“CORN is so much a part of my life I’ve practically got it tattooed on my arm,” says the frontman of Americana outfit The Reverend Peynton’s Big Damn Band.
The band are genuine American hillbillies from the deep rural, corn-carpeted terrain of Brown County, Indiana. “There aren’t even any shops where we live and I go to the library in town to use the internet,” says the Reverend.
Their instrumentation reflects this – washboards, five-gallon buckets and bottleneck slides replace sophisticated synths and keyboards. Songs are raucous, visceral and stompy. This is a DIY band singing about a very DIY America.
Tracks deal with issues such as crystal meth abuse, unrequited love, the disappearance of the American family farm (In a Holler Over There), the rising cost of living (Everything’s Raising) and – in true blues style – murder.
“I tell stories about regular folks and people say, ‘what do you know about it?’ but I’m not claiming to be an expert, I just see people struggling.
“My songs are social, they’re not political, and sometimes I’ll have someone who’s hardcore to the right saying to me, ‘I really liked what you were saying in that song’ but then I’ll have someone hardcore to the left saying exactly the same things about the same song.”
These tales of hard-up Americans, family values and personal heartache are woven into a dense instrumental fabric consisting of washboard strumming, raucous slide guitar and rustic – often home-made – percussion.
It’s a sound inspired by a lifetime of listening to Bukka White and Charlie Patton. Even The Reverend Peynton’s latest release is a collection of cover versions of Charlie Patton numbers.
But the Reverend doesn’t just celebrate America in song – he endorses his country in action too.
“When we go to different countries I see it as an obligation to be an ambassador for America. All things happen in America, like they do anywhere else, and we are all just regular folks but people judge the country by its political leaders.
“And there’s so much history to America, such as that of the Native American people, who influenced our country a great deal.
“Even now, when I walk between rows of corn when they’re turning the fields I can pick up arrowheads.”
The band recently sampled America’s richness during a full tour of the country in the Reverend’s Chevvy truck. But there were some hair-raising moments.
“I thought we were dead at one point,” says the Reverend. “Hitchhiking is illegal in most of the United States but in Oregon it’s legal. So we were driving along and thought we’d help this fella out.
“We were warned about picking up people in the particular area we were in because there are a lot of escaped prisoners there. But we did and after this guy got into the car it turned out he was an ex con with a bag of stolen pistols.
“He kept reaching into his bag for something and I just kept bluffing by putting my hand on my pocket as if I was reaching for my gun. He saw me and said, ‘easy man, I’m just reaching for my Bible’ – he probably stole that from some hotel.”
They managed to rid themselves of the ex con, eventually. “We wanted to stop and tell him to get out so we pulled in at a gas station where we knew there would be a lot of people around.
“In Oregon it’s illegal to pump your own petrol so I had to pretend to the attendant that we needed to get out and have a pit stop.
“I told the hitchiker that this was the end of the line and he said ‘like hell it is.” He started cussing at me and pushing me so I touched my pocket again as if to bluff that I had a gun.”
But The Reverend Peynton’s Big Damn Band’s music has reached beyond the US: “I think we’ve played more towns in Germany than we have in Indiana.
“We’ve played 17 countries, which is somethin’ else, not everyone gets to see all that, so I feel blessed and real lucky to be able to do what we do.”
And, in true hillbilly style, the band are all family. The Reverend plays finger-style resonator guitar alongside his wife, Washboard Breezy (the clue to what she does in her hame), and distant cousin Aaron ‘Cuz’ Persinger is on drums.
The Reverend Peynton’s Big Damn Band play at the Greystones, Greystones Road on October 24.