Some quotes are better without context. Here’s one from The Armadillo Paradox’s vocalist and mandolin player Sol Chase. “We’ll drink, we’ll sing about drinking, we’ll sing about outlaws, and we’ll curse.” That’s the attitude the Austin-based bluegrass duo impart on their debut, and potentially final, album Out of Gas in Oil Country.
Sol Chase and co-vocalist Jared Huskey portray broken men trying to repair broken lives with a glue stick. Their style is an amalgamation of galloping bluegrass, americana, and indie rock while horsing around with a jaw of gritted teeth. They know it’s too quirky for some. They’ve made peace with that provided that they are understood. “If we’re being compared to the Barenaked Ladies that’s more in line with our intent than, say, Elliott Smith. And I love Elliott Smith but I’ve never envied artists like that,” says Huskey.
Chase and Huskey met through mutual friends during university but didn’t begin jamming together until 2019 when they unearthed songs from Huskey’s vast catalogue of drafts. It was Chase’s first experience with so much original content. Selecting which tracks to keep for the album was like choosing which children to save from an orphanage.
Each man’s talent complements the other’s strengths. Chase earned his mandolin virtuosity through a lifetime spent in Colorado’s tight-knit bluegrass scene. Huskey is a songwriting machine whose prolificity sprouts from his high school tenure on Soundcloud. “You think of a song, you make it that day, then you put it out. Part of that I really like. There’s no uniform genre you need to stick to,” he says.
The Armadillo Paradox’s best work flows out of dismay and humour. “Reincarnated Werewolf Astronaut” is a meditation on purpose through being both a werewolf and an astronaut. Elsewhere Huskey and Chase celebrate unemployment on “Can’t Hold a Job.” Try not to smile when the fiddle diddles on “Drive All Day,” showcasing how bluegrass’ inherent improvisational approach embellishes the duo’s light temperament.
Implementing the fiddle brought about its own challenge; finding fluid ways to inject mandolin solos into Huskey’s precomposed pieces. Thankfully the two were blessed with a bluegrass community like Austin’s. Many of their collaborators were recruited through personal connections. “Bringing in Grace Cline (on background vocals) was a process of them being my housemate,” Huskey says. As such Out of Gas in Oil Country is like homegrown tomatoes, picked at peak freshness with a taste the big name grocery stores dream of emulating. Their biggest aid was producer Charles Godfrey, who’s resume includes acts like The Mountain Goats and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “We had 70-80% of most of the songs arranged but we never practiced with a percussionist. It was like getting to go to a sample library and pick out our favourite drumlines,” Chase admits.
A particular sense of dissatisfaction sews the two together. “The main theme of the album is disillusionment and waking up to a harsh reality,” says Chase. The Armadillo Paradox grapple with this on the satirical “Austin,” a microcosm of Out of Gas in Oil Country’s ethos. They lampoon the city’s status as The Live Music Capital of the World by noting its current state of gentrified mush. For Huskey, who works in advertising, Austin personifies cognitive dissonance. “I was feeling disillusioned with Austin and my participation with the changes in the city cause a lot of the companies responsible are my clients. I can tell this is just making the city worse. I’m just trying to live even though I’m barely making a living.” Chase is equally as conflicted. He loves Austin’s bluegrass scene. It pays well and houses a deep talent pool. Conversely he recognizes the shriveling relevancy of live music. “It’s doubly important to play shows as soon as we can. I’ve been playing shows outdoors – safely – because we need to keep this thing alive.” Live music is his livelihood. He refuses to idle while it’s pilfered by advertising companies and global pandemics.
Out of Gas in Oil Country could only be the product of the maillard reaction between Huskey and Chase. How many former Soundcloud rappers do you know making bluegrass albums in 2021 that feature electric mandolin and draw comparisons to The Mountain Goats? Chase calls the album a snapshot of 2020. It is a collection of stampede roadshow vignettes brûléed by irreverence. The flip side of Out of Gas in Oil Country’s timeliness is the state of the world since 2020. The album’s magic was captured through collaborations and improvisation. Hell, the mariachi horns on “Can’t Hold a Job” were written and recorded in under a day. Now Huskey and Chase inhabit different time zones. They’re hesitant to predict when – or if – they’ll be able to play live together again. The uncertainty of tracking their future trajectories suspends Out of Gas in Oil Country.
But this is a burden for the fan, not an indictment of Chase and Huskey’s relationship. Remember, they’d been friends for years before deciding to jam together. “The fact we were able to come together for a year and make something that summarizes that point in our lives – having both just graduated and started our professional lives – is amazing. I can look back at it as a single piece of art, knowing I’ll always have it. I can feel comfortable sending that link around,” says Chase.
The Armadillo Paradox tout recognition and champion action. They measure the fucked up with the humour broiling underneath. “We’re not just gonna wallow and complain about Austin. We wanna keep making music and supporting venues that are supporting musicians,” says Huskey. Chase doubles down on the specificity. “That’s how we lose it, by giving up to gentrification and not playing music.”