Dec 16, 2012

A Southern Rock Band in a Hard Place


Diesel and Dixie, a five-piece Southern rock band based in Austin. From left: True Lawton, Richie Earnest, Bradley Parmer, Adam Brady and and Zachary Bogart. Photo by Rachel Brady. 

By Kathleen Silvia Leon
For Reporting Texas

Among the hundreds of local bands in Austin, some you might remember, and others you wouldn’t recognize if you passed dozens of their fliers plastered all over downtown venues. But Diesel and Dixie has a few distinctions that help the band stand out even in this crowded music scene.

The five-man group won radio station 101X’s Battle of the Bands last summer before going on tour. They released an album, “Shortwave Rodeo,” this year. Their bass player went directly from a punk band to this blues-infused rock, which is more Lynyrd Skynyrd than Stevie Ray Vaughan.

They’ve got a loyal following, but like a lot of Austin bands, they support themselves with day jobs including carpentry, online marketing and booking. But this burly, unrefined band, ranging in age from 26 to 34, plays for the love of music. Their top priority is fun. Their on-stage antics – “hairnados” and jumping and joking around as they celebrate Southern culture — have helped them build a fan base in Austin.

Inspiration in a Can

Behind bass player Bradley Parmer’s house in South Austin, Diesel and Dixie recently “prepared” for a jam session: “Pass me one of those, man,” drummer Adam Brady says.

With a 12-pack of Budweisers sitting on the table beside guitarist True Lawton’s six-speaker amp, so begins the weekly  practice.

“It gets the creative juices flowing, ya know?” Brady says.

In a backyard shed no bigger than 8-by-15 feet, four of the five band members set up their equipment (guitarist Zachary Bogart can’t make it tonight). The shed is lined — floor, ceiling and walls — with stained, off-white carpet remnants that raise sound quality.

Brady assembles his bear fur-lined drum set in the back corner and does a sound check, getting the tone and volume to his liking, while Lawton tunes and strums his cherry red guitar.

Diesel and Dixie preserves a sense of pride in American heritage with a combination of old West and traditional Southern stylings. With lyrics like “John Henry Holliday could shoot a rattlesnake through the eyes at a thousand yards away,” Diesel and Dixie has found a way to reinvent an old trend, and in doing so, gain popularity. They play two to three shows a month at pool parties and downtown venues such as Headhunters, Dirty Dog and Red Eyed Fly. Their recent tour took them all the way to Virginia and back.

Brady and Lawton have been traveling and playing together since 2006, when they formed an informal band in Orlando, Fla. A short time later, longtime friend and sometime vocalist Richie Earnest joined the group, and the three moved to New York City.

“It was a pretty harsh terrain up there. Nobody really wanted to hear a crazy, blues, Southern rock band,” Lawton says.

Olin Roth had joined the band as bass player, but was moving to Austin and convinced his bandmates to join him. “After getting several emails and text messages every week from him saying, ‘you guys have to come down here,’ we ended up moving,” Lawton says.

Roth quit the band shortly after the move, but Diesel and Dixie stayed put.

Joining the Band

On this warm night, Parmer, the current bass player, enters the shed in red-and-black, lumberjack flannel, distressed, dark-blue denim jeans and weathered black slip-ons. Ashes from the cigarette dangling off his lip sprinkle onto his unrefined, ginger-colored beard as he plugs his bass into the amp.

Parmer details his entry into the band. “It was one August day,” he says. “I met these guys at a show, and through conversing with them found out that we had lived in Orlando and knew some of the same people and enjoyed the same style of music.”

Parmer, who was in a punk-rock band at the time, leaned into one of his own band members and said, “You know what? I’m gonna play in that band one day, you just watch.”

After a tumultuous night filled with drinking, smoking, bowling and a few less-legal activities, Parmer was in, and the band was complete.

Being in Austin has solidified the group.

“Usually there is a line between a band playing up on stage to a crowd, but with us it’s more like we kinda make that line fuzzy and involve the crowd with our music,” Parmer says, “and everybody ends up having a great time. It turns into a big party.”

Lawton contrasts Austin’s audiences with those he encountered up north.

“The people in New York are so calloused about music that the more impressive you are, the harder it is to actually get any liking from them because it’s almost like a competition,” he says, “whereas here, there is such an appreciation of good music.”

Rocking in Austin

Local music critic Paul Carrubba notes that despite their enthusiasm and attention-grabbing sound, Diesel and Dixie may continue to struggle to gain popularity outside their niche audience.

“They rock pretty damn hard, and they do it reliably,” says Carrubba, who reviews music for KUT and Austin Monthly. “Unfortunately, increasingly in a town like Austin, rocking you reliably isn’t going to take you very far, regardless of how many nights at Headhunters or Red Eyed Fly you play. It’s a damn shame, it really is.”

Carrubba says that more and more bands are becoming popular based on their image rather than their sound.  “To make it here,” he says, “you gotta play with the hipsters a little, and that really sucks.”

“The combination between who we all are, the types of music which we enjoy so much and the things we found in this city that we all love are all in such congruency that it makes it extremely difficult for any of those things to change,” Lawton says.

Brady, grabbing his third can of inspiration, agrees: “We’ve definitely found our home here.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Ellis Andrews in the photo caption and misspelled Olin Roth’s first name.

Diesel and Dixie open the night at the ND on November 17, 2012. Photo by Natalie Krebs