[ROADHOUSE BOOZE] I'm hoisting shots and beers at Troutdale's massive TA truck stop when Bad Assets guitarist Jeff "Motor Jeffries" Moyer starts talking about a lonely stretch of I-84. "You go out there and there're ghosts. It's an amazing place," he says, running his hand across his shaved head. "If you were driving through the Gorge tonight, you'd be scared shitless. There would be truckers throwing a 6-foot wall of slush into your face. That's kind of where this album came from."
That album is I-84, the first release by rowdy-ass Portland country quartet Bad Assets, a band gaining steam with steady gigs at Jubitz and a Thursday spot at White Eagle. The band formed almost two years ago, though drummer Damon Rose and Motor previously teamed with doomed country provocateurs Party Country. Seeing them live, you'd think the members grew up playing together.
The album—recorded over seven months in Brian Appel's StoveTopStuff studio and fueled by Patrón, Pabst and pantslessness—details driving from Portland to Wilder, Idaho, for "The Ditch," an outdoor festival Rose's family hosts annually.
"I've done the drive a thousand times, and parts of it are terrifying," says Rose. "Then you cross this hill and you see the Treasure Valley of Idaho. That's where I start drinkin'."
Suddenly, Motor, Rose, guitarist Ben Cosloy and bassist-vocalist Kevin Marcotte decide the best way to experience I-84 (the album) is actually driving down the highway during our interview. They shove me, glassy-eyed, into an SUV and crank the stereo, and off into the first snowstorm of the year we drive.
I-84 (the album) starts with a revving engine, dips into highway hypnosis with ballad and presents terror and joy in the form of stories about working at a shitty Chinese joint in The Dalles, cement factories in Lime and watering holes in Baker City. The album's arrival in "Ontario" is in the form of a butt-rock anthem, complete with goofy call-and-response lines like "Goin' to Ontario/ Doin' lots of blow-ee-oh." A trucker describes a steep mountain pass on "Cabbage Hill," with its thumping bass and drums (think "Roadhouse Blues") propelling Marcotte's gravelly, whiskey-strained voice.
Motor, the group's principal songwriter, says he was inspired by Woody Guthrie's Pacific Northwest tunes, but Guthrie never wrote about blackout drinking, Camaros and weed. There are some bittersweet moments and darker ballads, but I-84's overall tone is giddy—a solid mix of old and new country, rock, funk and bumpkin blues.
Back on 84, snow is falling, the stereo blares and conversation halts. Marcotte's voice growls eerily through the speakers: "Cabbage Hill, 18 wheels on Cabbage Hill/ Drive all night, drive all night."
As if sensing doom in the storm, Rose switches the stereo to "Greenleaf," a hootenanny-style song about Tater Tot factories. The contrast between tones, which switch frequently on I-84, is perfect. Everyone begins to clap along exaggeratedly, singing, "where the Tater Tots grow" along with Motor's recorded warble.
"We wanted it to sound like a '70s country-rock album, but almost like one of those really raunchy, debauched Rolling Stones albums where they kind of didn't give a shit," says Motor.
In a way, it worked. It may not be Exile on Main Street, but I-84 is a perfectly eclectic companion on the road—something I learned while riding shotgun with Bad Assets.
Bad Assets plays Duff's Garage on Saturday, Dec. 11. 9 pm. Cover. 21+.