For sarcastic bastards who wallow in the Country Teasers' muddy outlook on life, there's much to marvel in humanity's ugly underbelly. The Teasers flick flippant lines, hitting racism, sexism, extremism, and general barbarianism like cigarette cherries, insolent about where their flaming coals may land (most infamous lyric: “We are the Hitler of comedy/ And everyone else is a Jew”). But theirs isn't a push to burn any one demographic; it's more a keenness for spiky humor and droll, semipolitical remarks that pay homage to Lenny Bruce and Mark E. Smith, the Fall's legendary curmudgeon.
But hey, harsh political times call for caustic humor. Between the high gas prices and the holy wars, who wants The Family Guy when you can get down with some truly embittered cynics? Especially when there are intellectual tactics behind the taunts. “[Country Teasers] have high standards they uphold for superior songwriting and musicianship,” says Larry Hardy, who releases the group's records at In the Red. “And they are a band that rewards intelligence.”
It's not all cagey smirks here. There's also a warped gaiety to the Teasers' lo-fi, grime-gummed ruckus. The opening ditty on the act's newest release, The Empire Strikes Back, is called “Spiderman in the Flesh”; it's delivered in a sing-song-y cadence with country-fried guitars. Sample lyrics: “I must have been bit by a spider/ When I was very small/ Because now [that] I'm grown-up I spend five days a week/ Going up the fucking wall/ I must have been fenced in to a long straight road/ When I was 9 or 10/ Because now [that] I'm grown-up I spend five days a week/ Going round the fucking bend.” You could almost whistle that one all the way to the nuthouse.
Or you could talk those lyrics out, as “sing” may be a strong word to use for frontman Ben Waller's snide, atonal delivery. He nonetheless lobs his points directly, regardless of whether an audience welcomes it. “I don't like using the word 'evil' for humans, because humans are just a bad, useless lot in general,” Waller explains of his equal-opportunity abhorrence.
Having recently opened the Mudhoney-curated lineup at the U.K. superfest All Tomorrow's Parties, Waller and crew are ready to unleash upbeat vitriol on the United States. Expect the usual dissonant garage/post-punk and barbed-wire balladry these guys have spent the past 13 years peddling. Recording in a new space — Empire was birthed in Portland, Ore. — only reinforced that jagged edge.
Waller is resolute in his appreciation for old-world production values, claiming there's “bags of melodic and rhythmic juice left in the four-track recorder,” newfangled technology be damned. On “Please Ban Music,” he sneers that most music doesn't conform to his standards, deadpanning, “Please ban music and drive it underground/ So maybe when it comes back up/ It has a pleasing sound./ They did it in Iran and in Afghanistan/ The women-loving Taliban have taken this great stand/ They're doing it for fans.”
Waller further explains, “I don't understand why music has to be produced in a slick, million-dollar way. It has notes and rhythms; why can't we just have it simple like that?” In this singer's genre spectrum, for example, there's room for a pop diva only within particular constraints. “I would love Britney Spears' four-track demos,” he says, “with a nice video shot on her digital camera.”
So with all these dislikes, what do the Teasers appreciate? According to Empire, the short list includes Swedish skuzzy-sound hounds Brainbombs; Kool Keith; black people (whom they'd like to see more of at their shows); and Star Wars. Otherwise, Waller explains of the general populace, “I like seeing them on their mobile phones; they're communicating so much nowadays, which I like, seeing them happy.” But, he concludes, “The worst [human] aspect is the presuming, assuming, hating according to preconceptions, conforming to their own types. Bullshit clothes, bullshit mannerisms.” Some things never change.