The Dirty River Boys Go With the Flow

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The Dirty River Boys’ album Science of Flight backs fiery “Outlaw folk” originals with one raucous cover — Townes Van Zandt’s “Lungs.” The rapidly rising Austin-based quartet (Marco Guitierrez, Nino Cooper, Colton James and Travis Stearns) formed three years ago in their hometown El Paso. In May, the band filmed a session for CMT’s Concrete Country scheduled to air in August.

“Setting up in a park and having people walking around and the city of Austin as a backdrop was cool. We’d never done anything like that,” Gutierrez says. “I usually get nervous with video things, but it was really chill and all-around fun.”

CMT Edge: Explain how Science of Flight took shape.

Gutierrez: We’d been playing all the new songs live here and there, and they were starting to take shape their own way on the road. The thing about the band is that we never rehearse. We never sit down in a room and say, “All right, we’re gonna build this song up when we have a new idea.” We’ll sit down five minutes before a show and be like, “All right, these are the chord changes. This happens here. Let’s try this out.” We’ve been doing that for all the new songs, doing trial by fire — live.

How did you approach the recording process?

When we got in the studio, that’s kind of how we went about it, too. We played them the same way we played live. We worked up certain parts and added different sounds and different instrumentation, but the core all started live.

Tell the story behind writing the title track.

That’s a song Nino had. It was a while ago, before we moved to Austin. He just came out of a room one day when we were staying with our buddy and now tour manager’s place. [Nino] played this song, and it was one of those where you have that moment like, “Screw you for writing that, man! I wish I could’ve done that!” It’s an all-around kick-ass lyrical song.

How did the song “Six Riders” come together?

“Six Riders” is about the time I went to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at this awesome festival in El Paso called the Plaza Film Festival. They play old movies at this 1930s theater. It was a hell of an experience seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in that old theater. It’s a Western classic, and I was like, “Man, this would be a cool concept for a song.”

You guys have been called “Outlaw folk.” Explain.

Yeah, that’s the name we gave our genre of music. I think when people say “folk,” they get this notion that it’s a guy sitting on a stool singing songs. I love that, and it’s great, but it didn’t encompass what we’re doing. It’s about the songwriting and lyrically building a song, but when it comes to arranging and putting a show together, it was so much more than that. It almost ends up being a punk rock show with us. It’s very high energy, so we didn’t think that folk really encompassed what we’re doing. I mean, there’s Outlaw country. It’s an edgier and different outlet of country, and we’re just shooting to do that with folk music.

What songwriters do you draw from?

Ryan Adams is the one who brought me into the alt-country genre, seeing him and listening to punk rock. I bought his Gold album, and I’ve never looked back. Also, we covered that Townes Van Zandt song “Lungs” on the album. I didn’t really listen to Townes much growing up, but when I started really becoming interested in folk music and getting passionate about it, I listened to Townes a lot. He’s definitely in many ways influenced my songwriting.

Why choose “Lungs”?

We’d been playing [Van Zandt’s] “White Freightliner Blues” before. Actually, right before we recorded the LP, we started playing “Lungs” live. It’s a folk song, Townes fingerpicking and everything, but when we played it full band, it became a rocking, heavy song that kind of punches you in the face as opposed to just being a folk song. When we played it live, it felt great. We thought, “Well, if we’re gonna put a cover on the album, we’re really gonna go for it.” It was something that felt right. We love it lyrically, and it comes across live pretty well.

What generally draws you to Van Zandt?

Everything, man. From the way he sings, you can tell that it’s honest and real. It hurts to listen to it, you know? It’s such an honest emotion. His writing is so good. You can see people in the future trying to write exactly like that … but he started it. His writing and the way he sings and the way he plays is beautifully haunting.

He obviously has a big presence here in Austin. What’s most rewarding about being involved in the local music community?

Just being accepted. There’s so much great music in Austin. You can go to any bar in Austin on any given night and find your new favorite band. That in itself is great, and being able to be a part of that is cool as hell, man. It has a giant sense of community.

Do you have a favorite place to play around town?

We used to play at the old Antone’s location a lot. We’re looking forward to checking out the new location. So, Antone’s, for sure, but we also got to play at [Austin City Limits’] Moody Theatre for this band-of-the-year competition, and we got to open for Willie Nelson and Paula Nelson and the Mavericks. It’s the frickin’ Moody Theater. It was crazy. It was the eve of New Year’s Eve, Dec. 30. It was cool being backstage seeing the live at ACL posters and plaques on the wall. It was surreal.

Did you smoke with Willie?

No. Unfortunately, man, we did not get to roll a screwy with Willie. Maybe next time. (laughs)

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