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The Meaning of Tyler Childers’ “Banded Clovis”

Tyler Childers live at Lollapalooza 2018. Photo by James Richards IV.

“Banded Clovis” is a murder ballad from Tyler Childers’ 2017 breakout album Purgatory. While it may be one of the lesser-known tunes on the album, with songs like “Feathered Indians” and “Lady May” catching more ears with their more accessible song structures, “Banded Clovis” is a feat of songwriting in its own right.

The song is written without a chorus, yet still manages to be catchy thanks to Tyler’s vocal performance and the down-to-earth voice that he sings with. Meanwhile, the lyrics tell the story of a murder that takes place when two pals go out sifting for treasure in the foothills of what we can only assume is Kentucky, since that’s where Childers hails from.

While they’re out sifting, the two are sipping moonshine and wine to keep warm and motivated, “‘Cause you can’t hold a girl with a fistful of shovel,” Childers sings, “Got to find your fire in the company of corn”. At first the pair aren’t having much luck, but then they reach a layer of ashes where they “Found a bunch of broke flint and a few bits of bone” — evidence of human activity and a sign that they may be onto something.

Things get interesting when Tyler hears Jesse, the buddy he went sifting with, shout loud enough to shake the hills that he found something. It turns out to be a perfectly preserved “Banded Clovis”, or a spearhead of Native American origin, that was once used to kill mammoths and other large animals.

Clovis point.

This is where the dark intentions of the men are revealed, as the climax of the ballad shows the narrator shooting his friend in order to take and sell the Clovis, as one in this condition is quite valuable and hard to find:

It was banded as hell, it was fluted and Clovis
It was hot as the pistol I kept on my side
And I was fiending so fierce, I was broke ass and busted
I pulled out my pistol and I took Jesse’s life

Clovis like that is a hard point to find
Makes pills swift to come by with a good chunk of change
Left over for burn on whatever meanness
Whatever woman is comin’ my way
Darlin’ come my way

Lyrics from “Banded Clovis” by Tyler Childers

Here we can also see that the intentions behind the murder were simply to buy more drugs, as Childers sings that he is “fiending so fierce” and “broke ass and busted“. This reveals that our narrator is down bad, as he is willing to resort to murder just to get his next fix. He also doesn’t have any plans for the rest of the money, other than spending it on more bad decisions, like hookers.

The final verse reveals that our narrator sits in prison for the murder of Jesse Nolan, the guy who initially found the Clovis. In the closing lyrics, Childers reveals that there may be a moment of clarity for our drug-addicted murderer, as he recognizes that his vices are the reason he’s sitting there.

“I reckon the chase of the pills and the powder,” Tyler sings, “Corn liquor and woman are the culprits to blame.”

Watch a live session featuring Tyler Childers performing “Banded Clovis” in 2017 below.