On "No Depression" Bands


On the "No Depression" phenomimon:
from Exclaim Magazine, Canada, 1999

"During the '80s, you'd have these bad new wave bands wearing country hats and bolo ties," recalls Bad Livers bass and tuba-player Mark Rubin with distaste. "I'd hate to think we had anything to do with that." Rubin still rankles at how Bad Livers were saddled with the country-punk tag, despite the diversity of their influences, ranging from Western swing and bluegrass to punk and klezmer.

"When we first started playing," Rubin explains, "we didn't have a lot of original material and had acoustic instruments, and the only way you could play was in clubs where you'd play from 9 to 2 a.m., so we needed a lot of covers. We played Mississippi Fred McDowell and [Thelonious] Monk, and we'd also play stuff from our collective memory, like Roky Erickson. Then people from the punk scene started seeing what was happening, and journalists, being a lazy bunch, they'd fasten on to the one Motörhead or Stooges song, not the Art Tatum or Charlie Poole or Son House. It's true that we were drawn to punk, but more because of our anarchic disposition and the punk DIY ethic, but to call us a country-punk group is just lazy."
"It's easier to sell to a scene than to sell quality," says a caustic Mark Rubin. "If a label has a band that doesn't belong to a scene, they have a conundrum. I mean, we've been taken to task because we weren't playing to a reviewer's scene. I think this alt-country stuff runs counter to punk rock. The spirit of punk rock was do your own thing, don't suck off on mine, and now, all alt-country is concerned with is appealing to an audience, not making music. The musicians are continually told they're this that that, and now they're expected to reference this thing they have nothing to do with. The Uncle Tupelo guys were embarrassed by being tagged with bluegrass and No Depression labels. If the guys in Wilco or Son Volt died in a car wreck, they'd be eulogised as alt-country; [Bad Livers would] be eulogised as punk-bluegrass. But they had nothing to do with that crap then, and they want nothing to do with it now, and neither should anyone who's just interested in good music."