It didn’t take me very long to recognize them. Seated at a table in the back corner of the bar were three men, one decked out in a black horror T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, a denim vest, and black cowboy hat; another with straight, shoulder-length black hair and a black button-down shirt with black jeans; and the third with a shiny bald head, facial hair, and black shirt that placed Justin Bieber’s head in the middle of the Oakland Raiders’ logo. They introduce themselves as Mike Lee, Werm, and 3Pac, respectively.
They are Goth Brooks, and they are a country/industrial mash-up trio.
Mike Lee is the country singer, Werm provides metal vocals, and 3Pac holds everything together on the drums. The band gobbles country songs — everything from “Man In Black” to “Honkytonk Badonkadonk” — and splices in heavy industrial influences and a dose of country instrumentation, including steel guitar, mandolin, and harmonica.
“I’m the rhinestone cowboy,” Lee says of his character in the band. “I exude masculinity. All the women in the audience [swoon] when they see me … and all their boyfriends get jealous.”
“I’m the over-the-top goth,” says Werm, better known as Jonah Foree of local industrial heavyweights Ikonoklast. “I bleed black and cry black tears.”
“I’m a huge fan of the old-school gangsta rap,” 3Pac — aka Xiån Austin — says with a shrug.
That’s country, metal, and hip-hop — the three elements that drive the project. There’s a cowboy swagger to the entire concept, as it takes a huge set of spurs to commit so thoroughly to such a ridiculous idea. There’s a metal “I don’t give a fuck attitude” as well, and without sampling — the practice in hip-hop of stitching together parts of other artists’ songs to create something new — the project would never exist.
The band is releasing its debut project, the 13-song album Moonshine and Mascara, on May 19. On it are songs like “She Thinks My Hearse is Sexy,” which features elements of “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” the theme from The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, and “Honkytonk Badonkadonk.” The first single from the album, “Dressed In Black,” features “Man In Black” and “Cry, Cry, Cry” tweaked with a gothic twist. On the chorus, instead of the iconic ode to the beaten down and the poor, Werm screams, “You wonder why I’m always dressed in black / Instead of baggy jeans and backwards hats / I wear what’s on the inside instead of three-piece suits / and fishnets and steel-toed combat boots.” Buried in the album are Ghostbusters samples, “Macarena,” and countless more elements.
Funny enough, Lee isn’t a huge country fan. The project started after he moved from Boise to Phoenix a few years back, and he connected with Frank, with whom his projects had played up north. They were looking for a new idea, and Frank jokingly texted “Goth Brooks” to Lee.
Somehow, it blossomed into a project that ended up taking more than two years to complete.
“The songs are good,” Lee says of the album. “It’s a joke, but it’s not a novelty.”
And there’s an impressive level of detail in the album. The band brought in hired guns to perfect the country feel. At one point, the hired steel guitarist’s solo almost brought Werm to shed (presumably black) tears in the studio. The layers of samples and references to other songs make for rewarding repeated listens, like watching a Pixar movie over and over again to try and spot all the easter eggs.
As for the band’s attitude towards those who would dismiss the project as hackneyed?
“We bring an attitude of red, white, and fuck you,” Lee says.
Goth Brooks’ music can be found at www.gothbrooksband.com. The band also needs extras for a music video shoot on May 26 at Rawhide in Chandler.