"We played Berkeley last night and there was this guy who shouted, 'Where's your cowboy hat?' " said Tony Kinman, illustrating how hard it has been for his band Rank and File to shake the cow-punk tag it got saddled with a few years back. "I haven't worn one in three years," added Kinman.
Rank and File also hadn't made an album in three years before its new release "Rank and File" (on Rhino). And though the two previous LPs carried a distinct country flavor, there's hardly a trace of it in the new record's straight-ahead, hard-edged rock.
In case people aren't getting the message, Tony's brother and partner Chip Kinman has been stressing the point on stage. "We've done some shows in L.A. in the last few months and said, 'Here's our new stuff and all you with the tipped collars can leave and let other people come in,' " he said, laughing.
Genre-lock is nothing new to the Kinman brothers, whose previous band was the Dils, a late-'70s San Francisco-based punk outfit. "When we broke up the Dils and started Rank and File, people said we'd sold out," Tony recalled. "We had hard-core punks coming to our shows and asking for Dils songs and saying Rank and File was bull."
Actually, the songs on the new album are not that different from earlier material. The primary change is the screaming rock guitars that have replaced the "Bonanza"-like gallop and country ornamentation.
"Most of the fans in most cities where we've played the past three years don't come out to hear the old stuff anymore," said Chip, acknowledging that since the band has not played much in its Los Angeles base in that time, long-time local fans may have a harder time adjusting. "I know a lot of people will be pretty shocked and maybe somewhat disgusted, but that's OK."
Still, even as Rank and File is convincing people that it is not a country-punk combo, it's finding that the labeling process may be inescapable: The new sound has been tagged by some as heavy metal.
"We don't really pay much attention to that stuff," Tony said. "When our sound started changing, we just wanted to turn it up. We knew that a lot of people who came to hear (the old sound) wouldn't be back again. We've always been willing to take that kind of short-term risk to satisfy ourselves and have fun. There's really no other reason to do anything."