Though not obvious, the connection is strong between punk and country music. Both genres can be rough around the edges, feature bad-boy frontmen, and contain songs about societal woes. Hank Williams III has turned his country music into a thrashing, moshing affair.
Less outwardly abrasive, but no less fun, is Drag the River, a revolving group of players that grew out of the ashes of two punk bands, All and Armchair Martian. To be fair, both punk bands -- the former featuring Chad Price, the latter Jon Snodgrass -- were in full swing as Drag the River slowly came into existence. Busy with their own bands but looking for outlets, the pair took advantage of an opportunity to record free demos in the then-newly christened Blasting Room recording studio.
'We were lucky to be able to record," Snodgrass says from his Fort Collins, Colorado, home. "It was when the Blasting Room didn't have any clients yet. It was a brand-new studio. [Engineer Jason] Livermore was learning how to use all these different [components], so we were fortunate to screw around in there a lot. That's basically how Drag the River started. Our first record was called . We weren't trying to make a record, just doing stuff in the studio."
Such country leanings may have surprised fans of these punk outfits -- may have surprised even close friends -- but Snodgrass makes it clear that he and Price never relinquished their Midwestern roots. In fact, Snodgrass prefers to call Drag the River's brand of music country and Midwestern, citing Hüsker Dü and the Replacements as additional influences.
"Country was the type of music we just listened, too. That's just the music that we grew up with, learned about, and gravitated to," he says. "A nice change was punk rock, but we never turned our backs -- at least I didn't -- on what we grew up listening too . . . In 1985, I got into punk rock music, but now I'm 41 years old and I still miss the country music.
"It kinda scared me," he continues, mentioning his initial punk rock moment. "The first record I got was by the Dead Kennedys. It was scary. It seemed dangerous, different. But, there was a melody in there. I guess I could have had the same reaction with jazz music."
Armchair Martian dissolved in 2001, and All, which includes Price, is a sporadic entity. In Drag the River's early gestation, Price also worked with All, the Descendents and Armchair Martian. The constant touring and running around became overwhelming for everyone, Snodgrass confirms.
"It was a lot of people doing a lot of different things. It was something everyone shared. But I'll tell you what, doing two bands is not a good thing," he says firmly. "It keeps people on their toes, but each suffers. It's like one of those cliché country songs, but you've got to love the one your with."
Country is all Snodgrass performs these days, and he does it on the down-low, relying on to his punk DIY ethos to squeeze by. With rough-and-tumble appeal and slightly frayed edges, and in a time when alt-country is at the height of popularity, Drag the River should be better known.
"People always say, 'Man, you guys should be big.' Yeah, that would be all right . . . We maybe could have tried a little harder or done some things different, but I'm happy with the way we are. We run it like a punk band, and always have."
Otherwise, it just wouldn't be Drag the River.
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