For the past few weeks, Austin-by-way-of-El Paso Americana act The Dirty River Boys have been teasing us with hints of new music with a Spaghetti Western-tinged music video teaser of the band wandering about in the high noon of the Chihuahuan Desert. Now, they’ve shared “Mesa” the lead single from their third full-length album, Mesa Starlight, due out October 19.
“Mesa” finds The Dirty River Boys—Nino Cooper, Marco Gutierrez, Colton James and Chris Hausler—fighting off exposure and death. James plays a sun-soaked cowboy who’s finally succumbed to the triple-digit dry heat. He falls face first off his horse and when he wakes, he’s part of a chain gang being led by the Grim Reaper through the blistering desert.
The four-piece country-punk outfit shot the cinematic music video out in inhospitable deserts surrounding their hometown of El Paso. Director Charlie Schwan, a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, was suggested by a mutual friend.
“Nino and Charlie, they were bouncing ideas off one another and came up with the idea behind the music video,” Gutierrez tells Wide Open Country. “We had met Charlie through our friend Rikki Hardy. She’d come to a show of ours and suggested him. Nino took the initiative and called him up.”
Fueled by ample amounts of water, Tecate and chile relleno and mole burritos, they filmed the desert swept “Mesa” over the course of a few days. It was “fun times” despite the hot temperatures and even hotter garb.
“Mesa” started out as a collaboration between Gutierrez and Hausler. It was a melody that Hausler had stuck in his head on the way to San Antonio. Hausler pulled out his phone and recorded the infectious melody on a piano app and looping it onto itself. It soon grew legs over a handful of writing sessions between the two.
“A couple days later, we were in Sonora, Texas,” says Gutierrez. “We were in a motel room throwing ideas around again—this time lyrically. Chris said ‘let’s write a protest song.'”
At first, Gutierrez was apprehensive about the idea, noting that they all had a wide spectrum of political views. As the two hashed out various takes and ideas, they settled on the specifics that they all could relate to.
“It ended up being this thing where everyone feels like they’re being lied to,” says Gutierrez. “Everyone’s on edge. There’s this growing tension in the world these days. Everyone’s kind of fearful of what lurks just beyond the light and in the darkness. It’s what’s right around the corner. That’s the foundation of the song.”
“Down in the valley, we’re pulling doubles. Lord knows we’re working twice as hard for half the pay,” sings Gutierrez on the sepia-toned “Mesa.” That dry heat is infused in his vocals as he sings through dry lips. You feel the sweat glistening as the sun hovers overhead.
“Mesa,” like many Dirty River Boys staples of the past, is marked by punk-worthy chanting choruses, hints of hillbilly twang, and a gritty groove that demands an accompanying foot stomp. It’s armed with a sharp piercing whistle by Cooper that’s just as good as anything found on an Ennio Morricone score.
It’s been four years since they released their last album, 2014’s The Dirty River Boys. In many respects, Mesa Starlight finds the band reinvigorated and embracing their energetic and rowdy live performances of their early days. Much of that has been spurred on by weekly jam sessions between Gutierrez and Hausler before they began recording the album.
While Mesa Starlight is the four-piece honing in on a specific sound—a hodgepodge of country honky-tonk, Appalachian folk, Celtic punk-tinged anthems and rustic roots-rock—it also finds them delivering their most organized album to date. It’s undoubtedly an aggressive direction sonically, but it’s not at the expense of flying off the cuff or waiting to derail.
Prior to stepping foot in Austin, Texas’ Ice Cream Factory Studios with engineer Matt Parmenter, the band had worked through many of the songs with a fine-tooth comb with pre-production.
“It was something we’d never really done as a band,” says Gutierrez. “That process was super refreshing. It really organized us. We had this clear idea of what should and shouldn’t be on this album. So much was put in before we even hit record.”