Columbia, Mo.'s Hooten Hallers crackle like Jiffy Pop, producing a swampy garage-blues stomp that's greasy enough to tame the worst Jersey Shore hair. The duo evokes the energetically grimy, white-boy blues of Scott Biram and Bob Log III, whose somewhat-unhinged brand of showmanship they also share. It's an enthusiastic ethos they've taken to describing as "putting a dog on it."
"'Putting a dog on it' is having the most amount of fun possible at any given time regardless of circumstance," explains Andy Rehm, whose drumming provides the martial groove for partner John Randall's sweaty razor-wire riffs.
Rehm and Randall have been touring steadily this past year, thanks in large part to an assist from Joe Buck of Th' Legendary Shack Shakers. These days, Buck goes out on the road as a one-man band, and his DIY touring acumen proved invaluable to the younger duo. After they opened for him in Missouri, Buck was so impressed that he took them under his wing.
"He said, 'I'm going to take you on the road with me,'" recalls Rehm. "We were skeptical, but then, sure enough, he did." Buck's recommendation also helped the two musicians secure their first booking agent, allowing them to tour regularly. "We wouldn't be doing what we are now without that."
Although Randall and Rehm went to the same St. Louis high school together, they played in different bands and shared bills only a couple of times. They didn't really connect until they both ended up attending the University of Missouri, where they began writing songs, playing open mics, and building it up from there.
Besides their live energy, a big part of the duo's appeal can be found in songs that range from the clippety-cloppety country of "Straight Line" to the haunting bloodthirsty blues of "Death Row," in which the narrator takes pleasure in the green mile looming for his lover's killer.
"We recorded the first album [We Have Friends] a few years ago, in a basement with some equipment we culled together," recalls Rehm. "It was a pretty ramshackle endeavor but it ended up sounding good, so we released it."
A couple years later, the duo recorded The Epic Battle of Good an Evil in a legitimate studio. And during the current tour, they'll be playing a bunch of songs from their third album, which should be out by February. The game plan is to capture more of their live energy on the forthcoming disc, which is tentatively titled Greetings From Welp City.
Meanwhile, the Hallers continue to rev up crowds live, not least because of Rehm's unusual drum set up at the front of the stage. He sings and plays standing up, working with just a four-piece kit.
"It started as me not wanting to carry so much stuff to the show," says Rehm. "Then I realized it's just more fun for me to play the drums that way. And being in front of the stage instead of being in the back sitting down, I felt much more a part of what's going on."
And there's definitely a lot going on at a Hallers show, some of it pretty random. "Sometimes there will be a moment, in the middle of a song, where John will bust out another song," says Rehm, "and we'll just go for it."