Call ’em what you will. “Cowpunk” or “alt-country.” The most low-down,hoedown in Austin,Texas is clearly coming from the Ghosts of Texas. Bringing a punk rock edge to traditional country ain’t easy, but the Ghosts make it look that way.
First off, tell us about yourself and how this band came into being?
My name is JonBoy McCollum. I’m from Fort Worth, TX, I’m 30 years old and I sing and play guitar for The Ghosts of Texas. Me and Curt came up with the idea of starting a country band back in ’04 in Denton where we both lived at the time. We really wanted to play the old school stuff that we didn’t hear or see much of in the shows that were going on at the time or on the radio at all. We’d both been in bands before, but nothing like a country band. Problem was we didn’t really know how to play country, I couldn’t sing country, Curt had played a little upright before but nothing like we wanted to do, and Rew, our guitar player, was a blues guy and didn’t have any background for playing country either. So we spent a couple years practising up and getting Curtis a bass and basically learning all the country songs we liked and playing a few shows around North Texas. The band as it is currently started in ’09 when we all picked up and moved to Austin. We added a mutual friend of ours Ms. Eedann McCord originally just to sing on a couple duets, but she really got into it and started contributing in a big way so we got her a washboard and she’s been with us ever since.
Who makes up the band?
The Ghosts of Texas are:
JonBoy McCollum – Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Curt Lance – Doghouse Bass
Eedann McCord – Vocals, Washboard
Rew Thomas – Slide Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
Describe the band’s sound and influences?
I describe our sound as cowpunk in much the same way the Knitters were. We’ve got some heavy punk leanings because both Curt and I are punkers from way back, but we’re a country band through and through. Which we find is a very different thing from alot of what’s out there because we’re not a bluegrass outfit and we don’t swing enough to be a rockabilly or jump blues type band. All of which is fine by me because, on most of the bills we play, we are the country-est band in the line up, but we always hold our on and we often make fans out of people that don’t ordinarily like country music.
As far as influences, like I said before, we love old country, but we’re punks at heart so we like to mix our Johnny Cash and Townes Van Zandt with The Misfits and The Queers. Social Distortion is a great band for us that way. I’d have to say though, as far as who’s influenced us in the presentation of the music, it’s gotta be Wayne “The Train” Hancock and Hank Williams III. I saw Hank III first when he was opening up for Beck on the Midnight Vultures tour which then led me to see Wayne “The Train”. Until then, I didn’t realize that you could have a band like that and play music like that and I never looked at things the same again. So when we got to talking about forming the band, those were two of the guys where we got inspiration for the layout and approach to the music.
You just just put out your first CD. What was the experience of recording like?
Recording is the most fun and the most weirdly stressful things ever. Being locked away for a few days to just work on music is, in alot of ways, exactly what I wanted when I started playing music. Total immersion in music and near total isolation from square jobs and real life problems. I’m kind of a nervous person though and there is really nothing more nerve-wracking than hearing your own voice played back to you and then having the people you love and work closely with pick apart every note to make sure that we’re putting out the best possible recording. That was really just at first though, it developed into a sort of running gag where we really got to know who does what and in what situations and, by the time we were mixing and mastering eveything, there were times where we were crying we were laughing so hard. Seriously though, recording is crazy fun and I’m thoroughly grateful for my bandmates and our producer Eli Smith because we all brought such different expectations, priorities, and points of view that we got the best out of each other. I’m already trying to get everybody geared up to go back into the studio because I’d like to release a full-length LP by the end of the year.
Describe what “Cowpunk” is to someone who maybe hasn’t ever heard of it?
Cow-punk is country music for punkers. Like The Knitters, who I mentioned before, or The Hickoids, it’s country music that is deeply tied to and influenced by punk rock and a punk rock mentality. Which I find is a very different thing from rockabilly or psychobilly because it is squarely in the country music corner. We can do you a fast punk-type tune and follow it with a Carter Family tune which really gives us the opportunity to embrace alot of music that is close to us and speaks to us.
What’s your opinion of modern top 40 “country?”
There’s many…hateful things I could say about Top 40 country music and what it’s doing to the music that I love, but honestly, what’s coming out of Nashville and what they’re playing on the radio and on the CMA awards is so far removed from what I like and from what we’re trying to do that it’s not even in the same ballpark. Pop music with fiddles and steel guitars has next to nothing to do with Hank Williams and Merle Haggard. I don’t want to ride them down too hard, but it’s not even close. We hear it all the time when we play with rock bands or other non-country bands. People come up to us and say, “You know, I generally hate country music, but I really like what you guys are doing.” And it’s because what’s being force-fed to people as “country” music is auto-tuned Brittney Spears with some fiddles, where what matters is how pretty you are and how big your cowboy hat is and how many truck commercials your new hit single is featured in. And you know, good luck to them if it pays the bills, but as for me and mine, real country music is something you know when you hear it. It doesn’t need the bullshit label and folks today know “good” when they hear it too. “Real” country or whatever, if it hits people in a meaningful way and you’re putting out good stuff and you play your ass off, people will dig it. That’s all there is to worry about.
Would you say the Austin music scene is open and inviting to country music?
I’d say absolutely. There’s definitely an indie/hipster rock scene that’s very strong and has some great bands, but I think that country music is close to the roots of this town and everyone knows that. That being said, there is also a discerning attitude towards it because so much great country music comes from here and comes through here that you have to be on top of your game and do something really note worthy. Austin has little tolerance for sub-par country music. There is a very strong vein of country music love that runs through this town though.
Got any upcoming shows you want to plug?
Yes! Our next few shows are out of town gigs, but we will be back in Austin on July 5th at Lovejoy’s.
If you want to dig on more Ghosts of Texas, find ’em on facebook!