“The past is never dead. It's not even past.”
Recorded at the historic Cinderella Sound Studios in Nashville, The Clearlake Conspiracy is an impactful debut from the Vermont based honky-tonk outsiders Western Terrestrials. The album’s nine tracks pay tribute to classic country, simultaneously muscling the genre firmly forward into new territory. While offering enough lyrical allusions and familiar riffs to please discerning outlaw country fans, the album refuses to be content dwelling in the past. Instead, The Clearlake Conspiracy imagines an alternate history where the current mainstream bro-country malaise is stricken from the timeline. The band places itself firmly in a lineage of renegades who threw a wrench in the works of the Music City machine, a line that runs from Buddy Holly to Waylon Jennings, Hank to Lucinda Williams, Buck Owens to Dwight Yoakam, and through to contemporary interlopers like Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers.
“We came to Nashville last year with some songs and concepts we wanted to explore,” said Nick Charyk, singer and guitar player for the Western Terrestrials. “We captured a whole lot more than that during these sessions. This record turned out to be our manifesto. Our band isn’t a gimmick, and we aren’t re-enactment or a throwback outfit. These songs are rooted in the now. This isn’t the kind of music they write about in the mainstream country media. We think they should.”
Run by the legendary session musician Wayne Moss, Cinderella Sound Studios is the oldest working studio in Nashville. Founded in 1961, the studio has recorded the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Roger Miller, Porter Wagoner, Guy Clark, Bobby Bare, Jerry Reed, Marty Stuart, Buddy Emmons, Alamo Jones, and many more.
“You can’t walk into Cinderella and not feel the history made between those walls,” Charyk continues. “Wayne Moss isn’t just one of the original Nashville Cats, he’s a corner stone. He’s the player who recorded that guitar riff on Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman. That’s him playing the solo on Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line, and he’s all over Blonde on Blonde.”
Nick Charyk, is joined by long-time collaborators bassist Jason Pappas and drummer Jared Croteau, along with keyboardist Alex Kelley and Asa Brosius (JP Harris, Lee Ann Womack) on pedal steel. The album also includes guest spots from Justin Branum on fiddle and Abby Jenne on vocal harmonies.
The album’s opening number, Automated Trucker Blues, sets a hard-driving, and free-wheeling pace, and immediately sets its sights on the paint-by-numbers songwriting endemic to today’s pop country radio. “In a cubicle in Nashville half past noon. There’s a computer cranking out brand new Luke Bryan tunes. An algorithm of trucks, cutoff jeans and bikini tops. Reboot the system, a new single drops.”
WWWJD (What Would Waylon Jennings Do?) strikes a similar chord, proclaiming “If Hank Williams were alive today, you know that he would be unemployed. Today’s country singers they worship their heroes they say, but can you tell me with a straight face, that ‘ol Waylon would’ve done it this way? No you can’t.”
The theme is continued in Stranded at the Rodeo, an expansive American road trip odyssey that pays tribute to Gram Parson. “My cosmic American sweetheart left me stranded at the rodeo, with all these clowns and one trick ponies on bro country radio.”
Through highways and truck stops, dive bars and all night diners, the protagonists of The Clearlake Conspiracy continually return their crosshairs to Nashville, and current pop country FM radio.
On Hank Williams' Cadillac, the album’s closing track, Charyk sings “So I’m up late wondering, what it felt like there in the back of old Hank Williams’ Cadillac.” As the band kicks into the final chorus, he finishes the line, singing “I breathe in deeply, and I strike a match. And I feel it for a moment, then the moment’s past.”
“I think we had to go down to Nashville ourselves to really understand what we were trying to do,” Charyk concludes. “The stories in these songs are all true, they really did happen to us. I did spend the night in a Dallas police station, and we really did spend the night in the room Gram Parsons died in. We’ve paid our respects at the graves of George Jones and Johnny Paycheck, Hank, and Waylon too. It wasn’t until we got to Cinderella though that we realized all these stories were connected, and part of a much bigger one. That we are a part of this living lineage, this thing called country music. And all of these honky-tonk heroes? Those are the shoes we are meant to try and fill. Wayne Moss, and Cinderella brought this to life for us.”