Last month, L.A. Weekly writer Nicholas Pell wrote one of his “Unpopular Opinion” columns about foul-mouthed country upstart Wheeler Walker Jr. Titled “I Wish I Liked Wheeler Walker Jr.'s Fake Country, But I Sure Don't,” the column took Walker to task for being an “ironic faux redneck” and pale imitation of country's most famous foul-mouthed singer-songwriter, David Allan Coe.
Not surprisingly, Walker was not pleased. But after coming down from a Twitter rampage at Pell and the Weekly's expense, he reached out to us through his publicist and offered to speak to us, hoping to set the record straight on a few things he felt Pell's column got wrong.
After declining to speak to Pell directly (“Once I find out you're gonna lie about me, why talk to you?”), Walker agreed to speak with me about the column, his recently released, Dave Cobb–produced album Redneck Shit, and whether or not he really is, as some have said, the creation of a comedian from Kentucky named Ben Hoffman. What follows are some excerpts from that conversation.
How are you?
I'm good. Thanks for talking to me. Thanks for the article. I appreciate it.
I appreciate you talking to me. Especially since the article was not too flattering.
I didn't know not liking me was an unpopular opinion. So my first reaction was, “Oh cool.” 'Cause I thought people hated me anyway. But then, of course, the rage kicks in. I kinda lost it maybe, a little bit. I assume you saw the tweets. Sorry for going after your writer that much. Actually I'm not sorry.
I think if you and Nick did talk, you probably would find some common ground. He's a big fan of David Allan Coe and Hank Williams Jr. …
I do know who he likes because he told me in the article who he likes, and why I suck and they're great. That part was perfectly clear. [Laughs] July 12. Troubadour. Be there. I'm throwing in plugs. Buy my album. iTunes, Amazon. Walmart ain't selling it. It was the first album Walmart ever banned before it was recorded.
We would maybe get along. But when I read that shit, I go fuckin' batty. My fans were tweeting me like, “Yo, Wheeler. That's enough. Shut up. Put the phone down.” When my fans are telling me it's enough, I think we know it's enough. But I can't help it. I'm kinda new to all this social media shit, and if you're telling me I can just talk and everyone's gonna read it, until the battery's dead, I'm gonna keep fuckin' complaining like the bitch that I am.
In addition to calling out your critics, you've made no secret of your hatred of bro country, and you seem to single out Florida Georgia Line in particular as your nemesis. What is it about them that you dislike so much?
Well, I've changed my mind about Florida Georgia Line, and here's why. I've gotten about three calls from various people telling me, that's enough. They told me to stop talking about Florida Georgia Line. So I want to say Florida Georgia Line is the best band out there right now and I love everything they do and they're fantastic. They're just a real good band.
Well, all right. So what prompted the 180?
I don't want to get my ass kicked.
So you're still not really a fan of mainstream country.
Put it this way: I'm in the studio with Dave Cobb, listening to playback of “Fuck You Bitch,” and I'm thinking, “Goddamn, this is a fuckin' hit. Make a clean version and that's a fuckin' hit country song.” And Dave and the rest of the musicians, they look at me like I'm fuckin' nuts. They go, “Have you heard country radio recently?” I don't listen to mainstream country, I'm not part of that world. So I go listen to some and I lost my fuckin' mind. It was fuckin' Milli Vanilli with a twang. Like cracker rap or some shit. And that's when I decided, “I ain't gonna censor any of this shit. It ain't gonna get played anyway.”
So I was like, “Nobody's makin' fun of these bands. I'll be the guy who makes fun of these bands, 'cause no one else's got the balls to do it.” And then you're in Nashville and you run into so-and-so — I won't say who, but he's a nice dude and wouldn't mind you not saying that he sucks off every member of his band. When you're meeting 'em in person, it's kinda like, “No problem, sir, I'm a fan of yours as well and I think it's probably for the best.”
There's this band Old Dominion. I was watching the CMAs, and I tweeted out, “At least we know they ain't jackin' each other off right now.” And they retweeted it! And said, “We're big fans!” So when that happens, I go, “Fuckin' you win, motherfucker. I can't make fun of you anymore. You seem like cool guys.”
So do you get the sense that a lot of people in Nashville are actually becoming fans of you and your music?
It goes both ways. I've been surprised how many mainstream artists have said they're fans. But Music Row ain't too pleased, for a variety of reasons. One, I found a way to become — well, according to Nicholas Pell, I'm popular, without using their system. It's an independent record, self-financed. I basically went broke. I'm about to leave for a tour. I just found out I'm going on tour to lose $5,000. But the fact that I'm doing it outside of their system probably pisses them off more than the bad words.
I debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard country charts during Grammy week. No. 10 was a band that was playing on the Grammys, Little Big Town. How many people watch the Grammys, 20 million? I don't know what it is. You can look it up. And everyone else on the chart — they're at Walmart, they're at Kmart, they're at Best Buy. They're on radio stations blasting around America. They're on The Voice, they're on TV, they're on talk shows. I can't do any of this shit. I can't call up Jimmy Fallon and go, “Hey motherfucker, I wanna play 'Fuck You Bitch' with The Roots.” It ain't gonna happen.
Have you talked about coming up with a clean version?
No, I refuse to do it. I won't do it. The whole point was, I wanted to make an album where I just fuckin' let loose. I didn't want to censor myself. So I gotta stick to my guns, you know? I don't wanna [do] 'Screw You Girl.' It's not what I sell.
When I went in [to the studio], I was at a fuckin' low point. And I guess whatever I put into the record, completely uncensored, as real as I can be — there's people that want to hear it. It's connecting with somebody.
Is it connecting with rednecks, or with people who like to make fun of rednecks? Or a little of both?
According to Nicholas Pell, who claims I'm some comedian, Ben Hoffman, and who claims I'm a faux redneck, not actually from Kentucky — there's probably some of those fans. But I am from Kentucky. I'm not a faux redneck.
Well, I think his argument would be that it's possible to be from Kentucky and not be a redneck.
It depends on your definition of “redneck.” I've only been in New York City a few times. One of the first times, I went there with a buddy of mine. … I see this dude, and he's throwing rocks at taxicabs. And my buddy looks at me and goes, “I guess there's rednecks everywhere.”
To me, redneck is not a negative stereotype. I spent my summers working as a farmhand — I literally had a red neck from working on the farm. To me, you listen to the record, there's no political statements, there's no “Quit your bitchin' and get back in the kitchen.” There's no “I hate women,” there's no racism, there's no sexism, there's no homophobia. There ain't none of that shit. People are pretending like there is, but it ain't there.
So you would argue that a song like “Which One o' You Queers Gonna Suck My Dick?” is not a homophobic song?
A song about a guy going to a gay bar and getting his dick sucked? How much more pro-gay can you be? If you're sick of women and you can't take it anymore, you're fuckin' over it, and you have a few too many beers, and let's just say you're a little blacked out and you end up at a gay bar and a dude sucks your dick. That's homophobic? Isn't that the exact opposite definition of a homophobe? Besides the fact that it's something no one in country music has ever fuckin' talked about. Just bringing up that subject, people assume it's homophobic. You just did. But there's nothing homophobic about that song. I've been sent articles from gay blogs: “The First Queer Country Anthem.” Which is probably not true; I'm sure there's been some I don't know about. So to have gay blogs tell me it's the first queer country anthem and other people tell me it's too homophobic — it's like, I can't win.
Listen, I didn't walk out of the studio with the album under my arm going, “You know what? This is for everybody. Everyone's gonna love this.” I'm not stupid. As long as I get a reaction, good or bad, and I've certainly gotten that. If you look on iTunes, it's all five stars and one stars — there ain't no three stars.
So I do appreciate you giving me my say, which you didn't have to do. Sorry, I just fuckin' farted. Most people that write negative articles, the publication doesn't want anyone to talk back.
No, we believe in equal time.
Well, you're the first paper I've talked to that believes in that, so I appreciate that. But I mainly appreciate all the people that are coming to the Troubadour, I think July 12. And all the people who buy my album, available on iTunes, Amazon, but not at any of your chain stores, where I'm banned from.