About an hour and a half south of Memphis, just up the road from the town of Pentecost, lies the little one-whore town of Drew, Mississippi (population 2000), a one-mile-square block with a boarded-up main street. The banks of the Mississippi River are a half-hour to the west; William Faulkner's home is 70 miles northeast. You can get your driver's license at 14 if you can prove you're a farm laborer -- and just about everyone's work, in some form or another, is tied to the land or the state pen a few miles away. The authorities tell the residents of Drew they have nothing to worry about in the event of a jailbreak -- the first thing any sane escaped prisoner would do is get as far away from Drew as humanly possible. It dawned on Quintaine Americana's Rob Dixon fairly early on that getting out of Mississippi was about the sanest idea he'd ever heard. He and a friend ran away at 14, getting as far as Pine Bluff, Arkansas, before the friend goosed out and called home. A few years later, Dixon left for good, eventually ending up in Boston in 1988. "If you stay, though," he says, "you've got three options. You can turn into a Christian, you can die, or you can become a drug addict. Because you gotta have something, and nobody there has anything."
Quintaine Americana's debut album, Needles (CherryDisc), is a vengeful, misanthropic rumble through the heartland -- trailer parks set aflame, murder's scent hanging over the dust like whiskey on a drunkard's breath -- powered by precisely that kind of claustrophobia. Few since the Birthday Party have applied such a caustic, strangled musical outlook to the suffocation and surrealism of Southern rural anomie. There are traces of the piercing dissonance of early Six Finger Satellite, the nervous, cathartic squall of the Jesus Lizard, the effusive, stuttering clamor and bedrock rhythmic thrust of Shellac.
It's hardcore as landscape. Dixon's guitar work is drawn to punctuating cinematic flourishes -- from the haunting creak of a dry, cracked floorboard and the isolated ring of wind chimes to much darker, ominous post-punk churns and scrapes. On "The Rifleman," echoes of bone-aching reverb lose themselves in the distance, and gales of searing guitar overdrive whip around like wind in a canyon. But then a sudden drop to subterranean grind signals a tempestuous change in portent -- letting on more than the narrator will. "I'm Sorry" could be an outtake from Neil Young's Dead Man score until it erupts into a dirgy rapture somewhere between Bauhaus and Joy Division.
The lyrics are just as visually expressive, revealing a nightmarish netherworld where Quintaine are no less corrupt than their surroundings. The sun hangs overhead like both angel and vulture in "Caught Fly." Ants scuttle around the walls and come to "jump into your fish and rest inside" on "Aunt Ruth" -- an image of decay that harks back to the opening scene in Blue Velvet as well as Luis Buñuel's surrealist classic Un chien andalou. Rapeman-like (i.e., calculatedly offensive) misogyny turns up in the form of retarded whores and a "Waitress at Bill's" sealed in clay "except for your mouth so I could see what you would say." "[CherryDisc honcho John] Horton told us he can't listen to the album while he's stoned," says Dixon, "because it made him scared."
In Drew, work means flagging crop dusters in a field all day and fun means taking potshots at snakes with a .22. ("Rattlesnakes run away from you when you shoot at 'em, but water moccasins attack," says drummer Jason King, "you've gotta pick em off before they get to you, 'cause they'll come right on shore up to your ass.") In that context, nihilism is just a way of transforming a white-trash upbringing into a shitstorm parable of rural damnation. When bassist Marc Schlesicher, who's from Lowell, joined Dixon and fellow Drew native King in 1993, he came up with the band's name and a little Southern lore to go with it. Quintaine started to claim they'd taken the name from their hometown heroes, a couple of hell-raisers named Billy Quintaine and Johnny America, who were prone to flick lit matches into baby carriages, hand out impromptu ass-whuppings, and stuff vegetables in places where they're not supposed to go. "They stood for what America was all about," chuckles King, "the white-trash America that the USA really, truly is."
Actually, Schlesicher got the name Billy Quintaine from a Tales from the Crypt episode. And for the record, a quintaine is an old English jousting device involving a wooden target and a sandbag. "I went and looked it up," says King. "I've got the definition on the side of my computer at work. But I can't imagine why they call that thing a quintaine."