Speedbuggy USA are an exciting no holds barred country-punk band from Los Angeles who released their first album in 2000 and Kick Out The Twang this year. They are fronted by guitarist and vocalist Timbo. Lonesome Highway caught up with him after a recent European tour to ask him a few questions.
Tell me what was the inspiration and story behind Speedbuggy USA?
The band started out as a nitro-infused Cowpunk band. I wanted to blend my love for Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Hank Williams and so on mixed with the energy of The Clash, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Jam, The Pogues. The list of influences goes on forever. We had Steve Kidwiler from NOFX on guitar and Pat Muzingo from Decry and Junkyard on drums.This was in the 90's we just wanted to tour and play our hearts out. We played mostly with punk bands back then. I think it made our music more gritty, it toughened us up .
Usually when a band adds a UK or USA after their name it is because there another brand with thew same name. Is that the case here?
After we released our first record on Greg Hetson's label Porterhouse in the 90's we found out there was a Canadian band (who have now broken up) with the same name. So adding USA seemed to make sense at the time.
Did you have a clear vision for what you wanted the band to be when you started out?
Not really, I definitely had my influences I wanted to blend my love of honky tonk and bluegrass music with a bit of punk rock angst. But I always knew I would let my writing go where ever it would take me. Sometimes band members will help sway a song one way or the another. But I must say my vision of music goes in and out of focus.
Cowpunk is a term that has somewhat fallen out of usage but seems appropriate here.
I think that is true. I really love those older bands like Jason and The Scorchers and Rank ’n’ File. It's a tough road trying to play honky tonk and mixing in something that blows the barn doors off. You really have to love playing it .
The band’s music though has light and shade on the recordings. Do you take a different approach to the live material?
I let the songs change according to the mood of the show and who is sharing the stage with me live. I try not to hold the songs hostage to the recordings.
You have mentioned that you are playing workingman’s music, do you see that as the backbone of country music?
It used to be the back bone but I think country music has gotten more of a pop sound over the years. It's so much more commercial. I lean towards the past for inspiration. Something about those old songs about truckers, cowboys, rail riders, construction and factory workers or the beaten down, the outcasts, the alcoholics and out of luck souls have always appealed more to me.
Do you have a love of the spirit of the West, of the cowboy lifestyle?
That's one reason I stayed for so long in Los Angeles. The history of cowboy music, film and clothing are a big part of Los Angeles history. Once I put a cowboy suit on I'm ready to roll out on the stage like a singing cowboy of the silver screen. “Go west young man” still echoes in my heart .
In that light I’m sure you must have some favourite books and films?
Those old Hollywood westerns were staples of my youth, they were always on the television Saturday nights and in the Sunday matinee’s. As a kid I was crazy about 50'-70's TV cowboys like the Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, The Rifleman, Gene Autry and Gun Smoke were all some of my favourites. I also have a strong affection for those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. I love how Sergio showed the fine blurred line between the good guy and the bad guy. Nothing is better than a western film .
Speedbuggy seem to be making inroads in Europe do you find that that audience more appreciative of your music?
I love touring Europe, our fans over the great pond mean the world to us they are very sincere and a blast to hang out with. Europe is one reason we have kept going all these years.
Are you able to sustain the band through live work and album sales?
When not touring I'm a carpenter I love building. Not only the camaraderie of a job site but the self worth of constructing something. I'm proud to be a working class blue collar man .
I read that you recently had to deal with serious illness. How did that set you back?
It's been a long road. We couldn't tour or play much. I think in the big picture it's help in my song writing. Nothing like a dose of pain and financial struggle to help write a broken-hearted country song.
How do you feel the music has progressed since releasing Cowboys & Aliens in 2000?
I've really tried to bring more of that California, Bakersfield sound into our mix. Our guitarist Seth Von Paulus who is the producer of the bands last two records has helped expanded and explore different instruments, tones and rhythms over the years. This has really helped the band get deeper into American roots music .
Were you musically involved prior to that and was your musical direction different?
I've been playing music since I was a kid. The minute I saw Elvis I was hooked. I don't think I had one specific direction in my younger years. I just loved playing guitar and singing. I was lucky growing up in Louisiana and being surrounded by so much great music. Cajun, country, blues and rock ’n’ roll 24 hours a day. I always tried to learn from the artists around me and I kept my eyes and ears wide open.
You guys can rock but in a way that works whereas some of the current crop of “country” bands seem more like a bad metal act. Can you explain the difference?
I think maybe the passion is different for Speedbuggy. When I work on a song I'm trying not only to express my art but I want it to find a truer sound. I want it to be real. I think if you are only trying to find that radio hit, you as an artist could suffer. I try to get back to my roots, that’s why I started to play music and pick up the pen, paper and guitar and get to work .
What’s next for Timbo and Speedbuggy USA?
We are working on writing another record. I've been getting with Brady Sloan, our bass player, and our drummer Jaimie Dawson and bashing out ideas for the next record. Fresh off the road has always been a creative writing time for me. Speedbuggy is also setting up more festivals and tours. For the future Speedbuggy hopes to come to Ireland to perform. So spread the word and let's get this buggy rolling!
Interview by Stephen Rapid