“I can’t breathe but I’m still smoking, I’m so high but I keep toking” is a hell of a way to start a song, but would you expect anything less from the cow punk revivalist granddaughter of Willie Nelson, Raelyn Nelson and her Sonic Youth-loving, flannel-shirt-sporting band? Their new single, “Brother,” is a high-energy threat to a philandering lover, that combines a quick-stepping country boogie with a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am punk shred — all with Nelson in the center, strumming mischievously away on her ukulele.
“The song came about when I was watching a TV show and got inspired by the storyline of a girl getting her three older brothers to track down her unfaithful boyfriend,” Nelson tells Rolling Stone Country. And for the video, she and her band went super DIY, shooting it all with one GoPro camera. “[Guitarist Jonathan Bright] and I got together and wrote it, and we were trying to come up with a video concept that we could do on our own. The ‘band side’ was done with a tripod, some cheap workshop lights and a clear shower curtain as a light diffuser. The other side was just Jonathan running around with the GoPro strapped to his head. Then with some tips from friends, YouTube tutorials, and editing software we managed to pull it off. And we came in right on budget — which was zero!”
That scrappy nature is nicely reflective of Raelyn Nelson Band’s overall mantra – which is to not really care if things look perfect or fit into current country convention. “It’s not that we’re against the Nashville music scene, it just seems like there is no place for us right now,” says Nelson, who spends more time playing local rock clubs than honky-tonks — probably because their sound has much more in common with Social Distortion or LA punk outfit OFF! than, say, current chart-toppers Zac Brown Band or Darius Rucker. “Our music doesn’t fit into any playlist. The collaboration of old country and dirty garage rock is original in itself and kind of cool.” Indeed, feedback, head-banging and fiery shouts of “one, two, three” aren’t the most familiar sounds in the new incarnation of “Papa Willie’s” genre, but they sure are welcome.
Popular on Rolling Stone
When it comes to releasing new music, Raelyn Nelson Band don’t plan on doing that conventionally, either. “I think we’ve decided this year to skip the traditional ‘CD release’ and just release a single every month or so, with a video and new T-shirt to go along with it,” Nelson says. “We have the songs, but it makes more sense to us to release them as singles and have something new to offer each month, instead of beating a record to death for a year.”
And the Red Headed Stranger approves. “Before I do anything I text him,” she says of her famous grandfather, whose famous Fourth of July Picnic she’ll be playing this summer. “And he’ll send me a big smiley face.”
“I think there are plenty of guys in today’s country music that are creating the same sound, and I’m a country girl with an actual rock band so I don’t see how the sound doesn’t fit in,” she adds. “And I’m having a blast rocking out with those guys. I get to sing my country tunes louder.”