Kenny Roby moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1991 with the Lubricators, a precocious punk band he joined as a high-schooler in Clemson, South Carolina. They opened for Jane's Addiction, the Circle Jerks and Danzig and then broke up shortly after their northern migration. Post-split, Roby got his hands on a copy of his vocal doppelgänger Elvis Costello's King of America and figured out a way to fuse punk with the prairie under the guise of his ensuing Americana act, 6 String Drag.
Along with the Backsliders and Whiskeytown, 6 String Drag were the toast of the mid-Nineties Carolina alt-country scene, releasing their Steve Earle-produced debut album, High Hat, in 1997 to considerable acclaim. But a year later, on the cusp of wider success, they disbanded.
Their peers who went on to achieve national fame, including Ryan Adams and Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood, have continued to sing 6 String Drag's praises. In 2014, Roby reunited with original bassist Rob Keller and recruited new members Luis Rodriguez (guitar) and Dan Davis (drums) to eventually release a pair of deeply satisfying albums – including Top of the World, released earlier in March on Schoolkids Records – that sound as though the band never went anywhere. Of particular note, the slow-burning "Let's Fool Around 'Til the End of the World," a tale of a drifter who swoops back into the arms of an ex-lover who's got a lot more to lose.
6 String Drag could have been much more successful than they were. Do you have any regret that you didn't stay together back in 1998?
It's not really regret as much as, "Oh, man, maybe we could have done this differently." Where I was at, I didn't want to do 6 String Drag part-time. Now I realize I could have done solo records and 6 String Drag as a part-time thing.
What motivated you to reunite?
A little of the reason we didn't play a little earlier is Rob lives six hours away [in Athens, Georgia]. There was a little festival in Raleigh they asked me to do solo, so I said, "Hey, Rob, we need a bass player. You want to come up and do it?" We did a bunch of 6 String Drag songs and had a great time. So then we got the bright idea to do some recording, and it just kind of fell into place.
How did you first come into contact with Steve Earle?
Steve came to see us at a festival, Bubbapalooza, in Atlanta around Memorial Day of '96. Somebody else at his label was a big fan of ours, so he came and saw us and loved it and told us he really wanted to sign us. So we met him for breakfast the next day and the rest is history.
The new song "Let's Food Around 'Til the End of the World" is a tune that takes the listener to a very specific time and space. What does it mean for you?
To me it's about a guy who moves back into his old town. He's kind of a drifter of love. He hooks up with one of his exes, just trying to say anything he can to convince this woman to go out with him for a weekend. She's already been out with him and probably cheated on her husband, so everything's going to shit. He's trying to use that as a way to convince her to go with him to the big city. He's trying to get her to turn against her family and her life, but he's probably going to leave town again. But also, there's some depth about what's going on in the world, about what religion and patriotism are doing to people. He talks about his sister and how she got religion and it messed her up.
Your band seemed to influence the look of alt-country groups like Drive-By Truckers and, specifically, Patterson Hood, who still champions 6 String Drag.
Drive-By Truckers, I think one of their first shows might have been opening for us at the [now-defunct] High Hat in Athens. Patterson used to run sound there, and was at that festival in Atlanta when Steve signed us. But we're just tall dudes with beards and curly hair – the only thing we could change about that is to shave.