For nearly 20 years, Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys have created songs about love, love lost and heartbreak. This Saturday, the band releases its first album in 10 years, "Long Shot of Hard Stuff."
After a decade-long hiatus, Scott Hobart (Scott is his real first name) didn't think they'd have a new album.
"I just thought we'd kind of ride our own western-cut blazers into the sunset or something, but we did it," he said. "When the opportunity came up, we just said, 'well, why not, let's try it.' The worst thing that can happen is that we get three songs out or something."
Hobart grew up near Rolla, and he credits his family as being a big influence on his music. His father, Rex Hobart, was a shoe-repair man, played music around the house. His mom, a member of the George Jones fan club, had a beauty shop in the front of the house. Country radio was always on, and Hobart grew up "steeped in it."
When he was 14, his father was shot and killed. When Hobart started playing country music, he took his dad's name as his stage name.
"It's really fun; it really just puts a positive end to a pretty tragic thing," he said about taking his dad's name. "It's a resurrection, a performance project in a way." Hobart said that the biggest kick he ever got was seeing his dad's name in the New York Times; in 2004, with the release of a new album, one of the paper's music critics put them on the top 10 list of most underrated bands of the year.
"Just to see my dad's name in the New York Times — when I see the name, I still consider it my dad's name, and we started the band as sort of a whim — it was sort of to be authenticated somehow."
The band can trace its origin, in part, to a George Jones cassette tape.
In the late 1990s, Hobart, a former Kansas City Art Institute student, had been touring with Giant's Chair, his band that he describes as "post-punk, noisy but melodic ... a lot of screaming but a lot of fun." While on the road, he picked up the George Jones tape because he didn't want to listen to any loud guitars between shows.
"I was like, 'hmm.' I'd already been wanting to start writing story songs, and I thought, 'hey, this sounds familiar."
Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys formed in 1997 and gained a devoted following.
Going from the rock-and-roll world of playing in basements across the country to punk rock kids to playing country music was pretty cool, according to Hobart.
"When people ask what kind of band you're in, it's much easier to say, 'I'm in a country band' than 'I'm in a post-punk modern rock band.'" The band drew a wide audience, from older folks who grew up on country music to younger people who had never heard it.
Hobart said that one of the best things was having punk rock friends seeing their shows.
"You have these rough-and-tumble punkers coming up and saying, 'I hate country music, but what you're doing, whatever it is, sounds really good.'"
He doesn't feel that the type of country music that they're doing is all that different.
"It's a pretty standard form," he said. "I wanted to tell stories; I wanted to have character interaction in front of this generic backdrop. Of course, by now, I've learned there's a lot more to this so-called generic music ... you get better at it."
One of the songs from the early years appears on the new album. Hobart thinks that "Ring, Ring, Ring" is one of the first tunes that he has written. "One of the things that appealed to me about country music was always the wordplay," he said. "I wanted that wordplay — rings, bells ringing at a church, wedding rings ... I started playing with that. It was really just a basic story of heartbreak. 'We traded rings in September/By Christmas it was all said/I sold my ring this morning/And the words still ring in my head.'"
Another song from an early album resonated with audiences. "I'm Not Drunk Enough" (to say I love you) is about a potential new relationship where the guy "has been through the wringer so much," said Hobart. He says that the forlorn guy depicted in his songs isn't based on himself.
"Even my wife asks me where these songs are from sometimes," he said. "But I consider them, in a way, sort of insurance policies. I figure if I can imagine the worst, it would never happen to me."
The songs from the new album have a new take on love and relationships. "I think when you're younger, your first loves' failings really hit you hard," he said. "When I started to write country songs, I wanted to write these stories about things that really affect people, that have affected me in a real personal way." Now, though: "I don't know if it's jaded, but it's just kind of like, pick up and go on and laugh about it — just get on with it."
During the past decade, the band still played whenever a gig came up, but Hobart and the Misery Boys didn't actively write anything or practice during that time. Hobart performed regularly at the Record Bar with a few other guys, the Honky Tonk Standards. Real life — work and kids — also happened during this time.
The band got back into original songwriting when Jody Hendrix from Little Class Records approached them. They had a couple of tunes that they had started working on from years past, but they never finished them. So, they took these nuggets and kept writing.
Hobart noticed the difference that 10 years made in crafting songs. "Back then, we were more just like, 'how low can I go, how far can I dig'" to make a tragicomedic tune. "Really, they're so terrible they're funny, if you think about 'em." But the songs on the new record, with a couple of exceptions, take a different path. "I was like, 'you know, I've done all that crazy stuff. Let's see where else we can take this guy,'" he said.
The new album has more of a lively sound, and it also incorporates some of Hobart's experimental music background. "Sure, yeah, we're kind of the Rush of honky tonk," he jokes. He also feels like he's a better singer now. Overall, he said that the themes and sounds of the new songs are timeless.
"We're just a country band playing what, for our age, is the golden era of country music — the 1960s-70s sound of country music," he said. "Although I do think we've pushed the envelope a little this time in a couple of places."
Hobart and his band will celebrate the release of the new album “Long Shot of Hard Stuff” at the Westport Saloon on Saturday, April 4.