Dark and often satirical Brent Amaker & The Rodeo is a unique band that some may dismiss as something of a parody, but their ever-growing cult-like fan base might have something to say about that. On November 13th, 2020, they released their latest EP, Ugly World, a collection of four songs that stay true to their country-noir roots with a strong dose of their signature angle of satire and swagger.
Formed in Seattle in 2005, the band’s tenure on the scene can be demonstrated by the fact that they still have a MySpace page up. Head honcho Brent Amaker is supported by lead guitarist Ryan Leyva (a.k.a. Johnny Nails), bassist Jordan Gomes, rhythm guitarist and background vocalist Ben Strehle, and drummer and background vocalist Bryan Crawford. The group’s unique song catalogue has found their way on a number of television shows and movies, including HBO hit Big Little Lies and Showtime series Weeds.
Along with their Western sound and appearance, their music also sometimes bears a political edge. “Dump Trump,” the opening track on Ugly World, takes aim at 45, with lines like, “Dude loves himself so much,” and referring to the subject as “this TV star.” The frustration in the song reveals itself as Amaker worries, “If I had to live through one more term, my faith in democracy might just disappear.”
The timing of the release, which was in the week just after the presidential election, was certainly no accident. Other songs from the EP, including title track “Ugly World,” also address the state of the world; “the leaders don’t lead,” Amaker points out as a sign of a nation in duress.
One of the most fascinating aspects of their work is the delivery. A lot of the lines are more spoken than sung, as if they’re telling a cadenced story over a couple of guitars keeping rhythm around a campfire deep in the woods. It creates an entrancing effect, captivating the listener as the gentle cyclical nature lulls them into compliant attentiveness.
Their consistent, concise, and overall badass style is no doubt a factor as to why they have accumulated such a devout following. The initiation to be a member consists of a ritual known as the “Whiskey Baptism,” where Amaker welcomes audience members at concerts into the “Church of the Rodeo” before pouring shots of liquor down their mouths. Though no formal contract into the group is signed, the loyalty must be locked in internally for the demand for their music and shows has remained steady over the years.
This fun cult-like-leader image is bolstered by their consistent costuming. Each member dresses in all black, equipped with matching cowboy hats and either glasses or masquerade-style masks. Their uniform is both for when they are on stage and most of their album covers in which the band members appear. Think the four musketeers, but planning to rob a bank, perhaps somewhere in the deserts of New Mexico.
Ugly World is only an addition to their existing rich and historical discography, but it is a reminder that Brent Amaker & The Rodeo are here to play and here to stay.