"We're, like, not big on thinkin'," Supersuckers guitarist Ron Heathman says of the same band frontman Eddie Spaghetti called "a human cartoon." He goes on to explain that "it's kind of like The Simpsons, but a band."
The quartet of Denver-ites have known each other since grade school and started their professional life on the streets of Denver as the Junkyard Dogs. "We would grab our acoustic guitars, go play street fairs, Heathman remembers. "And that's when we did nothing but country and Rolling Stones and Credence covers--there were not many originals at all. And we would just go out and play these street fairs for fun, and we'd put the guitar case out and at the end of the day we'd have enough money for a barbecue and some beer."
The 'Suckers still sound like they're playing that way. The songs are mostly originals now, but the sound is rough and raunchy and the vibe is loose, to say the least. An account of a recent show in Barcelona, Spain that popped up on the Internet backs up that theory: "The Supersuckers ... returned to offer to their reputation of group a direct visceral savage and his vertiginous songs of punk-rock." It may lose a little something in the translation, but you get the idea.
Though the band got tagged with a punk label in the beginning, Heathman says, "We're a rock band. That's what we call ourselves." The group even covered Ice Cube's "Dead Homiez." But the 'Suckers started to attract real attention when they moved to Seattle in '89 at the peak of the grunge explosion.
Heathman believes that the "grunge" label was wrong too. "It really was straight rock. The tag that it got, 'grunge,' was just another one of those classifications. Mudhoney, Nirvana--two of my favorite bands from that period of time--were straight rock bands. Grunge was just something to make it new. Nirvana was like, for lack of better terminology, Beatles on steroids. Really, [Kurt Cobain] was a great pop songwriter with a distortion pedal."
Whatever you wanted to call it, it worked well for the Supersuckers. Sub Pop signed them, and the band put out three rock records before changing directions with '97's Must've Been High, which put them in a country punk-rock phase and under some mighty tall boots, backing Willie Nelson on The Tonight Show. "It was strange for a band of our caliber," laughs Heathman. "When I say our caliber, I mean our popularity at the time, to be on The Tonight Show. I could tell it made Jay Leno kind of uncomfortable, like 'what are these guys doing here?'"
Not bad for a band that often bills themselves as "the proud, the few, the damaged." But just as fans were adjusting to the country 'Suckers, they jumped back into rock with '99's The Evil Powers of Rock and Roll, and then back into country once again with Must've Been Live on their own label, Mid Fi (Supersucker-speak for the middle finger). Heathman admits that putting out a country record as their first label effort was a confusing move, but he feels it was a good first vehicle to launch the label.
But just so fans don't get complacent with any current 'Suckers sound, the band is going back to rock for their next move. "We just got done making a new rock record. It's called Motherfuckers Be Trippin'. It's a new studio full album--standard rock 'n' roll."
Asked if the band would ever consider doing a classic country cover album, Heathman says that "Must've Been High is as classic a country album as I think we could make. But here I am saying we won't do that, and two years from now the band will be bored and we'll all be proven wrong, so I'm not gonna say we're not gonna do anything."
The decision-making process for the band goes back to the "human cartoon" concept, according to Heathman. "It's just something we did. Whether it was a bad thing to do or a good thing doesn't enter into our everyday thought, sometimes to our detriment, but if it seems like a fun thing to do ..."
Those "fun things" are the core of the band's philosophy. Frontman Spaghetti says, "We chose to play in a band together because we liked to hang out together, not because we were great musicians or anything." Heathman adds that the band just sort of grew up learning about music together. "We were playing together since before we really played an instrument. It's kept us hungry, you know? We're not too good," he laughs. "We're the best, don't get me wrong. We just think simple."