As rock n’ roll sagas go, Jenny Don’t and the Spurs have endured quite the epic. The Portland outfit whose origins sprawled forth from the roots of Stumptown’s punk scene set out to record the follow-up to 2017’s Call Of The Road two years ago. Raising the bar on the Spurs’ heady blend of hillbilly-fringed, surf-salted honky punk, Fire On The Ridge was to be the group’s next evolutionary step, but a series of challenges and outright threats (including the global COVID-19 pandemic) nearly buried the entire adventure. Jenny Don’t and The Spurs have overcome and returned with a rowdy reckoning that twangs with vintage rockabilly heart and rings with legendary Pacific Northwest reverb. Calling in from their home in Portland, Jenny Don’t and Spurs bassist Kelly Halliburton share details on the pitfalls of digital recording, classic Northwest country music, life-sized paper dolls, and a whole heap more! Fire On The Ridge is due out on June 11th and is available to order now!
AI- Jenny, as I understand it, you were a champion rodeo rider in your younger years?
JD- Ha! Yeah, I tried to be! I was almost Miss Sumas Junior Rodeo Princess, but I lost by one point! But yeah, I used to rodeo! My mom was Miss Grand Central Wyoming in 1976, I think, Rodeo Queen (laughs)!
So that runs in the bloodline, huh?
JD- Yeah! My mom’s side of the family was more into horses than my dad’s side, and out of my family, I was the only one interested in it out of my siblings. But I loved it! I used to herd cows and all kinds of stuff with my horses!
Speakin’ of your dad, he played music too– but he played Christian rock?
JD- Yeah! When they were together, my mom was in the band too, and yeah, they had a Christian band. Growin’ up, I used to do everything I could to not have to be involved or going to shows (laughs)! I always said I’d never be in a band because I thought it was so boring! Their music was pretty good though!
You started playin’ punk music, right? What finally led you into that?
I started getting into the music scene after I graduated high school. My senior year, I met this surf band or black metal band in Bellingham. They had one band called [Full Frontal Assault] and then it was the same guys, they had another band called The All Nighters where they played surf music. It was just such a fun scene getting introduced to people and meeting people that just did not give a fuck about anything! It was very freeing, and so goin’ to these shows and meeting a community of people that were, I guess in Bellingham, the counterculture of that scene. I saw another band called The Trucks. It was all girls and they played keyboards– and I got their CD and I learned how to play the songs! It was very easy for me to start writing, so I just took it from there and people had a lot of fun with the songs I was writing. It was a lot of encouragement to carry on.
Kelly, you have been on the Portland scene for quite a while playin’ punk music and rock n’ roll. Where did you start as far as gettin’ into playin’ music professionally?
KH- Well, I don’t know if it ever turned professional! I mean, I still have a day job (laughs)! It goes way back! Actually, several generations of my family have been musicians, so I grew up in an environment where there was always a band playin’ in the basement when I was a kid. My dad had a home studio that he put together back when I was a teenager. Music was always being listened to in my family and played. I picked up my first guitar when I was 14 back in the mid-80s– and I took it from there! I grew up in a really small town on the Oregon coast and there were no other real musicians down there at the time. I just played alone in my basement for the first four or five years until I got out of high school and moved to Portland. As soon as I got up here, I started playin’ in bands and that was around 1989. From there, I just never stopped! It was just the focus of my life!
You’re bandmates, but you’re also together. How did you two meet?
KH- We’ve been together for about 12 years now. I was playing around town in my band at the time called Pierced Arrows. I was playing drums in that band and I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently, Jenny was stalking me!
JD- (Laughs) Yeah! It was love at first sight! I went to a show with some of my friends and we all were smashed up front and I was standing right in front of him! And it was real awkward ’cause anytime you’re that close to somebody playin’, I don’t know, like what face do you make at ’em? So I just remember, I kept makin’ funny faces ’cause I was like, “Hey, sorry, I’m this awkwardly close to you while you’re tryin’ to do your thing!” But yeah, after that night I looked him up on Myspace…
That dates it a little bit, doesn’t it?
JD- Yeah, right! Exactly!
KH- I was like, “Who’s this weirdo that’s at all of our shows now?”
JD- I was sittin’ at this place called Dante’s, and I didn’t want to be a fangirl, like, “Hey, you wanna hang out?” So I never really talked to him until the opportunity gave itself. We’re sittin’ at this like horseshoe kind of circle bar and he was on one side of the room and I was on the other side, but we were in eyeshot of each other and he was looking my way. Finally, I was like, “Hey, come here! Come over here!” I asked him to come over and drink beers with me and my friends after hours. And he agreed! Which I was blown away! I didn’t think in a million years! He actually beat us to my house. He called, he’s like, “I’m on your porch. I thought you said you guys were gonna be hangin’ out?” I had to stop everything where we were, I was like, “Kelly’s at the house, you guys! We have to go!” And then it took a lot of convincing from there. We started goin’ out and gettin’ beers and stuff…
KH- Eventually, one thing led to another and 12 years later, we own a house together and have several cats!
JD- Our age difference is quite a bit though. So it took him a while to wanna date me. ‘Cause I was only 22 and he was 38 (laughs)!
Two fine calibers!
JD- This June will be our 12 year anniversary as a couple!
Happy early anniversary! Well, let’s start gettin’ a little closer to today! I want to ask you about pre-COVID. Pre-pandemic, pre-quarantine, Jenny, you had a bit of a personal crisis– polyps on your vocal cords. I can only imagine how frightening that must have been for a singer.
JD- Yeah, it was horrible! Going through it in itself was really annoying because we’re really busy and we try to fund everything that we do ourselves. We put out our own albums– except for Fire On The Ridge, we signed on with Fluff & Gravy. But previously to that, everything else we’ve done, we do ourselves. So we work a lot and we play a lot! I was workin’ two jobs, and so every time I’d have this issue and the doctor would say, “You need to take a couple months off.” I was like, “Well, that’s not really feasible. We’re not in a position to do that.” Or he’d be like, “You need to quit bartending.” Like, “Okay, well, what else am I going to do?” You know, that kind of stuff. So that was kind of the worst part of it beyond also not being able to sing how I normally am able to sing.
We did that for about a year, going into the doctor all the time, “Take a week off, take a week off, don’t do this, don’t do that, cancel this…” And finally, he was like, “Okay, we need to do surgery because this isn’t goin’ away.” The steroid treatments weren’t workin’ and then it was like, “You need to shut everything down and you need three to six months. And hopefully, that will be done.” I tried to limp through a year or two with the issue and constantly we’d play shows and at the end of the night, I wouldn’t even barely be able to talk. I told Kelly, I was like, “Oh my God, I just have this like frog voice all the time!”
We had signed up to do the recording and we had a tour and a bunch of stuff, and I was like, “We’re just gonna knock all these things out and then I’ll deal with it after we’re done with everything we’re signed up for.” But when we got to recording, it just sounded really bad. Kelly was the one that was like, “Yeah, these vocals aren’t gonna cut it. We’ve gotta do [the surgery] now.” So we did the tour still and then I signed up for the surgery in September of 2019. Yeah, January of 2020, I was ready to go! And then everything shut down anyway!
KH- It was pretty amazing timing. We’d just taken all this time off and if everything had happened six months or eight months later, it would have been perfect because we had taken most of the last year off!
JD- But it’s all good. Now, I do real estate too, so I don’t have to bartend as much, which is easier on my voice. So it worked out!
When did you get into the studio to record Fire On The Ridge?
KH- Well, that was a saga in and of itself!
Oh, do tell!
KH- That’s our third album, and we wanted to deviate from our usual formula, which is nearly everything we’ve done has been self-released. We thought maybe we’ll work with another record label and see if they can get us to a different market or do some different things than just us selling it, literally, out of the trunk of our car. The studio is a Portland label called Fluff & Gravy Records and they have an in-house recording studio. So we decided to record the record there and just kind of leave the whole thing in the hands of the owner of the label, who’s also the studio engineer and producer. We went and recorded, laid down the basic tracks…
JD- When was that? Like 2018?
KH- 2019. It was spring. It was like two years ago, basically. We went in and tracked everything and got it all done. And then Jenny’s vocals just weren’t workin’ out because of her throat issue. She was really trying to get the vocals down, but it was just not workin’. There were just so many notes that she couldn’t hit anymore.
JD- Yeah, it wouldn’t even make a noise. My voice would just literally stop!
KH- It was really stressful, so we shelved the whole thing until she could get her surgery and everything. Once that was all wrapped up, we went back in the studio. This was now like a year later and we went to go do the vocal tracks. This was also the first time that we digitally recorded. Everything else that we’ve done has been analog on 2-inch tape. We went to load the tracks that we’d already recorded, you know, the music initial tracks, so she could sing along with them– and they were gone!
KH- They were completely gone! Like I said, everything else we’ve done has been analog, and it did not reassure us in any way as to the efficacy of digital format (laughs)! Yeah, so we lost everything. It was everything that we recorded. I have a burned CDR of our rough tracks that we were using for reference, but that’s all that remains of that first session. So we had to start from scratch, which in a way was a blessing in disguise just because I think that what we got with the second run was a lot better than what we’d gotten with the first run.
JD- Yeah. It was just different, like more energy. The first time we were tryin’ to knock the recording out before we did this European tour. ‘Cause we had like 30 shows lined up, and we were already worried about my voice and coming back from that and having that be in even poorer condition. So we were like, “Let’s try and get the recording done first!” But the energy wasn’t really there. And that was a learning experience in itself too– just how valuable it is being able to portray ideas vocally. When we’re learning the songs together and I’m teaching the guys new songs without being able to describe melody ideas or whatever vocally, it really showed through in that first run of our recording.
KH- The other thing about the second go-through on those when we were tracking is like Jenny said, we’d had a bunch of shows lined up for after the studio session. After that first session, we took off and went on the road. We went to Europe for a month and came back and just did a ton of shows around the West Coast and the Northwest. And so all of those songs that we’d had in the studio finally got to be road tested and tweaked a little bit. And so the second time around when we actually recorded that, it was a lot different because the first time, we’d just written the songs and went into the studio and recorded them. But the second time we had managed to make them sound how we wanted to.
Did you go digitally or did you go back to analog?
KH- No, he’s just set up for digital. So we were just like, “Okay, this time, make a backup!”
JD- And of course, John [Shepski] was like, “Awww, shit! This has never happened!” I was like, “I think this album’s cursed!” ‘Cause they’ve done a lot of albums…
KH- Yeah, I don’t wanna, in any way, imply that it was their fault. It was just purely a mechanical malfunction. They do a really good job, and he’s pretty meticulous about things. This was a freak accident! We were recording that and we were almost to the point where we’d tracked everything, we’d gotten the vocals done, and we just needed to mix down. So at that point, the water heater exploded in the studio and it flooded everything! And we were unable to go in and mix! While we were waiting for the contractors to do their thing and clean everything up and rebuild so we could go in there, the plague hit! So essentially, this record is the product of digital oblivion, an exploding water heater, and a global pandemic! Oh, and throat surgery! Against all odds, this record will be out in two weeks!
Well, let’s talk about some of the songs on there. First thing I want to make note of, and I may be completely off on this, but it does seem, that compared to Call Of The Road, Fire On The Ridge leans a little more on your collective punk backgrounds.
KH- Yeah, I suppose. There’s a couple more upbeat songs. It’s hard to say. I don’t know? It’s hard for us because we don’t have that outside perspective.
JD- Like “Trouble On My Mind”?
KH- That’s interesting. I guess that was the purely unconscious writing strategy. It’s not like we planned anything, and I don’t think we’ve ever really even seen it that way. I also think that playing this style of music, coming to it from the angle of not having this being our first kind of music that we played as band members, there is a tendency at the beginning, probably, to want to write things specifically in that style. Like, “Okay, we’re a country band! Let’s write country songs!” But at this point, 10 years later and a bunch of records later, I think that’s fallen on the wayside a while ago. Now, we just write what we write and if it happens to be that honky tonk style that was really a lot more present on the first recordings, that’s great. I would say if anything’s bled through, it’s maybe been a little bit more in the rockabilly/early rock n’ roll style.
JD- Yeah. It seems, at least for me, like I’ve been listening to more and wanting to get involved with more. Just more upbeat.
Tell me about that. What have you been listening to lately?
KH- Boy, around our house we listen to across the board!
JD- I’ve been listening to Sisters of Mercy a lot lately, actually (laughs)!
KH- I’m a lifelong record collector, so we have records all over the house and a room dedicated to it. A lot of what I’ve been collecting lately, well, over many years now, but listening to a lot, I’m a big fan of ’50s and ’60s exotica…
JD- Like Martin Denny.
KH- Yeah, all that stuff, ’60s surf guitar instrumental stuff. That’s a good go-to for both of us.
I just showed my daughter her first beach movie last night. She’s four, and every time Dick Dale would pop up on the screen, I was like, “Baby, look! That’s Dick Dale!”
JD- That stuff is so good!
KH- And that’s a real rabbit hole for me ’cause like I said, I’m a record collector, so I’m gettin’ into all kinds of good surf from around the world. There’s so much out there that’s underappreciated. I’ve got surf records from Russia, from South Africa, from the Middle East from Southeast Asia, South America… There’s just so many!
JD- We’ve been tryin’ to collect country records from the Northwest– stuff like Buzz Martin and Bonnie Guitar. So we go down that rabbit hole too when we’re listening to western stuff.
KH- The Pacific Northwest isn’t really the first thing people think of when they think of country music, but it’s amazing how many people have come through here and [there’s] such a long history of country music. Everyone lived and worked out here at one point. You know, Willie Nelson lived in Portland for a time in the ’50s and got his first recording gigs at KVAN, which was a local radio station here, and released his first single when he was living in a garage in Southeast Portland, you know, the [“Lumberjack”] single. Buck Owens lived and worked up here for a long time and had a band that predated the Buckaroos and played with Nokie Edwards from The Ventures before The Ventures. And Loretta Lynn, of course, lived up in Northern Washington for a long time! So there’s just this whole long lineage of country music from the Northwest that’s great. There’s so many obscure artists and band from here!
There’s a couple of records labels, there’s one called Ripcord Records that was based across the river from Portland in Vancouver, Washington, and they have a massive catalog of things that were recorded in their studios and released on their label that are pretty unheard of– but it was great stuff! Even some national stars! There’s some Rose and Joe Maphis stuff on Ripcord that’s really good and Red Simpson… It’s just really cool, cool Northwest stuff! Buzz Martin is one of my favorites. He sang about logging. He was an actual logger during the day…
JD- He sings about settin’ chokers and “Loggers Home Brew”! You don’t know what a hangover is ’til you’ve had some of loggers home brew! He talked about being tired of bein’ out in the rain and havin’ moss growin’ on your back! Like you can relate to that (laughs)!
With the new record, one of the recent singles that’s been released was “Be The Only One”. Did I see that that was inspired by and that you have a love for true crime shows?
JD- (Laughs) Yeah! That was funny ’cause people are like, “Well, what’s the inspiration for ‘Be The Only One’?” But it’s kinda hard ’cause that one was written more just to have a standard 12 bar blues melody that’s upbeat and dance-y. But I also had been listening to Buddy Holly and just the simplicity of Buddy Holly songs, but how catchy they are. He could say the same thing over and over, and so that one, “Be The Only One”, is how that got inspired. People are like, “What does that mean?” And I do! I watch true crime all the time! So Kelly was jokin’, he was like, “Uh, it’s probably ’cause you’re a stalker!”
KH- Some of these songs, it’s more of an experiment with a format than it is to rewrite the classic love song or something. Not everything is based on a super deep, real-life experience. It’s funny because we’ve been getting all these questions from people, interviews, and things about, “What’s the meaning behind this?” So it’s funny to almost make up a meaning to some of these things after the fact! Like, “Okay, ‘Be The Only One’. Well, if you look at that from a certain angle, it could be about a stalker!”
JD- But it is very true if we were relating it back to my personality and how Kelly and I met. When we had kind of established our relationship and that I had a crush on him, he was actually walking arm-in-arm to a party with another girl– and I showed up! I was like, “Hey, I thought we were hangin’ out? You’re either hangin’ out with me or that’s it! I’m not chasin’ you all over town tonight!” And then he’s like, “Oh yeah, okay, well, I’ll go with you over here!” And then that was it! I was like, “I’m the only one or that’s it!” You could tie it to that two personality traits.
KH- What it all boils down to is we give these songs what we like to call the Cat Test. If we can sing these songs to our cats and have the lyrics still stay relevant then…
JD- It’s a winner!
KH- We’ve got some cats that are… I don’t know how you’d say it? They’re difficult. They’re a little hesitant to accept our affections at times.
JD- I always joke that most Patsy Cline songs were written about cats! Like I love you so much that it hurts me (laughs)!
Somethin’ else that I absolutely love, I was on your website and I saw the Jenny Don’t and The Spurs paper dolls, which has just got to be the coolest thing I think I’ve ever seen on a band’s website. How did you get that put together? And please tell me that you’ve got some more fun off-the-wall merchandise coming?
KH- Oh yeah, you know, we have to keep it interesting! We’ve always been interested in weird formats and fun little things like collector items.
JD- The paper dolls, I found the woman that did the art for that, 50s Vintage Dame, and I’ve seen her stuff on Instagram and she just did such a cool, cool thing. And Kelly came up with the…
KH- There was some artists that came up with a series of paper doll sets back in the ’80s that I used to see around when I was a kid. There’s an Elvis paper doll set and there was one for the Kennedy family, and I always thought that was a really funny idea, you know? We’ve got the Elvis paper doll book floatin’ around here somewhere!
JD- He was talkin’ about it and then I just happened to see an artist that was doin’ it in the style that would work for us. So I messaged her. Christopher [March] was so funny ’cause I didn’t tell the guys that I was puttin’ that together until it was done, and Christopher was like, “Oh my God! I need to change my privacy settings! How does she know my house? That dog? How does she know I have this color boots and all this stuff?” And I was like, “I sent her pictures of you!” (Laughs) He was like, “Wow, she knows so much about me!”
KH- She was pretty flattering with our body forms. We all look pretty buff! We were shoppin’ around for a printer to actually do the physical printing, and we had a friend who gave us some test printings. And just for fun, he made some full-size versions of Jenny and I! We were just like, “Oh, that’s pretty cool! But what the hell are we gonna do with these giant paper dolls of us?” We’ve got ’em stashed down in the basement somewhere. We were tryin’ to think of somethin’ clever to do with those, so if anyone out there has any ideas, you know, somethin’ fun to do with those…
JD- We’ll have some more merch stuff coming up. We’ve been kinda sittin’ on ideas for while the pandemic’s out because a lot of the merch, we move it when we tour, so it’s hard to put the money forward first without tours lined up. But once everything gets moving again, we’ll have some more fun stuff comin’!