Tune into mainstream country radio today, and you're likely to hear chart-topping "bro-country" acts like Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Jake Owen singing about pick-up trucks, girls in cut-off jeans, beery nights at the local bar and other down-home cliches.
But these radio-ready mainstays aren't exactly channeling their elders. Sure, they've got a little twang in their voices and some steel guitar in their hits, but they're hardly following in the hallowed honky-tonk bootsteps of Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings and the recently departed Merle Haggard.
That's where Ben Hoffman steps in. The star of the now-defunct Comedy Central series The Ben Show has reinvented himself as a shit-kicking country outlaw called Wheeler Walker, Jr., who seeks to reclaim the redneck crown formerly worn by the likes of David Allan Coe.
To do it, he drained his bank account to hire top-notch studio musicians and respected country producer David Cobb to unleash his self-explanatory debut album, Redneck Shit, onto the world.
And because Walker refused to record clean versions of outrageously tongue-in-cheek singles like "Eatin' Pussy/Kickin' Ass" and "Beer, Weed, Cooches", his songs were predictably shunned by country radio. Still, the album debuted at Number 9 on the Billboard Country Charts, and has maintained a stubborn grip on the charts akin to a drunken reveler refusing to be kicked off a mechanical bull.
Maxim spoke to Hoffman-as-Wheeler about his new record, his signature dirty lyrics, and today's crop of country stars.
I'm not the biggest fan of modern country music, but I absolutely love this record.
So many people have told me they don’t listen to country, but they've bought my record. I’d love it if they all started listening to Waylon Jennings, but I understand why they ain’t listening to other country because all that’s out there is dog shit. I wish I could tell you that I was smart enough and thought “This is the perfect time to do something like this", but it was just me being a dumbass and putting out a record.
What do you think of today's country stars?
I’d love to turn people to real country music, and nothing against Carrie Underwood, Sam Hunt or Florida Georgia Line, but that ain’t country music. It's not like I hate their guts. I don’t know the fuckers, but it ain’t country. It’s just watered-down hip-hop, and if I wanna listen to hip-hop, I’m gonna listen to NWA or Public Enemy or Snoop. I don’t wanna listen to no country hip-hop.
Fair enough. I really liked something you said on the Joe Rogan Experience about the influence of bad hip-hop on country music.
Hell yeah, I was quoting Steve Earle from the Chris Schifflet podcast. He's the guitarist from the Foo Fighters, and he loves country music and has a podcast where he interviews country artists. He said it's hip-hop for white people who are scared of black people. And it ain't good hip-hop either, man.
Tell me about how you recorded Redneck Shit.
It was completely written beforehand. There are a couple of people who have said I hadn’t written it, but I wrote every note on that record. And that’s not to say that Dave Cobb and the musicians didn’t contribute but no one’s come in to record an album more prepared than me. I went in there with 40 songs and we ended up doing 11. We probably recorded the whole thing in about 5 days.
That’s pretty quick.
Yeah, I wanted to go faster, but the band was kind of getting worn out. That’s the thing, if you’re prepared, and you’ve got great musicians and great songs, you don’t need 6 months in the studio. And I think people can hear that too, just the way it felt, and how it sounds like people playing real instruments.
Do you see yourself branching out beyond the dirty songs that have become your signature?
That’s just what I brought in for this record. I’ve got tons of songs. I wouldn’t want to make the same record again, but people also don’t have to worry about me cleaning up my act. I didn’t do this to make it into the mainstream. I’m gonna make as many albums as I can, but the way I make a record is we get in the studio, we close the doors so no one is going to hear, and I make whatever the fuck I want.
Do you ever get frustrated for being recognized for the filthy lyrics, and not the solid country songs you're making?
I’ve a couple reviews that say it’s a great record, but honestly I don’t give two fucks. I get 100 people every day telling me they love the record and that’s what I care about. It’s the first record in country music in a long while where you listen to it and you go, “Well that guy doesn’t give a fuck if he sells any copies of this or not."
David Allan Coe made some records like Redneck Shit, too. Was he an influence?
And he also had a mainstream career. I ain’t got no mainstream career. This is it. But that stuff was like sold in the back of magazines. I’m selling it on iTunes, and Amazon, and that’s all I need. And of course, we’re fucked in all of the chain stores. When I tell you that I’m number 11 on the Billboard charts, you’ve gotta remember that half of these album they’re selling are in Kmart or Wal-Mart, and I ain’t in any of these places. I’m doing this with both hands tied behind my back, but I’ve tied them there myself.
What made you decide to record a record like this?
It’s a break-up record. I’m dealing with some personal shit, and it’s my own life. I thought if I’m paying for it, why the fuck would I censor it, so I didn’t. People want to find out what pissed this old lady off so bad. So the language is a part of it, and that’s my kind of "fuck you" to the music industry and Nashville and the people who fucked me over and got me to the point that I would make a record this crazy. But it had to be legit on the music side too, or it wouldn’t work. There’s something people are connecting with, you know?
For sure. You've definitely got some great music on there. I think I hear four-part harmonies on "Drop ‘em Out. "
I think there’s a six. It’s just one of those things where it’s old-fashioned word of mouth, because the mainstream media is pretty much ignoring me, and people are still finding it. Where’s this going again, Maxim’s website?
Get some Maxim models to come to my show in New York.
That’s probably not gonna happen.
If you don’t talk to the Maxim models, and you don’t know the Maxim models, then this interview is fuckin’ over.
Fair enough. Got any last words?
Buy my fuckin’ record and come to the fuckin’ shows.
You heard the man. Go to Wheeler Walker' Jr.'s tour schedule to see him perform live.