Down-home country music is no stranger to Memphis, Tennessee, but down-home country funky hip-hop does seem a tad anomalous. For the past four years, and four albums, Big Ass Truck has been producing crafty, genre-defying tunes. At times the band makes others sound like stale, unfeeling fish. For a group such as this to be successful, it has to work--or employ the occasional secret weapon. For Steve Selvidge, who plays guitar and keyboards, it may be as simple as his choice of undergarments.
"I started wearing boxers somewhere around my freshman year of high school," he reveals. "I'll never go back to briefs, but I should probably get a pair of those sports kind of thing, cuz when I ride my bike, things kind of move around a little bit--or when we're wrassling."
Wrassling seems to be a favorite diversion for the gang--and that is "wrassling," not the "wrestling" done by guys in singlets. Wrassling means that at any moment you could be blindsided and find yourself pinned beneath a renegade drummer who just can't handle one more misrepresented chord. It's the kind of amusement anyone with a brother or a best friend knows. "Yeah, we're like a family," Selvidge says. "We argue--it comes with everything."
Family ties run deep for Selvidge. Who Let You in Here?, the band's latest album, was released on Peabody Records, whose most illustrious artists, Mud Boy & the Neutrons, were fronted by Peabody's founder, and later solo artist, Sid Selvidge, Steve's father. The label is also known for committing Cybill Shepherd's Vanilla to vinyl, as well as Alex Chilton's Like Flies on Sherbet.
"Basically, it was the best situation we had," Selvidge says of the move to Pop's label. "We sort of reactivated it, I guess. I grew up looking at all these records of my Dad's, so it's cool to see one of our discs with that on there. I think it was his idea to do it." Peabody Records had wallowed in near-extinction in the '80s, but the choice to kick-start Dad's label wasn't simply a son giving the old man a boost. The last label to bear the load for Big Ass Truck folded, and instead of wasting time hunting down a similar deal, the band simply made the record itself. "It's a very Memphis record in a lot of ways. The sort of attitude we took into making it and putting it out was definitely a Memphis attitude. If you're going to make a record, just make the damn record and put it out, you know?"
The sense of family throughout the album should not be overplayed, but the group's maturity, as its members become true family men--pairing off with wife or girlfriend, and being captains of their own destiny--is evident. "It's a good record for us, because this was when we got really confident with what we do and being able to produce ourselves--knowing our strengths and getting a clear picture of who we are." The work still progresses through the usual smattering of Big Ass Truck hullabaloo and sound effects, looped over white-funk grooves, but the songs seem to be wiser and even more intricately created than on previous efforts.
"We've never actually sat down and written an album," Selvidge says. "By the time we get into the studio, we've just had a lot of songs pop up. That's how we make music--this is the sum of all our heads coming together." That time in studio does not come as often as Selvidge would like. Big Ass Truck has always been a hard-working road band. On "Hands of a Working Man," the lament is heartfelt: "Wanna take the Sabbath off/Please let me take the Sabbath off/But I don't think I can/These are the hands of a working man."
"We've been touring for three and a half years now," Selvidge says. "For the first year we toured, it was like going out for three weeks and coming home with thirteen dollars in our pockets, eating bologna sandwiches, and all that. We worked for it, for sure, but it does feel good now to pay my rent and know that the money's coming from me making music."
Even so, the boys won't take their riches and hide. "Once we get the money, we're gonna go for a full-out leather-metal kind of thing. We're trying to bring back glam rock, but we'll wear guy's makeup--darker colors, more masculine." Big Ass Truck has other goals in mind, such as world domination, or at least working on film soundtracks. It's almost as if the band always sees itself as just starting out. "We get out there, but we've got a long way to go," says Selvidge. "We want to continue to progress--we're nowhere near our ceiling yet."
Big Ass Truck. 10 p.m. Friday, February 19, Grog Shop, 1765 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Heights, $7, 216-321-5588.