Portland-based Thomas Dietzel comes in a line of music-obsessed fans turned vet songwriters who came around to the often exquisite narration and delicious ironies of “Bro-country,” transforming it into personal art slices about quiet heartland surrender and car wreck lifestyles. Like a Tarantino Western, his band Sutherlin plays with gravel-flecked tropes but turns them into gleaming highways of wit and tongue in cheek sass. Still and likewise, the love for the form is there regardless of any nudge nudge wink wink.
The self-titled debut peaks with stories of everyday struggle like “Saturday AM” about “trying to get with a gal with a different schedule than you”; and trying to take a “Sick Day” when it’s not about physical health but having some sense of freedom in the middle of the week’s grind.
Dietzel swings and romps through these backyard BBQ-tasty tracks with his carefully selected group, featuring pedal steel player Paul Brainard (of The Sadies, Richmond Fontaine, Alejandro Escovedo); Arthur Parker (bass, Love Gigantic, Nowhere Band); Anders Bergstrom (drums, Climber, Little Beirut), Michael Nelson (keyboardist, Climber); and with guitars and production by the legendary Chet Lyster (Jayhawks, Eels, Lucinda Williams).
His music partner Nick Peets did the selecting, and produced the affair, allowing the singer/songwriter a chance to tap into the melancholy joys he experienced listening to Gram Parsons, Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard on the radio. Thomas was working at a pizza place at the time, having quit his sales job for an environmental consulting company, and the lyrics for the album were mostly written while he was driving around delivering pizzas or working at the restaurant. “I was extremely high on weed coconut butter during this period, as I had obtained an enormous quantity of it in a manner I can relate some other time. So I would drive around and sort of visualize the songs and work on the lyrics that way, high as fuck.”
Though he was raised thinking C&W was uncool, he came around in allowing it to express himself the angst he felt losing the relationship that fuels key tracks “Jesus and Jack” (a woozy and wonderful Fall break up anthem) and the title-sells-it-all “Falling Down.”
“Writing country songs seemed to be much more like writing sonnets while rock music was like being expected to write free verse all the time,” Dietzel explains. “Advance or die! But country music was fun. They were part of a tradition. Rock musicians weren’t part of anything, not anymore. I wanted to be included, to be part of something.”