Paige Overton has sinus issues. Today, on her day off, every vowel has an accompanying -ng, every laugh morphs into a cough, every answer is shorter and rougher than the last. She sounds nothing like she did three weeks ago, during practice, when The Clydesdale convened in guitarist Andrew Karasa’s rehearsal space, trudging through songs they hadn’t played since recording The Trail of the Painted Pony months ago. They apologize, miss notes, lose tempo and, by all accounts, fuck it up.
But that’s the process, the necessary path to remind a city of what they once were. It’s like The Clydesdale is in preseason training, and the March 22 Neon Reverb EP release show is their first Friday Night in months.
It’s been eight years since Overton, Karasa, drummer Courtney Carroll and bassist Jason Aragon started the tremendously resilient alt-country (to grossly oversimplify) quartet. Since then it has released three LPs, two EPs (including Painted Pony), and participated in one Double Down Christmas album. They don’t talk about this EP, recorded with Eric Rickey, the way bands usually do. They don’t want to “get this one out of the way” so they can work on the next one. This is the next one, the one you’ve been waiting for, the one they’ve been waiting for, the one that could bring them back into the spotlight in a scene lately flooded with music in an encroaching genre that, when the band began, wasn’t the genre of the moment. “We weren’t doing the norm back then,” Aragon says during rehearsal. “Now we’re lost in the genres.”
Their sound — just as much honky tonk as it is punk or saloon country or indie rock — is one with such a long-running development it’s simmering in the pot, not flashing in the pan. It feels like its city. Tumbleweeds coated in grime and Pahrump saloons and gold miners on a night out. It came from a time before Mumford and Sons, broached not because of its rising popularity but because of something felt, a quartet culled from what you could call a sonic love affair with Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline.
“I wrote poetry as a kid,” Overton says. “I started teaching myself guitar, going to open-mic nights and writing really simple songs. This music is what I loved listening to, and I started writing in the western structure.”
She isn’t talking about the trotting rhythm or the hyper-twang guitar. She did it for what the songs were about, sung in periods, not ellipses. “It’s writing a real honest, non-abstract song lyrically,” she says. “A western song is pretty right to the bone. There’s nothing secretive about it, no double-edged sword. It’s heartbreak and tragedy. There’s a lot of good in the songs, too, but much of it is sad. And I think that’s the emotion I let out the most.”
Listening through the new EP, the band’s regained its footing since 2009, when Clementine came out. They are, by all accounts, better musicians. The drums and bass fit one another like a puzzle, and a near-decade of writing together have Overton and Karasa jiving unprecedentedly. But what’s most striking is Overton’s voice, more raw than it was on any other album to date. It’s darker, harsher, taken more licks since the last release. And it isn’t hard to see why.
“It’s like this,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of death in my life. [It’ll] been two years in June when my dad passed away unexpectedly. It’s funny to think, ‘OK, my dad died, now I’m gonna write a song about it.’ Because it takes your body a long time to process that. I feel like even if you’re at the happiest moment in your life, you can write the saddest song of your life because it’s kind of like your body has to take it in, chew it up and spit it out. And it happens when it happens, and you can’t force it. That’s how I work.”
She put that sentence together slowly, more coughs than thoughts. It’s surreal, hearing her voice falter. Being reminded that it’s no anatomically different than any other, that it’s just air vibrating vocal cords and exiting the same hole any voice might. But Overton’s voice doesn’t exit. It breaks out, sweeps over rooms like a Miami backyard street fighter, wielding choruses the way Babe Ruth did a baseball bat, her mouth slowly annexing her face as she crescendos into a wild peal that enters through the ears and exits through the toes. It’s a cannon in a city full of rifles. It’s fucking incredible.
Over the years, Clydesdale members have joined other bands, gotten hobbies, settled down in the Christian sense. It’s been six years since the band would consider itself at its peak, right around when it released Dia De Los Muertos. But since then, as life started to present itself around more corners, the velocity with which The Clydesdale took on music has died down. “I wish we had the following we used to,” Overton says. “I understand you can’t be the new kid and 100 percent hot all the time, but we still write a lot of genuine music. I think we went through a weird period for a couple years when we were stagnant and not writing much. It’s like a relationship. There is that seven-year itch and you get to a hill and it takes longer to get over it. But I think if we’re not at the top of the hill then we’re already going back down it on the other side. We’re ready to just come out swinging. We’ve been really excited about writing new stuff and to record. You’ll have ups and downs. But we’re on our up right now.”
At least, that’s the hope. For the last few years it’s been like watching a freight train rust over in a yard. Now, with the upcoming record, it’s getting back on track. To return to relevance, to again make The Clydesdale The Clydesdale. Period.
THE CLYDESDALE, with Coastwest Unrest, The All-Togethers and others, Friday, March 22, 8 p.m.; The Bunkhouse, 124 S. 11th St., www.neonreverb.com, $8