the maximalism and nose-bleed insanity of Frank Zappa. Plus these are doomy times, so the Sabbath and Atomic Rooster influences probably crept in. And mellotrons get ladies hot.
Would you say you've developed a more unique musical approach here?
We love writing songs about being high on peyote on the set of a Sergio Leone western. And Bombardero has that. But it's also fun to explore more apocalyptic, Homer-esque themes. Because every day is an Odyssey for us, Bombardero's like a window into our tortured souls. We also employed a lot more notes on this album. There are more complicated notes per square inch than on the last two albums combined. So it's really good value for the consumer.
The recording process was somewhat elongated. It seems like it took two years to get this together. Why?
Well, when you're cramming all those notes into 45 minutes, it takes a lot of time and science. We had physicists and chemical engineers working with us around the clock. But we used a bunch of studios, including this awesome remote truck unit. We felt good about that, 'cause that's how Deep Purple's Machine Head was done. We also wanted to wait until certain planets aligned before we put it out. We're like giant rock n roll snakes, shedding filthy, well-worn skins. We're all glistening now.
Did the line-up shift affect recording?
No, because some of those dudes who split still appeared on the album. We also had a couple of guests including Robbie "Cadenza" Fenton, who seems to weasel onto all our records. He's a super-being who can play everything. Last time it was pedal steel. This time it was alto sax and lap steel guitar. Next time we're going to get him to sing all the parts of a boys church choir. On a mountain.
What about future performances?
Well (guitarist) Bubba Lee "Rooster" Phett and I had to rearrange some of the vocals but it's pretty much business as usual with a little more elbow room. Our recent mini-tour of Quebec and Ontario was rad. It all gives us a lot more musical space to fuck around with too. We've stretched some freaky shit out for half an hour at times. We just have to be careful we don't turn into a smutty version of Phish. But we have alarms that shoot nail guns at us if that happens.
Do you have any major plans for the live show? You guys are pretty over-the-top with that stuff.
WCO shows have always evolved bizarre ways, but the 2009-2010 tour will feature all-new over-the-top sensory overload. I don't want to wreck it but let's just say we've perfected our testosterone hypno-death ray machine.
Reflecting on the past decade, what was the band's outlook when starting, how do you feel about the mass of stuff you've accomplished and how have your goals or outlooks changed to the point of creating Bombardero?
When White Cowbell Oklahoma started it was a pretty Southern boogie-centric animal. And there were, like, nine guitarists so it was chaos incarnate, which is awesome: everything louder than everything else, everything bigger and more explosion-y than any other band in this city. Then we realized we were the only band in the country doing that. More shock, more smut and piss on the hilariously conservative Canadian music industry. Then we went overseas and did the same thing. It's really no different than KISS or Alice Cooper, who took a lot of flak in their day too. But we all have exquisite taste in music and we're not pretending to play - WCO are fucking good. On this album we wanted to embrace our inner [Rick] Wakeman. But on the next one we may go Krautrock and dress up like the Marquis de Sade. So we'll continue reaching new plateaus of rock'n'roll excellence. And if we continue getting acceptance in far-flung places like Oslo, Calgary, Rotterdam, Montreal, Hamburg, LA and London, we're not too worried about the media spread in Toronto. We suspect our army of gloriously drunken fans here don't read anyway. We love them so.