You and I both know that America has been through a lot these past few years. Clay Sharpe and Brian King know it better than most. But as The Lacs, they've had a unique view of where we've been, where we're going - and what parts of our identity haven't changed at all.
On American Rebelution, their aptly titled sixth album, The Lacs take all that they've witnessed, roll it up in a unique sound they call "dirt rock" and lay down the truth as they see it. Yes, these 12 tracks stand on the hip-hop/country/Southern rock bedrock Clay and Brian pioneered along with a handful of other innovators. But that's just the beginning of this story.
Nearly 20 years ago, these proud sons of Baxley, Georgia, unleashed their first beats and ripped through their first rhymes. Since then they've headed down highways far from the hometown dirt roads, watching landscapes roll past on the way to their next shows. Over time their venues got bigger, their audiences more diverse. They still play the mud parks for their longtime fans, but lately they've noticed differences in the crowds they're drawing.
"We've really noticed how our crowds are growing. That's awesome," Brian rumbles over the phone from their bus, en route to wherever joint he and Clay will be rockin' in a few hours. "It feels great when people come up and say that because of our music they went to a mud park for the first time. I'm like, 'Don't you wish you'd done it years ago?'"
He laughs, a gully-deep chuckle as Clay jumps in. "It's definitely no disrespect for anybody that don't live our lifestyle, but this is us and everybody who comes to our shows is just like family. We've learned a lot from our fans over the past few years."
Much of what they've learned courses throughout American Rebelution. The soul of The Lacs is right where it's always been, front and center in their music, infused by pride in their country, love for their family, an inclination toward rowdy celebration and an unexpected tenderness when it comes to the ladies in their lives. What's different is how they color these qualities, with a wider palette than they've ever used before.
"This album was different because we used four different producers for the first time," Clay explains. "We realized that you can't just stay with the same sounds forever. You can't stay one-dimensional. You've got to evolve. It's a fine line to walk while still being true to yourselves."
They walked that line without a misstep. A stinging electric guitar lick and mellow electric piano on "Redneck As Me," old-school steel and fiddle on the romantic "One More," retro organ and front-porch banjo on "I'm Good," an electronic pulse punctuated by the ominous click of a gun being cocked on the title cut - The Lacs have widened their scopes but stayed focused on what they believe.
"For the most part, we write about home," Brian says. "That's why we do our writing back in Georgia. We'll write about things we've seen on the road but even then it's about how we see them because of who we are and where we're from."
Home, on American Rebelution, is where you kick it with your friends, on a mellow afternoon in "Lake Somewhere" or a wild Friday night in "Drink as a Team." It's spending time with your family where you grew up, in their "white trash trailer on a dirt road" ("My Kinfolks"). It's the satisfaction you feel when you can persuade an "uptown girl" to reconsider her ways ("Now I've got her listening to Merle and I think she might be changing her mind," Brian slyly suggests on "Redneck As Me.") It's that edgy underside of braggadocio when comparing the size of your truck to someone else's on the metaphorical "Mine's Bigger." Sometimes home is where you've passed your limit and drunkenly improvise the latest chapter of The Lacs' ongoing epic, "Great Moments in Redneck History."
It's also a place where you invite your fellow artists to challenge you, inspire you and let them feel the energy bounce back from you in the studio. Cympleman and Hard Target trade verses with Brian on "Happens Every Time" in a volley of sizzling rhymes. Hard Target returns with another fiery guest shot on "Her Way," a reflection on love lost delivered over a snapping beat and sweetened by rhythmic mandolin. And on "Jack in My Coke" The Lacs welcome two longtime heroes for the first time.
"We've been fans of Montgomery Gentry for a long time," Brian points out. "We first opened up for them five or six years ago before a NASCAR race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. We've always wanted to work with them but we didn't have the perfect song until now."
"It's not like we wrote this with them in mind," Clay adds. "It's just that when we wrote this, it was like, 'Man, they would sound great singing on this!'"
Above all else, home is where everything The Lacs do begins and ends. They still live near where they were born; you can sense it in every note the sing and word they say. "You want to make the folks back home proud when they listen to you," Clay says.
This means not trading in what you know and who you are for something glitzier or trendier. It's being true to yourself and trusting people will notice. That's been borne out so far, as The Lacs have already passed half a billion streams on Pandora.
"None of that has come from radio or big publicity campaigns," Clay insists. "It's all from our fans telling other people about our music."
"And those new fans have been coming around," Brian says. "People are starting to get tired of this so-called pop country. They want something a little more hard-core, something that comes from rock 'n' roll and the kind of country we had back in the Nineties."
"There's always gonna be old-school country fans that ain't ever gonna accept rap," Clay notes. "But the people who do give this music a chance, it can touch them in a way they've never experienced before."
Which takes us back to the top: America has been through a lot recently. But all of the changes we've weathered have only sent us back toward the things that endure, the beliefs that anchor us and tie us together. The Lacs have always known that. That rings truer than ever throughout this American Rebelution.