Talking to Clem Clemson, lead singer of White Cowbell Oklahoma, is like riding a soapbox with no brakes – all you can do is hang on. With poetic vocabulary and a deep love for rock-and-roll mayhem, Clemson fully embodies the two seemingly disparate sides of White Cowbell Oklahoma: great music and circus-like showmanship.
Speaking from deep within the WCO lair in Toronto, “a laboratory beneath the pre-Cambrian rock,” Clemson gleefully describes the upcoming tour.
“We’re coming up with a world domination plan that begins with you in Vancouver,” he laughs.
Celebrating the release of a shiny double-vinyl version of their album, the critically-acclaimed Buenas Nachas, White Cowbell Oklahoma kicks off their 15th anniversary tour here in Vancouver at the Biltmore Cabaret on Thursday, November 13, with Big John Bates, Cornshed, and the Paceshifters.
Describing it as your best bet for a real rock ‘n’ roll show if you can’t afford Alice Cooper or KISS in the “enormadome,” Clemson pitches a WCO concert like a vintage circus poster:
See chainsaw violence unleashed!
See guitar armada unfurled!
See random audience members and cast members disrobe and wrestle!
Last time WCO played in Vancouver a brawl broke out during the show – amongst the band members. “The audience was so shell-shocked,” says Clemson. This time, however, WCO have a slightly different plan: “We’re going to at least get to the bottom of our set list before we break anything.”
White Cowbell Oklahoma’s rock-and-roll showmanship is infamous, incorporating flaming cowbells, chainsaws, and toilet paper. “Chainsaw Charlie, he’s our craftsman and artiste in the art of chainsaw sculpture. Well, he calls it sculpture. I call it just tearing the shit out of stuff. He also does this pyro trick with toilet paper which doesn’t sound exciting, but when you see it you will lose your mind.” But the band is more than just “the show.” Their musical style has evolved considerably through their European tours.
“We were keeping it pretty pure southern rock at that point and keeping our guitar solos down to a minimum. But then when we went to Europe we realized that everyone applauded after the guitar solos. They weren’t just into the fire or the lights; they were into the music, and I was like, people are actually listening to us here. What a strange twist.”
With complex guitar harmonies and powerful vocals, WCO has the musical chops to support their claim to true rock-and-roll greatness. But critics often have difficulty seeing beyond the theatre. “What they don’t realize is that if you put as much work into it as White Cowbell Oklahoma does, you can do everything. You can provide amazing quality albums and complex, critically-acclaimed records AND put on the best show on the planet. It’s actually doable. If you just are the best.”
Mixing southern/prog-rock with circus theatrics and a whole bunch of random drunken violence, there’s nothing out there quite like a White Cowbell Oklahoma show. Their flaming cowbells, Chainsaw Charlie, and unfettered mayhem can only guarantee an incredible night out. As Clemson says, “All I know is that anybody who comes to a WCO show goes home dazed, confused, saved, emancipated, sometimes missing some clothing, not remembering who they are, but they always wake up the next day feeling saved or in a state of rapture – perhaps next to a sasquatch. But I can’t guarantee that.”
Tickets for White Cowbell Oklahoma with Big John Bates, Cornshed, and the Paceshifters are available for $15 at the door and online.