Thursday
Apr122018

SUSTO - Justin Osborne Interview

A refreshing and original crossover of Americana & indie rock, Susto’s 2017 release & I’m Fine Today featured in Lonesome Highway’s most loved albums of 2017. The vehicle for songwriter Justin Osbourne, the band have grown from relative obscurity to sharing the stage with Band of Horses and a stadium tour with The Lumineers over the past few years. They made their European debut at Celtic Connections in Glasgow earlier this year with a dazzling performance at The Mackintosh Church, Osbourne also played a solo gig at the festival. The band embark on an extensive touring schedule over the coming months in The States, followed by some solo shows by Osbourne in Germany, Holland and Belgium. A hectic schedule for the recently married Osbourne but one that he appears to be revelling in at present as the band go from strength to strength. 

All of a sudden, the word is out on SUSTO! So many crack bands and artists remain undetected and under the radar simply because of lack of exposure. What got you noticed?

Man, to be honest I really don’t know. I guess it’s been a mixture of luck and hard work. We've been very lucky that since the beginning, people have really latched on to the music and supported us. Everyone we work with came to the band as a fan of what we are doing and has worked really hard to get the word out. Also, we’ve found a lot of incredible fans all over the place who have been spreading the word and supporting us. It’s an incredible experience, we are having a great time and it’s been cool to see the fan base grow from our home town, to towns and cities all over the world.

You’re pushing out musical boundaries in different directions from Americana to Psychedelic Indie, which can catch a very wide market both in age profiles of audiences and their listening preferences. Is this a musical path you intend to follow?

I think the creative process for this band has just been one of fearlessness. We try to be ourselves and also let ourselves grow. Americana, Psychedelic, Punk Rock, Gospel … I could name tons of genres that I think are some piece of what we are, and I think as long as we continue to stay true to ourselves and allow ourselves to be brave, we’ll be on the right path and all these different types of influences will continue to come out.

The album title & I’M Fine Today and much of the material suggests an artist in a good place at present. Was that a personal disposition or a reflection of the band in general?

That was definitely more of a personal reflection, but the title is really meant as more of a personal mantra I've had, just to keep myself going. I think lots of people deal with hard shit in this life, we all do in various degrees, and even just being alive can be such a struggle sometimes. "Jah works and I’m fine today” is something I have been saying for years now, to myself to keep myself going when the going is tuff, and also to remind myself to appreciate the moments when things are really good. It’s sort of a tool for living, which is why I would describe it as a mantra.

Drawing down from topics such as homosexuality, religion, drug use and mental illness appear to be somewhat more taboo in the Southern States of America than they would be in Europe. Has that been your experience? 

Yes, you know I guess I kind of knew that would be the case because I was aware of Europe being more post religious than parts of the US, but I definitely noticed in a more up close and personal way when I met people and told them stories of how I grew up … people were just really shocked, it was hard for them to comprehend. But, I think regardless of whether or not talking about these things is more taboo in one place or the other, they are still relevant issues that people everywhere are aware of. The American South isn’t the only place where people have ridiculous ideas about religion and politics, and I think a lot of people in a lot of places are interested in talking about these things

Hallucinogens implications repeat on the album. Do they enhance the creative writing process? 

Sometimes, during the making of & I’m Fine Today, we were micro dosing LSD. This is an experience that I wouldn’t describe as hallucinogenic, it’s more of an overall mental boost. You are taking a trace amount of LSD so it’s a very lite experience and you are just having a great day. You hardly notice you have this boost until after its completely gone and you look back and realize how productive and creative you were. So, some of us did this several times over an 18-month recording period, just to keep things moving. I will say, although we don’t take enough psychedelics in the studio to trip, some of us do like to have a larger dose periodically. It resets your psyche and keeps the mind fresh. So yes, I think Psychedelics enhance the creative process, and life in general…but they should be used with caution and respect.

The cover artwork on the album is stunning and very much in keeping with the musical content. Tell me about it?

The cover artwork is by Pablo Amaringo, who was a renowned South American artist and conservationist. His paintings depict visions he experienced from drinking Ayahuasca. The name of our band, “susto” is a Latin American term for fright, but also its a spiritual illness that literally translates as “soul loss”; when someone is experiencing on going trauma, depression, anxiety, etc. all these things can be attributed to susto. Ayahuasca is used to combat susto, and this painting really spoke to us. The snake gods are symbols of rebirth and cyclical power, the snake is our symbol also and appears on a lot of our designs for T-shirts and posters. Pablo’s painting seems like the perfect reflection of what we are trying to describe to the world with & I’m Fine Today and I’m really glad we were able to use it as our album cover.

Do you consider yourself as a ‘journal’ writer, where your output generally reflects where you are personally at a given time?

Yes, I would consider myself a confessional writer. I’ve always used song writing as a way of processing my emotions and because of that, my songs are personal and confessional. When I look back on albums that I’ve released with Susto, solo albums, and records with my old bands - all of them are reflective of certain time periods in my life. My dad keeps a journal everyday so he has books and books of notes from every day for the past few decades, I just have albums that come out every few years.

The members of your band vary in age profile, musical background and indeed gender, in many ways the perfect mix. How did the current line up come about?

Yes, everyone has a bit of a different story in our band, which I think can be helpful. When I released the first self-titled album it got popular in Charleston pretty quickly and I was able to meet other musicians and creative people in town that I’d never been introduced to before, suddenly people knew who I was and got familiar with Susto. Once that happened, I started meeting people who were interested in being a permanent part of the band. Corey was first, he joined around June 2014, only a few months after the release. The friends I had recorded the album with were all busy doing their own projects so I was doing a long solo tour of the US & Canada, but I had a big kick off show in Charleston + a couple shows opening for Band of Horses where I wanted to perform with a full band. Corey was a part of that line up and then as we started doing more stuff as a band he remained part of the line up, then Marshall our drummer came in early in 2015 when we did SXSW (it was also around this time that my friend Johnny Delaware re-joined the band. He had a part in making the album). We had people filtering in and out playing bass until late 2015 when Jenna joined as our permanent bass player. After a long year of touring in 2016, Johnny decided it was time for him to go back to pursuing his own songs, so he left and started The Artisanals, who are great and I highly recommend checking out! When Johnny left, we asked Dries to join the band. It was an easy choice for us because he had already been touring with us as our videographer so we were all very comfortable with each other, and he happens to also be a great guitar player. So that’s the short version of the story of our line up ha-ha. Everyone kind of ended up in Charleston at different times and for different reasons, but it’s a small tight knit musical community so we all found each other gradually, and it’s been great traveling and getting to be like a family these last few years. 

I can’t start to imagine what’s on the SUSTO playlist in the touring vans to cater for all tastes. Are there musical common denominators or do you feed off each other’s tastes?

Everyone definitely has their own tastes in our band. Some folks lean more towards pop or R&B, while others have a draw to heavier or folkier things. We do have some common denominators though. There are a few records that we can put on in the van and everyone will listen. We all really enjoyed the latest War On Drugs Album, we all like Bob Marley and we are all huge fans and followers of JPKS’s album Constant Stranger. We also learn a lot of new and old music from each other, which is very nice and keeps things interesting.

The opportunity to support The Lumineers on tour gave you exposure to larger audiences which can be beneficial but also damaging. Did the experience pay off and how did the experiences of playing in arenas work for you?

We honestly had an incredible time on that tour. We made a lot of new fans and got to play in some really incredible places. Playing arena’s is such a cool experience, you really have to rise to the occasion and play to a room of thousands, this can be daunting but for us it was a scenario we loved and learned a lot from. The whole crew on that tour was so good to us, everyone was so nice and excited about us, it felt really good to be appreciated. We would roll into the venue with our van and trailer, meanwhile there were like 12 buses on that tour plus 8 or so semi-trucks, so we felt very small at first but we learned to love that role as the little siblings, we learned a lot and I think we became better performers because of that tour.

Your showcase at Celtic Connections in Glasgow took place in The Mackintosh Church, possibly not the ideal venue for a live band! The previous night you played a solo slot at The Oren Mor. You put your heart and soul into both performances. Do you see Europe as a significant target market for you?

Yes, Europe is important to us and we plan to continue touring in Europe regularly as long as the band is active. This past tour was our first in Europe as a full band, so we were playing all sorts of places, Celtic Connections was definitely a highlight. I was glad I got to do a solo show at Oran Mor, and also that we got to perform full band at The Mackintosh Church. For that second show, we definitely had to lean into the setting, so we played a bit more reserved and curated our set list to fit the church, which is fine and definitely allows a certain side of our band to shine through. I hope when we come back to Scotland we can play a show where we can let the rock shine through as well, it’s a big part of our live show that we weren’t really able to show everyone at any of the 2 shows at Celtic Connections. Regardless, we had a wonderful time at the festival and were treated really well. I was happy with both of our performances. I think at The Mackintosh Church especially, we played a very clean “Nashville” type of set, and I remember that being really fun for us.

You’re doing some solo dates in over here in the summer. Will you be performing all SUSTO material or have you a Justin Osborne solo album in mind in the future?

Yes! I’m excited to be getting back to Europe so soon. It’s funny to think about a solo album, because that’s really what SUSTO was supposed to be in the first place, a solo project after I left my old band. But yes, it has definitely become more of a band experience over the last few years. I will be playing SUSTO songs on this tour. I have a couple solo albums I released on band camp back in 2014, but I don’t really perform those tunes much. I get to have a lot of freedom and control over the song writing and production of SUSTO, so I don’t really feel the need to do solo stuff. Who knows, maybe one day, but for this tour you can expect to hear SUSTO songs, possibly some new ones.

You’ve been quoted explaining how touring previously led to burnout. Does your current profile and the attention you been generating make the stress of the endless tours more bearable?

This is definitely a different experience than I had before, because now I believe in the music more and also I’m making a living doing this now, which feels nice and helps me keep good spirits. Touring does take a toll though, and I’m trying to be careful not to let myself get burnt out. During a long tour, it can feel overwhelming but I’m currently home for a while with only a few shows a month, and it feels like a nice break. It’s a balance, I know I’m going to be doing this for a while now because I’m enjoying it and its working pretty well, so I’m just going to try to be careful about how much I take on, because I really don’t want to feel burnt out again. I think we’ll keep touring pretty hard for another few years, another couple albums then maybe I’ll step away for a bit and try some other things. I don’t know, just trying to keep things open ended and interesting. I don’t want to find myself chained to the cycle of recording and touring, there are other things I want out of life too and I’m going to pursue those things at some point. For now, I’m enjoying the ride, and really enjoying working on our next album which I’m very excited for.

I look forward to seeing you in Europe in July!

Thanks for the questions! Looking forward to being back, hope to see you all at Static Roots.

Interview by Declan Culliton

Tuesday
Apr032018

Interview: Dietmar Leibecke / Static Roots Festival

With the summer festival season looming and given the quality of events on offer, it’s time to make those difficult decisions of which ones to consider. Unfortunately, with the exception of Kilkenny Roots, there are not too many choices at home for festivals catering for the Americana, Roots and Hardcore Country followers, resulting in the prospect of trips to the U.K. and further afield to seek out the kind of acts that hit the Lonesome Highway sweet spot. Oberhausen in Germany is the location for the Static Roots Festival, one that we will most certainly be returning to after attending the festival last year for the first time.

Germany is becoming a target market for many Irish acts with John Blek & The Rats, Anna Mitchell Band, The Midnight Union Band, Malojian, Luan Parle, Shane Joyce and Clive Barnes all having toured there in recent years, often playing to sell out venues. Static Roots is a festival that is attracting increasing numbers of punters from Ireland and the U.K, given the simple travel options available. It is also very much a punters festival, not overcrowded, impressive venue and surroundings, allowing easy access to the performers on stage and indeed off stage, as they mingle with the attendees between sets. Accurately described as a boutique festival, this year’s line-up includes Hannah Aldridge, The Cordovas, Anthony Da Costa, Charlie Whitten, Bennett Wilson Poole, The Stephen Stanley Band, Donald Byron Wheatley, Terra Lightfoot, Prinz Grizzley, Susto and our own Midnight Union Band. Lonesome Highway caught up with promoter Dietmar Leibecke, a passionate music follower and regular visitor to Ireland, to discuss the history of the festival, his motivation for staging the event and his ambitions for the festival going forward.

What was your inspiration to launch the festival two years ago?

I always loved the folk/americana festival scene in Canada, Ireland and the UK. Even in the Netherlands there are a few Americana festivals (e. g. “Take Root” or “Roots In The Park” and the newly founded “Down By The River”). But there is no such thing in Germany. The only two that come close are the label-dominated “Orange Blossom Special Festival” by Glitterhouse Records and the occasionally happening “Blue Rose Records Christmas Party”. Since my wife and I had a couple of anniversaries in 2016 - like our silver wedding, my 50th birthday, the 20th birthday of our daughter, the fifth anniversary of a kidney transplantation surgery (my wife donated one of her kidneys to me!) - we decided to organize a festival on our own after then ten years of promoting shows (another anniversary), booking tours, and having an Americana house concert series called “Raumfahrtzentrum Saarner Kuppe” in Mülheim an der Ruhr.

Since the Static Roots Festival 2016 was a (mostly) invite-only event, my wife and I sponsored the event (fees, food, drink, accommodation, venue etc). And at the same time we set up a funding campaign for Doctors Without Borders which ended with a phenomenal 9.500 EUR. We had the best of times – and all for a good cause!

Another big inspiration for the Static Roots Festival was the Kilkenny Roots Festival. It’s got such a great quality of acts, the most passionate, attentive and friendly audience you could wish for, and it has become a legend of its own in the European folk festival scene. When I first attended the Kilkenny Roots Festival I instantly felt like being part of a big family. For our Static Roots Festival the idea was to make something like the Kilkenny Roots Festival happen in Germany, too. That’s how the subtitle for our festival emerged: “peace, love, rock’n’roll” and I think it perfectly captures the great atmosphere we were able to create at the first two Static Roots Festivals.

While preparing for the Static Roots Festivals 2016 and 2017 I’ve been in touch with Willie Meighan quite often, asked for advice, discussed acts with him, and he’s been a great mentor. Willie recommended to book the Kilkenny-based The Midnight Union Band for the SRF 2016 and, man, he’s been so right! When Willie Meighan died after a long battle with cancer at the end of 2017, we decided to have a permanent festival slot in remembrance of and to celebrate the late great Willie Meighan and for 2018 there was no other choice than inviting over The Midnight Union Band again.

It’s very much a boutique festival, perfectly sized, well-chosen acts and a particularly social atmosphere. Is it your intention to expand the festival or are you content to keep it at the present size?

Actually, I am completely excited about how the festival developed. In 2016 there was actually just one festival day with six acts (well, five when considering Daniel Romano took the wrong turn on the Autobahn and ended up about 700km away from the venue). In 2017 there were two days and nine acts, this year we’ll have eleven acts on two days. We’ve been discussing other ideas with the venue (Zentrum Altenberg, Oberhausen) e. g. an outdoor acoustic stage but then again I think it’s very charming to have the lovely outside beer garden for a chat, some lovely food, and a German beer (of course) while people pay attention to the music in the stage room. 

The room itself has a capacity of 300 and the venue has another room with a capacity of 500 people. So there are options to grow from the number of attendees, too. But we’ll just see how things develop. I think it is important to keep the atmosphere of “peace, love, rock’n’roll” and it all might be just perfect the way it is.

As a smaller promoter how difficult is it to get your preferred acts to commit?

A big advantage of the Static Roots Festival: it’s the only pure Americana festival in Germany. The Americana scene is still a niche while it’s certainly growing these last few years. So we can offer a platform for acts that try to get a foot in the door of the German Americana market. We’ve had excellent press and radio coverage these last two years so the Static Roots Festival is indeed a great opportunity. And the acts I’m negotiating with usually recognize the chances. Except some managers who sometimes ask for unreasonable fees (“You’ve got to send a bus load of money to sign xxx!” – true story). All in all it’s not too hard to get my preferred acts to commit. It takes a while and I need to be persistent but my enthusiasm for great music is unbreakable and my optimism keeps me going. Even when an acts cancels, the disappointment doesn’t keep me distracted for more than fifteen minutes. Because it’s the opportunity to book another great act – and there are quite a few of them. As you sure know.

You appear to be as excited as the punters when you confirm acts that have been booked. Have you some set criteria for selecting the range of acts?

First of all, I am a fan. I don’t want to see the Static Roots Festival as some kind of business. I want to enjoy great music, I want to enjoy the people, the craic, the love that’s almost tangible at the Static Roots Festival. I’ve met so many amazing people through music, made tons of friends all over the world – it’s what I want our guests to experience as well. If music touches me in some way, it qualifies to be chosen for the line-up of the Static Roots Festival. That’s it. And I hope the music touches the audience as well – and mostly it does. Sometimes I feel like a little kid unwrapping presents on Christmas eve when an act confirms. Thinking about the lineup of the Static Roots Festival 2018 and the people that will attend makes me happy as a pig in mud. One thing is for sure: we’ll have a blast. 

You engage a dedicated MC to introduce the acts. What motivated this?

At the first Static Roots Festival in 2016 we had six dedicated folks announcing the six acts. One of them was my good friend Jeff Robson (radio host for Tell The Band To Go Home on umfm.com, a Canadian community radio station from Winnipeg, Manitoba). He introduced Leeroy Stagger and the way he did it was just phenomenal. He has a great sense of humour, an endless knowledge of music, he knows how to make the punters pay attention, he sends them to the merch table in a very charming way and he is totally perfect for the job as an MC. In 2017 we invited him over to be the MC for the whole festival and he was simply BRILLIANT! You don’t find good MCs too often and most festivals don’t even have an MC. I myself hate being the centre of attention, I like working in the background, I don’t want to stand in the light, I am much better at other things. So Jeff is actually doing me a big favour too. And then I think Jeff has become the face of the festival – which is totally great! He is such a great person, his radio show is my Sunday night tradition for at least ten years, I love him and he totally deserves it. And I think he loves being the MC, too. Which makes it even better. 

How much local knowledge is there for Americana in Germany?

As mentioned before, Americana music is still some kind of niche over here in mainland Europe. While the UK has some smashing success (from my point of view) since setting up their Americana-UK committee, there is not much going on in Germany. There are no particular Americana-related print or online magazines (except for maybe countrymusicnews.de). But there are a few German radio shows which are flying the flag of Americana music such as:

HappySad, Christine Heise (radio eins, RBB), which in my handsome opinion is the most important one

Songs to play, Markus Bäcker (674.fm)

Blue Rose Records Radio Show, Edgar Heckmann (rockradio.de)

Hillbilly Rockhouse, Gerd Stassen (countrymusic24.de)

What acts particularly excite you at this year’s festival?

Once again, I’m a total fan of Americana music. Each and every act at the Static Roots Festival has at least a couple of songs that touch me in some way or the other, some songs will make me shed a tear (e.g. when thinking of Stephen Stanley’s Troubadour’s Song which to me has become some kind of farewell song to our friend Willie Meighan), some songs will make me jump for joy, a ton of songs will give me goosebumps, I will have the best of times and will be wearing a big fat smile in my face all weekend long! The last act that hasn’t confirmed yet (we’re close to confirming though) will let me stand in the audience with both hands up, rooting for them after each song. There will be mesmerizing singer/songwriters, country acts, acts with a blues rock touch, indie-rock Americana, 70s guitar-and-harmony-driven music, soulful Americana… To me it’s such a great line-up, it wouldn’t be fair to name just one particular act. I see excitement all over the two days of the festival!

Your dream act, in realistic terms, to perform at the festival?

Dream act? Hm, my first thought was “I’ve booked all my dream acts already!”. But then again, there is one particular act I want to book for the festival at some point in time. And I think it would close a (very personal) circle.

I’ve got to go back in time to tell the story because somehow it’s the foundation to all I do in music (I took this text mainly from my invitation to our latest house concert with the legendary Steve Wynn from New York, USA):

Spring 1983: the 16 year old Dietmar is sitting in his tiny room and puts on a new album, “The Days Of Wine And Roses” by The Dream Syndicate. First song, Tell Me When It’s Over, 30 seconds in, completely blown away, knowing that this music was made for him, the album a total cracker. The next decade was musically shaped by The Dream Syndicate and its frontman, Steve Wynn. The album is still one of his all-time-favourites.

Spring 2004: never really having partied any of his birthdays, 38 year old Dietmar thinks about something special for celebrating his 40th birthday. And starts bothering Steve Wynn, the guy who  had the biggest impact on the development of Dietmar’s musical taste, about playing his 40th birthday party. 18 months later finally the confirmation: Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3 will be playing at the party!

June 2006: Dietmar’s 40th birthday party is big fun and Steve Wynn and his band play a blinder of a show. After the show Steve Wynn comes up and says: “Dietmar, have you ever heard of the concept of house concerts? I think you’d be the right guy to do it.” House concerts? WTH is that?

November 2007: the idea of house concerts has been growing big time on Dietmar and in November 2007, the Canadian folk rocker Leeroy Stagger plays the first ever show at Raumfahrtzentrum Saarner Kuppe. The beginning of a series of about 60 shows until today.

Finally the Static Roots Festival is some kind of natural development from the house concert series, from booking tours for my favourite acts, promoting public shows etc. So it all goes back to Steve Wynn and his band, The Dream Syndicate.

At some point in time I want The (reunited) Dream Syndicate to play a slot at the Static Roots Festival. This will finally close the circle from where it all began about 35 years ago. And then I might go and see what is the next step I can take.

Interview by Declan Culliton

Thursday
Mar292018

Birds of Chicago Interview

Husband and wife duo Birds of Chicago - JT Nero and Allison Russell - make a welcomed return to Ireland in May, playing two sold out dates at the Kilkenny Roots Festival. The shows take place on the weekend of the official release of their eagerly awaited new album Love In Wartime, a fitting title reflecting the more than ever requirement for empathy in disturbingly uncertain times, both in The States and Europe. Among other things Lonesome Highway spoke with Allison about the new album, their gruelling touring schedule and the prospect of a return to Kilkenny where she performed with Po’Girl back in 2007.

The song writing on Real Midnight, released in 2016, often reads as a reminder of appreciating the present and living in the moment as much darker places may lurk on the horizon. Is that a reflection of JT (Nero) and your own ideology or simply a theme you adopted for the album?

I think we try to live that way… in the moment, in the present. But we don’t always succeed. We became parents 4 years ago - having our daughter, Ida Maeve - intensified everything. The greatest love we’ve ever experienced and also the deepest fear, terror and uncertainty. We were (are) wrestling with the profound heaviness of being responsible for another’s life. The fear of the vagaries and cruelties of the world - the desire to keep her safe always and the pain of knowing that’s impossible. We’re trying everyday to be our best selves for her, seeing the wonder of the world through her eyes. I think the writing on Real Midnight reflects the beginning of that journey.

Engaging Joe Henry as producer on Real Midnight seemed the perfect fit for that particular album. What drew you towards him?

We’ve been admirers of both the albums he makes himself and those he makes with others for many years. Joe brings out the best in everyone he works with. He knows a little something about shadows and light - love and revelation…He was our dream producer really- and like a dream - we didn’t think it could ever happen in reality. But our friend Rhiannon Giddens stepped in and brought us together. It was a transcendent experience working with Joe. There’s a warning about meeting your heroes - but he is better than we could have imagined. And we’re proud to call him a friend now.

I believe the album was the final album recorded at his legendary Garfield House Studio?

It was indeed, and a bittersweet happenstance it was. Joe, and his wife Melanie, and their children Levon, and Lulu had spent a decade in that house. They rebuilt and beautified it and filled it with music, life, love, and goodness in a most palpable way. Everyone from Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams to Solomon Burke and Allen Toussaint recorded there...I got to sing into the same mic Bonnie used.  Joe called it his decade long masters class. The “For Sale” sign went up as we were beginning the Real Midnight Sessions and it sold shortly thereafter. Jay Bellerose had a kit that had lived there for over seven years. Ryan Freeland (Joe’s go to engineer- he is a genius and a fantastic producer in his own right- he produced the Barr Brothers Sleeping Operator album and their latest) and Joe knew every acoustic nook and cranny of that house and used them to best effect for each project. The walls radiated history, creativity, and song... We feel very, very fortunate to have been blessed by that mojo…

Rhiannon Giddens, a regular visitor to Ireland, features on the album and in many ways the album has a gorgeous bluesy spiritual thread similar to that of her solo work. How did that connection come about?

I met Rhiannon when she was playing with the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Vancouver Folk Fest in 2006. I was playing with Po’Girl at the time. My bandmate Awna Teixeira and I wound up in shared a dorm with CCD in the artist residence (literally a dorm at the University of British Columbia - which is where the Fest put up the artists in those days) - and epic jams and hangs ensued. I remember Rhiannon showed me Skype for the first time - which seemed so Sci-Fi to me - she was skyping with her then fiancé, now husband,  Michael Laffan, who was in (and is from) Limerick, Ireland…And she helped me track down a recording put out by the Library of Congress called Sweet Petunias - a compilation of rare early “race records” of African American women blues songwriter/singers. We stayed in touch and in 2011 she invited me to be part of a production that she and the Drops were spearheading at Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. It was an exploration of the Great Migration of the African American diaspora from the South to the North and Vaudeville called Keep a Song in Your Soul - telling the story of the Black experience in America through Archetypal Vaudeville characters and music and dance from the period. Rhiannon played the protagonist “Country Girl” - and I played a bit of a villain- “City Girl”. There was a dance off involved - ha! JT and I formed Birds of Chicago in 2012 and Rhiannon invited us to open for the Drops on a tour and then had us open for some of the dates of her solo debut Tomorrow is my Turn tour in 2015.  She introduced us to Joe Henry, and now we rent her house in Nashville. And in her role as guest Artist Curator she’s presenting us at the Cambridge Folk Festival this August alongside Yola Carter, Amythyst Kiah, Kaia Kater, and Peggy Seeger. I’m also working on a project that she’s spearheading for Smithsonian Folkways. She’s a dear friend and a kindred spirit and has been a generous champion of ours.

We await the release of your new album Love In Wartime. Very interesting title. How will the material compare with Real Midnight?

Thematically there’s definitely a through line. Musically though - it’s a bit more of rock n’ roll record than Real Midnight. It’s more urgent. It’s been a fraught and divisive time in America, as I know it has in Europe as well…As a Canadian, who can’t vote in the country I’ve married into.. the last election was particularly destabilizing. If we only ever listened to the 24-hr news cycle or the current administration and didn’t have the privilege of traveling the length and breadth of the US - we wouldn’t know the deep kindness and goodness of the vast majority of Americans. We receive so much kindness and generosity from strangers in our touring life. Red State and Blue State alike. In the US, and Canada, and Ireland, and the UK, and the Netherlands - everywhere we’ve had the joy of touring. Strangers welcome us into their communities and become friends...  Friends who have all sorts of different beliefs, views, backgrounds, experiences, ethnicities, orientations, hurts - but who ultimately have more in common than not… We felt an urgency about reaffirming the ties that bind us and our shared human experience-  strength and vulnerability, fear and anger, hope and love- music… rather than buying into the specious rhetoric of  “us” and “them”...

The songs on Love in Wartime were born on the road - through two years of intensive touring and bonding with our 5 piece road band- Chris Merrill on bass, Nick Chambers on drums, Joel Schwartz on electric guitars, and JT and I of course, and Ida Maeve and our magical tour manager/ Ida whisperer Suzi Boelter... It marks the first time that JT and I have co-written songs (in the past we’ve written individually and then brought the songs to the band to arrange and elevate) - and the first time that Chris Merrill and JT have co-written, and the first time that Drew Lindsay (JT’s younger brother and our keys man on all our records) and I have co-written. We were also joined on the record by Dan Abu-Absi (Radio Free Honduras), who is a long-time member of our extended musical clan and a JT and The Clouds (JT’s previous band) alumnus - he plays second guitar. And we were joined by Javier Saumee Mazzee on percussion, and Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor (The Decembrists, Neko Case, The Flat Five) on additional harmony vocals.  We were joined by the marvellous Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) in the role of co- producer along with JT. He made sure that we never played a song more than 3 times. We were all together at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio Studio A (great warm sound, high ceilings, fantastic sight lines, and more music history mojo) with Alex Hall on the board (The Flat Five) - playing live and in real time pushing back the shadows in our hearts and minds and revelling in the communion that is a whole becoming more than the sum of its parts.

Is the album’s theme based in the present day or a retrospective on bygone times?

Both I’d say - and with a hope that our children or their children’s children may see an end of war in all its guises...

JT gets the writing credits for the majority of the songs on Real Midnight. Is this also the case with Love In Wartime and does he seek your input to ensure that the songs suit your vocal?

It’s always collaborative arrangement and shaping wise - but Love in Wartime is specifically more collaborative in terms of co-writing, though he still takes the lion’s share - not in a selfish way - JT is simply a much more prolific writer than I - he tends to churn out finished songs faster that I do. I have a slower arc to my writing- I have to fight the crippling inner critic more fiercely - particularly since becoming a mother. I’ve tended to write more in fits and starts.  But that’s starting to shift now that Ida is older and doesn’t get enraged anymore every time I pick up a banjo, or work on a tune- ha! JT is my biggest cheerleader. And he has been one of my all-time favourite writers since before I met him in person. So, I do particularly love when he taps into his inner feminine and merges with my voice/perspective. It’s a deeply intimate, open heart process. And I shape and bend the melodies as I see fit. Trust and connection and intuition like that with another writer/musician who also happens to be my life partner and one and only love is a gift I don’t take for granted.

You’re certainly working with some of the best with Steve Dawson co-producing the American Flowers EP released last year and Luther Dickinson on board for Love In Wartime. What factors dictate your choice of producers?

Joe, Steve, and Luther are all kindred spirits. They all have the same disregard for false/ superficial genre divisions that we do. They all have a bracing lack of preciousness or perfectionism in their approach as producers and musicians. They are all three musicians first - extra-ordinary ones - which I didn’t really think of consciously before you asked me this question. They are all ego-less - it’s not about them slapping some sort of brand upon the other artists they journey with/guide. It’s about keeping the conduits open, and the music flowing as naturally, and honestly as possible. It’s about helping the artists they work with get out of their own way. And that resonates deeply with us. They are also all three supremely good, wise, gentlemen and long-term husbands (of truly brilliant, amazing, creative, strong wives Melanie, Alice, and Necha) and fathers of equally brilliant, amazing, creative strong daughters (Joe also has a son - extremely creatively gifted too) - another commonality I never really thought of before...None of them supports flogging a song into the ground. Flow masters one and all...All of them tend to make a record in 6 days or less. In our case 4 days for Real Midnight, 1 day for American Flowers, 4 days for Love in Wartime.

Does Luther also contribute on the new album given his vast instrumental talents?

He doesn’t - this was such a band record - Luther didn’t feel the need to play since Joel and Dan were already shredding so hard- ha! Again Luther, like Joe and Steve isn’t coming from an ego-based place with his producing or playing. We will definitely do some recording together in future. I had the joy of doing some singing, and playing some clarinet, on Luther’s upcoming children’s record… He was initially slated to come and do some playing on the American Flowers session - but his schedule got too crazy ... he’s one of the hardest working musicians I know.

Has your relocation to Nashville changed your musical direction in any way?

Maybe in the sense of being more open to co-writes. And perhaps feeling more validated as a writer. There’s something so freeing and empowering for an artist and a writer to be in a town that has literally been built on songs. It is a “real” job!

You seem to be constantly touring, playing up to 200 shows a year. Is this a labour of love for you or a necessary industry evil?

Both I’d say … in a perfect world we’d tour 6 months out of the year and not 10-  Ida is getting older and needing more social time with peers…That’s been part of our move to Nashville - trying to shift things enough - to have a little more home time. She’s started (pre)school three days a week at a lovely gentle school here -they are used to musician’s children and nomadic schedules - and are flexible about it.  JT and Steve Dawson have started a production/engineering team together called Dim Stars. They just produced an album for Raina Rose (she is wonderful) - which I’m very excited about. I recently had a song of mine recorded by another artist for the first time - the luminous Lizz Wright (Concord Records) recorded a version of my song Barley to start off her latest Joe Henry produced album Grace. So, baby steps towards diversifying our music industry portfolio so to speak...I’ve always wanted to do voice overs- just putting that out there. 

You’re embarking on an intensive four-week tour in Europe commencing in April. How challenging is that both logistically and financially for Birds of Chicago?

We’re bringing over our five-piece band (with Andy Stack filling in for Joel Schwartz on electric guitar) for the first time - so it’s definitely a bigger risk/leap that we’re taking financially this time around. We wanted to do justice to the record and play our full band show in Europe- so hopefully people come along...I heard our Kilkenny Roots Fest shows are already sold out - so that’s encouraging! Logistically we are in very capable hands with the debonair Will Waghorn covering tour management duties. Our dear friend Pam is coming to watch Ida. We love how short the drives are in Europe as compared to touring in North America - especially my Canadian homeland … JT and I are very much looking forward to exploring the parks and museums of Europe with Ida before soundcheck everyday. 

Are both your previous projects, JT & The Clouds and Po’Girl, history at this stage or just in a self-induced coma?

Ha, I like that - self- induced coma ... Not history -Po’Girl has been on an extended hiatus whilst I worked on BoC and nation building, and whilst my beloved bandmate and sister from another mister - Awna Teixeira worked on 3 gorgeous solo records, we are the last two Po’s left standing. Trish Klein is managing other artists and running her own cafe/small venue/record store/label in Vancouver, BC called Hidden City Records. Diona teaches fiddle on a small island in BC. Most of the Clouds are also Birds. And Awna has also just relocated to Nashville - she and I are working on writing a new Po’Girl record (which is going to be produced by JT and Steve Dawson AKA Dim Stars) - that we’ll start recording sometime in the autumn. It’s a big extended family.

You played the Kilkenny Roots Festival in 2007 as part of Po’Girl. What are your memories of that visit?  

We had so much fun - hard to reckon that that is over a decade ago now! I remember we got there in time to dance with wild abandon to the Sadies set, I remember staying up till all hours in the hotel bar with all the other musicians- I remember playing in some beautiful underground ancient stone place- for some of the sponsors maybe with some of the other artists - I remember being mesmerized by Patrician Vonne’s castanet dance. Hearing Sarah Borges for the first time ... I remember being too shy to go up and talk to Amy Helm who was playing with Ollabelle at the time- she has since become a dear friend. I remember Paul Brainerd from Richmond Fontaine leaping up onstage to play a ripping trumpet solo with us … I remember feeling so welcome and at home and our whole band plotting how we could move to Ireland - in fact Trish Klein took steps to get her Irish citizenship soon after that - and met some long-lost relatives of hers while we were there … We were very young and we all drank too much and didn’t sleep enough and it was glorious.

I’ve no doubt you’ll receive a very warm welcome on your return to Kilkenny Roots in May and we very much look forward to your shows!

Thank you so much Declan- I’m thrilled that I get to come back with my new band! And with my family - peace, love, music - See you in May: xo Alli and the BoC family.

Interview by Declan Culliton

Saturday
Mar242018

Margo Price Interview

The Margo Price story is well known by now, selling the family car and pawning her wedding ring to finance the recording of her debut solo album Midwest Farmers Daughter. The album finally received the deserved love from Jack White’s Third Man Records, having been rejected about everywhere else. The acceptance by Third Man was a blessing in disguise because she was finally signed to a label renowned for allowing its artists the freedom to express themselves artistically, a factor critically important to Price. "I’d castrate my arm rather than sell out" she notes without a hint of humour. "The more popularity I get the more I have to try even harder to keep my feet on the ground and not sell out and not get into advertisements for products I don’t believe in. Sometimes it’s hard to turn down the money, not everybody buys records these days and it gets very gruelling being out on the road all the time away from my kid. But I love it and it’s what I am."

Midwest Farmer's Daughter is confessional, raw and personal. A depiction of her life journey, warts and all, from childhood to the present day, confronting family trauma, bad relationships, depression, a short spell in jail and the tragic death of one of her twin baby boys. Its successor All American Made, though not musically dissimilar, casts a wider net questioning gender equality, politics, insincerity and exploitation. I wondered how comfortable she is when not writing in the first person or real-life issues. "I’d soon run out of things if I keep writing about myself’’ she laughs’’ I think I’m a strong writer when I deal in the first person but both my myself and my husband Jeremy, who cowrites with me, have written fictional. We might be watching a film and a scene influences a song idea. We recently wrote a song about a couple that finds a bunch of money and go on the road running from the cops and another story about a stripper and her dippy husband. I like writing about stuff like that too.’’

There is a song writing bloodline in her family. Her uncle Bobby Fischer took similar risks to his niece when packing his bags and leaving seventeen years of steady employment with International Harvester in Illinois to head to Nashville in 1970 to try and make a breakthrough as a songwriter, a career he had pursued part time for a number of years. With the support of his wife, who remained in Rock Island Illinois with the children for a further three years, he survived a few rocky years to eventually establish himself and wrote songs subsequently recorded by artists including George Jones, Reba Mc Entire, Charley Pride, Conway Twitty, Tanya Tucker and Lee Greenwood. I asked would she ever see herself recording a Margo Price sings Bobby Fischer album. "I do, I definitely do. He’s one hell of a writer and I’ve learned a lot from him and look up to him so much. He keeps notebooks full of lines, just song ideas. My husband and I have been over with him sometimes and he’ll say, I have a song title. We worked together on the song, put it down on a tape recorder and he had us sign a contract that it was a co-write. He’s blood but there was no such thing as a handshake, business is business! For his eightieth birthday I went over to his house and sang Writing On The Wall for him and was so nervous’’

The past two years have been a whirlwind for Price with the release of her two solo albums within an eighteen-month period, resulting in endless touring, appearances on Saturday Night Live, Austin City Limits, Jimmy Fallon in the States and Later With Jools Holland and Glastonbury in the U.K.  The twelve preceding years laid the foundation stones for her breakthrough, recording three albums with Buffalo Clover, a rock and southern soul fusion band that she and her husband Jeremy Ivey co-wrote for.  I question the temptation to release another album immediately to continue the momentum or will she spend a bit more time touring the two last albums. "Jeremy and I have already recorded a third record’’ she explains "though I’m not sure if we will put it out next, we decided to just record as much music as possible now. I’m thinking also about a new direction of sorts but it will still be roots, there won’t be any electronic music going on or collaborating with any DJ’s, that’s for sure!  We’ve recorded the album that I just mentioned in Nashville having gone to Memphis for Midwest Farmers Daughter and All American Made. I might go down a complete different avenue, Joshua Tree or something like that, maybe the West Coast, I like to change it up.  It’s hard to decide when to release the next album because we recorded All American Made in December 2016 and waited all the way until October 2017 to get it released and I’m already tired of those songs now (laughs), reinventing them and changing the tempos to keep us interested and on our toes.  I’d really like to get back on the Spring album release cycle, it’s the perfect time, so I’m thinking of the next album release in Spring 2019. I’ve got stuff going on between now and then, I’ve been working on the soundtrack for a western film and we’ve talked about releasing a compilation of Buffalo Clover recordings including some stuff that’s unreleased so we’ve got a few things to tide us over. I’ve also got a country artist that’s one of my favourites and has a hold of one of my songs to hopefully record which I’d love.’’

The title track of All American Made was in fact written during her Buffalo Clover days and might not have seen the light of day had there been a different outcome to the last American Presidential election. "The election definitely gave the song more weight and gravity. The message has always been the same, I’ve always questioned authority and not trusted the powers that be and the last election definitely brought the song out, it’s amazing how events can change a song.’’

Price is representative of a growing group of female artists in East Nashville with the talents to make industry breakthroughs given the opportunity and some good breaks. I mention artists such as Lilly Hiatt, Erin Rae and Lillie Mae, three exceptionally talented artists, all neighbours of hers. Price has consistently written about gender inequality both in financial and career opportunities with This Town Gets Around from her debut album and Pay Gap and Wild Women from her current release. A torch carrier and spokeswoman for her peers perhaps. "I love Lilly Hiatt, I’ve played drums in her band! There’s always music circles going from disco to a poppy sound and then people get tired of the shallowness. I think now is a good time for musicians in general who are writing real heartfelt songs and not one dimensional. You may have heard of Dan Bradbury, he’s one of my favourite writers and he’s also struggling a lot to get people to believe in him and put his music out. I just tell them this is the purgatory period and there is light at the end of the tunnel and keep working hard and you’ll get the breaks. I really love Lillie Mae also, she’s been playing bluegrass for years and years, since she was a young child, she’s a phenomenal picker and great guitar player as well as the fiddle. Erin Rae is coming on tour with me opening on some dates in The States, such a talented writer, the Joni Mitchell of her generation’’

The C2C tour that she is currently playing is interesting in that realistically herself and Emmylou Harris are the only two acts of the twelve performers who could be classified as country in the true sense. They are also the only acts of the touring group that don’t get wall to wall airplay on Country Music Radio but have still managed to made major industry inroads. With a touring schedule that has resulted in her being at home for the grand total of two days in the past two months I wondered, given that she would be performing to a different audience than her core followers, if the exposure would be beneficial."Yeah, but you know what they say about exposure, some people die from it! Last night in Glasgow, I’m not sure if many people at the show knew or ever heard of me. It took some work but I think I did win them over. We were the only act to have pedal steel so I’m quite happy to represent the roots side of things and when I went to my dressing room and see its next to Emmylou Harris’s it makes me want to cry! So that’s good enough for me.’’

The mention of Emmylou Harris prompts me to recollect a conversation I was fortunate to  eavesdrop on a couple of years back. It’s September 26th 2016 and I find myself at The American Legion in Nashville, attending a party night hosted by young local honky tonker Cale Tyson. With the Americana Music Festival closing the previous day the evening promises to be the perfect come down before heading home to the real world the following morning. Between acts I slip out to the near empty bar for refreshments where, to my surprise, both Margo Price and her husband Jeremy Ivey were seated and in conversation with the bar maid, a charming lady who must have been approaching eighty years of age and who was obviously known to the couple. Only an hour earlier Margo Price had completed a live radio recording of Skyville Live, on stage with Emmylou Harris and was recounting the tale to the intrigued bar maid.’’ I’ve just been on stage with my lifetime hero Emmylou Harris’’, said a beaming Price to which the bar maid replied "But honey, you’re a big star now." Price gets quite emotional when I recall this incident, wiping a tear from her eye. We are seated in the hospitality room at the 3 Arena, where Price is due to perform that evening at the C2C Festival, on a bill that coincidentally also includes Emmylou Harris.  "Oh my God I remember that well. It’s pretty surreal some days. I had actually played The Americana Award Show at The Ryman in 2016 a few nights previous to that. I couldn’t find my ticket and didn’t know where my dressing room was. I thought I’d just go backstage and hang out. I passed the dressing rooms and saw a sign on one door that read Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Margo Price. I got so nervous that I thought, I can’t go in there right now. I went to the bathroom and stayed there for a while before I plucked up the courage to go in to the dressing room. When I did they were all so nice to me and I got a photo taken with me between Bonnie and Emmylou and after I played they both shook my hand and gave me some compliments and I was on cloud nine. Even last night in Glasgow when I went to my dressing room and see it next to Emmylou Harris’s it makes me want to cry’’ she laughs. "I love her so much and have covered so many of hers and The Hot Bands Songs over the years.’’

Emmylou Harris is only one of country music royalty that Price’s has been rubbing shoulders with in the past couple of years. Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson and Buddy Miller, all heroes of hers, have shared various stages with her but possibly the most striking endorsement of her rising profile was having Willie Nelson guest on the track Learning To Lose on her current album. As the track fades out Nelson can be heard signing off by saying ‘Allright … that’s good’. And good the track certainly is. ‘’We were listening to a lot of Willie Nelson when we wrote that song so it was written in the style of Willie Nelson’’ she points out "I had never met him and my husband and I were in our bedroom writing the song and I said wouldn’t it be cool to get Willie to sing on this song. It was a pipe dream having not ever met him so we were on cloud nine when he agreed to sing on it. I’d love to hear him sing the whole song himself one day. His vocal was so good and his guitar playing too. We had so many solos from him that we didn’t know which one to pick for the track. I was sitting there listening to them with tears rolling down my face.’’

Interview by Declan Culliton  Photographs by Ger Culliton

Wednesday
Mar142018

Tony Poole Interview 

Those of a certain age, together with earnest music historians, will be familiar with the U.K. 70’s band Starry Eyed and Laughing. Formed by Tony Poole and Ross McGeeney in 1973, their title was taken from a line in the Bob Dylan composition Chimes of Freedom, a song recorded by The Byrds on their 1965 debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. Poole’s trademark Rickenbacker playing combined with Mc Geeney’s Fender Telecaster sound was further evidence of The Byrds influence on them but they matured into much more than a mere tribute band, developing a distinctive stamp of their own with material that embraced both countrified folk with a sound that would be tagged today as power pop. Signed to CBS Records in 1974 they recorded their self-titled album that year followed by Thought Talk in 1975 and also three John Peel Sessions over that two-year period. A poorly managed career promoting tour of the States together with their management company folding unfortunately derailed the band, who finally disbanded in 1976. You’re left to consider what heights they could have reached had they been launched five years earlier, as the arrival of British Pub Rock followed by Punk and New Wave in the mid 70’s alienated theirs’s – and many other band’s - core sound.

Tony Poole’s musical career in the intervening years concentrated more on production duties, working with numerous acts including Maddy Prior, Steeleye Span, Pentangle, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Rose Kemp and Danny and The Champions of The World.  He has recently returned to creative writing and performing duties in collaboration with Danny Wilson (Danny & The Champions of the World) and Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires). Bennett Wilson Poole, their self-titled album, is due for release next month following some excellent pre-release reviews in many publications including Lonesome Highway.

Tony Poole’s continuing enthusiasm and positivity is a joy to behold, well in evidence as he articulated the highs and lows of his career to date and his passion for his current project with Danny Wilson and Robin Bennett.  

What career expectations did you have when Starry Eyed and Laughing were signed to CBS in 1974? 

You know, at the time there was really no 'career' expectation at all - just a drive to write and perform, inspired by the music of The Beatles, The Byrd’s, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and all those great artists who expressed honestly what it is to be alive in this time, and find some understanding of it all. I think that is still the motivation for many artists doing the same today - a 'career' is just about being able to keep doing that.  

Fond memories or regrets looking back at that period?

Many great memories - probably the best was playing the Amazing Zigzag Concert at the Roundhouse with Michael Nesmith, John Stewart, Help Yourself and Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers. Pete Frame and John Tobler's Zigzag magazine represented that same honesty I mentioned. It was incredible to be a part of that celebration and fantastic to have had it all recorded ('The Amazing Zigzag Concert 5 CD Box Set' on Road Goes On Forever Records). The only regret I can mention is that we didn't survive longer and have a chance to grow as a band.

The pub rock scene was particularly vibrant at that time with bands like yourselves, Ducks Deluxe, Ace, Eggs Over Easy, Bees Make Honey, Brinsley Schwarz, Kilburn and The High Roads and Dr. Feelgood at the leading edge. Did you consider yourselves part of an alternative movement to the overblown prog scene at that time?

All Great Bands! But not really - we were kind of in our own bubble - our virtual 'scene' was populated by those artists I mentioned. And, strangely enough, although we were playing in that same 'pub-rock' period, (and played many pubs!), we never felt part of that scene either - our music didn't quite fit, and we only briefly interacted socially - usually in 'dressing rooms' (a euphemism a lot of the time) or in service stations at 4am after gigs.

You toured with some heavyweights in the U.S. at that time. Who impressed you the most and what are your memories of that tour?

The biggest impression was when we supported Flo & Eddie (The Turtles) for three nights at The Bottom Line in New York. The place was heaving, the atmosphere magic and they were fantastic. In the audience were Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Slade (!), The Flying Burrito Brothers (who we invited on stage to play with us!) - I recall meeting Eddie Tickner, The Byrds' legendary manager. And of course, after becoming friends with Mark & Howard (Flo & Eddie), they eventually produced the very last Starry Eyed and Laughing records. Apart from our gigs, being on Columbia Records meant we got to see Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder show in Hartford - absolutely amazing to be in the presence of the music and words live and right in front of our eyes and ears: Dylan, Baez, McGuinn, Joni, Mick Ronson and the rest of that gypsy gathering. We were kindred visiting gypsies on our US tour too!


Some of the bands or their members seamlessly (with shorter hair and narrow trousers!) infiltrated the punk movement or new wave as it eventually became. Were you a supporter or coconscious objector to Punk / New Wave 

Definitely a supporter! I loved The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and Siouxsie, never saw them but their records were amazing (for different reasons- The Pistols for their sheer force and amazing production, and The Clash for their rawness). And although I also loved many of the suddenly short-haired skinny-tied new wave 'punks' (Elvis Costello, The Police - sorry if that offends anyone), I never felt I could do that convincingly and never did - I did have shorter hair and a skinny tie though!

Tell me about your efforts to regain the rights to the masters of the albums and the remastering process that followed?

Luckily for us, our record deal was cleverly negotiated by our manager Norman Lawrence (a wonderful man, sadly died at 58 from Leukaemia in 1998), through a licence to CBS that had an expiration date. So the rights in the recordings are all ours. Recovering the actual masters was a trial of endurance, as nobody at the label even remembered we'd been signed! Eventually I managed to trace them, and then had the well-known problem of disintegrating Ampex tape. The re-mastering was a long process, sometimes of trial and error, but became easier with more recent archive tracks as the music software increasingly approaches a kind of magic 

You survived in the music industry in the intervening years and still maintain an obvious enthusiasm for all things music. What were the highs and lows of that period?

The high that matters is really just having managed to survive doing (mostly) the true thing I love to do. Specifically: being able to produce Danny's album, getting to work with The Dreaming Spires, knowing Roger McGuinn and getting his ultimate praise for what I do (still a dream to produce him!).

The lows (living in my car, being broke consistently, being virtually paralysed for 3 months with polymyalgia 4 years ago - those are ones that come to mind) don't even seem that low in hindsight- just part of life's adventure - we're soon gone anyway!

What musically has impressed you most since then and how does the standard of recording and performing artists compare to those of your early career?

I think there's been a consistent thread of genuine artists and songs that carry the same honesty and questing of those that I mentioned at the start - I'm so happy to be connected to the ones I've come to know, and to play with or produce. Recording has becoming so much easier and available than when we started - I think becoming a recording engineer (as it really was in the analog days of mechanical machines) and producer comes from my frustration with that. But the essence of it remains the same - the intention and the 'realness' of a record is far more important than how perfectly auto-tuned and quantised it is (to quote the great Robin Bennett: 'you can ride your horse to win, but that's not the race we're running in').

Which brings us to the present and your involvement in Bennett Wilson Poole. Had you ambitions at the outset to record and perform with Danny Wilson and Robin Bennett or how did the project develop?

Our manager, Howard Mills, says it was absolutely inevitable that we'd do something together! We're such great friends, and having sung and performed with both of them previously, I think he's put it perfectly! (He’s a very wise man).  For me, it's been completely serendipitous - a natural confluence of skills, personalities and common outlooks on what we're here for.

Who took the lead in respect of the song writing duties?

This all started with Danny and Robin deciding to write some songs together on Facetime. So, I think that was pretty much equal between them. When they'd had a few written, they asked me if I'd get involved and sent me some demos - that was a no-brainer, and would have been without hearing a thing! They're both incredible songwriters. I sent them a couple of phone demos of unfinished songs which they liked, and we three finished them very quickly on the morning of the first session - it was a wonderful 'common-mind' experience. For 'Lifeboat', Robin actually took the phonetic sounds I sang in the chorus and wrote down what he thought he heard (' I don't know ...there is no easy way to know how we got here'), - it worked out perfectly. I wrote 'Hate Won't Win' the morning after the murder of Jo Cox, a Thursday which happened to be two days before a session, and sent them a phone recording - on the Saturday, we finished the song together and had it recorded by the end of the day - up on YouTube on Monday. The short answer is that we’re all very pro-active and have all been 'front men' in our careers, so it's a completely equal thing.

What tracks on the album are you most proud of?

I couldn't possibly choose - they're all like children and have taken a life of their own. Time will show which means the most eventually. And to be contrary to what I just said, I think Danny and Robin's 'Hide Behind A Smile' is probably going to be the classic ... it's such a universal truth of this culture we're all living in.

The closing track Lifeboat (Take A Picture Of Yourself) is very much a reflection of the double standards that prevail today and at nearly eight minutes long is epic. What was the motivation for the song?

I saw a news front page that had a photo of an overcrowded and possibly sinking refugee boat in the Mediterranean - right next to an article on 'selfies'. The juxtapositon just hit me - two sets of humans on this same planet, yet in such different worlds. How could it be? The drowning mass unseen and ignored by the individual self-obsession of this culture. I just thought I'd put them all in that same boat. In which we all are, ultimately. My original words were a lot stronger actually, but as is usually the case with extremes, less effective if understanding is the aim, rather than destruction.

The album has been receiving great review even a couple of months before its official release. Have you been taking by surprise by the reaction?

Very surprised! Though I must say Danny and Robin's enthusiasm for the album, and the reaction from many friends we sent copies to did form a kind of thought that we'd hit something special, and a modest expectation that people would like it. You get a feeling that the wave is pulling you, rather than you pushing against it. I've had it just twice before, firstly in Starry Eyed And Laughing when Geoff Brown wrote a glowing review in Melody Maker of our 8th gig ever, and we just seemingly sailed upward to a major label record contract within months.  Secondly, after I produced The Men They Couldn't Hang and became their de facto manager (I was the only one with a phone!). The wave for them - such a great band! - was an absolute surge - No.3 in John Peel's Festive 50 in 1984, front page of the Melody Maker, and clandestine handing over of singles for exclusive reviews! It's a different world and music business now for sure, but the positive wave feeling still applies. I think we've just been very honest with our thoughts and influences in the writing and recording of the songs, and those thoughts and influences are shared by so many.

You’ve already starting performing the album live. Are you intending playing as a three piece or with a band when you perform at The Kilkenny Roots Festival in May?

We're playing as a three piece at The Kilkenny Roots Festival in May - it's shaping up to be about 50-50 Full band/trio gigs over this summer.

Can we expect some Starry Eyed and Laughing, Danny & The Champs and Dreaming Spires material on the set list or all Bennett Wilson Poole originals?

Yes! We've rehearsed 'One Foot In The Boat' and 'Flames In The Rain' from the 2nd Starry Eyed LP ... we're also doing some Grand Drive, Goldrush and Dreaming Spires tunes - specifically The Dreaming Spires' amazing  'Searching For The Supertruth' which I played and sang on and produced. A wonderful Goldrush song that made the charts 'Wide Open Sky'. Grand Drive was Danny's band before The Champs, and we're doing a great song of his about Elvis: '5th Letter'. Coincidentally, I produced and played on another song Danny wrote about Elvis: 'Colonel & The King' on his 'Hearts & Arrows' album - I like that connection. And one of my favourites of Danny's (there are lots!): 'Old Soul' from his solo album 'The Famous Mad Mile' - soon to be released on vinyl I think! I'm sure there'll be more ... and also some surprises!

Interview (in the style of Zig Zag) by Declan Culliton