People We Know, Pullman Strike's 2011 LP, has all the swing and twang of a respectable country record. Yet, it still has roots in the sweat-and-PBR of punk and hardcore, as evidenced by the caustic sneer on "Springtime" or the menacing drums and take-this-job-and-shove-it message of "Work." (Even David Allan Coe's "Take This Job and Shove It" was a Johnny Paycheck hit before Dead Kennedys got to it.) And while Pullman Strike isn't the only current Charlotte band making this connection — Scowl Brow is another — it seems the country-punk marriage just keeps getting stronger.
"I think a country artist like Johnny Cash and a punk rocker like Joe Strummer would have a really good conversation over some beers," says Pullman Strike drummer Daniel T. Beckham.
Pedal steel player Wes Hamilton agrees, saying the two styles have common topics and attitudes. And both share a bare-bones approach to composition — meaning the transition from punk to country comes natural to him. "We all love country music at a certain level," he says.
While it's easy enough to trace common elements of country and rock, he says, the members of Pullman Strike have broad enough music tastes to keep it from being a direct line. Ultimately, Beckham says, it's less about mapping the continuum from Cash to Strummer and more about finding common ground through music — regardless of genre signifiers or stylistic history.
"That's why I'm always stoked to see folks at our shows like the guys in Young and in the Way," he says, mentioning one of Charlotte's finest metal bands. "And we enjoy what they do."
The members of Pullman Strike came to country-ish music by different paths, some more direct than others. "My first guitar came from my grandpa as a birthday gift," says Hamilton. "He taught me the opening riff to 'Folsom Prison Blues,' and it went on from there."
Guitarist Neil Mauney owes his taste for country (and Meat Loaf) to his dad, while Evan Stepp remembers learning to play Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and George Jones covers from several men in their 70s — his original jamming partners. "What drew me into that style of music to begin with was just the simplicity," he says. "Not to mention, I'm a sucker for vocal harmonies."
While Stepp may be rooted in country, Beckham started off listening to '90s college-rockers like The Pixies or Pavement and paid little attention to it at first.
"But it always seemed to be in the background, one way or another," he says. "I'd hear a shuffle rhythm here, or a steel guitar there, or lyrics that would remind me of what things I really like about country music."
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