- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

Ten years ago, songwriters Roger Clyne and P.H. Naffah packed their bags for a two-week retreat into the Sonoran Desert. The two musicians had recently weathered the demise of their band, the Refreshments, and hoped a fortnight in the rugged Arizona borderlands would shed some light on a new direction.

The duo soon returned to Phoenix with a fresh batch of songs inspired by their trip. Whereas the Refreshments had garnered national airplay with such cheeky pop-rock anthems as “Banditos,” the new material was more indebted to heartland rock ‘n’ roll and twangy, Southwestern country. Several local musicians joined the effort, and Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers began taking shape in 1998.

Since that time, the band has rapidly become a leading light in America’s independent music scene. The Peacemakers issue every album on Emma Java Records, a small label the band owns, and receive no radio support outside of Arizona. Nevertheless, the Peacemakers enjoy an ardent following throughout the country, including hundreds of fans who decamp to Mexico for the band’s biannual beach-side concerts in Puerto Penasco.

In fact, Mr. Clyne holds a special reverence for Mexico, a country whose landscape and eclectic culture has inspired many of his songs. To harness that influence and celebrate the band’s 10-year anniversary, the Peacemakers recently decamped to Puerto Penasco - also known as Rocky Point, Mexico - for a marathon songwriting session.

The goal? To create eight new songs in eight straight days.

While the band busied itself with creating, arranging and recording new songs, video cameras documented the process by uploading daily film clips to the Internet. As a result, fans were allowed the rare opportunity to experience an album’s progress in real time.

“We wanted to do something that was spontaneous, something that was as immediate as possible in its presentation to our audience,” Mr. Clyne says. “We wanted to see what we could do in a spontaneously creative environment. So we went down to Mexico, commandeered a friend’s house, and off we went. ‘Turbo Ocho’ was what happened.”

“Turbo Ocho” (“The Speedy Eight”) is the album that materialized during the band’s Mexican excursion. Past Peacemakers albums have mythologized the Southwest, often with the same literate wit and imagery found in Cormac McCarthy novels, but “Turbo Ocho” deals with broader concepts.

“Summer Number 39” evokes a nostalgic season with brushed drums and a trebly Dobro riff; “I Speak Your Language” extols humanity across cultures; and “I Do” celebrates the rock ‘n’ roll tradition with fist-pumping guitars.

The Peacemakers wrapped up the project in early January and returned to Arizona. Eight months later, Mr. Clyne laughs at the demanding week that produced a career-defining album.

“It wasn’t until we finished the first song, ‘I Speak Your Language,’ that I realized the scope and scale of the task that we’d written for ourselves,” he remembers. “We were actually on the hook with our audience to do this thing. If it hadn’t worked, we would’ve fallen flat on our faces. It would’ve been Turbo Uno or Turbo Zero.”

Mr. Clyne remembers waking up at 5:30 each morning to work on his lyrics in isolation. Routine band meetings were scheduled for midmorning, and the Peacemakers spent the rest of their afternoons and evenings immersed in the songwriting process.

As always, location inspired the band’s music. “I Can Drink the Water,” the album’s most tropical track, was composed during a sunny boat trip on the Sea of Cortes. Trumpets and bilingual lyrics lend a Mexican flair to the song, which adds contrast to the guitar-fueled tracks that dominate the remainder of the album.

“Turbo Ocho” ultimately was released in April on the Emma Java label, which Mr. Clyne and Mr. Naffah formed in the late ‘90s to serve their own band. As independent artists, the two say they cherish the autonomy Emma Java provides.

“Since this label answers to us,” Mr. Clyne explains, “it’s sort of a reversal of the typical artist-label relationship. We created it to serve music first.”

Rare are the musicians who are able to successfully manage the business side of their own careers. Nevertheless, Mr. Clyne says he doesn’t think the Peacemakers’ unique arrangement requires them to act out of character.

“It’s all guided by the same principle,” he says. “Whether you’re writing a song or looking at a spreadsheet for a proposed tour, they both share a common goal, which is to bring music to the people and, hopefully, open hearts. Since it’s our business, it’s best that it’s attended to by us in all facets.”

Mr. Clyne is currently out of the office, so to speak. Having already played 100 concerts this year, the Peacemakers will perform 60 additional dates before the year ends. The independent band is supported entirely by its audience, whose loyalty and patronage has enabled the Peacemakers to maintain a rigorous tour ethic for 10 years.

“To connect with these fans,” Mr. Clyne concludes, “is the most important thing. I feel fortunate and grateful for this audience. I can walk through the bar before or after a show, have a beer, and hang out while talking about the topics of the day. These are my peers, and I’m part of the community. I love it.”

Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers will visit the 9:30 Club this evening for a performance with Cowboy Mouth. Doors open at 8, and tickets cost $25. Those wishing to catch the Peacemakers’ fall show in Mexico should mark their calendars for Oct. 11, when the band will play a four-show ocean-side concert in Rocky Point.

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