Known for towering sandstone buttes, Monument Valley is a red-sand desert region on the Arizona-Utah border. Frequently used as a filming location for Western films, the area's striking landscape has become a definitive image of the American West. The cover of Gun Outfit's forthcoming album Out of Range, features a photo of Merrick Butte in Monument Valley. Shot by the band's Dylan Sharp's grandfather in 1971, the shimmering hues of the photograph sets the mood for the album's dusty country rock and pop.
"My grandparents would drive a trailer down from Washington every summer and live in Indio for the winter," Sharp explains via email. "I always just pictured them drinking iced gin and playing bridge and staring at the sunset and murmuring the occasional banality. I love the cover image because it's pretty much instantly recognizable by anyone who likes the classic cinema, but not from that angle."
Derrick Butte also features in the video for "Sally Rose," a track lifted from Out of Range, the band's fifth and second for Paradise of Bachelors. Over footage the butte, fireworks, race horses, and desert wanderings, Carrie Keith's warm vocals drift like a late afternoon breeze from the dusty plains.
Read a conversation we had with Dylan about the American Southwest and the Arizona desert's favorite punks, Meat Puppets.
Noisey: Some of your later records and "Landscape Painter" and "Sally Rose" from the new record remind of the Meat Puppets second album. Have you noticed these comparisons before?
Dylan Sharp: Yeah. It's not a conscious rip off I assure you. I wrote "Landscape Painter" after seeing a Richard Thompson show and "Sally Rose" after watching a Royal Trux show, if you must know the shameful secrets. I like trying to sound like something and then having it not at all sound like that because you are too much your own limited self.
Maybe it's also because Meat Puppets first album was more noisey punk and the second was a slower and more free. Do you have a favorite Meat Puppets album?
There's a lot there in the catalog. I love the sloppy, fast shit from the first couple records. They were really loose and playful with hardcore which I liked, and they did tripped out covers like "Franklin's Tower" and "Walking Boss.' The II/ Up On The Sun/ Mirage/ Huevos sequence is a great run, I love them all. Didn't like it as much when they got a little more metal with the leads on Forbidden Places but still great songs throughout. I also got into that Kirkwood solo album Snow that's more folky. I don't keep up with every record these days but I always try and see them live when I can. I've got a lot of live recordings of them too thanks to our bass player Adam.
The Kirkwood brothers music was attributed to Arizona and the desert and though you have been based in LA for a while, your early music was attributed to Olympia and the punk scene there. Do you think geographical location plays much of a part in shaping a band's sound?
Not every band's sound, but we like to walk around and go river swimming and occasionally take psychedelics and be alone with a chirping and rustling sounds and then try to communicate some of whatever we might think is happening there through music. It's a conscious effort to reflect the landscape, though a lot more is being reflected than we can control. We're just an insignificant conduit and nature is a feedback loop. I like when regions kind of get a sound, it means the people making the sounds are living in the world and not just in their heads.
There seems to be a mysticism around the desert, heat, and space associated with the American Southwest. As an outsider parts of it also seem to have a retiree/country club conservatism.
It's definitely the space and the emptiness that creates the mystic feeling, for me at least. I like being where there's nobody around. There's a subtlety to the colors too—very rich but subdued due to the mineral content in the rocks. There's sound and a palette. Last time I went camping in Death Valley I listened a lot to the Ikue Mori, Robert Quine, and Marc Ribot's Painted Desert and that mixed with this kind of 50s style old-people-playing-gin rummy-with-the-faint-buzzing-of-a-fly reality that I associated with the strangely comforting acceptance of decrepitude. It's the twilight of life and people go there because it'll preserve you, like a healthily bedazzled mummy.
It's kind of a different vibe in the Mojave where the dust blows over the rutted roads than in Scottsdale or Palm Springs where it's rich people golfing and eating steak at strip malls. The desert I love is barely populated by freaks in shacks full of junk and it's poor. There's no gold. As for conservatives—in the desert and everywhere else they can wither to dust. They're in all rural areas in America (I'm used to being trolled by them from my youth) and I refuse to let them have any place of their own.
'Out of Range' is available November 10 on Paradise of Bachelors.
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