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Music Interview: Jenny Don’t and the Spurs

Music Interview: Jenny Don’t and the Spurs

It’s a miracle that Fire On The Ridge, the latest album from Portland’s alt-country-Americana-garage-rock-punk outlaws, Jenny Don’t and the Spurs, was ever made.

Named after a forest fire that forced the band to make a detour when they were playing a local show, the record was held up when the studio sessions were interrupted by singer/rhythm guitarist Jenny Don’t needing surgery on her vocal cords.

When recording recommenced, the hard drive containing these tracks crashed, so the group had to start all over again. Then the studio caught fire, flooded and needed to be rebuilt. 

Just as everything seemed to be back on track, COVID-19 struck, which put a stop to any in-person mixing of the album. 

Unbelievably, when the record was finally completed, things sadly took an even darker turn – the band’s drummer, Sam Henry, died of cancer.

“Every summer in Oregon there’s either a deluge of biblical proportions with crazy flooding, or there’s a drought and everything dries out and gets really combustible – we have massive forest fires every year,” says bassist Kelly Halliburton. “We had to drive through one, but we got diverted. It was terrifying.”

Jenny Don't and the Spurs

Adds Don’t: “The sky was bright red and people were being evacuated – it was crazy. It was hard for it not to have a lasting impression on you. The fire was started by a kid with fireworks.”

Says Halliburton: “We did a detour to escape the fire but by the time we’d played the show and were driving back, at three or four in the morning, it was pitch black and the road was open because it was safe, but there were still glowing embers all over the hillside – it was like driving through hell or a lava field. It was the most incredible thing we’d ever seen.”

hi-fi+ is talking to Halliburton and his wife, Don’t, backstage at the UK-based Americana festival, The Ramblin’ Roots Revue, in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, where the band have just played an incendiary show on their first ever tour of the UK. 

SH: So, you had a rough time making the album?

JD: We had been touring and my voice was getting worse, but we got all the music done and it was time to do the vocals. Kelly and the engineer were like, ‘This isn’t how it should sound – it doesn’t sound like you.’ 

So, we decided to postpone the vocals and I got some surgery – it was about 12 weeks’ recovery. Then the hard drive crashed – we thought we’d recovered everything but ours was the only stuff that got totally lost. It was kind of a silver lining…

KH: It forced us to redo it. 

JD: The recording we have now has more energy – it’s better and much brighter. When we were in the writing process, I had no inflections in my voice – I lost a lot of octaves and I sounded tired. 

And then the studio got hit by fire and a flood…

JD: We recorded in the basement – we had pizza in the kitchen.

When we went to do the mixing, a dog had gotten onto the stove, turned it on and a pizza box caught fire – the kitchen was on fire.

KH: It was an inferno – we were trapped in the basement. There was fire and water in the studio. 

JD: Then COVID-19 happened and everything shut down – we didn’t mix together – and a water heater exploded and flooded the studio.

Your drummer, Sam, who played on the record, died after it was finished… 

KH: We got to tour that album with Sam – we did most of the summer of 2021 with him and played a bunch of shows with Charley Crockett. 

The songs on the 12in EP that’s just come out [Lovesick Crawl] are his last recordings with us – he recorded the six songs and then we took him to the hospital the next day. 

They gave him three months and he didn’t even last three weeks. It was terrible – one of the most traumatic things we’ve ever been through. He was family to us – we loved him.

This is the first time you’ve toured the UK. How’s it going?

KH: It’s going great – we’re doing seven shows and this is our fourth. I used to come over here in the ‘90s and play with punk bands. The last time I toured the UK was in 2003, and my band, Pierced Arrows, played All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2010. We played solid, garage-rock stuff.

Jenny Don't and the Spurs
Photo: Lisa Dibbern


[To KH]: How did you meet Jenny?

KH: She started coming to Pierced Arrows shows and she noticed me…

JD: I was standing upfront at one of the shows and I thought, ‘I want to know him,’ so I wrote him a message on Myspace. Remember Myspace?

I do. 

KH: It kind of developed from there – it’s a rock ‘n’ roll love story. We got married last year – we got together in 2009. We took our time.

JD: Do you know the band Poison Idea from Portland? The singer, Jerry A., married us…

KH: He’s an ordained minister – he officiated. Portland’s a pretty tight-knit scene and Poison Idea are a prominent band – we’ve been friends for ever.

[To JD]: So, what were you doing before you formed Jenny Don’t and the Spurs?

JD: I had a punk-rock band called Don’t, with our drummer, Sam, from the Spurs, who passed away recently. Him and I also did acoustic stuff at restaurants for fun. The Spurs are more natural to me – Don’t was fun, but I like the Spurs better.

KH: We wanted to shake it up a little – we were in loud bands that were touring the punk and the garage circuit, but we wanted to do something that was a little more laid-back. It started off with just the two of us.

So, have you always been into country music?

KH: Yeah – when I grew up, in the ‘80s, in America, roots music was very popular – the old stuff, like Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash. It was always around. If you like music, it’s good music and you recognise that, regardless. Even though I was into punk rock and garage, at a certain point in the night, a Patsy Cline record would go on. 

Very late in the evening…

KH: Exactly.

JD: I grew up listening to that and I used to do rodeo – my mom was the Central Wyoming rodeo queen. I was born in New Mexico, but I grew up in Washington and then I moved to Portland to play music. I met Kelly and Sam Henry pretty much within a month of moving there – we linked up and have been together ever since. 

Do you write songs together?

JD: Yeah – a lot of the time I’ll have an idea, but I won’t know if it’s good, and Kelly’s really good at encouraging the song to move to the next stage. He’ll introduce it to the band and we’ll build it from there. Sometimes I’ll have a whole song written, but we’ll piece it together to be a little more dynamic. I write on an acoustic a lot of the time.

KH: She comes up with the basic structure and I help a lot with the arrangements and sometimes the lyrics.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. I love the title track – it’s a galloping garage-country-rock song – but ‘California Cowboy’ and ‘Restless Moon’ have an old school country feel, and ‘Friday Night’, which is one of my favourites, is like a Patsy Cline song…

JD: It’s funny – ‘California Cowboy’ was my least favourite, but it’s Kelly’s favourite. That’s the most requested song… I should’ve listened to him. 

There’s a good mix of country and rock ‘n’ roll on the record…

JD: The songs are different, but they’re all cohesive. That’s why I like this band – we can do that and not be pigeonholed. We like all kinds of music and it’s fun to try and incorporate all our influences.

‘Trouble On My Mind’ is the heaviest track – full-on garage-rock-country-punk…

KH: We wanted to shake it up a little…

‘Queen of the Desert’ and ‘Johnny Vagabond’ are also two of my favourites. I love the mysterious, cinematic Western noir / Ennio Morricone feel, with twangy guitar… 

JD: Yeah. So many artists are like, ‘I’m the queen of blah-blah-blah, this or that…’ I want to be the queen of random stuff – the queen of the flies, buzzing around me, or the queen of the cactus, or the queen of all of it. How about that?

KH: ‘Johnny Vagabond’ is a cover song – it’s by Bonnie Guitar. She was one of the only prominent female country artists in the Pacific North West in the ‘40s and ‘50s and co-founded the Dolton Records label. She was really prolific but no one really knows her.

So, is there a new album planned? I guess you’re hoping for better luck with the next one…

JD: Yeah – the only thing that’s holding it back is that we’ve been touring so much. We’re not at home long enough to record it. 

We’re trying to do two albums – we want to do a trail songs album and a follow up to Fire On The Ridge at the same time. We’re working on it. 

Fire On The Ridge is out now on Fluff & Gravy Records – vinyl, CD and digital.

Jenny Don't and the Spurs


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