Posted October 30, 2014 by whopperjaw in Tunes

Dirty River Boys: Unique border music

Dirty RIver Boys credit Todd White
Dirty RIver Boys credit Todd White

Promoting their new self-titled album, the Dirty River Boys have put in some 200,000 miles of cross-country touring. The band —Marco Gutierrez, Colton James, Travis Stearns and Nino Cooper —cites both the Rolling Stones and Hank Williams as influences. That comes across clearly as the Dirty River Boys alternate between hard rock and bluegrass on the album, which was recorded at Sonic Ranch, a studio bordered by the Rio Grande and Old Mexico.  We talked to Cooper about the music and drawing inspiration from the culturally different worlds that come together in the band’s hometown of El Paso.

What was it like growing up in El Paso?
It was great, to be honest with you. I wouldn’t want to have grown up anywhere else. We’re proud to be from El Paso. It is a little bit excluded from the rest of the Texas music scene. It’s in its own little bubble and I think that’s to our benefit. We naturally evolved into our own unique style. The proximity to the border was a big part of growing up there. In high school, we used to cross the border to go restaurants and bars. It’s been a part of El Paso culture for a long time. The first song on our new record, “Down by the River,” is about the drug violence in Juarez, Mexico. It definitely was difficult crossing and people felt unsafe because there was so much violence going on. There was kidnapping, and cartels were burning down buildings and shooting people everyday. It stopped people from crossing over.

How dirty is the river?
That was just an expression. We had a long list of names. One of them was Muddy River. We ended up with Dirty River Boys because it sounded like the music we wanted to portray, which is a post-modern interpretation of an old sound—folk with an edge. The river isn’t dirty per se; there’s just not much water. It’s more muddy than anything.

How did the band come together?
We formed in El Paso. I was working in the business world and playing music on the side. I met Travis [Stearns] through a mutual friend. We were playing these gigs as a duo when we met Marco [Gutierrez] and the three of us got together and we decided we would do music full-time. We quit our jobs. We just started playing anywhere that would allow us, including hotel lobbies, brunches and birthday parties. That was about five years ago. That’s when we formed the Dirty River Boys and we started taking it on the road and did a showcase in Austin and joined a booking agency. We’ve been on the road for about four years now.

You initially put out a series of EPs, right?
We released two EPs in 2010 and 2011 and then a record, Science of Flight, in 2012. This is our second full-length release.

You worked at a nice studio.
Yeah. We worked at Sonic Ranch and our producer Chris “Frenchie” Smith came out to the ranch with us. He stayed with us for two weeks. You stay there and they cook for you. You’re excluded from everything. It’s an amazing experience. We recorded the other half at the Bubble in Austin, which is the studio Frenchie co-owns. That’s where we finished it up and mixed the record.

It’s very eclectic.
We’re very different and come from different backgrounds. We have different musical influences. We like to let that individuality show. We have some songs that I sing and songs that Marcus sings and they were brought individually. We get together as a group and work out the musical arrangements.  You’ll hear a rock song and a folk song and a more soul-sounding song. The Dirty River Boys’ element remains throughout the record.

I love “Sailed Away,” which sounds like an Irish drinking song. What inspired that track?
Our last record had an Irish-sounding song called “Raise Some Hell.” I sing “Raise Some Hell” and Travis sings “Sailed Away.” It’s just a story about an Irish family and the father leaving to sea and never returning. It does have hat Irish drinking song feel to it. We like Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys and the Pogues and that sort of thing. I think that shows.

You wrote “Down by the River” with Ray Wylie Hubbard. How did that collaboration come about?
I had this riff for a while. It’s a bluesy intro riff you hear at the beginning of the song. I had this idea about the border violence and being from El Paso you’re literally a stone’s throw away from Juarez. We called Ray Wylie Hubbard. He was up for writing something with us. He came to Austin and we sat and worked through the song with him. We talked about what it was about and went from there. We just all collaborated and worked it out right then and there. It was awesome. It was a great experience. We hope to work with him again. He has a guest appearance on that song. He’s singing on the choruses and the third verse as well.

“Highway Love” almost sounds like a White Stripes’ tune. What’s the story behind it?
It was sitting in a hotel room and I had that riff. I was thinking about life on the road. People think it’s always fun and games. You play for 90 minutes and then go party. They think that sound like a nice life. It’s such a false image. That 90-minute performance is the smallest part of being on the road. There’s so much work behind the scenes, from driving to doing social media and all the pieces of the puzzle. Sometimes we’ll leave at 8am and then soundcheck and won’t get to a hotel until 3am. Days are very, very long.

You’ve said Americana might be the best term to describe the band’s music.
America is such a melting pot of different cultures. That’s what we are as a band. That’s what you hear in our music. We don’t want to contain ourselves in a single genre.

In reality, our music is a melting pot of influences.

Given that you play so many different styles of music, what is it like playing live?
It’s a pain for our tour manager and sound guy. We switch instruments quite a bit and we’ll switch spots. He’ll set up different scenes for each one of those switches. We try to keep the live show energetic and its always changing and evolving. We have a full-blown, in-your-face rock song and a bluegrass set where we all crowd around one condenser mic.  You’ll see a variety of things at our live show.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates

October 30

October 31

November 1

November 4

November 5

November 7

November 8

November 13

November 20

November 22

November 29

December 4

December 12

December 19

Amarillo, TX – The Golden Light

Lubbock, TX – Lonestar Amphitheater

Oklahoma City, OK – The Wormy Dog

Cambridge, MA – The Middle East Upstairs

New York, NY – Mercury Lounge

Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom

New Hope, PA – Triumph Brewing Company

Austin, TX – The Moody Theater

Corpus Christi, TX – Brewster Street Icehouse

Helotes, TX – Floore’s Country Store

Conroe, TX – Dosey Doe Music Café

Nacogdoches, TX – Banita Creek

Lubbock, TX – The Office

El Paso, TX – Tricky Falls



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