DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Antsy McClain might have stepped out of an old black-and-white family photograph. He's got a puffed-up pompadour and horn-rimmed glasses, and he might as well be posing probably next to a new '57 Chevy. McClain and his band - the Trailer Park Troubadours - play a distinctly retro brand of rock and roll he calls pokabelly(ph). Their latest album, "Trailercana," celebrates the joys of life behind aluminum trailer walls.
(Soundbite of song, "Living in Aluminum")
Mr. ANTSY McCLAIN (Vocalist, Trailer Park Troubadours): (Singing) There's a lot to be said about contentment - some folks they never get enough. Well, let me ask you honey, which is better? A mansion full of money, or a trailer full of love?
ELLIOTT: Antsy McClain joins us now from Nashville. Hello there.
Mr. McCLAIN: Hi. It's good to be with you.
ELLIOTT: Now the song we were just hearing is called "Living in Aluminum," and it almost sounds like an anthem of sorts.
Mr. McCLAIN: It's an anthem that says, you know, materialism is not the path toward happiness.
ELLIOTT: And what is?
Mr. McCLAIN: Yes. What is? Simple living, being able to spend time with your friends and your family and make music with the people you love, and spread that love throughout the world, one trailer park at a time.
ELLIOTT: Now, I understand trailer parks are something you know of.
Mr. McCLAIN: I know a little bit about living in a trailer park, yes. I was raised in trailers parks throughout Kentucky. And I took a creative writing class a long time ago and they told me to write what you know. And I certainly know about that way of life and I started writing one song and then another. And then, it kind of cannibalized everything else I was writing, so it's turned into this whole act so that it's been a lot of fun.
ELLIOTT: You should know, Mr. McClain, that the main reason you're on our program today is one particular song that got our attention. And it was this song - it's got quite a title - here we go.
(Soundbite of "I Was Just Flipped Off by a Silver-haired Old Lady with a Honk If You Love Jesus sticker on the Bumper of her Car")
Mr. McCLAIN: (Singing) I was just flipped off by a silver-haired old lady with a Honk-If-You-Love-Jesus sticker on the bumper of her car. I was feeling pretty Christian. I was loving all my neighbors when I saw that bumper sticker there. I didn't think twice. My hand went for my horn and I pushed it with conviction, when I saw that that lady's finger, it bout put my heart on ice because I was just flipped off by a silver-haired old lady with a Honk-If-You-Love-Jesus sticker on the bumper of her car.
That is actually a true story. I was driving through Nashville on business one day and sitting in traffic and I saw that scene in front of me there. It stopped at a light and I did honk and this lady's arm came out the window and I was just - I was appalled and I thought, well, I need to write an anthem about hypocrisy as it - well, you know, what I write is always stemmed in humor but hopefully there's something else under the surface you can scratch through and get some deeper meaning. And that's a song that - about how I felt when faced with hypocrisy or maybe just a big misunderstanding, I'm not sure.
ELLIOTT: Or maybe just a mean lady.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. McCLAIN: Yeah, well. Yeah, I guess so. It's - but you know, it could have been a loaner. You know, she could have, like, been loaned that car by a friend, you know. Somebody could have just said, here, use my car for the day and not realizing that there was a Honk-If-You-Love-Jesus sticker on the back of it. And so I had to keep that in mind, you know, and that's actually in the verse of the song so.
ELLIOTT: You sing about a number of colorful characters. There's Joan of Arkansas who ends up burning her trailer down as she flees an abusive husband. There's the girl that you remember with the skinny painted-on eyebrows who smells like popcorn, Quaker State and Lemon Pledge. Are all of these folks real?
Mr. McCLAIN: Yeah. That's - they're all slices from my past and my present and a little artistic license thrown in there, I'm sure.
ELLIOTT: Tell us about that girl.
Mr. McCLAIN: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, to some people, Lemon Pledge and Quaker State oil can be an aphrodisiac. So you know, and certainly folks in everywhere I grew up - it's not the fancy perfume and the, you know, and all of these frilly stuff, it's the stuff of real life that can be, you know, a turn-on and attractive to people so - and that's kind of where I'm from.
(Soundbite of song "Full Moon Nights in Pine View Heights")
Mr. McCLAIN: (Singing) She had her eyebrows plucked thinner than a razor's edge. She smelled like popcorn, Quaker State and Lemon Pledge. She had her head on my shoulder, fitting just right. There must have been a dozen parties going on that night but she said, Antsy, let's stay right her and veg. Oh, I remember full moon nights in Pine View Heights. The buzz of the cicadas and the chigger bites, the city lights glowing beyond the trees, the smell of lake water riding on the breeze.
ELLIOTT: Antsy McClain, you must have to walk a fine line with the kind of humor that your songs evoke.
Mr. McCLAIN: Oh, certainly. I mean, I'm singing about my own life and my own family and friends, the people that are very dear to me. And I think at first glance, someone might think that this strictly a parody or it has ill intent or could be a dark comedy or something, but it really is a tribute. And I don't like the word trash. And trailer trash has been one of those terms thrown about that I think is very derogatory and mean-spirited, and it's not, in any way, the direction that I have ever wanted to take with us.
ELLIOTT: Have you ever met anybody really mad - has anybody ever confronted you about your subject matter?
Mr. McCLAIN: No. Actually and - people are always very - I think after every show people are great to come up to me and thank me for taking a high road and keeping it clean. And actually something that happens once - I wrote a song called the "Crack of Dawn," and it's about a guy who wears his pants too low and he's revealing a little - he's revealing…
ELLIOTT: The plumber problem.
Mr. McCLAIN: …cleavage - a certain kind of cleavage. Yeah. And so, you know, I'm singing this and I'm on stage and I see this guy - big guy - Big Bubba-type, you know, down there and I'm thinking if there's a guy who's going to be angry with me after a show, it's this guy right here. And he comes up and I'm dreading the moment when he approaches me. And he does, he shakes my hand and he says, Antsy McClain? And I said yes. And he says, that song "Crack of Dawn." And I said yes, nervously. And he said, I know a guy just like the guy in that song, man.
(Soundbite of song "Crack of Dawn")
Mr. McCLAIN: (Singing) No, he isn't one for manners. No, he disregards the rules and he thinks it's another pocket, one more place to keep his tools in the crack of dawn.
And it dawned on me that people don't - none of us really see ourselves the way other people see them. And there's the beauty of humor - you can mask it in a lot of different ways. And if you're kind about it and not mean-spirited, I think everybody can join arms and lock in and have a good time.
ELLIOTT: I was reading your bio online and there was this lovely description of what you call the rugged spirit of the old West living on in today's trailer parks. What did you mean by that?
Mr. McCLAIN: Well, I mean, when you look at an Airstream trailer, an Airstream is pulled behind an automobile and it's this silver, you know, beautiful, rounded silver thing that doesn't look far removed from a covered wagon. If you blurry your vision a little bit you can see the parallels.
And so what we have in America is - America is so vast and so expansive that we had homes on wheels and people could hook up their car and pull it to their destination, their next home, looking for, you know, paradise and Nirvana there. And this pioneer spirit, I think it truly is maintained in Americans that live this, sort of, mobile lifestyle and, you know, it's - I think it's a beautiful thing. I get kind of choked up just talking about it.
ELLIOTT: Singer and songwriter Antsy McClain. His band is the Trailer Park Troubadours and their new record is "Trailercana." Thanks for joining us.
Mr. McCLAIN: Thank you, Debbie. It was a pleasure to talk to you.
(Soundbite of song "Falling in Love in America")
Mr. McCLAIN: (Singing) Her eyes were so warm and inviting like steamy diner windows on a cold winter day. The November air was so biting we could see our breath in my old Chevrolet. I was taking the longest way home I could find. It was cold but she loved me and I had to stop time. And there is nothing like falling in love in America.
ELLIOTT: For more tunes from Antsy McClain, visit our Web site, npr.org. That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.
(Soundbite of song "Falling in Love in America")
Mr. McCLAIN: (Singing) Well, I've never once been to Paris, and I've never been one to like fancy perfume, but I've held hands with Jessica Harris and walked by the creek with the red bud in bloom. And those writers in Cosmo, they don't know a thing, and France ain't got nothing on Kentucky in spring. And there's nothing like falling in love in America.
America, give us your lonely and broken, the hopeless still hoping. America, lift up the hearts that are aching, those yet to be taken. There's nothing like falling in love in America.
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