The Waco Brothers Explain What the Rock Gods Demand and Why Their Tour Meals are Wild Culinary Orgies of Over Indulgence

March 29, 2016

Tell us about your tour vehicle. Any notable breakdown stories?

Dean Schlabowske:  For short distances, Waco Brothers generally travel in a tight formation of old economy cars, the exception being Tracey Dear’s new Bentley- a reflection of his status as punk’s top mandolin player.

True breakdown horror story- On an east coast tour, Mekons super fans Dennis and Lois generously volunteer to drive us to and from NY to our Pniladelphia show in their mini-van. On the way back, the van breaks down in sub-zero temperatures. It’s 3:00 AM, and the exhausted band takes refuge in the only warm place we can find- a service station restroom. Former drummer Steve Goulding is actually sleeping with his head resting on the toilet. Eventually, we find a limo service that will pick us up and take us back to NY, costing about 10 times as much as it would have to rent a van for the trip. We continue to make such sound business decisions to this day.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

Jon Langford:  We eat well on tour but cheap and healthy are low on the list of priorities. Waco Brothers tours are rare so they often become wild culinary orgies of over indulgence at the best restaurants we can find. Lots of seafood; no fast food!

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

Dean:  Dean’s rule of string breakage probability- A new set of strings will provide a breakage-free set nearly 100% of the time. After one show, this decreases to about 90%. After two shows, the only question is whether one, two or three strings will break during the set. How willing I am to court this disaster depends on a complex formula involving general laziness, degree of hangover and potential activities that might be missed during the time I should be changing strings. I spend a couple hundred dollars per year on strings- generally the cheapest I can find.

Where do you rehearse?

Jon:  The Waco Brothers do not have a rehearsal space as we never rehearse – we consider rehearsing to be a form of cheating or cowardice. We work out new songs in the studio or at sound check…

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

Jon:  The first Waco Brothers original tune was “Geronimo” and it was actually an instrumental although every now and then we can be heard shouting “Oh no! Geronimo!” It was used on the tv show “Sex in the City” as the soundtrack to a particularly unsatisfactory sexual encounter between Samantha and a young virgin chap from Texas.

Describe your first gig.

Jon:  We played behind the bar at the Rainbow Club on Damen Avenue in Chicago. Just me and Dean doing maudlin C&W covers like “There’s Stands the Glass” and “Waltz Across Texas” with Tracey joining us near the end with his brand new mandolin that he didn’t have a clue how to play. Most of the audience were in Urge Overkill.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

Dean:  I have been in the wine business for 25 years. It’s an industry full of misfits like myself that could never make a go at what they really want to do. That said, I like the work. And I like not having the pressure of trying to make a living solely from music. You can live a little nicer and it makes it easier to say yes to gigs that you know will lose money but you suspect will be a fun experience.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

Dean:  Since people have stopped purchasing music, my music income has turned from what was the equivalent of a great part-time job to that of an occasional little windfall. The optimist in me believes that the current issues of monetizing streaming will be sorted out in the next 5-10 years or that some way of earning money other than touring will come into play. But there’s always that voice telling me that the corporate bastards will always find a way to win at our expense. History would tell you so.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

Dean:  At the risk of sounding corny or cliched, the act of creating is where the joy comes from. That, and the great people you meet along the way. Certainly, finding a way to increase your popularity and make a little money are good things. But I spent a few years early on focused on the fact that neither of those things were happening. It poisons the experience. So get out there, break down and sleep in restrooms! Odds are, you will never make much money and you will never be very popular. Do it anyway. The rock gods demand it.


The Waco Brothers have been standing at the corner of punk urgency and Three-Chords-And-The-Truth country for 20 years now. They started at a time when it was deemed patently absurd to mix the two types of music, but the Wacos knew the score; they are different sides of the same coin, the personal wrapped in the political. And instead of travelling calculated creative boulevards during their career, the Waco Brothers have explored dark alleys and winding gravel paths through nine releases, all with the headlights off and the pedal to the metal, worrying (or not worrying) about end results later. With a body of work known for the indelicate and raucous, this may be their most deliberate and punchy yet—no one’s more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose. The title can be read two different ways, after all.

With a devil-may-care attitude towards polish and finesse, Going Down in History captures the thrill ride rush of the Waco Brothers’ live shows. Through the improvisational and fluid approach they adopted at Chicago’s Kingsize Sound Labs with longtime collaborator Mike Hagler at the knobs, the songs took on a muscularity and cohesiveness of an album unlike any previous Wacos recordings. Their pioneering Cash-meets-Clash jet engine mash up is still there, to be sure, but the Wacos have turned their well-scuffed boot heels towards their roots as never before. They have gone back to the future, down in history to celebrate and transform that which came before them.

The Waco Brothers are a five-piece, mostly Chicago based band consisting of Dean Schlabowske and Joe Camarillo – both Dollar Store band members – and three British expats: Jon Langford (Mekons, Skull Orchard, Pine Valley Cosmonauts), Tracey Dear, and Alan Doughty (Jesus Jones).

The Waco Brother’s latest release is Going Down in History.  Connect with them online and on the road.