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By and large, the Motorists' songs, which are primarily penned by Doughman (who has of late been touring solo and with fill-in drummers), are either rollicking and more invigorating than the White Stripes' most accurate stabs or more lumbering and poignant than Elliot Smith's most touching moments. Swearing At Motorists alternate deftly between wired and sludgy deftly; when they rock they are not cocky but self-assured, and when they reach out they are not pathetic but honest. Swearing At Motorists are an amature metaphoricists dream, and with them there is no middle ground.
On More Songs From The Mellow Struggle, Swearing At Motorists' 2000 release for Secretly Canadian, is the American noir classic "Telford to North Main" (which you can download here), a track almost Springsteen-esque in nature but with an Anders Parker-ish quality that makes it more current and relevant than a Reagan-era dirge by the Boss. Other tracks on that album, such as the brilliant, less than two-and-a-half-minute "I'll Only Sleep," fully illustrate the duo's ability to be noble and gripping while centering the story around an automobile, most likely a Camaro or muscle car of some sort. But Swearing At Motorists aren't macho so much as they are unassuming bluecollar Midwesterners, that point where the Strokes and Will Oldham meet, the iconographic model for the stark American rocker placed slightly off center and underground. The moustaches aren't ironic, they're part of the fabric. Finding a band like Swearing At Motorists and being engulfed by them is today's equivalent of the Beat Generation discovering obscure French jazz musicians. When the chorus of "Flying Pizza" breaks in you nod to yourself, thinking silently that 'this is it, this is what music is all about'. There are catchy elements within dark, brooding moments such as the song "Bullet" and more orchestrated tracks like "Talking Pictures" painting a mural of Grifters-like lo-fi American pop-noir with a dark and bitter twist.
With the touch of the most endearing country singer and the grit of a garage band, Swearing At Motorists hit home at center point for a lot of things, the intersection of the common details of life and the great instances of self discovery and understanding. They represent so many possible combinations of indie rock's greatest moments and the post-Vietnam American experience with a darker half that is both intimate and detached. It's Will Oldham putting Roseanne to a backbeat and melody. The potency of Doughman crooning, asking "How's your mom?" is not easily explained, but rather it is simply experienced and absorbed. So it is that most words in their description fall flat, leaving the Motorists as something that you either get or you don't. "Like finding a long forgotten crate of Dylan records in your mom's basement," wrote Zac Johnson his Allmusic summary after being seduced by Swearing At Motorists' sophomore album, Number Seven Uptown. Johnson, apparently, got it.
To sit down with Dave Doughman is to sit down with a man square with the world. Doughman has been around the circuit, as an engineer for Brainiac and Kim Deal's Breeders interim band the Amps, as a soundman for Guided By Voices and Unwound, and as late coming out from behind the scenes as the mastermind behind Swearing At Motorists. He has seen the ins and the outs of the music business and he knows what it takes to succeed - hard work and a loyalty to one's self. Doughman has traveled thousands of miles on the dollars of the major label and the sweat of independent music. "I don't want to be famous," Doughman observes. "Wait, let me rephrase that - I don't need to be famous. Why would I want to be making 14 cents on the dollar with a major label when I can be making 50 cents on the dollar where I'm at?" he asks, commenting on his experience with agents bidding for the majors. Doughman understands the importance of a personal relationship even when rocking is your business, a relationship that he shares with the startup label for the Motorists, Secretly Canadian. "I can pick up the phone and I can call the person who is doing publicity and I can get them on the phone. I can call the mail-order guy or the owner or anyone at any time and get them on the phone. Why would I want to leave that?"
And so it is that Doughman continues on with Swearing at Motorists, doing what he does best the only way he knows how to do it - honest, straightforward and without hesitation. Doughman's approach is perhaps best exemplified by his most recent tour with 764-Hero. When he found out that his drummer would not be able to do the tour, the duo having just finished up a series of dates with My Morning Jacket, rather than back out of a string of shows with 764-Hero Doughman elected to go it alone, performing new and old songs that had been written, recorded and performed all along with a backing drummer all on his own, only a microphone and an effects pod supporting his gritty, gas-station drawl. Not surprisingly, it worked out, even though the songs were noticeably different without a backbeat. Because that's what Swearing at Motorists is about - playing on, tackling the everyday struggle and playing on - and they illustrate that deftly with their latest release, the fantastic new full-length This Flag Signals Goodbye, just as they always have. SEE ALSO: www.swearingatmotorists.com
SEE ALSO: www.secretlycanadian.com
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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