Interview: Jon Langford of the Waco Brothers
The Waco Brothers play the Highline Ballroom on Tuesday, June 3rd.
"[The Waco Brothers] had a number of different names. We started off, I think, as Jon Boy and Deano... Then it was Ranch Quake. . . Elephant Ears was one. We'd play and it'd be so awful, you know, that we'd change the name for the next gig in case anyone thought it was us again."
Jon Langford is likely best known as a founding member of the Mekons, the Leeds, England punk collective that just last year celebrated their 30th anniversary. But the Mekons are far from his only creative outlet--he's also a painter, alternative bon vivant, and involved in sundry other musical projects. Langford led the Three Johns into the early '90s and keeps current with the transformative Pine Valley Cosmonauts, as well as his own solo work, and the occasional guest appearance. But following a recent live release (Waco Express: Live & Kickin' at Schuba's Tavern), this week the effervescent Langford will lead his Waco Brothers into town, a rare roadtrip for the politically attuned Chicago alt-country band that once upon a time, formed for beer money.
Tell me something you've never done before in your life.
You know what? My son just yelled skydiving, so I'll say skydiving. That's probably something I never will do in my life either.
Yeah, me either. Tell me something that you've done once and one time only.
Thunder Mountain at Euro Disney, the only place in France you can go and not get a glass of wine. So I'm not doing that again either.
Tell me the name of a book you've read at least twice.
And a movie that you've seen at least three times.
You're very likely the most identifiable Chicago musician who speaks with a British accent. How did you end up there?
My wife returned here from France in 1991 to go to grad school in architecture. She wasn't my wife at the time, but I followed her. I was very comfortable in Chicago. The Mekons had been here a lot. I don't know. I've just always felt really comfortable here.
So it wasn't as much a culture shock as one might expect.
Nah, I mean it wasn't a big, dramatic 'I'm going to live in America now.' It's just one day I kind of woke up and it was like, 'Okay, so I live here now.'
You were still a member of the Mekons when the Waco Brothers started. What did you think you were doing?
Playing country covers in bars that didn't normally have bands playing in them for beer money. Basically. With Dean (Schlabowske). You know, the whole thing was that I'd produced a record for Dean and his band Wreck for Wax Trax Records. But we just discovered we both really liked George Jones and Merle Haggard. We were sitting in a bar one day in Wicker Park, which is now the Double Door, but it used to be called the Main Street Tavern. And they had a big wagon. The stage was a big wagon. It was an old kind of hillbilly, country and western bar. We just went in there for a drink because it was funny. They had giant pictures of John Wayne on the wall and all kinds of crazy stuff. And a country and western jukebox. And Dean had his guitar with him and the woman in the bar said, 'Are you musicians? You want a gig?' We're like, 'Oh, I don't think we can play here.' They offered us like a hundred and fifty bucks. So we went to another bar, the Rainbo, which is a kind of hipster bar, and the woman there said, 'I'll give you three hundred if you'll play here.' We didn't even have anything planned so we just got up and sang a little bit of these country songs.