"McMinnville, of course, one of our huge ones," adds drummer Cheo Larcombe. Then a flood of town names ring out among the Crooks: "We've gigged Yamhill, Sheridan, Willamina...." "And the Oregon Citys and Talents and Medfords and Mount Hoods...." "And Olympia and Stanwood, [Wash.]...." "Y'know," Becker continues, "I wanna redo Johnny Cash's 'I've Been Everywhere' and include all those little towns…. We could fill three verses. Easily!"
Both previous Crooks albums are on their second printing (1,000 each; platinum for self-released country-rock)—largely due to the past seven years of touring Northwest hinterlands. Becker, Larcombe, vocalist Vinny D and bassist Johnny B—tatted and pompadoured scene vets recalling Hank and Buddy and Strummer—fill venues where indie music dares to tread. "You can have a 55-year-old trucker on one side of the room," Lacombe says, "and a 21-year-old punk rocker on the other. We kind of bridge that gap."
But the Crooks' new When Hearts Break—a collection of unaffected Americana-core anthems and rockabilly ballads—lurches decidedly punkward. Searching for a new producer, they chanced upon Dharma Bums legend Jeremy Wilson. "He was torn at first," Lacombe says. "Then, at My Father's Place…a hot chick walked in with a Crooks shirt on. He said that was the definitive moment."
Armed with their most radio-friendly album (on Wilson's own Mastan Music), the boys hope for more extended tours—a Barcelona band already covers one of their songs—but they've no plans to change stomping grounds. "In the seven years we've been together," Becker says, "we've never taken a break. We've never gone more than three or four weeks without gigging. Nobody does that."
"We go out to these rural towns," Vinny says, "and rock and have fun and stay at these people's houses and wake up and have breakfast with their families. They kinda give you the rock-star treatment. People stop you on the street and say: 'You guys are the Crooks!'" Turns out semi-stardom is all it's cracked up to be.
SEE IT: Dry County Crooks celebrate the release of When Hearts Break with Michael Dean Damron & Thee Loyal Bastards and Drunken Prayer Saturday, May 17, at Dante's. 9:30 pm. $7 advance, $8 day of show. 21+. Photo: Juliana Tobon