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Roger Clyne is in a reflective mood. The Peacemakers' front man has had plenty to think about over the last year. He got married, became a father for the third time, lost his record deal and saw his band break up under acrimonious circumstances. He went on to form a new group and has spent the better part of 1999 recording and finally readying a new double album for release next week. It's a lot to ponder, but Clyne, leaning back in a booth at a Casa Grande bar some 50 miles south of Phoenix, is contemplating the moment last year when he says he had "to stare a day job in the face again."
After the Refreshments' breakup in the summer of '98, Clyne found himself in the unenviable position of being a musician without a band. He was also newly married, a father of one child with twins on the way and without any visible prospects to support his family. Beyond that, he had just turned 30, the milestone that most musicians, even commercially successful ones like Clyne, dread. "Thirtyitis," as it's commonly known among aspiring rock 'n' rollers, is the crossroads where most performers have to decide either to pack it in or pursue their dreams all the way to the end, however bleak the financial prospects may be. "I decided I wasn't going to let an arbitrary number stop me from playing music. The culture tells you you have to stop if you're not a bona fide contributing member of our economy or our political system, which arguably musicians are neither," says Clyne, laughing. "So I looked 'thirtyitis' in the face and went, 'I don't think it really exists.' Actually, it does. But for just a second. You can cure it and get over it if you just commit to being a musician."
Recommitting himself to his craft, Clyne began playing a series of informal gigs at Nita's Hideaway last summer with former Dead Hot Workshop and Dialectrics guitarist Steve Larson, and later at Long Wong's with his Refreshments bandmate, drummer P.H. Naffah. Clyne's musical circle would later expand to include guitarists Scott Johnson and Jim Swafford and bassist Darryl Icard. Their fun, drunken and often sloppy happy-hour shows proved to be the catharsis Clyne was looking for. The positive response to the new songs he had begun mixing in with old Refreshments favorites also helped rejuvenate his desire to pursue music as a full-time career. After a couple of lineup (and name) changes, which have seen Nashville transplant Danny White take over for Icard on bass and Steve Larson come aboard for Swafford on guitar, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers' debut album, Honky Tonk Union, and a limited-edition compendium live disc, Real to Reel, are set to hit stores on October 15, the same day the band plans a massive CD-release party at Tempe's Hayden Square.
The original intention was to conduct an interview with Clyne at the Red Rock Bar, a charming dive located off Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak, which served as a kind of guiding inspiration for the batch of countryish story songs written for the new album. Unfortunately, upon arriving, the bar was closed, so we settled for an equally atmospheric cowboy lounge, Cotton's Wonder Bar, within the Casa Grande city limits.
Clyne is a thoughtful subject. He speaks with the passion of a committed activist, whether he's discussing his family, his band, the commercialization of Tempe -- the city in which he's lived almost all his life -- or the growing local phenomenon that surrounds his music:
New Times: Let's talk about the band a little first. You've assembled a pretty amazing collection of local musicians. But what about the guitarists? Both of them (Scott Johnson, former Feedbag and Gin Blossom and Steve Larson, formerly of Dead Hot Workshop and Dialectrics) are completely different kinds of players.
Roger Clyne: Scotty was really complimentary because he's pseudo-virtuoso. You can kind of tell him what you're thinking and reference a certain sound or a style, and he'll pick it up. It can be anyone from Djhango Reinhart to Luther Perkins. He can do all that stuff. It's just that he has so much at his disposal, he's really helped the band's sound grow from the gate."
NT: On the other side, you've got Steve Larson, who's played in bands that are associated with a much different style of music than the Refreshments.
Clyne: It's true. Dead Hot and the Refreshments were kind of bipolar. But I've always been a fan of Steve and his playing. He's a friend of mine, too, but I've always been a fan of his playing first. It's very spontaneous and unpolished. Almost raw in a way. One time, Buddy (Edwards, former Refreshments bassist) and I were talking about guitar players and he nailed Steve. He said, "He's the most soulful white guitarist in town." And I agree with him.
NT: At a certain point, after the Refreshments were dropped from Mercury, you were approached by a couple of different major labels with the option of continuing the band, using the name and replacing some of the members. Did you give any serious thought to doing that?