Roots music has always had a strong footholdin Salt Lake. With our rural history and independent spirit, folk, bluegrass, blues and country have all found a home here. We’re lucky enough to have the rough and gruff, down and dirty Ugly Valley Boys and the cotton lickin’, finger pickin’ Puddle Mountain Ramblers. SLUG thought it high time we had ourselves a hoot of a hootenanny with these fine folks on June 8 for Localized at Urban Lounge (21+) at 10 p.m. with opener Staks O’Lee. As always, $5 gets you in.

Ugly Valley Boys
Ryan Eastlyn – Vocals, Guitar, Drums
Braxton Brandenburg – Upright Bass

The Ugly Valley Boys are a two-man wrecking crew who play an ungodly mash-up of rural blues and hillbilly country. For a sound made by just two guys, it’s impressive how full and tonally colorful their songs are. Not content to simply regurgitate an old Robert Johnson tune or rely on Johnny Cash covers, both Eastlyn and Brandenburg are ardently proud of the originality in their music.

Drawn to roots music by way of more aggressive styles such as punk and metal, the Ugly Valley Boys are able to bring together the elements of those genres and more traditional music to create something all their own. “I would call it basic roots music,” says Eastlyn. “There’s some definite blues and country mixed in there. At this point in my life, I’m listening to a lot of obscure delta blues, guys like Mississippi John Hurt, who is a major influence on me. If you go back and research some of these old bluesmen, they influenced people like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. I guess that’s the definition of roots music.”

Disinterested in pursuing a career in music, neither musician was planning on starting a band, but when their paths crossed, it was apparent that they had a connection through their mutual passion for country and blues. The two met when Brandenburg relocated from Montana four years ago. “He was putting a show together with Wayne Hancock and I wanted to be a part of it. I called him and found out we were into all the same hillbilly music and he told me he had an upright bass, and just thought, what the hell!” says Eastlyn.

Before playing in Ugly Valley Boys, Brandenburg had never played upright bass, but he felt that it was essential to the music they wanted to play.

“As I got into this music more and more, I was intrigued by [stand-up bass]—it looked fun, and the aesthetic is really cool, but it’s the sound really: It’s something that you can’t recreate on an electric bass,” says Brandenburg.

Anyone who has seen these boys live for even a minute has observed the anomaly of Eastlyn simultaneously singing, playing guitar and using both feet to stomp out percussion on a high hat and a kick drum.  “I started doing the drum and guitar thing when I was a kid,” he says. “I couldn’t find a drummer, and I’d want to know what my songs sounded like with drums. It has made doing this band so much easier—drummers are loud and can drown out the rest of the band.”  

Although they’re happy to remain a two-piece, that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to collaborating with the right people. “When we went on tour with Graham Lindsey, he would come out and play banjo on five or six songs with us, and it sounded great,” says Eastlyn. “We’ve even talked about having Brad Wheeler, if he isn’t too busy, play slide guitar on our next CD.”

Unsatisfied by playing to the same audiences every weekend, the two seek out new places to play and especially like to hit the festival circuit. They already played the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender this year and are looking forward to the Farmageddon Fest later this summer in Montana. “It’s good to get out of town,” says Brandenburg. “We don’t want to overwhelm people by playing a show every weekend here. I don’t want to see the same bands over and over again, no matter who it is. It makes it more fun to play locally if we don’t do it as often.”

Both of these avid musicians are equally passionate about their day jobs, and it’s obvious that they approach their professions with the same fervor as they do their music. Eastlyn is the fourth generation in a custom neon signs shop, crafting signs for businesses such as Piper Down and Anchor Ink. Brandenburg opened his own Americana-style barber shop last January. “It’s right next to Ryan’s neon shop and inside the Bonnevillains Speed shop. It’s a lot of fun—I don’t feel like I’m at work when I’m there,” he says.

Talking to the two is like seeing them live or listening to their record that came out last year, Double Down. It’s a good time, and it’s honest and down to earth. I truly get the impression that if they never got paid and if no one ever came to their shows, they’d still be doing it.