–Down on Copperline, by David Menconi
Clark Blomquist has covered an incredibly wide range of styles under various names over the years – stately pop, scathing hardcore, eccentric electronic and more. So while it’s not entirely surprising that his latest musical incarnation is quite different from anything he’s done before, it’s quite a curveball nevertheless: C. Albert Blomquist, playing the sort of country music you’d hear in a low-ceilinged, old-school honky-tonk.
“It’s been a journey over a long time, 20-some years,” says Blomquist, who turned 50 years old this fall. “I’ve been a fan of country music for a long time, but it’s only been the last few years that I felt like I’d written enough country songs to do this. So I put a band together and we play honky-tonk country music.”
Usually when someone makes a shift like this, it’s a get-back move to a style they grew up with. But that’s not the case with Blomquist, a Durham native who grew up in Florida before moving to Chapel Hill in 1998 because so many bands he liked were from there (especially his favorite, Polvo). After playing in metal and punk bands in Florida, Blomquist quickly fell in with the local Chapel Hill scene. He first made waves with Kingsbury Manx, the acclaimed neo-psychedelic band he joined in 2001.
Check the “Discography” section of Blomquist’s website and you’ll also find entries for Cold Cream, Waumiss, Spider Bags and SSSSSSS, which is not even a complete listing. But for all his stylistic wandering, Blomquist kept finding himself drawn to country music.
“Country and punk are not entirely dissimilar,” he says. “They’ve both got that whole ‘three chords and the truth’ thing, they’re not complicated and they get right to what they’re trying to say. ‘Aging punk goes country’ has almost become a cliché, but it’s because country and punk speak to certain people in a similar way. I know a lot of friends who are coming around on country or rediscovering it as something they listened to as kids.”
Blomquist lives in Carrboro and works a few nights a week at Luna Rotisserie and Taproom, keeping his life simple so he can play as much music as possible (“I jam econo,” is how he puts it). His country band features a wide array of players, whoever is available for any given night or project, including pedal steel player Nathan Golub, Libby Rodenbough from Mipso and Magic Tuber Stringband. Sometimes it’s just Blomquist when everybody else is busy, but he had a full band for his Oct. 18 gig at the NC State Fair and will do so again Dec. 30 at Chapel Hill’s Local 506.
Meanwhile, Blomquist is also still playing drums in Ron Liberti’s punk supergroup Cold Cream, which he says he’ll “continue to do as long as I can, until it gets too athletic or I get too old.” And Kingsbury Manx is scheduled to end a decade-long hiatus with a Jan. 7 show at Cat’s Cradle Back Room.
“I’ve put out one country album and should have another out next spring,” he says. “After playing weird electronic and punk rock for so long, country music has suddenly opened up different opportunities to play for a broader audience. An older crowd for one thing. I’ve got the originals, and I’ve also learned the classic covers – George Jones, Merle Haggard, John Prine. So I can play more gigs and make enough money to get by.”