Missouri Mule: Ask your local bartender

Country or punk, rural or rock, Satan or salvation—Davis-based highball Missouri Mule mixes it just right

Yes, see Missouri Mule at your neighborhood barn.

Yes, see Missouri Mule at your neighborhood barn.

Photo By audrey toth

Order a Missouri Mule at any bar and you’ll get a concoction of whiskey, Campari bitters and any number of extra alcoholic ingredients, depending on who’s making the cocktail. Drink up the tunes of the local Davis band named after the drink, originally conceived for President Harry S. Truman, and you’ll be guzzling a mix of pop-punk, country, and a few other influences, just for flavor.

So, yes, there’s a little bit of everything to Missouri Mule. But aren’t they in the end a country band, through and through?

Songwriters Jesse Miller, named for the gunslinger Jesse James by his Missourian father, and Kyle Olson, raised on Fat Wreck Chords punk in a small rural town in the Central Valley, owe influence to the music of their early childhood.

“When I was about 4 years old, my dad played Hank Williams and Johnny Cash on his record player in the living room,” Miller explains. “That’s all I had growing up … my dad’s country records.”

Spoon-fed an American Western soundtrack, it’s no surprise then that Miller’s songs have a gritty, heartfelt country sound. But like many other similar country-punk outfits, Missouri Mule’s inspiration definitely extends beyond their typecast, that commonplace “cigarettes and whiskey” image.

For instance, with songs about drinking, heartbreak and Satan (and drinking), it isn’t difficult to see why some listeners don’t notice Bruce Springsteen and Jawbreaker’s touch. Miller says they “don’t set out to be a country or a punk band.

“I think it just happens.”

Northern California is well-represented in the band. Singer/guitarist Miller, who also plays steel guitar, hails from Santa Cruz and also was once a member of Davis indie band Buildings Breeding. Olson plays guitar and sings and is from the Modesto area; drummer Jason “Cannonball” Chase is a born Golden Stater; and the group’s only member not from around here isn’t even from the United States: bassist Ben Brezing, from Germany.

Olson and Chase also play in the band SecondShot, a pop-punk group with a sizeable fan base overseas. That band got its big break when a Japanese label contacted Fat Wreck Chords about finding local talent; FWC dropped SecondShot’s name, who was recording in the same studio as several of their bands.

Now, they’ve toured Japan and Europe extensively.

Missouri Mule has yet to go on the road, but the band has a few California dates in the works. “Regional mini-tours just make more sense at this point,” Miller says, thinking that if you can get to Fresno or Santa Barbara once every few months, it’s more logical than taking off work just to play Utah every 730 days.

“I think we’re smart about it,” Olson adds. “We obviously have jobs and pay bills … but also have no hesitation to hit the road at any point when it’s offered or available.”

The album Missouri Mule will be promoting this summer, an EP due on July 14, was produced by Pete Bernhard and Cooper McBean, close friends and members of the very popular the Devil Makes Three.

Still, the question’s left unanswered: Is Missouri Mule a country band or what? Maybe the great Hank Williams Sr. has the answer:

“I don’t know what you mean by country music. I just make music the way I know how.”