Skids marks

[Ed. Note: This story contains the full interview that Xpress conducted with Rick Morris; the printed version was greatly abridged.]

What could be better than ringing in the new year with Southern Culture on the Skids?

“Sex with a centerfold?” suggested Rick Miller, the band’s guitarist and front man. “But how many of us are going to get to do that, you know what I mean?”

Miller is the kind of guy who says “you know what I mean?” a lot, presumably because there are many times you may, in fact, not. His mind is like an automatic weapon in a spastic’s hands.

And then, just like that, our conversation turns to static, and the line goes dead. When I get Miller back on the phone from his Chapel Hill-area home, he immediately backpedals on his previous statements.

“Of course, we all know we’re gonna have sex with our wives on New Year’s Eve,” he qualifies, “as that’s infinitely more enjoyable.”

Those two very different answers capture the outrageous polarity that is SCOTS — the big heart beating below the screaming stereotypes; the encyclopedic understanding of guitar-driven, blue-collar American music that underpins songs painted like some bipolar Tammy Fay nightmare in tales of buckshot, greasy fried eats, dirt-track muscle-car races, doublewide sex with your darlin’, go-go dancin’ Mamas, roadkill hors d’oeuvres, and moonshine martinis.

Still, the stereotypes are a scream. Screw PC; this is SCOTS.

The scrappy band has carved out its own weird niche for going on 20 years now, expanding from Miller and whatever cohort back in the mid-’80s to the “classic” trio lineup with Roanoke, Va., natives Mary Huff (bass, keyboards, vocals), of the bouffant ‘do, and Dave Hartman (drums), of the Elvis sunglasses.

Four years back, SCOTS bumped up to a four-piece, though the band is bound again for trio territory following its New Year’s Eve show at The Orange Peel, when keyboardist and second-guitarist Chris “Cousin Crispy” Bess will throw his final piece of fried chicken into the crowd (during the perversely anthemic “Eight-Piece Box”).

SCOTS heads into 2004 set to release its eighth full-length title, Mojo Box, on Chapel Hill-based Yep Roc Records.

So there was certainly lots of serious stuff for us to discuss. And should you ever happen to talk to Miller, you can certainly ask him about any or all of it.

Myself, I had other, dumber chickens to fry.

“When [an interview] gets really stupid, it gets almost sort of blissful,” Miller allows. “I see it as being sort of tantric.”

Oh, silly ol’ me: I’m blushing.

MX: “What’s the SCOTS’ drink of choice on New Year’s Eve?”

RM: “We’ll start off with an appetizer of probably about a six-pack. Then we’ll break into the bourbon — usually for New Year’s, we’ll try to get some nice Kentucky bourbon, or some smooth Tennessee whiskey. It’s usually one or the other, man. Oh, what’s that one we pick up? Not that Knob Creep stuff. Creep? [No], Knob Creek. That’s what happens when we drink Knob Creek — it creeps.

[Upon learning that The Orange Peel doesn’t serve liquor]: “See, then we’ll just have to have our bottle backstage. … And you never know, because Dave [Hartman] sometimes wears a diaper — as the Baby, you know what I mean? The 2004 Baby. We put his bourbon in a little sippy cup.”

MX: “When you fling chicken, how do you keep the grease from screwing up your guitar playing?”

RM: “Most of my pants, right around the lower pocket on the right-hand side, have somewhat of a see-through … a little go-to spot when there’s a little bit of grease. But a lot of times, man, it’s hard to keep that pick in your hand. It just glides right out, y’know? Like you’re shootin’ a bottle cap.

“Luckily, though, you can finger-pick that song. It’s pretty easy; there’s no surf licks, or anything like that.”

MX: “Is chicken a vegetable?”

RM: “Well, some chickens are smarter than others. But no, chicken is a meat. And the only source that I really use is my local diner. But I do know that macaroni and cheese, according to them, is a vegetable.”

MX: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

RM: “Probably just to get laid. And a lot of ’em don’t make it. … It’s dangerous. Once you get the scent, you get the scent — you know what I mean?”

MX: “[Laughs.] It kills a lot of us.”

RM: “[Laughs.] “A lot of us wish we were dead.”

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