The Basics: Cutting a balance between alternative rock and Americana that owed a debt to their Southwestern roots, the Tempe, AZ-based group The Refreshments never reached the levels of fame of their hometown compadres the Gin Blossoms. And while they briefly sneaked their way onto the modern rock charts with the clever tale of a Mexican crime caper, their lasting contribution would be the TV theme to an animated network sitcom by that dude from Texas who made Beavis & Butthead.
Tell Me More: In 1993, Arizona State University graduates and drinking buddies Roger Clyne, Brian David Blush, Arthur Edwards began playing together on a lark and completed The Refreshments lineup when P.H. Naffah joined on drums. By 1994, the band had two independently releases under their belt which sold extremely well in their local Tempe. Noticing their success, Mercury pounced, signing the band the next year. In 1996, the band released their major-label debut, Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy, which featured professionally recorded versions of songs from their independent releases Wheelie and Lo, Our Much Praised Yet Not Altogether Satisfactory Lady EP.
The First Single: "Banditos," the band's only real hit was a fun slice of Tex-Mex influenced power-pop--though more on the alt. rock side of things than say, Old 97s. Featuring irreverent and, at times, hilarious lyrics describing an underachieving outlaw couple discussing their run for the border (as in, Mexico, not Taco Bell) after a planned hold-up. They have fake IDs with names like "Capt. Jean Luc Picard," but it won't matter cause the border guards can't "read English anyway." The narrator ironically believes that, because "the world is full of stupid people" that it's only fair that he should get his "pesos." Think of it as the story of what might've happened to the passionate but strategically inept Pumpkin and Honeybunny from Pulp Fiction had hightailed it to Mexico after they left that diner.
The song hit #11 on the Mainstream Rock Charts and #14 on the Modern Rock charts. The song propelled the album to #1 on the Heatseekers charts--the chart that tracks albums from new artists--and #97 on the Billboard 200 album charts.
And unlike even the most clever rock groups of the time, The Refreshments weren't afraid to make a humorous video that made it look like they were actually, ya know, enjoying themselves:
The Second Single: "Down Together" - Surprisingly not as successful, "Down Together" is perhaps a better and more conventional song than its predecessor. After seeing "Banditos" chart performance--good, but room to improve--they picked this one, perhaps hoping that the people who didn't like the idiosyncrasies of the first single would enjoy this wry take on the standard love song. As usual, this was a mistake. This type of thinking ignores the fact that "Banditos," like so many other one-hit wonders, struck a balance between commercial and completely unique. "Down Together"--and I reiterate that I indeed like it better than "Banditos"--is not quite as outwardly unusual and funny as that track. "Down" is fun and poppy and rockin' on the outside, and sweet--but not cloying on the inside--though not without its share of snide remarks, including one directed at the grungy fashion stylings of friends and fellow Arizonans, Dead Hot Workshop. As with most of The Refreshments material, the lyrics make the song, but they're far more subtle here than on the hit, and admittedly lack the LOL qualities of "Banditos."
The song reached #38 on the Modern Rock charts, failing to chart on Mainstream. The group did film another video for it with director Dave Dobkin (director of Wedding Crashers):
Whatever Happened to...?: Lucky for us (and the band), the story doesn't end there.
In 1997, Beavis & Butthead creator Mike Judge selected The Refreshments' instrumental--built off a jam they played at soundchecks--"Yahoos and Triangles" to be the theme song to his new Fox animated series, King of the Hill. Though I'm not a huge fan of the show, the theme song, along with Sanford and Son, The Simpsons and The Office US, ranks up there with the best of instrumental TV show theme songs. After millions of reruns and a few hundred episodes, the song never fails to make me wanna get my hoedown on.
Like so many '90s bands ready to spend a record company's money and spread their wings of musical maturity, the band followed up their successful major-label debut with a less-commercially-more-critically successful sophomore effort, The Bottle and Fresh Horses. The songs moved away from the clever "smirk-rock" (TM Allmusic.com) in favor of more country influenced story songs--though that's not to say there wasn't still a lot of pop and rock n' roll going on.
Produced by Butthole Surfers' Paul Leary, the album is really quite good--a forgotten gem of sorts. Unfortunately, audiences either didn't care for a more mature Refreshments and the album peaked at #150.
Here's the band in a 1997 morning TV performance doing the failed Mexa-reggae single "Wanted":
And a live performance of the Old 97s-ish "Broken Record":
Following the relative failure of The Bottle & Fresh Horses, the band split with Mercury Records and each other in 1998. However, lead singer/songwriter Clyne and drummer Naffah reteamed to create Roger Clyne and The Peacemakers. The Peacemakers are a bit of an Arizona supergroup, with members of Gin Blossoms and Dead Hot Workshop among their ranks. Releasing their first album, Honky Tonk Union, in 2000, the new music--true to its title--showed Clyne indulging his Americana influences with a more country sound, while still retaining some of the alt. rock that made them so enjoyable in the first place. The lyrics, while still revealing Clyne's trademark wit, were decidedly more reflective.
Ten years and seven albums later (including a live one that featured the band playing some of the Refreshments' better known songs), the Roger Clyne and Peacemakers are still at it, still bringing their witty brand of heartland rock.
Download: The Refreshments - Banditos
Download: The Refreshments - Down Together