Ednor Therriault orders beer and a double Mo burger for lunch. At least I think I’m eating lunch with Ednor—the 46-year-old freelance graphic artist and father of two who’s dressed in shorts and Chacos on this spring-bordering-summer afternoon—and not his alter ego Bob Wire, but that’s only because the guy across the table’s given me a simple criterion for distinguishing: “If I’m wearing the hat, it’s Bob. If I’m not, it’s Ednor.”
Still, every once in a while, despite the hat’s absence, I’m pretty sure it’s Bob sitting across the table, mainly because, as Therriault puts it, “Bob will say things in public that I would not say—usually involving the word vagina.”
As, for instance, when my interlocutor, whoever he is, gleefully relates how Bob Wire got Ednor Therriault in trouble by reciting a nugget from chucknorrisfacts.com—“When Chuck Norris breaks up with a girl, he doesn’t break up with her. He just punches her in the vagina, and she goes away”—that made its way into some patter during a recent show at the Union Club. The reaction? “I had some woman read me the riot act after the show.” Reflecting on the incident, and Bob’s tendency to crassly refer to genitalia in inappropriate settings, Therriault says, “You know, it’s just not worth it.”
Maybe not, but it’s unlikely Therriault’s Bob Wire persona will get retired anytime soon, since this Saturday Bob Wire and the Magnificent Bastards release their debut CD, American Piehole. The studio effort, coproduced by Magnificent Bastard bass player Ron Setzer, sports 14 tunes of straightforward, traditional country music driven by storytelling and a reflective equilibrium honed with Bob Wire’s aesthetic sensibility: “Every time I write a line or the music to it, I immediately think of how it’s going to go onstage at the Union Club,” where Therriault spent scores of nights playing as part of Bob Wire and the Fencemenders, with whom he released Waiting for Dark in 2000.
While gigging with the former band (the Fencemenders still occasionally reunite, by request), Therriault explains, “I wound up becoming Bob Wire sort of by default” because, at the band’s inception, “none of us were going to be Bob Wire…But after playing live with that name people started calling me Bob Wire—like Deborah Harry being called Blondie—and I thought this is kind of fun to get up onstage and play this character.”
Therriault’s story of hooking up with the Fencemenders, a project which Garth Whitson—now of The Countryists—shared the fronting duties, foreshadows Bob Wire’s emergence. About six months after moving to Missoula in 1993, and a brief stint with the stalwart bar band Betty for Sheriff, Therriault hooked up with Whitson, who was then playing in a three-piece called Small Town Deputies.
“I put an ad in the Indy in the music section: ‘Guitarist, singer looking for a band. Style is Johnny Cash, a stick of dynamite up Jerry Lee Lewis’ ass and Hank Williams lighting the fuse’,” remembers Therriault. “These guys called me up. They just wanted to see the guy who had written the ad. They had no spot in the band. So I kind of tried to ingratiate myself into their band…Pretty soon it imploded, and I kept on with Garth who was the drummer. So he and I found a harmonica player and bass player, and we formed the Fencemenders after that.”
That was 1995. Bob Wire and the Fencemenders stopped gigging regularly in 2004, and Therriault sees Bob Wire and the Magnificent Bastards as more than a personnel change.
“The Fencemenders have always played about 90 percent covers, some fairly obscure covers,” he says. “The new band is almost inverse to that, about 75-percent original. Also, I look at the hierarchy a little bit differently. Garth and I pretty much ran that band, made all the decisions. I look at the new band as a solo artist and his backing band.”
Taking that sort of control seemed essential to Therriault for achieving his “ultimate goal” of making a living as a songwriter. “I put [the Magnificent Bastards] together with the specific goal of putting together a CD of all original material, saying, okay, you guys can help me arrange the songs and bring them to life but here’s the songs.”
Many of those songs, captured on American Piehole, wouldn’t seem to fit well on the dedicated country music slots of the FM dial, which Therriault acknowledges.
“I’m not really prone to wrapping things up in a nice little bow at the end,” he says. “People tell me that all the time, ‘Why didn’t the guy make up with his dad at the end of the song?’ ‘Why didn’t the guy get the girl?’ That’s what you expect. I just want to challenge people a little bit.”
He doesn’t hear that challenge on contemporary country radio, which instead features what he describes as “feminist soft-rock country, soccer mom empowerment tunes. They’re all built around a bumper sticker, some clever phrase…I just can’t write like that. I’m a writer at heart, with words.”
That means, says Therriault, “putting together stories with interesting characters and a good story arc—a beginning, a middle and an end.” And if stories about a Midwestern killing spree (“Cold Blooded Killer”), or putting off an imminent reckoning with a self-destructive hell-raising streak in favor of one more day of crapulence (“Clean Livin’”), or a soldier in Vietnam who’s so well-adjusted to dystopia that he doesn’t want the war to end (“Saigon”), or even just a “Rio de Meurte (River of Death)” in the mountains outside Oaxaca, Mexico, don’t appeal to the people radio is aimed at, Therriault is unapologetic.
“I would rather fail at trying to get my stuff on the radio,” he says, “than to learn how to write the stuff that’s on there now.”
Still, he aims for commercial success, saying, “I’m hoping the pendulum has swung far enough towards pop culture that it’s going to come back toward something more authentic.” And either way, Therriault (or maybe Wire) isn’t in an accommodating mood. “I’m not going for the big demographics…Personally, I consider myself a feminist, but I have a hard time writing songs from a woman’s perspective. I gotta write what I know. I don’t have a cock holster. I’m a guy.”
Even if Nashville fails to move to Therriault’s position, Missoula suits him just fine. “I feel I’m very, very fortunate to be in a town, especially this size, where I can get away with playing mostly original music and people respond to it…Here, if you work hard and get together some decent material and have an entertaining show, it doesn’t take long for people to start coming.”
And as far as keeping a handle on his handle, Therriault has found a balance that suits him for now. “I’ve tried to maintain some separation between Bob Wire and Ednor,” he says. “Anything to do with music, I’m Bob Wire; anything to do with getting paid, I’m Ednor.”
Bob Wire and The Magnificent Bastards throw a CD release party for American Piehole on Saturday, May 6, at the Union Club. 9:30 PM. Free.