Tick Talk: Stump Tail Dolly – “Americonoclasm”

Emma Connolly

Emma Connolly

Emma lives in England. Ace the dog keeps her feet and heart warm while she writes about music and culture.
Emma Connolly

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Ryan Clackner and Lucy Cochran

Stump Tail Dolly | Photo: The Other Chris Scruggs

The word ‘fusion’ rings alarm bells when applied to new music. It is no simple matter to fuse styles without creating something gimmicky, embarrassing or downright unlistenable. Every so often, however, an exception will prove the rule. So it is with Stump Tail Dolly’s debut EP ‘Americonoclasm’, which sees duo Ryan Clackner and Lucy Cochran create a new Country-Metal sound that comes stampeding right out of the gate.

As with the best metal, there’s a strong element of dark humour throughout. The country musicianship is entirely serious, as the single traditional, eponymous, track demonstrates. ‘I’ve Endured’ features Country-strong lead vocals from Lucy Cochran soaring over distorted riffs that evoke Thin Lizzy’s ‘Sha la la’. On ‘Insomnia’, Ryan Clackner unleashes a metal voice that would scare the mascara off Ozzy Osbourne. ‘Marish Prophet’ has the duo narrating a Southern Gothic tale, their words emerging and sinking beneath the music as if in epic struggle. On ‘Billy’, all these elements collide in an exuberance of Speed Metal Country.

The Chronopages were intrigued so just as soon as our ears stopped ringing, we contacted Ryan and Lucy to find out more:

Stump Tail DollyWho are your musical inspirations?

Ryan: As of late, Stravinsky, Jerry Reed, old Mastadon, my steel teacher Doug Jernigan, McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane, John Zorn, Susan Alcorn and Today is the Day and Elliott Carter.

Lucy: John Hartford, Willie Nelson, Del McCoury, Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerard, The Dixie Chicks! Those are my favorites anyway. This project has found me seeking inspiration from a wider variety of sources, though. Ryan is pretty musically inspiring to me.

Why do you think no one has created Country Metal before?

Ryan: “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Lucy: Because it’s hard. And fucked up. And why would you even bother? Talk about two things that should not mix… This band has been in Ryan’s head for about 10 years because he’s sick in the brain like that. I just like a good challenge.

Ryan, where does your metal voice come from?

Ryan: Imagining a mountain goat standing up shouting off his mountain. or thunder…

Lucy, as a female country vocalist, how have you adapted to embrace a metal persona?

Lucy: I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty un-metal. Listen to my singing and fiddling on the record and you’ll notice it could easily have been plucked out of a country record. I like a lot of the bands I hear but I’m still pretty new to metal. In our videos I’m wearing country dresses or dressing up as a unicorn or being the only one wearing white when everyone else is wearing black. If I’m embracing anything, it’s the duality of this project.

What role has Nashville played in creating your sound?

Ryan: Nashville has been interesting… lots of history which has had an obvious influence but in terms of what’s happening now, I’d say I’m completely disconnected from it. People are very business oriented here. My head is 1000 miles from that. I don’t see music as a product at all, though I do see it as communication. Nashville has definitely helped me see the value of “artists” being down to earth too, as well as making your point clear and simple, which isn’t easy for me but I’m working on it…

Lucy: I honestly think we could’ve come up with the same shit if we were living in Alaska.

You both come from intense musical schooling; what made you decide to study the courses you did at the time and how have those choices helped form this bizarro concoction of Bluegrass meets horns up death metal?

Ryan: School (William Paterson University, NJ, Class of ’05) was a great time for me, though very difficult. I wanted to be the best jazz player in the world. It became more about impressing other players and faculty than real expression, for me. Eventually that false facade would have to crash and burn in order for me to truly create from an ‘original thought’ sort of place, and I was drinking way too much. It took awhile; years of wandering around broke and lonely, not playing any music, working labor jobs, it was all pretty miserable. I was a jazz performance major so my training was pretty extensive; theory, ear training, sight singing, piano, guitar lessons, composition lessons, arranging etc. I took private lessons on top of all that plus was teaching on my own. On top of that I also was in the Honors program and was privately studying classical music with the classical faculty, mostly in terms of theory and composition and some orchestration. I was playing with extremely over the top talented people and growing a lot but also constantly comparing myself. I was excited and miserable at the same time.  The theory and comp lessons probably figure most into my writing and playing style now. The focus on the “arc” of the music…

Lucy: If my college professors heard this, they’d probably be appalled. When I was in college I played fiddle in an old time band called Joe’s Truck Stop. We would book shows around Boston and often times we’d get stuck on bills with metal bands because promoters didn’t know what to do with us. Surprisingly, the mix was good. The metal kids always seemed to like us and we enjoyed upping the intensity of our music for those shows. I realize I avoided your question. I did my best to avoid schooling too.

What brought the two of you together musically?

Ryan: Playing in Bob Wayne’s band, then our own mutual urges to do something really extraordinary.

Lucy: We met while playing in Bob Wayne’s band. So before we even knew each other we were playing music together. It was kind of like we didn’t have a choice – we were just randomly thrown into it. Coming from two very different musical worlds, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to educate each other. I just finally got him to admit he likes old time music. He didn’t get it at first. I’ll listen to him ramble on about theory for days and hope to absorb some of it.

Stump Tail Dolly - Lucy and Ryan

Lucy & Ryan – close siblings | Photo: The Other Chris Scruggs

Traditionally there have always been a lot of couples who perform together in Country music. Currently there are a number of Alternative Country couples producing strong music – Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, J.D. and Jessica Wilkes, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. What do you think being a romantic as well as musical partnership brings to your songs?

Ryan: Lucy is my sister so we haven’t been dating that long. She just got out of high school.

Lucy: I don’t know what you’re talking about – Ryan is my older brother.

Where does the band’s name come from?

Ryan: It’s an old eastern Kentucky term that (far as I know) the Scotch-Irish brought over with them…

Lucy: Stumptailed Dolly (there are lots of variants of the name) is a West Virginia fiddle tune. I spent a lot of time in West Virginia when I was growing up- learning old time music… So it’s something close to my heart. Ryan liked it because it sounds so strange… What even is that? Who even knows what that is? Ryan knows, I forgot. We changed it to Stump Tail Dolly because it’s easier to say.

Which one track on the EP most represents the future of STD?

Ryan: 1-5 :)

Lucy: Marish Prophet and I’ve Endured. It’s a tie.