the unofficial uncle tupelo archives 

Mix Of Punk And Country? Say Uncle

Ed Masley

Pittsburg Post-Gazette, February 27, 1994

It's a cute little story, the kind they always use to spice up the Entertainment Weekly music report. Three young bucks from a small Midwestern town crank out two crazy punk rock records, stumble across an old Hank Williams box set and all of the sudden, it's goodbye safety pins, hello Buck Owens.

It's the sort of story folks are always telling about Uncle Tupelo. Trouble is, that's not the way it happened -- at least not according to founding member Jeff Tweedy.

"I think everybody tries to make the first two records sound like these punk rock thrash records," he says. "And I think people really into noise bands and punk rock bands and stuff like that would listen to those and go, 'You gotta be kidding me. This is wimpy.' "

Well, maybe not exactly wimpy, but for all the loud guitars and racing tempos, "No Depression" and "Still Feel Gone" do have their share of tender moments.

"I mean, we liked punk rock as much as a lot of people at that time, but I don't know, there was never really a scene to be part of," Tweedy says. "And we grew up around a certain amount of country music with, like, our parents and, you know, family gatherings and things like that."

By the time he got to high school, Tweedy was banging out garage punk covers with Uncle Tupelo guitarist Jay Farrar and former drummer Mike Heidorn in a band called the Primitives. Though he and Farrar were both into country at the time, those influences wouldn't start creeping into the music for a few years yet. As Tweedy tells it, "It takes a while, I think, for a young person to admit they like country, much less play it or try to play it."

Actually, there's a certain appeal to traditional country for kids who grew up on the no-nonsense onslaught of punk rock.

"Well, in their purest forms, the original inspiration isn't that much different," Tweedy says. "The desire to communicate in a really direct way and eliminate a lot of bull in the process and not make it fancy."

Asked what he thinks about the current crop of chart-topping cowboys, Tweedy doesn't waste much energy hiding his distaste. "I try not to think about 'em too much," he replies with a laugh. "There's not to much out there that even resembles country music to me."

Though he admires the work of less mainstream contemporary artists such as Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Iris Dement, Tweedy has pretty much had all he can take of Garth, Clint and "all those WWF wrestler lookin' guys. It's just hokum. I don't know. I guess they know who they're targeting."

It's hard to say exactly who Uncle Tupelo might be targeting with ''Anodyne," the major label debut on which they come across as a slightly edgier version of the Jayhawks. It's too country to score them a spot on Lollapalooza, but that darn punk rock image, if nothing else, pretty much guarantees the cold shoulder treatment from country radio.

It's a shame, too, because "Anodyne" is probably the most fully realized country rock album to come down the pike since that last Jayhawks record.

"It's the first one we've recorded without any overdubs," Tweedy says. ''We had time to do overdubs if we didn't like it, but it felt good to be done with a song and to listen to it and to have it be what it is."

The approach lends a real immediacy to the band's stark, homespun lyrics. Uncle Tupelo, headed to Pittsburgh for a Tuesday show at Rosebud, may be on a major label now, but "Anodyne" finds them still searching for answers on the dead-end streets of Belleville, Ill., a small town 25 miles east of St. Louis where for most kids, the only realistic escape comes in a bottle.

"Now we don't really spend that much time in Belleville," Tweedy says. Tweedy pauses for a moment to reflect on the town and the times that shaped so much of Uncle Tupelo's finest work.

"I stopped drinking about three years ago and most of us in the band don't really over-indulge anywhere near what we used to," he says. "Belleville at this point is more of a place where you know your family's at."

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