Let's face it, folks, a degree from a respected college is rarely a good credential in a punk's résumé. The fact that members of the Strokes attended tony Manhattan prep schools is the loudest false note underneath their hype. And the diplomas from Emerson College and Brown University held by cowpunk band Slick 57's John Pedigo and Ward Richmond, respectively, don't exactly reek of street cred either.
But then Pedigo points out that after getting his parchment, he "moved back to Dallas to be in band, so it was a pretty pointless four years, needless to say." And Richmond did his senior project in urban studies on entertainment districts across America, a subject he continues to research firsthand, albeit less formally, today.
College did help Slick 57 in one important way: It gave them breathing room. The two high school buddies spent their summer vacations and winter breaks playing with the band in Dallas (as well as the occasional gig in the Northeast, such as opening for Wilco in Providence, Rhode Island). "We were lucky, because it was an easy way to start playing, because we didn't really have to take it totally seriously for four years," explains Pedigo.
In the two years since graduating and going full-time as a band, the two have proved their DIY moxie by signing with an indie label on the other side of the planet and barnstorming Australia and Europe for the better part of this fall. In the end, credibility is in the grooves, and Slick 57's third recording, The Ghost of Bonnie Parker, is one feisty and snotty lil' sucker.
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On the more energetic numbers, they barrel along like a crank freak doing 90 miles an hour to the meth lab to cop another fix. The more relaxed tracks have the soft-stepping wooziness of a stoner wandering home from his dealer's place after scoring a fat sack. The lyrics dwell on such subjects as ex-girlfriends and inebriants, the latter of which Slick 57 explored on a previous album (Drunk Life, their take on It's a Wonderful Life, which Pedigo now calls "a good idea that went too far"). Listening to these tales makes it evident that these guys know what it is to be pissed, in both the American and English usage.
Musically, Slick 57 is a "hybrid of punk rock and country," as Pedigo describes it. The twang and train beats fly past the listener with reckless abandon. One can hear the band's resemblance at times to such other Dallas acts as the Reverend Horton Heat and early Old 97's. But where the young 97's seemed as eager to please as a tail- wagging Labrador retriever, Slick 57's countrified jams show that frankly, my dear, they couldn't give a damn. True punk ennui.
And don't mistake their name for an homage to the 97's. Instead, it's taken from a motor oil and is reflective of their affection for grease and lubricants. "We get flak about our name. People thinking we're copying them," says Richmond. "We just thought it sounded kind of rockabilly."
Pedigo and Richmond both teethed musically on Guns N' Roses and cock rock followed by grunge, but the Pixies changed Pedigo's perspective in his early teens. Richmond was fired up by the first live club show he attended, which starred the Lone Star Trio, the rockabilly band that has since mutated into 1100 Springs. The experience led him to set aside his electric bass for an acoustic. "I told my mom I'd quit smoking cigarettes if she bought me an upright bass, and now I owe her $1,000," he notes.
He may be able to pay her back fairly soon. Prior to playing South By Southwest last March, Pedigo and Richmond sent out to a handful of labels six of the tracks they had recorded for the new album. Executives at one of them, Australia's Laughing Outlaw Records, liked what they heard, caught Slick 57 and signed them up. Suddenly, the band has leaped from east Dallas onto the international stage. After coming home for the holidays and a few gigs, they head back across the pond and down under once again in early 2003.
Although the most immediately striking appeal of Slick 57 is the piss and vinegar of their musical attack (which is still country enough to have once shared a stage with Waylon Jennings), to Pedigo and Richmond what matters more is what they say. Richmond sees their métier as exploring "angst and heartbreak."
"And remaining optimistic when there's no hope," Pedigo adds.
"It revolves more around the subject matter of what we're singing about rather than what the music is actually like," Richmond insists. "That's just kind of how I write songs."
One can hear in their attitude and distinctive, if not quite original, sound that Slick 57 is on to something, and that those four college years of extracurricular study helped them develop into a genuine and promising entity. Over the years, they've even coined their own lexicon, explained word- by-term in their "Slictionary" on their Web site -- a telltale sign of a real band or a delinquent street gang (is there a difference?).
So with their code of -- and you'll just have to look these up at www.slick57.com -- "millies," "Chompskys," "cobbler" and "reeb," Slick 57 truly proves itself a band, right?
"Or we must be jackasses," answers Pedigo.
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