by ravin divitoRavin Divito photo

Portland outfit Jenny Don’t and the Spurs have been recording and playing for the last 10 years and show no signs of slowing down. A supergroup combining members of Don’t, Wipers and Pierced Arrows, the Spurs combine the fast energy of garage and punk, with the attitude of outlaw country. If Patsy Cline started a band with some ratbags hanging around CBGB, it would sound like this.

We spoke with singer/guitarist Jenny Connors and her husband, and also Spurs bass player Kelly Halliburton from their Portland home just before they land in Australia for their second Spurs tour. 

jenny spurs
I-94 Bar: I saw on the anti-social media outlets the band was in Revolver Studio the other day. A new release in the works?

Jenny: We were there every day last week and then yesterday was our last day. We did 12-hour days every day. It’s been fun recording with Collin Hegna (Brian Jonestown Massacre), and everything is tracked and ready, tried to have it done before we hit the road.

I-94 Bar: Any release date?

Jenny: June next year. The singles will come out in April of 2024.

I-94 Bar: I saw Jem, of We Empty Rooms label fame here in Victoria, is doing a 7 inch for your upcoming tour.

Jenny: We’re excited about that. We met Jem when we playing in Melbourne last year and he hooked us up with Alex from Sound Recordings. He’s a great dude. We played with him with his band Dead when we played at Shotkickers.

I-94 Bar: Was that your first time in Australia last tour?

Jenny: I’d never been. Kelly, he came over before with Severed Head of State and Pierced Arrows. 

I-94 Bar: You must have made an impact to come back straight away, and the country must have done the same on you too to want to return a year later.

Jenny: Yeah it was great. The tour was super fun, we thought what can we do to come back straight away? We had a good time and we got a good response as people wanted us back which is a good feeling (at this point Kelly enters the room).

Kelly: Sorry I’m late. I was doing some screen printing for some merch for the tour.

Jenny: So the screen printing is for a seven-inch, the one Jem is putting out for the tour, but we’ll also release it in New Zealand and in the states. The New Zealand and US versions will have different covers. 

Kelly: There will be four different covers. And maybe a coloured vinyl. Some of us are record collector nerds (all laugh). The Australian version, the New Zealand one, the normal one, you know mail order and in record shops in Australia, and the North American one. There will be 100 of the tour ones and a few hundred of the normal ones.

I-94 Bar: In terms of you guys collaborating together, did you guys first start playing in Don’t?

Jenny: Kelly wasn’t in the band straight away. It was me and the previous drummer, Sam Henry, who sadly passed away. But Kelly was our tour manager. Drove us round, booked shows, merch boy (laughs).

Kelly: Yeah I did everything but play.

Jenny: But then he was in the band at the end of our run in 2016.

Kelly: The first bass player stepped down and as I was a bass player it was a natural fit. That was the final line up, with me on guitar and Sam and Jenny on drums and vocals. Then the Vegetable from Portland (Eric Olsen), from punk rock heavyweights Poison Idea, played guitar. He was a hold-over from the golden years of Poison Idea, the “War all the Time” era and one of my favourite periods of the band.

I-94 Bar: Was country music something you guys grew up with?

Jenny: I did. My mum was into horses, and she was a rodeo queen in the 70s. I grew up with horses and did some rodeo stuff when I was a kid. I’d sing to Patsy Cline as practice, that was the go to. Then of course as a teenager punk and fast music took over. 

When I was writing songs and learning how to play guitar, I always wrote more western and that style of song. Kelly was the one who said we need to play together sometime just for fun, not with the band just the two of us. And it snowballed into the Spurs. Sam turned me onto the Gun Club, a punk band but with western elements without being a traditional country song.

Kelly: Yeah there was that ‘80s California cowpunk scene, X kind of flirted with that, Tex and the Horseheads, The Vandals, Gun Club of course, Rank and File. I guess the Australian equivalent would the Johnnys and Beasts of Bourbon, these bands that made the cross over. We had done a lot of the other styles over the years and that ran its course in a way. So was stylistically something new and fun. Don’t was great but was…..

Jenny: Kind of limiting.

Kelly: lLmiting yes. The places we could play and the people that would be interested in buying the LPs . Now we get to play wineries and breweries, places that would never book Don’t. We once played at a retirement home (laughs).We’re looking at each other thinking this is amazing.

Jenny: We want to play anywhere anytime. Any weekend. With the Spurs we’ve allowed ourselves to do that. So if we’re playing a punk venue we can play the faster stuff, and if we’re at a honky tonk and the crowd is 70 plus we can play the slow two step songs. And its fulfilling in that sense as we can keep ourselves busy.

Kelly: It could blow up in our faces, as attached to this Australia and New Zealand tour, we’re doing a tour of south east Asia, including India, Malaysia and the Philippines. It’s funny I toured that area almost 20 years ago with this German crust punk band called Cluster Bomb Unit, and that was full-on hardcore crust stuff. The people booking these shows are going on the strength of the fact I had been there with that band. I sent them the music and videos but I’m wondering how many Malaysian crust fans are going to show up (laughs).

I-94 Bar: Someone told me recently they saw Jerry Lee Lewis at Festival Hall in Melbourne in the ‘70s. the crowd was full of rockers and Jerry did a pure country set which didn’t get over well. I don’t know if it was a riot but the punters didn’t get what they wanted. Maybe that will happen on that tour.

Kelly: On the other hand people are still talking about it. If they got what they expected they’d say yeah good show and move on. Remember the great Malaysian country crust riot of 2024? That will be one for the books. 

jenny dont tour

I-94 Bar: You mentioned the Vandals, I remember when they did some country stuff, it felt like we’ll add some twang, some steal guitar, and its county music, and for me didn’t feel authentic. When Ween did 12 Golden Country greats, its felt like a real country LP, but I think a lot of people heard that LP and thought if they can do it so can we, but missed the mark, and it didn’t have that authenticity of what made it great.

Kelly:  I don’t know what it is, the punks going country, which usually means putting on a country hat and playing acoustic guitar alone and…

I-94 Bar: Singing about dead utes

Kelly: Exactly. We never wanted to do that. We wanted to take the anger and energy of our punk bands  and channel that into something else. I see the punk and country scene as having the same basic roots. Working class, blue colour, frustration, and entertainment to blow off that frustration. 

One of those nuances with country is people say is it Nashville or Bakersfield Nashville is Tennessee, Bakersfield is California. A lot of the reason why a lot of country music is from there was due to a big migration from the south during the depression. A lot of that was dirt poor, hard scrabble, blue collar worker types. If you look at the roots of punk and rock n roll, that’s where it came from. That status of society that channelled there frustration into music. 

We identify more with Bakersville then Nashville. Nashville is more over produced, lot of strings where Bakersville is more hard guitar stuff. That’s where we come at it from punk to country. Everyone has their interpretation that’s just ours.

I-94 Bar: That’s a great summary and agree when it comes to attitude. I always thought Hank Williams was the original punk rocker. 

Kelly: Yeah totally, him and Darby Crash has similar beliefs and met similar ends. 

Jenny: Yeah, they were both pushing boundaries from their respective eras.

I-94 Bar: I saw you’re playing Tamworth on this tour; did you play their last time?

Kelle: No. we heard it was a good place to play, someone does a music festival there which we couldn’t get on but we still got there.

I-94 Bar: I’ve looked at your tour schedule and it appears you guys are barely at home, and Kelly you mentioned you were doing some work on your upcoming release minutes ago, so when you are home is just writing/recording and doing admin, or do you have day gigs?

Kelly: It’s non stop. We handle most stuff of the band. We run the label most of our releases come out on, we run the mail order. Do the shirts. I don’t screen t shirts, but we do the mail order and distribution. And try and balance a life as well. It's our day job. A poorly paying one. 

It’s hard work, I made the transition from what was my day job to this. I’ve been in construction for 20 years, 15 working for myself. Finally, the band got so busy, not that we made so much money I could quit, it was so time consuming I didn’t have time for my job, so its non-stop I tell you. We were in Europe this year, got back at the end of May, every weekend since then we’ve been playing shows. Its like touring but we come home every three days and sleep in our own bed.

Jenny: Yeah we played 150 shows this year.

Kelly: It’s not over yet.

I-94 Bar: Jenny - is this the same for you?

Jenny: Pretty much. I was working at a venue. I’m still employed but I work once I month. If I’m in town I’ll work a shift. I do production management. Open the venue, set up the green room, pay bands at the end of the night. The company I work for has a few venues in town and treats bands good. Most of the people they employ are touring musicians. 

It’s a great gig to have and keeps you connected to the music scene locally. Sometimes I like it other times I’m like why do I know this, this is terrible (laughs). But there very supportive of giving me time off when we have tours.

jenny dont spurs

I-94 Bar: The band your playing with in Australia, is it the Spurs line up from the states or do you have some local ring ins?

Jenny: it’s the American line up. When we started the Spurs, we had the intention of it being interchanging and who’s in town. Then we found out quickly we don’t want to do that. When you see bands that have rotating members you can tell, there’s not the connection. That said those bands are super hard working too, as you got to keep teaching the interchange members the materials and hoping they’ve learned it, and they do their homework, which doesn’t always happen. For us we have the same members and try to travel together all the time.

Kelly: That’s something from the punk scene we took, which is the band is a unit, almost a gang or a family. In Country music they tend to have pick up players, you have a name, and the name travels to a city and picks up a bass player and the rest of the band. We don’t want to do that. We’ve been approached on many occasions by people, international festivals, and they say we can’t afford to pay for all four of you, so we’ll pay for you and Jenny, and we’ll find you a guitar player and drummer. We can’t do that to the guys.

Jenny: And the only reason we would get offers from festivals is because of the work of all four of us. It wouldn’t be fair. “Thanks for the help getting us here guys, see you soon”. 

Kelly: They’re sacrificing their time and effort and there in the trenches with us.

I-94 Bar: Yeah it’s one of those things, people who leave the band at home and tour overseas with local players, I don’t like it but I understand it given the cost and logistics involved, so onya to you guys for saying it’s the full band or nothing. 

Jenny: Yeah, it’s hard, but it feels better doing it this way. I’ve had offers for me to do solo stuff, just come over as an introduction and we’ll work on getting the band over next time. For me, me playing the songs by myself are not what the songs are meant to sound like, so I would do the fans a disservice as well as the band.

I-94 Bar: Do you two play together as a duo or is it band or nothing?

Jenny: On tour, if a radio station says come in and do a song or two, I’ll do that, but a whole set, no.

Kelly: We ruled that out at the beginning, how the band formed was it was Jenny and I, and this was before Don’t broke up. Jenny played with Don’t, I had a few other bands I was touring extensively in, and when we were home, we said let’s play something mellow, we can play anywhere, we just sat there putting together our first set, which was some of Jenny’s originals and some country standards. And acoustic guitar and acoustic bass, and we were plunking away, and I thought this sounds awful especially the bass, it was better just Jenny solo. 

But that’s how we invited Sam on board. And when Sam came on board we said just brushes on a snare, nothing else. One by one the drum kit grew, and then it became a full band. But every time we get tempted to do a two-piece thing we think back to that early day and say can’t do it.

Jenny: I’ll do the acoustic thing for a song or two for necessity.

Kelly: And she sounds great doing it, it sounds fine. I can’t sing to save my life

I-94 Bar: We were talking about Poison Idea before, is that true Jerry A married you guys?

Kelly: He did. He got his mail order ministry licence. I asked him, and I heard he was an ordained minister, you can send $2 and you’re a minister and marry people. People like us, who don’t want any formal, religion involved in our wedding, we’ll find people like that. I heard Jerry had his licence, he didn’t but he mailed off for it. 

Poison Idea were pretty important in my youth, and inspirational to me. And over the years they become friends, and some band mates at different points in my life and the coolest people, and Jerrys been really cool and supportive over the years. On the first Spurs LP he does a duet with Jenny, they does Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra's "Lady Bird". That'd Jerry doing the male parts.

I-94 Bar: Jenny, do you make all the group's outfits?

Jenny: I make my own outfits; I don’t do the guys suits. At some point I plan on making some western shirts but all the western dresses with chain sticking I do myself. And his jackets I’ve done all the chain sticking embellishments on western stuff. 

I started it a few years ago as getting anything custom is expensive, and I couldn’t find anything in the shops that fit the band. As Kelly said we do our own label and we’re doing our own LPs, so I couldn’t justify spending the money off a record for a suit, so I started making them. But it’s been fun. 

Kelly: It’s that old thing of we like cool stuff but we can’t afford it, so we’re forced to do it ourselves.

I-94 Bar: Jenny, I noticed you're wearing a Dead Moon Cap, is that also a Dead Moon tattoo on your arm? 

Jenny: Oh yeah. I’m like a super fan today. This was made by Cody, who sticked this and gave it to me when we played at Shotkickers.

Kelly: Actually, it’s mine but she’s wearing it now.

I-94 Bar: Kelly, if it’s cool do you mind telling us about your time with Pierced Arrows playing with Fred and Toody?

Kelly: I was with them for 10 years and had a really crazy time. Got to tour around the world and they were like surrogate parents to me.  It was like touring with someone’s parents, but it was more fun.

Jenny: Toody is doing really good, and sometimes we back her, with Toody Cole and the Spurs. 

Kelly: We just did a show with her, me and Christopher, the guitarist in the Spurs, it was a big set of Dead Moon, Pierced Arrows, the Rats, the Weeds, kind of a retrospective look. Dead Moon was this force in Portland growing up playing in bands in the late ‘80s and early’ 90s. I started touring overseas in 1992, and going to Europe I was amazed how everyone knew who Dead Moon was. This weird band from Portland is really famous in Germany and all over the damn place. 

Jenny: That was there whole thing just do it. It doesn’t matter if you can do it very well or not just do it.

Kelly: And usually it will work out. Your fears or insecurities exceed what your actual abilities are, your usually much better at something then you think you are. And that was their philosophy and if you’re not very good at it, fuck it at least your tried.

Jenny Don’t and the Spurs Australian Tour
7 – THE TRIFFID / BRISBANE, QLD with Henry Wagons
12 - BRUNSWICK BALLROOM / MELBOURNE, VIC with The Pink Stones and The Bures Band
13 - THE BARWON CLUB / GEELONG, VIC with The Pink Stones and The Bures Band
15 – THE STAR / YACKANDANDAH, VIC with The Pink Stones and The Bures Band
17 – THE GREAT CLUB / SYDNEY, NSW with The Pink Stones and The Bures Band