Maybe because country music has long been inhabited by outlaws, or perhaps it's the newfound credibility the form's enjoyed among hipsters over the last decade or so. Either way, aging punk rockers are migrating to that dusty twang like rich suburbanites escaping the city.
From Kevin Seconds (7 Seconds) to Tim Barry (Avail) and Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music), that hard-strumming acoustic charge is going strong, and MxPx singer/bassist Mike Herrera is among those recently joining the posse.
Herrera started Tumbledown in 2006 with three members of the Rocky Point All Stars, which tapped the Washington musician to engineer its debut, "Another True Story." Herrera began writing songs for the project about a year earlier, and enlisted members of the now-defunct group to back him on a digital EP, "Atlantic City." The musicians spent more than a year in weekly rehearsals before they ever played a show or began recording the album.
"It was a slow process, because they were in a band and I was in a band, and we were kind of just doing it for fun," Herrera said. "We actually had gone on tour before we put out the record. But once I decided the record was going to happen, that made things just a lot more full-time."
In May, Tumbledown " a name culled from a Woody Guthrie biography that quoted the Okie icon referencing a "tumbledown tin shack" " released a self-titled, full-length debut with digital and physical releases.
The 12-track disc bristles with punk energy that seeps from the hard-charging twang and sways with the supple rhythms of Harley Trotland drums and brother Marshall's upright bass.
Herrera moved from bass to the acoustic guitar, effortlessly switching gears from the balladeering road ode "Movin' On" to rockin' rave-up "Secondhand High" and the sizzling, high-spirited, cow-punk blitzer "Butcher of San Antone," a song that readily resembles Social Distortion front man Mike Ness' solo work.
"People hear I'm doing a country-style project and they think alt-country, but I really don't consider it alt-country," Herrera said. "Compared to most country bands, we're pretty punk. We're really fast most of the time, really loud, energetic and often as fast as we can all hang on to. It's just so hard to explain. I finally figured out that I'm just going to call it 'punk and western.'"
He wasn't always a country music fan. While he's always enjoyed Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" " a staple cover at MxPx's live shows " when he first started as a 15- year-old in 1992, there was only one guiding concept.
"Growing up all I wanted to listen to was punk rock," he said. "If it was fast, loud and snotty, that's what I wanted to hear."
Over time, Herrera's tastes broadened. He fell in love with Wilco's 1995 album "A.M.," and became a fan of Whiskeytown and Bob Dylan. In 1999, he recorded some demos of more or less straight-up country songs " still unreleased " that were an early precursor for Tumbledown's country-punk blend. As other MxPx side projects like Arthur dried up, he looked for new inspiration.
"I think it has to do with getting older," he said. "I wanted to play music for more my age group. I'm in my early 30s now, and the things I enjoy are going out to the bar, seeing a band play and hanging out and having a drink. So that's what I wrote about. I think a lot of these guys that are doing country, bluegrass and folk are probably feeling the same way. We still like punk rock, but we don't want to go to our little kid brothers' punk show."
But Herrera certainly hasn't closed the more-hardcore door, and MxPx is still going strong. The band released its second album of cover songs, "On the Cover II," in March, and have recorded a six-song "Left Coast Punk" EP, ready to drop sometime this fall. He said MxPx is even working on a holiday album.
"Yeah, we're working on a Christmas album. Hopefully, it happens in time," he said. "We're known for not getting things done quite on time."
Tumbledown with John Nolan, John Moreland & the Black Gold Band and Justin Joslin perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at The Conservatory, 8911 N. Western. "Chris Parker