Fowl Play

Tempe combo's music is a little tough to describe, but it tastes like Chicken

Buoyed by their mutual love for Johnny Cash and Buck Owens, along with a grounding in everything from garage to punk to metal, the members of Chicken produce a sound that constantly threatens to come unhinged amid a flurry of styles. Klinger's voice, for instance, pinballs between a rich, confident croon and a wounded animal howl -- from Merle Haggard to Mule in one easy step.

"This will probably sound stupid," admits Klinger hesitantly, "but I hear that part as being influenced by Jim Morrison. Not that I could ever hold a candle to him. But as far as it going from mellow to really intense, that's something that I take from him.

"The most important thing for me is that I respect people who can write and sing in a way that captures a real specific feeling, whatever that feeling may be," he adds. "Whether it's a song about jacking off in the sunset, or a sad country number, or something heavy like Tool. It doesn't matter, as long as it's got that thing."

No one in here but us Chickens: From left, Matt Jones, Kurt Klinger, Steve Hinkle and John White.
Paolo Vescia
No one in here but us Chickens: From left, Matt Jones, Kurt Klinger, Steve Hinkle and John White.

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Scheduled to perform with Heather Rae and the Moonshine Boys at its CD release party on Friday, October 27. Chicken will open for Grave Danger on Tuesday, October 31, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe. Both shows begin at 9 p.m.
Long Wong's in Tempe

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For Chicken, "that thing" has been its signature stylistic tug of war, which immediately separates the group from the rest of the alt-country pack and their often overused Uncle Tupelo-isms. Then, of course, there are the song titles. While most of Klinger's ditties are fairly literal ruminations on life and love gone bad, the names he gives them -- "Troy's Got Sack," "Nine Holes of Pleasure" and "Zucchini Muffin" come to mind -- are anything but.

"If you say, 'I wanna dance, I wanna dance' throughout the whole song and then you name the song 'I Wanna Dance,' well, that's just annoying. And lame," says Klinger. "I might hear something a friend says, or see something on TV, and think, 'Hey, that sounds good.' Even if it doesn't have anything to do with the song."

"He's always been that way," adds Jones, shaking his head. "But, hey, it's a writer's prerogative."

Klinger's greatest talent as a lyricist is his ability to merge the sentiments of a hopeless romantic and a chronic fuck-up -- a trick he pulls off neatly on The Other White Album's "Hector." "Makes sense to string along/All the shit that I do wrong," he sings. "Just to be with you/For another day."

Putting musical weight behind the words are the veteran players -- White's steady bass, Jones' restrained backbeat and ghostly backing harmonies, Hinkle's spiky fretwork. From their jaunty acoustic treatment of the song "Tea" to the air of foreboding they create on "Don't Transfer," they're an expert anchor to Klinger's material.

The cuts on the new disc are a cross-section of Klinger's work from the last half decade. "Some of it is old Pig Iron stuff, some of it's new stuff, too," he says. "And some of it was written in Portland.

"[Portland] was good for inspiration," he deadpans. "Yeah, it was great being fucked up and not getting laid for a year."

Though the past year has been characterized by far less drama, the group has a new batch of songs ready. They promise the next record will be considerably heavier than The Other White Album, which White describes as a conscious attempt to record "our most radio-friendly material." (Not that anything as unvarnished as those 10 tracks could actually get anywhere near an FM band these days.)

As White grabs another round of beers, the conversation turns toward the band's hopes for the future. The ever-candid bassist grudgingly admits that the group is going to make a concerted effort to push the new record, submitting it to labels and looking for a deal or support of some kind. "We've got to because, well, we've all been doing this a long time, so this may be our last chance and . . ." He quickly catches himself and trails off. "Well . . . you know . . . maybe not our last chance. I don't mean that we . . ."

"No, you're right," interrupts Klinger with a grin, "it is your last chance."

Amid gales of laughter, this time it's the singer who's doing the reprimanding.

"Yeah, buddy," he drawls, shaking a finger at White. "You've got to start thinking about your 401(k)."

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