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Starting in 1981, Jason Ringenberg led the Nashville-based combo Jason & the Scorchers, a quartet celebrated for its marriage of punk-rock energy and country twang. When the Scorchers first started out, that troublesome term "alt-country" was at least a decade away from being minted, and the band blazed a trail on the strength of its frenetic live shows.
In the intervening 30 years, the band has split up and reunited, and Ringenberg found success singing children's music as Farmer Jason. The Scorchers' latest, Halcyon Times, came out earlier this year, and the band returns to St. Louis to play Twangfest. B-Sides caught Ringenberg on a rare stopover in his hometown of Nashville to ruminate on the Scorchers' legacy and future.
B-Sides: When you guys first came out, there weren't a lot of bands doing what you were doing. What was the reception toward the Scorchers when you first starting playing and touring?
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Jason Ringenberg: It was a real radical sort of reaction. People either wanted to take us home and feed us and put us up or they wanted to hang us for it. [Laughs] It was a pretty radical band in those days, and people reacted quite radically to it.
I assume after 30 years you've been able to find people who radically love you rather than people who radically want to string you up.
[Laughs] Yeah, I would hope so by now.
Have you seen your imprint on bands playing in the past 30 years, where it's more accepted to play a cross-pollination of country and rock & roll?
There are folks who will say that, and that's always flattering to me. But, you know, the Scorchers really were — and are still — unique. A lot of bands combine country ethics and modern chic, no problem. But what the band did that was pretty unique was that we did it with such an energy, and that made us stand out. We really were a punk-rock band, but we were a country band at the same time. And we could hold our own with both audiences, and I think that's what made us special.
Do you find it hard to still summon that punk-rock energy with the Scorchers these days?
Not so much, really, because it's such a fun thing doing it; I just love doing it. I think that joy translates. We love performing, and that gets across to the people.
How did your Farmer Jason persona come about?
I started a young family twelve years ago, and we were listening to a lot of kids' music, and it seemed to make sense to do a record that would be fun for my kids. I thought it would be cool to have a CD to play for them of me. That's how it started, and it kind of took off from that. It's been a real organic explosion, if you will. I certainly never thought it would be doing this kind of business.
Who is the harder audience to keep quiet: a room full of kids or a bar full of drunks?
Uh, it's about equal, really. And the behavior is quite similar. A lot of people spilling stuff, a lot of people crying. [Laughs]