Roll up, dear friends, roll up. Legends of Country have returned, bringing with them a brand new album in the teasingly titled Anything But Country.
At face value, Anything But Country is a good time honky tonk record - you can drop a dime in the jukebox and two-step down to any of these neo-traditional hits. But underneath the memorable bangers is a self-deprecating and anxiously aware country record; vulnerable, humourous and pleasingly modern, all in spite of its influences.
At the forefront, Jof Owen is a warm and welcoming country conductor. Between stressing about SEO search traffic and how much the girl in the pub likes Shania Twain, Owen pieces together the lives we lead and dreams we extinguish with British dryness and eloquent candour.
If country music is all about three chords and the truth, then there aren't many that are more honest than Legends of Country. We could all do well to be a little more like them.
Anything But Country is premiering exclusively at Holler.
Taking us through the stories behind the songs, Jof Owen muses on dreams of being a cowboy, the messy world of romance and the end of the world - track-by-track - below:
'Anything But Country'
Country music was the first music I ever fell in love with. When I was five years old all my heroes were either cowboys, cowgirls or country singers - George Hamilton IV, Olivia Newton John, Calamity Jane, Blue Boy From High Chaparral.
My first record was a Ronco compilation of gunfighter ballads by Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins that my parents gave me for Christmas. I used to think I wanted to be a cowboy more than anything else in the world, but maybe I just wanted to dress up and sing songs. Thinking back, I guess I just wanted to be a country singer. I think I’ve always imagined I was a country singer in a way.
In The Boy Least Likely To, I sing songs about going to Nashville and sleeping with guns under our pillows. If that’s not country music, I don’t know what is.
Anyway, I’ve loved country music long enough to know that liking country music isn’t always the coolest thing to do. The situation I sing about in this song is one that I’ve found myself in so many times, trying to defend the honour of country music and explain to someone what makes it so special to me.
Everyone thinks they hate country music, but then they love Shania Twain and Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, so I think they must just mean they don’t like shit country music.
'What Women Do'
It’s a song that imagines what governments and the media would do if the tables were turned and it was men that were overwhelmingly the victims of sexual violence and harassment instead of women.
I wrote the lyrics for it about five years ago, around the same time that Trump was campaigning to be president. I found it so depressing that he was casually bragging about sexually assaulting women and it didn’t seem to affect his approval rating at all. I just imagined how different it would have been if he’d said he liked to grab men by the balls.
It seems like violence against women is just so normalised that a lot of people don’t think anything of it anymore. It’s even more depressing that in the five or so years since then it feels like the lyrics to this song have become even more pertinent now. At one point I was thinking of calling the album Urgh Men!
This is a song about never feeling like you’re good enough for the person you’re in a relationship with. I like the idea of a whole town being shocked by how mismatched two people are when they see them twerking to an Alan Jackson song at a local dance.
'Everything’s Going South'
Most days I feel overweight and I feel ugly, and the older I get the more overweight and uglier I seem to feel. This is a song about the depressing realities of ageing and suddenly realising that you can’t keep going out all the time and getting drunk and ordering pizza when you get home.
I suppose it’s a song about having a midlife crisis, but I haven’t bought a sports car yet or run off with my pilates teacher or anything dramatic like that. It’s just the sudden realisation that I’ve lived more years than I’ve probably got left to go. I’ve always been having a crisis of some sort in my life, so I guess this is just the latest one.
'Funerals and Fiftieths'
It’s just a lovely little waltz about time slipping away. I’m not actually in my fifties yet, but I’ve noticed the invites have starting trickling in for other people’s 50th birthday parties.
In my late twenties it felt like I was going to a wedding every other weekend in the summer, driving off to the countryside and drunkenly dancing the night away in a village hall somewhere. All my friends seemed to be getting married or settling down back then, but I’d still see them all the time.
Nowadays it feels like I see them all a lot less often, and the only time I do see them is when we’re at a funeral or celebrating some depressing milestone we can’t believe we’ve already reached, and a lot of those friends who got married have got divorced. Life can be messy and sad and lonely sometimes and this is just another classic Legends of Country song about it.
We wanted it to sound like if The Smiths had moved to L.A. and recorded a country song.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, getting back out there and dating again after you’ve broken up with someone is never easy, but the older you get and the longer you’ve been with someone, the harder it is. It’s hard to even make new friends as you get older, let alone new boyfriends or girlfriends.
I kept seeing a lot of my friends splitting up from really long term relationships and having to try to navigate dating again and realising the landscape had changed dramatically since they were last going out on dates when they were younger, so I wrote this song to help them all through it. Then I got divorced too and it was me out there looking for love in all the wrong places. Thankfully I had this new song to soundtrack my adventures.
'New Year New Me'
Every year I make a long list of promises to myself that I’m going to change and start looking after myself and living more responsibly, but nothing ever really comes of it. I think it’s still important to try though; even if you completely fail year after year. I’m especially fond of the line "I always let my heartaches go straight to my hips", because it pretty much sums up the way I deal with most emotional situations.
'If That’s What It Takes'
It used to be so much easier being a pop star. All you had to do was write a few good songs, think of an okay band name and all club together to put a record out. If things went well then you might get to go on TV or be interviewed for a fun magazine and that was how you promoted it, but it feels like it’s all so different now.
There’s just an endless demand for pointless content-driven by algorithms and SEOs, and it just feels like you get to spend less time actually writing and recording songs, and all your time changing outfits and filming yourself cooking on TikTok instead. This song’s about getting to that point where you will literally do anything to be famous! I’m pretty much there.
'It Isn’t Easy Being A Man'
Urgh men!!! I’m so bored of men trying to prove to everyone that they’re men all the time. It feels like everything that’s wrong with the world is the fault of men.
Masculinity is such a fragile thing and that’s why men always cling to it so desperately. The easier it is to lose something, the tighter you need to hold onto it I suppose. I’ve never been comfortable with what most men think it is that makes you a man, and ‘It Isn’t Easy Being A Man’ is a song about all the different pressures that society puts on men to conform to a certain type of masculinity and how dangerous it is. That idea of having to ‘man up’ or ‘be a man’ is instilled in boys from such an early age and it’s the cause of nearly all the problems in the world.
I wrote it with Peter Hobbs, the other half of The Boy Least Likely To. I was just looking back on all the different ways that traditional manliness has been pushed on me over the years and how I think I’ve always quietly fought against it in some way. No one benefits from men being taught to believe they need to live up to a set ideas of what a man should or shouldn’t be; especially not men.
'It’s The End Of The World Again'
It’s a song about escaping the city and living a quiet life eating cheese string and listening to John Prine in a pre-apocalypse. I’ve always written about my fears, and as I get older the things that I’m afraid of have changed, but I feel like I’ve always been afraid of the end of the world. It always feels like it’s ending in some way to me; perhaps more now than ever though. Which is really depressing, so we made sure there was a jolly Bavarian oompah band section in the middle to lighten the mood.
Anything But Country is out on Friday 14th October. Legends of Country will play London's Jaguar Shoes on 3rd November - tickets available on Dice.