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The Monroes: Taking the Impala Out for a Ride

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Jan. 9, 2002

Jan. 11
The Monroes
w/ The Movies, The Short Timers;
The 49'r,
49th and Dodge 
9 p.m.

Maybe the biggest challenge faced by Omaha punk showmen The Monroes is crawling out from under the outstretched shadow of lead howler Gary Dean Davis' former band, Frontier Trust.

One of Omaha's premiere touring rock outfits in the mid-'90s, Frontier Trust forged its own unique sound that Davis christened "tractor punk" -- a mean blend of southern-fried electric guitar, Minute Men attitude and Davis' off-key crooning about swimming holes and highway miles.

"Frontier Trust was more of a pop punk band," Davis said, wearing the same seedcap, work jacket, shiny black hard-sole shoes and thick black-rimmed glasses that became his fashion trademark on stage throughout his days fronting his earlier outfits. "The Monroes has a harder sound."

For this new version of tractor-punk, Davis replaced his trusty old Farmall with a bright-red high-horse Case, with enough fire power to take the blue ribbon at every county tractor-pull west of the Mississippi. Under the hood are Lincoln Dickison's punk-fueled guitar licks, Mike Tulis' throbbing rockabilly bass and Jesse Render's white-knuckled, piston-like drumming.

The Monroes (named after the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe) formed shortly after Davis' last project, D Is for Dragster, took its last checkered flag. D's demise was sparked by the move of legendary Omaha drummer Joe Kobjerowski (who had also been in Frontier Trust) to Portland.




Davis decided to start over from scratch. He first met Dickison back when Frontier Trust was burning up the stages in Columbia, Mo., a town that became a second home for the band. Dickison, a Columbia native, and his band Product 19 were perennial show openers at Frontier Trust shows. Shortly after Kobjerowski left town, Dickison moved in.

The fit seemed questionable at first glance. Product 19 had gained a rep as a guitar-fueled noise-rock outfit, who Davis said had often been compared to Steve Albini's Shellac. But because Dickison was from Columbia, home of such twanging rockers as Ditch Witch, Deke Dickerson and The Starkweathers, Davis knew he'd be more than familiar with the sound he was after.

"Lincoln had said, 'You know how I play, right?'" Davis recalled. "For him, the style of music we were after was a challenge; it was something he hadn't done before."

Davis had known Tulis from his years as the bass player for horror-movie-style rockabilly outfit Full Blown. "Mike's the kind of guy you like as a friend so much that if he didn't play bass you'd find something else for him to play so he could be in your band," Davis said. In addition to sporting amazing bass chops, Davis says Tulis' almost encyclopedic pop-music knowledge helps bring the band's diverse backgrounds closer together. "Mike understands where Lincoln and I are coming from because he has such a wide music background," he said.

Render, a Missouri Valley native, had been a Frontier Trust fan from his Iowa State days -- Ames was another of the band's fan strongholds. He also had played with Kobjerowski in Lonny and the Lux-o-Values.

Bringing them all together resulted in a band with a sound that's harder, louder, and punkier than Frontier Trust without losing its prairie flair, thanks to Dickison's slide-guitar touches that add just the right amount of sleaze to The Monroes' western stompers. The band took the stage for the first time last June at Duffy's in Lincoln and sported the same high-flying stage antics that made Frontier Trust a fan favorite -- mostly involving the 200+ pound Davis bouncing on stage like a Mexican jumping bear.



"Lincoln had said, 'You know how I play, right?' For him, the style of music we were after was a challenge; it was something he hadn't done before."



"There's a definite hick backlash -- to not be perceived as being hicks -- and yet how many pick-ups are in this town?"


Seven months and a Midwestern tour later, the Monroes are celebrating the release of their debut 7-inch Jan. 11 at The 49'r with alt-country rockers The Movies and The Short Timers (headed by former Darktown House Band leader Bill Hoover). Recorded last September at The Shoebox in Lincoln and engineered by Phil Shoemaker, the three-song single captures the band's pick-up-truck-punk sound but is clean enough that, maybe for the first time, you can actually understand what Davis is yelling about.

Side 1 kicks off with "Kiss Your Elbow Goodbye," where Davis implores: "Boy this Impala / Sure can fly / But the way you're driving it / We're gonna die."

"It's about terrace jumping in my brother's '74 Impala," Davis said. "One day he was driving down the street and said, 'Do you have your seat belt on?' and I said 'Should I?' and he said, 'Oh yeah' and drove right into a field."

"Got food?" is Davis' angry rantings about big, disinterested corporations callously wiping out the little guy, with lyrics like "America the beautiful / Trapped in a cubical" and "Neighborhood bookstore / Just another corporate whore."

"Being someone who came of age in the '80s, you had more of a perspective on how corporations impact society," he said. "When corporations replace family farms, decisions are going to be tied to profits."

Davis laments that the single's B-side, "Knocked Over," should have been the A side. Punkier than the other two tracks, it opens with a wave of buzzsaw guitar and machine-gun drumming. "A hundred and / Fifty years / Of history in this town / It's knocked over / Blown up / And took back to the ground."

"It's about the landscape of Omaha and how it means absolutely nothing if buildings are on the register for history places," Davis said. "We've convinced ourselves that we're a modern city rather than keep our history. People are always asking, 'What is our identity, what are we about?' and then go and knock over the stock yards and Jobber's Canyon. We're erasing our history."

What exactly is Omaha's identity? Davis points to the fact that the city was built on agriculture, with businesses like ConAgra, the stock yards and Union Pacific Railroad. "Why don't we embrace that? To me that's what Omaha is.

"There's a definite hick backlash -- to not be perceived as being hicks -- and yet how many pick-ups are in this town? I think Omaha should be less concerned about what other people think of the city's image and more concerned about what the city should do for the people who live here."

Which brings us back to the identity of The Monroes. Chances are someone will yell out the name of a Frontier Trust song at Friday's show. Davis said those days are long gone.

"I loved that band a lot," he said. "I loved the songs we played in Frontier Trust, but I think those belong to Frontier Trust. That band put out three 45s and a full-length LP. I don't want to sound callous and say, 'If you want to hear that stuff, listen to the records,' but we're a different band."

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Published in The Omaha Weekly Jan. 9, 2002. Copyright 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.