Gang Activity

How a Seattle insurance agent turned a motorcycle club into a rock band

Like a good neighbor, Brent Amaker processes claims in his State Farm office in West Seattle. Working in the insurance industry isn’t the most glamorous way for a musician to pay the bills—especially when by night he leads an art-rocked old-school country band called The Rodeo, which sounds like Johnny Cash trapped in the violent universe of a ’70s spaghetti western movie soundtrack.

“For years I thought, I’ll never be taken seriously or become successful because I have a day job,” Amaker says. “But it honestly gives me the freedom of having my own business. I started it 15 years ago, and I’ve been doing music longer than that. I feel lucky I don’t have to be a barista.”

A Seattle coffee metaphor works well in the case of Amaker and The Rodeo. The band delivers a cappuccino-machine steam blast to the senses with their just-released fourth studio album, Year of the Dragon. Indeed, The Rodeo achieves an effect that is simultaneously widescreen-cinematic and nuggeted with earthy wisdom, the kind derived from watching disasters befall others.

Consider “Troubled Times” off Dragon. The song infuses ’60s psychedelic rock, haunted saloon piano and ghostly sleigh bell into the country template as Amaker urges listeners to inhabit the present: Give thanks for what you got/Eat all that’s on your plate/’Cause troubled times might come today. In lesser hands, the sentiment might be cheesy. But Amaker’s bass voice booms like God’s.

“We go through life searching for meaning,” he says of the song and others like it on Dragon. “But death is around the corner all the time. If you spend too much time searching for truth, you can’t live your life. It’s a balancing act.”

Speaking of living, Amaker isn’t afraid of riding a hog. In fact, his band’s origin can be traced back to 2005, when he and friends founded a cowboy motorcycle gang.

“A bunch of us musicians who’d played in various rock bands in Seattle went out for drinks in a country bar one night,” he says. “We talked about how we hated where country music was going. We wanted to try making western music that was cool, had a good vibe and wasn’t overproduced.”

They wanted the same thing for their motorcycles. So they formed a band, rehearsed and began riding their bikes to rock clubs minus instruments or gear. (They relied on other bands on the bills to provide equipment.) The Rodeo had so much fun and success with the music that they moved forward, ditching their bikes and securing a proper tour van. Soon they were recording and touring the world.

Previous tours usually included a Las Vegas stop. Amaker has one serious regret playing this town: Because of limited resources, he can’t bring his full Vegas-style stage show, which includes burlesque dancers, neon-lighting rig and props. It’ll just be his band onstage.

“When The Rodeo hits the road, we only pack socks and underwear,” he says. “It’s a contest to see who brings the smallest suitcase. We wear the same suits every day. Like traveling salesmen, we go from town to town. We check into a hotel, get into the hot tub and wait for the show to start. It’s a liberating way to live.”

Brent Amaker and The Rodeo at Double Down Saloon, 4640 Paradise Rd., 10 p.m. June 16, free, 791-5775,

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