Just the other day this guy sitting on my couch and wearing my shoes was ranting. “Can you believe these commercials? How lame is it to be so desperate for a career that you’ll sing about Whoppers, baby back ribs, frozen dinners and soup?” Jesus ^#%@$ Christ, how retarded!”
I must concur, as it is undeniably ... “retarded,” to use his word, to listen to some reject whose career apex, after high school Madrigals, is crooning about noodles and sauce—but mostly because they’re trying to sell it to ya. It is possible to sing about food and not look like a moron. In fact, it can be downright cool when you remove the cheesy sales pitch and switch out the Whoppers for cornbread.
Meet Swamp Boogie: singer-guitarist-lyricist Brian Ellison, slide guitarist Tino Arana, bassist Woody Thomsen, drummer Bob “Clem” Smith and accordionist/keyboardist Rhett Card. The two-and-a-half-year-old band, whose official bio consists of “It’s just Swamp Boogie!,” was formed by Arana and exists to sing about food and ... other stuff.
“It all comes down to the fact,” says Ellison, “some great American novelist said ‘write what you know.’” We know about food and sex.”
And so it is that Swamp Boogie’s debut disc is called Food and Sex (SwampBoogie.com). Of course, in the context of the band’s bayou-inflected blues—singing slide guitar, joyous and dirty rhythms, carnival-esque accordion—and Ellison’s ebullient, innuendo-laden vocals, food and sex seem pretty much the same thing.
When, on “Cornbread,” he intones “Nobody like cornbread half as much as I do,” he might be singing about booty, for all his sauciness (if “ya-yas” translates, he is). Ditto when he pleads, to be fed (“Feed Me”), although it’s less innuendo than straight metaphor: “I’m hungry ... yes I’m hungry ... I’m hungry the whole night through ... baby for you.” And forget about it on “Dirty Rice”: “I got a jalapeño in my pocket/I got a crawdad down my shirt/let’s whip up some gumbo, baby, and make dirty rice in the dirt ... I’ll sop up your gravy, baby, ooo-ooo-ooooooo!”
That, there, is where singing about food becomes cool. It’s no longer about a product; it’s about our two most primal urges that, for many, rouse the same endorphins. Set to music, a pleasure in its own right, it’s nirvana. “Food and sex,” says Arana, “hook a captive audience ’cause everybody can relate.”
True, true. But food and sex, while the major theme on this album, isn’t all Swamp Boogie knows, is it? Well, they know music ’cause they can play the hell out of their respective instruments (they’re all seasoned veterans of the Salt Lake music scene—remember Louie Drambuie? Thirsty Alley?), spanking ’em on the roadhouse burner “Mama Don’t See” or working ’em with cool restraint on the Schoolhouse Rock-ish “Monkey” (think “Verb! That’s what’s happenin’!”). But certainly, given their obvious keen senses of humor and intellects, they must have other topics of which to sing?
Well, Smith, better known to local music fans as T. LuDit of avant-weird jazzers Thirsty Alley, jokes if Swamp Boogie wrote what he knew, they’d be singing about “picking up dogshit in my yard.” Ellison, whose mother might want to skip the rest of the paragraph, admits to writing some “really raunchy” tunes that were left off the record, like “Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama and Me” (use your imagination), “Your Blow Jobs Won’t Mend My Broken Heart” and “Kill A Cat Today.”
Well, perhaps it’s better left at food and sex. Even as Swamp Boogie says its next album may be about booze and cars, they can’t seem to buck the impulse to create in response to their urges. This, as they discuss album titles that got away....
“Wasn’t one Foreplay and Etouffee?” asks Thomsen. Sure enough, it was. Ellison brings up Andouille (an-doo-wee) and the jokes fly:
“Do we rock? Andouille! Do we fuck? Andouille!”
City Weekly can attest to the first one, anyway.