Described alternately as "Hee-Haw on mescaline" and "CBGB-meets-Grand Ole Opry," The Defibulators are first-and-foremost a live band, and their boundless energy and infectious sense of joy onstage have quickly earned them a devoted following in a city not known for its love of country music. Through four years of relentless touring since the release of their "Carter Family-meets-Ramones" (AMG) debut, 'Corn Money,' the band's sound has evolved and their songwriting matured, but it still took a supreme effort to walk away from the stage. "We get carried away with playing live and we want to just keep going," says singer Erin Bru. "We really had to force ourselves to stop and record."
The wait was well worth it. Recorded in Woodstock, NY, at The Isokon with D. James Goodwin and Eli Walker, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, at Motherbrain with co-producer Brian Bender (Langhorne Slim, Jose James), 'Debt'll Get'em' is a 10-track, au courant, urban take on classic country. The record channels the frenetic energy of their legendary live shows into tight, punchy hooks and foot-stomping sing-alongs. From "Pay For That Money," a pedal steel and fiddle lament about debt, to "Ponytail Run," a dreamy ode to beauty just out of reach, the album is full of gorgeous harmonies and razor-sharp wit. "Everybody's Got a Banjo" is a biting, 70's swamp funk-inspired nod to the instrument's recent ubiquity ("If you don't know how to play it, well it still looks cool"), and "Cackalacky" is the tongue-in-cheek story of an Appalachian musician who moves to New York City to make it big in roots music. Strange as that idea might sound, it's not too far from the truth for The Defibulators.
"I kind of discovered country music by accident," says guitarist, singer, and songwriter Bug Jennings. "I grew up in Texas, and all I heard was pop country on the radio, which didn't speak to me. It was only when I moved to New York that I stumbled upon classic country music like George Jones and Buck Owens. I became obsessed. It became our mission to expose as many people to it as we could."
When a friend's punk band came calling in search of an opener, Bug and Telecaster-player Chris Hartway, who bonded over their love of classic country while working as bartenders at a Manhattan barbecue joint, grabbed Bru (a local singer Bug met in an elevator), and The Defibulators were born. In a week they put together a setlist that mixed rockabilly rave-ups with Misfits and Black Flag covers.
"That set the tone for our approach to country music," says Jennings. "We were coming at it from a purist standpoint in the beginning, and we never lost sight of the whole reason we formed in the first place, our love of the old stuff. But I'm sure if I stayed in Texas, I would not be in a country band right now. There's something about the fast-paced, frantic, neurotic energy of New York that made our style work."
"It's most fun to play for people who don't think they like country music," Bru explains. "That used to happen more often, but things are changing. People treated us like a bit of a niche band at first, but folks are really catching on."
Over two years of steady gigging in New York, they fleshed out the lineup to include Mike Riddleberger on drums, David Dawda on bass, Smitty The Giant Fiddler on (you guessed it) fiddle, and Metalbelly on washboard/harmonica/percussion, and in 2009 they released their debut album, 'Corn Money.' The record earned immediate critical notice, with New York Magazine raving that "[Bug] and singer Erin Bru slip into harmonies that recall the storied Gram Parsons–Emmylou Harris duets," Under the Radar hailing it as "a boozy concoction worth swigging until last call," and Pop Matters describing it as "a drunken square dance on speed."
With an acclaimed album under their belt, the band bought a retired 1977 Dodge ambulance on eBay, loaded it full of gear, hit the road, and never looked back. Four years of international touring ensued, including performances everywhere from Central Park Summerstage and Amsterdam's famed Paradiso to the top of a Macy's float on Seventh Avenue and even a Belgian prison.
"They made us eat the prison food," remembers Jennings with a laugh. "Every time our bass player took a solo, the prisoners would just erupt in cheers and whistles and shouts, and I thought, 'Wow they really like bass solos.' But we found out later that every time the bass took a solo, Erin turned around with her backside to the audience."
Now The Defibulators are headed right back where they want to be: on the road. They'll take 'Debt'll Get'em' coast to coast this summer on tour, playing festivals, theaters, clubs, breweries, biker bars, and everything in between. Just maybe no prisons this time around.
Bug Jennings (banjo, guitar, vocals),
Erin Bru (vocals, percussion),
Roadblock (electric guitar),
Metalbelly (washboards, harmonica)