“There was a feeling back then of promise and that you might actually make a living at music someday. I’m not sure if 6 String Drag ever expected to play any stadiums, but we thought me might make a living in an NRBQ kind of way.” — Kenny Roby, frontman for the band.
When 6 String Drag first appeared on the scene in 1993, the Americana scene was still in its infancy. As one of the earliest alt-country bands of the era — a point in time at which Uncle Tupelo was winding down, Whiskeytown hadn’t yet formed, and scene bible No Depression was still a couple of years away from launching — the quartet, headed up by vocalist/songwriter/guitarist Roby and bassist Rob Keller, played a major role in eventually making the term “Americana” part of the musical lexicon. Now, with the impending arrival of a new album titled Top of the World, 6 String Drag broadens its collective purview, incorporating classic British Invasion pop, tough-as-nails ’70s rock and punk, and more. The album, due out March 9, 2018, will be available on digital, CD and vinyl.
Roby and Keller, along with guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Luis Rodriguez and drummer Dan Davis, plus returning producer Jason Merritt — who helmed the group’s previous record, 2015’s Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll — entered Fidelitorium Studios in Kernersville, North Carolina in March of 2017 with a straightforward plan: to capture, in Roby’s words, “performance, attitude, and emotion.”
That they consistently did for Top of the World, crafting 11 gems that are both unique in their own right and uniquely 6 String Drag, from pumping opener “Never Turn My Back on You Again” and the pub-rocking, rebels-kinda-with-a-cause “Small Town Punks,” which finds Roby vividly recalling his younger self (“Ya see, there was no formal plan/ We would fall out of the van/ Into the street/ High as a kite/ Fly up I-85/ Learnin’ cool from other scenes/ And pollutin’ other dreams/ For somethin’ new…” and “The path of least to be/ With the freaks of the scene/ And the small town punks like me”); to the raucous, handclaps-and-Hammond-punctuated raver “Every Time She Walks on By” and the jangly, midtempo “Be Like You,” whose sweetly luminous arrangement masks a darkly cynical domestic tale (“All of the kids/ Know it can’t be onions/ They heard her cryin’/ “In the bathroom too” and “This story could go on for generations/ Chemical breakdowns/ And other small clues… A little luck and she’ll be like you”).
“It isn’t quite the almost live and somewhat frantic approach, like 1997’s High Hat,” says Roby, of the sessions for Top of the World. “And Roots Rock ’N’ Roll was really intentionally recorded like a ’50s and ’60s record. This record isn’t super layered but it isn’t always just a raw 4 piece approach. It just depended on the song — we just took it song by song in what we felt the song needed or wanted.”
“I think some of the songs lean towards influences of certain artists, but not as an overall approach to a whole album. We have always listened to classic bands like the Kinks, Stones, Beatles, Them and Van Morrison, The Band, etc. And there’s the whole punk rock and 70s rock thing that always comes into play. The whole band had actually been getting into Rockpile, Thin Lizzy and Mott the Hoople when we were in the process of making the record, so that probably seeped in on this record a little.”
The album also features guests John Ginty on keys/organs and Matt Douglas on horns. Ginty has been a member of or played in the studio with Robert Randolph, Whiskeytown (Stranger’s Almanac), Neal Casal, Citizen Cope, Jewel, Allman Brothers, Government Mule/Warren Haynes and currently the Dixie Chicks. Matt Douglas is a touring and recording member of Hiss Golden Messenger and Mountain Goats and also played on 6SD’s Root Rock ‘n’ Roll and on Roby’s Memories & Birds.