thens, Ga. is perhaps not the first place one thinks of when country music comes to mind. That might be about to change, with the release of "Why Do Lonely Men and Women Want to Break Each Others Hearts" by Athens' Star Room Boys. They echo the greats - Haggard, Nelson and Owens. The band started in 1995 and consists of Bob Fernandez on drums, Philip McArdle on electric guitar, John McMahon on bass, Johnny Neff on pedal steel and Dave Marr on vocals and guitar. The album will be rereleased by Checkered Past in November.
We spoke to Marr not long after the band played another in a series of wedding dates.
CST: Your style of heartbroken country music doesn't really strike me as wedding material.
DM: Me either. People keep asking us to play 'em, and they want to give us a lot of money. Sometimes they're a lot of fun, sometimes it's kind of a trial. All depends on who's getting married. Once we get the record paid for, we might actually make some money!
CST: What sort of response has the record been getting?
DM: We've just been getting a great response. We've been in the CMJ (Country Music Journal) Top 200, played some great shows, gotten some good reviews. We've just signed with Checkered Past to re-release the album, which will help the distribution. They'll get the phone calls, not me!
CST: How long have you been writing and performing?
DM: I've been writing songs since we started this band. I had been in some rock bands up in Chicago. It was tough finding people, five years ago, to play country music. Athens turned out to be a helluva lot easier than Chicago, at least for putting a band together. Now there are country bands and labels all over Chicago, like Bloodshot. Of course, there weren't a lot of country bands in Athens either, five years ago. There's a few more now.
CST: Have you gotten any response from more mainstream country artists?
DM: No, not really. I don't know how many of them have heard the CD. That's a good question, because it's definitely something I think about. I don't think the record is that far off from some of the stuff that gets played on the radio. I mean, it's not like Collin Raye, or whoever is the tight pants wearing act of the moment.
CST: But it's certainly Merle Haggard territory, but then again, he doesn't get played on the radio eitherÉ
DM: Yeah, but George Strait does, and I think we fit in with that. He still does some good songs.
CST: I mean, you've made a real pure country record, pretty much "under the radar." I think if you got a copy to Haggard, or Buck Owens, you'd find some receptive ears.
DM: Yeah, but I'm kinda waiting on them to hear it on their own. I mean, I have Merle Haggard's office number, and it's cool to call up and talk to the drummer or something, but Merle Haggard doesn't sit around waiting to talk to me! I think in due time, he'll hear our record, and ask somebody a question about it, which would be cool.
CST: Where did you get the album title from?
DM: I just kind of thought it up. You know, I had actually been trying to write a song that had a title like that for a long time, a title that was kind of a proverb. I've always liked those kinds of songs and a resounding rhetorical question (like this) kind of qualifies...I had kind of played around with a few things. I had taken a shower and thought of it...I write half of my best songs in the shower.