Such a tease
Scotland’s hard-edged country hybrid accepts its near-miss place in the music world
Music can be a humbling endeavor for the artist, because no matter how much you care, how much time you put into it, or how long you stick to it, there is no guarantee that anybody will ever notice.
Take the Country Teasers from Scotland. The band formed 13 years ago, toured the world and released five records, all to relative indifference from the country scene. But then again, the band has always been a little too rowdy, a little too noisy and a little too punk rock for fans of yet another genre turned into big business.
“We don’t get any respect as a country band; apparently we don’t play enough country,” said Ben Wallers, frontman, guitarist and founder of the group. “I got upset at first because I thought we were a good country band, but critics said otherwise.”
People just don’t seem to get what the Country Teasers are all about. Mixing country music in the vein of George Jones or strung-out Johnny Cash with riffs from the school of the Butthole Surfers and Pussy Galore into a punk-influenced, deliberately off-key honky-tonk style doesn’t seem to resonate with the Toby Keith-listening, urban-mall cowpoke of today’s mainstream country. The band instead exists on the same footing as hungry punk bands who hit the road as often as possible, day jobs be damned.
Predating the alternative-country phenomenon in the United States, the Country Teasers thought that when bands like the Old 97’s and Wilco made inroads, they would have some company in the weird territory between line-dancing cowboys and stage-diving punks.
But it was not to be.
Alt-country turned out to be another musical trend dedicated to ex-girlfriends, and nobody had the fire to match bands like the Country Teasers.
“I think alt-country is a really lame, soft kind of music, and I think that what we do is better,” Wallers said.
The problem with music, as Wallers sees it, and what he tries to fight against with the band, is the stagnation of artists. He said people often don’t try to create something new and exciting that is from the gut; instead they get bogged down in what they are influenced by musically.
“A band should play music that isn’t just an attempt to copy a genre,” Wallers said. “People should get together to write music they like and then be a band. A lot of people these days get together to be a band and just play whatever music is popular at the time.”
Originality is what the Country Teasers are all about, starting with the musical style they play. Scotland is not exactly known for its rich history of country music. Wallers developed a liking for American country music and started playing and recording country-ish songs at home. He found similarities in country to traditional English folk music but wanted to spice it up a bit. When he decided that he needed to start a project that was more disciplined and less idiosyncratic, the Country Teasers were born.
The band wholeheartedly embraces the style of American country, and in an ironic reversal of American punk bands that sing with Scottish accents and dress like the Sex Pistols, the Country Teasers look like a bunch of hillbillies and sing in American accents.
“Musically I think we are an American band,” Wallers said. “It’s strange that we haven’t been true to our roots, but we’ve invented an American persona for ourselves.”