Tuesday
Aug082017

Jason Wilber Interview

The old adage of the male species not being able to multi-task most certainly does not apply to Jason Wilber. A career spanning over two decades to date has included twenty years as guitarist in the studio and on tour with John Prine, the release of eight studio albums, producer, session player, radio show host and guitar instructor. Possibly best known for his association with John Prine and also widely considered as one of the finest guitar players of his time, I’m intrigued as to how he actually manages to write so much material and actually record it given the mileage he clocks up on the road.

‘’Sometimes I will write a song while traveling, but most of the time I write at home’’ Jason Wilber tells Lonesome Highway while in the process of packing suitcases for another tour as part of John Prine’s legendary backing band alongside David Jacques, Pat Mc Laughlin and latest recruit drummer Kenneth Blevins. The tour takes in shows in Ireland, UK and The States fairly well filling in his diary until the end of 2017.

His latest album Reaction Time is Wilbur’s eight studio recording since the release of his debut album Lost In Your Hometown in 1998. It’s also one of his strongest with songs such as Something Somewhere, Heaven and the title track particularly hitting the spot. It was recorded only twelve months after Echoes, a covers album that featured material written by a variety of artists from The Rolling Stones to David Bowie and Leon Russell. Rather than self-produce Wilber engaged the services of Paul Mahern on both Echoes and Reaction Time. Mahern's musical career kicked off as a teenager with hardcore punk band The Zero Boys and he subsequently worked with household names such as Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Afghan Whigs, Magnolia Electric Co. and Iggy Pop. I wondered what drew Wilbur to him rather than take hold of the reins himself. ‘Paul is a fantastic engineer and producer. We have a good collaborative working relationship and I can count on him to be honest about whether he thinks something is good or not. He thinks of musical things that I don't think of and vice versa. Our musical backgrounds have some commonality but also a lot of differences, and I think that enriches the results we get’ explains Wilber. The album also reunites Wilber with Iris DeMent who adds backing vocals to Heaven, the closing track on the album. ‘I love Iris like a sister. I've had the pleasure of working with her for many years now. She has an amazing and unique voice and I couldn't think of any voice I'd rather hear first in the hereafter’.

With a career balance that involves so many different strands I wondered which of the roles brought the most satisfaction. ‘I enjoy accompanying other artists. It’s fun to be part of the team and to help paint the picture the artist is creating. On the other hand, it's nice to be the one primarily creating the picture too. So, it's kind of a tossup between performing my own songs and accompanying other artists on their songs. If I were forced to choose one though, I'd choose playing my own songs’

A self-confessed guitar fanatic from an early age his career did not follow any premeditated path, simply flowing from one stage to another as if predetermined. ‘Records by Johnny Cash, Tom T. Hall, Marty Robbins, and other artists were what set me off in that direction. Once I started playing guitar and doing gigs with bands, I realized it kind of came easy to me. Or maybe it was because I enjoyed it so much, all the hours of practicing didn't feel like work to me. Right away I was making more money playing in bands on the weekends than any of my friends who had part time jobs. I just progressed from there and at some point I started concentrating more on writing my own songs’

Without doubt the turning point in his career was his association with John Prine who Wilber actually performed with unofficially long before teaming up with him.  ‘I first met John when I was in high school. He sat in with a band some friends of mine had and I sat in on guitar. We played a whole set of John's songs at a little bar in the little college town where I still live. But we didn't stay in touch after that. About 10 years later, some friends of mine were playing in John's band and they recommended me when he needed a guitar player. I auditioned and got the job’

Remarkably that association has now lasted for twenty years without any hiccups. ‘As far as sticking together, first of all John is pretty easy going and fun to work with. He doesn't get too stressed about anything and he doesn't put a lot of rules or constraints on his musicians. Secondly, the songs are fantastic works of art. So, it's a pleasure to perform John's music with him. Thirdly, John's fans are wonderful. The people who like John's music are very loyal and keep coming back to see us play year after year. That can't be overlooked when you think about what allows you to go out and tour continually for so many years. You have to have an audience or there are no shows. Sounds obvious, but sometimes that part gets overlooked. I'd say those are three of the keys to us all being able to do it for so long’

Prine’s shows in Ireland have been and continue to be exceptional, I’d go as far as saying they have even improved in the past decade if that’s possible! There is a notable chemistry on stage between Wilber, Pat Mc Loughlin and Dave Jacques that appears effortless and manages to maintain that enthusiasm and passion show after show which Wilber casually dismisses. ‘We all enjoy playing together and just hanging out. So combine that with great songs and enthusiastic audiences, and it's pretty easy to stay engaged’

Accompanying Prine on duet recordings over the years gave him the opportunity to work with the cream of the industry’s female vocalists. I probed if there was any one artist that particularly impressed you above the rest. ‘Well pretty much all of John's duet partners have been incredible artists in their own rite, so they were all impressive in that respect. I can think of a few things that standout in my mind. One is Iris's voice, which is just so gigantic and unique. It's one thing to hear her on a record, but when you're standing in the same room with her, it's quite striking. Another would be Miranda Lambert, who pretty much sang everything perfectly, every time. Tone, pitch, phrasing, just spot on every time. That's pretty rare. One last one that comes to mind is Lee Ann Womack's voice. She has such a pure and beautiful voice and her southern accent is really ideal for country music.’

 The lack of industry support that many artists are exposed to these days often results in meagre pickings making survival as a professional artist more perilous than ever. Wilber’s laid back and relaxed persona is in contradiction to an artist that appears to have nailed down the survival formula better than most. ‘Ha-ha. I guess it depends on your definition of “survive”. I think you just have to find your own way to solve that puzzle. There are lots of different ways to do it, and plenty of artists out there are making a living. So clearly it can be done. It's not easy, but if it was easy everyone would be doing it’ 

The standard of artists currently residing and recording in Nashville is staggering. Many of these artists have been onstage with Wilber while on tour with John Prine. Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson, John Mooreland, Dan Auerbach, Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell particularly come to mind. Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price have made somewhat unlikely industry breakthroughs in recent years despite the mounting hurdles.  Has the door finally been opened for Americana type artists to reach much wider audiences I enquired. ‘Maybe, that would be nice. I started listening to Joe Ely back in the early '80's and he'd been making records since the '70's. There were lots of other artists I started listening to back in the '80's like Los Lobos, Lone Justice, The Plimsoles, to name a few. This is before Americana was a genre, it was called roots rock back then, or some artists were called cow punk. I couldn't understand why those artists weren't as popular as the Top 40 acts on the radio. Fast forward 30 years and it hasn't changed a whole bunch. It's better now, in the sense that there are alternative outlets for Americana artists to be heard. And you can find almost anything on the internet. But the main stream music is still something else. So to use your analogy; there is a door open, but it's not front door’

Wilber will be playing a full programme of dates on the upcoming tour of Ireland, some with John Prine and also solo gigs at venues from one end of the country to the other. From spraying note perfect guitar licks in sold out theatres as a band member to performing solo with a smaller audience unassisted. I could not resist questioning which of the two roles is more demanding. ‘Ha-ha. That's kind of a loaded question. In this case, neither one is pressurized. Pressure mainly is a result of being unprepared for the situation, and/or working with people who are difficult. Fortunately, I am well prepared and working with fun people, so all the gigs should be a blast. I'm looking forward to it!’

Interview by Declan Culliton

Wednesday
Jun282017

Courtney Marie Andrews Interview

"When I was a teenager I got wrapped up into some very shady business deals, and felt I was taken advantage of as a young woman by a label’’ explains Courtney Marie Andrews while considering how her sixth album Honest Life has finally propelled the native of Phoenix Arizona to the business end of the music industry.  The album, released earlier this year in the UK, (2016 in The States) is already being hailed as an album of the year in many quarters and rightly so given the quality of the material and song writing. It positively overflows with hurt, emotion, rejection and isolation as Andrews simply pours her heart out, reliving her life experiences of the last decade. It’s a body of work that recalls Joni Mitchell’s Blue in many ways, but more of that later.

The encounters packed into her early career and the endless touring as a young artist involved heartbreak, isolation, relationship breakups and a lot of homesickness. It is difficult to highlight any particular tracks on Honest Life given the overall excellence throughout but Not The End and How Quickly Your Heart Mends are simply classic love lost songs and Table For One is the most candid and honest portrayal imaginable of life on the road as a solo artist.

Its impact has given Andrews considerable media exposure, particularly in Europe, including a recent appearance on Later with Jools.  At the end of 2016 American Songwriter voted How Quickly Your Heart Mends as their No.4 song of the year.

''Honest Life definitely came from personal place. They sometimes twist the truth, but the original thoughts are very close to my heart. Personal experience is inevitable, so it’s important to be observant and empathetic enough to be able to connect the dots to your writing’’ she confesses. The album was self-produced by Andrews at Litho Studios in Seattle with the assistance of engineer Floyd Reitsma. "My trust in the industry was scarred for several years, and I was convinced that I had to do it on my own. The first few times I attempted to record Honest Life, I mostly had a bunch of older men telling me how I should sound, so that it will "sell." That really hurt me, and at the end of the day I wanted to do it my way, with my friends. My vision was clear for the album so it was easier to take the producer seat''

How long was the album in the making and was the intention to achieve a late 60’s breezy sound to the album or did that simply develop in the studio I wondered. "It probably has that sound because a lot of the album was recorded very much live, with little to no modern production tricks. I was focused more on the band getting a great take, then I was fixing it in mixing. A lot of these songs dropped into my lap fully formed. It’s so nice when that happens. I wrote them over a course of a few months. I wrote three of the songs in one day, Honest Life, Put the Fire Out and Rookie Dreaming. Regret and yearning feature quite strongly in a number of the songs."

Speaking like an industry veteran it’s difficult to fathom that she is only 26 years of age. Her early career reads like the ideal text book apprenticeship for any musician. While still in her early teenage years she was writing songs, touring as a busker at the age of sixteen and soon progressing to recording, performing and also working as a touring band member.  The tours included back up vocalist with Arizona rock band Jimmy Eat World and playing guitar as part of Damien Jurado’s touring band, an experience that seemed to be immensely influential on her solo career.

"I met Damien while living in Seattle. I opened up a few shows of his around town, then also opened one of his European tours. We hit it off, and he was fun and easy to tour with. When his next record cycle rolled around he asked me to be a part of the band. I was elated! He’s really fun to play for because he allows for so much creativity within the frame of a performance." Listening to her debut album No One’s Slate Is Clean, recorded when she was barely out of her teens, it seems unthinkable that it did not expose her to a wide audience back then. Asked how she considers that album today even though it’s quite similar in style and quality to her latest album you are left in no doubt that she has moved on career wise and is not in the habit of glancing over her shoulder. "Once I’m finished with a record, I usually put it away. I don’t think I’ve listened to No One’s Slate in over 3 or 4 years. It’s sort of like reading old diary entries. You usually are very critical of your past self, and that goes for music as well."

On her success in making a considerable mark in Europe she enthuses "Europe is definitely more immediately receptive to good music. Since there is so much ground to cover in The States, you sort of have to beat listeners over the head with it. Someone needs to shout at them, "HEY THIS IS GOOD, LISTEN."

Scheduled to play four dates in Ireland later in the year in Dublin, Belfast and two appearances at The Harvest Country Music Festival in Sligo and Enniskillen I was more than surprised to see her named among the artists performing at Harvest and her quite often being hailed as the next country music starlet given that her music is unlike the vast majority of artists listed to play that festival. So how does the country music tag sit with her. "I love country music, but I never was shooting for that label. It’s easy for listeners to use that as a way of describing music, so I get it. It’s just, I’ve always been much more influenced by songwriters who explore a wide range of songs, sonic influences, and structures. I’m not sure people will label me country after they hear the albums that are to come. It’s more fun to be a songwriter who writes all types of songs, ‘cause then you can do whatever the hell you want."

Andrews is already at the early stages of her next album which she expects will be somewhat of a departure sonically but hopefully with songs equally as strong as those on Honest Life.  Thanking her for taking the time to talk and noting how much we are looking forward to her Dublin gig it’s difficult not to ask her if a similar young songwriter in the 60’s named Joni Mitchell was a primary influence. "Of course, I love Joni. Every budding songwriter should study up on Joni. She’s up there in the “Tower of Song,” as Cohen wrote of Hank (Williams Sr).’’

Interview by Declan Culliton    Photograph by Susy Sundborg.

Monday
Jun192017

Interview with Jade Jackson

 

Jade Jackson is a Californian country singer/songwriterwho grew up in the small town of Santa Margarita, where her parents owned a restaurant. Both were enthusiastic music fans, and she grew up on a diverse diet of solid country from the likes of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams as well as influential UK indie artists like The Smiths and The Cure. On completing high school she had amassed more than 300 songs. However after a failed record deal she turned to drugs and crime and subsequently served a prison sentence before returning to music. While performing in a small coffee shop she was spotted by the wife of Social Distortion’s Mike Ness who was equally taken with her songs and agreed to produce her debut album Gilded. Lonesome Highway caught up with her in a break from her tour to support the album’s release.

You have written that the first concert you attended, without your parent, was a Social Distortion concert, Was their combination of punk with country elements a roadsign to future direction?

Social Distortion always stood out to me amongst other punk bands because of all the early country music I was raised on. As a fan of both early country and punk music, I was always aware of the common threads between the two. I definitely heard more of the country music influences in Mike’s solo stuff which I’ve always loved as well.

Mike Ness’ two solo albums were standout combinations of the combined genre. Were you aware of them before you worked with Mike?

Yes, I was very aware of them! They were played in my household just as often as the Social Distortion albums.

You were given the task of listening to Car Wheels On A Gravel Road before going into the studio. What did you learn from that and were you worried that it might overtly influence your performance? 

Mike gave me that record before I knew he wanted to produce my album. I fully submerged myself in the songs and fell in love with them before he suggested we use Car Wheels On A Gravel Road as a template for my own. It influenced me organically and became a point of reference that enhanced the communication between Mike and I in the studio.

The link between the honesty of punk and real country music, in terms of portraying real life, has been noted. Who were the bands and writers who most influenced you growing up?

The Gun Club, The Smiths, Buck Owens, The Pogues, Bruce Springsteen, Gram Parsons, The Violent Femmes, Ray Price, Social Distortion, Mike Ness, Hank Williams, George Jones, Cowboy Junkies, Mazzy Star, The Cure, Townes Van Zandt, Neko Case, Bob Dylan, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Rolling Stones, early Guns N Roses, Bright Eyes, Emmylou Harris, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Robert Johnson, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Cash, etc.

When you worked in your parent’s restaurant you began writing lyrics in your down time. Were lyrics, literature and poetry something that interested you for a long time before you began to write yourself?

Yes, I would open the CD booklets to memorize or copy down lyrics all over my notebooks, my arms, my clothes, etc. As a young kid I loved both listening to and telling stories; poetry was my favorite subject in school.

This is your first album and your first real touring experience. Where they what you expected?

I prayed about being able to tour and dreamed about releasing an album on a record label for a very long time. These are goals I am so thankful to have reached!

That life on the road isn’t easy is something that you have noted but that you like that it wasn’t easy. Is that still the case?

I'm open to whatever hardships, sacrifices or challenges that may come with life on the road. On our last tour I found that the difficulties made me stronger and I look forward to the lessons to be learned in the years ahead.

A lot of touring musicians find kit hard to maintain relationships while constantly gigging. Is that something that you take as part and parcel of the musician’s life or do you try to find something more?

I don't want to cap myself off from the possibilities of finding love or a connection. As a songwriter, relationships can be very inspiring. However, I will admit, this is something that took me a long time and a lot of lonely nights to realize.

What are the primary sources of your writing and does being able to travel broaden that perspective?

I get most of my inspiration from imagining the world through somebody else's eyes. Traveling and seeing new things definitely adds to that but the trick is finding the quiet time to be able to sit with my guitar and write.

The album is a very strong open statement of intent. Are you looking forward to recording again or is it too early to consider that right now?

I'm really looking forward to getting back in the studio. I write fairly frequently, so I have lots of material.

With the mainstream clogged up, for the most part, with pop and edm influenced production values. What do you see as the future for a more traditionally influenced strand of country music?

I have no idea. Most of the country artists I listen to are my own records. There are some current artists I love like Jason Isbell or Sturgill Simpson who are becoming more popular which is exciting!

How does Europe feature in your plans?

I'm hoping to tour in Europe as soon as possible!

How much has your immediate family influenced your musical choices?

I've always been really tight with my immediate family, they're my best friends. Because I looked up to my dad so much, I paid attention to his taste in music. I went from saying I loved the same music he did just so I could be like him without truly having developed the appreciation yet, to actually having the music affect me directly and letting it change my life. Their support and encouragement gave me the confidence to follow my heart in music.

You are treading your own musical path now. Where do you think it will take you in the future?

I'm not sure. But I'm so hungry for where I think it can take me.

Interview by Stephen Rapid

Wednesday
Jun142017

Amanda Anne Platt of the Honeycutters Interview

Amanda Ann Platt has fronted the North Carolina based band through five albums. The last three released on the Organic label. They are a band who are influenced by classic singer/songwriters and artists who would loosely have been called country in the past but now fall under the Americana umbrella. However as the main writer, singer and producer in the band she has decided for this latest release to use her own name in front of that of the Honeycutters. The music, judging from the last three albums, has been critically acclaimed and they have built a deserved solid following in the US and they hope to tour in the UK later in the year. Lonesome Highway caught up with Amanda recently and had the opportunity to put some questions to her.

After the previous relays it must have been liberating but also a little trepidatious to move from having The Honeycutters name out front now using your name?

Yes, trepidatious is a good word. I'm not particularly extroverted by nature, which is one reason I have always felt safer using a band name rather than my own. But it's something that has come up with every release, and now that I am the only original member (in addition to writing all the songs and singing them) I feel like it makes the most sense. We've had a lot of nice words of support from fans so I'm easing into it. 

As a writer are you continuously collecting ideas, titles and lines or do you have to specifically set aside a period of time and quiet to write for an album?

Constantly collecting. Our process before hitting the studio is one of narrowing down from a list of songs that I'm proposing for the album ... sometimes as many as thirty. Writing is a coping mechanism for me, so it's hard to imagine going months of the year without doing it. 

It's how I make sense of what I see in the world. I don't write a lot about the bigger stuff, politics and world events. It's more about processing the small moments I see-- the little comedies and tragedies of everyday life.

Growing up who and what were your influences that set you down this path?

My parents listened to a lot of classic country, blues, and bluegrass when I was small. Despite being born in the eighties I knew very little of pop radio until I was a teenager. We never had it on at home. My dad has an epic record collection of the aforementioned genres plus sixties and seventies rock and the Texas songwriters of those decades. They met and married in Austin in the seventies so they were strongly influenced by that scene. I think it rubbed off on me.

What sort of ambitions did you and do you now hold for a musical career. How important is ambition?

I think ambition is very important. With social media and internet streaming the scene is more crowded than ever, so you have to want it. That being said, I've never had a real clear vision of where this is going other than that I want to be able to keep doing it. My career has been a lot of small, logical steps, and if we carry on this way I'm fine with that. Just put the mic in front of me and I'll sing my songs.  

To get to this point you must have put a lot of miles on the clock gigging and recording. What have been the highpoint and the low points to date?

Ahahahahaha. OK let's start with the high points ... the first time we sold out a The Grey Eagle in our home town (Asheville, NC). Opening for Billy Joe Shaver was amazing. Sitting at Guy Clark's kitchen table eating oatmeal while he smoked cigarettes and talked songwriting. The low points? Our van breaking down on the last day of a two month tour, out in Montana. Going through a breakup on the road sucks too. 

Does the climate of what’s happening in the world effect your viewpoints?

Of course. I feel a lot of fear these days, as I think many are. It's an interesting time to be an American, which is the only perspective I can really claim, but I imagine it could be said that it's just an interesting time to be a human. I have some strong opinions but I try to focus, at least in my songwriting, on things that unite us rather than divide us. Rather than rage against someone who I think is wrong, I'd rather establish common ground and then see if we can't get to the bottom of what we're disagreeing about. I think that's the most powerful way to change someone's mind. 

What was it about this music that drew you in in the first place?

Honesty. It's not that I don't like pop music ... I do get into some of it. But I think that if someone can make you feel something with nothing but their words and a melody, that's a very special thing to experience. 

Over a period of time you have had some changes in the line-up of the Honeycutters. Is it a problem keeping platers together?

Not necessarily. There have been two major incarnations of the band, pre 2013 and post 2013. That change over had more to do with a romantic breakup and falling out. Since 2013 we've only had one person leave the band. Musical relationships are complicated, sometimes they end without a lot of closure. But that's part of making art together, I think.  

How do the economics of recording and travel effect the range and possibilities of what the band could do?

More than I'd like to admit. As a five (sometimes six) piece band we can't afford to do a lot of the gigs that say a duo or trio might be able to swing. I also have always been a firm believer in guaranteeing my band a certain amount. None of them are kids any more (not throwing them under the bus, neither am I!), they have families and mortgages and I would hate for them to be losing money playing with me. So we end up turning down some stuff because I can't afford to get us there and pay the band too. It does hold us back a bit. But I think it also keeps us happy and fed ... I love having the full band, I'm not very interested in doing the duo thing anymore. 

Of your own songs which ones are you especially proud of?

Hmmm. I love Marie, off our first album. Me Oh My, off the album by the same name. Blue Besides, from the On The Ropes album, as well as Barmaid's Blues. And off our new one I think my favourite might be Eden. I don't know though. That changes. A lot of the ones I really feel proud of we haven't recorded for one reason or another. I just like it when I can sing something every night and feel like I still believe it, like the words don't get less true.  

As co-producer of the album how do you achieve the sound that you want for an album?

Honestly the band has a lot to do with it. We have a lot of similar sensibilities, we love warm seventies tones. This time around we listened to all our previous records and picked out our favourite drum sound, guitar tone, vocals, etc. I'm not sure that we ever nail it - it's a constant pursuit. But it keeps us on our toes.

You have a team around you for management, radio and PR etc. Is that a vital part of survival in this day and age.

It is for me! I'm scatter brained and prone to fits of laziness. It's much easier for me to finish a song than it is to write an email. And for the promotional stuff, who wants to do that for themselves? It's much easier to say glowing things about someone else than it is to promote yourself, I think. 

Are physical sales the main part of how you sell or has the download (and streaming services) also played a major part?

I think in recent years we've seen it tip towards the streaming side of things. But we do sell a lot of physical product at shows and off our website. 

Finally, where are you happiest on stage or in the studio?

On stage, definitely. I love the studio but nothing beats the energy that comes from having all the players on stage, and an audience. That's connection. Nothing beats it. And I love my band!!! Did I already say that? They're incredible. And nice people too. It's a gift to be able to travel and make music with your best friends.

Interview by Stephen Rapid   Photograph by Eliza Schweizbach

Tuesday
May232017

The Americans Interview

 

This Los Angeles trio (usually accompanied by drummer) play rock ’n’ roll that has its roots in the past and is sighted firmly on the future. They come with some heavy duty endorsements. T Bone Burnett is quoted as saying “Genius twenty-first century musicians that are reinventing American heritage music for this century. And it sounds even better this century." While noted critic Greil Marcus stated on his encounter with the band’s music that "From the first rolling guitar notes, carrying sadness and defiance like dust, this sweeps me up: I want to know everything about where that feeling came from, and where it's going." To date they have released two EP’s First Recordings and The Right Stuff and a single I’ll Be Yours. The latter two by London-based label Loose Music. They made their Irish debut at the Kilkenny Roots Festival which is where Lonesome Highway caught up with lead singer Patrick Ferris.

The first question was about the origin of their name as it could be construed in many different ways as, indeed, it would if a local band from these shores decided to use the moniker “The Irish.” The explanation made more sense in context as Ferris explained that the name was taken from the book of photographs by Robert Frank that was first published in 1958 and showed everyday Americans going about their lives and looking both ordinary and extra ordinary at the same time. The band’s music explores a similar path and observation of life, love and its strange logic. Ferris felt that what had set the book apart at the time was that it wasn’t political but rather captured moments in people’s lives and that the band’s material was also biographical with snapshots of people going about their lives.

Ferris also elaborated on the connection with Burnett explaining that that they had crossed paths with the producer on a number of occasions as they were both LA based. “ We worked on a soundtrack first and he also sometimes curates a stage at a festival and he got is involved and then we worked on the American Epic TV show. We didn’t know he was involved when we started but we ran into him onset.” Burnett also joined the band onstage at The Station Inn when they played there during the AMAs. “He showed up about 5 minutes before we went on and played us a new song of his and said he wanted us to back him up, so we learnt it really quick (laughs).” 

The band are hoping to release their debut album in the next month or two. The recoding experience was not necessarily an easy one it would seems as Ferris explained “There was way too much at stake, especially these days when there’s not as much money in the music industry as there once was. Gone are the days, at least for bands like us were you can spend months on end working on arrangements and things in the studio.” They were working in Northern California for a two week period before going in to the studio and so they already had the songs for a long time and they were worked out prior to recording. They had thought about such details as finalising the arrangements and working out how certain guitars should sound at a particular point in a song. They approached it in a very logistical way reasoning that the more time they could save on such factors meant they could us the studio time more productively. They ended up recording the album in 8 days. “We really had to focus and get two songs done a day.” However in the process they also added some new songs that they hadn’t finished yet and so ended up working on them the night before they were recorded. The studio, Prairie Sun in Cotati, was an old chicken ranch that still had resident chickens was one that was conducive to work and full of equipment that suited the band. 

The band recorded the material in a live setting. “It’s important to us as we have never done it in a different way.” Although Ferris noted that he had heard good records done in a single track layered way it was not the way that The Americans record. “There’s two things you get, doing it together, the feel of the band playing together, which is very hard to imitate, as well as the mix between the drums and the amps.That live in the room feel.” That ambience, he felt, were the microphones pick up other sounds in the room was something that adds an excitement to the overall sound.  

In terms of the songwriting the breakdown is that the band work together on the music while Ferris writes all the words, though on occasion he writes both. “I tend to write certain kinds of songs on my own. Sometimes I’ll bring those in finished. If they’re more unfinished I’ll bring them in and we work on them together.” Ferris is not an on-the-road writer he explained other than writing little snippets and that he only really writes when is at home and disciplines himself to sit down and focus. “The only way for me to do it is to kick my own ass for weeks on end and force myself to do something that I don’t really feel like doing.” He finds that often a song comes from finding the right syllable rather than the right word. Finding a sound that works and then working out how that will affect the actual songwriting, that the right syllable has to work even if the line is good. “The open endless of a line can mean something important to someone and that’s a powerful tool.”    

The influences that Ferris mentions were important to him growing up was pre-war country-blues, something that they all got excited about when they were in high school. In terms of songwriting he names Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Joanna Newsome as primary sources. He explained that the members had some common family links even though he was living in San Francisco and the other were in LA. “We had family friends in common and used to go and visit and I got to know Zac and Jake that way.” When he was in San Francisco Ferris was pretty much on his own in terms of the music he liked to listen to. He also meet players who stuck rigidly to their notion of how the much should be played and he wondered if there was a similar trend in Ireland. “In LA a lot of old-time fiddlers and guitarists who had a level of commitment to the old records that I hadn’t heard before while people today have this laser focus on these old records that means they want nothing to do with reinterpreting it they just want to honour it.” Which is that vexed oft-raised question of authenticity again. He found those players illuminating but also made him realise that that was not what he wanted to do himself. Those bands that strived to recreate the look and feel of an earlier era needed to be as good as those they emulated in order to validate what they were doing he felt. “That’s a tall order.”

Along with these initial Irish dated The Americans are playing their first European dates though they had played a one-off date in Berlin previously. “I’m wondering if people happen to like us or if they like everybody - but either way people have been very enthusiastic, I hope that’s because they thought that we were special (laughs).” Ferris thought that their dates in Europe has audiences that were free of a kind of cynicism that often accompanies a band playing rock ’n’ roll in the States. “After a time rock ’n’ roll became less of a cool concept and more like a franchise idea, or like your Dad’s music or something.”  

The Americans are beginning to define their own take on rock ’n’ roll and what it might mean to them and to their audience. Looking for, as their current EP title suggests, “the right stuff.” With a growing number of those who want to fly their flag it shouldn’t be that long before these Americans are having something of the impact that Franks photographs had in defining a point in time.

 Interview By Stephen Rapid and Declan Culliton   Photography by Kaethe Burt-O'Dea