The Cadillac Three Grow Their Sound and Push Boundaries in Funky New ‘Country Fuzz’

The Cadillac Three; Photo by Dylan Rucker
The Cadillac Three; Photo by Dylan Rucker
The Cadillac Three; Photo by Dylan Rucker

The Cadillac Three’s fourth album, Country Fuzz, is a smorgasbord of all the band’s southern country-fried musical influences and tastes for searing, live show-ready rock ‘n’ roll. “Fifty percent country, fifty percent fuzz!” the trio laughs, when asked for a definition of the motto that titles their new project.

“We’ve been saying that for a long time, and we finally had a record that it fit with, to kind of embrace the whole thing from beginning to end,” they go on to explain. “Where it’s country songwriting at the heart, with a cool back-end thing on the hook that makes you think, ‘Oh, that’s cool. That’s clever.’ Mixed with a lot of our ‘90s influences and heavier bands that we’re into, everything from Nirvana to Pantera to Rage Against the Machine. But growing up in Nashville, you’re raised in country music, so it’s just kind of a mesh of those two worlds.”

Going into the project, the band — made up of Jaren Johnston, Neil Mason and Kelby Ray — had already had success with their blend of loud, heavy rock and country twang and lyricism. In making Country Fuzz, they wanted to go deeper. They wanted to bring some new elements that would fit the sound they’d already perfected, but showcase their artistic growth since putting out their last record, 2017’s Legacy.

“And we were on the road with Travis Tritt and Charlie Daniels, so we were watching the Charlie Daniels Band play every night,” Johnston recalls. While Daniels is known best as a southern rock legend, his musical style also incorporates a great deal of funk and groove, especially recently: A 2018 album he released with his side project the Beau Weevils is particularly bluesy. Watching Daniels incorporate those elements into his set each night gave The Cadillac Three a push toward excavating their own inner funkiness, the band says.

“We’ve never really done anything with those kind of grooves, you know? So it was fun to start writing to that, or trying to paint a little bit of a vibe,” Johnston says. He started by taking the already-written demo for “The Jam” and re-working it to give it a bit more funky of a flavor.

“Jerry Reed meets Bruno Mars, if that makes sense. It really kinda felt like something cool,” he adds.

That led the way for funk to make its way onto other album tracks, like “All the Makin’s of a Saturday Night” and “Blue El Camino.” Not only did adding those elements in allow the group to showcase another side of their artistry — it’s also adding dynamics to their set list.

“It does wonders for our live show. When you’re out there and everything’s kind of the same with that heavy, sludgy tempo, it’s really fun to have an occasional ZZ Top riff, or that kind of funky thing,” Mason points out. “Just to get us out of it and let the crowd breathe for a minute.”

The Cadillac Three; Courtesy of Big Machine Records
The Cadillac Three; Courtesy of Big Machine Records

Country Fuzz expands The Cadillac Three’s range in terms of subject matter, too. “Hard Out Here for a Country Boy” — an impromptu collaboration with Travis Tritt and Chris Janson, which started on a tour bus in the small hours of the morning and ended when Janson asked to join the track and recorded his vocals and harmonica long distance the following day — is a straight-ahead banger with a twist.

“Because it’s really not that hard out here for a country boy,” Johnston says drily. “That’s the idea.”

“Woo-wee, yeah it’s hard out here / Turn four Talladega second time this year / Liftin’ this koozie’s got my arm tired / Sweatin’ and gettin’ this ol’ boy wired,” the band sings in the first verse of “Hard Out Here.” It’s more than a tongue-in-cheek homage to living the small-town good life. The song depicts a familiar type: The beer-swigging, red-necked country boy that’s the subject of so many songs. But just four tracks on the album later, “Labels” reflects on all the ways in which a person can be more than meets the eye.

“She’s a loner, she’ll never let you on the inside / He’s a stoner lost behind red eyes,” the brooding “Labels” reflects. “ You’re drunk if you’re leaning on the back wall / You’re a player if you take her after last call / I wonder what you see when you look at me / Nobody wants to be labeled…”

“Yeah, we’re just really deep guys, you know,” jokes Mason, who co-wrote that track. “I remember we recorded the first half of the record, and we were kind of digging for what the back half was going to be. I think it was around the holiday season, and I remember Jaren and I sending songs to each other a lot — because one of the ways we try and push ourselves toward finishing a record is we just book sessions, and then we kind of have to focus on [finding] the songs.”

The band wanted to show growth, not just musically, but also lyrically. “And I think ‘Labels’ is a bit of an outlier on the record from a lyrical perspective. But when we were looking for things that could kind of push the envelope, and show a little bit of another side to us, it felt important.”

The song touches on some subjects like gay relationships and teenage pregnancy, and the band knows that could touch a nerve with some fans. Until they release the record, no one’s heard the song yet, and they’re curious to hear what the reaction will be.

“I like to think our fanbase is gonna be pretty open-minded to the perspective that we’re singing from. I think that if anybody isn’t, they’ll be challenged by it,” Johnston offers diplomatically. Mason, however, has a much blunter response.

“There’s a button on your phone you can hit if you want to skip it,” he jokes.

After all, The Cadillac Three set out to show their evolution on this record. If they knew exactly how listeners were going to respond, the album wouldn’t represent a whole lot of growth.

“I like confusing people a little bit,” Johnston goes on to say. “I like people to be like, ‘Wow, how did they do that?’ Or, ‘I can’t believe they did that.’ The people that we grew up listening to pushed boundaries. I think that’s what we’re trying to do, too.”