Pinpointing Roger Clyne on your musical map is no easy task. Your GPS will lead you to his Arizona home easily enough, but searching for the roots of his sound will have you wandering all over the country.
Although there is a Southwestern flavor sprinkled lyrically and sonically throughout his music, Clyne doesn't want to be typecast as an exclusive purveyor of that regional sound. "Being firmly anchored in the Southwest, Tex-Mex music, even though we're neither Tex nor Mex, can be an asset or a liability," Clyne says by phone from his Arizona phone. "I never want to overuse that identity as a tool. I don't want us to be the musical equivalent of a tourist trap and have people say, 'Oh yeah, that's just more horns and guitars and loud drums and songs about drinking in Mexico.'"
What you get with Clyne and his band the Peacemakers' music is a broad tour of Americana that sounds like it's being guest hosted by Tom Petty, Jimmy Buffett and Bruce Springsteen.
On his '08 release, Turbo Ocho, Clyne even tosses in some '70s flavor with a War soundalike, "I Can Drink the Water." The singer/ guitarist wanders into Springsteen territory on "I Do," a song not about matrimony but an aging rocker's love for his craft: "Was that another decade come and gone?/Hey you kids, get off of my lawn/Yeah, the youth these days is out of control/But, baby I do love Rock and Roll."
"I try to venture out both metaphorically and literally and write about anything that's part of the landscape of the human heart," Clyne says.
Although this band has only been together since 1998, it's not Clyne's first musical go-round. His previous band, The Refreshments, topped the Billboard charts with their '96 major-label debut, Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy. Two cuts from the album, "Banditos" and "Down Together," got extensive radio play. Clyne received further national exposure from writing and performing the TV cartoon show King of the Hill theme song with the band. But when the label's management changed, the band didn't get the support it needed and The Refreshments disbanded in '98.
Although Clyne admits to being happier as an indie artist, he's not bitter about his time with the majors.
"I use the major label experiences as a template for what to do and what not to do," he says. "The fundamental error they make is forgetting that the most important relationship they're essentially tending is between the artist and the audience."
He says that if he thought the business model was going to be effective and focused on the link between artist and audience, he would be happy to entertain the idea of working with a major label once again. "Sometimes Indie bands can come across indier than thou. I'm not that," he says. "The end is to ultimately connect as human beings to music."
And even though touring gets harder on the indie level as a band gets older, Clyne and the band wouldn't want to be anywhere else but on the road. "If we were able to look at each other on any given moment and say, 'We can all retire, what would we do with our lives,' everybody in the band, to a man, has said 'This is it.' Whether it's more or less difficult doesn't really matter. It's what we want to do, and that's a real blessing."
Doing what they want in their own way has led the Peacemakers to an annual throwdown they call Circus Mexicus. While still in The Refreshments, Clyne was told by a fan that because of the tequila and mañana vibe in his songs, he was the poster child for the Mexican resort town of Rocky Point, a former sleepy fishing village about four hours from Phoenix that has become a major tourist destination, a Southwestern Key West. He says he fought against being pigeonholed like that at first, then realized that it was an accurate description, like it or not.
Unable to get financial help from his label or management to play in Mexico, after The Refreshments broke up, Clyne loaded up a cooler and drove down to Rocky Point and started knocking on cantina doors trying to find a place to play. "Nobody knew who we were and rightly so," he says, laughing, and the only venue he could find was a cantina owner who said he would stack pallets on the roof of his cantina for a makeshift stage.
A rat's nest of extension cords running from every window and door provided an on and off power source Clyne describes as an aural version of blinking Christmas tree lights. The band played for 12 hours straight for a crowd of 175 who drained the cantina's beer supply dry. Now held twice a year in May and October, the festival attracts thousands of Peaceheads for the beach-side blowout.
Despite all the warnings about the dangers to tourists from Mexican drug lord wars, Clyne says his circus is safe. "In Philadelphia, I was doing an interview and the writer said, 'Why are you doing Circus Mexicus? It's dangerous down there.' And I said, 'You're probably at more risk right now sitting in Philadelphia than I would be in a tourist town in Mexico.'
"I feel comfortable going down there with my band, inviting people to celebrate life through rock 'n' roll and I bring my kids, so that speaks for itself."
Clyne hopes his fans will get more from his music than sunburn and tequila saturation. "If there was one word to describe our music and our path, it would be re-humanizing, meaning something that would be rekindling or re-healing to the spirit," he says. "That's how I'd like to be remembered."
Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers play the Neighborhood Theatre on July 12 at 8 p.m. Chuck Meade of BR549 opens. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 day of show.