Austin’s Horse Opera is an honest-to-goodness country band. The quartet’s debut album, Sounds of the Desert, is a two-steppin' joy chock-full of pedal steel and heartbreak. It’s fun. It’s lonely. It makes you want to jump in your car (or pickup truck, preferably) and drive a dusty road to Texas because, surely, that’s where the heartfelt music and dancing are happening. A look at Horse Opera’s photos shows earnest men in boots, cowboy hats and Western shirts. But wait a sec—these cowboys are really punk rockers.
“I think at the root they’re both kind of music of the people,” says guitarist and vocalist Jimmy Deveney. “Songs [are] about either social issues, social injustice or, you know, working in a mine your whole life, or working the railroad.” As punk and country both deal with basic human issues, Deveney finds himself singing about many of the same things now as he did in his ’90s bands—love, drinking and jail. Tracing Deveney’s life back through eight years in Austin and a few in Mississippi leads to Albuquerque, where he used to play in local groups like The T-Lords. The progression from one style to the next was natural for the musician. Listening to punk led him to the Reverend Horton Heat, then rockabilly, then its predecessors. “I kinda think that Woody Guthrie was the first political punk rocker,” Deveney muses, “and Hank Williams was the first ‘live fast, die young’ archetype.”
Living in Texas has influenced his style, and luckily there is a support system for Horse Opera’s breed of country. The circuit of dance halls and beer joints is large enough for the band to tour without ever leaving the state. However, people all over are taking interest in the traditional genre. “I think people are rediscovering what country music is,” Deveney explains. “I mean, what we call ‘country music’ nowadays has very, very little to do with country ... it’s pop music with a fiddle. If you’re lucky, there’s a fiddle.”
Even Europe is getting on the horse: This July, Deveney will perform alongside bands from places like Belgium and England. He’ll be playing at the Country Music Festival in Mirande, France, as part of a Texas music showcase. The French take their American culture very seriously, even if slightly askew. “They are crazy about line dancing,” he says. “There’s a line dance university onsite at this place. ... I don’t think they want you messin’ around with it until you know what you’re doing.”
In May, Horse Opera released Sounds of the Desert at the famed Continental Club in Austin. Deveney says the recording is the best thing he’s ever done. Horse Opera plays to promote the record at Low Spirits on Wednesday, with Scott Akers on guitar, Ben “Sparky” Sparks on bass and Ralph Power (filling in for Chris Walther) on drums. Albuquerque will also get an additional perk: All former members of The T-Lords will be in town at that time and will play a reunion set to kick off the night.