When Roger Clyne turned down a graduate scholarship to study psychology at California State University in Long Beach in favor of “having fun” playing music around his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, he had no idea that more than twenty years later he would become an industry unto himself. But with a record label and a tequila brand — in addition to his band the Peacemakers — the now 40-ish Clyne has done just that.
“I did not envision this at all,” Clyne says of his twenty-plus-year career. “It unfolds little by little.”
After gaining a reputation as a must-see live act in the same Phoenix-area scene that produced renowned bands such as the Meat Puppets and the Gin Blossoms, Clyne and his group the Refreshments broke into the national consciousness in 1996 with the release of its debut Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy. Buoyed by lyrics that featured Clyne’s sharp wit, mixed with his hometown’s Southwest flavor and goofball videos for the album’s first two singles, “Banditos” and “Down Together,” the album became a staple for anyone involved in college radio in the mid-’90s. So much so that two reissues of the album are slated for release next year.
“Universal Music, which purchased the band’s label, Mercury, is going to re-release [the album] on vinyl in the next week or so,” Clyne says during an interview in early November. “[The Peacemakers] will also be re-recording the album with friends and co-conspirators,” Clyne adds, explaining that he didn’t want to “tip our hand” as to who those participants would be, but that “you will definitely know some of them.”
Following the release of its second album, 1997’s The Bottle and Fresh Horses, the band parted ways with its label, as well as guitarist Brian Blush and bassist Buddy Edwards. Clyne and drummer/co-writer P.H. Naffah christened their new project Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, and began crafting songs that divined even more influence from the band’s Arizona roots (Naffah is a Chicago transplant). Creating their own label called Emma Java, they also became a truly independent entity, winning over audiences one by one from live performances across the country, with virtually no radio support.
“[We get to] make some connection with the fans through music. It’s humbling,” Clyne says. “We love what we do. As long as they keep coming out, we can keep getting on the tour bus.”
A few years ago, however, Clyne began to question his road-warrior lifestyle. Occasionally waking up and not even knowing what town he was in (all Clyne knows during this interview is he is somewhere in Oklahoma, in between gigs in Houston and Iowa), he says he questioned what he was doing before realizing “this is a pretty good way to make a living — singing and meeting fans every night.
“Songwriting has become my life,” he continues. “It becomes more and more difficult, but it’s out of love. I love to create.”
The singer adds that the process has changed since Fizzy came out in 1996.
“I can hear the mistakes we made on that album,” he says wistfully, “but it would be hard to make those mistakes again. I used to write about love with a small ‘L,’ now it’s a capital ‘L.’”
One of those loves — and songwriting inspirations — appears in the form of tequila. The spirit became so prevalent in Clyne’s writing (and the band’s live shows) that manufacturers began to take note.
“We had been singing and writing about tequila for a long time,” Clyne says. “We had been approached by many a tequila company to endorse their product, but finally decided to make our own.”
The resulting liquor, Roger Clyne’s Mexican Moonshine, is available at hitimewine.net and has won multiple awards. Clyne says the group has tried to sell the tequila while on the road, but differing state alcohol laws have made that difficult.
“I always keep a personal stash on the bus,” he says. “But it never lasts very long.”
Despite a twenty-plus year career as a songwriter and an award-winning line of tequila, Clyne’s greatest contribution to the national zeitgeist is still unknown to many: An instrumental he wrote was chosen as the theme song to Mike Judge’s animated TV show King of the Hill.
“[There are] definitely more fans of the theme than there are of the band,” Clyne says before recounting an experience with one such fan in Austin, Texas, a few years ago.
“I was at this guitar shop and I was either trying out a new guitar or an amp,” he says. “I started playing [the King of the Hill theme] and this kid — well, anyone under thirty is a kid — came over and said, ‘That’s a cool theme.’ I said, ‘Thanks, you know, I wrote it.’ And he just said, ‘Yeah, right.’ Just walked away all dismissively and said, ‘Yeah, right.’”