Image by Harrison Hudson
Country music's going through a makeover. You'll now find more fiddles and steel pedal guitars on alternative rock stations than you will on traditional Country Western frequencies. And these former havens for bluegrass and real Southern roots have given way to pop princesses hankering for honky tonk.
Don't look at Andrew Nelson of Nashville's Great Peacock to get all glossy. His band's name might suggest a certain kind of preening image, but he's a man's man, as country as they come.
"I'm at my girlfriend’s parents’ lake house out in the middle of nowhere (in Alabama)," he tells PhantEye in a late-February phone call. His girlfriend and her mom "went to go get manicures and pedicures. … She tried to talk me into it. I wouldn’t get a pedicure.”
Nelson and musical partner Blount Floyd keep it simple when it comes to their recording style, forgoing super-fancy equipment available in in their home base of Nashville-- Music City U.S.A., "Because sometimes shitty gear really sounds great," Nelson says.
He says shitty; we say immaculate. Upon feasting our ears on Great Peacock's self-titled EP, out tomorrow on This Is American Music, we were overcome by the gorgeous folk-laden tunes. "Take Me to the Mountain," the lead single off the five-song stunner, cascades like a rushing river tearing through a lonely canyon. Conversely, the duo scale it back on "Bluebird," a crisp acoustic display of their harmonizing prowess.
Recorded over a period of three months - when Nelson's and Floyd's respective day jobs as a physical therapy technician and a tour supply company employee allowed - the EP combines the lush atmospherics of campfire country like Lord Huron with the true grit and highway weariness of Hank Williams. Nelson namechecks George Jones as one of his idols and laments the direction of today's definition of country music.
"Thank God for the rock radio, and curse Satan for the country," Nelson says, only slightly joking. "My biggest complaint about Nashville is that it’s Music City U.S.A.-- you know, country music world. And there is not one traditional country station. ... Real country musicians used to wear suits and looked like men. Nowadays these guys in country music have dyed blond hair and look like they should be in boy bands. I don’t get it. … Then you’ve got all these girls that are in it that are hot, but they can’t sing a lick.”
Great Peacock's own exploration of the twangy sound took a roundabout journey. Growing up in the Pentecostal churches of the South, Nelson didn't get into secular music until he was about 14. He chuckles at what he thinks might be a cliche in Alabama: His first taste of rock came from hearing Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" on the radio. Prior to this awakening, he was a self-proclaimed jock, more interested in wielding a baseball bat than a guitar. But that classic solo mesmerized him and convinced him to switch gears.
He found a kindred spirit in Floyd in Nashville while they were in their early 20s. Though they played together in traditional rock bands like Shotgun Lover, something kept whispering to these brothers in arms-- a softer, more universal sound. They traded their stacks for acoustic instruments, and Great Peacock was born. (The name is a bit of a piss-take on other folksy bands such as Fleet Foxes.)
Nelson and Floyd are headed to South by Southwest in a couple of weeks to spread the gospel of their EP. They approach with a bit of anticipation, trepidation and hope.
"We’re kind of scared because we didn’t expect this thing to even happen," Nelson says. "We thought we’d play around Nashville every now and then, and that would give us an excuse to play. Somehow, people really started digging it and things got more serious. Like, wow, the kind of music we’re doing’s really popular right now! What happens if, three months from now, it’s not anymore?”
He emits a self-flagellating laugh, but we think he's in the clear. For such a polished, entrancing piece of work as the EP is, music fans will be chomping at the bit for an album.