Midland Interview

Midland are a trio who play country music that has an allegiance to the traditional side of things while maintaining a strong contemporary edge to their music. The latter is a result of working with the production and successful mainstream writing team of Dann Huff, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne. The former by their commitment to delivering songs in the spirit of 70’s and 80’s heroes like Gary Stewart and Dwight Yoakum. Mark Wystrach, Jeff Carson and Cameron Duddy had all played music in the past and with each other but never as the trio Midland until they met at a wedding, realised a common bond and began writing and playing together. They also come from different working backgrounds and experiences with Wystrach gaining employment as an underwear model and Cameron Duddy as a video director (for Bruno Mars). This background, in certain quarters, fostered some controversy about the band’s background and history but there was no discounting the success the band had with the song Drinkin’ Problem. It was featured on their 2016 EP and was released as a single in July the following year and was a Top 5 hit at radio. Later that year they released their album On The Rocks which also featured the 5 tracks on the EP along with 8 additional tracks. Both were released by the influential Big Machine a label who undoubtedly had the where-with-all to help the band get noticed.

They have been touring since the album’s release and are playing the C2C Festival in Dublin, Glasgow and London where they should make a lot of new friends with their looks, “Nudie” styled suits and strong country sound. Lonesome Highway spoke to the band in Nashville prior to their departure to Europe.

The band’s name was take from the song Fair to Midland which featured on Dwight Yoakum’s Population Me album. So I asked them what the song and the title meant to them and by choosing it from Yoakum’s work was he a hero of the bands. Jeff responded that Midland has “multiple meanings in that each of us has our own philosophical appreciation of that but it began with Dwight Yoakam’s Fair To Midland song”. He further explained that “We were all living in different places when we started the band and we kind of met in the middle, which was El Paso, Texas. We meet in the middle as what we do is the combination of the three of us. So it has those multiple meanings for us. But in the simplest form the Dwight Yoakum song is the source” He acknowledged that the singer/actor was a big influence at the beginning with his “brand of balls to the wall honky tonk”.

As Yoakum did in the 80’s and 90’s and as Marty Stuart and Jim Lauderdale do today, did they feel that wearing the embroidered suits on the album cover was a statement in itself. Jeff again was affirmative in his response “Yeah, if you take someone like Dwight and going back to people like Roy Rogers in the ‘40s and Gene Autry and others it was important to be seen or as Roy Rogers said “from the nosebleed seats.” He further reasoned “there has always been a certain pageantry in country music all the way up to Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakum and people like that. So we’re just wearing that influence literally.” 

Asked about the creation of the songs and their sound and how it developed Wystrach considered that the album came from “three years of us being on the road and playing live for three or four and sometimes five night a week. So that comes straight from our blood, sweat and tears. There is a persona in the album that’s a little bit of Jess and Cameron and of me. That came from where we had been and where we were living - which is what On The Rocks is all about, which was our journey.” 

So I wondered were they going to stick with the same team for their next recordings. Again Wystrach answered that “nothing stays the exact same.” Elaborating that with the band “there is always going to be evolutions but the elements of who and what we are in Midland are evolving, so I don’t think the next album will sound just like On The Rocks as we progress and something changes.” But did they as band members felt that they were working well as a team and that they were going to continue to work with the team we have. “Cameron, Jess and I are very involved with every single aspect from the songwriting to the production through the creative direction etc. Everything is done through the three of us. We have amazing collaborators in Dan Huff, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne so we’re looking forward to working with them again.”

In that light I asked if there was pressure for them to move in any way to a more pop-oriented direction to gain more exposure on radio. Wystrach considered this but felt that “Midland - me, Jess and Cam just focus on what we’re doing. I think that’s what has been cutting through. I think you can attribute a lot of the success to the fact that it has something that is fresh and something very musical. It’s not pop.” Midland he emphaised were aiming for something less throwaway that some of the music currently riding high in the country radio charts. The band were not trying to do follow that more obvious route and that in terms of their song writing “what we do has some density to it as we’re not writing disposable, mechanical pop songs. We are writing from the heart and that’s where it’s got to start and finish.”

Was that a difficult position to maintain in that light I wondered. This time Carson responded “We didn’t have pressure from radio as when we started we didn’t think that we would be getting radio play or that radio would be interested in the music. I think that Drinkin’ Problem shocked everyone by showing that there are people who want to hear that on mainstream country radio. So we didn’t record those songs for radio we recorded them for ourselves.” 

Like most bands there is a democracy of sorts at play but did the trio divide tasks among themselves to a role that they felt best suited. Duddy answered “Well it depends on the task but we are definitely more productive when we divide and conquer. We each have a strong suit in something and it’s also a better use of our time. Everything goes through Midland so it’s actually easier for us on an emotional level as I couldn’t imagine doing this myself.” There is obviously a close bond that they have together and they had evolved a way of working that suited them and helped with the stress that is part and parcel of being in a band in these times. Duddy felt that there was a lot of pressure involved in making music including touring and he noted “I feel that every week there is some new bar that you have to raise up to, some new obstacle, and to be able to do that together and bear the weight of the pressure is made durable by the three of us doing that together” Also in terms of creativity that “you have a bouncing board and it has therefore to pass through at least two filters. If you’re Luke Bryan you don’t have that.”  Therefore if you were an individual that “you are always thinking, in the back of your mind, where is this opinion coming from? Whereas when you’re in the band the three involved can give an honest opinion, a straight “do you like this or not?” 

With a time constraint I asked the final question as to how they like to play live “We travel with additional players, they are close friends. Robbie Crowell is our drummer Luke Cutchen is our guitar player. He was basically working on our guitars in Austin and so we offered him the job.” All are looking forward to bringing their show to Europe “We haven’t been across the pond yet to play a show.” Duddy ended the interview by exclaiming “Speaking for myself I’m really excited to be coming over.”

Interview by Stephen Rapid


Rachel Baiman Interview

27 year old Nashville based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Baiman released her debut solo album Shame in June of 2017. Baiman is also a member of 10 String Symphony, a duo with Christian Sedelmyer, both five string banjo players, whose 2015 album Weight Of The World featured on NPR’s listings of newest and most promising voices in Americana on it’s release.  She is scheduled to play dates next May at JJ Harlow’s in Roscommon and Cleere’s in Kilkenny on the final day of The Kilkenny Roots Festival. Both dates will feature her sharing the stage with Molly Tuttle who was voted Guitar Player of The Year at The IBMA Awards last October. Lonesome Highway caught up with Rachel to learn more about the album and the motivation for much of the material featured on it.

Your excellent album Shame featured in our Best of 2017, having reviewed it last year. It’s perfectly balanced by being most listenable while challenging thorny political and social issues head on. You must be particularly pleased with it? 

 I'm really proud of it- it was definitely a big step for me artistically, and thanks for your kind words!  

The title track is particularly powerful tackling subject matter that is currently the focus of a referendum to be conducted in Ireland in the coming months. Was this the first song written for the album?

I don't think it was the first song written chronologically - but it was the song that first shaped the whole idea for the album. I think I actually wrote I could have been your lover too first. But after I wrote Shame I think the thematic tone was set and I felt more sure that this was an album I needed to make. 

The album mixes present social and political issues rather than harping back to older times as other artists do. Is this an indication of someone who lives very much in the present?

Ha-ha I wish! I always admire people who are Zen and do lots of yoga (my band mates in particular). I think I live mostly in the future - I'm usually on to the next thing so fast that I can't fully enjoy the present. 

How did the song writing and formation for the material compare with your compositions for your other project 10 String Symphony?

I think it's a difference between a personal voice and a band voice. When 10 String Symphony began we were working a lot with traditional music and how we could innovate on that - deconstructing traditional forms and incorporating a lot of original elements. Now that we do mostly original material the writing and arranging is really collaborative and has to reflect the mutual voice that we've created. With Shame I kind of went the opposite direction- I wanted to uncomplicate things. I was purposefully honest and straightforward to a vulnerable extent. 

The album includes two covers, one being Never Tire Of The Road by Andy Irvine, an artist who’s writing continually tackles issues of social injustice. Were you introduced to his music at an early age?

Actually, no- I'm a more recent fan. My fiancé George introduced me to that song because he thought I would like it and I became obsessed. 

Rather than the expected rebellion against your parent’s principals as a teenager you actually embraced their ideals and continue to do so in your musical career. You obviously had an interest in global politics from an early age?

I wasn't necessarily interested so much as inundated with global politics, but I was definitely always interested in social justice issues. It took me a while to figure out how to make that something I can tap into emotionally, through songs. I was living to two spheres for a while, studying anthropology and playing music at night. Now I feel like those interests are very much one and the same. 

The motivation for founding Folk Fights Back hardly needs explaining given the political upheaval in The States over the past couple of years. How has the movement been growing and what are your realistic goals going forward?

We've seen a lot of amazing support this year, I think the movement grew really fast, more quickly than the three (myself, Lily Henley and Kaitlyn Raitz) of us really had time to do properly. So moving forward, we are going to aim to do fewer shows and have them be more synced up so that we can get back the national/international community feel of having them happen surrounding the same issue on the same day. We are also working this year to support voter registration and voter engagement for the mid-term election. A lack of voter participation is a huge problem over here.  

The lack of support for female artists whether it be by radio play or record labels must be a source of infuriation, particularly with the endless stream of talent presently residing in Nashville and the quality of the material being produced. How do you deal with this frustration and do you see any light at the end of the tunnel?

 I'm lucky to have worked with an amazing label, Free Dirt Records, for the release of Shame. Free Dirt has released a number of albums by great female artists, which is part of the reason that I wanted to work with them. They don't make a big deal out of their feminist business practices, they just treat it as business as usual, and I really like that. I think it's the way it should be because it normalizes things that should be normal. 

There is so much horror going on in the United States, and it's hard to find a group of people that isn't being attacked or disadvantaged further by this presidency.  It's hard for me to focus specifically on sexism in the music industry when I see it as a part of this huge societal issue. My way of dealing with the patriarchy in general is just to constantly push myself out of my comfort zone. I push myself to make the best music I can make, to be a better instrumentalist, to know about sound engineering, to work harder and dig deeper and exceed people's expectations of a "female artist" so that nobody can argue with my abilities and my professionalism.  I was inspired by some amazing female artists, Caroline Spence, Lilly Hiatt, Courtney Barnett, Dori Freeman, among many others, to believe in myself. So I hope that females in the music business can continue to inspire one another, lift each other up, and become those record label executives and radio programmers and producers so that we aren't depending on an unrepresentative population to "support female artists".

Did you train formally as a musician? 

Yes and no - I had a lot of lessons with fiddle players and violinists growing up. In college, I studied anthropology but I also spent a lot of time at the music school taking theory, ear training, music history, etc. 

You are due to perform at The Kilkenny Roots Festival in May with Molly Tuttle, another musical virtuoso. How did the relationship with Molly develop? 

Molly is a good friend of mine, we started hanging out when she moved to Nashville a couple years ago. Since she also recently released her first solo album, I thought it would be amazing for us to be able to co-promote our projects while simultaneously having a total blast.  As you know, Molly is a phenomenal instrumentalist and I'm really looking forward to learning from and playing with her. 

The pairing of you both on tour is inspired. Do you intend performing selections from both your recent albums on stage together or playing individual slots?

We will be doing a lot of collaboration, mainly backing one another up on our respective original material (me on fiddle and banjo for her songs, her on lead guitar for mine), but we are also working on some special new material that will be more duo oriented. 

I have no doubt you’ll get a tremendous reception and welcome when you play your dates in Ireland and very look forward to your shows

Thanks so much, we are really looking forward to it as well! 

Interview by Declan Culliton





Michaela Anne Interview


One of the joys of travelling to Nashville every September for the AMA’s Festival is discovering artists not previously encountered and with over 300 acts on offer each year it’s not difficult to come across a number of new-sprung gems.  2017’s pilgrimage was no exception with a number of - new to me - acts particularly impressing, none more than Nashville resident Michaela Anne.

 The 5 Spot on Forrest Avenue in East Nashville is where many emerging local artists cut their teeth, often at the renowned weekly Tuesday sessions hosted by Derek Hoke, which offers entry and beers at the princely sum of $2. Last year’s AMA’s Tuesday 5 Spot evening featured Nashville based band Los Colognes, listed to play the entire Neil Young Tonight’s The Night album in chronological order, but also to be joined on stage by ‘friends’. The mention of ‘friends’ immediately set off alarm bells that this was the place to be on that particular evening. True to form Margo Price, Caitlin Rose and Lilly Hiatt all joined Los Colognes on stage for what proved to be a memorable set with the venue full to capacity from early in the evening.  The icing on the cake was the opportunity to also catch Michaela Anne’s splendid support set, a mixture of traditional honky tonk and bar room weepies, aided by a top-notch collection of musicians.  A fellow annual Nashville wayfarer, who accompanied me to the 5 Spot, had met Michaela on a previous visit to the festival and made the introduction after her show. We agreed to make contact in the coming months for an interview with Lonesome Highway when she arrived back in Nashville following an extensive touring schedule as part of Sam Outlaw’s backing band.

Where do you call home today having relocated from Brooklyn to Nashville or did you even get a chance to unpack a suitcase given your hectic schedule last year?

Nashville’s home now. I moved there 3 years ago. My husband and I bought a house over a year ago but I’ve probably only lived in it collectively a handful of months. 2017 definitely was wild with how much I was on tour so I’m excited to be home a bit more this year.

The East Nashville underground scene is blossoming at present, populated in particular with an apparent endless stream of gifted female artists. On arrival did you find the environment supportive or competitive?

I found it really supportive. My first night in town I played a show at the 5 Spot in East Nashville and immediately met Kristina Murray, Erin Rae McCaskle, Derek Hoke and a handful of other local musicians who have all remained great friends. Erin Rae right away told me she thought Kelsey Waldon and I would hit it off, which we did, and that first year in town I felt immediately embraced and befriended by many of the women whose music I love. There are so many talented artists in town, especially of the female gender and I really do think we all genuinely support each other. Of course everyone probably feels envy or some sense of competition at different points as this is a tough business to keep going and survive in. But at the core I think there’s a sense of feeling like we’re all in this together. And we’re musicians, we love playing AND hearing music, so we genuinely do enjoy hearing each others work and being inspired by it.

I get the impression of Michaela Anne as a decidedly structured and disciplined individual, traits not always to be found in particularly artistic people but a huge advantage in someone focused on making a breakthrough. Is this an accurate assumption?

Ha! Well yes and no. I definitely work hard and am ambitious and driven and probably have a bit more “structure and discipline” then what some would assume the “typical artist” would have but I do also have my head in the clouds quite a bit. I did work for a record label right out of college so I learned at a young age some of the benefits of 9 to 5 office structure and the hard work that goes into promoting music. And of course the important lesson that just being good at music isn’t always enough to build a career. 

Your 2016 album Bright Lights and The Fame is top drawer traditional classic country, avoiding the radio friendly pop crossover sound so dominant on what passes for Country Music Radio today. Did you make a conscious decision to avoid a mainstream sound on the album?

Yes and no. It wasn’t conscious in that we weren’t overtly avoiding it. We were just making the record we liked and wanted to hear. I don’t like hating on things so I wouldn’t speak negatively about it but I would say the pop country radio sound is not one I’m particulary drawn to. I’ll get into a song here and there but generally the production isn’t my preference. I definitely love some good pop music and love a lot of 90s pop country but for my album I was drawing more inspiration from records of the 60s/70s and my favorite old records by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and early Lucinda Williams records.

I believe you had written a number of the songs before heading to Nashville. Were the finished versions dramatically different from what you originally intended?

The majority of the songs were actually written in Nashville. Stars I wrote in Brooklyn following the death of my grandmother, Luisa was in Brooklyn and Liquor Up I started in Brooklyn but finished the day before we started tracking in the studio. Writing in Nashville was the first time I had concentrated and dedicated writing time. In New York, everything takes longer and is more expensive so having a whole day to focus on songwriting was a very rare luxury. Nashville provided me with that and it was exciting to get to focus on songs in a whole new way. I remember when Dave Brainard and I wrote Everything I Couldn’t Be, we started at 9am and didn’t end until 9 at night. We took breaks for meals but I had never had that experience and the attention we gave that song was really exciting for me.

You co-wrote two of the tracks on the album (Everything I Couldn’t Be and Won’t Go Down) with Dave Brainard who previously worked with Brandy Clark.  How did that relationship develop and is co-writing an experience you intend pursuing in the future?

I had met Dave when I opened a show in NY for Brandy and he was playing in her band. We kept in touch and started getting together when I moved to Nashville. He was one of the first people I really started co-writing with. I do intend to keep pursuing co-writing. I love writing alone as well and will always do that but it’s interesting to see how different the songs can come out when you team up with another songwriter. You can push each other out of your habits and go-tos in a way that you don’t on your own. 

Not many artists can boast of breezing into Nashville and having Rodney Crowell appear on their first album recorded there! How did that come about?

Dan Knobler, who produced Bright Lights and the Fame, is married to Rodney’s daughter. We were good friends along with colleagues so I was friendly with the family and Dan suggested we ask Rodney if he’d be interested in singing. Luckily he was and squeezed in the session during a very busy year for him. He’s one of my all time favorite songwriters so it really was surreal and one of those ‘is this really my life?’ moments when I sat in his home studio listening to him sing my song. I’ll always be grateful to both Rodney and Dan for that.

The album was produced by Dan Knobler, who previously worked with Rosanne Cash, Tift Merritt, Erin Rae and Shannon McNally. I believe Dan also relocated from Brooklyn to Nashville and that you had previously worked with him?

Yes Dan and I were friends in Brooklyn and he had been playing guitar for me the last year I lived there. We started talking more about recording and did a couple trial sessions  before he moved to Nashville and then ultimately started working on the record as soon as he arrived. 

Tell me about your transition from a jazz student in Manhattan to a country artist?

Well they are definitely two very different worlds. I grew up singing all kinds of music: country, pop, musical theater, jazz standards, you name it. So when it came time for college I was a little at a loss for what to do. I ended up in jazz school because I loved the American Songbook and old swing tunes, many of which have a lot in common with old country songs and western swing. Patsy Cline used to sing Irving Berlin tunes. But I quickly realized that wasn’t the kind of jazz they were focusing on at the New School and sought out the rootsier music scene in NYC. Luckily I heard about Michael Daves (a great bluegrass guitarist) and started taking lessons from him. From Michael, I learned how to play guitar and he turned me onto the Louvin Brothers, which completely blew my mind. From there I got really into the thriving Bluegrass and Old Time scene in Brooklyn and naturally just progressed into owning the fact that the songs I had been writing for years were much more country sounding and jazz was not the genre where I would be having my career.

Solo shows, a showcase at the Americana Music Festival, playing in Sam Outlaw’s Band, tours of Europe and performing on stage with Ron Pope at Carnegie Hall. 2017 seems to have been a whirlwind year. Did you get an opportunity to do any writing while you were on the road or do you generally require a more relaxed environment for creative inspiration?

I have! I generally don’t write very much while on tour but occasionally a song idea will pop into my head that I’ll save to finish later. I often feel like I need relaxed and reclusive environments to really be able to write. I try to take self imposed “retreats” semi-often to be able to focus more and get some songs under my belt. I’m excited to currently not be touring and get to write a bit more (although I constantly miss the road).

Is it imperative to have a number of projects running in parallel to survive in the industry today given the meagre financial pickings available and do you foresee this changing looking forward?

I honestly have no idea! So many people refer to the music industry these days as the wild west. Formats and platforms keep changing rapidly as far as how/where/when people consume music and where the money will come from. So I’m really unsure of what the future holds for artists. I try to keep the faith that between live shows, selling merch and teaching music lessons I’ll keep getting by and hopefully people will keep valuing music and artists enough to pay for all of these things! I also try to focus on the connection with fans. Streaming/cds/vinyl whatever will all change and come and go but I really believe if you connect with your audience you have a better chance of surviving all of the changes in the long term.

Plans for 2018?

Record an album! I’m currently on a flight out to LA to record a couple new songs of mine with Sam Outlaw and making plans to record a full length by spring. I really really want to return to Europe in 2018 so I’m working on making that happen as well! 

Interview by Declan Culliton  Photograph by Kristine Potter


Interview with Ryan Boldt 

The Deep Dark Wood’s first performance in Ireland at The Kilkenny Roots Festival in 2013 appears to have made as much an impression on the band as it did on those lucky enough to witness their shows. Arriving at the venue with the assistance of a tow truck might not be considered the ideal starting point but everything worked out admirably in the end.

The Canadian band make a return visit to Kilkenny for The Roots Festival in May and frontman Ryan Boldt took the time to chat with Lonesome Highway about the history of the band, his love of Celtic Folk music, their excellent current album Yarrow and much more.

How has The Deep Dark Woods evolved since its formation in 2005 and how difficult was the break up with the original line up?

Members have come and gone since about 2009, Geoff joined just after Winter Hours, Burke left and Clayton Linthicum joined, Lucas left. Chris and the band mutually agreed to part ways. There’s been a lot of changes, most bands that last over 10 years change members. It was quite painful, but we’ve come through it and are a better band because of it. 

What prompted the release of your solo album Broadside Ballads in 2015?

I’d recorded a lot of the songs a couple years before it was released but never got the chance to put it out. The band went on hiatus and it seemed like the perfect time to release it. I wanted to continue playing music and touring even if some of the other members of The Deep Dark Woods didn’t want that. This is all I’ve known for my entire adult life, this and working garbage labour jobs. I didn’t want to go back to mixing concrete or hanging drywall.

The Celtic / English Folk influences which appeared on Broadside Ballads also weave their way through much of the material on your recent album Yarrow. Is this a reflection of the territory you want The Deep Dark Woods to permanently inhabit or will you head in a different direction next time around?

I’ve always been into English, Irish and Scottish folk music. I guess it’s kind of seeped into my own writing over the years. It certainly helps to have people in your band that listen to the same records as you. I’m not really sure what direction the band will head in, I just write songs and the band plays them, we never really think about making it sound a certain way.

The material on Yarrow works remarkably well as a whole, dominated by tales of dark, unearthly and spooky places, occasionally visited in your previous work with the band. Over what period was the album written and how important was it to achieve that symmetry?

I wrote most of the songs over the 3 years the band was hiatus. It was a dark time, which probably contributed to the darker songs I suppose. I wanted the album to be shorter and to the point. I find the previous albums to be too long and not as consistent, I wanted the album to fit onto two sides. I wrote about 14 songs for the record with the help of Shuyler Jansen who I produced the record with and we trimmed it down to 9. In the past we would have recorded all 14 and put them all on there, it was nice to have someone in the studio with me doing some editing, something I’d never had before.

You’re on the record name checking Shirley Collins as an inspiration for your song writing / story telling a number of years before she recorded Lodestar in 2016 after an absence in the studio of nearly 40 years. How did you connect with her music?

I found her records through Fairport Convention, someone gave me a copy of Liege and Lief when I was about 18 or 19. I started going back and looking into albums related to them, that’s when I came across Shirley Collins’ No Roses and from there I found a well of beautiful records. Because of Shirley Collins I’ve discovered a lot of traditional music I had never heard before. Songs like Brigg Fair, Dabbling in the Dew and Richie Story. I love her and hope someday I can sit down and thank her for the influence she’s had on me over the years.

You recently opened for Richard Thompson at The Pitchfork Social on salt Spring Island. I suspect he is another artist that has had an impact on you during your career?

Yes, very much so… Fairport Convention is my favourite band. Opening for Richard Thompson was one of the greatest thrills of my life, the best part was taking the ferry back to Victoria with him, talking about folk music and watching birds. He had binoculars with him.

Understandably much of your musical roadmap direction appears to be from artists and recordings of decades ago. Do you tap into any current artists output or continue to be influenced by the past? 

I’m mainly influenced by stuff from the past, I don’t listen to a lot of modern music. I do like Kurt Vile and Cass McCombs and of course The Sadies are the finest band in Canada.

The inclusion of backing vocals by Kacy Anderson, beautifully threaded through the album, creates a spectacular atmosphere. How did the connection with both Kacy and Clayton (Linthicum) come about? 

I’ve known the both of them for years now. They lived out on the farm in southern Saskatchewan, about a 2 or 3-hour drive from where I was living in Mortlach, which is just a Sunday drive for us prairie folk. Clayton played in the Deep Dark Woods for a couple years after Burke left the group and I’ve been singing songs in my Mortlach living room with Kacy for about 6 years now. The two of them are like my younger siblings, I love them with everything in me, unconditional love. 

 The quality of acts coming out of Canada under the Americana umbrella in recent years is staggering.  The Canadian Council of The Arts and The Canadian Music Fund (CME) appears to offer support to artists quite unlike other countries. Has this been helpful in your continuing career and how does the model work?

Yes, it’s been very helpful. We are very lucky here in Canada. Canada cares about artists, they realize that without music and art we would all be extremely depressed and a lot of us would have no reason to live.

You are due to return to Kilkenny in May 2017 for the Roots Festival. Tell me about your memories of your appearances at the Festival in 2013?

Kilkenny Roots is still one of the greatest festivals we’ve played, the people are so welcoming, real music fans. The night before Kilkenny we were in London, drove after the show and broke down somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We called a tow truck and they basically told us we weren’t going to make it in time. Kiko, our tour manager somehow got the driver to tow us to the ferry terminal in Holyhead, we were able to start the van and barely make it on the ferry, we called another tow in Dublin who came and towed us from the ferry terminal right to the venue. We made it just in time for soundcheck, hadn’t slept a wink, the venue was packed and it was one of the most memorable shows of the past 12 years. We ended up staying up all night listening to people sing Pogues songs in the bar. It was our first time in Ireland and it is now one of my favourite countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.  

Who can we expect to see on stage with you at The Festival?

Geoff Hilhorst will be there playing the organ along with the Yarrow band, Shuyler Jansen, Mike Silverman, Kacy and Clayton and our latest addition Evan Cheadle. My mom and dad and aunt will be there too. They’re flying from Victoria for the festival and to do some family history research. I had family in Kilkenny before they came to Canada. Could be why I feel at home whenever I’m there. 

Interview by Declan Culliton (January 2018)


Interview with Jesse Dayton

Jesse Dayton is a Texas born guitarist, singer and songwriter who has had an ancillary career in acting, directing, screenplay writing and composing soundtracks. He grew up on a diet of traditional country artist such as Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash alongside the music coming from New Orleans and across the border with Mexico. To date he has released 9 studio albums under his own name, one of which was a duets album with Brennen Leigh. The first (Raisin’ Cain) came out in 1995 the most recent The Revealer was released in 2016. Prior to that Dayton had been a member of a rockabilly band The Road Kings who released one self-titled album. He is currently working on his next album and also has a screenplay in the works as well as an acting role on the cards too. A busy man and a very talented one whose guitar playing and production skills are much sort after. 

What were the influences of a boy growing up in Beaumont, Texas?

A lot of Gulf Coast regional influences as it was the Texas/Louisiana border. I could very easily have gone to New Orleans as easy as I could have gone to Austin. Beaumont is pretty much in the middle. I took my parents out to dinner after my graduation, because I was making $500 a week playing in an all-black zydeco band, and I said I have good news and bad news. The good news is I got my own place I don’t need any money and I’m buying the dinner tonight. The bad news is I’m not going to go to the University of Texas.

I grew up playing honky tonk music, rockabilly, rhythm ’n’ blues and all that stuff. But in 1982 a friend of mine said “hey you want to go see The Clash?” So we drove to the Egyptian Theatre in San Antonio. We saw The Clash and Charlie Sexton and Joe Ely opened up the show. So I said “okay, that’s what I want to do.” The whole thing was something bigger than the playing.

Do you think there is a direct correlation to some honky-tonk and punk?

I would totally agree with that. So that meant that some people in Texas never understood me because they didn’t have that same experience. I was born in ’66, so I heard White Riot for the first time when I was 13 or 14 which must have been around ’78/’79 - something like that. Maybe in 1980, but close to it. So I wanted to bring that energy to roots music. My parents had played classic country music and that’s what separates me from the rest of those suburban kids in America because I could sit down and play Harlan Howard songs, or an obscure Willie Nelson song that was never on the radio. These other kids were into some other things, which I was in to too, like hard rock - Thin Lizzy or punk rock. But I knew things like Jolie Blonde and some Zydeco. 

How did the wave of what was termed Cowpunk bands effect you?

I loved all those bands, but at that point once I had a guitar in my hands and when I was 15 I started putting my blinders on. I was in such a weird little town and none of that stuff hit there. If you look back a lot of those guys were also from small towns. They were often the ones that ended up with a discernible and unique sound. They were kind of in a little bubble. They end up doing what they think it’s supposed to sound like. 

Did you think that when you released Raisin’ Cain (on Justice Records) that you were on your way to the big time?

No. I didn’t. Because before that I had already been asked to go to Nashville and talk to executives there at some major labels and I just thought that they were so square. I’d been driving to Houston to see Townes van Zandt and Guy Clark. So I had these different components compartmentalised in my head - ok, these are the singer/songwriter guys that I got to listen to. I had to put in my 10,000 hours on that and these are the guitar players that I think are really great. My brother was hanging out with Clifford Antone in Austin so I was also getting all this great blues stuff - seeing all these great blues guitar players. So when I got to Justice they said “make whatever kind go record you want.” 

I had always thought that if I just had a cult following and could pay my bills that I would be happy. If I was in it for the money then I wouldn’t even be playing guitar I would probably become a music publisher … or a lawyer or something. Something mundane and boring. 

When you started out did you see yourself primarily as a guitar player or a songwriter, Had you made any sort of choice?

I had always wanted to do them together. I had been around great players but they wouldn’t have any songs and I be around great songwriters but they might have a bunch of crappy players. You could tell and you just can’t bluff your way through that. People can hear that. 

My parents were the first ones to make it out of the oil fields and to kinda become academics. So I was reading a lot, a lot of books. I was reading college stuff in Junior High. My parents had me reading The Dubliners alongside an autobiography of Malcolm X when I was in 8th Grade. That was really informing my lyrics. I was trying to put that together and as Springsteen had said I learned more from a 3 minute record than I ever did in school. Learning how to condense it into a song. It’s the way Townes explained those characters and that imagery, listening to a Townes songs is similar to reading a Cormac McCarthy book. It’s landscapes and big stuff. 

That was opening you up to different ideas?

Yeah, but I didn’t realise it at the time as I was just doing it. I was little redneck kid in a small town so I didn’t know how to do it. I was in a bubble.  

Another aspect of your career has been working in film as an actor, screenwriter and soundtrack maker. Has that also expanded your horizons?

Well I tell everyone that all my favourite country stars were in movies or on TV. All of ‘em! Jerry Reed, Willie, Cash - they were all on television shows and in movies. Then I got that call to do that soundtrack (The Devil’s Rejects) in ’07. The thing went big and Rob Zombie had given me 75% of the publishing. The people at the studio hadn’t realised that a rock star had directed the movie - which had really never happened until then - so they didn’t care about the soundtrack (released as Banjo & Sullivan - The Ultimate Collection 1972-1978). He just said to get on with it, that they’re not paying attention. So that became a thing in itself and the next one was put out on Rob’s label rather than with a major. I was in the movie (Halloween 11, he appeared as singer of the fictitious band Captain Clegg & The Night Creatures). He taught me how to make music videos. It was my one on one film school crash course. We then did an animated film and following on from that he said “why don’t you come on tour with me as the band from the movie, everybody will know you as they’ve seen the film.” He said that I’d have to be in character and not do any of my solo stuff. So I just said “How Much?” (Laughs) I’ve been trying to sell out for years as I hear the money’s awesome! So we went on out and it was a 40 date arena tour of North America. Huge places, like Ozzie-type shit. 

I’m playing this weird hybrid of ‘60s surf rock and honky-tonk - it’s all over the place but it’s guitar music and it’s aggressive and kids are seeing me. So while I was on that tour I wrote two pages everyday and when I got home I had an 80 page script. I got it to Malcolm McDowell, who I had been in the movie with, and he said that he’s do it. As soon as I got him to sign on literally overnight I got all the money to make the movie (Zombex). I talked them into letting me direct it which was a kind of catastrophe (laughs) -  but it worked. It was not fun. Being the director was the opposite of being a singer in a band. Total and utter sleep deprivation. I had it all in my head but not on paper. Luckily I had a really talented crew, a bunch of Robert Rodriguez’s people and some great actors. I got John Doe to be in it and I’d asked Mike Ness (Social Distortion) but he said “I can’t really act.” He said to get John Doe, that he was a real actor. Doe said that he would be in it if his friend could be in it too and get killed. So I said “well okay.”

However I felt I was little out of my depth so I ran screaming back into the arms of the music business. I did act in a couple of movies after that though and I’m doing a movie in Canada next year. I’m also licensing a motorbike gang script based on a Kurosawa movie. I like to work a lot.

When I was working with John Doe he asked me if I wanted to do the Letterman show with him. He’d said that he heard that I was a guitar player, he didn’t know too much about me. So I said “yeah man.” He called me after that to tell me that Billy (Zoom) was sick and that they had a big American tour to do and would I learn 30 songs and meet them (X) in New York in a week! It was nerve wracking as Billy Zoom is no slouch. That got me back out there touring again.

You played with The Supersuckers too.

Yeah, I played on Must Have Been High they’re biggest record. I have a demo of me and Eddie (Spaghetti) doing every song on that record on acoustic guitars weeks before we went in to record. They always say that I turned them on to country music. I opened up for them in Dallas and they were like “Man, we really don’t like country music.” I told them that they were really missing out. We supported them on the whole tour when they were playing those songs and Eddie would say that I was the guy who turned them on to country music and I said “Don’t tell them that!”  

With all of what you have done and achieved do you want to do something different next or carry on doing what you have been?

Well a lot of my success has been in that I married a really hot, smart Jewish girl from Los Angeles. I’ve been with her almost 21 years and she put a gun to my head several times and said “look dummy, you’re going to take the money from this TV show and we’re going to buy a house in Austin. Which was at a time when you could buy at a reasonable price. Now our house is worth crazy money. Her family is like a publishing dynasty - her grandfather, Lester Sill, worked with Phil Spector and was the publisher for Elvis and Motown. Her father became even bigger than that. So she decided that we didn’t need other people who were essentially bad bank loans. So we would get enough money to make a record and hire a publicist as well as a radio guy. We stared to actually make money off our records. Her name is Emily Kaye, so she’s a big part of how I learned how to monetise this rather than be saying “Oh well, they’re dropping me because I didn’t sell over a 100,000 units.” I’ve never played that game. The end result was always about did we get more people. That’s all that matters. She took some of the money we made and invested it in other things. In real estate and stuff like that. So that’s the reason I can come and play a small gig like in Whelans and not freak about the money.

 You played in Ireland once before I think?

Yeah I played a festival here a long time ago back in the ‘90s.We had to leave the same day which was bit of a bummer. But we want to come back over here and to Europe again as I’m shocked as to how great these shows have been. We haven’t been here for ever. It’s all been word of mouth and the record (The Revealer) has been out for a while in the States but just got released here. it’s not like we had a huge publicity team, so we’re totally coming back over. We’re super streamlined, so if no one shows up … well, whatever. When we play I see kids who were into the Rob Zombie stuff. I see older guys who were like Rory Gallagher fans or whatever.

What have you planned on the recording front?

We have eight songs already in the can. So I have to do two more songs when I get back then this guy named Vance Powell is going to mix the record. He did Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. We’ll see what happens with that. I’m just trying to morph this thing into a hybrid as I don’t want to recreate anything. Plus I’m older and you don’t care about the same things anymore. I’m not a cynical young man anymore and I can go see something and see it in a different light. I try to keep myself open, something I learned by working with Rob. Rob is so childlike but he’s only something like 2 years older than me. But he keeps in touch with that little kid inside. The people who give up on things like music, art and culture that little kid has been gone from them for a long time.

Interview by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea