Paul Burch Interview

When you decided to do a whole album of Buddy Holly songs what did you think that you could bring to them that would make them equal parts tribute and testament to yourself? 
I’m not sure I ever sat down and thought deeply about what it would mean to do an album of someone’s songs, as strange as that might sound.  My reason to make Words of Love was that it seemed like a fun thing to do.  And in the past, I’ve recorded Holly’s songs and always loved the mood it put me in. I do think a lot of interpretations of Holly's music are missing the drive I feel belongs there.  I'm not sure I ever thought if Words of Love should or could be a sort of blend of Holly’s music and my own.  It may have come up in conversation that the album might be how I imagined we would sound if Holly produced us or if we could sort of be an older version of the Crickets.  Whenever I've been at my most relaxed as a musician or feeling especially rusty, I turn to musicians like Holly as a way to fire up my imagination.  I think some performers might have to gird themselves to approach older music.  But rock and roll is sort of like my street music—it’s the soundtrack to my childhood. Singing Holly’s songs for me is just like riffing with an old friend or a relative you only get to see once a year. You pick up where you left off and fall right in.  Your personality changes, your language changes—you get transformed, in a good way.  Holly's music has all the elements that I always wanted in my music--lovely words, lovely melodies, and a great beat.  I'm not sure I'm moved by his music more than I am by great Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, or Benny Moré records. For me what makes Holly stand out is that he's approachable. When you get into it, there's a lot of substance to his work but from the outside he's very inviting. In some ways, Tim O'Brien is like that. Tim's singing and playing seems very effortless when you're hearing it from the outside. But once you get on stage with him, you discover that he's a champion and if you're not ready to rock, he can cut you to pieces. That's a long answer—and all true, but really this seemed like a fun idea and we went with it and before we knew it, we had a platter.

What do you think is the lasting appeal of Holly's music and do you think that the multi-artist released in tribute to Buddy Holly are they're the best way to bring a new audience to his work?
 I think few Holly fans can really say what it is about his music that is so attractive. You can argue that Elvis and Bo Diddley and the Everly Brothers made better sounding records. Most Holly fans I know have confessed to falling for his music pretty hard and listening to everything he did which is a bit unusual. There are some artists - like Muddy Waters or Hank Williams or maybe Elvis -where you feel so at home with their sound that you can listen to them non-stop until it becomes a kind of meditation.  Neko Case has that effect on me. We can listen to her for hours in our house and I'm just at home with it. Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker are a few others. Holly was able able to express himself with an instrument besides his voice. He also intuitively - it seems - knew that the recording medium allowed him some opportunities as a composer.  If you were to list all the instruments you hear in Holly's catalog, you'd include strings, celeste, horns, organ, gospel choirs, chairs, boxes, cymbals, handclaps, and piano along with guitars, bass and drums.  That's an impressive collection of sounds for what many of his generation think of as just a simple rock and roll singer. And though he didn't get to develop as a writer, the ambivalent streak in his writing voice is a dead-on picture of how it feels to be 20 and - as it turns out - how it feels to be 40 and probably 60. 

You have gone into the studio and recorded the songs in spirit and style that Holly may have approached them himself. Was the intention to capture that spontaneity that was a part of the recording process in the past?
It was intentional but that’s the way we work anyway. I think the WPA as a group and myself as a composer are probably most at home with the kind of atmosphere that Holly, Elvis, and Little Richard worked in where you record live. You rehearse for a bit and when you think you're getting there, you roll tape and play it a few times. If you're there, you know it. Sometimes a song gets better with age and you have to live with it and come back to it a few weeks later. I stress to the WPA that we might have to record something a couple times under different circumstances.  But you can tell if you’re getting there. Sometimes one musician can turn you left or right and make or break the arrangement you have. There's no substitute to performing in the studio when you’re playing rock and roll. I think most musicians who love that classic sound you’re talking about are not really trying to turn back the clock as much as they're connecting with that kind of method. It feels daring and exciting to record without a lot of hassle and just live with what you’ve created as it is.  Every musician I've met - on the big stage and small - have tried making records in a very formal precise way. And all of them are now back in the mode of just cutting live as your studio allows you.

Did recording those songs give you any insights into your own writing?
I’m sure it did but I’m not sure I can say how yet. Sometimes I feel very inarticulate to say what it is I'm doing. I really go on feeling. I do think the frame that I put Holly in is a very flexible and dynamic one. He recorded all kinds of songs and made it work. If you were to make a mix of a couple dozen Holly songs you'd probably have "Everyday" and "Well...All Right" and "Think It Over" - maybe some solo songs from his apartment tapes he made before his last tour. And from that cross section you'd hear many different kinds of styles. I think Holly's ability to freely reach for any instrument that would keep him going forward is in my thinking too. That's how I read him - I may be completely wrong but since I’ll never know, I'm ok with living with that fantasy. I just like him. Few artists seize the day and he did. So did Sam Cooke.  

After several albums of your own songs, a music journey that started out on the resurgence of Lower Broadway and a attempt to reclaim the music of the past, where do you see your music now in the overall scheme of things?
I wish I knew honestly. There's a part of me that every musician can relate to probably that feels like I've been trying to get to the Americana party I see happening just over the hill but the bridge is washed out and I can't quite get there. The business is what it is. I don't fight it. If anything, I've kind of ignored it but it keeps knocking on my door for which I'm really grateful. I'm also really pleased that the band has survived and thrived and that it can also break off into duos and trios and go in various directions. When fiddler Fats Kaplin and I play together, we can get down on some good blues like the Mississippi Shieks and Charlie Patton. When I'm with Dennis Crouch, he's a huge fan of honky tonk country and all the great heavyweight bassists like Ray Brown and Jimmy Blanton, so we can get into some very expressive melodies. With the rock and roll trio, we're a little of everything. I will say that I don't think any of the Lower Broadway performers thought about reclaiming the past. We were all fans of what we thought was a very vital form of music and that Nashville really need a kick in the arse. The motives were punk. But we all wanted record deals - there’s no hiding the ambition. But we choose the path we did because we loved the music, we felt it was important, that we had something to say through it, and that producers like Tony Brown and Mike Curb had made a private party out of country music that only the chosen few were welcome to. We found them a bit ridiculous. I still do. They couldn't care less about what Nashville had to offer outside of what might impact their legend. But we cared about the people who came to see us. And I still do. I think music can save a life. I've seen it happen.  
You are going to release a new album on Bloodshot Records, a collaboration with the Waco Brothers, how did that come about? 
A few years ago Jon Langford and I became good friends and he just invited me to play with the Waco's one night. I think they're wonderful and it's such a jolt of electricity to be on stage with them. I do feel a different kind of power with them and at the time I first met them, I was in need of that. I think my experience with them really helped me get my own group together in such a way where now, the WPA we can create a really powerful sound that defies description when we're so inclined. I give my experience with the Waco's full credit for that.I think it might be possible they were seeking a different kind of recording experience and they thought I might be able to help them.  When you're from Nashville, you tend to be ready at a moment's notice - in tune, ready with songs, ready with arrangements - and I think that slight bit of seriousness about record making was something they thought might be good for them.In reality, I wanted to get away from that and get back to something a bit freer. We met in the middle. It's a fine record but I think live will be the way to hear it. 

Your Buddy Holly album is a vinyl and download release. Do you think that the CD is now not a viable format?
I like albums and one part of my opinion thinks however albums can be delivered is ok with me. I love LP’s but digital is here to stay. I'm not that torn up about digital except when I'm in the studio. In the studio, tape still sounds pretty fantastic but once things are mixed I tend to just groove on whatever I'm listening to. It's a shame that there are so many bad sounding CDs.  We're probably just on the cusp of getting them to sound quite good and now they're going to go away. What I don't understand is why we can't find a great physical form of delivery that can't be scratched. If something is going to be scratched, I just assume use a record so I can at least pickup the needle. Digital skips are total drag.  
How have the changes within the music industry affected you as a working musician? 
The changes have affected my ability to perform quite a bit and I think everyone is probably in the same boat. I miss the labels and most artists do. The labels miss the labels. They don’t know what to do. My writing and my music choices haven’t changed. Business wise, I'm in a constant harassed state where I'm hoping or begging to find someone with a vision to do the hard labor to get the music out. I would like to perform on a more personal level at house concerts, small theaters, schools, art centers - all of which are great places to play. If things can move away from bars, I'd be very happy. I don't really want to go on at midnight anymore.  I kind of like the scrappy-ness of the modern music industry. For artists like me that never sold very much to begin with, it’s kind of nice to see some of the superstars humbled.

Country music now seems to further than ever from it's traditional roots. Has the time come again for the kind re-energising that saw yourself and performers like BR-549 and Greg Garing playing the music of Hank Williams Snr for a old and new audience or has that time past?
Perhaps. Country music sort of thrives on that ebb and flow. And it wouldn't surprise me if it might come from within. There are some real talents in the pop country field. It will be a brave artist who breaks the mold and they'll suffer for it like Hank did probably. 

Have you any long term plans for your music and your studio or is now a case of taking each opportunity as it comes?

Do you have any regrets about your career path?
I do, but I don’t think I’d make them public. One funny moment I’ll share. Chet Atkins heard my first album and thought at first that I was from the 50’s. He told a mutual friend: “how did I miss this guy?” I saw him walk into the Station Inn in Nashville that very same day I heard that story and I wanted to blurt out “I’m that guy” but I just held the door open for him. I’d have that moment again but otherwise there are not too many. Hopefully I’m still getting better and the people who thought I was no good when I started might come back and be surprised.
What have been the high-points?
I’m too young to talk about high-points but I appreciate you asking. I’d say singing with Ralph Stanley and finding that so easy to do was important for me personally. We instantly had a good rapport and a good sound together. Ralph told my wife that the tone of my voice reminded him of his brother. Every time I write something I like or make an album, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m thankful I still have verve for recording and performing. A lot of people I started with have faded out.

Interview by Steve Rapid



Lynn Miles Interview - October 2011



Canadian singer/songwriter Lynn Miles is a frequent visitor bringing her literate and lean songs to the listening rooms of Europe. This year she released what is arguably the best album of her career. She was born in Quebec to parents who loved music, ranging from jazz and opera to country. She started to write at an early age and to perform in her mid-teens. Later she took took voice lessons before becoming a teacher herself in Ottawa. She began to release her songs in 1990 with a self-titled debut album. In the late 90s she released two albums on Rounder and in 2006 Love Sweet Love came out on Red House. She is now recording with True North records who have released her Black Flowers album as well as her current album Fall For Beauty. We spoke to her prior to her appearance on Sandy Harsch's live Country Time concert. She was as open and honest as her songs are.

When did the process of writing your own songs start? 

I started writing songs when I was 10 and this (Fall for Beauty) is my eight studio album. I have written about 650 songs. I tour the USA and also come to Europe to Holland and Ireland probably about once every two years or so. This is my third time over here.


Is there any difference that you perceive with an audience in another country?

No, I think singer-songwriter audiences are the same. They're people who care about the lyric and their usually pretty well read in terms of other song writers, they're listeners and they seem to care about the words. I think they're an educated bunch. They seem very passionate about this style of music. So, in the end I think they're similar. I mean there might be some place were they're a bit more reserved in their responses but always at the end of the night it's the same as people come up and say to me thanks for doing a particular song, or "I love that song".

You seem to have a very clear theme in your songs. Do you have to work at that?

I think I have a very clear voice. There's not a lot of rough edges on my voice and I also think I work very hard on the lyrics as I want people to know what I'm saying. It's kinda the main part of what I do. I love to sing but I love to express the feelings I have as I want to connect with people. And in order to do that they need to know what I'm saying. 

Do you then start a song with lyrics or is it an open process?

It works every different way. Because I've written a long of songs they come from different ways of writing. Sometimes I come up with the title and I'll go on to write the song or I can come up with a melody and I'll add lyrics to it or I have books and books of lyrics, little pieces of lyrics, that I go back to. Sometimes a melody will come into my head and I'll think "oh, I have some words that will go with that". 

Three chords and the truth is a Harlan Howard expression and he often used to go into bars to pick up phrases or expressions that he would later turn into songs...

Melanie Howard, his widow, told me that he would go to bars every night to listen to people talking and I thought that was brilliant because there's a lot of wisdom spoken in bars. I lsten to peopel when I travel, when I'm on the train or at an airport or sitting in a cafe. I do listen, but I don't go to bars as much as I used to because I quit drinking. So that kind of a hard place for me to go (laughs). But I did get some inspiration from bars when I was hanging out in them. I get a lot of inspiration from literature because I'm a voracious reader. I'll read fiction by somebody and something that is said in that will make me think "that's an interesting concept and I'll try to expand on that". 

The song Little Bird on the album about addiction being a case in point?

That was a book by Gabor Mate (In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts) who this amazing doctor in downtown Vancouver, one of the worst neighbourhoods in Canada, where there are a lot of heroin addicts and crack addicts and prostitutes and he works at the needle exchange clinic which is the only one in Canada. He's constantly battling the government but he wrote that most compassionate book about addiction that I've ever come across. He loves these people and he knows where they come from and why they end up where they end up. It's a very compelling book and it was very inspiring so I wrote about it. 

We most of us have addictive possibilities in our own lives.

You know I have song that I just wrote that I haven't put on an album yet that has a first line that says "everyone is addicted to something" and I think that that is true. Somebody said to me when I was trying to quit drinking that "it's just a way of avoiding the void". That hugh void that we all have and all carry with us. Something we're afraid to look at - shopping, sex of food or whatever it is that you use to avoid the truth about yourself to deal with your darkness or aloneness or whatever it is. That's the truth about it.  

Is age a distraction for you?

Why, because I brought it up a couple of times? You know I wrestle with it but sometimes you see a band and they're old people and it doesn't quite work. I wrestle with it but I'm in a music where it's ok to be a bit older. It's because I'm a woman and I think there's a thing when you're a woman that it's more difficult to age. You're not supposed to age and there's hair colour and facial surgery and all that stuff and your not supposed to put on weight. There's a lot of pressure from mainstream society. I wrestle with that and I wrestle with my own level of exhaustion fro touring which is much more profound now that when it was when I was thirty. It's just harder.

Is that sense of being alone is very much part of who you are as a traveling troubadour?

Yes. I'm on the road alone a lot. So I face it every day. I have to get up and say "well. I'm alone here, who am I and am I good, you know". I have to check myself and say "I'm good". I've struggled with depression and all those things that a lot of people struggle with and it is a one day at a time thing. I have days when, like last week, when I'm in England and I had a first class ticket and I was crying in first class. I had my sunglasses on and I wasn't happy. I was sad. So I was crying on the train and sometimes that's what you have to do. 

Does the actual performance then help to exorcises the demons and those feelings?

I don't know if it exorcises the demons but it connects me to other people who have the demons. That makes me feel not as alone in my own experiences as a human being. I always that it woukld be a more compassionate world if more people confessed their frailties and insecurities. The more sharing there is the better off we'll be as a human race. So I'm not afraid to express those things. And I know, as I said earlier that when I finish a show I will get people coming up to me and saying that " that song really helped me with my divorce" or " I lost someone and that song got me through it". I use music for the same reasons. When my father passed away I listened to Patty Griffin and Tom Waits. That's all I listened to. Everyday when I would come out of the hospital, where he was dying of cancer, I would put my headphones on and that's what I would listen to and it got me through. So I understand about that, it's the gift of music. 

You have to have that fearless heart.

I wish I had a fearless heart.

There is not much music around today that can draw on those negative aspects of life and turn it into something that is positive and inspiring. Especially modern day country music or what passes for the genre.

There's a fear of it. A fear of looking at that stuff. But I think that it's imperative that we do. How do you get through a difficult time like that unless you go through it? If you van have something like music to help you and soften the edges then more power to it.

Leonard Cohen used to be accused of making downer music but I found it very positive.

I love his music and I have his set list from his last tour as I sat in the second row of a show and it's hanging in the bathroom and I read it everyday when I go to the bathroom. It's so beautiful. The poetry is so beautiful. It's so profound and it's not suicidal music. It's actually very hopeful and joyful.

He would perfect his lyrics over a long time to get the rhythm just right.

Oh my god, that's what he does. I think every single word is chosen for its beauty and its place in the song. Every word in every single line is absolutely correct. He's the master of that.

Your last album has a great sound...

That's really just me and Ian (LeFeuvre) we like to have a sparse studio and not too many people around he plays a lot of instruments. 

Do you get the opportunity to use a full band in Canada?

I have a guitar player that I use a fair amount. When I release the CDs I have band shows in a couple of cities but I can't really afford to do that. It's hard.

Do you have good label support?

True North is the oldest and largest independent label in Canada. It was started by Bernie Fingelstein in the 60s in a hippie village in Toronto with Bruce Cockburn. They started it and it's been going ever since. They have been very good to me. I signed my first record deal in Canada when I was in my forties. Which I love (laughs). I love that I'm 53 and I get to still be doing what I'm doing. I just think it's a very cool thing.

Do you gig in the States a lot?

I did, when I was on Rounder I did a lot of shows. I don't have a label in the States right now so it's not as easy for me to do. The US government makes it quite difficult for artists to cross the border. It's expensive. They charge you money and you have to apply for your visa three months before you go. So it's complicated. So if i go it's a big deal. I have to put a lot of effort into it. There was a band from Vancouver who just tried to get in a van and drive across to play and they got caught and deported for 5 years. I'm not a good liar so I know I'd get caught if I tried that.

Are you think about where your next album might go in musical terms?

I am. I have some new songs and I've talked to my label about that and we're going to have a discussion when I get home. I'd like to put one out sooner that later. The last one took about 5 years which is way too long so I'd like to start recording in December but I don't think that's going to happen. In a perfect world that's what I'd do. 

Will you do more voice and guitar albums like Black Flowers?

I will, I love doing them. I do play a lot of shows solo and people come up and ask me if I have anything like I just did.

Well, both work.

Yeah. I love the idea that you can take a song and do it with just voice and guitar or you can go and put make-up on it and dress it up. Then you can also take that version and change it if you want. That's the beauty of songwriting. You can have a song but you can change the groove, the pace of it you can change so much about it. I love that. 

Are there any aspects of your music that you haven't done that you would like to try?

I would like to do a more pure country album. It's something that I've been thinking about and writing some more pure country songs. I'd also like to explore bluegrass. So I'd maybe do a record that has a bit of both on it. I have a real thing about country music and where it comes from, the real stuff, like bluegrass and I'm not a pure bluegrass artist but I love that music and country music and I been listening to it my whole life. So I'd like to explore that a little. But what it is now is pop music it's not country, but it doesn't have anything to do with me. I don't really listen to mainstream radio. I just find artists that I like. But the truth is that when I listen to country music I listen to Hank Williams. When I listen I listen to Dylan, Leonard Cohen. I listen to the master of the craft because I don't like background music and I want it to be exceptional. So it's Hank Williams or Del McCoury or back to Dylan or Neil Young or Tom Waits, people like that.

Who's your favourite contemporary artist?

I'd say Patty Griffin, she's the one I go to. She's a great songwriter.



Eilen Jewell

With the release of her fourth full length album (Queen Of The Minor Key) Eilen Jewell has reinforced her status as a country/roots artist of the highest calibre. Since she came to notice with her official debut Boundry Country in 2006 - there had been a live demo album Nowhere In Time prior to that - she subsequently released Letters From Sinners and Saints. and Sea Of Tears. These three albums featured Jewell's emotive songwriting and her distinctive vocal performance. She also has released a tribute album Butcher Holler featuring the songs of Loretta Lynn and was a part of the team that released a gospel album under the name of the Sacred Shakers. All of these album feature members of her excellent band which includes guitarist Jerry Miller, Johnny Sciascia on upright bass and drummer Jason Beek. With these musicians Jewell is as inventive and rewarding live as she is on recorded album and should not be missed when she plays at the Sugar Club for her Dublin debut on Thursday November 3rd. Lonesome Highway has a chance for a brief chat with Jewell from her East Coast home. 
At what point when you started out did you decide what your musical direction would be?
I've always just wanted to play music that I like and the music I like is pretty limited to 60s music and earlier. Classic country music and rock 'n' roll, rockabilly. So I just go with mu gut and make the kind of music that I would want to listen to. 
You have mention influences like Creedence Clearwater Revival how do they relate to you?
The influences I have are artists that have gone before me that I really love when I was growing up in Idaho in the 80s I listened to the oldies station on the radio. At that time the oldies was 50s and 60s music, that's since I was 7 years old. Of course now all these stations just play 80s music. 
Would you have come across the Idaho Cowboy, Pinto Bennett growing up?
That's a good question. I knew him as a local legend. I think he quit playing for awhile at time when I was in Boise. I also heard that he was reclusive. But I heard that he's been playing out agin lately. They say he's all reformed and everything.
When you're writing you have said that location, especially of the west, plays its part. Is that from your local experience or from the culture of the area?
It's on my mind all the time as I have a lot of love of the American west and I really miss it. I grew up there and went to college in New Mexico. I pretty much consider it to be home out there and when I moved to the East Coast I got very home sick and one way I got to deal with that was by writing about the places that I missed. I've been on the East Coast now for 8 years and I still get very homesick. So, as I say one way to eleviate that is to write about home.
What other parts of your life are you able to draw from fro your songwriting?
Traveling does to some extent. But I really like sad songs. I like to write about lonliness and trying to find a sense of place in the world. I suppose homesickness and heartbreak. That's just my personal preferences. Those are the topics that I like to hear.
Yes, and it seems that heartbreak is a topic that we hear less and less on country radio.
I can't stand those happy country songs. Most of the stuff coming out of Nashville is about "I'm driving around in my car and I got my girl by my side". I really can't stand that stuff. It's very superficial. 
You play with a great band, How did you come together?
We got together to record Boundry County and we've been together ever since. It's been the same guys and they keep getting in the van with me for some reason (laughs). 

When I first saw the list of band members I at first thought that it might have been the same Jerry Miller from Moby Grape, but it isn't.
No it's not. We tend to get that a lot. Sometimes people assume that it is the same Jerry Miller and they print that it is in newspapers and everything. So it just goes to show you can't believe everything you read. We've seen pictures of him (Moby Grape's Jerry Miller) and he wears a cowboy hat like Jerry does and under the hat they look similar.
You guys do a great version of Shakin' All Over. I'd imagine that it cones from Johnny Kidd rather than The Who or some other source.
From Johnny Kidd. As soon as I heard that version I though that that was a song we need to do. I never realizied that it was originally a rockabilly song. Maybe three or four years ago when I heard it I felt that we should do it. We wanted to being it back to its rockabilly roots. 
On this album you recorded with some other vocalists. Zoe Muth on Over Again and Big Sandy on Long Road is that an experience that you would like to repeat some stage down the line?
Yeah, I really would. I enjoyed it a lot. I think it's really good for musicians to colloberate as much as they can. I gets easy to live in your own bubble on the road, existing in your own van space. You coincide with other artists sometimes by chance and after the show's over your gone and you go your separate ways. So I really got a lot out of working with them and it kind of united us in a way. I'd like to do something like that again. It was my first time collaberating with another artist, at least on my own material,and it was very scary at first but it was well worth it. 

Would you think of doing a duets album?
Oh, that's a good idea. Yeah, I never though of that before but it could be fun.
Do you see your music developing beyond its currently wide boundries in the future or is this where you want to stay music wise?
It's hard to say. I know were pretty comfortable doing what were doing now. But I never want to put limitations on anything that we're doing. If something comes up that seems like it makes sense for me and the band then we should feel free to do it. I don't want to feel that I've made any promises and that we will just play rockabilly, country or rock 'n' roll. It has hard to say and we take each album as it comes. I try to just follow my gut and go with that instinct. But I don't see myself doing a hip-hop album or anything but I guess you never really know.
Well I look out for a hip-hop duets album.
(Laughs) I find that unlikely. 
Finally, if your the Queen of the Minor Key, who's the King?
Oh, um... you know maybe Johnny Kidd. Because Shakin All Over is a minor key thing and he's got this great song called Restless and maybe on the merit of that alone he deserves the title. I love his minor key stuff. He was never part of the British Invasion, he was before that. But maybe Roy Orbison too.