Song Writing

Play On, Roger Clyne

by Shawna Ortega

Share this post

It took the music world a while to catch up, but in 1995 a little-known band called The Refreshments blasted the gates and emerged as the Southwest's answer to Bruce Springsteen, who had leveled the East Coast with his brand of rock & roll 20 years earlier. Having since segued into Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, this band of rock & roll ruffians rolls out the magic carpet with every new album, compelling their listeners to join them on the journey as they set out to enjoin and conquer, never wavering for a single sand particle's passage through the hourglass to take the trail less trodden and heed the message they impart with every show.

There's a whole culture in which one will become immersed upon their induction into the universe that is RCPM. Right after, that is, one gets past the slack-jaw of such a ridiculously pleasing sensory experience. It's a fact; pure rock and roll delivered in bare bones fashion without benefit of light show, jiggly choreographed theatrics, dancing dogs, or even a single fish-scale shard of glitter, is truly an art form. When the only thing the audience has to focus on is the music, it had better be satisfying and beyond reproach. RCPM has embraced the future of rock and roll by bringing back the past.

As it stands, Roger Clyne is maybe the most famous name you've never heard. Clyne, circa 1997, along with his then-band The Refreshments, submitted a little ditty to a TV show called King of the Hill. That tune, called "Yahoos and Triangles," opened the cartoon every week for the next 13 1/2 years, and continues to in reruns.

King of the Hill was an experience the Refreshments enjoyed a couple of years after they'd had a taste of big-time radio success with their 1995 major-label breakthrough album Fizzy Fuzzy Big and Buzzy, which spawned the hits "Banditos" and "Down Together." Though neither song made Billboard's Top Ten, it was enough for them to realize that success truly isn't everything. For them, it seemed, there was a little bit more. With that in mind, after their follow-up album, the heart-pounding seemingly-radio-un-friendly The Bottle and Fresh Horses, they broke with Mercury Records, broke up the band, and Clyne and drummer (and other founding member) P.H. Naffah traipsed around the country in a searing 40-day soul-searching trek, prowling miners' shacks and watering holes; guitars and a battery-powered recorder among their meager desert hobos load.

Dusty, ragged, and weary, when their ravaged feet dragged them back home again, they had the makings of what would become 1999's Honky Tonk Union, an album that blended country and rock & roll with foot-stompin' fun, and marked the first outing for the newly reformed and now independent Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers.

Clyne is something of a native southwest dust devil. He comes across as almost gentle in conversation. But give him a little wind - a guitar in his hand, a mike, and a legion of screaming fans - and he's a fever of energy, strength, and incontrovertible passion. Considering the band oftentimes plays venues "for the fun of it," it's no question why they're in this business: "I wanted to woo women," Clyne deadpans. Wait… what? "It's a pretty banal goal, but I wasn't trying to change the world, I wasn't trying to explore my inner self. My goal was simple."

Did it work? "Yeah," he laughs. "It did."
A Not-So-Short-Yet-Ridiculously-Entertaining Introduction
It is 90 degrees on this mild Arizona morning and Clyne is enjoying his second cold Hop Knot beer at one of his favorite haunts in the heart of the college district in Tempe. His grin from across the table can be described only as impish, incongruent as that may seem with the rock & roll world. He sports a new 'do, long-ish still, but shaped to keep his tousled sweat-drenched locks from blocking his vision during the band's epic shows. And he wears it well. Dressed casually in short sleeves, shorts and sandals, he arrived anonymously. Perhaps that's due to the toasted brown shades he's hiding behind, but more likely it's because he's spent his life in this dusty part of the country and is chameleon-like among the crowd. Tonight, the same crew of folks that are serving our libations right now will be entrenched in the atmosphere at Clyne's concert, singing along with his vocals, applauding wildly and idolizing him as the artist and rock star he is. But for now he remains just another table.

"I was painfully shy," he states, without a hint of shyness. "I don't think I spoke a word to anybody until I was about 20." He appears anything but a studious sort. However, he graduated with a degree in psychology (while minoring in anthropology) from Arizona State University and was accepted into the Ph.D. program at UofC Long Beach (on a partial scholarship, mind you). It was while traveling around Paleolithic sites in Baja (Mexico) that he discovered himself holding a conversation for the first time with people he wasn't related to. "Everybody was having an exchange and I was tired of not being a part of it," he says. "So I started talking. And I thought, Wow, I'm talking. And I feel comfortable."

By then it was a few years after he'd volunteered to sing for a band in high school (in his aforementioned pursuit of women) and picked up a guitar for the first time because "I felt naked as a front man." Hooking the cord around an amplifier instead of plugging it in saved him the humility of showing everyone he had no idea how to play the thing. And just having a guitar "led to playing a guitar, and then one thing led to another and I was writing songs." Guitar playing was a feat that didn't come so easily, since the natural southpaw could find only right-handed chord books from which to learn to write and play. Gumption may not be his middle name (according to Internet sources, it's Meade), but Clyne has a lot of it: he just flipped around the guitar - and his brain - and taught himself how to play right-handed.

Testing the waters in Arizona State University's College of Music, Clyne found "I simply couldn't make the cut. I took musical theory and got D's two years in a row. So I decided that I wasn't going to bother with the theory part. I was just going to keep making music without having to read it." And to this day "I can't read music. But I hear it and I feel it, and that's what counts." Plus, he did emerge ambidextrous to a degree… he can drink tequila with either hand.

It was about that time he discovered psychology, and music got pushed into the life-plan not-quite-dead zone. And it might have all ended there. There might never have been a band called the Mortals (c. 1992), or Refreshments (c. 1995), and nary a Peacemaker in this life. Instead, Dr. Roger Clyne could be rescuing lost souls in his psychologist's office with a hammock in the corner where he could curl up in between patients and pretend he was in Mexico (where his second home is a Third World cantina).

Thank the rock & roll heavens for Michael O'Hare. "The choice to be a musician was inspired and supported by him," says Clyne, with a genuine smile for the first time today. He dedicates the song "Mekong" to O'Hare, saying, "To the best friend I ever had or probably ever will have."

"Mike was an artist, a sculptor, a few years older than I was." They shared a common balcony in the apartment complex Clyne moved into when they were both in their 20s. "I was a musician, I lived with musicians, there were musicians next door. There were painters and sculptors in these little crappy $400-a-month apartments."

Cystic fibrosis, a recessive genetic disorder affecting mainly the lungs, took Mike's life at 30. But he taught Clyne enough about "the urgency and imperative about how to live" to seriously impact his life's path. It was O'Hare with whom Clyne traveled "everywhere, all across the United States, to Mexico, to Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia. "He said, 'I don't like to waste time, because it's the only currency we have and we don't get it back.' And he lived it."

There are several songs Clyne has written that were inspired by Mike or their adventures together, but only one he has written about the man. "Ashes of San Miguel" tells the heart-rending story of Clyne's trip to Kino Bay, Mexico, to spread his best friend's ashes, honoring his request. Startling in its raw passion, the song is a necessary departure from so many of Clyne's subtly scorching tongue-in-cheek pokes. Pokes which he gets away with probably because they are intelligently enough written that the people they are directed at won't understand the jab, or at the least realize it's directed at them.

"That's where I work my hardest is on lyrics," says Clyne. "I'm far more a lyricist than a musician. I surround myself with really good musicians and then I work hard on lyrics." And those lyrics can be intense; intensely humorous, intensely serious, intensely simple, but most of all, intensely entertaining. Working in a little room in his house, Clyne will often begin writing in the early dawn hours using an hourglass and no other means to tell him how much time has gone by. He says he sometimes gets so wrapped up in what he's doing, when he looks up at the hourglass all the sand has run out, but he has no idea how long before. Citing reluctance to "deconstruct" his lyrics, he has no trouble talking about the inspiration for a song or generally stating its sentiment. "Leaky Little Boat," for example, is about mortality. However, he quickly adds a disclaimer. "If you think it's about a colorful little boat and it's more of a fairytale, then who am I to tell you that you haven't gotten out of it all that's in it? Because maybe I got too much out of it. There's such a thing as reading too deep." That philosophical bone runs on greased rails in a perpetual loop around his psyche.

Another example is "European Swallow," about an incident in a strip bar in which his face made contact with the iron fist of a stripper's boyfriend, who didn't like how Clyne was, um, admiring his girl. Clyne was lying on the floor, and what happened next was one of his finest moments… or would have been if he was almost anywhere besides at a strip club and directing his comment at someone who was at least a three-quarters wit as opposed to only half. Clyne got up, bleeding all over his clothes, and told the guy, "That doesn't change much. I still don't think that much of your girlfriend." True story.

The Peacemakers' epic shows, lasting a minimum two and a half hours, and once clocking in at just over five hours (with a short intermission to refuel ~ see Turbo Ocho below), bring back to mind the Boss, who is, shall we say, a bit more famous than Clyne. A fact which baffles the most schooled of critics. Not that Springsteen isn't deserving of his fame and success, but rather that Clyne is certainly deserving of at least that, and perhaps more. And why it hasn't happened for him can be due only to his refusal to buckle to the demands of Big Money. After his less-than-harmonious experience with Mercury, Clyne remains steadfast in his independence with musical creativity. Signing up with another big machine would only limit the band's ability to create what he defines as "the celebration of life through rock & roll. It's fun. The way life should be, period."


Turbo Ocho: A View from the Inside

Turbo Ocho, the experiment that would spawn RCPM's fifth studio album of the same name, was a 9-day endurance test. We're fairly certain that no other band has ever taken on such an overwhelming challenge and emerged quite sane from it. In fact, the entertainment rags are busting at the seams with stories of modern-day singers who take to their hospital beds with "exhaustion." Obviously, the guys of RCPM are made of much hardier stuff.

The seed for the idea rooted in P.H.'s mind during a writing session in the tipi on the Clyne ranch. Naffah said, "Let's come down here and solar power a recording session. For 5 days we'll do 5 songs and we'll make it an EP." So the stage was set for the Tipi EP.

Somehow it never got off the ground. Three years later the band "spun the idea into 8 songs, 8 days in Mexico," says Clyne. "And we found an Internet connection so that we could share the creative process every day, and it was great."

So it was that in January 2008, RCPM embarked on an excursion to Rocky Point, Mexico, where they would sequester themselves for eight days writing a song a day, emerging on the 9th day to play a concert of the songs they'd written (the aforementioned 5 hour concert). This event was captured on video by their faithful friend and sometime bandmate Jason Boots, who filmed them from the moment they hit the road in Mesa, Arizona, until the moment they took the stage to perform, and then some, uploading the videos every day so fans of the band could keep up with the daily offerings.

Clyne hesitates when asked if that's something they'd ever do again. "I think it ended up perfectly. But it was exhausting and it was fraught with anxiety and conflict. And that's why it was perfect. I mean, the band actually worked out a lot of issues in that creative process.

"We threw ourselves into the crucible to collaborate with a goal, with a schedule of doing a song a day. Not only writing a song a day, but one that was written that we could all essentially sign off on and be satisfied as artists and performers, perform it, record it, and share it the same night." This goal soon became an exercise in sleep deprivation, impatience, and finding ways to squeeze the toothpaste of creativity out of tubes that were already turned inside out.

"It was really fun the first day. And then after we did 'I Speak Your Language,' I remember thinking, Holy shit, what have we done? I can't believe how hard that was," Clyne says.

"And it's a rock band unsupervised in Mexico, and so there was always a lot of party accoutrement. So I'd stumble home with a good wine buzz or a bottle of tequila and my recorder in one hand and I'd stay up till 4 working on whatever was going around in my head, and set my alarm for 6:30 and get up and try to work till 10 by myself so I could bring something to the party.

"I was totally exhausted. But there was something in that exhaustion and being spread so thin and being exhausted that a lot of creativity came through. And that's what happened. It was a very creative week. But I found that that energy that was coming through in creativity was sort of at the expense of my diplomacy with the band. Everybody had really low patience and we pretty much worked in conflict all the time. You see the cooperative moments where the band has to come together and put the time signature and the melody and the verse and the chorus in certain parts to make a cohesive song, but it was never really harmonious. It was very push-me/pull-you, there was a lot of conflict there. It was only when we finally could walk away from the process and see what Clif [Norell, producer] was mixing that we finally agreed that it was good."

They'd gone down to Mexico with no preconceived notions of what would happen. Clyne explains, "I had suggested of the band that we all have some reservoir, some primer to pull from. And I had a handful of melodies that I wanted to pursue and a few pages of lyrics, but no complete music. And it happened like that pretty much every day."

On the 9th day, a legion of fans bore down on Rocky Point. JJ's Cantina is a tiny little bar situated right on the edge of the beach with the RCPM stage wedged in on one side of it and lots of tables squashed all together on the small patio directly in front. Too small for a typical concert at any rate. But that night, the venue was full way beyond capacity. In the U.S., fire marshals would have had their hands full. Standing room only spilling down the stairs, up on the walls, some on the roof of the establishment. People stood on the tables and benches, and in typical Peacemaker style, not a fight broke out among them. They began the set at 5 p.m. Somewhere towards 8 they took a break and came back again to finish out somewhere around midnight. It was a concert for the ages and something The Boss, who is known for the lengths of his shows, would have been impressed with.

What ultimately resulted from Turbo Ocho were some truly heartfelt moments "Mercy," "Summer Number 39," at least one song that began as one thing and ended up something else ("Manana"), and a couple of songs whose titles are a bit odd, considering where they were, "I Speak Your Language" and "I Can Drink the Water." But overall, a rousing accomplishment, and one Clyne is proud of even if he never wants to repeat it. "There are certain things that just need to be left alone. I don't think it would be good to do a sequel to Turbo Ocho, but it was really fun."

Take Off Your Boots and Stay A While
It was shortly after Turbo Ocho that guitarist Steve Larson made his exit. When asked if his departure had anything to do with the pressure they'd been under for that experimental project, Clyne demurs. "Nothing specifically, no." Larson's mother had passed away unexpectedly within the first couple of days they were down there. Clyne recalls, "Steve came back in the room and made a very somber announcement, 'My mother just passed on.' It changed the mood of everything." But despite encouragement from the band to go be with his family, Larson chose to remain. "I think she'd want me here. This is my family. She would understand," he'd said.

And that day saw the seed for "Mercy" take root. "It was probably from us as a family to him," says Clyne. "I don't feel like I wrote it, it feels like it just wrote itself."

Still, the ride apparently lost its luster for Larson and he departed the band, leaving a gaping hole that needed just the right size boots to fill the bill. Clyne's first phone call was to Will Kimbrough out of Nashville, who considered joining, but had some thinking to do. Never one to dawdle, Clyne was on the phone courting Johnny Hickman, doing his utmost to be "a homewrecker and to go in there and say, 'Hey, you want to spend a little time over here, cowboy?'" with a wink and some great enticing eyebrow action. Alas, it wasn't enough. Hickman's heart was with his band, Cracker.

He did suggest someone that he felt might fit in with Clyne's troupe, someone who was a superb guitarist, had a great sense of humor and a great work ethic. More importantly, this gent's boots were the size of… well, big enough, we'll say. So Clyne called Jim Dalton, slapped an assignment of 20 songs on him - 20 songs - Comerica Theater opened its doors for their rehearsal and Jim's audition. "We knew through his tone and his touch that he was the guy. He nailed the audition the first day." The boots were measured for posterity and found up to snuff, and a new Peacemaker was ushered in.

With the 2011 release of Unida Cantina, Dalton's maiden studio recording with the band, his influence is obvious. He co-wrote a lot of the songs on the album, such as "Go With the Flow," "Marie," "Paper Airplanes," and "Play On." As a result, or perhaps because Clyne himself was searching for a different way to express himself, the lyrics on this album are less dense than in the past. Clyne explains, "It was an experiment for me to see if I could make each line carry more weight than otherwise two lines would. So there's probably a reason for my lyrical lack of exposition. I remembered trying to get it done in two verses or trying to get two lines finished in a line, or have a four-line stanza instead of six or eight." For all that, the album produced some of RCPM's best work to date.

Mexican Moonshine
May your heart and your cup overflow under the glow of the moonshine…

Roger Clyne remembers the chain of events that inspired the song "Mexican Moonshine" precisely, etched in the grooves of his cranium. While in the throes of an exquisite hangover, he recalls buddy Andy Hersey appearing in the smoky haze like an overgrown desert gnome laden with large chunks of freshly cut wood and a 3/4-finished jar of peach bacañora, dancing around the fire in the Clyne Ranch tipi singing in tongues. Launching himself Ray-Lewis-style at the industriously occupied Hersey across the confines of their trappings, he made the tackle, saving the night, the tipi, and their lives, assuring more years of Peacemakers music to come.

Clyne tells this story from the safe distance of several years, he's free to laugh about it on this gorgeous Arizona spring day. "Andy didn't own a tipi and didn't know you can't have a giant fire in a tipi, it'll burn it down," he says. They'd been drinking a tequila type spirit (the aforementioned bacañora, incongruously stored in peach preserves jars, giving it the peachy flavor) very strong stuff - moonshine strong - when Roger had passed out on the futon. (Read Andy Hersey's version of this story here.)

After recovering from the near catastrophe, the pair had merely picked up their guitars and continued the strumming from a few hours prior, before their fingers had decided they were too drunk to pluck. "That's where the song started. We tried to finish it that night and we were slurring too much," he laughs. "The next morning the hangover was simply too much in the way. So I had to wait a day or two to fully revisit what we'd begun. But those were the roots to that tune."

Did the story play a part in Clyne's decision to create his own brand of Mexican Moonshine? Here's how he tells it.

"That was a moment that really embodied the spirit. That was perfect, it was a double entendre: 'May your heart and your cup overflow.' It's about spirit as a drink and also spirit as what flows from your heart. And so it was a really good encapsulation of what I think Mexican Moonshine, the tequila, could be, should do, does do.

But it didn't start as a tequila specifically at a Rocky Point concert, I don't know if I told you that. What happened, two cantina owners down in Rocky Point after one of our Circus Mexicus shows called me to a sit-down, which was interesting. He said, 'We sell more tequila in a weekend when you're here and throwing your concerts than we do in the entire rest of the year. Would you like to participate in making your own?' I said, 'Hell yeah.' Turns out they were partners in a small distillery in Tequila, Mexico, and they didn't have a lot of latitude in creating tequila expressions. They had blanco, an añejo, and an extra añejo. And they said, 'Just pick your favorite, and if you like it let's come up with a cool label and a cool bottle and maybe make a thousand bottles and see if we can sell them and if people enjoy it.'

So we did. It was a ton of fun. And a thousand bottles started the weekend and we sold that in a day. I autographed a bunch of them and got asked when we were going to do it again. And my amigo who owned the distillery and cantina said, 'As much as we'd like to continue doing it, it appears the enthusiasm and the volume that we just created has spiked the radar.' As it turned out, our Mexican Moonshine was actually moonshine, and not legal. [Laughing]

The first issue was created in a distillery that technically shouldn't have what's called an NOM. So it was recognized by the government to be legal for sale. And we all kind of got a slap on the wrist. But I thought that was a really good starting point and I liked Moonshine as a brand. And it was after that that I branched off and put together a really good chain and we started trying to vet boutique artisan distilleries. It took a while to find one, but they are presently the makers of Mexican Moonshine."

A Weekend at Circus Mexicus
For the uninitiated, Circus Mexicus is an annual trek down to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, where RCPM has hosted a weekend-long festival for something like 14 years. It's where drummer P.H. Naffah holds his Hot Dog and a Smile benefit for La Casa de Esperanza, it's where Clyne gets on his fútbol and hosts the soccer tournament where he plays against his own fans, it's where thousands of people from all across the United States - indeed, from across the world - converge on the tiny town in Mexico for a weekend of sun, surf, and great music.

Circus Mexicus 2013, however, was special. That weekend saw, for the first time in 15 years and maybe the last time in ever, the reunion of Clyne's old band The Refreshments. And it was a love-in, as are most Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers shows. The crowd danced together, sang together, swayed together… and drank together. In the 14-year history of Circus Mexicus, rumor has it, the crowd has drunk not just the venue's bar, but the entire town of Puerto Peñasco completely dry more than once. But while hangovers often run amok, rarely are there fights or harsh words floating along the booze-infused aural aroma. Clyne advocates peace and promotes harmony, without somehow ever sounding preachy.

Getting Close to the Fans: The Backyard BBQ
It's a tiny tour they do, in between touring and more touring, that they have affectionately dubbed "Backyard BBQ." It's how they make their way across the nation to play the real gigs, the big concerts where thousands of screaming fans will be flinging random sombreros onstage hoping that finely chiseled, ruggedly handsome lead singer Clyne will don it for a few seconds, blessing it with a bit of stage sweat from his long, rock-star locks (which are perpetually drenched throughout any given show) and fling it back, respectfully and reverently, to the contributing fan, who will likely never wash that particular sombrero again.

The Backyard BBQ is quite literally a BBQ in fans' backyards where Roger and the Peacemakers provide the musical entertainment (and in the video we've provided, they even invited the hosts to sing lead - and backup - vocals). One such fan wrote about his induction into the tour - during a downpour - in his blog, Rockin' Randy's Rock Report & Review, summing up the evening's events, "We felt such a sincere friendship even if it was only one evening and one morning – it didn't feel forced, or just polite – it was organic. They even played with our dog Snickers like our friends would."

The Interview

Shawna Hansen-Ortega (Songfacts): You told Songfacts once that you were a "shoe-staring statue." Being a front man like that, did your band members ever tell you, "You know what, you need to start doing stuff"?

Roger: No, I was all they had. [Laughing] That's just what I did. It had worked for other people. I thought if Michael Stipe could pull it off, then I could do it, too. He was pretty immobile, but a very soulful performer. I wasn't ready to try any David Bowie/Mick Jagger moves. I was that way all the way through the Mortals, too. Those were pretty inert physical performances when I was in the Mortals. I remember my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, she was like, "If you'd just open your eyes every once in a while you'll have so much more of a connection with the audience." I guess I sang with my eyes closed quite a bit. I still do. Just depends on what's going on.

Songfacts: What are some random unplanned things that have happened on stage?

Roger: Every once in a while I'll crowd surf. There's a few videos of me doing that. But basically, performance is a moment-to-moment thing. It's kind of all spontaneous. You know what you're supposed to do, but sometimes the best stuff is when you make a mistake and follow that mistake. It's actually not even to cover it up. If you make a mistake or do something that was not expected, to me, the best times are when the band can read that, if we're in a telepathic moment and we can all run with it. And sometimes they're really small things, like changing a tempo or a time signature or creating a segue or even a unique pause in a song. Those are what's fun to me. They happen all the time and they're the difference between a good show and a bad show for the band. When we go off stage and we go, "Man, that was cool." We had this consciousness in and through music that's only available there and then with us. That's artistic. It's a new kind of performance. And I don't know if anybody else hears it. It's pretty internal to the band.

Songfacts: Would you say your band is so dialed into you that you can lead them off in other directions during a performance without a word being spoken?

Roger: Actually, the cues can come from anywhere on that stage. They'll come from anybody a lot of times. If I'm lucky, I lead us down a good way. But those guys will cue me in ways that I follow. It's really collaborative.

After I make the set list, that's the plan. After that, we just see what happens. But I can follow them as easily as they can follow me. On a good day, there are things that get in the way sometimes. Sometimes they're material, like a bad monitor mix. And sometimes they're artistic, like we're just on different pages with how a song should be expressed. Sometimes they're more physical; one guy has had too much to drink, one had a bad day or he can't get his head in the game because shit's going wrong at home. There's lots of stuff that keeps you away from that sort of telepathy. But when it happens, it's wonderful.

Songfacts: You guys tour hard and a lot, you have no theatrics about your show. Did you ever entertain the idea even for a second of doing something more elaborate?

Roger: Not really. We've always known the possibility or the option was there, but it's just not us. It would be wearing a costume that didn't fit. So we just perform and it's a pretty kinetic show. The music, it definitely moves us. So we just let that be what we do.

We do have fireworks in Mexico, if that counts. [Laughs] That's about as pyrotechnic as we get. We like a good light show and then just let the music move us. It gets into your body. It's tough to stand still.

Songfacts: It is. When I go to your shows, I can't stay still. I see people standing around and I think, "You've got to be either supremely drunk or…

Roger: People enjoy the music in different ways. My wife, she's always been one who's a dancer. But when I go to a show with her, she wants to dance and I want to sit and watch and listen. So I'm relatively physically inert, but artistically and musically alert. She's different. She expresses herself with her body that way, whereas I don't feel comfortable doing that.

I find that pretty common in our stereotype of musicians, that we don't dance. Except for [bass player] Nick [Scropos]. Nick's a good dancer.

Songfacts: Nick? Who knew? You once said - don't you hate it when people say that? [Laughing]

Roger: Yeah. I just hope I keep my story straight. [Laughs]

Songfacts: You once said that you like "Love Come Lighten My Load" because at that time it was the simplest song. However, your lyrics are typically some of the most complex lyrics that I've ever seen or heard. And I commend you on that, because I think it's incredible. But I wonder how many people really get it.

Roger: Yeah. [Laughing] I guess that's a good thing. I don't know if I would classify my lyrics as complex. I hope that they have depth. I want them to have depth and meaning beyond usually what the surface is. But I don't necessarily want to tell people what that should mean. I think it's ultimately important that the listener can find his or her own meaning in those lyrics and find the song's personality through their own personality. Their personality and their experience become an interpretive instrument. If I tell them what it's supposed to mean, it's far less interesting.

Songfacts: I have some songs that I want to ask you about, and I know that you don't like to deconstruct your lyrics, but maybe you can offer a little insight on "Interstate."

Roger: I wrote "Interstate" actually in southern Arizona about a road trip I had with my father when I was a young man. And if it were a piece of cinema, it goes forward and backward in time and flashes different places. So I'm not surprised that would be difficult to interpret or difficult to understand as a single narrative. Because it's actually not, it kind of flips all the way around.

I took a trip with my dad, I think we were either picking up horses or hauling hay when I was about 17 or 18. Had my driver's license and I helped him make the trip up to Idaho outside of Boise. But it's largely about that trip kind of as a rite of passage. And we were listening to music together.

Songfacts: "A hand gun and a bottle of Boone's"?

Roger: [Laughing] We were drinking and driving, like we shouldn't have been, like cowboys do, or cowboys did. Actually, we weren't driving. But I remember we'd sleep in rest stops every 500 miles, which it's tough to make that distance with a truck and trailer.

Songfacts: So are you an accomplished horseman?

Roger: I'm handy enough on a horse. But there are people who make their living working with horses. I can handle myself, but I'm not a horseman. Like I can sail, but I'm not a sailor. [Laughing] It's like that. Horsemanship is an art and I'm a hack. I've been on a horse since I was 2. Give me a horse and I can get some work done. But there are people who sort of become the horse. I'm not one of those.

My grandmother and my father still run the cattle ranch in southwest Arizona. It's called the Lazy J-Z. And they still work all the time and I go down there every once in a while to help gather cattle or help sort cattle or dispense the cattle or fix the pipe and mend the fence and put the tin back on the barn. Which is really great work. I love it. But I probably love it because I don't have to do it. It's a colorful aspect of my life, but it's not exactly what I do, or not only what I do.

I taught my kids to ride down there. My father helped. He's a horseman. He knows horses. He can watch a horse for 15 seconds and know more about it than I will. Just one of those guys. So I taught my family to ride down there and we'd spend a little time riding up here in Phoenix doing just basically horse handling stuff through I think the Phoenix Zoo, they had a program I put my kids through. So between learning to shoe horses and learning to work with old ranch saddles and handle lazy wily quarter horses down there in southeast Arizona to coming up here and working with very gentle, more-handled horses up here, my kids have gotten a good education. But it's been a while since they've ridden. They're more into skateboards.

Songfacts: You write a lot of your lyrics in Spanish. Are you fluent?

Roger: Only after two weeks and a hundred beers in Mexico. Once upon a time, yeah, I could consider myself simply bilingual. But I don't practice it near enough. So I find that when I go visit Mexico I get in conversations with Spanish teachers, I go back to about third grade, I have about a third-grade vocabulary and my grasp of the tense is about competent in 2nd or 3rd grade. It takes me some time to get back up to conversational and to use the idioms, words and phrases that I used to have available. And it helps if I relax, if I'm drinking a beer with friends and we're just chillin', I do a lot better than if I'm talking on the radio or to a reporter or something, I find myself making a lot of mistakes.

Songfacts: When you write songs, what words come to you first, do you think of them in English and then translate them into Spanish or vice versa?

Roger: I think it's vice versa. The original title for "Hello New Day" was "Hola Nueve Dia." So I had to change that from Spanish to English to make it work. "Marie," I wanted to write the chorus in Spanish and I was really hoping it would work. And when I finally got it to where I wanted it, I went to my neighbor's house and I had it proofread. "Is this right? Is it gonna work? Am I saying what I think I'm saying?" And I got the green light, so I was off to the races.

Songfacts: Clear up something for me on "Green and Dumb." The last verse, "I won't shoot your coyotes and I won't burn your weeds," what is that about?

Roger: Well, that's kind of a long story. And it's kind of a true story. The character, a hired hand on a ranch and is in love with - or is at least obsessed with - this young lady who is also somehow proximate but not available. The last lyric is angry and spiteful and it's definitely in the company of alcohol. He is reading a label on a bottle of liquor, "I need your government warning like I need a hole in my head." He's been out pacing the farmyard looking through the window. There's a realization that she is elevated in some respects, in my story she's probably the daughter of someone higher in the hierarchy. And he's angry. So he becomes almost slave/master in this way. "I need your government warning like I need a hole in my head. I won't shoot your coyotes and I won't burn your weeds, your paycheck won't fill up this hollow, it won't dull all the achin'." Because he longs for her in a different way. So the transaction they're having on an economic and an employee/employer level isn't going to do it for them. He needs more.

It has to do with actual four-legged coyotes. A lot of ranchers employ their help to go shoot coyotes. I personally have a problem with it, so I inserted my ethos and I'm starting waves.

Songfacts: Thank you for clarifying that. Your song "Never Thought," can you take me through what was the seed for that.

Roger: I was grappling with a mental illness, one of my own. It's pretty literal. "Never thought I'd go this crazy" is a literal observation. I was having… and I still don't know exactly what was happening, but I had essentially this… I guess the best way to put it would be like déjà vu, but all the time. My awareness was a few seconds ahead of what was occurring and it was terrifying. That song is about trying to deal with that shift in reality that I was living with. It was really, really uncomfortable.

Songfacts: How did you get past that?

Roger: I don't know. I don't remember. I just didn't take drugs, I didn't take what the doctor told me to take, and I just kind of bailed through it, tried not to be terrified. But little by little it just faded away.

Songfacts: Talk to me about "God Gave Me A Gun." That’s a song for the times right now.

Roger: Yeah. It would be great if that song became relevant. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will.

Songfacts: What was your inspiration for that?

Roger: Oh, it's probably pretty obvious. I think it's idiocy to quibble about who's right about the Creator. And especially when whomever might be arguing wants to invoke the name in their right to prove that he is to take life. I don't think it's so right. And I think religion's a really thin excuse for that kind of act.

Songfacts: And I'm guessing that your stance is pretty anti NRA.

Roger: I'm not going to comment.

Songfacts: I read a story about "Tributary Otis" that I swear was a quote from Steve Larson. It was something about how he was standing behind a building peeing after a show and that's what the song was about, the river that he made. Can you give me any truth to that?

Roger: That had nothing to do with me writing that song. [Laughing] I will say that River Otis is an album that will always be one of my favorites. I really love that album and I love what Dead Hot Workshop created. It used to be a song that - I guess I haven't listened to it for some time, but it was one that I can count on to evoke a very emotional response, full emotions from me, and sometimes when you feel numb, you're craving some authentic emotional experience, it's good to have that cue, that trigger. So when I needed it, I could lay down on the floor and turn up my -- I used the word "radio," but it's actually "stereo." And the album River Otis would elicit a very genuine emotional response from me, everything from elation and joy to sorrow. It was great. It could be a time and place, it could be specific to me. I don't know.

Songfacts: You sing about Maria or Marie in a lot of your music and I'm wondering who is Maria?

Roger: She's not a specific character. She is, I think, more the ideal, the divine feminine womanhood. One of the larger powers, something, someone more pure, someone sort of free of our imperfections. And so "Ave Maria." And also Marie or Maria is a very permanent figure in our southwestern version of Christianity.

Songfacts: Is there a song that you worked on more than the others that you felt you had to keep changing it and changing it before you finally got it right?

Roger: There's a bunch of them. But the one that comes to mind right now, and I'm still not sure we got it right, is "Winter In Your Heart." I wrestled with that song a thousand ways till finally… it's just the way you do it. And that's how it presently stands on No More Beautiful World. It's about a breakup with a dear, dear friend over the most mundane of reasons. And it was my petition to reconcile.

Songfacts: My mom is an artist. She paints. And of all the paintings she's ever done over her life there is one that she looks at and says, "That one has such a piece of me in it, if you wanted to define my life, this is it." Can you name a song that kind of pulled that sort of emotion from you aside from any others?

Roger: That's a really good question. A tough one, too. I'm reluctant to give it any real permanence. I reserve the right to change, but if I had to choose one just for now… the pause is pregnant for a reason - I'm thinking… I think I'm going to go with "Play On."

Songfacts: And why "Play On"?

Roger: I think it's as good a mantra to live by as it is an epitaph. I think it can be a thing that's eternal, it can apply to many, many things. I think it's got ultimately the spirit of life in it and that's what I want our music to carry.

Songfacts: Did it take you a long time to write or was it one that just flowed?

Roger: Actually flowed, which is rare for me.

Songfacts: It's not one of the ones that you feel was sort of channeled, is it?

Roger: I hesitate to use the word "channeled." It would be nice to think that you're an instrument of some larger plan, but I'm not certain that I've ever even received that privilege. I was just lucky. It came through pretty loud, pretty clear. I don't know from where and it doesn't really matter to me.

Songfacts: Where were you when you wrote it?

Roger: I was actually just sitting in my writing room. I have a very small space off the side of my garage. It gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer. And when I'm disciplined enough I go out there and turn my hourglass over and try to spend a few hours just working on lyrics, melody, cadence, poetry, music. And that song, I don't remember exactly how it started, but if I look back in my notes I'll bet you I finished it in two or three pages, which would be a pretty succinct amount, a small amount of real estate. Usually my lyrics will take up 8 to 10 pages and I've got to cut them down to one. There was a lot more keeper stuff than there was stuff that I cut away.

Songfacts: Stephen King calls it "killing your darlings."

Roger: Yeah, it's true. Creation is often about just excluding possibilities. It's making tough decisions.

Right now, that toughest of decisions is being weighed between ordering another Hop Knot or showing his face at the business meeting he has scheduled. Alas, his iPhone whistles, and Roger Clyne, extraordinary modern day rock & roll god, tequila mogul, and devoted family man ~ Captain Suburbia himself ~ ambles down the concrete path into this picture postcard Arizona day, as momentarily anonymous as when he arrived.
~ Shawna Hansen Ortega

November 20, 2013.

Visit the RCPM Web site for everything Peacemakers at, also follow along with the Rolling Cantina tour on their Facebook page. You'll love that you did.
Photos: Micah Albert (2), Jeff Kollar (5,7,8)

More Song Writing

Comments: 6

  • Al Fultz from Baltimore MdGreat article about an artist that certainly deserves the coverage. I try to catch his show everytime he comes East. His concerts are like an event.
  • Karen Velyk from Rochester, NyMy husband and I have been to probably 10 shows by the band and they are simply THE nicest, most creative, energetic and sincere guys. Todd nailed it and said that you just can't get enough of them!
  • Bill Albert from AzWow, great piece. I was captivated enough and intensely so interested that I scrolled back and forth through the entire interview on my I phone. Thank you both
  • Todd Reardon from Syracuse, NyA great interview. I've been to about a half dozen Circus Mexicus shows, maybe more, Countless RCPM shows & I just can't get enough. I actually go through withdrawal if I haven't seen them in a while, but I recently got my fix. I really enjoy learning more about the songs, the band, & the man the is Roger Clyne & The Peacmakers.
  • Jacob Cecil from IndianaRoger Clyne and the Peacemakers are everything that is right about music. It's a blessing and a shame that they are not followed by the masses. A Peacemakers concert is a gathering among friends that just happens to have one of the best songwriters and accompanying band as the centerpiece. They play with passion, they enjoy themselves on stage and they are a beacon of hope within an industry that has become stagnant and corporate. Roger Clyne is one of the best songwriters in music, period.
  • Dawn PedersenA long time fan of Roger, I was at the first show in Rocky Point where the town was drunk dry. Your artical really dose a wonderful job of showing us just who Roger is. He has always had a way of making everyone at his concerts feel special, now I can see why. Thank you for your wonderful artical!
see more comments