When Cowboys and Indian's Matthew Ezzard and Gerome Fragua heave open the ridiculously heavy glass door of the Alibi's office, I'm a little surprised by what I see. Having listened to their rockabilly recordings, I was mentally prepared for slick pompadours and head-to-toe vintage couture, complete with overly cuffed jeans and chain wallets. But they look like regular guys. I readjust my preconceived notions, pour us all some coffee, and we sit down for a good, old-fashioned jaw session.
Both Ezzard and Fragua have ready smiles and are quick to laugh. When I mention my unmet fashion expectations, they chuckle and joke about their vintage tennis shoes and lack of pomade, and even produce their front-pocket wallets for inspection. Guitarist Fragua admits that the band's divergence from the prototypical rockabilly look was something he once fretted over, but he says music transcends surface appearances. Ezzard, who plays upright bass, concurs. He says he'd rather spend time rehearsing than perfecting his hairdo or shopping for clothes. The band's drummer, Jeff Cooper, is unable to make our morning interview because he's on the road as a short-haul truck driver. His bandmates confirm that his lengthy beard and penchant for flannel shirts situate him far from the rockabilly fashion norm.
The three musicians have worked together for almost a year and a half. Most of their shows have been local, and they're content to keep it that way for the time being. Ezzard and Fragua say their focus is on writing and recording for their first release. While their bread and butter thus far has been covering other songwriters’ output, they're working on their own material. The guys profess a deep respect for the roots rock tradition of redux, but want a substantial collection of original tunes before they set out to wholeheartedly tour.
“We want to put together something that's us, that's genuine, so when people hear it, they want more of it,” says Fragua. “We don't want to be one of those bands where you buy one of their CDs and you're like, I'll never buy another CD of theirs again.”
When the chance to record with Jeremy McDonald of Hot Damn Records arose, the threesome laid down 14 songs the old analog way. “We did a lot of covers because they're all songs we're familiar with, and rockabilly songs with three people [playing], so having it recorded directly on tape produced the desired effect,” says Ezzard. He adds that rockabilly, as a form of music, has a strong tradition of honoring sonic predecessors by reprising their songs.
“We're not opposed to having a couple covers on there but want the majority of [our first release] to be material we've actually produced ourselves.” That said, the band is really proud of the Hot Damn session results and hopeful McDonald may release a 45. (Read a review of The Hi-Lo Tones’ debut EP, featuring Ezzard and Cooper, on page 55).
The band's name is a nod to its constitution, bicultural New Mexican society and simply sounds good, says Fragua, who's Cherokee. He thinks the importance of political correctness shouldn't trump the need for a catchy, memorable name. “Cowboys and Native American doesn't exactly roll off the tongue,” he laughs.
When I ask if they're into car culture, Ezzard says he had a ’52 Dodge Wayfarer, but insists I note he never got it running. Fragua is working on fixing up a ’61 Chevy Apache he bought from its original owner in Española.
“I like the old American stuff because I feel like it was made properly—something about getting in that old truck and slamming that door. When I go to car shows and see all these great American cars, that makes me proud,” says Fragua. “I'd love to get this truck together, not so much for show but to keep American heritage alive, to be able to show my kids one day.” Ezzard adds that car culture and rockabilly share two key elements: They’re tied to the preservation of U.S. history, and they both kick ass.