Pink Floyd"s epic The Wall is many things. It"s a beloved album and film. It"s a statement against isolationism and fascism. All of those things have been known for years.
But until now, nobody knew The Wall would make one helluva country album. Canadian band Luther Wright & The Wrongs have taken the 26 Pink Floyd songs, added a whole lot of banjo, mandolin and pedal steel to them and come up with Rebuild The Wall, a revisionist look at the classic. Under their command, the familiar songs assume new contexts and meanings. Floyd"s "Run Like Hell" was an ominous and foreboding rock song, while Wright turns the angst into an old-fashioned hoedown. "Goodbye Blue Sky" sounds like a lost Hank Williams Grand Old Opry song. It"s a stunning achievement to turn a British art-rock album into a Tennessee Williams play, but that"s just what they"ve done. Wright and his band will play much of Rebuild The Wall at their Tuesday, Dec. 17 show at the Patio. Why redo a classic album? "We stumbled upon the fact that it would work," Wright said in a phone interview from the road. "We just kind of figured out that The Wall had the right kinds of themes, musically and lyrically, to be played as a country record. The themes are like old bluegrass songs: hurting and loss, disassociation, isolation and the pressures of the world. It shows The Wall is an archetype, something that"s common through cultures and through history." He said, "Isn"t it odd that an English rock star would write an album that works, beginning to end, as a roots record? We were just the guys to do it. It takes a Canadian band to reinterpret a British rock record into Americana music." The songs, as written by Roger Waters, were surprisingly easy to rearrange, he said. "The chords - mostly D, G, A and C - were easy enough to strum away on an acoustic guitar. Once we started to play each song through, we said, "That one works," and, "That one." The whole record did. Over time, we boasted that we were going to do it. And so we did it." The album has gotten acclaim from The New York Times and others, and has helped the band break into the American market. "At this point, it"s just one of four albums we"ve recorded, but it adds an arsenal of 26 songs to play live," Wright said. "Hopefully they"ll come to the show and see that we"re a real band with real songs and The Wall stuff kind of blends in and complements what we"ve always been doing." While Wright is certainly a Floyd fan, his real idols, such as Hank Williams, were born a few decades earlier. "Hank was always singing about heartbreak and breakups and stuff and his voice is kind of funny. Even as a teen-ager, hearing him, I realized it was different than hearing some balladeer moan on in the rock and roll genre," he said. "That can be sappy, but there was nothing sappy about Hank. In "Cold, Cold Heart" the words rhyme in a funny rhyming way, but there are really serious heartbreak issues that everyone deals with at some point." Hank"s ability to meld the tough and the tender attracted Wright from an early age, he said. "That was a big influence to start writing songs in that realm, knowing that you could be really heartfelt and not be sappy," he said. "I guess it"s heartfelt music for tough people. Country was originally made by rural people working hard, dealing with life. But the way the stories are expressed, it"s a happy beat. There"s humor in it. That"s how life is. There"s nothing funny about heartache when it"s happening, but you can look back at it later and laugh." Although Rebuild The Wall draws heavy inspiration from bluegrass pioneers such as Bill Monroe, Luther Wright & The Wrongs are not a bluegrass band in the traditional sense. "We"ve been mislabeled as a bluegrass band," Wright said. "It"s partially because the record label put "bluegrass band" on our poster without asking us. But if you"ve ever seen a bluegrass band, they don"t have a full drum kit and electric guitar, and we do. We"ve had some people come out expecting to see bluegrass, and we"re rocking out to country Pink Floyd. "We"re not purists of any form of music. Ideally, we"re just trying to make our own sound. Maybe we"re not paying enough attention to the rules, but that"s what music is all about." Wright & The Wrongs have played countless dates with traditional bluegrass bands and have been influenced by all of them, he said. "We"ve learned a lot from other bands we"ve been playing with at festivals over the last five years," he said. "They"re the ones who know all the old Appalachian songs and stand around one microphone to play. Jamming with them, we learned some of the technique and a whole pile of songs." From Ontario, "the Deep South of Canada," Wright grew up listening to country music, although the first band he started was a garage punk band. He said it"s not such a giant leap from one genre to another. "Punk rock and country are pretty related," he said. "And half the songs I wrote for that band we play as country songs now. Our drummer pointed out that if we played them more slowly, they"d be traditional country songs." Rebuild was not originally recorded for the marketplace as much as it was just a training exercise for the band. "When it was all finished, we thought we"d proven the point to ourselves and that was it. But people were telling us we should release it, so we had to find out if we could. We sent a CD-R to Roger Waters with a note explaining why we did things the way we did, why we changed some lyrics. It took a couple of months, but he sent us back a note saying he enjoyed it and wished us luck."