Wednesday
Aug082012

JD McPherson, Jimmy Sutton, Jason Smay Interview

 

When JD McPherson and the band played in Dublin recently (see live review) we were able to have a quick Q&A with band members JD, Jimmy Sutton, label head, bassist and producer and drummer Jason Smay.
One quote I read was that you had an inclination to sound like Stiff Little Fingers on Del-Fi Records so I figured you guys had a wider musical upbringing that some might expect.
JD: I keep forgetting about these things that I say. They pop back up and I laugh. 
Jimmy: You know what when you say something it's signed sealed and deliver and may come back on you.
Growing up in a small town like Broken Arrow was music your link to a wider, weirder world?
JD: Completely. It was all I did. Draw and listen to music and read about music. I read every magazine I could get my hands on. Photo copied fanzines as well as Creem and Spin and whatever. It was all there was to do. That and getting into trouble. 
What was the range of music that you were hearing back then?
JD: My Dad grew up in Alabama and his music was rural black music. He listened to blues and rhythm and blues. He also got into jazz in the army. I liked his blues stuff. I wasn't so much into the jazz when I was I school. I just didn't get it. He was listening to some pretty heavy stuff like Thelonious Monk. I love that now but back the I didn't. My Mom listened to whatever was easy listening on the radio at the time. So my first kinda thing when I started to get into music was through my older brothers. They were into Southern Rock and Arena Rock - Zeppelin, Hendrix. Basically guitar music. That what I was starting to do - play guitar. I though that Eddie van Halen was the best thing that there ever was. As I got older I realized that Bo Diddley was more interesting. 
We talked about the way music comes from a lot of sources and how early country music brought a lot of different strand together and later sophistacaction with singers like Ray Price. JD felt he was like a country Dean Martin and Jimmy said he had elements of jazz in his delivery, depending on what part of his career you were listening to. Music for all of us was a wide open world.

Jimmy was your background similar?
Jimmy: I grew up on the south-side of Chicago by the University of Chicago. It was a real inter-racial culture surrounded by a ghetto. Literally one block from my house was the start of Brownsville. I had all kind s of stuff hit me from all angles. But I have to tell you my first concert ever was Count Basie. He used to play our church on the south-side. My first rock concert, which was the day my brother said I turned cool was The Ramones, before that he said I was just a pest. When I do these interviews I think about it and when you slam Count Basie and The Ramones together you got something there. But in Chicago the local station they were playing Joy Division before anybody else. They were playing everything before it caught on. It was pretty eclectic. I kinda learned a lot from that but as JD said when your young you can only digest so much. So I was really listening to jazz and things like that back then. My brothers were a hugh influence on me and The Beatles were a big thing. The along came The Ramones and DEVO and I had a crush on Debbie Harry. But then a lot of that punk thing came along and it was hand in hand with rockabilly. All the cats - The Stray Cats, The Polecats, The Rockats, the Bob Cats. That was like my Kiss when I was a teenager. That open the doors. I think we all shared that experience and we all wondered "who wrote those songs?". So that's me in a nutshell.
Was it similar for you Jason?
Jason: I grew up in a small town near Rochester, New York. It was small and there was no real music scene in it. So I grew up listening to what my Dad listened to. That was Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple, 60's rock music. I was always interested in rock 'n' roll so greaser culture was something I found myself in real quick. That's what I was brought up on. 
Jimmy: Greaser Culture, that's a good one (laughs).
You guys got together after JD contact you Jimmy?
Jimmy: Yeah, he contacted me on MySpace. When you get approached as I was and I was getting tapes all the time it was "Ok, sigh, here's another". So when I listened to JDs I was definitely taken by surprise. It was "yep, he's got it, that's my boy" (laughs). It's funny you guys both talked about your parents and I should mention mine. My Mum is from Peru so she listened to a lot of latin music. She was disorganized and had this record collection and there were two Elvis records in it, one was a gospel record and I forget what the other one was. My father listened to whatever was on the old-time radio which was WGN and that was mostly big-band jazz and vocal harmony groups - whatever was happening. 
Jimmy: I think the soul resurgence has helped us a little bit. We're not soul but I think we're maybe soulful. 
You are still touring Signs & Signifiers even though it came out on Hi-Style two years ago. Is that a something that holds you back?
JD: It came out in October 2010. 
Jimmy: October 18th. on my small little label Hi-Style. Which was just me talking a big game.
JD: It's fun to go into a new town and play this stuff, like tonight. I just know tonight's going to be wonderful. I just can't wait.
Jimmy: We have a great feeling about tonight.
Jason: I was a good sign that when we were coming in  the immigration guy said "Oh, you're playing in Whelans so you must be good! - have a good show"
Jimmy: While in Heathrow they just gave us shit.
You had a vision about how this project would sound and also how it would look?
Jimmy: Well both JD and I are art school kids. We are both into visuals and concepts. I think that's what attracted me to JD. 
JD: It's the talking about the concept for a record, the packaging and all that stuff is just as exciting as everything because that was part of one thing that I really liked, well two things actually, that I liked about punk. That was the economic freedom - the do everything yourself type of thing. The other was that all the bands were like tribes. Bad Brains was this... not even punk, David Bowie had tons of stuff to look at. So I love coming up with the visual side.
Jimmy: I goes along with the fact that most of us like to listen with our eyes.
The demise of packaging is somewhat over dramatized.
Jimmy: It's fun. It's exciting, another one of our senses engaged. We listen but we also want to look. 
Ronnie: You have got the look right, so the first thing that people who don't know the music see is the styling.
Jimmy: Thanks.
Ronnie: You tour list is pretty tight. Is that how it works for you guys?
JD: You worry more when you look at the schedule but when you just do it it's alright. 
Jimmy: It's pretty exciting times right now with the recording coming out on Rounder. It's kinda a fun ride.
JD: A shot in the arm for sure.
How do you go about touring?
JD: Back in the States with our regular set-up were hauling around an acoustic piano, an M3 and a Leslie. We put everything into it. 
Jason: You get into a groove with it as it's just what you do. When you do have a night off it feels, for me, wow, aren't we supposed to be doing something tonight? What's going on here.
Jimmy: As Jason said there something to be said for lack of schedule but it takes a bit of time to get there. It's almost like your internal clock. So going back to what you said about the schedule being insane but, I think, at this point were just like on. The record has been re-released and it feels like it has fresh legs. But yes we'd love to put out another record and play some new material but at this point we can't even figure out when we can rehearse.
Do you think that the music will change when you do do the new album?
JD: It occurred to me that when I made this record, for me, I just wanted to make a real traditional rock 'n' roll record.That it could be indistingishable from something from another time. I just wanted to do that because it was something I'd always wanted to do. But then getting to know Jimmy and getting to know the studio and being there and listening to stuff it was about half way through that things began to change a little bit. Songs like A Gentle Awakening and Signifiers were written. That's when I got really excited because  I sensed that this was a new thing to me. 
Jimmy: It also developed early on when some key words that came when we first started talking about trying to put out a timeless record and as JD's a great wordsmith so I started to wonde if I could push him to be more contemporary yet still timeless. To sound like you're not trying too hard. 
JD: Our conversations were around that too. I was talking about the three or four songs I had going into it like Scandalous. That's a very Lieber/Stolleresque thing as I was totally aping on those guys. The new record I still want to be rhythm 'n' blues but I really want to open that up a lot and mess with that.
Your look, sound and recording process are all rooted in an earlier era of music making. Is that something that is important to you methodology?
Jimmy: Well, we recorded most of it live right to quarter inch. That being said you have to have a good performance in the space that you are in. The microphones are going to pick up the same things so we had to sound good right there and then. That also made me think who I was going to get on the session - what piano player, what drummer as not all drummers can play to a smaller envoirnment and yet still sound intense. A lot of drummers are very heavy handed. Once they try to play quiet they sound like they're trying to play quiet and that's the thing. You need to get over that hurdle. The drummer I originally got was Alex Hall who was very fluid and he also knows how to rock. Someone like Scott Leigon the piano player he just loves all kinds of music. He loves Johnnie Johnson and the first time I heard him play we had this wedding band and we were playing this song with a simple left hand piece (Jimmy hums the riff) and he said "Oh. that sound's great" and he was more than happy just to play those three notes throughout the song and that's rare. You don't find that many players that do that. As far as guitar I think JD's a great guitar player. I love his styling. I think he want's to play like Eddie van Halen sometimes (laughs). I love the simplicity, it's the way his brain is working.
What's the plan  to achieve world domination?
JD: I just want to keep playing and making records but right now things are happening that I can't really explain. Last night Nick Lowe was in the dressing room and at another gig Tom Waits was in the audience. Dan Aurabch from the Black Keys came to a show in St. Louis. That kind of stuff freaks me out. 
When you played I heard some comparisons between you to early Blasters.
Jimmy; That's great I love The Blasters. 
JD; I remember when I first started to listen to punk rock I used to think "this is it, I'm a punk" and it was punks listen to this and skinheads listen to this and rude boys listen to this thing, each segmented, and then I remember reading about shows in the early 80s with the Blasters, Dwight Yoakam and X on the same bill and I was like "ok, you can have this cross pollenation of people". So I like it when we get a mix with the opening act. We did a show recently with a New York punk band Lucious and it was great.
Jimmy: If It's all the same thing then it numbs the senses.
Thanks guys.
Interview by Steve Rapid with Ronnie Norton. Photography by Ronnie Norton

 

 

Monday
Jul232012

JD Wilkes

 

According to online information Joshua "JD" Wilkes was born in Texas in 1972. He later moved to Paducah, Kentucky a State where he acquired his honoury title of Colonel, something that was bestowed on certain residents associated with the State. Wilkes is a southern renaissance man best known for his musical endeavours but who is also a film maker, his Seven Signs was premiered in 2007 and is available on DVD. He is a cartoonist with his Head Cheese strip appearing in Nashville's Metromix and his work also featuring in other publications. He had a book Grim Hymns that  featured his artwork and his sideshow banners can be viewed at www.jdwilkes.com/banners.htm a site that features his artwork in general. 

He founded the Th Legendary Shack Shakers in the late 1990s in Nashville, playing the honky-tonks on Lower Braodway. He is now the sole original member of the band. Their album Cockadoodledon't was released on BloodShot records in 2003 though a live recording of an earlier line up was featured on Hunkerdown released on Spinout in 1998.

Believe, Pandelirium and Swampblood were released on Yep Roc between 2004 and 2007. Their most recent album Agri-Dustrial came out via their own label Colonel Knowledge in 2010.

The Dirt Daubers, the band formed with his wife Jessica have released two albums. The most recent Wake Up Sinners was also released on Colonel Knowledge in 2011.

JD is a compelling frontman, a formidable harmonica player and musician, a distinctive singer and a rewarding writer and a honest interviewee. On his trip to Dublin with The Dirt Daubers Lonesome Highway presented these questions to him.

As the constant member in both Th’ Legendary ShackShakers and The Dirt Daubers how easy is to maintain a vision of what the both band are?

It’s easy to separate in my mind, since both bands have their own, separate, cerebral hemisphere deep inside my brain. They are separated by a synapse, with the Daubers on the right, the Shakers on the left. 

However, logistically, it can be tricky to “open up for yourself” night after night. And it’s tough keeping people hip to the differences between the bands too. Oh well. They’ll learn one of these days.

The Shack Shakers have had numerous members and you mentioned when we spoke that the band now has a new lead guitarist, can you fill us in on that?

Rod Hamdallah is our new guy.  He stepped in after Duane hopped off to play with Mike Patton’s Tomahawk project (and a new project with Einsterzende Neubauten members).

Rod’s great!  He’s got a bluesy, old soul that fits better with 95% of our material.  So expect to hear a more rockin’, bluesier/swampier sound from us in the future.

It would appear that, although the bands have members in common, the Dirt Daubers are a separate parallel entity rather than a side-project. Is that your intention?

It’s just easier using people you already know who are good.  Finding full time musicians, or “lifers” is a tall order.  LSS and DD have enough common musical roots that we can get away with such a thing.  And yes, the Daubers are a separate-but-equal act.

Have you any intentions to explore southern culture in any formats other than music following the film Seven Signs having done your cartoons as well previously?

Actually, I have more of the same...loaded up and almost ready to fire. New short films on southern musicians/visionaries have already been shot and are in the editing process. And Grim Hymns 2 is ready for printing, once some funds come in. No new media formats, just music, art, and film. Isn’t that enough?!!

Do the Shack Shakers have any intentions to record in the near future as you’ve written a bunch of new songs?

I have a whole record written for LSS. More swampy goodness and southern gothic lyrics. A bit of weirdness thrown in. You know how we are. It’ll be out late this year, early next year.

The Dirt Daubers old-time music still seems to edgy for some traditionalists, is it hard to get past the gate-keepers?

Screw ‘em. Old Time fans have already morphed into being as bad as Bluegrassers.  Funny how they don’t realize that, in Old Time music, it was quite “authentic” to be “wrong”...to play whatever and however the heck you wanted. There were no rules (except maybe those imposed by the limited technology of the day.)  Hell, if it made a noise and there was enough whiskey flowing, it was music, by God!   

“What’s that?  A jaw harp and a pump organ?  Let’s jam!” 

Looking back over the many fine albums and great gigs you have done what stands out for you?

Favorite records: Cockadoodledon’t and Swampblood.

Favorite gigs: Robert Plant tour, Bla Rock in Tromso, Unit D in Tulsa.

What would you rather forget?

Certain “former members”, if you know what I mean.

Agri-dustrial suggested a weary eye on the way rural/urban divide was heading. Do you still keep abreast of the political undercurrents in the US?

Yes, but Jessica helps remind me to not pay too close attention. What can I do about it anyway? I’m just waiting for the Big Meteor to hit.

Both your bands have developed a strong set of fans but how difficult is it for either band to reach a wider audience?

It’s difficult getting the right management. Seems like we’ve had a few duds in our days. Thank God the strength of the live show is what it is.  That is what continues to propel both bands, frankly. 

Despite the problems do you find your creative energies still need the music to express or exercise yourself?

Yes, but I have other outlets. Old Timey banjo playing is what consumes me now. Sometimes it distracts from my other interests and I’m sure I’m driving everyone nuts in the van.

You have built up a loyal following in Europe is that something you want to expand on?

Heck yeah. Especially England, Ireland and Holland. Those places are crackin’ for us, I tell you what.

An early champion was Robert Plant who had you support him on tour. Do you keep in touch now that he lives in Austin?

Not really, but his oldest friend and sound man is a very good pal of the band. They all have places in Nashville too, I think. 

How do you feel that the hillbilly underground is developing, there seems to be a lot of bands out there now?

It’s great as long as the song writing is literate. The whole point is too embrace what’s fun and wild about southern/Appalachian culture while still upholding its spiritual, lyrical and artistic integrity. Otherwise it’s just a belligerent parody that confirms the worst of those “Deliverance” stereotypes.

It’s about being a “wise fool”. Don’t forget about the “wise” part, though.

Any you have seen that have taken your fancy?

Ummm, how many times have I mentioned “Pine Hill Haints” over the years? Am I allowed to mention them again? Oh yeah, and I love “Serious” Sam Barrett, the English ballad singer from Leeds. The two tour together frequently.  

Do you like the direction that Hank3 is taking his music? In some ways his two sides are already reconciled in the Shack Shakers.

I like that he’s pushing the envelope in an experimental direction.  It’s not too terribly listenable to most folks (although I love auctioneering, I worked at an auction house for a year and it’s music to my ears) But, to most it’s challenging so, as a result, he’s got my respect.

What are your hopes for the future of both bands and given that you are doing joint gigs is that an ideal package, or is it hard to do both on the same evening?

As I said, it’s tough. We might need to put more distance between the two. Dirt Daubers should be seen as a parallel band, not a “side project.”

When can your fans expect to see you in person or on record next, or is that too early to say at this point?

Soon enough. Hopefully we’ll have a new record when we return this April. I think you’ll love this new guitarist’s take on things. Personally, it gives me goose bumps.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

Thank you!

Interview by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton

Saturday
Jun232012

Glenn Frey Interview by Ronnie Norton

 

So here I am, Bluegrass Radio presenter, eZine contributor, and eternal  “Eagles” fan sitting, waiting for the phone to ring from Glenn Frey to chat about his upcoming solo album release. With “Desperado” on my mind and every “Eagles” CD on my shelves how do I approach an album called “After Hours “, which includes 14 late night piano songs that would do any of the white shirt and tux, boys proud.

It was very simple, I just listened to all the tracks, settled down on a very comfortable cloud nine and said “Tell me how this magic project came about”, when a very relaxed and wildly enthusiastic Country Rock Legend started chatting as though we had been pals since “Take It Easy” totally altered my musical direction in 1972. He loves to come to Ireland to play Eagle Concerts and even sneaks back to take low level helicopter rides to admire the wonderful Irish countryside, grab a game or two of golf and catch up on whatever Irish Trad he can get to listen to.

And then the bonanza. “After Hours” is the reward for two and a half years of dedicated fun, recording and nourishing the type of music that he listened to on the radio while helping his Mom with the ironing at home in his Grandma’s kitchen. He has dedicated this album to his folks who brought him up on a musical diet of Ella Fitzgerald, Teresa Brewer , Dinah Washington and all the white shirt and tux boys that I mentioned earlier. With fellow Eagles touring band mates  Richard F.W. Davis and Michael Thompson he has put together an album that is going to win him a lot of new fans and surprise all of his dedicated Eagles legions of die hards.

It started with providing a pal with eight hours of background music for a cool restaurant hangout in Aspen Colorado called “Andiamo” and then ten years later getting a request from none other than Clint Eastwood who was music organiser for the Wednesday nights at the AT&T ProAm Golf Tournament at Pebble Beach to sing one of his own songs and something from the 40’s for the volunteer party at the club. He remembered all his research CDs for the Andiamo project, discovered that he could sing Tony Bennett songs in Tony’s key and that lead to a regular gig every February with Jack Shelton’s band at Pebble Beach singing Tony Bennett classics. Apart from blowing the audiences away he found himself getting more comfortable and really enjoying this newfound musical outlet.

A few nights after one of these gigs his long time buddy Michael Bolton came over to him and said “Hey Glenn you sounded great doing that type of music. Have you ever thought of doing a record. “ So emboldened by this compliment and having already had the germ of an idea, when he got back to LA he hooked up with Richard and Michael as co-producers and did some trial recordings of “The Good Life”, I Wanna Be Around “ and “The Look of Love”.  He says “It sounded good and we would know, if it was good. So we went on and on and cut the records for real and two and a half years later with 14 track in the bag “After Hours “was born. And “It was fun doing it”.

When I remarked that I was impressed by the feeling that each track had an individual treatment, he  responded that putting the project together was like doing a thousand piece jig saw puzzle. You don’t do it in one sitting. You need to work on it for a while and then step away.  And because they were all working with the Eagles, they would do a few weeks in studio, tour for three or four weeks and come back with fresh ears. There was something nice about working on it over time, because “Distance brings clarity” “We worked on it very carefully and something that I learned from working with the Eagles and from the Beatles was that each one of these songs is like one of your kids. They need to be treated like an individual. Because I didn’t write any of the songs we were just caretakers and interpreters so we had to get it right and not do anything that is disrespectful to the material. It was so much fun working and finalising the record but in fact the “Journey was the reward”. This is a piano song album , it’s not a guitar song album so with musical arrangements from acclaimed New Zealander Alan Broadbent we’ve done a piano and voice album that has style, real style. And we’re really proud of it and looking forward to touring it.”

He hopes to play Ireland and other European countries in late June so it will be a pleasure to catch the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer in mellow mode with an album that I reckon will do for Glenn Frey what “Stardust” did for Willie Nelson.

Stand out tracks for me are the steel and guitar tinged “Route 66” and the very country flavoured “Worried Mind” but I think I’m going to have to battle with a certain red headed lady at home here for who gets ownership rights on this one.  And there will be many late night, head phones on , lights out  and totally chillin’ sessions for a long time to come. This album came to me out of the blue and I have no problem shifting loyalty from some of the finest new Bluegrass bands that are filling my airtime these days to listen to a potential classic from an Eagle who is really soaring to surprising new heights in this well chosen new direction.

Move over Vince Gill, there’s a new  “Voice” in town. 

Saturday
Jun092012

Billy Yates Interview

 

Billy Yates is a gentleman in country music (though he should not to be confused with one namesake from bluegrass band Country Gentlemen) who has been through the major label wringer and emerged stronger to run his independent record company M.O.D. - My Own Damn Label. Through which channel he has released eight albums. Just Be You being the latest. He has toured in Europe and the UK and has now made the decision to tour and promote his work in Ireland. Billy did a series of gigs including one where he opened for Robert Mizzell and used his Country Kings band to back him up. Yates declared that he was "too country and proud of it" and his easy manner won him new fans. His set mixed his own material that included Flowers and songs that had a strong element of humour in titles like Daddy Had A Cardiac And Mama's Got A Cadillac as well as his song of tolerance American Voices and his George Jones co-write I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair along side well received covers of songs from Merle Haggard, Gene Watson and George Strait. The audience immediately related to these choices and made sure his live set hit home. Yates will hopefully bring his own band on future gigs that will add an additional layer of energy and authenticity that comes from the experience of playing together over a period of time. On his gig and promotional tour Lonesome Highway took the opportunity to have a conversation with Billy.

There was a five year gap between your debut album on ALMO and your next release what has happening with your career during that time?

I was wasting my time trying to get another record deal (laughs). But actually when I was leaving ALMO Flowers was doing well. They were having a lot of problems with the label at the time as they had struggled for a long time to get the label off the ground in the Nashville division. I think that there was a lot of frustration in the promotion department. They were about to close their doors but they didn't really know it. But I knew it. I saw it coming. I had a call from Alan Butler, who was running Sony, and he had said "Billy can you get out of that deal?". I said I didn't know if I could get out of the deal or not but he told me "If you can get out of the deal I'll sign you here at Sony". So basically the time spent after leaving ALMO was the time spent trying to make something happen at Sony. That happens a lot of times, it's so not uncommon. A lot of people spend time with a label that doesn't work out. I have a lot of records in the can. I have one at RCA, one at Curb, one at Sony. So that's what I was doing at that time.

Is any of the unreleased material available to you?

I can re-record stuff of course, but as regards to those actual tracks I have no rights. But in all honesty I have evolved some and there were a lot of compromises forced upon me. So some of those works are things that I'm not that excited about. They're good. It's real country stuff because I fought for that. It's music I believed in but it was also a little watered down simply because you had committees that chose the material. 

When had you decided that being a singer and songwriter was your career path?

I grew up on a small farm in Missouri and I knew early on it was something I wanted to do. I didn't know how to dream as big as it actually got, even though it's not been hugh, I still didn't know how to dream that big being in a small town. I knew that the sky was the limit. But I was oblivious as to what was beyond the clouds. As a kid I knew it was something I wanted to do. I thought that that meant singing in some band locally. 

Was country your music of choice growing up or where there other influences?

That's kinda interesting as before I was born my parents house had burned down and they had loved country music and they had played it. So they had been given a gift from the radio station of a whole stack of records. It was Buck Owens, it was Jim Reeves, Carl Smith, Webb Pierce, George Jones, Lefty Frizzell. So you are what you eat so as kids we ate a lot of traditional country music. I always loved that. As I got older even when I was in high school country music was not cool. Not the think to do, you know, but I still loved it. I never lost my appetite for it. When I had my buddies in the car and I was driving round I would be listening to the local pop station just to keep everyone happy, but that didn't mean I liked it. When they weren't in the car I'd go to the highest point in the city and from there I could pick up the Grand Ole Opry. I would sit alone and listen to it a lot of nights and weekends when my friends were out partying. I had such a strong desire to hear that music and that never left. It's still there. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music but there's still only one type of music that gives me goosebumps. 

You wrote some songs with some great traditionally orientated writers including Paul Overstreet, Irene Kelley, Melba Montgomery, Shannon Lawson and Leslie Shatcher. Many of whom seemed to have fallen off the radar now, is it hard to find your self out of favour?

Yeah, one thing that Nashville is a little bit guilty of is that sometimes you're 'flavour of the month' and your lucky if you get to be that guy for awhile. For those guys, and obviously I'm not speaking for them, but I would guess that they would love to be back there. I'm sure they're still writing songs. I was recently at a songwriter's festival in Key West because I like to know what's going on and there were a lot of people there who have had a lot of success and I would love to be able to write with them. I've gone through a phase for the last two or three years were I've not been co-writing at all but have been writing by myself. Now I'm going back to a phase were I'm starting to co-write again. So I went to that Key West songwriters festival because I want to see who's happening. If you're going to co-write you might as well see if you can write with people who are having hits. 

Do you do that to learn something from their process?

I do, If you want to stay current you have to know what's going on. I don't want to live in a bubble. I try to do what I do best and as a artist I'm always going to be country. But I'm also a lyricist and when you write lyrics the way I do I love to hear a big pop melody and I consider how it would sound under one of my lyrics. I'm really broadminded that way. That's one thing that maybe sets me apart a little bit from most of the more traditional people that I know. Again, I know that it gives me goosebumps when I hear great music, 'cause I know it when I do hear it. So I really try to keep an open mind. 

In the 90s country seemed to have a way to particular edgy sound, a blend twang with the better aspects of rock. The way that artists like Dwight Yoakam and Bob Woodruff did for a time. Has that kind of innovation been purged from the mainstream?

That's was a really innovative time. It seems right now we're going through a phase where a lot of the writers are maybe trying too hard to get something on the radio. They're trying too much to get that rather than being innovators. I was writing at a big company and the president of the company came in and said "we have to talk about the songs we're writing and our direction. I'm talking to people at the record labels and they're saying that radio is want this and this and this". I raised my hand  and I said "well this is a promotion guy whose talking to some guy at the radio station and our job is to innovate. We shouldn't worry about what just got cut as when your chasing something you're behind it. If you're going to be a songwriter you need to be ahead and to innovate. I have to write today what's going to hit a year from now. 

In the way that Bill Anderson has been able to write songs that have worked through several decades. Country, but adapted to current trends.

Exactly. It's honest music. I think that's the key. What Jamey's doing is very honest. To me good music is honest. It doesn't matter what type it is if it has that quality. So I don't want to sit here and sound like I'm this big naysayer of what's happening in Nashville because it is what it is. You accept it if you're going to do business in that town. If I just sit and moan about it what good does that really do me? 

The Industry is changing a lot, what has the effect of that been in Nashville?

I think that some of the major labels have to be nervous, if they're being truthful, because the way the world works today is so much smaller with the internet and they way some artists are thriving. Independent artists are kicking ass. I want to be one of those I don't want to be the guy who has to fit in some mould. I sometimes explain it this way -there are acts and there are artists. If you're an act you need those people to tell you how to dress, how to sing and what songs to sing. If your an artist you don't need that. So with the independent world the way it is an artist can thrive and they find their audience and that audience can find them and that makes it honest music. All of a sudden you have a lot of great music out there. But you have to go and find it.  

Producing your music on your own label means that you are the one making those decisions. How does that effect you?

I haven't made any compromises. I don't have to apologize. If you don't like something then I take full responsibility. It was not something that was forced on me. As I get older (laughs), that's going to sound even older in print but I want to be doing this when I'm seventy and doing it my way - whatever that is. Whatever I feel compelled to do. 

You have made several inroads to Europe. This is your first visit to Ireland isn't it?

Yes, I've never come to Ireland before. This is my first tour here so I'm excited to be here. I've tried to be strategic about touring in Europe and Ireland is different as there is a big following for country and if you're going to do it I think you need to try and do it right. There are full time country stations here, you don't have that anywhere else in Europe. I see the future for country music in Europe as something really bright in Ireland and I want to be a part of it if the people will accept me. 

You have had covers from George Jones and George Strait but also by David Allen Coe and Dallas Wayne. Both ends of the scale, that must be satisfying?

You know the David Allen Coe thing is a funny story. He was in the studio working on this record and a buddy of mine was producing it, a guy named Danny Mayo. He called me as I knew Coe from the past as I used to promote shows and I had him on one, and that's another story, but  he's a character and he can be very intimidating. So Danny had called and said can you come to the studio as I'm cutting this record on Coe. So I went to the studio and they had already cut the tracks and Coe was doing his vocals and Danny walked out of the studio and said to me "I'll be right back" but he went out and never came back. There had been some sort of row and so Danny had just left. Coe comes out of the vocal booth and says " where did Danny go" and I said "I don't know" and it was just me and the engineer and he was being real quiet so I didn't know what had happened earlier and Coe says "Hell, do you want to produce this record?" (laughs). I told him I could help home get vocals. So I ended up producing his vocals. He asked me then to sing harmony so I did all the background vocals. I love that fringe stuff. That outlaw thing. There's a little bit of that in me too. I am the nice guy but I'm a rebel at heart. When it comes to my music I'm very rebellious, sometimes to my own demise. Dallas Wayne, that's a cool guy. 

At this point Ronnie had a couple of questions he wanted to ask Billy:

Ronnie: My world is more in bluegrass. Where is that in your world?

I said I grew up doing music with my family and bluegrass was our thing. I've always said I wasn't good enough to do bluegrass and started doing country. I was never that great on the guitar. I could never get that down. Bluegrass is another kind of music that gives me goosebumps. I've never had any bluegrass cover and I'd love to. There's starting to be more bluegrass people in Nashville now. Rhonda Vincent is an old friend of mine. That's been on my mind actually. I've even though about doing a bluegrass record myself. I love to sing it. There was a time when Ricky Scaggs took bluegrass into country and put the drums in there. 

Ronnie: Have you ever interacted with the other Bill Yates (Country Gentlemen)?

No, I've never met him and it's funny as a lot of people get us mixed up. I've had e-mails saying "I'm a huge fan", but it's for him. I'm old but I'm not quite that old (laughs).

Interview by Stephen Rapid with Ronnie Norton. Photograph by Ronnie Norton

 

Saturday
Mar172012

Lindi Ortega Interview

A Canadian born singer/songwriter Lindi Ortega has self-released two albums and an ep, this was followed by an EP on Cherry Tree Records. Since then her current album Little Red Boots and a Christmas EP were through Last Gang Records. She spent time touring the US and Europe as a backing singer with the Killers Brandon Flowers behind his Flamingo solo album. She is now concentrating on her own career.

Your Irish/Mexican parentage must have given you a interesting musical heritage. What are your memories of the music around your house growing up?

My mum listened to a lot of old country when I was growing up, lots of Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton. She was who first got me interesting in the genre. My dad was listening to a lot of latino music, I recall hearing Santana and Gypsy Kings in my childhood and I think this may have had an influence on my rhythmic guitar playing.   

You mentioned the guitar on the wall at home as an object of desire. What finally made you take it off the wall?

I was starting to sing at around age 15, I knew if I was going to write songs I would need an instrument and that guitar seemed like the perfect fit.  

There was a self-released album prior to Little Red Boots, I believe, did it feature some of the same songs or a set of older ones? 

They were all older tunes, I didn’t start writing the newer songs till about 2008. 

A new album later in the year, how different will it be from Little Red Boots, given the  Christmas EP took a more acoustic approach?  

I believe with every record there is a bit of an evolution. I don’t anticipate a drastic difference, but I am constantly being inspired by new things which I’m sure will have an impact on my music. As well, I will be working with a new producer and recording in Nashville. I’m really looking forward to seeing what we cook up together! 

You voice seems perfectly suited to the blend of traditional country, rock and the other influences you incorporate. Where do you see your music taking you in the future or is that open to possibilities as you mentioned that you listened to a wide range of acts growing up? 

I feel very connected to country music because the lyrical content of the genre speaks to me. Its a language I understand. So I feel country will always be present. Its a good thing that country embodies a wide range of style and I can draw from those styles for future recordings. I’m sure I will continue to explore.

You obviously love Johnny Cash, including two of his songs in your set, who else would you see as primary influences? 

Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Robert Johnson, Janis Joplin, Mazzy Star, and Wanda Jackson. 

Have you ever wanted to do anything else other than be a singer/songwriter? 

Yes, I have always been fascinated with Storms and Tornadoes. I would most definitely be a storm chaser if I wasn’t a singer/songwriter! 

You seem to have found a second base in Europe, is that an important career step? 

I think its wonderful! I love Europe. I have had a wonderful time touring. I didn’t expect to do well in Europe but I was pleasantly surprised at how excepting of my music people were and I’m thrilled that I have opportunity to cross the pond and play my songs for everyone!   

Heartbreak is at the heart of many of you songs and you mentioned a failed on the road relationship. Do you think that building a relationship while you are an active performer is something you have to sacrifice? 

Sometimes I think its a sacrifice, but not one I impose upon myself as I feel very strongly that I could make it work, its just a matter of finding someone who could make it work with me.  That’s the hard part. For as many heartbreaks as I incur, I somehow remain hopeful in possibility.  

On the other hand aren’t failed relationships  a great source of songs? 

Yes, that is the blessing/curse of my fate. But maybe a great love song is yet to be written in my books. So I guess we’ll see! 

You had a great band with you in Dublin, but you also play solo. Do you have a preference for either?

  I actually love both. I find it a great challenge to convince an audience armed with just my guitar that I am worth their attention. I like that challenge. The band is a lot of fun though, and its great to rock out! 

Being Canadian do you have a different perspective on America. Do you have any political interests? 

I don’t really pay mind to politics. One could drive themselves mad with it. Instead I chose to be inspired by beautiful landscapes and history. America has some of the most beautiful and varied landscapes I’ve seen. likewise, Europe has so much to offer in that respect also. 

As it is currently is your music may find it hard to get a place on mainstream country radio, is that something that annoys you? 

No, I’m very happy with what I do and how I get to do it. If I were to ever make mainstream radio I suppose that would be nice to get that kind of exposure. But the underground is a place full of some of the most interesting and unique sounds I’ve ever heard so I’m proud to be there. 

Finally what would you like to be doing in ten years time? 

Ah.. a whole decade. Well if I make it to ten years I would hope to still be singing and creating. I very much live in the moment with my life so I don’t plan too much ahead. My only hope is to continue doing what I love and that it brings me the same great joy that I feel now. 

Interview by Stephen Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton