Back Porch Mary interview

In case anyone was worried, country music is alive and well. Thursday night at Cain’s Ballroom, the stage was taken by the Turnpike Troubadours (who could easily be a top-notch bluegrass band if they didn’t use electric instruments), the Brandon Clark Band (who combine great rock ‘n roll with a honky-tonk swagger), and Back Porch Mary, one of the most original bands to combine country with punk rock in recent memory.  Before the show (which was excellent), I sat down with Back Porch Mary lead singer Mike Krug to find out more about the band.
Tulsa Today: Tell me about Back Porch Mary. You guys have been together almost a decade now?

Krug: Well, we’ve been touring in our present form for about six years, but the band was always an idea I had in my head.

Tulsa Today: Your press notes tell me that you were originally inspired to form a band by Guns ‘n Roses. Is there any truth to that?
Krug:  Yeah, they were a big part of it. In a lot of ways, Appetite for Destruction was the catalyst that got me into music. You’re probably too young to remember it.

Tulsa Today:  Yeah, I was about two years old when it came out.

Krug:  Yeah, so you might not entirely get it. But the early 80’s were basically the era of pointy guitars and makeup—silly stuff that I really didn’t like. I grew up in central Kansas, of course, and there was nothing like GnR there.  And then I heard them for the first time—and of course, this was the era of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, and in comes this band that’s openly doing drugs and smoking and drinking on stage, and it blew my mind.  Really, though it was the music.  Slash’s guitar technique was just incredible—he was an inspiration.

Tulsa Today: So, explain this to me: you’re inspired by a metal band, so you start a country band?

Krug:  Well …
Tulsa Today: Okay, maybe it’s not entirely fair to refer to you guys as a country band.
Krug:  Well, I don’t know if referring to them as a metal band is the whole story, either.

Tulsa Today: Fair enough.

Krug:  I mean, with Back Porch Mary, if you’re a metalhead, we’re a country band to you.  If you’re into Tim McGraw, you’ll probably see us as a little bit more of a rock band.  What we are is really a matter of perspective.

Tulsa Today: That’s true. What I really liked about the album …

Krug:  You liked the album?

Tulsa Today: Yeah, I’m a big fan. Is that a surprise?

Krug:  Yeah, I guess not. A lot of times, the interviews we do aren’t with big music fans.  
Tulsa Today: Oh, okay.  But anyway, what I liked about the album is that you mix country and rock, but it still sounds new.  It’s not Garth Brooks, or the Eagles, or Sheryl Crow.
Krug:  Well, our major difference is the addition of punk rock, and we’re not the first to do that. Jason and the Scorchers and The Beat Farmers were two of the first; later on, bands like The Bottle Rockets and Slobberbone developed it. Our major contribution is probably the addition of some southern rock to the mix.

Tulsa Today: Let’s go back to Guns ‘n Roses for a second—this is somewhat timely because Chinese Democracy, their sixth album that’s been in development since 1994 is finally launching a month from now, and the title single was just recently released to radio. Have you heard it?

Krug:  Yeah, I went online and listened to it—I wasn’t really into it at all. Guns ‘n Roses just hasn’t done anything great since Appetite.  They were really one of those street-level bands that suddenly made it big, but didn’t know how to deal with it, and then just imploded.

Tulsa Today: That’s true.  Does that have anything to do with why you guys have stayed independent over the years?
Krug:  Well, maybe subconsciously.  But the industry is so different right now—really it comes down to the fact that we don’t need anything that the industry has to offer.  Once it became possible to make your own CDs, there was just no need for the recording industry anymore.  Really, it’s all just based on a f—ing lie: there’s absolutely nothing that a record label can do for you. All you need is to write good songs and form a good band, and then take it to the people.  No promoter or amount of money will make you famous. A lot of my friends were in bands that quickly signed with recording labels, and they just tore them apart—it’s just a lot of pressure and baggage, and there’s absolutely no reason to do it anymore.  We just want to play music and meet people, and we’re able to make a living at it—we’re not millionaires, but we all eat.  We all own houses.  But the industry’s just so different now—it’s all driven by the bottom line without any thought given to quality music.  The Beatles, U2, Guns ‘n Roses, Led Zeppelin—none of them could make it in the modern music industry.  No modern label would give U2 a chance to record several albums before delivering a Joshua Tree.

Tulsa Today: So would you say the music industry as we know is essentially a thing of the past?

Krug:  Absolutely.  It’s done.  Anymore, when it’s possible to record a hit song from your bedroom, what could a label possibly add to that?  If you put a good song up on YouTube, people will listen. That’s the point: the Internet is such a big thing.  If you put a song up there, and it’s really a good song, it’ll travel through complete word of mouth.  The music industry just can’t understand the impact that the Internet has had.  They’re all busy worrying that people are downloading albums, but album sales are up.  They’re up.  Yeah, okay, CD sales are down, but total album sales are up, and if the industry is so worried about losing sales on a format that wasn’t a very good format to release music on to begin with, it gives you a pretty good idea of how out-of-touch they are.  We’re not afraid of people downloading our music; the point is to get the music out there.  If people hear it and like it, maybe they’ll come to the show, or they’ll buy a t-shirt, or they’ll even buy a CD.  Again, we’re all making a perfectly good living at this. We’re just a working-class band.

About the author:

A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Luke Harrington currently resides in Tulsa and works in the aerospace industry–but, at any given moment, would probably rather be reviewing movies and music.  In his spare time, he’s off playing blues piano, pretending to be Assistant Editor for, or reviewing the many musical events in Northeastern Oklahoma for Tulsa Today.