Wednesday
Aug132014

Interview with Paul Burch

 

Paul Burch was born in Washington D.C.and began as playing in Nashville’s at famed Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in the early 90s. He and his band the WPA Ballclub helped to make the Lower Broadway honky tonk scene a place to be again  The debut album Pan American Flash was hailed by Rolling Stone and Billboard critic Chet Flippo as “extraordinary, establishing Burch as a leader in marrying country’s roots tradition with a modern sensibility” and placed #5 in the Top 10 Country Records of the 90’s by the editors of Amazon.com when it was released in 1996. Since then he has released 10 albums. The latest is Fevers and it is one of his best.

He has also collaborated with artists as diverse as Ralph Stanley, Mark Knopfler, Vic Chesnutt, Beverly Knight, Ray Price and on the GRAMMY nominated comeback by Charlie Louvin. He acted as music consultant to the PBS film The Appalachians. 

Paul has featured in Lonesome Highway in the past and we were happy to catch up with his musing on Fevers  and his Pan-American music. 

First off let me say that I think Fevers is a great album.

Thanks a lot.

I wondered with ten albums under your belt including one with the Waco Brothers how you approach to writing and recording has changed through the years?

Each album seems different to me and feels different to me - probably because I tend to think about music impressionistically. I think in terms of moods and colors. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have glasses when I first needed them (laughs) but I like the blur and the detail in equal measure.  Today, I know I’m happier, more at ease and more curious about sound and what happens to our emotions when you hear a certain instrument. I’m more confident that as long as I’m enjoying myself it will all work out. If you were to look at my notebooks - what the scribbles look like - or looked at the back of the tape boxes, one wouldn’t find big differences. I still don’t record a lot of takes. I’d rather come back at a later time if a song doesn’t fall together. Some songs come quick.  Others have to simmer. I still record live - I still leave spaces in my songs for us to fill things in as we feel it at the session.  I use a lot of the same people but in different combinations each time.

I think the main difference is that though I’m aware of what’s going on I don’t feel like things will fall apart if I don’t pay close attention to every detail.  I like the surprise of listening back and not being quite sure of who is playing what. I welcome small disasters.  If the bass player can’t make it, then I make a record with just guitar and drums - which is a gas.  If drums can’t make it, we find a way to feel as if that instrument is there anyway.  I feel freer to take chances as I get older because I don’t feel like I can do any harm. A collection of songs written within a period of time and recorded within that same time period will have a ‘sound.’  And even though I work in the same studio and with a lot of the same musicians, even we notice how songs we recorded - say, the year before - will sound different than what we’re doing right now.  

I’m currently coming to my sessions a little less prepared than I used to.  I know the melody, the rhythm, and the feel, but I don’t make as many sketches ahead of time like I used to.  I allow a lot of room to make up mind on the spot, depending on how well I’m performing the songs for the band and what kind of mood they’re in.  Patience is a lot more satisfying than it used to be. When I first moved to town, I’d often hear more experienced musicians say that the difficult thing to learn was how to add more intensity without just reaching for the volume knob. So now that I’m a little older I think I know what they mean.  

My first years in Nashville were a bit hard. I was getting so much advice left and right that it was hard to loosen up.  I had to have blinders on to make sure I stayed focused on what I was after.  However a lot of people who gave me a hard time aren’t in the business anymore (laughs) and the people who did support me have thrived.  So, I stuck with the people who said “yeah - that’s good. Keep going.” And now my vision is much wider. 

How important is getting that balance between contemporary sensibilities and traditional roots play a part when you conceptualize the music?

I’m not aware if I strike a balance between the two partly because I’m not sure I can define what is traditional and what is modern.  It’s a good question but I don’t phrase it that way in my head.  I don’t feel that the Mississippi Sheiks are not contemporary. For instance, they have songs like “Bed Spring Poker” and “Blood In My Eyes.”  And I think there are plenty of people who can relate to the sentiments expressed in those songs.    

Are they traditional per say because their music is old?

The Sheiks were very contemporary in their time. And they were young—they were not old men talking about what used to be.  If one compares them to say, the Black Keys - who are quite good - I’d say the Black Keys are much more traditional than Jimmie Rodgers or the Mississippi Sheiks.  The Black Keys for instance mostly sound like things I’ve heard before - in fact very specific things I’ve heard before. Their songs are quotes upon quotes. I can’t tell who they are personally.   But no one sounds like Jimmie or the Sheiks - who were by the way good friends.  So yes, if you want the roots of the blues as we know it, listen to the Sheiks.  But there’s no reason you can’t arrange their songs for beat music or rock and not make yourself understood.  

In that light how much have your influences and inspirations changed during that time?

I think I’m in a normal cycle of immersion and substitution. Music from India or Central America, Eastern Europe, Africa - new, old - is more immediately interesting. I say that because the music of my childhood has been sold and resold so many times and in so many ways that when I hear it now, it’s a bit flat.  I can’t meditate to it - so to speak. I will come back to it and appreciate it but I need to give it a break.  From the 60s onward, music got very produced in that the artists were aware that rock and roll was not just a type of music but a social posture.  There’s little room for improvisation in - say - a song by The Beatles even though they were beautiful, creative people.  Dylan’s music suffers from the same sense of inflation.  I don’t want to hear “Tangled Up in Blue” as theme music to sell minty bathroom cleaner. I overheard Tom Petty say his generation would never have chosen their iconic musicians from a tv show. I guess he was referring to talent shows. Well then what were the Monkees? What was Jimi Hendrix on the Dick Cavett show?. Harry Nilsson’s the Point? Does that mean that Tom Petty has a grudge? Has he just not been asked to be on American Idol and he thinks he should?  Well, his generation produced those modern talent tv shows.  No one can thrust the knife deeper than the one that loves you. I get where he’s coming from, but once the rot sets in, you just have to open your heart and your ears and you’ll always find something out there that’s creative on its own terms.  Tom should shut up and play guitar. That’s what he’s good at. And he’s very good. 

Living and working in Nashville has the city changed a lot. There seems to be a much broader mass-market/pop ethos at work especially on Music Row. How has that affected you? 

I’m sure it has but I don’t have much traffic with what’s happening on what’s left of Music Row.  There are wonderful technical creative people there - world class talents for ensuring your music sounds good and is ready to be heard however you made it. Music Row - as far as the country music field -  used to be a place that embraced creative people who also happened to be pot smoking, pill popping, road educated wild dogs that might sleep until 4pm but also might write two or three songs a day.  They believed in the ethos of the poet as a siren and a broadcaster.  

Maybe that exists today but one has to be cautious and smuggle your way through.  Long hair, short hair - it’s all a disguise now.  The best artists are smuggling their way through life.  When you find someone who freely admits they want to make some money because they’re tired of worrying about making their rent, you’ve probably found a real artist.  

There’s a lot of people who will call themselves artists without having produced anything the same ones who claim they’re not in for the money. And that’s complete bullshit.  John Lennon and Paul McCartney used to say they’d sit down and say: “let’s write a swimming pool.”  Elvis wanted to buy his Mom a house. Robert Johnson wanted to buy a woman.  I wouldn’t trust anybody who says they’re not in it for the glory of art and also a little cash, too. 

Fevers has a broad palate in relation to the music yet has a cohesive whole. How wide do you think that the music can be before in begins to loose a central cohesion?

It may have already snapped for all I know.  But sometimes you have to do that to make break new ground. But that’s a good question.  I freely admit to not knowing the answer to except that sometimes it feels right to not worry about it.  A studio is after all a room—like an artist studio or a film studio.  The right performance for any medium is the one that feels right for that moment. The shot or the take or the stroke that achieves balance and harmony usually feels right to everyone involved.  There have been very few edits in my music.  Only one that I can think of and usually if there’s a mistake but the take is obviously very good, we just pick up right where we ran off the road.  So every take on the record - good or bad - is a performance, a picture. A planned picture but still the performance itself is all action. 

If you look at a Kenji Mizoguchi film, each shot has perspective and balance and harmony.  And so the story from a distance has harmony and even a resolution that’s not sweet or satisfying has harmony, too. If I’m committed and I feel that the musicians are enjoying themselves, it will probably turn out all right.  True, I’m not sure Fevers is cohesive.  But it felt like it went together and I’m ok if takes some time for me to figure out just how it worked or if, in fact, only half of it worked!  

An album is the format that’s called for these days but in the future, I might try to be more selective of what becomes an album and what’s a series of - say - singles.  But that’s not reflective of Fevers per se.  I embraced the fact that it was all over the place. It felt right at the time. In the future if another album seemed to be going that way, I might ponder another course, just so I don’t repeat myself. 

Since your early days on Lower Broadway it has changed to a thriving tourist area with a lot of music in a lot of bars. Do you think that is a good or bad thing?

Good or bad it was probably inevitable but I think it was a lost opportunity.  I would have loved for it to become a place where those of us in Nashville who love to perform could pop in and do a little show.  My feeling is the tourists would welcome a chance to hear songs in their early stages by well known artists.  But most artists are too insecure to hit the stage with no set list, no back drop, no handlers.  As for me, I’m ready to go. If someone calls me and says: “come play rhythm guitar right now” for a session, day or night, I’m ready.  There’s a lot of improv spirit in me. If there’s a community in Nashville that welcomes that spirit, I’d like to be a member.  

Through your career you have worked with a number of independent labels. How important a factor are these labels to an albums release?

It always feels good if someone likes your work and I think it’s good to be on a label. The sense of community is important. And if they wish to spend their money and their time to make you part of their group of artists, that’s a great accomplishment - even if it doesn’t work out. In the independent world, I take the risk to make it and they take the risk to see if they can sell it in the marketplace.  

It’s always been hard for me to be a salesman.  I love to perform but I don’t feel comfortable in standing up on a rooftop and declaring someone should set aside their entire evening - go to dinner, get a babysitter, pay for parking, pay for drinks, and pay for a ticket to come see me.  This attitude has confounded labels in the past.  “Why are you doing this if you don’t want to be famous?” - they ask me. But I wanted to be part of an artistic community. I thought if you’re on a label, then you should promote work among the artists on your label rather than have 12 or 15 different artists running in all different directions that don’t talk to each other or don’t know each other.  

You asked how I keep going after 10 albums. Because album number “11” is going to be really good - I hope! But I’ve always been given creative freedom and benefit of the doubt.  So there’s nothing to complain about.  Not everyone does business well together.   

I do appreciate Plowboy, my current label. Plowboy and I are in the same city - Nashville - so they’ve seen me solo, as a duo, trio, septet, electric, acoustic, rock and roll, country, even on Moog.  So when they have a suggestion or a critique, I know it comes from observation. When you can talk face to face - everything, even the misunderstandings—always point forward. The old labels made their money back but their involvement was very small—both socially and financially. They released the music and then never spoke to me again for the most part (laughs) so I have no idea - to this day - what their expectations were business wise. 

When you started out was it your aim to sigh with a major. Has that ambition changed?

I think when I started, I was very wary of major labels but I didn’t understand their system either - which is mostly gone. I felt at the time that my ability to be any good was a bit fragile. I just didn’t know any major labels that would have found me marketable.  Occasionally they come around still but sadly, it’s quite rare to find someone in the music business who is truly fearless.  Shannon Pollard of Plowboy is probably the only person I’ve met who just doesn’t blink. If he likes it, he likes it and nothing else about fads or the business is going to faze him.   

Last Of My Kind was inspired by Jim Earley’s book Jim The Boy which was a different process for you. Would you like to explore that way of working in the future? 

I’m currently writing a group of songs based on events in Jimmie Rodgers’ life –from his point of view.  And some of the approach is similar, including the concern that I’m not sure exactly how it will fall together. But the writing is very different and I like it so far. 

You have acted as musical director on PBS show The Appalachians. With the success of shows like True Blood and other series do you have ambitions towards working in that context again through TV or with a film? 

I really lucked into those instances. I’d love to score for film, but it would probably depend on someone with very little budget and great enthusiasm for my work for it to happen again. Not to mention great patience. I’d have a lot to learn for such an endeavor - doing an actual soundtrack.  But I think that way by nature.  A few summers ago, I stumbled upon a make-shift outdoor theater where someone was playing piano to a silent film by Buster Keaton.  I day dream about that scene all the time - the sound of the piano, the editing of the film, the lights that crisscrossed the open area where people had gathered to watch the film, a girl who sat off to the side, smoking a cigarette.  It was its own movie.  It was thrilling and I would gladly have written the soundtrack for that night on the spot.  

Having a studio do you actively seek work as a producer?

I say that I don’t but if I meet someone whose sound I like, I reflexively invite them over. But I’m not in the studio business.  I find I turn down a lot of artists—especially if I get a sense that they’re just hungry to have someone put an arm around them and tell them it’s going to be ok.  I need that more than they do!

My first impulse is to be generous, quickly followed by regret that I’ve allowed a crazy person to take over my life when all I want to do is to make some music (laughs).  But I’m sympathetic to how hard it is to have a good experience in the studio. I love being in the studio and I want to help. My time is precious too, so I have to be cautious.  Working with David Olney was great. He cut a master on the first or second take—vocal, guitar, drums—finis!  Garry Tallent of the E Street Band is making a solo album at my place.  And he cut everything in a couple takes.  You look at the reel of tape and it has 6 songs.  Now that’s what I call making a record!  I learn something new whenever someone comes in.  But a good studio experience means many things to many people.  

How difficult is it survive as a professional musician these days? 

I think it’s pretty hard. I’ve had a full time job during my time in Nashville. I think I’d have to hit a pretty big well to truly kick back and say “now I will only write.” But I keep digging.  

What’s next for Paul Burch? 

Digging for that oil, baby.  As Nick Cave sings, Dig, Lazarus, dig. 

Interview by Stephen Rapid

Wednesday
Jul092014

Interview with Willy Vlautin

Lonesome Highway has had the pleasure of interviewing Willy Vlautin on several occasions. It has always be an open and interesting exchange. We are fans of Willy's writing both his songs and his novels and his down-to-earth demeanour. Here we got his responses on some topics such as ...

On The Delines

Well the singer Amy Boone is the whole focus of the band. The songs are heavy on the country ballad, a country soul feel whereas Richmond Fontaine were more country punk and could be a lot of different things this is more of a late night thing with Amy’s at the forefront. So the songs I wrote where for her to sing, which was really fun for me. So the first thing was I really loved her voice and I wanted to be in a band with her. I like hearing the way she talks and I loved the Damnations, her band with her sister. So when I thought to write songs for her I suddenly realised I had more courage to write as she can pull of a lot of stuff that I can’t. There’s a lot of songs that she sings that I don’t have the guts to sing. I get embarrassed singing really romantic songs but I can write those songs for her. I can get closer to trying to write something more a classic country soul tune. I wouldn’t have the courage to sing that kind of stuff often. I tend to write songs around my voice and what I feel I can pull off. So that’s actually really freeing and fun. They’re the kind of songs I’ve always wanted to write and I’ve written a bunch of new songs for this project so I’m hoping it carries on.

On Colfax 

I wrote all the song for Amy, they weren’t songs I had other than one of the tunes I’d written as a poem/short story called “He told her the city was killing him”. Aside from that I wrote them all thing about her to sing. We’d been on the road together as she’d toured with Richmond Fontaine, she toured with us. Listening to her sing every night and warming up with the Bessie Smith type of songs she’d come up with. I though man, I really love to be in a band with a real singer, a good singer, it would be so much fun. I was saying to het that she should write so more of those soul style songs and she said to me “well then, why don’t you write me a record”. I think she was just joking and she doesn’t remember saying that but it was something that I wanted to hear. So when I got off the road I just started to write her songs. I probably wrote a good year’s worth of songs before I even told her I was writing. Then I did demos of them and wrote her a long thesis on why she should join a band with me and hen I send her the songs and thank God she wanted to do it.

On Richmond Fontaine’s next album

We’re mixing a new record right now but I’d like to keep doing this band too. I love marrying a Rhodes and Wurlitzer with pedal steel. I feel it creates a spaciness and I’ve always loved the soul ballads. I’d like to do both. So if I can pull it off I’d like to be in both bands and write novels. I’d be a happy man then. 

On receiving praise

I always feel like it’s dodging a bullet when somebody likes something I do. I tried so hard on that book and it about killed me. I think I spent about three and a half years writing it pretty much off the road. I rewrote it thirteen times and that’s before I even showed it to anyone. It was such a heated and personal subject for me. It was a tricky novel. I’m really happy people liked it but I’m also really happy that it’s behind me. I love writing more than anything and I guess that The Free is a little more complex in structure. You hope that you get better at what you do bit I do worry that maybe I’m getting dumber as I get older and I know that I’m not a master but I keep trying hard. Some days I look in the mirror and I think “Jeez, I’m looking worse every day” but you still try to wear a clean shirt. 

On doing a book tour

Touring a book is fun because you get to be in a book store. I just rode around to book stores and gave readings. It’s healthy. Most people who go to my readings are middle aged or older and no one’s dredging you out to go and get drunk every night. When I’m driving around I listen to books on CD and as I usually driving by myself going through state after state to talk about books at night. I try the best I can to not get suckered into going out after. 

On being interviewed by Roddy Doyle

That’s different. That night was like finding a million dollars on the side walk. It was just a lucky break for me. My grandmother gave me The Commitments when it first came out because she knew I liked music and she knew I was a big reader. So I’d followed his career from his very first book. To imagine that I’d get to sit next to him and that he’d read my book was something that’s hard to explain about how lucky it made me feel. Then to find out that besides from being a great writer that he was a really nice man, that he was really smart and really humble and has great taste in books, movies and music and that he was interested in people was great. He was one of the most down to earth guys I’d met. He knows he’s a good writer but he also know it’s not the most important thing in the world. A lot of guys who are famous get big heads, so I loved that night. He and I went and had a drink afterwards. Which I thought was really nice that he took the time to do that. I tried not to talk too much. 

On ego

I’ve toured with bands that right when they get to have a green room with a twelve pack of beer and some sandwiches they get a taste of it and then it’s “why aren’t these sandwiches on rye bread”. And you thing man, six months ago we were eating at 711 and sleeping on people’s floor. So I think it’s something that’s inside them. I’ve always been interested in that seeing when people get to a position of power or when people like what they’re doing that their personality changes. In every walk of life you have your moments when you do good and you do bad. 

On assessing his work

I’m really proud of Richmond Fontaine for sticking around and trying really hard over the years to make cool records, records we loved. If I had to narrow it down I’d say getting a book published was something I’d always dreamed about. Maybe some guys dream of owning a speedboat or marrying a model but I just wanted to publish a book. I also really love this Delines project so I’m really excited to be in this band too.

On being a writer

I never think of things that way. I decided a long time ago that I just wanted to be part of it. I like being around musicians and writers. I like aligning myself with that club. I want to be in that army in life. I’ve always approached things as a fan. It’s hard when you compare yourself to the greats - the great novelists - I read some and feel that it’s as far away from as the moon to be able to write as good as those guys. But to be a part of it is enough. Steinbeck said a really great quote that always stuck with me which was something to the effect that “I knew early on I wasn’t going to be a great artist, I didn’t have what it took, I didn’t have the brains to write a brilliant novel but I worked hard and I’m going to take the gift that hard work gives you. That makes  you feel decent about your self”. I’ve always looked at it that way and I’ll work until I drop to be as good as I can be. To make a record as good as I think I can get it and then move on. I feel good about that. Tonight I get to share the stage with great musicians and other great bands like the Lost Brothers - two guys who sing as good as anybody. If I didn’t keep trying I’d be at home just watching the TV. I get to meet other musicians and to hear about their adventures. If you stay in the fight and are open minded and you get a good run. 

On being in a band

The camaraderie of being in a band is a really hard thing to quit whether you’re good at it or not. I’ve always liked being a part of something. Being in this band is fun I can just be the guitar player where as in Fontaine I’m the singer and guitar player but I’m just a cog. But I like that. I like being a part of a group and I’ve never been able to shake that. To be with your friends after a gig is really fun and I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid. I’ve tried to quit it and ,a s they say, it’s like trying to quit a bad woman … it takes a long time. I haven’t figured out how to quit being a musician.

Interview by Stephen Rapid  Photograph by Ronnie Norton

Sunday
Jun012014

Interview with Jace Everett

 

After signing to Sony Nashville Jace Everett released one self-titled album on Epic in 2006 before parting company with the label. Since then he has released independently, the live album, Old New Borrowed Blues and three albums through Humphead in the UK; Red RevelationsMr Good Times and his current critically acclaimed album, Terra Rosa. Jace was touring Europe to back up the launch of his latest album.

We started our conversation talking about artists who, early on in their careers may have made a country orientated album, but are then, for the remainder of their career often found in the country section. kd lang would be a prime example. As Everett remarked “I haven’t called myself a country artist for ten years. I’ve made three rock records in a row and there are elements of country in them and that includes my voice.” He is mostly still to be found lurking in the country section of record stores. Indeed, to emphasise that, Wikipedia has his genre listed as country.

Country music is now a hugely expanded category that takes in a wide range of music. What is now generally accepted as mainstream country is a pop-orientated confection that is aimed at a young audience. This is nothing that hasn’t happened in the past though. “You can go back to the past when everyone talks about there being good country music, but it’s just like everything else; it was mostly crap with a little bit of really good stuff and as time passes you remember the really good stuff. That whole countrypolitan sound that Chet Atkins made famous in the 60s that wasn’t country either. You had a hillbilly singer with some songs about drinking and domestic life and they made a pop record around it. That’s just the same thing.”

I remark that it was said to me by a musician that much of what they hear in roots rock tends to sound not unlike Rockpile; a blend of good rock and roots elements. Everett agrees. “Steve Earle is the perfect example. On Guitar Town he sounds like he’s a rock ’n’ roller.” We talk about the rock influence that there is now, which is quite different from the harder edged music that emerged earlier as cow-punk with bands like Jason and The Scorchers. Everett’s take on that is that is that ”the songwriters in Nashville now, there’s about fifteen guys who write all the songs for all the artists and those guys grew up digging Bon Jovi, Poison and Ratt music that was crap then and it’s crap now! Those bands, God bless ‘em, they had their niche. They were faux metal. There was the real metal and then those guys with a pretty lead singer or guitar player and they wrote songs that Bobby Darin would be doing but with screaming guitar and screaming vocals. It’s the same thing as that. It wasn’t real rock. 

He further elaborates on the situation by saying “there’s some stuff like the new Jason Isbell album (Southwestern) which is phenomenal, it’s killing me. He’s set the bar so high. To me it’s really fantastic and it’s more country than whats on country radio. Both sonically and lyrically, to me, that’s what country music could be. He’s just sold out three nights at the Ryman. Here’s a guy with 55,000 Twitter followers and they booked out the show so that had to add a second and a third. You know why? Because people know that he’s real. They trust him and he puts on a great show and has a catalogue of great songs. He doesn’t have handlers, he does his own tweeting. To me that is authenticity, not the sound of the music you make, but the spirit of the music.”

As an Indiana born, Texas bred, Nashville based artist there is a natural flavouring of country music in Jace’s make-up which he accepts: “I write some country songs and sing some country songs but I also write rock and all sorts of other songs. But marketing wise, as the old marketing shtick says, you have to have a label to put on something to say that ‘this is what this is’ and we’re going to market it that way. They decode to mix it a certain way to put him in this kind of shirt, and make this kind of video, and make it this kind of thing. In your iTunes list you have rock, punk, jazz - you have it all and so does everyone else but they need to ghetto-ise it before you buy it. They don’t want to think for themselves. I’m hopeful that in the next ten years, if people aren’t lazy, then the internet will empower people to be more energetic and search, but it seems to have the opposite effect.”

Downloading seems to be the normal route for a lot of fans now, often as they can’t get what they want any other way. How, I asked, was the physical product he had for sale faring? “It’s doing well physically, especially with the vinyl. But I think that it’s 2014 and I’ve basically made a concept album about biblical themes and not stuck with a specific genre of music (which) means that it’s really hard to sell (laughs). But there’re people out there and that’s why they love it. They want to listen to all eleven tracks; they don’t want to go to just the song that they might have heard on this or that TV show. I don’t know and really I don’t care. I have to make the records I have to make. It’s a slower growth and it’s harder work.”

We talked about the way marketing at major labels (and some smaller ones) tend to want to package an artist as a brand and I argued that every band (or artist), to a degree, is a brand. It depends on how and why you market it. If some of the acts I admire got the same kind of attention as major label acts get, like heavy rotation at radio, they would stand a good chance of having a hit. Everett makes a point that that is not always the case and cites his own experience. “Bad Things is proof positive. That song, which is known globally, when we first put that out to country radio it didn’t break the Top 50 in the United States. We played it on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and it didn’t make a blip on sales. We had it as an iTunes download of the week and it had 220,000 downloads but that didn’t translate to anything.  But then it went into a TV show and now people who don’t give a rat’s tail about Jace Everett love that song. I think that perhaps 2% of the people who love Bad Things in True Blood have gone out and listened to Jace Everett. If they don’t hear five more songs that sound like Bad Things they walk. I don’t know if I have five more songs like that! (laughs) I think I may have three. If I was really in it for the money I’d try and make an album of Bad Things x 12. There was some of that on Red Revelations, but it was natural and organic. It was what I felt at the time.”

Could he define why the song has taken off in such a way other than being in the context of a successful TV series? "I think it’s the hook 'I want to do bad things to you'. That’s the cute country hook. Musically it sounds like twenty other songs, so you’ve heard it a hundred times already. It’s John Lee Hooker, it’s the Rolling Stones, it’s ZZ Top, it’s Chris Isaak. You’ve heard the riff and the groove so that’s comforting.” I wondered if there was any confusion between the Isaak song and Jace’s? “Yeah, he’s got Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing and people confuse the two songs all the time even though they’re really not that much alike except for the words “bad thing”. I tell that story because I ripped Bad Things off from Steve Earle. There’s a song on his I Feel Alright that if you go listen to Poor Boy Blues next to Bad Things and it’s the same chord progression but minor instead of major. I told Steve this when we did a gig together and he just looked at me like I was an asshole. We did a gig together back in Nashville at Christmas. There’s a band called the Long Players and they play a classic rock record from top to bottom and they do then greatest hits. Steve and myself and a few other guys were there doing Blood on The Tracks. It seemed appropriate to my situation at the time.”

Most artists at least have an idea of where they may go next with their music yet Everett has no firm plans, but ideas were forming. “I’ve got some ideas and Dan (Cohen), my partner in crime who plays guitar with me on all my records and who is my co-publisher and is touring with me, has a new record just come out called Bluebird and that is very different from Terra Rosa. He sings and writes and plays and it’s a whole different kind of animal, (but) there’s a juxtaposition between what we do together and when we’re apart. But I feel that the next record will be a more stripped down approach like Beyond the Wall and Love Cut Me Down on Terra Rosa. They’re much more live in approach, one take. So I think the next record may be that. I think every single song will be boy/girl situation. That’s what’s resonating with me as a writer right now. I’m pretty confident that I will work with Brad Jones as my co-producer again. Dan will definitely be on guitar (with) Derek Mixon on drums and James Cook on bass. Those guys have been pretty good to me so far.” It’s important, in that situation, to have the right players around you, the ones who understand the songs and who know what you’re trying to get out of the songs and the sonic environment. At least that’s what I have often found in the past. Everett concurs “You have four or five guys in a room who really are great players and me. My guitar is mixed quietly as I’m not really a great player, but I’m a good singer. They listen to me and I listen to them and we actually do the thing. Like the rock musicians of old without getting into Pro-tools.” Something that the Sound City documentary directed by Dave Grohl shows very well; the interaction of doing it for real, in real time. It’s not the way that everyone works or even the current way of building a track from the ground up. But if you want feel, this is the way to approach it.

On the other hand good results can come from other working processes as Everett explains. “The song No Place to Hide has been in four TV shows now. I did that whole thing, just me in a room. There’re just two real guitars on it, everything else I played in the computer, so there’s no formula for me (as) to what works. I think what’s authentic for me is to serve the song. Whatever the song requires, whether it’s a drum machine or a marching band, you make that happen.”

Would he consider making a straight country album, given that country music now means quite a different thing from when he signed to Sony Nashville? Jace gave me this answer: “I haven’t honestly and here’s why. Country in the States is a different thing than it is here. If I did one, it would be very Americana. Actually the record I’m thinking of doing is that kind of direction, but it won’t be considered country in the United States. A male country artist is a demographic thing. You’re writing songs for people, and I’ve nothing against them, who vote republican, who are white, people who do most of their shopping at Wal-Mart and who like to hunt, fish and watch sports. I’m white but none of those other things are true of me (laughs). Actually, I’m more  pink, but … that’s not really who I am, so I can’t be disingenuous and try and play into that. For better or for worse I enjoy being able to be me.” He further elaborates on his time within the belly of the beast. ”When I did the Sony album, I wasn’t in love with it.  I loved various tracks and there’re songs on that record that I have never played. Now the only track I play off that album is Bad Things. That pisses some people off, but I’m ok with that. I don’t mind pissing some people off! If I felt compelled to play a track from that album tonight I would but I don’t. It was a record that was made by committee. I made compromises and that’s fine, as it is what it is and I agreed at the time. I didn’t get bullied.”

Jace’s set consists of original material, but does he ever throw a cover tune in to the mix? It is often used as a way for an audience to relate to what an artist is, by comparing how they treat the cover song compared to the original. “I don’t do many covers, mostly out of laziness. I used to be to be in a covers band for ten years playing classic songs and top of the chart stuff. That’s how I ate, making 200 bucks a night. Since I don’t have to do that anymore I don’t want to do that anymore. I may have to do it again at some point but, in truth, I don’t think I would.  I’d rather go back to waiting tables or driving a truck.” But was the point about making a song your own a valid one? “Yes, U2 did songs like Fortunate Son on their b-sides and they explored the sound they were working with and I think that’s hip. It’s cool. I did that Howling Wolf song Evil with CC Adcock and with Dan and we made that our own. I’ve done some Buddy Holly. I’ve done some Cash and I’ve done some Waylon on stage, but I don’t feel compelled to do a bunch of covers. Everett then tells me about his first encounter with Adcock. “His first words to me were “Hey man, fuck you”. And I said ‘and you are?’ I’m not actually fazed by that kind of introduction. I think ‘have you heard about me or have we met before’ (laughs).” It turned out one of CC Adcock’s songs was also up for the opening credits on True Blood. “That’s how we met, at the premier of True Blood.” It must have turned out ok as they worked together on the aforementioned song Evil by bringing the best of their respective abilities to the song.

Jace Everett is a powerful performer especially with Dan Cohen and they should be seen live at every opportunity. After Dublin they were off to Europe to do some full band dates before reverting to a duo again at the end of the tour. Everett is honest and humorous and not the least cautious in his responses. I muse that the media training didn’t pay off, something as well as his music that we can be thankful for.

Interview by Stephen Rapid    Edited by Sandy Harsch   Photography by Ronnie Norton

Monday
May122014

Beth Nielsen Chapman Interview

Beth Nielsen Chapman was born in Texas in the 1958. In 1976, Chapman was playing in Montgomery, Alabama with the group Harmony for whom she played acoustic guitar and piano as well as singing. She later achieved success as a songwriter in her own right with many artists recording her songs. Beth has released 12 solo albums since 1980. The latest titled Uncovered came out this year.

When you started as a musician, who were your main influences?

Being brought up in an air force family we moved every few years all through my childhood. I think I was exposed to so many more types of music and culture.  But when I was around 11 or 12 and starting to write songs, I would say I was hugely influenced by the late 60’s troubadours to the singer-songwriters of the 70’s. Also, by then I was already dialled in on the great song writing of the 30s and 40s by way of my parent’s record player! Then throw in the Beatles and stir! 

Did you find it hard to gain a foothold in the industry when you started out and what was your first big break?

Initially in my late teens I found myself already signed to a publishing/artist agreement,  not a very good one.  But by 1980 I had signed with Screen Gems Publishing and Capitol Records.   I recorded my first record at the legendary Muscle Shoals sound studio with Barry Beckett producing.  The record came out at the same time as the huge blastoff of disco.  So it wasn’t to be my time. Ten years later I put out my second record on Warner Reprise,  so I guess you could say it as a long process!

With 10 studio recordings, spanning 20 plus years, what changes have you noticed in your approach to song writing over the time?

I teach a lot around the process of song writing. And I continue to re-learn myself that (the) best approach to song writing is always from a childlike place of play and openness. So after all the years of writing I’m still courting that fresh intuitive step off into the “unknown”.

Do your early songs stand the test of time or do you ever wish to review them and bring the perspective of an older view to bear, in hindsight?

In my very early songs there are a few gems I think still hold up today. But most are me trying things, and though they are good, there is still a lack of consolidation for the idea or what the song exists to say. Not that they all have to be super important, but there is an element of coherence and focus in a great song—no matter the subject matter---that illuminates it clearly and resonates. I don’t feel drawn to go back and rewrite from an older perspective. Too busy writing from now!

You have written many songs for other artists; Bonnie Raitt, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Faith Hill, Waylon Jennings and Martina McBride to name just a few. Tell me about the challenges here and how you got started on this road

Not sure I understand the question; the challenges of having my songs recorded by these artists?  None whatsoever!

When you tour and hear your creative muse affirmed and celebrated by admirers all over the globe, how do you feel and does the affirmation encourage you to continue playing live?

All of the above! Performing feeds writing and writing feeds performing and both feed me!

I have heard you say that the creative spark flows through you when you open yourself to the opportunity – is this the secret to successful song-writing?

I believe that creativity is like air.  Like oxygen. It’s there for everyone to tap into and pull through the filter of each person’s perspective, history and heart. It’s like a flow that washes through us as we breathe it in and breathe it out with our renderings. Just like some people can take a deeper breath than others, I believe some of us are breathing into our creativity much more shallowly than we have to. There are many reasons for this, from being damaged, or discouraged, or being caught up in a belief that they are “not creative” masses of people live their lives defining themselves this way and by doing so limit their own experience of the “divine intervention” of the creative flow. Nothing pleases me more than seeing someone shift out of this prison and start to experience their birthright as a creative person.

If you have a unique insight into the creative firmament, it lies in the fact that so many artists have wanted your song-writing talents and a guiding hand – is this ever daunting?

Hmmm….well I do feel very fortunate to have had some incredible artists record my songs. It’s always a thrill and I’ve never had any feeling whatsoever of it being daunting. I’ve also enjoyed co-writing with some of those artists. But most are really great songwriters and don’t need me to write with them. But it’s such a blast to write together! 

You are very generous with your gifts and have mentored many young musicians over the course of your career. When I look at a local talent like Ruth Trimble, who now tours and plays with you on a regular basis; what does it take for artists like this to break through the queue of talented hopefuls to sit at the commercial table for the feast?

It takes great songs or the potential for great songs and also it takes a very centered good head on their shoulders. Ruth is very rooted and a joy to work with.I often tell her the biggest threat to me (who’s now grown to depend on her organizational skills!) IS the fact that she’s a very talented artist and writer and it won’t be long ‘til she’s going to be doing the full time “Ruth Trimble” career! Learning about the business is essential to a long successful career in music,  that and producing great music -  both very different muscles, but both important in the long run. It’s rare to find someone so young who’s got a command of both. But then Ruth was managing a Boots Pharmacy when I met her!  So coping with a tour is probably a walk in the park by comparison. Still she needs to make time to keep writing great songs. In other words….try to clone herself!  If only!

As an Irish Artist, how great a talent does Ruth Trimble have when compared to the long line of recognised singer-songwriters that you have worked with?

I’m not sure I’d make a distinction like “as an Irish Artist”. She stands on her own as uniquely talented and original. Where she can go with that is limitless.

You have toured Ireland previously and I wanted to ask about the reaction that you received to your body of work at the various shows?

I’ve always felt very welcomed by Ireland and aware of a deep appreciation for poetry and songs. It doesn’t get better than that!

You display a deep spirituality in your writing and you speak of the love of God in our lives. Given the cards that you have been dealt, with the death of your first husband and your battles against both breast cancer and a brain tumour; what do you draw on for continued strength along your journey?

I’m a very hopeful person generally and I have always felt deeply connected in my beliefs and at the same time have, even as a little girl, always believed that all cultures and paths of faith reflect back from the same source of spirit. (It is)as if humanity was a big diamond with lots of different angles, but one big gorgeous light shining through it all. That comforts me and as I draw from my spiritual roots for strength in my life~ and it also brings me a deep respect for other cultures and their way of celebrating their connection to the divine light of spirit. 

I wanted to ask about your approach to song writing, in that you can appear to write essentially from personal experience. Does this sensitivity and vulnerability, when you share difficult themes, challenge you in trying to strike an appropriate balance?

It’s interesting that in most writing the most specific incidental detail can illuminate and trigger a much broader emotion in a song. When trying to be broad or general a song ends up being very boring.  It’s the personal bits that connect folks to the stuff of life and the deeper meaning. I sort of write my way through my grief, joy and feelings. Even if not one of those songs ever went out the door, the writing of them has already had a value to me. Add in that a song can then go off into the world and lift someone else who hears it later and there’s the gift. 

Finally, having pleased your rural Irish fans with a recent tour, can we expect a return visit in the near future?

Yes!  I’m thrilled to be working with a great company MCD and Mission PR and will be back in September 27th performing at Whelan’s and there will be other gigs coming throughout the south around that time!

Interview by Paul McGee. Photograph by Vincent Lennon

Tuesday
Apr292014

Moot Davis Interview by Stephen Rapid

 

1 Great jacket on the cover. A Manuel? It’s a contrast to the suited Moot of Man About Town. Which one is closer to your spirit?

Thank you, that suit was made by Jaime Custom Tailoring in Hollywood, CA several years ago. He makes stage clothes for Dwight Yoakam, Chris Isaak and ZZ Top. When I got hooked up with Pete Anderson back in 2003, I started going to Jaime to have things made. Believe it or not, I’m still paying off this jacket. 

After I take all the photos from an album shoot, I try to find ones that speak to me, that standout, that are evocative and tell a story.  This album cover is strong image and there’s mystery to it. And it’s the mystery that I identify with more so then the rhinestone suit or the business suit of “Man About Town”.

2 To the music now. The press release describes it as more roadhouse rock than country. Was that a natural development?

It’s a natural progression going from the honky-tonk stuff to more sort of classic rock and that’s really what I’ve been listening to a lot of. I still revisit the old “golden era” honky-tonk stuff every now and then but it seems to be on the more of a special occasion. “Man About Town”, had 3 or 4 rockers and the rest country/honky tonk, my plan was always to flip that on this album. 

3 You are using your regular band on this album. Did this allow you to work the songs up live in advance?

Yea, we worked on the songs for about a year and a half. I would write them and bring them to the band and I have a rough sketch but we really started beating the songs up and give them their own kind of sound as I would bring them in. So it was a really nice change to have my own guys (Bill Corvino, Joe Mekler, Michael Massimino)with me as opposed to using studio musicians which can be a little sterile. 

4 All your albums have been produced with a guitarist/producer. Do you find that’s advantageous recording with a working musician?

 Yes, plus I really love the sound of the guitar and I love people who know how to play it. I also find that communicating with guitar players who are also songwriters (both Pete and Kenny write some killer songs), makes a big difference.  So it’s the combination of them being a working musician and songwriter that I find this most attractive.

5 A lot of artist seem to be seeking a description to define what they play feeling that the straight term “country” is open to be misunderstood these days. What’s your take on that?

Well, I’m less interested in labels and terms and more focused on songs.  When I sit down and work with the guitar, I never know what’s going to come out. I mean, it’s kind of like a channel and if it works that day, you’re an open channel and I’m receiving some sort information from somewhere and whether that’s going to be country or roadhouse rocker or whatever, I really don’t know. And I try not to ask too many questions about it, I just try to dial  in the cosmic radio, to get the right frequency you know? 

6 You have worked outside the major label system but were you ever approached by a major label?

I did, SONY Nashville got very interested right around the same time I hooked up with Pete Anderson. They flew out to see us play in Los Angeles and we had dinner afterwords. They were all very nice, and they called me a few days later asking me if I wanted to play ball.  I had the gut feeling that I’d make better albums with Pete, and I knew that he would never go for their deal of “keeping Pete as producer but recording albums in Nashville”.  The SONY guy also said something to the effect of “we already have a “Derailers”, on the label so we would have to change your direction.” This is also before Pete and I had any of our differences, so I thought the right thing to do was to stay with Pete, loyalty wise and for the good of the music. So I told the SONY guy “I wasn’t much of a ballplayer” and that was that. 

7 Would you consider the major label route with all that that entails?

I would consider everything but the small labels that I’ve been on and I, we been doing what labels used to do, which is artist development. That’s where you get three or four albums to find yourself as an artist, to find your sound, to develop. We’ve been doing that on a shoestring for years and I think it’s really paying off. I’m very proud of the “Goin’ In Hot” album. 

8 You own the label, Crow Town Records, with Michael Massimino are you considering other acts for the label and why that name?

 I have a pretty singular focus on what I’m doing and I leave all that kind stuff to my business partner Michael. This is a pretty new venture for us and I think we’re going to see how this album does and then go from there. I know Michael certainly is interested in taking on other acts but the label has to be able to be profitable. Our namesake comes from the old west novels series “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry. I read all those books along time ago and was fascinated by this town “Crow Town” were all the worst of the outlaws hung out. The name has stuck with me through the years and it just ended up being our record label name.

9 Does your music sustain you or do you need to work in other areas? 

This year we are pretty busy so I don’t have to take up any secondary work, on years were not touring so much, I’ll do some behind the scenes work on film and television shows either New York or Los Angeles. 

10 When the studio you recorded the album in burned down did you feel that you would have to start the process again and if so would you have changed anything?

Yea, I was already trying to work it out in my head how we’re going to start from scratch again and rerecord the whole thing. You can’t quit, so I was just trying to see when everybody schedule would allow us to get back in the studio. I wouldn’t want to change anything really. I was concerned with recapturing what we had. 

11 The reaction to the album has been very positive. Does that make it worthwhile or do you have to have the commercial part?

You do need a little bit of the commercial part to stay in business and go on to make the next one. That being said, I’m really glad that the reaction to the albums been positive and it does make it worthwhile, this is a creative process and you do something privately and then you try and share it with people and you hope they like it. 

12 Is it a vital part of the process to have an album to back up a tour or can you survive without a regular album release?

My personal goal is to release an album the year for the next five years, or as close to that as I can get. It’s always good to have new product to sell when you’re on the road but there are a lot of places even in the United States were we haven’t been yet, so as time goes by, those are the areas we’re going to start focusing on in between releases. 

13 After your time in Nashville, where you recorded your gig sales album you hooked up with Dwight Yoakam producer Pete Anderson who also played with you live. Looking back why do you think that didn’t take off for you both?

I think it served it’s purpose, but I don’t know if that formula was ever supposed to really be anything other than it was. During our time together we toured all over the United States Europe and Japan, got several songs placed in films and made two really good albums. Did it come close to the success that he had with Dwight, no, nowhere near as close. But I’m not Dwight and my path is different than his, even though some of the same people show up in each career. 

14 You have played in Europe before but making the trip seems more difficult now, especially with a band, have you any plans to release the album in Europe and to tour also?

The album is distributed worldwide, so it’s definitely released in Europe and we’ll take any opportunity to come over there that we can. The last time we were there in 2013, we had a full U.S. band and we had a blast. It just seems that the economic troubles that our countries find themselves in, make it harder for offers to come perform.

15 As an artist what goals do you feel you would like to achieve in the future?

Again, the idea is to release an album the year or as close to that as possible for the next five years. Along with that constant touring both in United States and abroad, hopefully some more placements in film and television. That, and to continue to make new music. Those are my goals and that is my path.