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With a mane of long hair held back by a red bandanna and a full growth of beard covering his face, Roger Clyne looks very much like a hippie. And, as he's quick to point out, on the forthcoming Peacemakers album, he's finally not afraid to sound like one, either.
"I don't really care anymore. I'd say as a whole there's more overtly conscious messages in the new songs. It's the first time I've had the courage to say something socially aware, without being afraid to sound like a hippie or a freak," he offers with a slight hint of exasperation. "It's part of me, and I can't ignore it."
The comments come amid discussion of the impending release of Sonoran Hope and Madness, the sophomore album from Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers and a follow-up to 1999's studio effort Honky Tonk Union(the group also released a live companion disc, Reel to Real).
This week the band prepares a final sequence for mastering and completes artwork for the album, which has been the group's main focus since the beginning of the year.
The bulk of the 10-song disc consists of material Clyne penned during the band's touring hiatus last fall. After six weeks of preproduction in April, the Peacemakers convened at bassist Danny White's new Formula One studio, recording and mixing for much of May and June.
The record had originally been intended as a live-in-the-studio affair, "but some of the arrangements and some of the parts weren't quite ready at that point," says Clyne. "So we ended up keeping the rhythm tracks and a few of the guitar tracks and just did the rest in a traditional studio style."
Significantly, the album finds Clyne easing a bit more comfortably into the role of leading a combo that bears his name. The title and cover of Honky Tonk Union (featuring Clyne clad in 10-gallon hat and boots) caused many to view it as a strident departure from the frantic post-punk of his former group, the Refreshments. And although HTU cuts like "Beautiful Disaster" and "Tow Chain" wouldn't have seemed out of place on either Fizzy Fuzzy Big and Buzzy or Bottle and the Fresh Horses, fans and critics alike were quick to recategorize Clyne's muse.
"Just by the nature of the term, we got called 'Americana' on the last record. It's not a moniker that I dislike. But I don't think it necessarily fits us," says Clyne. "Once you add anything vaguely country, or the idea of ruralism into rock 'n' roll, people want to jump on that."
As for the new effort, Clyne claims he wasn't looking to push the album in any particular stylistic direction, but rather decided to let it develop more organically.
"I wanted to make a record that would define its own space within the roots-rock genre. [Hope and Madness] is a rock record with almost, like, folk messages," he says.
"It incorporates an indigenous feel also. There's a lot of nylon string guitar, a lot of Latin percussion. It's a Sonoran Desert-feeling record. I don't shy away from that at all. I actually want to embrace it."
More notable is the overall sonic quality of Hope and Madness. While Honky Tonk Union was primarily recorded piecemeal at drummer P.H. Naffah's small home studio, the new record benefits from the more elaborate space and equipment found at Formula One. White's studio boasts an A Range board from London's famed Trident studios -- the same one used to record the likes of Queen, the Kinks and the Rolling Stones, among others. Similarly, the production -- jointly credited to Clyne, White and Naffah -- seems to have evolved beyond HTU's somewhat pensive and obviously homemade aesthetic.
"From a production standpoint, I know what I want to hear, and Danny and P.H. are really good at finding those sounds," says Clyne. "And recording at [Formula One] was an ideal situation, since we had the time and equipment to get things sounding the way we wanted."
But the singer insists that it was another factor -- namely the band's 18 months of almost nonstop touring -- responsible for the marked improvement over the previous album.
"The last record was done before we really even had the band together," says Clyne. "This one feels more cohesive. We've certainly developed a lot of chemistry since then. We've been together as a band for two and a half years now. And touring a lot was a good birth for the record. Things really started to jell in the studio because of that."
That chemistry is especially noticeable in the work of guitarists Steve Larson and Scott Johnson. The players' work runs the gamut from the former's crunchy country chords and aggressive slidework to the latter's jazzy fills and sharp pop touches. Their disparate styles weave together throughout to keep the textures interesting even on familiar-sounding fare like the title track.
Elsewhere, Naffah -- one of the Valley's more forceful trapsmen -- expands his range, incorporating subtle and tasteful percussion touches on a handful of cuts. Meanwhile, Clyne seems eager to return his foot to the throttle, forsaking the restrained vocal approach he took on HTU, and lending a more urgent quality to the material.