Seattle’s Sonic Gunslinger Brent Amaker Talks New Country Glam Band, New Single, Old Westerns, Track Suits, & More In Latest Interview

The Emerald City’s Brent Amaker DeathSquad encompasses just about everything that I enjoy about music as an artistic outlet. Their new video for their single, “Hello,” encapsulates the spirit of DIY surrealness in its most potent form – scenes of the squad themselves donning all matching tracksuits are interspersed between various scenes of occasionally unsettling and downright confusing imagery – and it’s wonderful! 

The song itself is disarming and charming, but also maintains an undeniable eeriness that’s fit for our current situation. There’s something about the synergy of all of it that makes “Hello” cut through the noise and demand attention. 

Brent Amaker, proclaimed “country performance art musician,” is a long-time veteran of the music industry and has established himself as such. His music has received millions of streams since only 2015, though he’s been around much longer than that, and his imagery and presence in videos and live performances is undeniable in its prominence. After even a brief rabbit hole dive into his material, it’s clear Amaker is cut from a different cloth. (and different rhinestones) His current Deathsquad project consists of a partnership with Darci Carlson (bass & vocals), Nozomi Momo (drums & vocals), Bryan Crawford (drums & vocals), and Izzie White (“The Boss”).

We got the chance to sling some questions Brent’s way about the single and music video, current/post pandemic plans, musical pet peeves, and much more. 

As someone just discovering your music, I’m thoroughly enjoying the John Wayne-on-acid type feel to some of these songs. Right up my alley. Who might be some deep-dive inspirations of yours whether it be musically or just artistically?

I’m mostly inspired by concept bands who deliver a strong image. I’m a huge fan of Devo and the Ramones. I’m also inspired by hip hop culture, specifically, the luxury element. I like to blend those sorts of stylistic ideas with my own music which happens to be a country thing.

Do you watch old spaghetti westerns with guys like Wayne, Lee Van Cleef, etc. and do you have a favorite?

I’ve watched a few. My favorite is El Topo. It’s a foreign film directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. There were a bunch of those trippy psychedelic westerns that came out of the early 1970’s. And of course, anything with an Ennio Morricone soundtrack, is worth watching.

Where does your love of that sound and culture stem from, and basically, who or what got you into playing and performing music?

I started playing music in the 1980’s and was part of a punk rock and new wave scene in Oklahoma City. I like classic country music, but never connected with modern country sounds. Pretty much anything that happened post Hank Williams (senior), or Johnny Cash bums me out.

Obviously I love cinematic western music. Somewhere along the way I was able to put the different pieces together as something that represents me authentically. My passion comes from producing conceptual projects start to finish that delivers a theme. When the look, the sound, and the performance come together in unison, it’s magic.

How does Brent Amaker’s Rodeo differ musically from DeathSquad would you say?

The Rodeo is built on very specific rules that have developed since 2005. It’s defined by limitations. My songs are filtered through a gang of cowboy super hero musicians and it always comes out Rodeo.

With DeathSquad, I partnered with Darci Carlson, Nozomi Momo, and Izzie Pop to create something new and more expansive. The songs are still inspired by similar themes, and of course my story. We just added female energy, track suits, and luxury accessories and products. It’s a glam version of the Rodeo. We kept the cowboy hats but replaced the boots with Gucci and Louis Vuitton slides.

How did DeathSquad come together?

I went through a divorce and found myself single with a lot of time on my hands. The Rodeo was taking a break and I wanted to keep working. I didn’t want to repeat the same thing and was looking to flip it and work with all women instead of all men. I started with Darci and asked if she wanted to start a band with me. She has her own outlaw country project, but was also looking to do something new on the side. We started fleshing out our songs, and went into the studio almost immediately. Izzie helped us dial in the look. It’s been so much fun! It’s the first time ever I’ve gone to a salon with my band mates for mani pedi’s. Lol.

Recently you released your single “Hello,” which like many of your songs, is straight to the point, no-frills songwriting. How did this song come to existence?

Honestly it was just another one of my songs from the heart, and I slotted it into the DeathSquad mold instead of Rodeo. It’s about having people come into your life, sometimes disappear, and then come back again. Life is funny that way. Some relationships last forever. Some don’t. But they are all part of your life story.

Can you talk about the idea behind the music video and how that all came together?

We worked with a great director named Sean Downey. I’m a fan of his band The Fabulous Downey Brothers and he self-directs all his own videos. I asked if he would get involved because I know he understands my music. He is also a long time friend of Darci’s. Anyhow it was 100% his concept. I trust him. We had already styled the project head to toe, so he just needed to get creative and shoot us. I love what he did!

How important do you think humor is in music?

Songs are all about storytelling. Humor is only important in that it can contribute adding layers to the story. I’m not really into jokes, but I grew up with two older brothers and a Dad who were great with sarcastic delivery. I’m sure that comes across in my music.

What is one of your biggest musical pet peeves? Whether it’s something other artists do, venues, fans, etc.

Right now I’m sick of seeing everyone live streaming on social media. Like I understand it’s the only option during a pandemic, but I feel like I‘m at a horrible house party stuck with that dude who picks up a guitar and forces everyone to listen to his songs. Except I can’t get away from it and it’s happening every minute of every day. I can’t wait for this to be over.

Are you bothering to make tentative tour plans for the end of the year, or just focusing on writing/recording music?

We have tour dates already rescheduled opening for The Mavericks. One in August and some others in December. I hope they happen. They were all sold out prior to Covid-19 and theoretically they still are. Fingers crossed!

What might be one strange/exciting/juicy Brent Amaker road story you might be interested in sharing?

It’s been such an adventure with both of my projects. We travel in our looks 24 hours a day whether it’s the Cowboy wear or tracksuits. People don’t know what to do with us when we walk into a spot for breakfast, or simply pull over for gas. The Rodeo has played maximum security prisons in Europe. The warden hosted a dinner for us and we were served by the prisoners. And then DeathSquad is a whole different adventure complete with matching manicures and  rhinestone cowboy hats. Too much to tell but it’s some sort of weird social experiment.

What’s one of the first Seattle establishments Brent Amaker will visit once life resumes as it was? (bars, coffee shops, restaurants, etc.)

You will find me at the Yen Wor in West Seattle doing Karaoke the first time that is possible. I miss walking into a dive bar and hanging out with my friends.

Editor’s note: Intro by Joe Markferding & questions by Paul Howard

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