Tuesday
Feb282017

James McMurtry Interview

 

James McMurtry is a much-respected artist who has largely existed below the commercial radar of commercial media since his debut release back in 1989. With 11 releases to his name this singer-songwriter has continued to endure where many have failed. McMurtry comes across as a deep thinker and someone who chooses his words carefully. He appears as a shy man with natural humility but also possessing a healthy sense of irony. His music is a testament to the sharp mind that surveys all before it and is well attuned to the ways of the world. He spoke to Lonesome Highway prior to his show in Whelan's in Dublin (January 2017).

Is live touring something that you enjoy?

Yea, it’s most of my job really. We don’t get any money from record sales anymore, it’s all road.

When you getting ready to start an album, do you first look for a record deal or do you record and then look for a label?

I’ve done it all different ways. I usually decide to make a record and look for financing to get it done.  To find a label that can licence the record in different territories but I haven’t done enough of that in Europe in the past 20 years. It is always scary coming to Europe because of the overhead. We are at the age where we don’t share hotel rooms anymore or sleep on the floor; each of us has to have his own room nowadays. But on this tour we got some beer sponsorship which helps to not lose money. 

So, is touring really profitable anymore?

We get most of our profit in the States. Used to be where we toured to promote record sales and expected to lose money on the tour; now it’s the other way around where we put out a record so that you guys will write about us and we can get people in the clubs to come out and support the tour.

You have been touring you last album Complicated Games and are now bringing it to Europe.

I’m over here because I’ve run out of territory in the States. You can only go back to a market very 12 or 18 months and we have been around twice on this last record so we can’t really tour as a sole headline there again until 2018. All the work we are doing there right now is package or solo fly-out stuff or co-bills with other acts that are in the same State and the same situation. So, between the two of us we can draw a bigger crowd or play a bigger venue. We just did some dates on the West Coast with Anders Osborne and that turned out really well. Sometimes those tours can be pretty disastrous but this time we were pretty lucky.

I was noticing your comments regarding Napster and Spotify and touring to promote the sales of your records. Can the artist even get paid anymore?

If it is even downloaded of your label’s site the royalty is still a lot less than it was with the hard product. Fortunately, our crowd are about the same age so our people want to buy hard products.

It is always better to get the physical product from the point of view of information about the release. Our website works on the basis of physical product only. Is life becoming more complicated as a result?

I don’t know. We just keep going down the road and this is the only thing we know. My son is just releasing his second record and people ask if I give him advice. We get together and try to figure out where this thing is going. He knows about as much as I do.

When you write in character do you have to imagine that character?

I try to imagine the character and follow the words in rhyme and metre ‘cause that is how it starts – with a couple of lines and then you try to imagine the character who said those lines. And you get a story – it might take awhile but you get a verse and chorus structure going and the song builds itself. The template is carved. Several songs just started out as jams as putting lyrics to existing music can be really hard. St Mary of the Woods started out like that.

Does the song-writing get easier as you get older?

No. But it doesn’t get any harder either. You can leave a lot to the listener because it is verse, it doesn’t have to be that detailed.

Is what is happening worldwide an influence on the characters that you are writing?

A lot of my characters are dated and the songs are dated. I put a song out on the website (Remembrance), just before the election and it’ s not about Trump per se; but about demagoguery in general, mostly focused on Franco as I was in Spain just after Franco passed and I lived with a family where they wanted Franco back out of the grave and didn’t want this Democracy stuff that required thought...

And yet when you recall the songs ‘We can’t make it here’ and Cheney’s Toy’ which dealt with the Bush administration, you could almost cut & paste them onto the situation that we are now facing

It never seems to change. I sang that song (Cheney’s Toy), during the first Obama administration too and I finally just got tired of it and quit playing it.

The critical reaction to Complicated Game was very positive. Were you happy with the media response as it had been some time since the previous release?

We did not have to make another record for economic purposes as the previous one held up for so long. It was really unusual. Already this latest one has fallen off so we need to get back in the studio and make another one.

Do you play with the same guys all the time?

Pretty much so. Tim (Holt) and Daren (Hess) have been in the band for 18 years while Cornbread has been with me for about the last 5 years.

Do you still have the residency in the Continental Club?

We have been doing that since 2002 and we do it whenever we are home. It starts at midnight and goes until 2.00am.

The Outlaw Country stance against the traditional sound of Nashville. Is that something that impacts on you living in Texas?

When I hear outlaw country I think of Waylon Jennings. That started so long ago and they are still calling it that but I no idea what they are talkin’ about. They have this thing called Americana which is a catchall for all of us who were having a hard time getting on rock radio and we couldn’t get on mainstream country radio.

Do genres annoy you?

Not really. If I can squeeze into something then people can find my records and buy them. It’s becoming what AAA became, which was what AOR was. Now we are getting the Bonnie Raitt’s and Robert Plant as Americana artists.

Does You Tube open up avenues to your music?

I don’t know because I don’t really go to You Tube very often. I dread to think what some of my clips may be like...!

Perhaps it opens up some traffic to your website?

I don’t know as I don’t monitor the demographics. If we have money in the accounts, then we can do stuff and that is ok with me.

Do you plan to go back in the studio soon?

If I have enough songs. I was going to go to California for the next record and have Ross Hogarth produce as he seems interested. He recorded my first two records and mixed the first one that I produced; St Mary of the Woods.

Do you enjoy the studio experience?

It can be tedious. I have done records where the producer wanted an insane number of takes- like on ‘Lost in the Back-yard’ where we did maybe 20 takes and the drummer nearly lost his mind – funnily, it was the “drummer loses his mind” take that made the song...!! You don’t know how you’re gonna get it but usually I like to get it done quickly...

Can we expect a broadside against Trump?

I don’t think he deserves that much attention. He is just another of many dime-store demagogues who happened to come along at the right time and sell it to Americans. 30 years ago, there was a guy called Lyndon LaRouche who ran as an independent in the Mondale/Reagan race and was saying the same thing - but back then, the world was different and there was no NAFTA and there were no manufacturing job losses. Ideas that Trump is spouting now could find no purchase. 9/11 happened and all this paranoia – suspicion of anything other... It is real easy to get people to focus their fear and hatred against an ethnic or racial/ religious group.

The message into Europe from other American artists seems to be one of community and looking to bring people together

My cousins all live out in the country and they live in a different reality. I was turkey hunting with them one time; during the Florida recount when Bush was losing the election to Gore and they were perturbed that Gore was trying to steal the election from Bush. The same with Reagan was running, the academics and the people I hung out with, did not think he had a chance whereas you talked to a country person they were all solid Reagan lovers.

Do you find the creative process one of isolation?

I don’t mess with it much. If I get a line out of somewhere, I put it on my cell phone. The creative process is very brief. I don’t spend a lot of time creating.

Do you do a lot of reading or research?

I read one or two books a year usually. I’m not a big reader.

You have been quoted  as saying that you ‘write with a poet’s pen and a painter’s precision’. While another quote is that you don’t really make a conscious decision what you write about. Is the reality somewhere between?

Well you can write a song that completely expresses another opinion than your own. A lot of my songs do because my characters do not necessarily agree with me. If you listen to Carlisle’s Hall that guy is complaining about Government regulation of fisheries. Of course he is, because he is a commercial fisherman and that is how he makes his living. I don’t think that way; I think that we have to regulate fisheries or we are not going to have them. But I’m not trying to haul my living out of a bay.

Is the glass half full of half empty?

Townes Van Zandt said that some folks look at a glass and think it’s half empty; some folks look at a glass and think it’s half full; I look at a glass and wonder if its water or vodka.

Interview by Paul McGee and Stephen Rapid    Photographs by Stephen Rapid and Kaethe Burt O'Dea

Tuesday
Feb212017

Aaron Watson Interview

As an independent country music artist, Aaron Watson has released 13 albums and in February 2015, he made history when he released The Underdog, making him the first independent male artist to debut at number one on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. The record sold more than 26,000 units in the first week.

As part of his European Tour Aaron Watson plays a gig in Ireland for the first time and gives Lonesome Highway an interview to share his philosophy and thoughts about the music business and his career.

Your first time in Ireland and you have brought the full band with you. Does this work financially when you are trying to break into new territories and does it not make sense to come over initially on a solo basis?

My band are on salary so apart from a couple of extra plane tickets it makes sense. Our show in London sold 500 seats, so we have grown that market relatively quick and Manchester was 300, Glasgow about the same… So, we have had a successful run and although the show in Dublin is in a small room, it is sold out. I love doing acoustic shows as well and you have to make the most of every night. I have been doing this for 17 years now, 13 albums, 2500 shows and we are still up and coming. We have played all sorts of venues. There is nothing better than a small venue packed full of people who love music. It’s going to be so much fun and I want the crowd to hear the full band.

Being an independent artist you have a lot of responsibility in taking care of the business. Do you have a large staff back home that helps with the running of it all?

I’ve got a couple of dozen people in what has developed into a pretty solid business. I love music, I love writing songs and playing live but If you don’t have a solid sense of business about things, then you cannot continue doing what you love. I wait until the time is right to hire the right people. People ask me why I have not signed to a major label and I say that I have now become the major label.

You have achieved everything without compromising at all; rather than have the major labels dictate to you what direction you should take

Yea, that feels so good and I love music, so I can’t imagine having to sing songs that I don’t like. How can you sell people a bunch of crap? My new album is coming out in a month and I wrote all sixteen songs and I’m passionate about all of them. I can get up on stage and share the story behind each song, where it came from and what it means to me. It’s soulful and personal and not really about the genre. It’s about whether it is original and unique.

Technically I do have a record deal because I’m married and my wife is the CEO and I’m more like the custodian! On a serious note, music is not an Industry, it’s the family business … We’ve always put the fans first. How has a West Texas boy from some small town outsold so many major artists.

Over the years, we have stayed true to our brand of country music. We haven’t shifted and chased after the different phases and stages and flavours of the month. We stay true to ourselves and we work hard. I always say we ride a horse named hustle and we always put our fans first and like to hang out with them after each show. The people who turn up tonight, tell their friends and it starts to grow. It only takes a spark.

I play a little of everything and there will be a couple of new songs. I am a fan first and know when you go to a show, you want to hear the artist play your favourite songs. So you slowly and gradually incorporate the new songs in due time.

You have spoken in the past about getting up early to write songs. Do you still do that?

I love that. We live on a farm with a lake behind the house and as the sun comes up I make coffee and I write with my guitar before breakfast and before my kids start to wake up. I may take ‘em to school and then come back and write some more; or maybe go on the ranch and do some work there. There is nothing more satisfying, in my opinion, than writing a well-crafted song. That feeling you get inside after you’re finished, when you say ‘this is a good song’...

When you are writing a song do you go back and redraft until you get a perfect version of it?

Absolutely. More so than ever lately with the new record (Vaquero). After the success of the last album, The Underdog, which debuted at number 1 in the Billboard Country Charts, a lot of people said that if we wanted to continue our success then we would have to break out of the Texas outlaw thing. Because, they said, that made us a regional act. Well, I just laughed and said we played 38 states and 8 countries last year so that’s not a regional act. It’s a wrong opinion and perspective.

I’m from Texas and this is where I was born and raised so it is an integral part of who I am. It’s like food; you don’t have to be from Mexico to like Mexican food or from Italy to like Italian food – to think that me being me, is going to keep me from crossing over borders? That is just narrow minded. I remember Chris LeDoux when I was growing up and he was singing about Wyoming and it made me want to go to Wyoming. It’s like U2, when I study some of the lyrics and realise he is writing about home; his home. We all like history and geography and music has that in it too. When people said we had to get away from that Texas thing, I didn’t pay much heed to it; what we did for the new record was to paint a Texas flag on an old building outside a town where I live and I held up a guitar in a very revolutionary pose; just to let ‘em know we are from Texas.

Is the new release, Vaquero, a concept record?

The vaquero is the original cowboy. There is a lot of tradition with the vaquero and I wanted the album to be rooted, rebellious and traditional. I wanted to make music that you have never heard before. When the band are playing, we can open for any rock band and hold our own. It’s about energy and passion and we thrive on our live show. We have the energy of a punk band but we just use a telecaster and a fiddle. The new record has 16 songs and I wrote all of them so If the record is terrible then it’s my fault. There is a common theme of believing in who you are, sticking to your values; don’t let people push you around. I focus on Faith, family and my brand of country music for my fans.

Are the studio musicians the same as the touring band?

I change them around so that they don’t get tired, having played on the album for so long. I ask them who they want to play with on the records, who are their musical heroes and this pushes them to be better musicians.  They have a lot of say in how the songs turn out as they spend time in pre-production with me also. It is a big group record. I produced all my records, some are co-productions and I write the songs and know what they should sound like in my head.

I notice that you sang with Willie Nelson on your 4th release. How did that come about?

What that does is give me bragging rights for the rest of my life. I think it helped me a lot and helped validate me as an artist. Ray Benson from Asleep At The Wheel produced that record and he was playing pool with Willie over at this house and he was playing a rough copy of my new record in the background. Willie said "I really like this stuff" so Ray said if he really liked it all that much he should go and sing on the record. The rest is history. My Dad is a huge Willie Nelson fan so when I got to tell him at home in Amarillo, he was so excited. Willie is not a genre; he is the genre – he is the icon.

Willie, Waylon, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, they are my heroes. My heart belongs with the songwriter; Guy Clark, Townes van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earl and the rest of ‘em.

There still seems to be a Nashville vs Texas territorial divide. Do you see that still happening?

Maybe Willie or Waylon started that? Some say it was Bob Wills who played at the Oprey years back and when they wouldn’t let him have an amp onstage, he just packed up and went home. George Strait was not included as a member for many years. Even when our record went to no.1, it caused quite a stir there. The Country Music Hall of Fame and The Opry have been good to us in recent years but I don’t do this to win awards and my career doesn’t revolve around radio or charts. My career revolves around my fans because these are the things that matter. The mainstream artists, my heart goes out to a lot of ‘em, because their days are numbered. You gotta work hard and get on the road. The rest of the World is working hard so every artist should do that as a basic.

All your kids names start with the letter ‘J’, Any particular reason for that?

My wife said that their names would all start with the letter J. Therefore, they did …

Jack, Jack and Jolie Kate - my kids love music and are growing up playing the right stuff, Waylon, Willie, the Beatles. Then recently, my baby girl asked for a Taylor Swift guitar and songbook for Christmas and she wanted me to teach her how to play some of her songs. I said she needed to lock the door as her mamma will video us and put it up on Instagram and Facebook…!!

Music is so subjective, I always stay very open-minded and I don’t dismiss anything. If you are at the top of the mountain, then people say you sold out. You have to be political. If you are small and independent and making the same records, then everybody loves you. It’s a fine line, a fickle game. It’s about the music and the fans and continuing to spread our brand of country music wherever we go.

Ireland is important to us and we will come back because we are committed to Ireland and want to earn the love and respect. You have to be able to start at the bottom and work your way up. New markets are exciting; unchartered territory. It’s an honour to be here.

My Mother has Irish roots and wants me to get some dirt from Ireland for her garden. I wish every woman was as easy to please!!

Postscript:

Aaron Watson gets his wish when Lonesome Highway presents him with a small jar of Irish soil during the show for his Mamma back in Texas. He is thankful and comes across as a genuinely enthusiastic and very likeable person who is fully committed to his craft. He speaks with a refreshing candour and is generous with his time and energy. We look forward to welcoming Aaron Watson back to Ireland and to watching his career continue to blossom in these territories. Aaron Watson's new album Vaquero is out now.

Interview by Paul McGee and Stephen Rapid  Photograph by Stephen Rapid

Sunday
Feb192017

Erin Rae Interview

We are not normally in the habit of reviewing an album on two separate occasions at Lonesome Highway. There are exceptions however, as was the case with Soon Enough by Erin Rae. A promotional copy of her album was reviewed by myself in June followed by a further review of the album in October by my colleague Paul Mc Gee. Whether this was an editorial master stroke or an oversight is neither here nor there! More to the point is the impact the album had on both of us with references to ‘one of the finest songs of the year (Clean Slate)’ and ‘one of the highlights of the year and a must buy’ being included in the reviews. Lonesome Highway caught up with Erin Rae after she returned to Nashville following a whistle stop tour of the UK supporting Cale Tyson.  

Your recent tour of the UK with the Meanwhiles received hugely positive feedback. How important is it for you to create a market in the UK/Europe?

We had a really great time. I felt and feel very fortunate to have such a warm welcome our first time to the UK ... I'd say it's just as important to me to develop the market and relationships over there as it is to do so in the States. It has been at the forefront of my dream of being a musician. Ever since loving the Spice Girls as a little girl. (I was Posh). 

You’ve moved to centre stage with your album Soon Enough having performed as a backing vocalist for many artists in Nashville. What prompted the move? 

I've been working on my own music from the beginning. It's a fun part of being in the community and being a singer and getting to sing harmonies to share and support in friends music! We all help each other. Molly Parden has been singing with me for a few years, and she's got some exciting things coming her way! It's neat to see us all grow at different times. We each have our own paths, and it’s such an amazing thing to witness and help each other with. 

Soon Enough was recorded in two days, basically a live recording, over what period were the songs on the album written?

2012-2015. So a lot of the songs had been played for a couple years as a band, making the live recording fun and easy. And special!

On repeated listens the album reveals itself as possibly a commentary on a life’s experiences to date. Should we consider it autobiographical?

Yes, every song (excluding Pretty Thing) is autobiographical. However the sentiment of that song still is true to me. 

The album, for me, benefits from not being over produced and its quality is not in any way compromised by being recorded in such a short time frame. Had you and your band been performing the material live over a period of time?

Most of it we had! At least half of the songs, maybe more. There were some that were saved to release on the record, but we did already have the band template in place, so we used a similar format for those songs, taking away or adding elements where that was needed.  

The quality of female singer songwriters in Nashville operating under the Americana banner seems endless at present. I’m thinking of yourself, Lilly Hiatt, Molly Parden, Kelsey Waldon and Margo Price to name a few. Has Margo Price’s breakthrough acted as a confidence booster in terms of possible career progression for an artist like yourself?

Love all of those women, and the list goes on! Tristen, Caitlin Rose, Kristina Murray, Liz Cooper, Emily Nenni, Becca Mancari, and more and more! I think it acted as an affirmation of the path we are all on. That big things can still happen, that the reach can still be far for real music! That turn around has been happening. But, it has been such a cool time for music. So many incredible records were released in 2016, with more to come in 2017, and I think it's just a really good time for music. Also, the community here is such a supportive one, so it's changed a lot of the motivation in my mind from mainstream success being the focus, to creating a true path for myself. It's cool that those things might realign again for more of us, as we see with Chris Stapleton, Sturgill, and Margo, Aaron Lee Tasjan, to name a few. Margo has been so generous with me, inviting me to be part of really neat things as they come up, like her panel at AMA fest in Nashville last fall. I think a lot of people heard about me through that, and came out to my show, and its things like that which serve as the real confidence boosters. Feeling like the friends that you look up to and admire are also fans of your work is so invaluable. Thank you, Margo!

Your writing and delivery, for me, is as much West Coast influenced as Nashville. I detect certain parallels with artists such as Judee Sill and early Joni Mitchell for instance. Was this a sound that was influential to you when you were developing a musical direction? 

 I love Judee Sill. I think I discovered her on the Elizabethtown soundtrack, and the song Jesus Was A Crossmaker has become one of my recent favourites to try and cover. Those two voices weren't primary influences, but I do love them! I'd say my parents music and voices were the most directly inspiring/ taste-making for me, followed by Kate Campbell's voice, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings, Slaid Cleaves, Greg Brown, John Prine, Feist, etc. I love great voices with strong songwriting. I definitely love the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Neil Young, etc., so I'm sure that has helped to create the laurel-y sound!

What’s next in terms of a career move for Erin Rae. Do you intend returning to Europe to further promote the album and is there a follow up album under consideration?

We are actually going into the studio on Sunday at Cory Chisel + Adriel Denae's place in Appleton, Wisconsin, which is called Refuge Foundation for the Arts. It’s a monastery, turned creative space, right on the Fox River. Dom Billett, Jerry Bernhardt and I will be the main players, with Dan Knobler engineering/producing. That will come out later this year. We will be returning to the UK in June!

Can we expect some dates in Ireland on your return to Europe? 

Yes! I believe those are in the works now, official announcement should be out soon via Clubhouse Records UK. Thank you so much for having me!

Interview by Declan Culliton – Friday 10th February 2017

Friday
Jan132017

Jeff Finlin Interview 

Jeff Finlin Interview 22nd November 2016 – The Sound House Dublin

It’s a bitterly cold winters night in Dublin with the outside temperature marginally higher than in the venue where Jeff Finlin is about to take the stage for his slot on his latest Irish tour, this time accompanied by UK’s  Peter Bruntnell and our own Clive Barnes. Not the most obvious trio that comes to mind but having witnessed them in action the previous week in Kilkenny, both on and off stage, their compatibility as performers and personalities is obvious. The format for the tour are sets by Finlin and Bruntnell accompanied on guitar by Barnes, who also does a short solo set himself between the two acts. Clive Barnes comes across as the organiser, the tour manager, the sat nav of the team, always busy, setting up, sound checking, and stacking guitars. Peter Bruntnell is the most laid back, the joker, the happy go lucky one. He’s likely to slip out to the bar, have a pint ("I’m very disciplined, only having a few beers every other night on this tour" he tells us) and discuss the merits of Tottenham playing with Harry Kane as a lone striker or how Wales are likely to hammer both England and Ireland in the Six Nations. Off stage Finlin is the most reserved of the three, a listener, an observer, an artist that has been at the cold face of the music industry in Nashville and has witnessed first-hand the highs, lows, expectations, hopes and regrets of a ruthless industry. Yet he also exudes contentment, self-control and is an engaging and charming conversationalist. Hitting rock bottom almost 20 years ago was, by his own admission, a godsend. Getting sober was a life changer, leading him down a more spiritual and magical path which inspired much of his splendid catalogue of work as a songwriter, musician, prose writer and poet. Lonesome Highway took the opportunity to get an insight into the industry from a true survivor, career musician and writer.

 

You’re one of the few artists that have moved out of rather than into East Nashville in recent years. How did that come about?

My wife and I moved back there but she didn’t really like it, missed Colorado so we decided to get back to Colorado where she was happier, that was about two years ago. I had been in Nashville for twenty years, I cut my teeth there and then we moved to Colorado to raise my son, we wanted to get out of the city which turned out to be really good at the time. There may be an opportunity for me to go back so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Property prices have rocketed but we bought at the last minute so you could say it didn’t work out yet did work out as we still own a house there that we are renting. Even by getting in at the last minute was a coup and I still have a lot of ties there and I’m pretty bored in Colorado right now so I’m thinking of going back to Nashville more often as there are opportunities for me there at the moment. The music scene there is just crazy at the moment, the level of talent there, artists coming through and established acts, it’s amazing but it’s also a Nashville that comes with its own can of worms and the scene of all my crimes!  When I cross the county line I think "what’s that funny feeling in my stomach (laughs)." It’s a double edged sword that town. 

On reflection and twenty years into your career is it more difficult to make ends meet these days?

Completely, the music industry is gone, it’s over. It’s all about having enough of a name to go out and play and attract people, then it can work out. Who knows how it happens now, there used to be these paths to success which are all gone now, the publishing industry’s gone, the record labelling industry is gone. At least when I was young there was this $100 billion Industry that was out there spending money and making money so if you were in the right place at the right time with the right song something could happen for you. I knew guys that were in bands that signed record deals for a million dollars, records that never even came out! That certainly doesn’t exist anymore! There’s an entertainment industry and a touring band industry. It’s crazy but as artists we’re not in charge of the results, we just take action and turn it over and see what happens.

The contradiction is that the artists are still there, 2016 has possibly been the best year for recorded music in the past ten years

That’s it and you wonder how they make ends meet. You go to Nashville and you see a lot of the artists tending bar. There’s a great story about a well-known artist. It’s a story and I’m not sure if you can publish the artists name but it’s about these college kids having a wild party listening to him and his band and they decided to order a few pizzas and the delivery man comes to the door and guys who’s delivering the pizzas arrives and of course its him. The guys are like "what the fuck he’s my hero!" That’s the reality you know.

So tell me how you ended up touring over here with Clive (Barnes) and Peter (Bruntnell)?

Well, I wanted to come back to Europe as I hadn’t been over in six or seven years and I wanted to come back and dip my feet in the water again. So, I spoke with Clive last year and he said he’d call Peter up and see if we could all do a couple of weeks together in the UK. It worked and we were able to fill the two weeks and we had so much fun that we said we’d try and do the same in Ireland

Tell me about your writing. I’m aware that you’ve written a few books of prose. Did that direction come in advance of the song writing out the other way around?

The music always came before the prose. I’m kind of a word guy, I’ve always written songs because I’ve something to say. People will often say that the music comes first but for me it’s about the story. I’ve had so much stuff going through my head for over twenty years so I thought I need to put this all together in a book. My last book prose book just came along as a stream of consciousness thing. 

And is that a form of relaxation for you?

It can be (laughs), it just comes over me and I do it. The last prose book, I was going through certain stuff at the time and I just needed to sit down every morning and write stuff down. I’ve just finished a yoga book too, I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to writing and can get up at six every morning and write, I’m a morning guy so this touring and late nights turns my world upside down, going to bed at 2am and getting up at 8am (laughs). I’m not used to feeling shit all day and coming alive at six o clock in the evening, I’m used to feeling great at 5am and shit at 4pm (laughs). I’m good with the sun up.

So in terms of a young guy growing up in Ohio what sort of music were you introduced to?

I grew up in the 70’s which was probably the greatest time in history for music, the majority of people were listening to the best stuff. Those times in music history are rare, I grew up with all that great music radio in the 70’s, AOR radio and   I was a Stones, Beatles, Dylan guy ... Led Zeppelin too.  Black and white music was an integral part of what I listened to, they were separate and yet they were not. Getting to see Ike and Tina Turner live in 1974, Pink Floyd in '77, The Stones in '78 so many great bands in that era. I grew up with the blues, that’s why I loved the Stones, they went back into the blues and the Chuck Berry thing but I also always loved pop music. My song forms tend to lean as formalised as pop songs, there is blues influences but there’s pop form in there. Maybe that’s from hanging out in Nashville, it’s a very structured form based craft thing there and it rubbed off on me a little bit.

Your early career found you behind the drums I believe in the rock band The Thieves?

Yes, I was a drummer until I was 28 years old and started writing songs, a bit of a late developer as a songwriter and a guitar player. Some guy at the gig last night commented that I was a perfectly paced guitar player. I had to tell him that I’m actually a drummer and he said ‘Ah well that explains!’  Every good guitarist needs a good drummer behind him so I pretend to be both!

Are you optimistic career wise going forward?

I’m kind of in the middle, I’ve got my ass kicked enough not to get my hopes up. I just trust that inner voice to tell me when I need to write and what I need to do. I’ve just finished another album in Holland that will be coming out next year, have some more touring lined up but realistically it has to be sustainable so we’ll just have to see. I don’t do what I used to do, killing myself. I can’t do twenty-two dates in twenty-three days in three countries anymore, nor do I want to, life’s too short.

Your current compilation album Life after Death. How difficult was it to select the songs from your extensive back catalogue and did the record label give you a free hand to select the material?

Not too hard, there are songs that are missing, as I’ve been reminded. They allowed me to select all the songs myself which was nice of them, though I reckon if I don’t know myself by now I have a problem!  I tried to pick songs that were unique to my own little twisted lyrical thing but also wanted it to flow as a piece of work you know and not be disjointed and have a beginning and an end and feel that it flowed the whole way through. It can be difficult when you’re putting twenty songs together but I’m happy with it.

Interview by Declan Culliton

Monday
Jan092017

Country Lips Interview

  

Country Lips are an eight piece country band who have just released their latest album Till The Daylight Comes. It is a testament to their talent, attitude and collective take on traditional country music - somethhing that is a whole lot of fun. Lonesome Highway recently took the opportunity to throw some quick questions to the band.

What brought you guys together as a country band in Seattle?

We were all part of the music scene out of the U-District in north Seattle, some of us playing in other bands together. There had been talk of our shared interest in country music. Austin (bass) invited us to his house to jam on some old country tunes one night. We all brought a song or two, and that became our first set list. He booked us a show maybe a month later. We were super raw but excited to share the side of country music we loved - the party, honky-tonk, hard-edged side of country music. We started writing songs not long after that. A few lineup changes later and here we are.

Playing country music of the old school type is not usually something associated with the area. Is there a good local scene there?

There really is. Seems like there have always been at least a couple of very solid true country bands in Seattle since it was put on the map as a music town. And that seems to be more true today than ever. In Seattle proper the scene exists mainly around three venues (Tractor, Conor Byrne, and the Little Red Hen, which serves as the hub) and more than a couple handfuls of solid country bands (check out Ole Tinder, Swearengens, Deception Past, Lucky Lawrence, Country Dave, Gus Clark). Regionally Washington can be about as back-country as anywhere! Remember, Loretta Lynn got her start in northern Washington State.

With a line up of 8 members is there a difficulty with people moving on or are there a pool of platters there you can draw from?

We have had a number of lineup changes since our inception. And we have relied on fill-ins here and there, but our lineup has been solid for three plus years now.

How do you collectively feel about the state of country music these days in the mainstream and independent sectors?

Despite the obvious, that mainstream modern country has kind of become its own genre, I feel there may be some kind of reunification coming, as “alt-country” artists like Sturgill Simpson, Whitey Morgan, or Nikki Lane grow in popularity. My favorite mainstream country artists have had more traditional country leanings anyway - Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley - and less of the arena-pop stuff that’s on the radio. But in spite of that weaker radio stuff, really good young musicians, singers, and songwriters are continuing to find expression through the more traditional country sounds and that is definitely a good thing for country music.

Your shows are a mix of original songs and some classic covers. Is that the best way to mix the old and new?

We think so. It’s a good feeling when we hear our song on the radio in a block of music with some of the greats and you think “hey that holds its own!”. Same idea in a set list.

How difficult is it for Country Lips to tour in the current climate?

Our touring difficulties are as much our own as they are the climate’s. We like touring as a full band and it’s tough bringing 8 on the road. And the market for live music 7-nights a week has dwindled all over the country.

Do you guys have day jobs to keep body and should together or how does that work?

We all do have day jobs and that also makes touring tough.

There is an element of humour in the songs and I’d imagine with such a large band that that needs to be part of the make up?

It is inevitable. Get that many fun-loving guys in a room together and try being serious.

With the album Till The Daylight Comes being available in Europe, do you intend to tour there?

We do, just a matter of when. Touring Europe is a major goal of ours. It will be a logistical challenge and we don’t have a plan yet in place but we’re hoping there will be enough of a demand to make it work sooner than later.

What is the best and worst thing about being a member of Country Lips?

Best: It’s a collective of the most supportive friends I could hope to have. We drive each other to be better musicians and band mates and we help each other out. Worst: it can be bad for ones health at times, what with all the partying. When it comes to drinking, we practice what we preach.

What do you see as the future of country music today. Will it survive on the fringes?

I think modern country music will continue to dominate in middle America, while alt-country and traditional country gain in popularity along the east and west coast. And like I said, I see more modern country artists breaking from the modern pop-country mold.

What do you draw inspiration from for your original material?

Musically it’s a blend of honky-tonk and Bakersfield - like Merle and Jones - with some Mexican norteño, and other outlaw country. Personally on guitar it’s all about “Chicken Pickin’” ala Brent Mason or Johnny Hiland.

Lyrically we seem to come back to our own personal struggles with love, money, work, and minor social deviance.

With a number of albums under your belt to date what is the band’s intention as a recording act and how important is that?

Hopefully we can up our rate of output, and keep recording albums at a more rapid clip. Recording is certainly something we’ll always be doing as it helps make sure we keep writing new material.

Outlaws or outsiders?

Outliers

Cowboy hats or backwards baseball Hats?

Almost always cowboy hats. Sometimes baseball hats, but usually forwards.

What are the bands ambitions for the future?

To keep getting better. To continue making music we love and to keep getting more and more opportunities to share it. Beyond that: Tour the world by boat. Move to Mexico and make a true norteño album. Waterski with Alan Jackson. The usual.

Interview by Stephen Rapid