Friday
Sep142018

Interview with Paul Burch

Paul Burch's unique vision of American roots music has attracted characters and collaborators from punk to honky tonk and beyond. His debut album Pan American Flash (1996) was ranked No. 5 on Amazon’s Best Country Albums of the Decade and all of Burch’s subsequent LPs have been acclaimed up to and including the release of his most recent album, his 12th, Meridian Rising (2016). Lonesome Highway has been fortunate to have seen play in Ireland on a number of occasions and to have interviewed him during this visits. We thought it was high time to catch up with him and ask him a few questions about his musical memories and observations about the Americana music scene in general.

You’ve had a varied musical career that has seen you as an instigator of the scene that revitalised Lower Broadway along side Greg Garing, BR5-49 and others. It’s now a totally different area a regular tourist trap. How do you consider your involvement with the re-genesis of the area now or do you have fond memories of that time?

I do have fond memories of playing on Lower Broadway. At that time I was discovering the first generation of songwriters who had come to Nashville after WWII and started writing from personal experience. I already loved Hank Williams very much and had since I was a lad. But I also started listening to Floyd Tillman who was from Texas and was an influence on Willie Nelson. It’s challenging to write a song as beautiful as Afraid by Fred Rose or as direct as Floyd Tillman’s “Slipping Around” or as funky as Vic McAlpin’s Rocket In My Pocket. Many of the early writers from that era were still around Nashville. And the sound of our band at the time–just guitars and Hawaiian steel - was like a siren song. We had been playing just a few weeks before they came out of the woodwork. Many songs from that time were also admired by my favourite R&B artists like Ray Charles, Arthur Alexander, and Sam Cooke whose work crossed over into rock ‘n’ roll.  

Plus at that time in the early 90s, many of the musicians who played on my favorite records - both country and R&B - were alive and very approachable both in Nashville and in Memphis and Muscle Shoals. Bobby Hebb, who wrote Sunny, came to my work and did a solo concert with just guitar that was absolutely thrilling and beautiful. Though I never met Sam Phillips he was just over in Memphis as was Charlie Rich. I did meet Carl Perkins and George Jones. Everywhere I went I was introduced as someone who was a “pretty good singer” and who cared about the artists. And I was happy to be thought of that way. Downtown there was a kind of flea market junk store that had a whole room piled high with 78s. The good stuff had been picked through but there were lots of one-off pressings of sermons and funerals, odd demos. And it seemed like only Greg, BR549, and myself were interested in that stuff. We had it all to ourselves. To give you a picture of how unplugged we were, around 1995 or so, the Country Music Foundation put out Johnny Paycheck’s early records from the Little Darlin’ era - early 60s - and we each bought out all the copies at Ernest Tubb records. Probably the day it came out. And probably the only copies they sold! But we weren’t listening to the radio at all. I couldn’t tell you what came out between 1994 and 1997 or so. I might as well have been on an island.

We were totally engaged in the music. Everyone told us we would never get anywhere, which just stiffened our resolve - at least mine. My ambition was to make records which itself was considered a bit weird. We really believed that the artists we were covering were vastly underrated. We had the fantasy - mostly wrong - that the musicians from that generation before Elvis knew a change was coming but were not encouraged to be as creative as they could be. As for its current state as a slum for drunks, it was probably inevitable. A lot of investment was happening just as we were getting some press. One might have helped the other. But it didn’t take a lot of vision to see that it could be exploited.  

Your last album Meridian Rising was about an imagined musical telling of the life of Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman. You tell the overall story on your website. Tell me what inspired you to create this set of songs that was conceived in musical style that would have been familiar to him?

By chance I heard an unreleased recording of Jimmie with Clifford Gibson, an African American bluesman who mostly worked out of St. Louis. The song was called Let Me Be Your Sidetrack. It was the surviving take of two that were made and you can tell because Clifford anticipates Jimmie’s yodel at the end. I think at the time I was either working on the songs for Last of My Kind - based loosely on the characters in Tony Earley’s Jim the Boy which takes place in the 1930s - or I was working on gathering songs for a documentary about Appalachia. Both might have been going on at the same time.  

But anyway, I was struck by the recording because Clifford was a good guitar player and played in an open-tuning with phrases that reminded me a little of Robert Johnson who was a few years in the future. In other words, his sound was contemporary to blues at the time but also a little more forward. That’s how I chose to hear it anyway. Clifford was also the only bluesman that Jimmie ever recorded with. So all of this just intrigued me about what Jimmie’s life was like as a musician. I had already read the biography by Nolan Porterfield but it didn’t give me the sense of Jimmie’s personality on record as it connected to the facts of his life. His personality is easy to hear in his music. But integrating the two was what I wanted to do. I thought it would be an interesting challenge as a writer. 

Gradually, after a few years of keeping the idea in my back pocket, it struck me that using the styles of Jimmie’s influences like the Mississippi Sheiks and others would be the best way to present the story. Occasionally I dipped into his forms but for the most part I had the freedom to draw on sounds and arrangement styles that Jimmie probably enjoyed but didn’t cover. For instance, If I Could Only Catch My Breath  has the kind of death-march sound I know from Duke Ellington’s early records for Okeh, which were out at the same time. Most of all it was a great writing trip. And I got to spend time in that world which is pretty wonderful musically.

Are you working on a new release or what consumes you creative energies these days?

I am working on a record. It might be a series of records - I’m not sure yet.  But I’m hunting and gathering as we speak for release next year. 

After eleven albums does get harder to find something new that you want to express?

Thankfully not. I feel more challenged after Meridian Rising to try to take more risks and do something that is hard to qualify but easy to like. Perhaps initially I wanted to state my case that I could write and sing a song and produce an album. For better or for worse - as far as the market place is concerned -I don’t have run that race anymore.  Ultimately, I’d like to create something so beautiful that it lives far beyond my name. 

You toured at one time as a member of Lambchop was it refreshing to be part of a band rather than leading it or do you still like to be the man in charge?

I like both. I’m not sure anyone was in charge of Lambchop - though certainly Kurt was and is the leader. They were his songs. I’m by nature someone who likes to help. I can’t keep quiet if there is an opportunity to encourage freedom of expression. In my own group there are several members who encourage me to take chances and they’re not afraid to disagree. I think there is a Keith Richards quote somewhere about first turning on the drummer and then the band. Once you’ve done that, look out world. As far as being in charge - I know there are better guitarists, vocalists, bandleaders - you name it. But I’m uniquely qualified to tell the story I’m telling in the way I think it should be told. If I can express myself freely, they will too. We’re in it together.   

Your current WPA Ballclub roster includes some 21 names. Do you ever all get together or do you have to pick and choose to suit a venue or budget?
 

I think you’re the first that’s put a number to it. Typically - on an occasion where everyone can make it - we work best as a quintet. I like the variety of sounds. But anything can work. Ideally it’s nice to have an array of colors that way you’re not boxed in. 

In that light, do you get to tour these days?
Not as much as I’d like to but as I said last time, if someone calls and says “go here”, “go there”, I’ll probably do it. I kind of like working in obscurity except for things that come with obscurity like lack of resources and fewer opportunities. 

A lot of the imagery on your website has a look that seems to be taken from the last century. Is that a time that hold s the most interest with visually and musically for you?

In most cases I used the photos that appealed to me. I was born in the last century so it doesn’t seem so far away to me. As for the photos of me, they where shot just where I happened to be. When the photographer says, “hold still” I’m not going to argue. 

What memories do you have of playing in Ireland?
Good ones!  I’m not there enough. My grandfather’s family was from Cork. I’d like to go back again soon.

Do you have a particular favourite in the albums you have release yourself?
I don’t - but I don’t say that in a disparaging way. They all have their sound, which I’m thankful that happened. I learned something from making all of them. In retrospect, even making one album seems remarkable. I remember thinking after Pan American Flash that it was a nice album and if I couldn’t make a better one or another one, that would be ok. I guess I suffer from being philosophical. I remember the feeling of wanting to write the records and putting them together. But the ability to actually make the songs happen, that’s as much of a mystery now as it was then.  

What about in you production and guest roles?
I’d like to do more. I always keep my ears out. Producing is a lot of work - it’s an investment. 

         
How difficult is it to keep control of your music in these times. It looks like you have the rights to your albums?

Glider Ltd. is my little label which the older records are available on. But I like labels. I wouldn’t want to own one but I don’t mind being on one at all. As Jason Ringenberg says, a team beats a single person everytime. 


What ambitions have you yet to fulfill? Do you have many interests outside musical ones that take up your time? 

I don't know about any specific ambitions other than to stay alive and keep working. I do still think Meridian Rising would make an interesting film or play so I hope a good young film maker or playwright might emerge from the dark who has an idea. I think perhaps I’ve gone as far as I can in its current form. I have a few more album ideas I’d like to pursue. I’m just happy to be interviewed, really. Will anyone be reading this? 

Finally what has music given you? 

A keen sense of purpose and desperation. 

Interview by Stephen Rapid  Photograph by Jim Herrington

Tuesday
Sep112018

Interview with Kacy Anderson (Kacy & Clayton) 

My first encounter with Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum was when they appeared at The Kilkenny Roots Festival in 2015. The young duo, teenagers at the time, were chaperoned by Ryan Boldt of Deep Dark Woods fame, who was playing solo at the festival, having performed with his band at Kilkenny Roots a few years earlier. Boldt has been like a father figure to Kacy & Clayton, bringing them on tour with him and plugging them from an early stage in their careers as Kacy explained. ‘Ryan’s been very encouraging to our career not only advocating our music, but as an example of how to become touring musicians outside of Saskatchewan’

Second cousins, Kacy and Clayton early acoustic albums suggested a maturity in both writing and playing well beyond their years and they eventually came to the attention of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who invited them to open for Wilco at The Fillmore in San Francisco. So impressed was Tweedy that he offered to produce their latest album, The Siren’s Song, at Wilco’s recording studio The Loft in Chicago. The album, released in The States in 2017and in Europe in the spring of this year, unlike their previous work as a duo, features bass and drums to supplement Anderson’s striking vocals and Linthicum’s finger picking guitar style. The inclusions of the additional instruments give their songs extra depth, something no doubt recognised by Tweedy, whose production rewards the listener with a very late 60’s early 70’s feel, recalling in particular the U.K. folk rock sounds of that era, together with the flower power Laurel Canyon vibe. I get the impression talking to Kacy that working with Tweedy was very much a teacher and pupil scenario, with little time wasted in the studio and I even detect an innocent reverence of the whole experience. ‘Jeff has an endless amount of gear and I got to play a couple of his guitars on the album. His presence was respected which made for timely sessions. We didn’t do any messing around because we knew he wasn’t going to be staying all night for us to get a take!’.

The album features a number of co-writes between Kacy & Clayton ‘I find that finishing songs with Clayton gives me more confidence to bring them forth to other people to listen to because it’s been filtered through another set of ears that I trust with all of my heart,’ adds Kacy. The album tour has them performing with a band rather that the duet format of previous tours, but has she a preference for one over the other? ’It’s nice to have the band with us on tour since the majority of the latest album has a rhythm section. Playing as a duo feels comfortable also as that’s how we started out. Playing as a duo also gives us an opportunity to do some traditional folk songs we love that we haven’t arranged with the full band. The person paying us gets to decide their preference I suppose’.

Kacy comes across as a particularly grounded, practical and polite young lady, no doubt a result of her upbringing in the remote town of Wood Mountain, a four-hour drive to Saskatchewan, where the possibilities to witness live music was restricted. ‘We saw local rodeo dance bands and went up to Regina or Saskatchewan every once and a while to see people like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, John Fogerty perform at the Stadiums’ she explains.  

Self-confessed music nerds who were both experimenting with old folk and country sounds, I wondered how that resonated with their school peers given that they are not the music genres normally associated with teenagers. ‘No one in our school cared about music at all really, so we just got as weird as we wanted with our tastes because everyone already thought we were weird anyway!’.

With the nearest record store, a five-hour bus ride to pick up second hand albums and the internet unreliable in The Wood Mountain Uplands, the opportunities to research their combined fascination of old time country and folk music was limited. A neighbour who grew up on 40’s and 50’s country legends Hank Snow and Bob Willis was one source and The Carter Family and Doc Watson’s music was discovered on a cassette tape of Kacy’s Grandfather. Given that the majority of today’s music lovers and artists have an unlimited source of information available at their fingertips via the internet, it’s refreshing that the majority of Kacy & Clayton’s song writing ideas originated from stories passed down from family members and neighbours, very much in keeping with the origins of the old timey music that fascinates them so much. The daily three-hour journey to and from school also gave her the chance to devour books on the history of music and any biographies she could get her hands on. 

Rehearsing involved driving the six miles from each other’s houses – illegally initially given that they were under the legal age to own a driver’s licence – and their opportunities to perform live were restricted to playing at a senior citizens home on Sunday evenings. It’s remarkable that they are making waves in the Americana scene given these impediments. However, it’s still no gravy train, four albums later and even support slots with Wilco and an upcoming tour opening for The Decemberists. As Kacy explained, ‘It would be nice to get down to play The Americana Fest again in Nashville, but unfortunately it’s very expensive to do’. 

In the meantime, their aim is to attempt to maintain a steady album/tour cycle and see where that brings them ‘Our plan is to keep making an album every couple of years and touring to support it. I hope to repeat the cycle as many times as possible. I think it’s pretty much impossible for us to break into the market in The States but we will keep trying our best’.  

I wondered where the U.K. folk influences came from given how striking they are on the album. Kacy replied, ‘It began for me about 8 years ago when I started listening to Fairport Convention, Anne Briggs and Shirley Collins on my iPod riding the bus for an hour and a half to school every day and then back again’.

Comparisons could be made with Dori Freeman, another independent young female artist also residing in the equally rural setting of Galax Virginia and who has an equally passionate love of old time music. Both Kacy and Clayton appear on her latest album Letter Never Read and I wondered where the connection had been made. ‘We became friends over the World Wide Web a couple years ago and it lead to Clayton and I playing a little on her album, ‘She’s a wise woman and I have a great appreciation for her support of our bands existence’.

Interview by Declan Culliton

Wednesday
Sep052018

Interview with Timbo of Speedbuggy USA

Speedbuggy USA are an exciting no holds barred country-punk band from Los Angeles who released their first album in 2000 and Kick Out The Twang this year. They are fronted by guitarist and vocalist Timbo. Lonesome Highway caught up with him after a recent European tour to ask him a few questions.

Tell me what was the inspiration and story behind Speedbuggy USA? 

The band started out as a nitro-infused Cowpunk band. I wanted to blend my love for Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Hank Williams and so on mixed with the energy of The Clash, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Jam, The Pogues. The list of influences goes on forever. We had Steve Kidwiler from NOFX on guitar and Pat Muzingo from Decry and Junkyard on drums.This was in the 90's we just wanted to tour and play our hearts out. We played mostly with punk bands back then. I think it made our music more gritty, it toughened us up .  

Usually when a band adds a UK or USA after their name it is because there another brand with thew same name. Is that the case here? 

After we released our first record on Greg Hetson's label Porterhouse in the 90's we found out there was a Canadian band (who have now broken up) with the same name. So adding USA seemed to make sense at the time.  

Did you have a clear vision for what you wanted the band to be when you started out?

Not really, I definitely had my influences I wanted to blend my love of honky tonk and bluegrass music with a bit of punk rock angst. But I always knew I would let my writing go where ever it would take me. Sometimes band members will help sway a song one way or the another. But I must say my vision of music goes in and out of focus. 

Cowpunk is a term that has somewhat fallen out of usage but seems appropriate here.

I think that is true. I really love those older bands like Jason and The Scorchers and Rank ’n’ File. It's a tough road trying to play honky tonk and mixing in something that blows the barn doors off. You really have to love playing it .

The band’s music though has light and shade on the recordings. Do you take a different approach to the live material? 

I let the songs change according to the mood of the show and who is sharing the stage with me live. I try not to hold the songs hostage to the recordings. 

You have mentioned that you are playing workingman’s music, do you see that as the backbone of country music?

It used to be the back bone but I think country music has gotten more of a pop sound over the years. It's so much more commercial. I lean towards the past for inspiration. Something about those old songs about truckers, cowboys, rail riders, construction and factory workers or the beaten down, the outcasts, the alcoholics and out of luck souls have always appealed more to me.

Do you have a love of the spirit of the West, of the cowboy lifestyle? 

That's one reason I stayed for so long in Los Angeles. The history of cowboy music, film and clothing are a big part of Los Angeles history. Once I put a cowboy suit on I'm ready to roll out on the stage like a singing cowboy of the silver screen. “Go west young man” still echoes in my heart . 

In that light I’m sure you must have some favourite books and films? 

Those old Hollywood westerns were staples of my youth, they were always on the television Saturday nights and in the Sunday matinee’s. As a kid I was crazy about 50'-70's TV cowboys like the Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, The Rifleman, Gene Autry and Gun Smoke were all some of my favourites. I also have a strong affection for those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. I love how Sergio showed the fine blurred line between the good guy and the bad guy. Nothing is better than a western film . 

Speedbuggy seem to be making inroads in Europe do you find that that audience more appreciative of your music? 

I love touring Europe, our fans over the great pond mean the world to us they are very sincere and a blast to hang out with. Europe is one reason we have kept going all these years. 

Are you able to sustain the band through live work and album sales?  

When not touring I'm a carpenter I love building. Not only the camaraderie of a job site but the self worth of constructing something. I'm proud to be a working class blue collar man .

I read that you recently had to deal with serious illness. How did that set you back? 

It's been a long road. We couldn't tour or play much. I think in the big picture it's help in my song writing. Nothing like a dose of pain and financial struggle to help write a broken-hearted country song.

How do you feel the music has progressed since releasing Cowboys & Aliens in 2000? 

I've really  tried to bring more of that California, Bakersfield sound into our mix. Our guitarist Seth Von Paulus who is the producer of the bands last two records has helped expanded and explore different instruments, tones and rhythms over the years. This has really helped the band get deeper into American roots music .

Were you musically involved prior to that and was your musical direction different? 

I've been playing music since I was a kid. The minute I saw Elvis I was hooked. I don't think I had one specific direction in my younger years. I just loved playing  guitar  and singing. I was lucky growing up in Louisiana and being surrounded by so much great music. Cajun, country, blues and rock ’n’ roll 24 hours a day. I always tried to learn from the artists around me and I kept my eyes and ears wide open.

You guys can rock but in a way that works whereas some of the current crop of “country” bands seem more like a bad metal act. Can you explain the difference? 

I think maybe the passion is different for Speedbuggy. When I work on a song I'm trying not only to express my art but I want it to find a truer sound. I want it to be real. I think if you are only trying to find that radio hit, you as an artist could suffer. I try to get back to my roots, that’s why I started to play music and pick up the pen, paper and guitar and get to work . 

What’s next for Timbo and Speedbuggy USA? 

We are working on writing another record. I've been getting with Brady Sloan, our bass player, and our drummer Jaimie Dawson and bashing out ideas for the next record. Fresh off the road has always been a creative  writing time for me. Speedbuggy is also setting up more festivals and tours. For the future Speedbuggy hopes to come to Ireland to perform. So spread the word and let's get this buggy rolling!

Interview by Stephen Rapid

 

Tuesday
Aug282018

Alejandro Escovedo Interview

Alejandro Escovedo is a real rock ’n’ roll animal, a true believer. He believes in the power and sanctity of music. Music without barriers or borders. In 1998 he was named “Artist Of The Decade” By the magazine No Depression which showed the respect he had garnered throughout his career. A career which had already taken in punk, roots rock and hard rockin’ (and rollin’) as well his own Mexican musical heritage and the innovative use of a string section on stage and in recording. His albums have always been varied and different from each other allowing him to follow his muse as this will takes him. He has had success and he has also been through hard times but the music has always stayed with him. He is about to release a new album The Crossing that relates to the current political climate in the US as well as to his culture. This interview was conducted backstage at his last appearance in Dublin where the performed with his Italian band Don Antonio. Alejandro Escovedo was as open and honest in person as he is in his music and it was a pleasure to meet him and his wife Nancy (and thanks for the cup of tea Nancy).

You have been touring in Europe behind Burn Something Beautiful how has that been going?

It’s been extensive, day to day, 32 shows, in what seems like 25 days. But I know it’s actually been longer. There’s hardly any days off, what days off there have been have been for travel. It started because I have an English manager now, Chris Metzler, and he gave me the option of working with a few different bands and I choose these guys because they had worked so much with all my friends like Robyn Hitchcock, Dan Stuart and Howe Gelb.  

They all raved about the band so Nancy, my wife and I flew over to Bologna and they picked us up and we went to the little tiny village that they are all from and we had dinner, with Italians the first thing they do is eat, then we went to rehearsals for an hour for two. After we woke up the next morning we rehearsed again, all day this time. Then next morning we gather all the equipment together and loaded the van. There was 6 of us and all the equipment in a little van. So, we’d got up at 4.30 the next morning to leave for a 10 hour drive to Frankfurt. We played that night after the long drive stuffed into what I call the “veo-cage.” That was the start of the tour and it’s been non-stop since.

It’s been amazing to be back here. It’s always been non-stop touring for me but my European visits have been more sporadic. But now that I have a manager who has been able to get this tour together of 32 dates there is a lot of interest again. So, I’ll be coming back more often. 

The album moves away from the Americana mode that you are associated with even though you have been a rocker at heart for a very long time?

Well I never really got that far away from it but people never really associated me with it because of Rank & File kinda pinned that Americana thing on me. Also, my association with Bloodshot Records had a lot it too as well as singing on Ryan’s (Adams) record the Whiskeytown album. My taste has always been towards The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, New York Dolls,The Seeds, The Standells … those bands as well as Motown and blues. The Americana thing has come by association really. 

Yet traditional Country was also a part of your musical journey.

You have to think of some of the great country artists like Lefty Frizzell. Nobody was making records and doing arrangements like he was. Bob Wills was basically doing jazz and he was drawing from all the best big bands in America: guys from Benny Goodman’s band and from Lionel Hampton or whoever. Then you had people like Waylon. When we formed Rank & File we found some sort of thread between Waylon’s music and dub music. That’s what we wanted and my rhythm guitar playing was totally skanking with the snare drum. That also reflected Mexican music.

That’s why I think that when you tag a label on music, such as Americana, it doesn’t do anything to help the artistic, creative process. You need to break down walls to create something new. I instantly bristle and want to rebel against it. If you tell me I’m Americana I’ll make metal machine music. I know that a lot of people tend to find comfort in it. It’s not like a real individualistic thing, it’s more a sound. Like the Burrito Brothers or Dillard and Clark or whatever. That is all wonderful music but I don’t think it needs to be recreated. 

When you claim to be the greatest fucking blues band (or whatever) in the world you’re just shooting yourself in the foot. I understand it for press purposes but in the end you have to live with these things. When you get to a certain age and you know better I think it’s best to let the music speak for itself. Let someone else label it because I don’t even know what it is. I’m not sure myself half the time. I’m just playing songs.

This record (Burn Something Beautiful) is taking it back to the Northwest and playing with Peter (Buck) and Scott (McCaughey), especially Kurt (Bloch) on lead guitar. It put us back in the garage and that was a beautiful place to be. I knew I would get that with them and we had toured a little bit together so that gave us an idea what the record was going to be like. It took a long time as a lot of things happened in the interim, a lot of personal things. All of us, not just me, went through a lot of things. Like Nancy (Alejandro’s wife) and I went through a hurricane that led to a year of PTSD. We had to get through that and when that was over we were finally ready to make the album. When we started I wrote with Pete and then Scott came in and we all worked together and we got some really wonderful songs. They allowed me to take over the lyrics so that I could shape a story that was mine as I was going to have to sing them.

Do you draw a lot from the energy levels from the music?

Yes, due to a couple of things, one was the end of my Hepatitis C, finally get rid of that has given me a lot of energy and then playing these songs has naturally inspired me to want to get back into that head space where your discovering things. You know I haven’t had a drink in 15 years because of my health but I got rid of the Hep C and it’s gone. Now people don’t even ask if you drink or not, they just pour you a glass of wine and when I’d say no they acted offended. Then I had a little half glass of wine and it was ok. But when I got to the UK I had a couple of beers and that was ok too.  

Your health, lifestyle and background all reflect in your music?

My music has always been drawn from a certain respect for life and death. Including the grief that we have to work through for so many things. It could be a personal experience. My previous wife committed suicide but the effect of that was to really open up my music a lot. I became more able to come open about what I was going through. There is no greater compliment to me as a writer as to when other people come to me and relates that a wife or brother or someone they know and love has passed away and that my music has guided them in some way. To help find some kind of understanding of that. 

All I was doing was writing about my feelings and thoughts about what I was going through and I really expected nothing of it. But then people started coming to me like people who had experienced suicide in some manner. Suicide is a mysterious and never ending cycle of feelings. It’s like a ripple effect in that it affects people so far beyond the actual act people you’re not even aware of sometimes. It was a little daunting as I don’t think that I was prepared to give anyone advice at the time. Last the same time it helped me as I could see how far I’d gone as opposed to someone who was just new to this experience.  

On the album (Burn Something Beautiful) we talked about the process of getting older and raging, especially in Rock ’n’ Roll. I played a, I think 73rd birthday party, for Ian Hunter and he came out and showed us all what it’s all about I don’t care who got up there to sing as once he got up there you thought of no-one else who had performed prior to that. I often play I Wish I Was Your Mother or All The Young Dudes as a solo encore at gigs because Mott The Hoople were wild. Ian’s still making great records and his band is amazing. He’s been a big inspiration for me. When I was a punk rock kid in Austin all I knew was to turn the amp right forever, good hair and wear tight trousers were the whole thing, right!(laughs). I was constantly asked to play something when a guy would hand me a guitar so I’d learned Mott’s I Wish I Was You’re Mother they loved it and they didn’t know who wrote it. 

You have worked with some inspiration producers in your career.

Yes, people like John Cale, Tony Visconti, Chris Stamey and Peter and Scott on this album and I give them all the credit for that. When I work with a producer I really like to let that producer do his thing. There’s a lot of guys that I know have a very strong ideas of what they want to do and then they start butting heads with the producer and to me that’s not wealth he’s there for. If you think you know enough to produce your own record why invite someone in. When I invite someone in I allow them to guide me and I have to trust them. It takes me a long time to decide who I want to work with because I don’t want to work with just anyone. I have been offered the opportunity to work with some interesting people but, also, I don’t want them to just make their own record either.

The current political climate in America, for someone with your background, must be difficult to say the least. Do you feel the negative side of this?

Absolutely. It’s a frightening time in our country and it seems to be a frightening time in the world the more I travel. America is faced with this resurgence of right wing and in France with Marie LePen and England with Brexit. There seems to be a trend in that direction that has to be stopped. The world seems to have reached a boiling point again. Then in the 70s and 80s it became about money - and about ME. So hopefully this will draw us back to a place where we become more concerned with each other. I keep thinking that these devices that we are drawn to and addicted to … I’m talking about phones and computers in a world where it’s called ‘social media’ but to me it’s done everything but create a social world.

Interview by Stephen Rapid     Photograph by Nancy Rankin Escovedo

Wednesday
Aug222018

Interview with Prinz Grizzley


Prinz Grizzley and his Beargaroos – Chris Comper Interview

My first encounter with Chris Comper was at Kilkenny Roots in 2017, when he and his band – Prinz Grizzley and his Beargaroos - played no fewer than six shows on the Smethwick’s Free Trail over the weekend. The appearances made quite an impression on the festival organisers and punters alike, to the extent that they were invited back this year. On this occasion they were booked as a premier act, performing two showcase gigs together with being invited to play the festival ‘wind down’ party on the final day of the festival. It is no coincidence that 2018 has also found them playing at The Static Roots Festival in Germany and being invited to play shows at Americana Fest in Nashville in September. However, what might appear as overnight success is far from the case, Comper has been working tirelessly over the past number of years to establish himself and his band in a sometimes-overheated European market, competing with the countless number of visiting American and Canadian acts together with artists closer to home. While reviewing the Austrian’s 2017  Come On In album in Lonesome Highway it was summed up as "a joy from start to finish, nothing new or ground breaking, simply good lived in music that hits the spot from an unexpected source." We caught up with Comper, while at home drawing breath between tours to get the low down

Austria is well acclaimed musically, with Vienna considered the European Capital of classical music. However, not many roots bands have emerged from Austria. Where did your enthusiasm for country music originate from and what artists and albums pointed you in that direction career wise?

Apart from all the mix tapes (CCR, Bruce Springsteen, Status Quo) my father passed on to me, he gave me a Bellamy Brothers Best of Cassette as a gift. I loved the melodies and the harmonies of them, have to admit I still do. I guess from then on countryesque music had a place in my heart. Later on, I was really into Oasis at that time, but also lent my ears to Ryan Adams, a friend gave me a copy of John Hiatt´s Crossing Muddy Waters. The honesty and power of that record really blew my mind, from then on, I knew one day I would try that kind of music myself. And then when I made demos for the first songs of what would become my debut album, I still wasn´t sure in what kind of environment I would place them, until Daniel Romano´s "Come Cry With Me" hit my horizon.  I knew then that pedal steel was the way to go. Not to forget the Album Harvest by Neil Young, I bought that CD 3 times because of the heavy use of it!

I get the impression you’re a particularly structured individual. Well-rehearsed sets, top quality instruments, well packaged album with great artwork and one of the few bands that always have their setlists printed! Is it important for you that every box is ticked correctly?

To tick every box is my way of working, structure keeps my wheel turning, otherwise I couldn´t handle everything alone. There´s my family, my full time job, booking shows, writing songs etc...  Sometimes I should have a 25 hours day or a manager.

Tell me about the song writing for your current album Come On In. What was the starting point and over what period were the songs written?

The oldest song on the album is Personal Hell, I wrote it about 8 years back for a friend of mine. I Can See Darkness and Fiery EyesI shortly wrote after the release of the last Golden Reef album in 2012, I guess. They have been around for a while. All the other songs on the album I wrote shortly before I recorded them, I would say none was older than 6 months. Most came pretty easy after I knew in which direction I wanna go.

Which came first, the words or the music?

That depends, if I have a kind of topic in my mind or some kind of feeling is hunting me. When it’s a topic thing its words first, when it’s a feeling always music. And I try to stick to one rule, chorus first.

There are a lot of heartache and pleas for forgiveness and redemption on the album’s lyrics, often camouflaged by the upbeat music that accompanies them. Did you write of personal experiences or entirely fictional?

In every song is a bit of me, that´s why I am writing songs.

Is opening track Wide Open Country particularly confessional? 

Maybe!

The track Walls, is a particular favourite of mine, recalling Ryan Adams' Jacksonville City Lights period. It’s not a song that you perform in your shows? 

Walls is a very personal song, I wrote it after I visited my Grandpa in the nursing home for the first time. It was his lifetime nightmare to spend his last days in such an environment, but there was no other option. After his third stroke he lost control over his body and wasn´t able to talk or walk anymore. When I looked in his eyes I saw the strong man that I knew was gone, his eyes were empty and that broke my heart. I had real troubles to do the vocals for this song, until I really reconnected with that very day of my visit. Then I did it in one take and after that I was in tears. I guess to do this song live, I need to separate myself from the emotion of it, but I haven´t found a way of doing this yet. That´s why it’s not on the setlist.

The artwork and packaging on the album are impressive but very dark. Was that a reflection of your state of mind at that time or purely to create an ambience?

Never thought of this, maybe it was both. All I know, the artwork fits the songs perfectly!! In my opinion.

Recalling your early band Golden Reef, do you feel they would have made a breakthrough in the indie rock genre given the breaks and what did you learn from the experiences in that band?

I would say in those days indie rock was a battlefield, so many good bands especially from the UK. If you hadn't the luck to get signed or have at least a good manager you were lost in the thick of this forest. What I learned is, if there is no one helping you then help yourself, don’t wait, just do it yourself. When one door closes another one opens up.

How have you changed as a writer and musician since your early days with that band?

Can´t say, still hunting those songs and try to make that guitar work. But I would say I am more focused on finishing a song than I was 10 years ago.  I think this came with my kids, if you have ten minutes until the baby cries for food you take the idea and try to make it work.

Things have really come together for you and your band in a relatively short period of time with appearances at Kilkenny Roots Festival in Ireland, Static Roots in Germany and upcoming showcases at Americana Fest in Nashville. What triggered this and have you medium to long term plans going forward?

Kilkenny was really good to me and the band. John Cleere gave me the opportunity. I took it, we went there and played our hearts out, did six 90 minutes sets in four days and luckily the people liked what they heard. It opened a lot of doors for me. But I still have to work hard for everything, every gig, every opportunity. No time to put the feet up.

Pedal steel gets pride of place both on the album and at your shows bringing much of your material to another level. How important is that sound to you?

Like you said, the Pedal steel takes my songs to another level and also gives a sweet touch to my sometimes growling voice.

Is it feasible for you to survive concentrating on the European market or do you need to look further afield?

I think the European scene is really good, especially the UK, there are a lot of places to play and every place is easy to reach. I mean, there´s a good reason why so many American and Canadian bands coming over to play one tour after the other. As a European artist to tackle the American market, you need at least some kind of a hit or an album that can keep up with the big guns. One step after another!

Are you working on a follow up album to Come On In and if so will it travel a similar musical path?

In fact, I will be in the studio later this year. But I have written so many songs over the last two years that I could make more than just one album. The songs go from blues to folk to country and even a bossa nova, we will see which ones make the cut. So, there should be an album coming next year.                  

Interview by Declan Culliton