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Heartbreak Motel

To Hell With Beers 'n' Tears--The Spoofy Country Music of the Lockhorns is More Like Whiskey 'n' Puke

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The Lockhorns

By Ryan Boddy | Posted

The little-bit-country songs of husband and wife duo the Lockhorns trade in the darker, if not more outlandish, aspects of romantic entanglements. A longtime admirer breaks it off with the object of his affection before things even get started in "Let's Make This First Kiss Our Last." Two lovers realize it's time to part in "They're Playing Our Dirge." The man in "Yesterday's Coffee It's Bittersweet" comes to terms with the knowledge that his woman would rather be near destitute than stand by him. And though C&W is tear-in-beer territory, and though many couple/duos have exorcised domestic strife in song--see also Richard and Linda Thompson--the Lockhorns' musical heartbreak is so extreme you suspect divorce might be a better option. And they've been at it for 10 years, just now getting around to releasing their debut CD, Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Hurtin'. Why endure the torture?

But there's more to the Lockhorns' anguish than the songs' superficial turmoil. "The songs aren't about me," guitarist, vocalist, percussionist, and wife Sabra Aaron quickly points out.

She's not kidding--though the Lockhorns' songs' narrators may be. The gun-shy admirer in "Let's Make" bases his decision on remembrances of those world-wearying three years in the seventh grade. The man in "Dirge" asks for one last kiss to remember what he'll miss before she introduces him to her husband's fist. And the narrator's roll call of his ex's new lows in "Yesterday's Coffee" includes "She threw back two shots of Aqua Velvet to starve off the DTs/ still she's happier than when she was with me."

The Lockhorns' songs start off from a typically Nashville vantage point, but quickly veer off lyrically into the trailer park and whiskey-and-puke stained honky-tonks--with a little twist to take it completely over the top. In their world, the "lost my wife, lost my car, lost my dog" country clichés are wearing a huge bull's-eye. And they've been hitting their targets for a long time.

"We started practicing about the time we got married," says singer, songwriter, guitarist, and husband Courtney McCullough.

"Maybe it was a bit before," Aaron corrects him. Neither can agree whether they were married 10 or 11 years ago.

At their Greenmount Avenue home, the pair trade conversational counterpoints similar to their vocal exchanges on their recordings. McCullough starts things off with an expository introduction, and Aaron quickly rounds out what he says with flair. And despite their tunes' themes of romantic strife, the pair works deftly together both in conversation and song.

McCullough has been involved in numerous Baltimore based musical endeavors--the Casual Carriers, Polite Society, Groovy Like a Pig, S.L.A Reed Ensemble--since the late '70s. Progressing through punk in its initial phases to pop songs and even improvisation and experimental sounds, McCullough landed in complex lyrical territory and found that country's simplicity best complemented what he wanted to say.

"I had these really long verses with all these convoluted lyrics," McCullough says. "And I just found that in order to make music work with them, I had to develop a simpler country style. It's still very punk- and pop-influenced--it's all ultimately music that I love."

The songs on Hurtin' poke fun at the earnestness of most pop and country ditties and the supposedly life-altering nature of relationships. The ballad of a man's feelings about his intended sweetheart perennially choosing the wrong man turns humorous when we learn that "the world's gonna end cause she's datin' the Great Satan."

"We don't see them as novelty songs," McCullough says. "It's a waste of time to be heartbroken. There's an earnestness in the music of most of today's pop singers that my songs definitely lack. I don't think that's a bad thing. Everybody makes songs that way."

They may traffic in dark stuff, but there is something inherently funny about the usual, countryish pop skewered by the Longhorns' tongue-in-cheek songs. Ironic as it all may be, the Lockhorns still possess a kind of warped genuineness.

"I would love to just have other people record my songs," McCullough says. "But I think they're just too idiosyncratic for all that."

"I don't know, I think you could get Shania to record 'The Christmas Song,'" Aaron adds, referring to a song about a divorced father promising his child that he will drink himself to death by New Year's.

"Yes, it's all kind of kitschy," McCullough admits. "But these songs don't just flow out of me. I work really hard on them."

The hard work and the couple's tight schedules explain their debut's long time coming. The self-released Hurtin' was self-recorded in the basement of the couple's home in short sessions. Balancing careers outside of their musical aspirations with building a family--they have a 7-year-old daughter, Regina--the duo makes their music during their spare time.

"We have to record in hourlong increments," McCullough says. "We're kind of space- and time-constrained."

"[We work in] the length of a movie or anything that we can keep Regina occupied with," Aaron quickly adds. "That definitely slows down the process a bit. We'd recorded almost the whole thing, and then I listened to the result on my sister's huge stereo and we decided we had to re-record it."

"It's nice to be able to do it yourself," McCullough says. "But it definitely took us time. We had to build a recording studio, but that just makes sense. We're not going to pay a studio hourly when we need to have the flexibility to do it around everything else."

Though recording is a home affair, the pair ultimately put their faith in their live show. They admit to performance flaws and are good-natured and self-deprecating about flubs during a set, but they characterize these mistakes as audience-interaction opportunities.

"We're not like punk rockers," McCullough says. "We don't just stand there with '1-2-3-4' being the only talking going on during the show. We talk a lot and we point out our mistakes."

"We don't know what the hell we're doing," Aaron adds. "But it all seems to work. People have a good time and they laugh. Usually at the places where we intend for them to."

Unsurprisingly, the one thing more finely honed than Aaron and McCullough's sense of humor is their affection for each other. "The songs are not about me," Aaron reiterates. "I'm not a faithless whore. I don't drive him to drink. I love him deeply."

The Lockhorns play a CD-release show at Shattered Wig Night at the 14 Karat Cabaret Jan. 30, along with Armboretum and Dan Higgs. For information, call (410) 962-8565 or visit www.normals.com/wignite.html.

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