Indy rock

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week - Paul Wei­de­man I The New Mex­i­can

In a pro­mo­tional photo for The Rev­erend Pey­ton’s Big Damn Band, the three mem­bers are pic­tured in a sunny glade. The Rev­erend, who is, yes, an or­dained min­is­ter as well as a kick-ass gui­tar player and singer, stands with his hands on his hips. A big man with a dark beard ob­scur­ing al­most half his face, he’s wear­ing sus­penders over a sleeve­less T-shirt and a funky hat. Dang, he’s lookin’ like a hill­billy! And in front of the trio is a hog root­ing around in the leaves.

An­other photo shows the leader of the group, which plays at Santa Fe Brew­ing Com­pany on Sun­day, Jan. 31, sit­ting with his gui­tar on the stoop of a log cabin in the hills of south­ern In­di­ana. “That’s where I live,” Pey­ton told Pasatiempo. “It’s a ru­ral area, and there are a lot of those log houses. Orig­i­nally there were a lot of squat­ters in this area in the late 1800s— the logs in my house are from at least 1870. When they made the Brown County State Park, they had to move, and the gov­ern­ment gave them money to do that, and mine was one that was moved out of the park about 1939. You just took the house apart and used the logs to build it up again at the next place.

“It’s beau­ti­ful coun­try, and we’re proud of it.” It’s a land­scape full of trees: beech and su­gar maple, oaks and hick­o­ries, sweet­gum, white pine, sy­camore, dog­wood, wal­nut and cherry, per­sim­mon, paw paw, and sas­safras are all part of the sil­vi­cal pal­ette. It’s also a land of rivers punc­tu­ated by 19th-cen­tury cov­ered bridges and of wa­tery caves in­hab­ited by blind cray­fish that are said to be as big as lob­sters. The county seat is in the vil­lage of Nashville. Five miles to the north, in Bean­blos­som, In­di­ana, is Bill Mon­roe’s Blue­grass Hall of Fame and Coun­try Star Mu­seum.

That’s fit­ting, Mon­roe hav­ing been a mon­ster man­dolin-and gui­tar-player. Pey­ton’s an­other fierce picker, his gui­tar­ing rem­i­nis­cent of 1930s coun­try blues. He mainly plays Na­tional steel gui­tars, us­ing a thumbpick and “just the meat on my fin­gers,” he said. He’s also wild good with the slide he wears on the lit­tle fin­ger of his left hand.

The other con­trib­u­tors to the Big Damn sound are Pey­ton’s wife, Breezy, who plays the wash­board, and his younger brother, Jayme Pey­ton, who hits drums and other stuff. The trio (big in the “big sound” sense) spe­cial­izes in alt-coun­try mu­sic that works in old blues and roots forms but with some kind of mod­ern-day aban­don.

The Rev­erend, who does the song­writ­ing as well as singing and play­ing gui­tar, said he de­vel­oped his chops “just over time. I’ve been playin’ since I was a lit­tle kid.” His mu­sic is all about ru­ral Amer­ica and the trou­bles of the peo­ple of ru­ral Amer­ica. In a gen­eral sense, it’s not that dif­fer­ent from the la­mentin’ blues of Charley Pat­ton and Son House 80 years ago. But Pey­ton isn’t singing about plan­ta­tions and in­fi­delity. The songs on the group’s most re­cent al­bum, The Whole Fam Dam­nily (re­leased in 2008 by Side One Dummy Records) in­clude “The Creeks Are All Bad” and “Wal-Mart Killed the Coun­try Store.”

“I never wanted to be a mu­seum piece,” Pey­ton said. “I want to write about what’s hap­pen­ing now. I want to make mu­sic that’s true to the roots but also that’s fresh and new. I never wanted to sound like any­body but me.” He does that. He and his brother andWash­board Breezy work it up with a char­ac­ter­is­tic raw, loud sound. It can be just pure fun mu­sic, like “Mama’s Fried Pota­toes,” in which the leader drives the lyric “I want to thank you all for the food that you made us, but it don’t hold a can­dle to mama’s fried pota­toes” beau­ti­fully into the ground. Or it can be protest mu­sic, like “Can’t Pay the Bill.” “I can’t get ill ’cause I can’t af­ford to pay the bills” is the rel­e­vant line on that song, which opens The Whole Fam Dam­nily.

“I have fam­ily,” Pey­ton said, “that was given the choice to leave or be fired, and I’ve got fam­ily that were given the choice to take less money or be fired, and I’ve got fam­ily that was given no choice, that were just let go.

You know, it’s hard times out here. I wrote that song two or three years ago, and it’s just got­ten worse. I had surgery in De­cem­ber, and I had to sell one of my Na­tional gui­tars to pay for it. Th­ese are songs that we live.”

An­other song is ti­tled “Your Cousin’s on COPS.” That was about the time he saw Breezy’s cousin get­ting ar­rested on the pop­u­lar TV show. “Yep. We didn’t know. We turned it on, and there it was,” he said. “That’s been our most down­loaded song on iTunes. It’s weird. You never know what’s go­ing to work.

“We’ve been do­ing this on the road, full time, for four and a half years, get­tin’ by, but it’s got­ten a lot bet­ter. It’s got­ten a lit­tle eas­ier. We don’t have to sleep in the van and eat ra­men noo­dles ev­ery day.”

The band has a new al­bum called The Wages, due out on May 25. All the songs are by Pey­ton. “When we come to Santa Fe, we’ll be play­ing a bunch of new stuff from that as well as songs from the other records.”

He said “records,” not one of the more com­mon terms to­day: al­bum, disc, or CD. “Yeah, well, The Whole Fam Dam­nily was re­leased on vinyl, and TheWages will be, too,” he re­sponded. “And they called them records be­cause they were record­ings. To me, it’s a record, a piece of time, re­gard­less of the for­mat. I still buy CDs. I’m not some­one that goes to the In­ter­net to buy one song. I like to hear what the artist in­tended as the whole record.” None­the­less, the Big Damn Band can be sam­pled one song at a time on YouTube— in­clud­ing mul­ti­ple ver­sions of “Mama’s Fried Pota­toes.”

“Any­body can hold up a cell­phone at a con­cert,” Pey­ton re­marked. “I think 90 per­cent of them videos are from blown-out cell­phone speak­ers. It’s like, man, it just makes you want to cry some­times, it sounds so bad. You spend years per­fect­ing the sound of your whole setup and then it gets fil­tered through a 20-cent Chi­nese speaker and put on the In­ter­net.”

The new songs to be pub­lished on The Wages cover a lot of ground, ac­cord­ing to The Rev­erend: “I draw in­spi­ra­tion from my fam­ily, my friends, and things that piss me off. That’s one rea­son it’s called The Wages. Each song is about the wages of some­thing: the wages of sin, the wages of life’s hard work, the wages of treat­ing peo­ple right, or the wages of treat­ing peo­ple wrong.”

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