By Ian Bremner
Country music is not often referred to as an overly inclusive group. The genre is steeped in American history, which let’s face it, is awfully messy. Fans of country music often argue of what is vs. what isn’t ACTUAL country music. Portland rocker Jenny Don’t pays no mind to any of this debate, chugging along to the beat of her own tunes. Despite her namesake heading the band, Jenny Don’t & The Spurs, she is quick to credit her band on everything from musical contributions to record collections. She’s a punk rocker at heart and the meaning of a “band” seems to pull extra weight with her.
A mainstay in the Northwestern punk and country western scene for more than a decade, Jenny Dont & the Spurs released their 3rd proper LP, Fire On The Ridge via Fluff & Gravy Records. While the cover itself pays homage to the likes of the Louvin Brothers and classic rockabilly, Dont and her band carve out their own special blend of cowpunk that represents the sounds of the Northwest all over the world.
Ian Bremner: Just because it’s interesting to know how artists navigated this period, so I hate to even ask, how did the pandemic effect your creative process and release strategy for Fire On The Ridge?
Jeny Don’t: It was a real mix. We had just finished the recording process and were mixing. In a way it was nice to all have a forced break where we had to stay home. No touring. Get some home projects done and it was ok because we knew everyone was doing that so there was no fomo or anything. But it affected everyone and everything. My primary job was working on shows and production managing for Mississippi studios in Portland and bartending, so all that was gone. I ended up taking a course to become a real estate agent in Washington and Oregon.
IB: It’s been 5 years since your last record, Call Of The Road, and even despite not being able to tour it seems like you’ve really made a name of yourself even more so in recent years in the country and rockabilly scene. Is that just a product of hard work and keeping boots on the ground or do you attribute it to anything more specific?
JD: I think so. We’ve been touring a lot and playing as many shows as we can. Part of the touring for Call Of The Road we had a different guitar player. A lot of people like the idea of touring more than the reality. The truth is, it’s very disruptive on your life and it’s a lot of hanging out and waiting and it can lose some of the mystique. So he wanted to play more locally, but were a touring band so we got with Christopher [March] and he’s awesome. All he wants to do is tour. We just meshed really well so I asked him to join. A lot of the country bands kind of have rotating members depending on where their at, but since were all kind of from the punk scene we like to have a core band that we play with all the time.
IB: And he played on Fire on the Ridge, and the guitar work is killer.
JD: He’s great and it’s so fun getting to where we are now. Everyone grows together and I like with the Spurs, everyone has their special influence and what they bring and we try to showcase everyone’s special talents. Even though were called “Jenny Don’t AND The Spurs,” if it was just me it would be boring as hell.
IB: You mentioned your punk roots, Now that live music is back, and you have a tour lined up, including dates with Charley Crockett, how do some of your punk stylings and sensibilities carry over into your live shows?
JD: Now that we have three albums and a handful of singles, we have a pretty long list of songs. Since we haven’t toured with Charley yet, we don’t quite know what his crowd is like so luckily we have a enough songs to where if it’s a mellow crowd that caters to more straight country we can do that. If its rowdy, we can play some of our faster, hard-driving western songs and feel it out. Even when we play what I would consider our mellow songs, they still have a bit more attack than most “country” country. We played in Nashville once and this guy came up to me after the show, probably in his 80’s and was like “hey, what sound is that? It’s not Nashville. Not Bakersfield. Not red dirt.” I suppose is “Northwesterner.” We play Northwestern-Western.
IB: I love the term Northwestern-Western. Your music is mostly described as rockabilly, which is a unique genre even within garage or country or honky-tonk music. What draws you to your particular sound?
JD: I don’t know. I’m from Bellingham, WA. I was born in New Mexico. My mom still lives there and I have spent a lot of time there. I’ve always been drawn to desert imagery and how different it is than the Northwest just visually and everything. Then with my band, DON’T, the punk rock stuff, I’ve just always felt more comfortable playing with the Spurs. It sounds really cliche, but my mom listened to a lot of Patsy Cline so I just grew up singing that kind of stuff. That style is really fun for me. I can write that style of song better too. Those loving and longing songs, but making them fun. I guess that could sound like a Cure song or something. Someone like Slim Whitman, Those songs are so fun to me. The yodeling and its super eerie. I also like the Gun Club. It’s where I started blending everything. Some people may say “cow punk.” but that is kinda of scary to tell people if they’re not familiar.
IB: It’s the whole trope of “three chords and the truth” but you have some serious hard drive on it. The whole rockabilly scene is full of true die-hards, so I bet its a fun group to be a part of.
JD: Yeah, it’s really fun. Its taken a while to get accepted into the traditional scene. We’re either too loud or too fast, but we’re just like “come on, its fun! Give us a chance.” That’s why I love going out and playing. A lot of modern country bands play real mid-tempo, but I guess we have some more pent up aggression. We’ve done shows where the swing dancers tell us “we can’t come to your shows because its too fast and we can’t dance to your songs!” I always tell them “well, learn how to dance faster because we aren’t slowing down!”
IB: Part of the story of this record was the hard-drive housing the original recordings of the album was wiped clean and you had to rebuild your studio and essentially start from scratch. What kept you motivated to re-do it all?
JD: There was a silver lining in all of that, definitely. We had a European tour lined up and the studio time lined up. I had started having vocal cord issues that year and was managing that with all the shows. My voice was depleting all the time. We decided to record before the tour because after we did these 30 shows my voice would sound like garbage. I was on a steroid treatment, couldn’t talk for long periods of time. It was a mess. So the guys recorded all their parts, then I went in and sang and that was that. The shows were fine, because I could manage not speaking all day but in the studio it’s different. The mic catches every nuance. We hate cancelling or rescheduling because so much goes into planning something as logistically complex as a tour, so the plan was to do the tour, come back to have the vocal surgery, recover, then come knock out the vocals.
Fast forward to go do the vocals and John [Shepski] (producer) said, “soo… we had some crashes and the hard drives got wiped and we thought we had all The Spurs stuff, but apparently we lost all of the recordings.” Which was like “ahhh shit.” BUT now we were more practiced in those songs having already toured. When I told the guys the bad news, they were pretending to be bummed out but they actually thought it was great. They could all play the parts way better than we used to. We still had a burned CD of the mix that we’d listen to to practice and stuff and the new album version is so much better. It’s so bright. It has more energy and it just feels better.
IB: Being a proud Northwesterner myself, there are so many Washington, Oregon country rock groups that don’t get a ton of credit in the “scene” beyond the region itself. Is there a part of you that feels proud to be one of the leading figures of this type of music in the NW?
JD: Absolutely. I really like it because sometimes country can get a bad rap up here. Like “oh they must be some racist rednecks.” When we toured in Europe a lot of the punks were not down with cowboy music but they knew us and they felt safe, then by the end of the night they’d be like “I’m not a punk anymore, I’m a cowboy!” So I really like being able to melt two scene together like that. A lot of early country is pretty punk rock for its time. Elvis and Carl Perkins and Larry Collins. A lot of people have realized they like this style of music when they didn’t know they did.
Kelly [Halliburton] (bassist) collects Northwestern music. There’s a label called Ripcord Records based out of Vancouver that puts out all Northwest music. There are some cool country ones from this area. You heard of Buzz Martin? He’s the singing logger. We covered a song on the album by Bonnie Guitar. Its fun diving in and realizing the scene was here, is here, and hopefully people are tuning in.
IB: What other artists are you listening to or interested in?
JD: Wildcat Rose. Roselit Bone here in Portland is great. They’re kind of federale style, western. Kassi Valazza is doing really good. During the pandemic I was listening to a lot of goth stuff. like Boy Harsher. They were the last show I saw before the shutdown. I love Angel Olsen. I’ve been trying to listen to all of Wanda Jackson. She has half and half. She’s got the crooner stuff and the rock n roll stuff. Christopher [March] (guitarist) just gave me all of the Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys stuff. He’s great. Plays with Reverend Horton Heat. Bloodshot Bill. Melvin Endsley.
IB: You and your band have been around in some form for over a decade. Being your 3rd proper record on a great NW label in Fluff and Gravy, big tours lined up, do you sense a new chapter being opened for the band?
JD: Oh yeah, we’ve already written a solid backlog of songs. We have a single that’s all ready to go this summer. We’re locked and loaded. We’re hoping to meet some more folks on the Charley Crockett tour and then come back through town again and the folks will know us. We played a show with John Doe and the Flesheaters. He was so cool and hanging out backstage and he spoke of how invaluable touring is and how you just have to keep going no matter what. Just tour, tour, tour and keep the wheels moving. Gotta get our stuff out there.
Listen and buy Jenny Don’t & the Spurs “Fire On The Ridge” Below