If you ran into Crooks frontman Josh Mazour on the streets of Austin, it might be fair to wonder: “hipster beard or outlaw country beard?”
The answer is “outlaw country beard,” but as with the bands of that era, Crooks is also reaching underground rock and roll fans with a rueful, hard-edged, and authentic country sound that also flirts with bluegrass, garage, Tejano, mariachi, and Southern rock.
As the band’s bio says (in a rare line from a bio that’s worth quoting): “Comparing Crooks’ country to Nashville radio country is like comparing Cormac McCarthy to Walker, Texas Ranger.“
The four-piece group—frontman Josh Mazour, drummer Rob Bacak, stand-up bassist Andrew VanVoorhees, and jack-of-all-trades Sam Alberts—hail from Boerne, San Antonio, and Austin; recently they added a fifth member in nineteen-year-old accordionist Anthony Ortiz Jr.
But prior to Ortiz’s joining, the band recruited conjunto legend Flaco Jimenez to play accordion on one song from their second album, The Rain Will Come, which will be released Tuesday.
Below, an exclusive preview of that track, “Heart Achin’ Town,” followed by an interview with Mazour:
Were you into this kind of music growing up?
I don’t know. I won’t say I was into it. Growing up in Boerne, you’re always surrounded by country music. I was more into rock music, typically rebellious youth kind of stuff.
But Boerne’s a lot bigger than it was even just twelve years ago. It’s exploded, and anywhere you’ve got construction there’s always radios playing county music and Tejano and music with Southwestern influences. It was something that was just there, literally around you. So I guess I made my way back to it.
What does it mean to self-identify as a country band.
Do you self-identify as a country band?
Yeah, I think we do. Three years ago we probably didn’t, but now we do. For me, from a songwriting standpoint, I think it’s fun. I can write, like a playfully lonely song, and not take myself too seriously, like Hank Williams, but it can still be a moving song. Real country, the stuff that means something, you have some songs that are just carefree songs and then on the same record you can have some songs that are deeper. I guess that’s just why I like writing music.
As far as getting Flaco Jimenez on the record, did you just decide, why not shoot for the top?
That’s kind of true. We played a show with the Texas Tornados once. Sam and I were talking and he was like, “What if we get Flaco?” He wasn’t really trying to be that serious, but I said, “Well, at least give it shot?”
We’d spent time with him backstage—there was a Spurs game on actually, and Sam and I are from San Antonio, so we talked about basektball before the show. And then Doug Sahm’s son Shawn has property in Boerne and knew I was from Boerne, so we just kind of built a relationship with them. When it came time to ask Flaco if he wanted to do it, he was pretty happy to.
You’ve also got Warren Hood on fiddle for one song, but there’s a lot of other sounds on there—trumpet, banjo, mandolin—that all turn out to be played by Sam. Is he classically trained?
He’s just one of those people who has that ability to pick up anything and learn how to play it. He’ll take lessons to learn how to get better—he’s taking lessons to sharpen up on his banjo skills now—but he’s primary self taught. We were joking, “Yeah, you’re gonna have to go buy an accordion and learn how to play it if Anthony can’t ever be there.” It’s kind of a burden that he’s got now. But I think he likes it, (especially) playing two instruments in one song on stage.
There’s also a song on the record called “My First Gun,” and I saw some video you guys posted at a firing range. Can you outshoot Rick Perry?
(Laughs). Yeah, definitely. My folks have a ranch in Harper. I had my thirtieth birthday the other day and we all went out and shot for hours, ’til I was in tears: I’ve got this .30-.30 rifle, and those things pack a pretty serious punch. My next gun is an old remake of a single action Army revolvers, an old Colt .45. I‘m pretty excited about picking one of those up.
You’ve previously described your music as “whiskey soaked” and “bar singalongs.” Can you match a few songs from the record to their appropriate drinking accompaniment?
“Bar Stool:” There’s a hole in the wall near my house called the Oakmoor Lounge, and that’s what I was writing that song about. I usually go over there and a have a shot of Jameson and a Lone Star.
“Bendin’ Rules and Breakin’ Hearts” would just be Shiner Bock. That song reminds me of the Continental Club, and usually that’s what we drink when we’re over there.
And “Heart Achin’ Town” would be tequila and Lone Star.
(Crooks play a CD release show on Friday, Saturday, May 19 at Antone’s in Austin with Wild Child and Wood & Wire.)