By j. poet
“The narratives on the new album are pretty drastic,” Brent Best admits. The former Slobberbone guitarist, songwriter and lead singer is discussing Your Dog, Champ, his long awaited solo album. It’s a project that took almost a decade to come to fruition.
“The mood is petty heavy handed and grim,” he continues, “but it’s got some universal strands running through it. The main theme is the conflict between the young son and the aging father. There’s a bit of patricide involved, so I chose a light title to throw people off the scent.” Best chuckles.
Although he’d started doing solo shows during the waning days of Slobberbone — probably the best alt-country band to ever come out of the Texas scene — Best says there was no grand plan to launch a solo career or put the band to rest. “We went as far as we could go at the time and another reunion is not out of the question. New West is putting out a Best Of CD this September, so we’ll probably do a few gigs then, but for the time being, I’ll continue doing solo shows.”
While Slobberbone was known for the fierce, out of control energy of their live shows, their subject matter always veered toward the darker side of life. The simmering, reserved stance Best takes on Your Dog, Champ is a logical extension of that ethos.
“I started playing solo before the band shut down,” Best explains. “I wanted to get out and play without all the noise. There were some band songs I couldn’t imagine stripped down, but when you make yourself do them, you can see what a song needs to be, without the artifice. I was playing the same rock clubs I played with the band, but when it’s just a voice and a guitar, it forces you to do something to hold the same space that’s held by the band. It doesn’t have to be bombast. When you’re relentlessly quiet on stage, people have to lean in to hear you. That can make them uncomfortable, which is kinda cool. Sometimes being really quiet can be really loud.”
Best produced and recorded the album at his home studio in Denton, Transient Camp Recordings, playing most of the instruments himself. “The studio has moved around with me,” he explains. “I first set up at a farm house about 50 feet from the railroad tracks, with no heat and snakes in the toilet, but the room had a great sound for recording.” Best had just finished up the first version of the album when his hard drive crashed, erasing everything. “I’d started super sparse, then went too far with overdubbing tracks. I took [the crash] as a sign to keep things simple. I wanted it to be sparse and bare bones. When I started getting too elaborate, I let the songs take over and tell me what they wanted.”
The songs on Your Dog, Champ cover the entire span of Best’s songwriting career. “I wrote ‘Good Man Now’ with Kevin Kerby when I was 18 or 19, before Slobber existed. ‘Robert Cole’ and ‘Ramona’ are nine years old, and some of them I wrote while I was recording. It took about four and a half years in the studio to beat the thing into submission.”
Once he had the basic tracks finished, Best brought in some friends to expand the sonic palette. Andy Rogers brings his subtle, bluesy banjo to “Queen Bee,” a quiet ballad of unrequited love. Ralph White’s primitive, spooky fiddle intensifies the emotions of “Tangled,” a chilling portrait of a family torn apart by mental illness and violence, while Burton Lee’s glistening pedal steel deepens Best’s aching vocal on “It Is You,” the portrait of a man praying for love as he surveys the wreckage of his troubled past.
“I didn’t use a ton of instruments, but it doesn’t have a clean sound,” Best says. “The distortion and effects create peaks and valleys to contrast the narratives. I’ve wanted to have feedback poking out of the songs for a while, but (other producers) told me it was too much. This time, there was no one there to tell me ‘no.’ Every once in a while, you need some weird stuff to keep things interesting.”