Sunday
Mar162014

Interview with Jim Lauderdale

 

I first became aware of Jim Lauderdale when he had a track featured on the second volume of the Town South Of Bakersfield compilation. That collection was produced by Pete Anderson who went on to produce a whole album on Lauderdale that went unreleased at the time of recording (1988) though a couple of singles went to radio at that time. It was later released thanks to fan Tony Rounce on Westside in 2001. Planet of Love was the first Jim Lauderdale album to be officially released coming out in 1991 on Reprise. It was produced by John Leventhal and Rodney Crowell and contained Jim’s classic song about George Jones, King Of Broken Hearts. In support of this Reprise arranged a European tour that found Lauderdale playing in Dublin alongside fiddler Mark O'Connor and the band Little Texas as part of their label's sponsored tour of Europe.

I was totally taken with this slice of country that was in marked contrast to Little Texas' pop-orientated confections. Jim Lauderdale had brought with him a dream band that included the late Donald Lindley on drums, Dusty Wakeman on bass, Gurf Morlix on pedal steel and Buddy Miller on guitar. They were exceptional. Jim noted that that particular gig, in Bad Bobs, was one he still remembered as one of his all-time favourites. After their set I made it my business to meet Lauderdale and we have stayed in touch ever since.

During his career Jim has been with both major and independent labels and now releases albums at a pace to keep up with his prolific writing talent. His next release will be a double CD of country songs entitled I'm A Song. It showcases 19 tracks of new material and a new version of King of Broken Hearts and features such guests as Kenny Vaughan, Al Perkins, Patty Loveless and Lee Ann Womack. Lauderdale was in Ireland for the Belfast Songwriter's Festival and an Ubangi Stomp-promoted gig in Dublin.

Prior to the show Jim and I caught up and I started by asking Jim how technology had changed his life. He said that it had taken him a long time to get comfortable with the process and he only started to text in recent times but, aside from communicating, it had allowed him to co-write. "The two songs I co-wrote with Elvis Costello were written when we were on the road in two different busses. So I had to get someone to send him the ideas I had. Also with Robert Hunter I've written quite a bit with him over the internet".

This way of writing has enabled him to be more prolific with his album releases. In eighteen months Jim hopes to have released five albums. He has lately been releasing albums two at a time and he felt that at this stage in his career it can't hurt. "Though I love live gigs, my favourite thing to do is to go into the studio". Song ideas come to him all the time, but without a project in mind he may not finish a song without a deadline which becomes  an important part of the writing process. I wondered did he then go over his notes when he had a recording project upcoming? "Sometimes, but I'm very disorganised. There have been several instances where I can't find the exact melody. For instance there's a song called Vampire Girl that I thought might suit Buddy (Miller) and myself. I started to hum the melody when I was on a plane, I felt when we come to record we can do this. But when it came time to do the recording I couldn't find it so I started again and then lost that version. Buddy still liked the idea and so it wasn't until the night before we recorded it that it all came together". Other songs though, he has completed and knows where they can be found, but overall Jim finds that,  though it's stressful, working under pressure produces results.

Jim also has to remember all the song details, so that when it comes time to release an album he has to put all the writing credits together. Something he was in the process of doing for I'm A Song, so that copies could be manufactured for an upcoming Australian tour. He had been working with Jeremy Dillon, an Australian director who was doing a documentary on Jim. When Dillon arrived in Nashville there was no studio footage shot, so a session was booked. "I wanted to have James Burton and Al Perkins come in, so we went into the old RCA Studio A". The studio is leased now by the artist Ben Folds who rents it out. They spent a day recording and filming there and they cut around nine song in the old way,  all tracking together. But after the session Lauderdale realised that he only had these nine songs and he wanted to add a new version of King Of Broken Hearts. Jim thought about how George Jones had re-recorded some of his classic songs and he felt it might be a good thing to do,  as the original album is long out of print. He felt the need to add a couple more songs to complete the album. The list of possible songs kept growing and then a waltz melody came to him in the studio. Musicians like  Kenny Vaughan and Russ Paul were on a break. "I had no lyrics so I thought’ I'll send this melody right now to Robert Hunter’ and the very next day he sent me a lyric which was great". An old writing partner, Odie Blackmon, was his co-writer on a number of songs. He has also included a version of I Lost You one of the songs he'd written with Elvis Costello that was on the Costello's National Ransom album. Jim also expressed disappointment that Costello's band The Sugarcanes, which included Jerry Douglas, didn't have a longer run. They played Vicar Street during that particular tour to much acclaim.

Towards the end of 2013 he released a bluegrass album called Old Time Angel which he wanted to record in the old way, using just one central mic for vocals and a couple of other mics to pick up all the instruments. His man of choice for his bluegrass albums is Dobro player Randy Kohrs who produced Old Time Angel. The other album that came out around the same time was an album Black Roses, one that he'd had in the can for a while,  which he'd recorded with the North Mississippi Allstars in their studio. Spooner Oldham was on piano and David Hood was on bass. Both were musicians that he had wanted to work with. He described that as a "blues, baroque soul" style of album. There is also an acoustic solo album that he wanted to do called Blue Moon Junction a reference to the fact that he often tours solo and wanted an album to reflect that. That  situation has often been dictated by the expense of taking a band out on the road.

He justified this level of releases by saying that "I still feel like a newly signed act in a lot of ways and don't feel I'm hurting myself by releasing this many records and I really felt compelled to do them". There is also another album in the can, one he has recorded with Nick Lowe's band. Jim describes it as a combination of soul, mercy beat and a bit of rockabilly. He particularly wanted to play with Lowe’s band and producer Neil Brocklebank. "Nick has always been one of my favourites and I've always loved his band". He recorded the album in London but only arrived there with one completed song, thinking he would write the rest while there. It was stressful as he was writing after playing a series of gig. A further complication was added when his guitar hadn't arrived and he missed his flight so the time he had allotted to write was lost. He finished another song that he had originally sent to Costello as a title and melody. That song titled I Love You More turned out to be one of his favourites. For a second round of recording he had a number of songs he's written with Dan Penn. "He's such a terrific guy". John Oates (of Hall and Oates) was also another collaborator for the album's songs. "John actually has very deep roots and we really clicked as writers". 

We talked about the changing face of the Music Row styled song and how many writers were now out of favour, something that must have a deep effect on his career as a writer for other artists. "There was a period in Nashville when I was very fortunate, where people where recording my songs. Now that's over, pretty much. I will pitch some to George Strait, who's going to record soon, as he still has five records left after his farewell tour. But that practice is now ended unless someone comes along who wants to integrate that into today's country". Everyone has a time and he mentioned writers like Dan Penn, who had a lot of cuts for a time, and then directions changed and it got harder to place songs.

The last straight down the line country album that Lauderdale recorded was Country Super Hits, Volume 1 seven years ago,  so he felt the time was right to put out this new set of songs. However over the years with Jim's distinctive melodies and vocal phrasing I tend to think of it as all Lauderdale Music; that although the albums take different paths they come from the same place. He also made inroads back to playing and writing bluegrass which was one of his main musical influences growing up. It was an area in which he was having some success. Because they can no longer get played on mainstream radio, the economics of playing bluegrass are more favourable and many artist have also moved in that direction,  Alan Jackson being one such artist. Jim does mention though that Jackson's next album will be a country record.

There is a possibility that there may be some more traditional country coming from Nashville,  however the odds seem stacked against it. "Nashville still has much of the Brill Building days about it. You get in a room with somebody to try and write a song that will get cut. Oddly enough, that set up rarely worked for me when I paired up with somebody intentionally trying to write for somebody else". Most of Jim's cuts came from someone hearing one of his demos or an album cut. He doesn't listen to radio that often and feels that maybe he should be more in touch with what is current on radio, but just doesn't feel engaged by what he hears. He has recently done a panel discussion with other writers like Bruce Robison. They talked about writing for another artist and that it didn't feel true in some respect, but it would be hypercritical to say that they wouldn't be very happy if someone new cut a song they had a hand in. "But when I've gone through that process it always gives me a sinking feeling".

The quality of demos has been more and more finished in recent times. Sometimes songs being demoed for a particular artist are so close to the artist’s style and arrangement that all that need to be done was to take the demo singer’s voice out of the mix and drop in the particular artist's voice. It was back when Lauderdale was working with producer Tim Coats in Garry Tallent's studio that he realised that what they were doing were in fact finished tracks to all intents and purposes.

Buddy Miller has replaced T-Bone Burnett as musical director on the TV show Nashville. Lauderdale noted that Burnett was a fan of Miller’s and had been helping out when Burnett was one of the show's executive producers. “Buddy is putting a lot of time and effort into it and trying to give some young writers a break, which is good, as it helps nurture a community". He also noted that Miller had used a couple of Lauderdale's songs, one in the first season and one in the current run. One of the producers had spoken to Lauderdale and co-writer Odie Blackmon about some of the scenarios and  they had written songs to suit those specific storylines, but that, in the end, the network has the final say on the song choice. 

Having an agent is important for any artist, or rather having the right agent is important and Jim felt that he hadn't attracted the agency he would love to be with as he, at the moment, isn't sufficiently well known in his own right to draw a big enough audience. This again showed that Jim Lauderdale is a realistic person in understanding where his career is at the moment. Most of his Irish visits have been shows that he set up except when he came with Emmylou Harris and then later supporting Trisha Yearwood.

We talked about the ageing process and Jim said that photography was something of a hit and miss situation and he when he looked at photography now saw how much he had aged. "I really look like that!" being a common reaction to his own photo. This is something that all artist have to come to terms with as they grow older in the public eye. However he is still around and making records, while many of his contemporaries who started out  when Jim did are no longer in the business. That is a tribute to his talent and determination as well as his charm. He is still dedicated to his love of music and its expression.

Jim had been in Ireland a few years back to produce, at my behest, Bray Vista. He asked about them and about any new upcoming acts that are around at the moment. I mentioned a few names to him and the fact that there is a reasonably healthy live scene, especially on the acoustic side of things. Lauderdale reiterated his love of opportunity to come over to Ireland and Jim Lauderdale is a welcome visitor anytime.

 Interview by Stephen Rapid.  Photography by Stephen Rapid

Monday
Mar032014

Interview with Sturgill Simpson

Having released an acclaimed debut album Sturgill Simpson has been touring in the UK (opening for Laura Cantrell and doing his own gigs) to support the UK release of the album, He is also about to bring out a second album and is excited about that. He is the sort of person who is happier talking about his music than about himself but is, like his music, opoen and honest. Lonesome Highway took the opportunity to talk to him prior to his first Dublin date.

Do you find it liberating to be playing gigs in a solo capacity?

I did it before I … well, I still don’t consider myself a professional musician, but it’s how I started out. The first gigs I did were playing by myself. After a year on the road with the band, where you can stretch out a little bit, you still have to follow a bookends regime. But for sets like this I never write a list. It’s about whatever the crowd feels, I feel. But it is very freeing.

Your recording to date have been with a full band though?

Yeah, I think it’s important texturally and there’s still a lot of sonic exploration that I want to do. Doing that without a band is tough, but someday, I’m sure, I’ll get around to the old hauntingly sparse melancholy acoustic album. I don’t think it’ll be the second album though.

You previously front the trio Sunday Valley who can be seen on YouTube. Did you release an album with them?

We did but it didn’t really get released;  we just put it up on iTunes ourselves. We sold it at gig and I think I’m still sitting on 800 physical copies at my house that I ordered right before the band broke up. They’re sitting in a corner doing nothing.

Did you have a natural break-up or did you feel the need to move on?

No, it was definitely on purpose. It was a local band that I played with in Lexington, Kentucky for years. It was never really the music in my heart,  even though I was writing all the music (laughs)! I just kinda reached a point where I felt that this is not what I wanted to do. That’s not best for everybody. I was mainly yelling over the top of myself. It was such a loud band so I never though of it as singing.  

Was that the punk rock influence coming out?

No. It was the punk rock influence in a lot the other band members. I never listened to much punk rock if I’m honest. It was a lot of fun and we had a good following in a local setting. It was fun until it wasn’t. I had realised that I had to do this other thing that I was doing at home by myself 

You’ve stated the influence that your grandfathers had on the music you now play. How did that come about?

Absolutely. Both my grandfathers, really; my maternal grandfather very specifically. He was a big influence just in terms of what he played and the guys that he listened to. We watched Hee-Haw and things like that as a kid. I just wanted to emulate that more than anything. But as a teenager you find things like Led Zeppelin and you steer off the path. In  my early twenties I came full circle and it’s been kinda consuming ever since.

But before coming full circle you absorb the influence that Zeppelin had in their music too.

Yes, very much so. They had folk, blues and country elements in their music. I mean any good music to me is soul music. I was exposed to and absorbed so much traditional country and bluegrass as a young child that after a while your palate says “enough”. Then you got to go see what else is there. 

In those Zeppelin days the only people I was aware of wearing Western style shirts were rock acts. Country was more a red neck thing and thus avoided to some degree.

(Laughs) Yeah.  Zeppelin and Cream. The redneck thing is still a big part of it. Which is weird but it’s more so in the commercial side of things in the States where it’s almost a marketing ploy to put that stamp on your music. I run from it every chance I get. 

Do you have any association with that underground thing that’s going on?

I don’t really have much to do with that and it’s a bit of a scene with some of the punk rockers who had heard Johnny Cash records.

You moved to Nashville; was that a move to get closer to the roots of the music?

That’s exactly why I did that. At the risk of sounding like a cliche and extremely egotistical I wanted to make the kind of country album I wasn’t hearing anywhere else. I had a number of songs that I’d been sitting on for a few years, though most of the album (High Top Mountain) was written while we were recording it. There’s a few I wish I could take back but mostly I wanted to make what I was taught that country music should sound like, or my interpretation of that anyway.

You have said that there’s an element of psychedelia in your music too.

Definitely. I have a second album that’s coming out over here soon. It was recorded back in October and that is very much a psychedelic country record. 

Barefoot Jerry-ish?

No more like if Merle Haggard dropped a bunch of LSD. Which maybe he has (laughs)!

That sort of cross fertilisation is interesting. In the 60s you had both The Beatles and Buck Owens, for instance, aware of each others music.

I’ll give myself away a little bit. I shouldn’t talk as much. But sonically what introduced me to that was a lot of the early Gene Clark or Godson Brothers recordings from the late 60s in California which were so psychedelic and the production approach with people like Clarence White and interweaving acoustic guitar was just so beautiful. 

Especially something like the Byrds Live At The Fillmore where you hear Clarence playing Eight MIles High and blending two strands of music together.

Oh absolutely. 

We talked then about the famous B-Bender that Clarence White played. Marty Stuart now owns and plays it regularly.

Marty and I have the same manager so when they’re doing the TV show taping I get to stop by every once in awhile. I got to pick on it one day and it  feels so weird, it’s almost like playing a hollow body. I don’t know how he does it. Marty tours with that thing. 

We talked about the talent of Kenny Vaughan and how he can play such a myriad of styles that are influenced by Jeff Beck as much as Roy Nichols and so many other players.

What I love about Kenny is that he can hit eight or nine different facets of music in one solo. He’ll sneak it all in there.

We were taking about all the different influences you have come through listening to country music.

Some people can get a little hung up on the tradition and purism side of things. This is 2014 and my producer (Dave Cobb) and I had a long conversation about that. He said “aren’t you worried that people will think you’re running from whatever the last record was?”  I said that I’d already made what I call a traditional record and I felt that I’m not running from it But I certainly didn’t want to turn around and do it again right after that. We incorporated a lot of things this time that will probably take people a little while to get used to. Then I’m not going to make a Merle Haggard record because he already did it and I’m pretty damn sure that I’d never do it as good as he did it (laughs). Taking it somewhere new is the only way it will survive.

We discussed how the better country retro bands in a live context do introduce a new audience to the music and artists of classic traditional country music that they may not come across otherwise. Music needs to be heard in a live context so that it becomes something living and breathing. But that’s only one aspect of the music that is now called Americana.

That can be a self made trap. Building a wall around yourself you become a novelty and I never want to feel that I’m putting a costume on. It’s a bit of a dangerous  road as you build a fan base and then that’s what they expect every night. But on the off-chance I ever play the Ryman I may want to walk out with a disco ball hanging from my suit though (laughs).

When you see an artist walking out on stage in a Nudie or Manuel suit and the light catches the rhinestones it’s like a light show and you know you’re going to watch that person. Jim Lauderdale does that …

… or Marty. He owns that. Jim and Buddy Miller though,  they crack me up. I did a radio show at Buddy’s house not too long ago and they’re both just the sweetest guys. They’re all about their shirts. They have a collection of amazing shirts. When Jim showed up he and Buddy spent about five minuets talking about the shirts they were wearing. I was like “what’s happening?”.

We enthused about how The Mavericks are a band who, while they have a respect for the traditional values they create something new that’s very much their own from a myriad of influences.

Raul is just about my greatest living musical hero right now. I love the In Time album. When the album came out last year I went down to the Siriuis station in Nashville as they were doing a little live in-studio acoustic concert. It was the best show I’ve seen in ten years. They weren’t even doing their “show” but it felt great and there were probably 40 people in this little room. It felt like it was levitating. It was just so good. 

Tell me something about your new album Metamodern Sounds in County Music?

We came off the road from what seemed like an infinite tour and we cut the whole think for a really good price in about four days. Our producer happened to have a week and a half off so I figured that we’d just done seven weeks of shows and we’re not going to get any tighter and I was sitting on a mountain of songs so we went in with my band to do the record. It was an honour and an extreme … I don’t know if privilege is the word … to have played with guys like Pig and those guys,  but I feel like I got my sound down a little bit more on this one. 

Your road band is you and your trio of bass, drums and guitar?

That’s it, just four little guys. We keep a very low stage volume. My guitarist plays through a little 5 watt Champ. I play my Martin and we kind of let the room do the work. We’re having a lot of fun. In Nashville if you walk in with anything over a 15 watt amp you don’t play there again. They say “well that guy doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing”.

Bluegrass was the next topic up for discussion and specifically the Station Inn. 

You never know who might walk in there. I’ve been in there and gotten free mandolin lessons from Ricky Skaggs. That was so surreal. It’s probably my favourite club in the world. We did our CD release there last year. That meant as much to me as playing the Opry. Bluegrass is what I absorbed and played the most. The first time I moved to Nashville was in 2005 (and) all I was doing was playing bluegrass. At some point, I don’t know, I just fell in love with a lot of the older writers and I started to write a lot. I used to just hang out in the Station Inn rather than playing with anybody other than infinite jam parties around East Nashville. I still don’t consider myself in the music business. I’m not going to meeting or anything. I’m just putting records out and going deeper in debt. 

Do you writing a lot?

I try to write everyday if I can. 

The first album you have said was, to a degree, autobiographical. Is the new one from a different perspective?

I probably don’t want to go into that too much but I kinda wanted to see if was possible to explore outside the box with lyrical themes and subjects through the guise of country music. As I said it is very much a psychedelic record. It’s introspective and everything else. There are no’ tear in my beer’  songs on this album. I felt I couldn’t sing another heartbroken song. I wanted to sing about black holes or Tibetan Buddhism or I don’t know what. It comes out on my label in the States and through Loose on the UK. I didn’t start my music career until I was 34 as growing up in East Kentucky everybody plays music but never in a way where you think I could do this for a living. You do it after work. So I did everything else first. With High Top Mountain I proud of all the songs but that first time as an artist and with a producer you’re feeling each other out. They have their ideas about what they think is best. With this new one I feel that I cleared my throat a little bit and got my sound. I’m pretty excited about the new record even though the first one has only just come out here. 

Finally on your travels have you come across anyone you could recommend or who has impressed you?

Yeah, we played a couple of shows with Jason Isbell and he’s just amazing. He’s a really, really sweet guy too. About half the times, unfortunately, when you meet people that you were just floored by or are in awe of, or you might just want to pick their brain,  they turn out to be giant assholes when you talk to them. They just can’t be bothered. A couple of times they’ve been real heroes of mine. At the same time I can understand it too. I definitely have some days where I shouldn’t be sitting at the merch booth. Outside of country there’s a lot of bands that kinda blow my mind like Tool. I admire what they do a lot. I thought that the last Daft Punk album was pretty incredible. I actually never leave the house when I’m home to be honest. If I’m on the road I don’t get out to clubs. So I kinda get into a hole where I end up listening to the same five or six record for six months. There’s three or four records that I listen to once a week. So I don’t know much about new music to be perfectly honest. But there’s a guy in Texas just put out a good album called Jason Eady (Daylight & Dark). I heard it in a friend’s house and I thought it was fantastic. Great writing is what tends to grab my ear.  

Interview by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton

 

 

 

 

Monday
Feb172014

Interview with Sam Outlaw by Stephen Rapid

Sam Outlaw is the performing name of California based country artist Sam Morgan. Outlaw is actually his mother's maiden name. He continues a long tradition of West Coast country music that always seem to be at least one step removed from Nashville. Its exponents generally deliver a more heartfelt, harder brand of honky-tonk, well documented in such books as Gerald W. Haslam's book Workin' Man Blues. Outlaw joins such similar minded contemporary exponents as Dave Gleason in keeping the true spirit of the music alive, yet each is doing it in his own way.

Nobody Loves is the title of Outlaw's debut album which is full of self-written songs that have a sound like the new-traditionalists of the 80s and 90s,  which is to say country music, but looking forward as much as it looks back. I'm not sure where I came across the name of Sam Outlaw on the internet but when I checked out his site (www.samoutlaw.com) it showed an accomplished, likeable and talented artist and one who appeals to an attractive coterie of ladies too, something that should never be discounted in achieving a lasting career. Some of the current crop labeled of underground outlaws seem to have, predominantly, a male audience. There is, however, much in Outlaw’s music that will have a broad appeal.

Lonesome Highway took the opportunity to contact Sam and ask him some questions. One of which was to enquire if the name Outlaw had caused anyone to accuse him of making association with the "outlaw movement" past or present. The answer was a succinct "no".

You come from South Dakota and now live in Southern California but your association with country music doesn't derive from your upbringing. Where does it come from?

I was home sick from work when I was 22 years old - channel surfing. I stumbled on CMT’s "100 Best Country Singers" or something like, and heard/saw George Jones for the first time. It totally blew my mind. I went out the next day and bought a George Jones album, along with music from Emmylou Harris and others. Before that, the only other good country music I had been exposed to was the Western Swing Revivalist group Asleep At The Wheel (Ray Benson). My dad was a huge fan of their music so their albums were regularly played in our home. Holidays, road trips, etc. 

There has been a strong tradition of honky-tonk in that region that you want to revive. Why do you think it died out and what has been the reaction to your music there?

Music historians could better tell that story than myself, but as far as the reaction to my music in So Cal it has all been pretty positive. The best compliment I can get is when someone says, “I don’t even listen to country music but I really liked your songs.” My guess is that most folks in Los Angeles think country music is only what’s on modern country radio and simply haven’t been exposed to something better.

The music feels right for someone who has experienced sad times. Has country music something to offer in these straitened times?

I think country  music is the best kind of music, so I’m always blessed to hear it. Good times, bad times or in-between. Sometimes sorrow can inspire creativity as a means of processing and exhaling a sad experience but I don’t think one has to “be sad” to write a good heartbreaker, nor is heartbreak a prerequisite for a good country song.  

Some of the best known exponents of California country music have been Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam. How much an influence was that harder edged version of country music on you?

Those artists have been a massive influence on me! Not only directly,  but indirectly. For instance, the first time I heard the song Bottle Let Me Down was from Emmylou Harris’s album Pieces of the Sky. It wasn’t ‘til later that I heard Merle’s version. Dwight Yoakam is particularly inspiring because he’s done it all as an Angelino. 

Who are your main influences past and present?

Too many country influences and heroes to name, but here’s a start: George Jones, Willie Nelson, Ray Benson, Don Williams, Keith Whitley, George Strait, Dwight Yoakam. Non-country influences would mainly be The Beatles I guess. But that’s probably the case for everyone. 

At what point did you decide you wanted to play country as opposed to any other form of music and did you listen or play other styles previously?

When I first heard George Jones something just exploded in my head and heart. A few years later I decided to put a country band together and start playing my songs for people. 

You have released your debut album on vinyl (though it is also available as a download). Was there a reason you decided to do that at this time?

Vinyl is the best. And even though it’s expensive and I figured very few people would buy the album or care that it’s on vinyl it just seemed like the right thing to do.

On your website there are several well-shot short videos that give an insight to Sam Outlaw. Do you see that as a vital medium for spreading the word?

Video can communicate and influence emotions better than any other medium. It’s the best way to tell a story that goes beyond the songs.

How conscious are you of creating a look, an image? Do you have experience in that area?

Look and feel is very important to me. Not so much to create an “image” but to create a larger environment for which people can enjoy the music and feel part of something fun and authentic. I’m learning as I go.

Are you a full time musician or do you need to create an income in other areas in order to fund your music?

I’m a full-time musician with a full-time job to pay the bills (and the band). Ha ha! It’s a lot of work but it’s important to me that my players are paid for each gig and that I don’t have to always rely on favours. Otherwise I’d be asking other people to suffer for my art and that gets old really fast. 

What inspires you to continue to write and sing?

I suppose I’m most inspired by listening to great country music. 

Do you fear for the future of the more traditional forms of the genre as Nashville pushes further towards pop and rap affiliations?

No.

Another line from one of the videos is that you're just "a drifting cowboy looking for sushi" that seems to encompass the old and the new in one sentence. Is that something you're aiming for?

I aim to capture the spirit of country music in an authentic way - much like the “neo-traditionalists” of the 80s and 90s. George Strait records didn’t sound like Bob Wills records, no matter how much he might have wanted them to. Ha ha. I grew up in the 90s but the music I love is rooted in the 40s, 50s and 60s. It all mixes together in the end. 

Where are you hoping to take your music from here?

My short term goals are to make a music video for a new single I’ve just recorded - then record a new album. Label backing would be nice as I’d like to hire the best pickers in the land. The bigger picture has really nothing to do with me though. What I want most is for more people to discover how good good country music really is and to enjoy it with me. 

Tuesday
Dec172013

Interview with Greg Trooper

 

A New Jersey born singer-songwriter who has released twelve albums of crafted writing to date and who has had his songs covered by such respected songwriters as Steve Earle, Vince Gill and Billy Bragg. He has worked closely with a number of producer's including Garry Tallent, Buddy Miller and Dan Penn. His current album Incident On Willow Street was produced by Stewart Lerman and included the songs Living With You, Mary Of The Scots In Queens and One Honest Man. Trooper has long been a Lonesome Highway favourite and took the time to answer these questions.

You can look back over a career of over twenty years as a singer/songwriter. What reflections do you have of how things have changed or evolved over the years?

For me I’d say my songwriting has hopefully evolved. I’ve learned to take more time with a song and go over it and edit, edit, edit! 

Your ambitions will have obviously have changed over the years and the fact that you are still performing and recording suggest the core inspiration is the music itself. Would that be your inclination also?

I still have professional ambitions. Still want to reach a larger audience, still want to work larger venues but the youthful “rock star” thing is long past. I still believe, and maybe more so now, that the work is thing. What I mean by that is working at songwriting and performing and trying to connect with an audience is my priority and goal.

 The landscape for delivering music has changed dramatically over the last few years. How has that affected you?

’m now the artist, record label and publisher. This takes more time and effort away from concentrating on just being “the artist”. Kind of had to pay attention to it all before anyway but it’s a different psychology.

The digital age has it’s pros and cons. I can deliver my music on my own and see more financial reward right away from selling and downloads but no matter how much I pay out to promote my music I still don’t seem to have the reach I did when recording for a label. That may change. We’ll have to see. The first rule in this business is there are no rules.

The advent of such funding sources seems ideally suited to an artist with a reasonable fanbase. Does that make it easier or are things still as problematic as ever?

Funding is a huge issue for the independent musician. Kickstarter and the like have been a great asset but how many times can you go back to your fans for your recording and promotion budget? I’m hopeful this record can generate enough income to finance my next project although life and bills can be quite demanding.

Has the lived circuit changed too and has the age of the audience been a factor in how and where you play these days?

My audience ages right along with me. I’d like to see more young people at my shows but it’s a tough sell. I believe my songs relate to any age audience but it takes some convincing to get 20 somethings to a 50 something’s show.

You lost your friend the late, great Larry Roddy who was a great supporter of your music, Has that been a factor in not being back in Ireland in recent times?

Larry was not just an agent for me. He was a dear friend. I learned so much about so many things from him. It has been hard for me to tour Ireland with out him there to talk about Dylan, The Blues, and Irish history. I’ll be back though.

The new album Incident On Willow Street is another great addition to your fine body of work. Was there a particular inspiration behind the songs?

Not really. It was more subconscious than that. The songs have a lot to do with escape or finding a different path than the one you’re traveling. This all came out from the writing more than contemplating what I was going to write. I will say the songs are not autobiographical. That would bore the listener. I like to say my songs are reality based fiction.

You worked with some fine players on the album such as Larry Campbell and producer Stewart Lerman. How does the selection of the producer/players effect the outcome of the music?

Casting players for an album is key to the outcome. I’m lucky to know such great players. They’re musical instincts are just incredible. Couldn’t do it without them.

What are the highlights, for you, of the work you have produced to date?

Hard to answer that. I still look forward to every gig. Still love the writing and recording process. It’s all still fresh and amazing to me.

The nature of what you do can be lonely as you tend to travel a lot solo. Has that become more difficult as time goes on?

Yes and no. Alone can be productive and positive but there are those mornings you wake up, wash your face, look up in the hotel bathroom mirror and say “ oh no, not you again”.

Do you still draw inspiration from similar sources?

I look for it everywhere. Books, articles, movies, music, conversations etc. I just wish I could remember all the mental notes I take.

What are the next projects for you and for the future?

Right now I’m trying to work and promote this record as much as possible. As I go I’ll write songs and I’ll have to see where they take me. Hopefully Ireland in the fall of 2014.

Thursday
Dec122013

Interview with Tom Bridgewater of Loose Music

 

Tom Bridgewater set up Loose Music the independent record label based in Acton, London in 1998.  Previously he was behind the vinyl only record label, Vinyl Junkie. With roots singer-songwriters, Americana and country providing the core direction they heave released music by the following artists: Giant Sand, M Ward, Mark Mulcahy, Neko Case, The Handsome Family, The Felice Brothers, Dawes, Deer Tick, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Johnny Fritz, Israel Grips Nash and  Danny & The Champions Of The World. Lonesome Highway took the opportunity to ask some questions from someone operating in that side of the process.

Your musical ventures have always been related to Americana/Roots/ Country music. When did you become aware and awakened by that genre of music?

An old family friend - the actor Kenneth Cranham - used to make us tapes to play on long car journeys. The beautifully decorated tapes were made up of music by the likes of John Prine, JJ Cale, Emmylou Harris, Randy Newman and Jesse Winchester. So I became unusually fond of country music as a youngster.  

Did DJing at Nashville Babylon point the way to releasing music through Vinyl Junkie and Loose Music?

I had already set up Vinyl Junkie (and then Loose Music) by the time that we found ourselves in Dublin in late 1998, spinning tunes and drinking Guinness by the gallon. But it was all part of the journey.

In the current climate it’s tough to sell records yet you seem to have found a balance to make it work. How have you done that?

Loose is run on a wing and prayer and we have always spent our budget of half a shoe-string. But we manage to trudge on heroically! People ask me “how’s business”? and I proudly say “well, we’re still in it”! I reckon thats no mean achievement these days. How have we managed it? Thanks to the good people who buy records by our bands. We salute you! 

For Loose is the physical product still outselling the downloaded versions?

Indeed it is, but digital sales are increasing while physical sales decline. We issue most of our albums on CD and LP these days. We usually make the LPs limited edition and numbered with download codes included. I think that the limited edition element helps. To me it’s all about the physical product. Having something to hold in your hands.

In the CD versus Vinyl debate where do you stand?

Personally I like both but if I really love an album then I will usually buy it on vinyl. Artwork is a big but increasingly forgotten element of records and obviously you cannot beat the sound of an LP. Thats been scientifically proven, by Neil Young! And some people say that records smell of bananas so thats good too.

There was a time when it was though a single act could break through for Americana - Nirvana style - and thus focus attention on the music. That look’s unlikely now but do you see a similar possibility for mainstream success?

We work with a number of bands that really could appeal to a wider marker: Danny & The Champions Of The World, Israel Nash Gripka, Treetop Flyers and Frontier Ruckus (if they write a chorus!) to name but four. However, to “break through” you need serious marketing muscle which Loose simply does not have. So we depend on good press, radio, online and TV where possible. If you can achieve all those four pieces of the jigsaw on a decent scale at the same time then you have a chance. With The Felice Brothers we had “Frankie’s Gun” on two TV shows at the same time: Outnumbered on the BBC and Skins on Channel 4. It soon became our biggest selling record.

How frustrating is it to know you have a great album on the label but the actual sales are not commercially significant?

I made a change in career about 20 years ago and started to put records out. It wasnt really that I saw myself swimming in a banjo shaped swimming pool and admiring my platinum discs on the wall of my Malibu beach house; it was because I wanted to see if I could enrich people’s lives with the music that I love. To me the best moments are seeing any sized venue full of smiling faces watching one of our bands that the crowd probably wouldn’t have heard of if we hadn’t signed them. Thats something that makes me very happy and proud. Its not all about commercial success, to me its about doing something worthwhile with your time on this earth, man.

In choosing which acts to release do you rely on your own judgement or are there any other criteria involved?

We have a very small team here at Loose and we all have to agree that its a good plan to sign a particular act. We sometimes play them to our distributors in other countries but really its down to us. You just have to go with your gut instinct.

You are based in London and have released a number of UK acts. In that light you must fell that these acts are as good a those from the US. Would you agree?

Some are. Danny & The Champs and Peter Bruntnell and Treetop Flyers definitely are. To be honest, I don’t really like comparing USA and UK acts but I certainly wish that here in the UK and Ireland we started getting more behind our own talent rather than giving disproportionate amounts of airplay and column inches to American acts because they come from towns with romantic sounding names.

What do enjoy most about running the label?

As I said before, seeing happy faces at gigs and that feeling of doing something artistic and creative with my life. It’s also good to be your own boss and just not turn up to work occasionally.

Has your love and enthusiasm for the music been diminished by the financial side of making music happen?

Not really, I find it more disheartening when we lose a band because some bigger label comes along and lures them away from us with offers of all the gold they can eat. If you want loyalty in the music business get yourself a dog! There are of course exceptions to this rule and I am forever indebted to those acts that have stuck with us through thick and thin. They know who they are and I love them.

What have Loose got in store for 2014?

Fabulous music from friends old and new. We just want to keep on keeping on.

Interview by Stephen Rapid

Link to current Loose Sampler:

https://soundcloud.com/loose-music/sets/loose-2013