The Shootouts Play Country Music with a Hard Rock Edge

Debut LP gives fans of classic C&W AOR a new hope

The Shootouts

The Shootouts play country music, but they rock harder than most bands passing themselves off as guitar rock. On their debut album, Quick Draw, the band gives us 13 tracks that cover the entire range of the classic country sounds that dominated the radio in the late 50s and early 60s.

We want to make country music that’s firmly rooted in the traditional forms of the genre, whether that be western swing, classic country, rockabilly or honky tonk,” says one of the band’s founders, guitarist and lead singer Ryan Humbert. “There are still people out there who want their country music unfiltered and 100 proof. We’re aiming to please those folks.”

Quick Draw kicks off with “Cleanin’ House,” a twang heavy rocker with a killer hook, forceful pedal steel fills and a driving backbeat. Humbert’s lively vocal hides the heartache he’s feeling as he packs up the love letters his ex left behind. As Humbert spits out the tongue twisting lyrics of “If I Could,” he brings Merle Haggard to mind – if Haggard had imbued his arrangements with a bit of punk energy. The Shootouts also give us the supersonic Western Swing of “Who Needs Rock and Roll?,” the title track’s groovy desert meets surf instrumental and “Lonely Never Lets Me Down,” a ballad in waltz time, about drinking away the sorrow of separation. If this album could travel back in time to the 60s, it would be a guaranteed chart topper. Ryan Humbert, who created The Shootouts with lead guitarist Brian Poston, spoke about the work that went into the band’s debut from his home in Akron, Ohio.

 

Why did you choose the instrumental track, “Quick Draw,” for the album title?

Quick Draw just felt right. Not only was the song title in line with the name and image of the band, the song has a unique excitement to it. I think it really showcases who we are as musicians. Our guitarist Brian Poston wrote it in one evening. The main theme of the tune was inspired by “Almost to Tulsa,” an instrumental record by The Texas Troubadours – Ernest Tubb’s backing band.

 

What led you to country after years of playing in rock bands?

I come by it honestly. I grew up listening to country music in various forms. My grandpa liked vintage country and gospel, and I would play that with him while I was learning to play guitar. I also distinctly remember listening to 90s country radio while I was a kid, driving around in the car with my mom. That was when you still heard artists like Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, The Mavericks, Vince Gill and George Strait in regular rotation. That stuck with me and never went away.

 

How and when did you get together as a band?

When Brian Poston and I met, we bonded over a mutual admiration and respect for vintage, traditional country music. The Shootouts were born out of that. It was meant to be a side project, but we were having so much fun and it felt so natural, that it ended up taking over my musical life. I really couldn’t be happier about it.

 

What were you planning when you went into the studio to record your debut?

We went with a classic approach to recording. With the exception of the piano and fiddle overdubs, as well as the string section, everything else you hear was wrapped up in a six-day period. All the basic tracks were done in the first two days. Much of what you hear was recorded live together. We tried to do minimal overdubs. We added a few things here and there – percussion, additional harmonies or guitar parts – but overall, it’s a very organic record.

 

Why did you go to Brooklyn to cut the album?

We wanted to work with (producers) Luca Benedetti and Jim Campolingo. They were the production team behind a fantastic album by Zephaniah Ohora called This Highway. I reached out to them because I love how they treated his songs. I felt like they might know what to do with a band like the Shootouts.

They’re both amazing guitar players and musicians. They are heavily steeped in classic country, western swing and the incredible guitar work of those classic albums. Almost all of the preproduction was done long distance, via MP3s, demos, emails, phone calls and Skype. It was an interesting way of working, but it gave us a lot of time to flesh out the songs. They would send notes, we would work on them, offer our input and send them back, until we were both happy with them. Once we got to New York City, we worked with them for a full day, taking one final glance at the songs, and started to record the next morning.

Quick Draw

How long did it take to write the songs?

This batch of songs was curated over a couple of years. Some of them came from demos we made in 2016. I wrote “Lonely Never Lets Me Down” years ago. I never had the right home for it before this band. Some of them, like “Losing Faith in Being Faithful,” were written right before we recorded the album. Our longtime sideman [steel guitar player] Al Moss brought great tunes like “Cleanin’ House” and “Reckless Abandon,” stuff he had sitting in his vault for years. Brian wrote “Quick Draw” specifically for this album over the course of one evening!

The arrangements were a true collaboration between the band and the producers. We arranged some of them, like “Quick Draw,” and Jim and Luca loved some of them as is. Some of them we spent time honing together.

 

What has been your biggest challenge as a band?

A lot of people nowadays have a very specific idea of what “country music” means when they hear that term. We’re out here trying to show folks that there is more to the genre than what you might hear on regular country radio. I understand the appeal of that part of the genre, but we’re doing something just a little bit left of the dial, and that’s more than okay. We’ve had a lot of people come up to us at shows and say, ‘I don’t like country music, but I love what you guys do.’ I feel like that’s a step in the right direction.

 

 

j. poet

j. poet has been writing about music for most of his adult life. He has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, Harp, Paste, Grammy.com, PlanetOut.com, American Profile, Creem, Relix, Downbeat, Folk Roots, New Noise and more national and international publications and websites than he can remember. He wrote most of the Musichound Guide to World Music (Visible Ink, 2000) and had two stories in Best Rock Writing 2014 (That Devil Music). He has interviewed a wide spectrum of artists including Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard and Godzilla. He lives in San Francisco. 

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