Monday
Dec052016

Ariel Bui Interview

One of the most interesting new artists to come to the attention of Lonesome Highway at The Americana Music Festival in Nashville this year was a young female artist currently residing in Nashville by the name of Ariel Bui. The daughter of Vietnamese parents who emigrated to the States at the end of the Vietnam war, Bui is a classically trained musician who studied voice and piano at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida focusing on Piano Pedagogy, the art and business of teaching piano. She founded Melodia Studio in Nashville which currently provides education in piano to over twenty students and intends widening the project to include education for children as young as infants

Bui showcased her recently recorded self-titled album at Fond Object on September 25th, introduced on stage by JP. Harris whose annual Sunday Morning Coming Down outdoor event has become a not to be missed feature of the festival.

Lonesome Highway was interested to learn more about Bui and her experimental and quite unique take on Americana which she and her excellent band performed during her forty-five-minute slot.

How would you describe your music?

It is challenging to describe my music, because I draw inspiration from so many different places and strive to defy genre. Since moving to Nashville in 2011, I was inspired to explore my Southern roots. Born and raised in the American South, I wanted to write songs that explored the depth and richness of distinctly American music like rock’n’roll, country, jazz & blues. However, with a background in classical music and a variety of other styles, I wanted to meld everything together in a way that was classic yet subtly experimental. I suppose I would describe my music as a unique melting pot of styles, with honest lyricism and delivery.

Your album launch in Nashville featured the album in its totality played in the same order as it on the record.  It seems to start with a somewhat traditional country feel and move further away from country and into more classical and jazzy territory towards the end. Was this intentional in choosing the order of the songs?

One of my main concerns going into recording this album was how to cohesively put together songs that sounded so different from each other. Producer Andrija Tokic not only assured me he would help choose what songs to include on the album from over twenty demos that I sent him, but he would also help me decide on song order.

When making an analog album with the intention that it is going to be on a vinyl record, there are a lot of considerations. You must consider how long each side needs to be in order to maintain best audio quality, with a maximum of 18 minutes per side being the sweet spot. Then you must consider the physics of the grooves, with sparser slower songs sounding better towards the end or inside of each side. Then, there’s also the consideration that each side becomes its own stand-alone unit, where typically Side A hosts the more conventional hits (in this case, the more country-sounding songs) while Side B hosts the less conventional.

Honestly, by the time we were done recording I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted, I gladly let Andrija take the producer lead on song order. After poring over his song order, I made only one change which was to make To All the Cowboys the first track instead of Jump the Gun. Andrija wanted the first track to immediately grab the listener with the catchy bass line, but on listening I wanted the first track to slowly sneak up on the listener and honour my long-time friends and fans who know that my last three releases were solo acoustic albums. I wanted to slowly introduce the band production. And to honour my classical sensibilities and background, I wanted the tonal centre to move gracefully from track to track. To All the Cowboys ends closer to where Jump the Gun begins, but then Jump the Gun ends on E where the next few songs hang out. Then we move from E to A with Moon Over Kentucky and slow the country tempo down to end Side A with Since You Went Away. Side B starts out with a fully orchestrated, spaghetti-western style interpretation of a song that’s on my first record Disguised As Fate from 2009 and slowly gets “weirder” from a single drop D tuning to a double drop D tuning until it ends on the stand-along jazzy track Honey, Moon. The way Honey, Moon ends, so jazzily and dreamily, feels like a cliff-hanger to me. A musical mystery of what’s to come next.

Take us through the recording of the album at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville and the influence of producer Andrija Tokic

I knew I wanted to record this album for analog vinyl. For years, many of my friends around town highly recommended Andrija Tokic at The Bomb Shelter, the little pink analog recording studio in East Nashville. One night, I went to Mickey’s Tavern and ran into Jem Cohen (Fond Object Records, The Ettes) who was playing foosball with Andrija. After being introduced, I sent Andrija some demos, visited the studio, and we decided to work together.

Between meeting in January and booking our June recording session, Andrija and I were in pre-production. I recorded rough demos of over twenty songs, trying to capture the essence of my songs in my kitchen onto my ipad. Andrija and I worked on dwindling down which ten or eleven songs we would want to record and what kind of instrumentation and vibe I wanted.

He recommended two session musicians, percussionist Dave Racine and multi-instrumentalist Jon Estes, assuring me of their precision and expertise. He had many spaghetti western ideas, and ideas of how to not make the songs sound like stereotypical Music Row country songs. He liked my weirder songs. He assured me that, though he had many ideas, he would always respect and defer to my artistic vision.

Once in the studio, we started with Appraisal, listening to the demo a couple times while Jon and Dave charted out the chord progressions and song structure. Andrija discussed with us what he was thinking for instrumentation, vibe, and sound. Then we would record the bed tracks live, meaning the main bare bones of the tracks were recorded live with me singing and playing guitar in an isolated booth, while Dave and Jon played drums and bass in the bigger room at the same time. We went through all the songs this way, charting the songs, discussing production ideas, and recording the bed tracks live to 2-inch tape with me in an isolated booth. Then, Jon overdubbed all the other instruments, from keys of all kinds, to supplementary guitars, cello, pedal steel, and some percussion.

We ran out of time after those first four days in the studio, so we booked some more dates in the fall. At that point, my friends Emma Berkey and Lizzie Wright came in to do a bulk of the harmonizing vocals while Jem Cohen offered additional support as an extra ear and voice for harmonies. Andrija acted as motivator, coach, and conductor, boosting morale while offering direction, suggesting ideas and changes and engineering everything. Working with tape, you only get a limited number of tracks to record with, so Andrija also called a lot of shots on which takes to keep and which takes to re-do and tape over.

Once harmonizing vocals were complete, Andrija and I chose a few songs for me to re-record main vocal tracks over. At first I felt a little insecure that I hadn’t “nailed” the vocal tracks while recording with the band the first time, but singing vocal overdubs probably became one of my favourite parts of recording. I got to set my guitar down and just sing. And not only sing, but sing my heart out to match the now fully-orchestrated tracks, not just sing over my own guitar or even with a small band. However, there were a few songs where we left the original vocal tracks, such as in Since You Went Away. There’s even a part where I accidentally hit the microphone with my face, which will never be able to be cut and pasted out.

Andrija then mixed the songs from the 24-track 2-inch tape to ¼-in tape, adjusting analog effects, manually fading parts in and out and adjusting levels live as the 24-tracks were condensed into a few tracks. We collaborated on things like which takes and mixes to keep, and I got to be my perfectionistic, detail-oriented self-asking that certain breath sounds were kept or cut, certain things end abruptly rather than fade. After mixing was done, we finalized a song order and Andrija literally cut the ¼” tape and taped the songs into the right order for the reels.

Eventually, I flew up to Brooklyn with the mixed tapes and sat in on the analog mastering session with Paul Gold at Salt Mastering. It was like watching a mad scientist at work in his lab, with all these gadgets, circular knobs and mathematical notes. He fine-tuned everything and I’m grateful I was able to fly up again when I was ready to press the record to vinyl. I got to watch Paul take all his mathematical notes, and in real-time witness the ¼” tape play through the board where he would adjust all the knobs at the start of each song as the grooves were cut into the lacquer, the template for what would become the metal stamps to stamp out the analog vinyl records. Not only was it a huge learning experience for me to witness this process, but I got to be there to catch any weird irregularities that may have arisen.

Was there a particular reason for choosing to live and record in Nashville?

It happened a little by accident, or fate, depending on how you look at it. After graduating with a degree in music from Rollins College in 2009, I took a totally different turn and moved to Taos, New Mexico, living off the grid for a couple years, working first with radically-sustainable architecture firm Earthship Biotecture and then with Americorps’ Energy Conservation Crew at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.  When my term at Americorps ended, I had plans to move to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to work in Disaster Relief as a freelance activist with a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). But my life came to a head when I went to Burning Man in 2011 to convene with Burners Without Border and the NGO I was planning on working with.

At Burning Man, no money is exchanged for an entire week, and it really changes the way people interact with themselves and with others. While I was questioning what role I could play to make the world a better place, especially if the world were to end in, say, 2012 or something, it really became clear to me that I had to come to terms with my calling as a musical artist. Attending Burning Man and living in New Mexico, appropriately dubbed the Land of Enchantment, I was forced to do some serious soul-searching. I had put music off as an egotistical hobby at that point, but others appreciated my unique musical artistry and urged me to pursue music for my own sake and for theirs.

So when I returned to Taos and decided not to move to Haiti, I had to figure out what to do next. I had no shelter and no job. Someone I met at Burning Man travelled to Taos to intern with Earthship Biotecture and needed a place to park his RV. We struck up a deal. He could park his RV on my little quarter-acre of land if I could live in it, too. But winters in Taos are brutal, dropping to temperatures of -30 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter was coming. So, we struck up another deal. We could drive my car to his hometown near Toronto, Canada where he could find work and we could elope. Then I could become a Canadian citizen and hopefully receive benefits and make a living as a Canadian artist. But the relationship was untenable and shortly after arriving in Canada, it became extremely clear it was not going to work.

At this point, I was running out of money and options, so my father and stepmother convinced me to move in with them in the suburbs of Dallas, TX. In between Toronto and Dallas was an Earthship friend outside of Bowling Green, Kentucky and a close old friend in Nashville, TN. I spent a couple weeks helping Jacob Mudd with his Earthship build in Kentucky, pounding dirt into tires, playing music and reminiscing about Taos.

Then I headed off to Nashville, where I was reunited with my old friend Dylan Ethier. Dylan and I have been friends since high school and our friendship has revolved around music. We collaborated on my first record, Disguised As Fate, where he recorded some of the tracks, mixed the album, finalized the album art, and released it on his boutique label Love Note Collectables in 2008. During the week or two I visited Nashville, I met amazing people who were artists, musicians, industry people, and activists, and Dylan and I recorded my third album, Niche EP, in his living room. Dylan moved to Nashville to study sound engineering at SAE, yet he and I have always been a fan of lo-fi albums and artists. I love collaborating with Dylan because he understands and respects my artistic vision and it was a no-brainer when we recorded Niche EP live to tape, from a single mic straight to his reel-to-reel tape recorder with no editing and minimal mixing or EQing. We wanted the organic room of the sound and of my performance. It broke my heart a little when we converted the tape to digital files to then become limited edition cassette tapes, released on boutique cassette label, Tent Revivalist. At any rate, I felt like this third record was much more natural and indicative of the way I wanted to record moving forward.

I left Nashville for Dallas where I quickly had another falling out with my father, fled to stay with my mentally ill mother in my birth town of Shreveport, Louisiana for a couple weeks where I fell in love with a late-night college radio DJ, and headed back to Nashville where I crashed on Dylan’s couch until I could find work and get myself established in Nashville. It was clear I could definitely build a life and career as a musician here, amongst like-minded people and friends. It’s taken a few years to work up to the point where I am now, and it is proving to be the best move I’ve ever made.

Comparisons have been made with another wonderfully talented artist Angel Olsen. Are you comfortable being placed in a category of female experimentalists such as Olsen and Fiona Apple?

Not only would I be honoured to be placed in a category with female experimentalists such as Angel Olsen and Fiona Apple, but it is a dream of mine. I will admit, I get really star-struck by people I admire deeply, so I dream deep-down of just getting to become friends and equals with my heroes. That way I’m not only a blubbering fangirl, but hopefully, fingers-crossed, a respectable peer in the world of music and art.

The word experimental is funny, because I feel like what makes artists like Fiona Apple or Angel Olsen experimental is not that they necessarily do anything avant-garde, but more so that they are genuine and unique, which is what I strive to be.

Where did your musical inspirations come from growing up to lead to a career as a singer-songwriter and performer?

Gosh, I have so many influences, it’s hard to narrow it down. But when I started writing music at around fifteen years-old, it was contemporary artists like Fiona Apple and Regina Spector that inspired me to pursue song writing and performing. Fiona’s performing, lyricism, artistry and production really drew me and has stuck with me over the years. When I was fifteen, Regina Spector had two stripped down, self-released albums out (11:11 and Songs) and was gigging around New York City. I followed her on her website where she would communicate with her fans on a chat forum, but I was too young to get into the bar shows during my summer vacations in New York. Instead, I did by chance get to witness Beyoncé perform with Destiny’s Child when they performed their first album for free in Time Squares’ Virgin Megastore. If you bought the album you could watch them perform in the book store and get their autographs, which I did. Following these humble women’s careers from the early stages has been very inspiring.

Ultimately though, it was the underground music scene in Brevard County, Florida that inspired me to write and perform. When I was a teenager, there were countless bands making music that will never be heard by most ears because it all happened in garages and weird DIY spaces, on burnt CDs and Myspace profiles never to be re-released. The spirit of making art for art’s sake and sharing it within a community of friends, that will always be an integral part of who I am musically. My teenage years in Brevard County, Florida was where I learned to write songs, perform live, record an album, book and promote shows, and do everything DIY. These skills and sense of community have laid the foundations for me to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter and performer, and now to hopefully evolve to reach a wider audience.

What artists in particular have inspired you in a manner that you would be proud to achieve in inspiring others?

On this album, I was inspired by older artists like Odetta, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Mississippi John Hurt, and Bob Dylan, while also being influenced by more modern artists like Angel Olsen, Fiona Apple, and The Ettes for being classy, unique, and genuine. Elliott Smith is also a huge inspiration to me for his song writing, guitar playing, and tasteful yet simple production. I also draw inspiration from bands like The Beatles, Radiohead, and Bjork because of the way that they have been able to evolve and change over time while remaining true to themselves as artists.

These artists, and too many others to name, have inspired me by making me feel less alone. Every artist is inspiring in different ways, but I find that authenticity and honesty carry through and that’s what speaks to me. I’ve felt inspired by the way people express their emotions, or execute a tone or performance, how they navigate their ever-evolving careers. But at the end of the day, I would be proud to inspire others in the way so many artists have inspired me to connect with ourselves, each other, and the entire planet and universe in a more honest and meaningful way.

Your lyrics appear both deep and very dark, in some ways a contradiction to your upbeat and buoyant personality. Do you consider song writing a necessary medium for you to comfortably express your inner feelings?

People seem to make the observation of this contradiction quite often, while the people who know me most don’t find the contrast surprising at all. In my daily life, I prefer to be upbeat and friendly, perhaps because I want everyone around me to be as comfortable as possible. However, I do absolutely consider song writing a necessary medium for me to comfortably express my inner feelings, and in a way, make people comfortable with their deep, dark feelings, too. I experienced a great deal of trauma as a child including child sexual abuse, and though I am a high-functioning individual who is not defined by my trauma, I live with many symptoms of PTSD. Coming from a family of immigrants who fled the Vietnam War, I have many theories about intergenerational trauma and epigenetics. Music is a healing force in my life, a meditative process where I commune with my subconscious and the collective unconscious. Without music and song writing, I honestly don’t think I would be alive today.

You combine your performing career with the Melodia Studio teaching vision which seems the ideal combination. Is it your intention to remain in Nashville and expand both projects?

Yes. As both musical careers grow simultaneously, I do often wonder what the future holds, but thus far my plans are to continue living in Nashville and to expand upon both my careers as a musical artist and as a musical educator ... and hopefully as a DJ at our new community radio station WXNA as well. I aspire to find a permanent live/work space, hopefully with the help of Nashville non-profit The Housing Fund’s Make A Mark Project which aims to help provide affordable live/work options for artists in Nashville. With gentrification and development on the rise, many artists and low-income residents of Nashville are getting forced out of the city.

I would eventually like to be able to provide a more permanent space not only for my students, but for other artists, teachers and their students as well. I currently have students as young as three and as old as retirees, however, I want to begin offering group classes for infants and toddlers and eventually be able to somehow offer lessons to underprivileged children and adults as well. My thoughts are that if my own musical career gets to a place where I need to step away from teaching sometimes, I can bring in other teachers and eventually other administrative assistants as well. But I feel very attached to Melodia Studio, because I helped form it and have stuck with it through thick and thin because of my belief that everyone could benefit from a musical education. Music is a healing force and it is beneficial to individuals and communities for an infinite number of reasons. Whenever I get overwhelmed by the task of promoting my own music, teaching offers me the opportunity to watch someone else discover their own musical journey, which is extremely humbling and gratifying. Combining a career as a musical artist and a career as a musical educator, really allows me to pursue my dreams while having a balanced, humble and stable grounding. It really is an ideal combination.

Interview and photography by Declan Culliton

Thursday
Nov032016

Emily Barker Interview

Emily Barker is an Australian singer-songwriter and composer currently residing in the UK. She is an artist that continually challenges herself and seems to thrive and excel on a more than full workload. Her early career featured recordings as a duo in The Low Country followed by solo albums leading to a number of critically acclaimed recordings with The Red Halo Band. Her 2015 album The Toerag Sessions, recorded live to tape at London’s Toerag Studios, featured solo recordings of material from her earlier albums.  She subsequently formed Applewood Road with American artists Amy Speace and Amber Rubarth and recorded the album of the same name with them early this year to extremely positive reviews.

Her varied work schedule has also gained her awards for composing and writing the theme music to the BBC TV’s Wallander, starring Kenneth Brannagh, followed by the theme music to the BBC TV drama The Shadow Line. She has also recently composed music for Daniel Barber’s The Keeping Room and a soundtrack for the feature film Hector directed by Jake Gavin.

This year also found Barker in Memphis Tennessee recording an album not yet released and including some of the finest Memphis session players. Lonesome Highway had the pleasure of an invitation to a preview of the album, at Alley Taps, Nashville in September. The preview suggested possibly Barkers strongest work to date and featured the collection of musicians that play on the album.

Lonesome Highway arranged to meet with the convivial and bubbly Barker when she arrived in Dublin Airport and given the rush hour traffic travelling from the Airport to the city centre and a potential sixty-minute journey, suggested they conduct the interview during the journey. Barkers response was ‘great idea, good time management’. Not surprising for an artist that never seems to waste a minute! 

Starting at the present time and your recent recording at Sam Phillips Studio in Memphis Tennessee. How did that come about?

I was looking for a producer to work with having worked with The Red Halo Band for about nine years. We had developed a quite distinct British sound over that time and when we decided to stop working together the gates were really wide open for me as to what direction I should go in. I started writing a lot, I think I had written about fifty songs for my next record and within those songs there were a lot of different styles going on. The songs also included quite a few co-writes that I had started doing when I went to Nashville a few years ago and continued back in the UK.

So stylistically there were a few different things going on with the songs. I started looking around for a producer and ended up asking the engineer that I had worked with on the Applewood Road album in Nashville, a guy called Chris Mara who works at 1979 Studios, to recommend an up and coming producer for me to work with. He had worked with this guy Matt Ross Spang, whom I googled to discover that he had done the Margo Price album and Jason Isbell’s record Something More Than Free and also found out that he had worked at Sun Studio for eleven years. His story is really interesting, when he was fourteen he went to Sun Studio to record a song with his friends and fell in love with the studio. As soon as he got his driver’s licence at sixteen he got a job as a tour guide there and would drive there after school and do the tour guide thing and then sit in on the sessions which always started in the evenings as the studio was closed during the day. So eventually when the head engineer left Sun he got the job as lead engineer at the age of nineteen. He actually restored the studio with the original equipment that Sam Phillips had, gave it a new lease of life and got it up and running again.

Anyway, I sent an e-mail to Matt after we were introduced by Chris and I sent him my Toerag album as I thought he would be into that sound as it’s all analogue and recorded to tape. He loved what he heard and asked me to send him some of the songs, I sent him five songs at first and he asked for another batch and with them he picked out the soul and blues thread that I had running through some of the songs and him been from Memphis would have been tuned to that type of sound. He suggested some artists that I should listen to like Dan Penn and Ann Peebles, who I really loved and already knew because when I was a teenager I grew up listening to a lot of soul music, what inspired me to sing was hearing Aretha Franklin.

When I’d come home from school I’d lock myself in my bedroom and try and sing like Aretha. I’d never really written in that style but it is music that I really love. So we got talking about a plan and I went over in February of this year to meet up.  He arranged to meet in this place called Sam Phillips Recording Studio.

I didn’t know where that was so I put the address in my sat nav and arrived at this building where there was a lot of construction works going on. When I finally managed to work out how to get in and opened the door I found this beautiful old studio and Matt was in there with Rick Steff who plays keys on the record. He went on to tell me that this was the building that Sam Phillips designed himself in 1958 and over the course of a couple of years built it. It was like stepping inside Sam Phillips mind. It’s a lot bigger than Sun and has two studio rooms and it had all the Sun Record Label and Administration upstairs including Sam Phillips office and it looks like he just stepped out of the room, all sixties style and red shaggy carpets and white vinyl seating It’s incredible.

The Memphis session musicians you had at your album preview show at Ally Taps in Nashville were amazing players. How did you recruit them?

Indeed. David Cousar on guitar, played with Al Green, Rick Steff on keys plays with Lucero and has worked with Dexy Midnight Runners, bass player Dave Smith has played with Norah Jones, John Mayall and drummer Steve Potts played with Neil Young. Matt pulled them all together, they’re local Memphis, incredibly down to earth. Unlike Nashville, which has a large commercial infrastructure for music, Memphis has had its heyday and doesn’t have the same commercial infrastructure. These musicians, if they’re not on tour, are hanging about and happy to get the work and (laughs) at a reasonable price. The sound happened for the record partly through the songs that I wrote, many of which are quite ballad sounding and could have been produced in a whole different way, but because of Matt’s Memphis sound background and these guys playing as they do, it came out as being more of a country soul album I guess. 

How long did the album take to record?

Four and a half days, we did it completely live so I would play one of the songs to the guys on guitar or piano and we would talk about the groove, it’s all about the groove in Memphis (laughs) and then we’d go to our stations in the studio and Matt would hit record and we’d start playing. So with the core band, which was those guys, we did ten songs in four and a half days and then got some horn players down for some of the songs and also had a quartet came and did string parts as well. Backing vocals were by an incredible woman called Susan Marshall, who I did the vocals together with. We did the whole thing in seven days and mixed it as well while I was there. 

When can we expect to hear the final product?

It should come out early next year.

Working back from that and the The Applewood Road venture and album which is superb.  How did you manage to write and record the album given the geographical distances between yourself Amy Speace and Amber Rubarth? 

Well it all happened quite spontaneously. We had met in a café in Nashville and hadn’t intended forming a band, but having a few mutual friends who made the introductions, we decided to go to Amy’s house and write a song together. So we wrote the song Applewood Road and recorded it at 1979 Studios in Nashville standing around one microphone and loved what we had done. It was initially going to be a one off song but anyone we showed the song to encouraged us to do an album and so we did. We didn’t have any plan after the album to tour but along came a label who encouraged us to tour. We have done a lot in the UK with it and we may look at doing something in America, we’ve had some good interest in Nashville so we will see. We are all singer songwriters in our own way so we could only do it when we all have the time together. It’s never going to be a full time thing for all of us it’s more of an add on, unless of course someone finances us to do it as flights are involved for us all to get together.

I’m intrigued by your TV work. Did that work come by way of a commission or were you approached on the basis of music you had previously written?

I was doing a house party at Tufnell Park in North London, playing in these people’s garden and after the show this man called Martin Phipps came up and bought one of my CDs. He rang me a few days later, it turns out he is a famous film and television composer, and he asked me if I’d be interested going down to his studio and re-record my song called Nostalgia to fit with a BBC series called Wallander starring Kenneth Brannagh based on the books by the Swedish Author Henning Mankell. So I went down and did that and the director loved it and it became the theme tune of the very popular TV series. From that and through Martin I got more work on another crime thriller called The Shadow Line which I did the theme song with a song called Pause. I then got my own film commission from a writer called Jake Gavin, it was his first script and he ended up getting funding for the film which is called Hector which stars Peter Mullan and I did all the music for that.

Was this all after the release of your album Dear River?

 Wallander happened in 2008 and Dear River came out in 2013 and I started doing the Hector work in 2014. So yes, the film actually came after Dear River.

Dear River for me contains what I would consider signature tunes. That struck me before I was aware you were involved in film

Well thank you

Continuing to work backwards, had you a game plan when you came to the UK from Australia in 2002?

I had no plans for a career in music, I came over because I had dropped out of university. I had been doing an arts degree there but didn’t feel that was what I wanted to do. I was already a musician and had done some touring but was a little bit disillusioned with the Australian scene at that point, not that I’d done national touring. Australia at that time was all about music you could dance to and there wasn’t much of a listening crowd around. My intention was to go travelling around the world basically, I was working in bars and waitressing saving up money to go travelling through Europe, back packing.

I spent six months in Brazil, I loved their martial arts called Capoeira, the dancing and whole subculture there. I ended up in Canada having travelled for three years and during that time I kept on writing songs and at one stage was based in Cambridge where there was a really great music scene going on there particularly with The Broken Family Band who becoming really successful. I was opening for them from time to time and ended up meeting Rob Jackson, who’s a great guitarist and we formed a band accidently (laughs) called The Low Country just before my visa expired. He had a set at The Cambridge Folk Festival and he invited me to sing a few songs with him, I also sang a couple of my songs which he accompanied me on.

It went down very well so we decided to record those songs just before I left for home. He sent the recordings into John Peel who started playing the songs on his radio show. Having returned to Australia after three years the last thing I expected was to get a call from Rob telling me that John Peel had been playing our record and that he kept getting gig requests. So we said ‘let’s do it’ and made a couple of albums which was the beginning of me moving to the UK to try and pursue a music career.

From there to The Red Halo Band. You recorded three albums with them?

Yes. I did do my first album Photos, Fires, Fables with them and another bunch of musicians also but hadn’t actually formed the band at that stage. I followed with Despite The Snow, the album that Nostalgia is on and then Almanac and Dear River all of which were recorded as Emily Barker and The Red Halo Band.

On the basis of the various projects you are involved in do you consider the UK as the right location for you career wise particularly with the TV work you have been involved in?

I would love to do more work in America, I’ve done quite a few shows in Nashville which is inundated with talented artists, however If I could get a working visa I’d consider basing myself out there for a while. Having said that I think the UK music scene is very strong at the moment and is where a lot of my fan base is. I also tour a lot in Germany and throughout Europe and the UK is an ideal base for those markets. I’m just about to do a tour of Germany with Scottish band Runrig , they’ve been around for forty years and we are playing stadiums in Germany, which is a very loyal market for musicians. I’m also very excited about working back in Australia where the market has changed and Americana is now a growing genre there as it also is in South East Asia where they particularly love when artists come over and tour. It’s also on the way to Australia which makes it very convenient. I’m actually interested in world domination I guess!

I can’t believe this is your first trip to Ireland! How did the tour come about?

I know, I know! I’m going to love it and I’m delighted to be here. It really doesn’t make sense that I haven’t been here before Ireland being such a music loving country.

The tour came about through Ciaran Lavery, who is a friend of mine and came over and opened shows for me in the UK, he did five shows with me last year and out of the blue he emailed me to see if I’d be interested touring with him over here which I was very much up for and I was free which helped.

Interview by Declan Culliton - Oct 2016

Monday
Oct312016

Willy Vlautin Interview

Richmond Fontaine, a place, a person, an ideal or a band? The latter most definitely as Richmond Fontaine were always a band. Willy Vlautin as the singer and main songwriter was always inevitably the focal point and the one who usually did the interviews. Through the years Lonesome Highway has been fortunate to be able to talk to Willy on his regular visits here with the band. He has always been a shy and somewhat reluctant spokesman but never less that obliging and completely honest in the answers he gave. Though this may be the last time that Richmond Fontaine appear in this guise we look forward to seeing him back with The Delines or on a book reading tour. Willy Vlautin is one of the good guys.

It seem like the time has come to bring a natural end to Richmond Fontaine’s career.

Our bass player Dave left. He moved to Denmark so we started to slow down then. So that’s when I started The Delines but I didn’t want to leave the band on the high country and I wanted to write one more record for the band for sure. Then when we did the record we all liked it so much and were proud of it and we were getting along so well that I wanted to leave the band in a better place than when it started. I didn’t ever want to have the conversation where one guy wouldn’t get in the van. Because he’s getting older or too tired or that we don’t make enough money. So I didn’t want to put anyone in that situation. I wanted to leave the band tattooed with good memories. The best way to do that is to leave when you’re really proud of it. It’s one of my favourite Fontaine records (You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To) so I thought that would be a good place to stop.

So what happens next for you?

I’m hoping to work with The Delines but Amy got hit by a car back in March. She got ran into the side of a building and broke both her legs. She’s just starting to heal up now where she can be on crutches. Which is a huge improvement because she couldn’t walk for 5 months. So when she’s ready we’ll start going again. We’re nearly done with the new record. I love playing music with Amy. It’s a really fun band; for such a sad band it’s the rowdiest set of people I’ve ever been with. So that’s what I hope to do. I want to write novels and hide in the back and write songs for Amy to sing.

Obviously your writing is still a big part of your creative process. How is that coming along?

I just sold my new novel to Faber & Faber and Harper Collins in the US so that’s a big relief to me. I just found out a couple of days ago. However no one likes my title . But then no one ever likes my titles (laughs). So it’s untitled at this moment but it’s done. I just have to do some edits when I get off this tour.

At this point in your career as a musician/songwriter and a fiction novelist you have achieved recognition. Does that afford you time to relax?

I’m kind of a workhorse. Because I’m so scared of having to go back and get a job to be honest. My girlfriend always says “relax, once in a while” but I’m just scared of having to go back to painting and working a shitty job that I always keep writing. I like writing stories. It’s my favourite thing to do but sometimes working so hard is a bad way to do it. I get kinda rattled. But in the end I like doing it and life’s short. I want to write a couple more novels. 

In your last book The Free you used some different techniques to express the narrative including dream sequences

I was really interested in the idea, which is more apparent now, of who’s a real American. I grew up in a household that got more progressively like that. “That’s a real American. That’s not a real American. if you don’t agree with this way of thinking you’re not a real American.” That idea is so insane, preposterous and ridiculous to me. So the only effective way for me to write about that was through a guy’s dreams. So to take this guy who’s not even a solider but a National Guard guy -  the National Guard never say that when the country is overloaded with a war that their not suited to fight in but they bring in these guys. Rather they would say in time of tornado, earthquake or hurricane that they will be there. So I wanted to write about the effects on a normal kid getting sucked up into Iraq and the affects of that. Like in all countries their happy to send guys to war and then everyone turns their head when they come home. Which has happened as long as humanity has been around. 

Are you at all politically motivated, especially in such a polarised climate as there is currently in the US?

Not really. Doesn’t affect me at all I live in the lefty haven of the US which is Portland, Oregon. One of the most open minded, coolest cities. I just surround myself with weirdos and musicians. But I did grow up in a really conservative home but my Mum passed away so I don’t have to deal with that on a real basis anymore. I’d be really interested to see what she would think of Trump because in so many ways he’s against so many things that I though she liked but I don’t know, though she would probably still be going for him.

How different is the writing process for you with The Delines as opposed to Richmond Fontaine?

Lately I have been writing instrumental music as I want to do an album for my new book. Then I’m just writing songs for The Delines. I haven’t written a song for me in months. I try to write classic tunes, best I can from my dented, small mind. I try to write songs that Amy can get behind like Dusty Springfield, Sammi Smith or Bobby Gentry. I try to write songs like that. I love doing it, it’s really fun. The story’s the same pretty much. I think it’s just my heart as I haven’t figured how not to write from that side of me. I just chase classic songs and hope that I stumble around one  and grab a song like that and give it to her.

So does that mean that you immerse yourself in some classic soul music?

I’ve always liked that stuff. It was preposterous for me to sing that stuff. I could never sing half The Delines songs. I don’t think you could pay me enough to get up and sing a soul tune. I don’t have that kind of voice and I’m too shy … all of it. But when you take me out of the equation then I like soul ballads. But where I like soul music is in the lyrics of those ballads, the cheating songs, the stories. The upbeat, happy-go-lucky soul tunes I can’t do, I’m too dark minded I guess. As a kid I liked those soul ballads but I also loved ska, reggae. But the “baby, baby …” the ones that grooved never moved me. I’ve always been a lyric guy on top of it. Since I’ve gotten older I’ve liked the 60s and 70s soul but I wouldn’t be caught dead singing it. I’d be too embarrassed! I’m happy being a guitar player I could probably spent the rest of my life being with The Delines, I think. I’ve never been the best front guy so I think it would be nice to not be. It’s hard to do something you know you’re not that good at. 

Do you have a timeline for the next album in the light of Amy’s recovery?

I’ve a couple of book things in the US that I’m doing until almost December. I’m only home for a couple of days before I go out to do that. Then in January the Richmond Fontaine guys and me are doing a cowpunk instrumental album for my new book. I got a handful of sad, weird melodies and I’m trying to convince these guys (Fontaine) to hang in there with me. Then I’ll hold tight to see what Amy’s doing. I’m hoping we can get her up to Portland to stay for month or two and get her back in the studio. It’s Sean and Freddie from Fontaine, a guy named Cory Gray, the keyboard player, and me. We’re hoping, once she’s well, to get back playing again.

Did the fact that you were featured in Uncut have a big effect on your status in Europe?

We sure got lucky there! Without that I probably still wouldn’t have a passport. (Back in 2004 Uncut ran a feature article entailed “Whiskey, Painkillers & Speed” about Richmond Fontaine written by the editor Allan Jones.) That was a really lucky break on so many levels. Maybe the luckiest break I’ll ever get. Being in Richmond Fontaine and getting to travel over here has been so much fun. Before that only one us had a passport, none of us had been anywhere except we’d just been driving around in a van in the US. So, I think that’s why when we got the chance to tour over here it was special. We were older I was was 35 when we started coming over here. At 35 if you haven’t gone anywhere there was a good chance you were never going to go anywhere. I was scared that I was never going to get to see anything of the world.

What was that like,those first visits outside America?

It was fun. The first time you’re going through an airport and you’re carrying your guitar and you’re thinking “I’m going somewhere” you feel so proud. I remember one of the first times we toured there was a guy who was loading baggage who was a fan of Richmond Fontaine and he came up and he’s been loading our guitars into the hold. He wanted to know “where are you guys going? Are you touring?” We were going “this guy knows who we are!.” Like the first time we came to Ireland we were like “is this Candid Camera? Are they going to make fun of us ‘cos they’re clapping and I don’t know who they’re listening to. Why are they clapping for us?”. It was all lucky. Kilkenny (Rhythm & Roots Festival) was so much fun. Hanging out with people who like music … just lucky breaks.

How has the shift in the way people consume music affected you?

When you go to Scandinavia now no one buys anything anymore, everyone’s Spotify. You get a lot of people at the shows but no one is buying anything. Because there’s no distribution you have to pay for publicity, which you can’t really afford when you don’t sell anything. I don’t know as I’m not the best businessman. I just keep my head down. I got fired (laughs) in like ’97 from having anything to do with money for Fontaine. We played really bad one night and I felt bad that we had because we were so drunk and I didn’t think we were any good so I didn’t take the money. When I got in the van the guys asked how much we had made and I go “well I didn’t think we played well and there weren’t that many people there and they went ‘You’re fucking fired!’” I was so happy as I’m not the best at that stuff. 

Physical sales of both books and music are going through changes. What are your thoughts on that?

The CD was a great era as the mark-up was so much. So once we went out on our own we were making a CD for 2 bucks and you sell them for 10 or whatever. That was great for a small time band. When we started putting out our own records was when we started to stay in motels. We were able to get brand new tires for the van rather than used tires. Stuff like that, we ate in restaurants. Record companies made a killing on the CDs. They could do them for like 20 cents because there doing millions or whatever. I’m a vinyl guy so I’m excited that our stuff is now on vinyl. When we started you might do a 7” but you would seldom do LPs. Spotify is amazing. I got it to record records as I do a lot of work with this producer and might need to find something. He’ll often send me a list of 10 songs to listen to and I’ll go there to listen. You can’t fight that. For bookstores Amazon is the devil. They have a programme that when you take a picture of a book cover in a bookstore and you send that picture to Amazon they will give you an extra 20% off their already low cost. That’s horrible, right? But it’s so easy and convenient for people. So Amazon wins and the bookstores struggle. It takes a lot of effort to only shop in your local book or record store and make a choice. There is, though, a swell of some independent bookstores doing ok. In the US anyway you have to be pretty savvy, like owning a record store, as as it was in the old days it’s pretty much a labour of love - or maybe have a rich spouse (laughs). That gets you out of the gutter once in awhile. You’re not going to make a lot of dough running a bookstore. But they are surviving and I think a good bookstore owner can guide you better, with records you can find out really quickly if you like a band without anybody’s help, but with books you need someone to understand your taste as it’s hard to browse Amazon and to find the right book

Do you enjoy the book reading/signing process?

I like the fact that I’m not as insecure (in a book reading context) as they are there to hear me, I always feel that I’m the weak link of any band I’m in or with anything I’m doing, so I’m not as insecure about the books as I am about the songwriting I guess. It’s the only time I really around people who like books. The guys in Fontaine read books but most musicians are that big readers - that I meet anyway. So reading in bookstore means I get to hang out with people who love books. It’s one of my favourite things. When I did the reading in Dublin and was interviewed by Roddy Doyle it was one of the greatest nights of my life. I went to the Stag’s Head and had a beer with him and I’ll never forget that. He’s an inspiring guy on so many levels. A lot of what he said made a lot of sense to me. My Grandma bought me The Commitments when it first came out and I’ve read everything his since. So I’ve always been a big fan. He’s a cool guy to top it off. I really like the work ethic of writing novels. 

Another author who has brought out CDs to accompany the launch of his books is the Irish writer John Connelly.

I have met him a couple of times at festivals. He’s also very cool. I hung out with the crime writers there. They’re the ones that are the most fun. They made the most money so they’re pretty happy and they like music. They love crime books and novels. I hung out with him and some other crime writers. I loved hanging out with them as sometimes when you’re with the literary writers they aren’t much fun. They don’t talk about music and they bitch about their jobs as professors. The crime writes are the ones wearing leather jackets and buying expensive drinks (laughs).

You have always expressed a fear, built of shyness, of getting up onstage as a front man. How have you coped with that?

As I said I’m not meant to stand in front of a bunch of people singing. When you’re a kid in a rock band you think it’s going to save your life. I loved records so much that I wanted to eat them! But I didn’t know what to do so I figured that I’m just going to have to join a band but I was barely able to go to school I was so shy. I even had a hard time going to a store. The reason I’m probably not stuck in a warehouse and only shopping at midnight is from being in a band. I didn’t play sober from 15 to 30, around then. Then I quit drinking before gigs but before that I was always shit-faced drunk for over 10 years. It was horrible and I’d be half way through a gig and I could barely stand. Your anxiety is gone because you’re doing it and your relaxing but you go “oh shit, I’m really drunk now.” If you’re really adrenalised you can drink a lot and I’d been half way through a gig and I’d realise that I could barely stand. I’d feel that I couldn’t physically get through the gig and I’d be chasing that the whole time. So if it took a guy 7 hours to come see our band and he was sleeping in his car afterwards and he had to drive back to go to work and I was really drunk and I’d played bad and I was so ashamed of myself that I realised that I’d have to quit playing music or overcome my fear. So then I started drinking an hour before a gig. Then a half hour before, then just two beers before the show just to get through. I was ashamed of that but that’s I cured that. Being in a band did that for me.

Interview by Stephen Rapid   Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea

Monday
Oct242016

Freakwater Interview

We were given a rare opportunity to sit with Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin on their first visit to Ireland and to share some conversation regarding their collective talents and song writing secrets. The cult status of Freakwater is something that endures, from their debut in 1989 through to the current collection of songs on the new Scheherazade release.

The girls are both very amiable, open and full of fun and dove-tail regularly throughout our conversation. Both are enthusiastic and support each other’s opinions and insights; they laugh regularly and clearly share a deep bond between them.

LH: It has taken you quite a while to get to Ireland

C I: I don’t know why we never have, maybe because our booking agent is in Germany. My father comes from Northern Ireland where I have a lot of relatives so they were always trying to get us to play a show there. There is a Bluegrass Festival in Omagh but we never did play there. But it’s been really nice to finally come over and play here.

LH: Not that you have had a lot of time on this tour

JB: We have had back to back shows for 2 months now with just one day off, in Manchester, I think and that was a travelling day between cities. It has been pretty intense.

LH: So, from not touring at all to this extreme

Both: We have been touring on and off over the years in-between but just not to this extent. It is probably the same in that we would have had days of being happy with each other or just being exhausted with each other. We have different people on tour with us so when you put us together in a small place for a long period of time you can get feral very quickly. There are probably four possible ways of being when on tour and we probably each cover all of them at certain times.

LH: The cover of the new CD is indicative of life on the road. It pictures you both in a hotel room crashed out on twin beds in different states of decompression

Both: On the bed crying and drinking bourbon ...! It took us hours of a photo session to get that shot and when we saw it we said ‘stop’, that’s the one … It seemed to capture the essence of what we wanted.

LH: Is that an important part of the process for you; the way that the packaging comes out

Both: Yes, very much, I think that both of us are very strong on personal aesthetics. Our last record on Thrill Jockey, Thinking of You, had the label almost refusing to put it out. The cover was based on a Polish greeting card and it was ironically an image that we had all agreed on. The label was unsure if people would ‘get it’. For some, it can appear as somewhat ugly but it is essentially part of the narrative of who we are and it just felt right. You would think that the label would know us enough to realise that the way to get us to NOT do something is not by telling us that it doesn’t look right – we are very contrarian - in a good way of course …!

LH: Has the process of recording songs changed over the arc of your career

Both: I would like to think that it is coming in a full circle in a way. I think it is evolving constantly and becoming more nuanced. It is hard to say in that it is up to the listener. As you grow older and your understanding of the world changes you find more things to be upset about. If you can capture it in a way that is more developed and reflects more insight, then that is a good thing.

LH: When you are writing, do you ever say that ‘this is not a Freakwater song’ but one that could go on separate projects or in different directions

JB: Catherine doesn’t do that but if I’m writing for other projects, there is usually a thread to all of them. Songs for Eleventh Dream Day, my other band, are more in a rock vein and we couldn’t do those as Freakwater songs. There are some songs that you modify and think of in a different way and some of those are on the new record. The Asp and the Albatross for example was made as a quirky little carnival waltz and then was made into a more country thing with a change to the rhythms.

LH: Some musicians say ‘I had a bunch of songs that I had that just didn’t suit my band, so I made a solo album’. Do you just write when you write, without this consideration?

CI: When I am writing songs, I can definitely think of Janet’s vocal part so I hear that while writing. Also, the songs on this part of the tour, that we are now doing without drums and bass, are different to what you imagine but also sound great without those instruments.

JB: I had a hard time getting my head around those songs at the start but I am growing to accept how they sound without the band because they were originally written with the band in my mind.

LH: Not having drummer & bass player with you – is that just the economics of the tour?

Both: They were with us in England up to very recently but, with the costs of the tour, we could not afford to keep the full band with us on the road so we had them leave for the last part due to the expense involved with the backline and everything. In a way, it has been good for us to get back to what we used to do anyway and that is to play as an acoustic combo

LH: Have the economics of touring changed much for you?

Both: No, we have never made money! I think that things have changed in general but we still like to look for the cheese tray before a show and get despondent if it is not there. We have always done it pretty economically, we don’t ask for much and we do things in a thrifty way. We don’t make a lot of money but we view it as a way of having a holiday and doing something that is important for us to do.

LH: Over the years something as basic as the price of gasoline can make a huge difference

Both: The tour we did in the winter with a large band in the states cost us a lot on gasoline and the cost of merch can be expensive also. Especially when we fly these days. It’s a challenge.

LH: A quote attributed to your career said that is was defined as ‘a lack of any normal human ambition and an inability to capitalise on the brightest moments of critical acclaim’. Is this a conscious decision to stay true to your punk ethic?

Both (laughing): No, not at all ... I think that over time we have both said pretty much the same thing. We think it is interesting that we could even perceive that and then continue doing it as a conscious choice.

LH: Your music is so enduring and yet you don’t have a momentum to the output in terms of recording and touring regularly

JB: What we do is not popular. We are outliers in every sense, we are not Americana, we are not Country, we are not Folk - in all honesty there is not another band like we are and that is a great thing because there is no-one to take our place.

CI: Our lack of popularity is not entirely based on our inability to capitalise on our brightest moments.

JB: I think that we are not easy music for some people, some find it dissonant and gloomy and some people are drawn to it. When we tour the US, and have people come up to us and say that ‘we reared our kids listening to your music’, if it means a lot to a few people then that is really powerful.

CI: Our self -destructive tendency does not go as far as to refuse anything that is offered to us.

LH: In the past you have not identified who writes the songs. It has just been songs written by Freakwater. Also, the lyrics have not been included on past releases.

CI: For this release, we do have credits for who wrote what.

JB: But I have always liked the ambiguity of not knowing who wrote what ...

LH: Talking about the cover of the new record, I like the fact that the packaging is that little bit more substantial. In this era of downloads, you have got the lyrics and the photos and a sense of what the recording experience was like and that is an important part of the process.

Both: We wanted that. The packaging on the new record is great and it shows the people what we have created. After a long association with Thrill Jockey we switched to Bloodshot records and they were really happy to have us. We told them what we wanted to do and they gave us a lot of money so we had more flexibility to make a colourful record cover with an inside sleeve and booklet. The images from the sessions evoke memories of growing up and looking at album covers forever. That is something that we like. We had a big input into the vision of the new album and having detailed information and a certain look was important.

LH: You have this strain of Appalachian murder ballads meeting with abstract sonic sound; banjo meeting with guitar feedback – this seems almost unique to the band.

Both: Rather that it being intentional in order to do something odd, it was more just a natural development and including sounds that everyone wanted to have. The banjo and Moog on the 1st track is a really good combination. When the record came out it went to number 6 in the bluegrass charts which was a surprise for us. We have always thrown different things together, whether it was lyrics or sounds; we were singing about things that were not traditional early on and not in the accepted Americana genre. We do this thing that is unique to what we do and It is not genre specific – our lyrics speak to something that is somewhat different and our instrumentation is also somewhat different. There is a density to the lyrics that people can see as being odd and people either like that or they don’t.

LH: If you look at the Handsome Family and the success that they had (title track to the True Detective first series); is this something that you think can happen also to you?

Both: I don’t think that it changed the perspective in that the Handsome Family are still doing the same thing they always did. Maybe the perspective on the Handsome Family has changed for some people? But those people will still not come to the shows and want to follow the band. People are so used to music in tv shows and getting music for free. Some monetary effect may happen but I don’t think it is as much as you imagine.

LH: How do you choose the musicians for your studio recordings. Is it a from the community of musicians in the Chicago area?

CI: Warren Ellis lived in Chicago and we had met him several times with the Dirty Three and Nick Cave. You have to love his playing… Warren asked what was going on with Freakwater and we invited him to play for the record. We send him the tapes and he played really beautifully. We have friends who come in and play from both Chicago and Louisville, some we had already been playing with but also others we didn’t know who we introduced to us. Chicago can be so much busier than in a smaller town so we recorded in Louisville as we thought that a languid, slow quality vibe could be good; dreamier and sludger. In the studio, it was the most relaxed time that we ever had as there was no pressure on us. Dave (David Gay), our bass player, paid for the studio time and he offered a very generous budget. The whole thing had a calmness to it.

LH: Where do the ideas for the songs come about?

Both: Anything really. Something in the news, something that happens to you. In the last few years a lot of political events drive the song-writing. There are moments where something comes to you and it is then a struggle to get to the rest of it. You are playing and identify something but then, digging through everything to get to the rest of it – now that’s work… What I do know is that the more you do it, then the quicker it comes to you.  Sometimes the original idea you have for the song becomes almost facile by the end of the process and you are getting rid of the initial idea.

LH: Do you write any of the songs in character

Both: The songs tend to be personal, not that writing in character isn’t somewhat personal, but we don’t use character writing.Each of us write personal songs and really thinking about something is what we tend to do.

If you have not checked out the wonderfully rich catalogue of releases that these two talented artists have produced, then a real treat lies in store. Make sure that Freakwater are a regular part of your journey going forward.

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

Sunday
Oct232016

Aaron Lee Tasjan Interview

 

Roots singer-songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan is steadily becoming the male face representing the burgeoning music scene in East Nashville. At the recent Americana Music Association Festival in Nashville Tasjan seemed to appear everywhere, from co-hosting a killer nights music at The Basement East to appearing at JP Harris’s Sunday Morning Coming Down event at The Fond Object and fitting in slots with Margo Price, Cale Tyson and others in between.

Heralded by B.P.Fallon as one of the premier songwriters currently talking the talk, the iconic Irish writer, DJ and musician recently wrote "The cat’s song writing is treble mega in a lineage that embraces The Fabs to Willie and the driest wryness since John Lennon." 

His latest album Silver Tears, recorded on the New West label is due for release in November and follows his self-released and well received debut album In The Blazes (2015).   

Razor sharp wit, stylish and a wizard song writer and guitarist, Lonesome Highway had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with the modest, gregarious and affable young man at The American Legion in East Nashville.

Your surname would not suggest any Irish ancestry but I believe you do have some Irish blood flowing through your veins?

 My family does in fact have Irish blood. On my Dad's side ... his grandmother was Irish. However, my grandfather was adopted and that's how I ended up with the last name I have today.

 Tell us about your relationship with BP?

The first time I hung out with BP Fallon he was introducing my band at one his NYC Death Disco gigs. His introduction started, "When I came across them, I didn't know if they'd be crap or brilliant." I loved him immediately. Through the years we've worked together in many capacities, but my favourite capacity to work with BP, and one of my favourite things in the world really, is to sit at the kitchen table, spliff in hand, face to face with Beep, writing riffs on which he can hang his wonderful words. But in the end, for two chaps whose dancing was once described as "freedom" by Bono, I'd say we're hanging in there ok.

How did your involvement with New York Dolls come about?

My involvement with the NY Dolls really came through BP Fallon and Steve Conte. You see, Steve had seen me playing guitar around town in NYC thanks to BP who'd brought Steve around to check me out. When Steve needed some time off to be with his new son and his wife, I was very honoured to step in for him. That band informed so much of what I do. You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory is as brilliant a country song as it is Rock'n'Roll. Hank Williams could have sung it no problem. So it all connects, you see? Like The Dolls singing Pills by Bo Diddley. The blues is not punk rock but it is when they sing it. The Dolls are a Rock'n'Roll band of the highest order. They aren't a punk band but their influence on punk and the many twists and turns Rock'n'Roll has taken since The Dolls inception is undeniable.

Fill us in on your musical influences as a teenager growing up in Ohio?

Though I lived in California and Delaware for brief periods of my childhood, New Albany OH is where I feel like I'm from. It's where I went to high school and came of age. I fell very hard for a girl I met my first year of high school. She was my main influence for songs. They were almost all about her. Musically, I was listening to everything. I probably loved the Beatles the most but John Prine, Arlo Guthrie and of course Dylan were right there too. In middle school, I used Oasis songs to learn guitar. They were simple enough to learn on your own. I also played Freddy Green style guitar in The Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra and even learned to play banjo for the Gahanna Community Theatre production of Little Orphan Annie.

You are one of many acts under the Americana umbrella whose early music career began in an entirely different background. Take us through the journey from glam to where you are today?

My journey to making the music I make has been long and varied but the goal has always been the same: write pop songs that are performed scrappily by a tride and true Rock'n'Roll band. I want the lyrics to be my own language and I want the guitar playing to fuck with you and fuck you up and make you wanna fuck. I started on acoustic guitar. The first riff I knew was My Girl by The Temptations. Then I learned all the folk songs...Woody, Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Tim Hardin etc...From there, I started learning the blues...first Hendrix then Buddy Guy then my favourite blues singer, Slim Harpo. My Dad also made me study Spanish classical and jazz guitar. My favourite jazz player was Grant Green. But my heart and soul are always swayed the most by rock'n'roll. Give me John Lennon and Keith Richards lunacy and a tab or two and I'm yours. Shane MacGowen, for the love of God. Please. Keep being wild and free and poetic. Live forever, if you don't mind? rock'n'roll isn't just marketing term, kids. It's a real, living breathing thing and it's the best one of 'em all besides hip hop.

You appear to be adopting the mantle of the male face of East Nashville in recent years possibly borrowing the baton from Todd Snider. Tell about the music community there and the support they offer to each other?

I will tell you this ... there is one folk rock singer in East Nashville and his name is Todd Snider. Any credit I get in terms of repping the East Side would only be because of him. He is one of my absolute favourite writers and performers. Fearless. He has a new song where the first line is "This song is even better than it sounds." That's championship level stuff. He is also my friend and we hang out all the time at his lake house. Lots of celebrity sightings there. Rorey Carroll, Elizabeth Cook, Kevin Gordon, Allen Thompson. A who's who of East Nashville grifty, shifty raconteurs and instigators. 

Margo Price, practically unknown outside East Nashville last year, has deservedly made a major breakthrough both locally and internationally this year. Do you expect any other East Nashville artists to follow in her footsteps in the near future?

I love Margo Price. One of our best and brightest. I anticipate in the next year, East Nashville will become a National Monument and protected under the Jed Hilly Bill of Rights which will guarantee showcases to anyone who can out-dress Nikki Lane. The town will be closed off to all visitors except for certain sections where you're be able to view songwriters in their natural habitats: like Cale Tyson at a hot chicken restaurant writing hit songs on pickle slices or me sitting on my front porch being very, very nervous.

Your new album Silver Tears was recorded in Southern California. Was there a particular sound you were looking for that brought you to California for the recording?

There are these guys that live in California: Elijah Thomson, Dan Bailey, Frank Lenz and David Vandervelde. They are the best guys at recording I've ever met. I don't really want to have a sound. I want to make music in the moment. My sound is always going to be whatever I come up with on the fly. I don't work off of concepts. I work off momentary insanity, manic depression and lapses in judgment.

Like many other artists you are now classified under the Americana umbrella.  Are you comfortable with that and do you consider that the title Americana has given many artists a categorisation that they otherwise may not have had?

People can call what I do whatever they want. I don't need to be defined by a genre and feel people who listen to music based on genre are musically ignorant. The function of art is not categorization. Now, I say this as someone who is making music for art, not money. If you want to make money at this you will have to hold everyone's hand the whole way through it all and tell them exactly who you are and what you do and how you tied it all together on your wonderful new album whether you actually know the answers to those questions or not. I'm too lazy for all that. I know what I am and who I am and I really don't feel obligated to fake an explanation that will make people feel like they can figure me out. That's not what I signed up for and what I did sign up for can be done without a bunch of tiresome salesmanship.

Are we going to have the pleasure of seeing you perform in Ireland in the near future?

Boy, I sure hope so. I love it there. I got to sit in with Dan Baird at Whelan's last year and Lenny Kaye and I backed up BP Fallon at Electric Picnic a few years back too. Kilkenny Roots always seems like a blast. I'd love to play that. I'd consider bagging my entire career if Lisa Hannigan would let me be her roadie though.

Interview by Declan Culliton