Wednesday
May182016

Interview with Daniel Meade

Daniel Meade released his self-recorded debut solo album in 2013 to critical acclaim. Since then he has travelled far and wide, working with and opening for acts such as Old Crow Medicine Show, The Proclaimers, Pokey Lafarge, Willie Watson, Diana Jones, Vikesh Kapoor and Sturgill Simpson. 

In February 2014 he was invited to Nashville by Morgan Jahnig of Old Crow Medicine Show who offered to engineer and produce a new album with a band comprising some of Meade’s favourite musicians, including Cory Younts, Chance Mccoy, Joshua Hedley, Chris Scruggs and Morgan himself. Guest spots were filled by Diana Jones, Shelly Colvin and Critter From Old Crow. The result was Keep Right Away, an exciting, diverse and self assured album that draws on the ghosts of all of his influences, from Hank Williams, Big Bill Broonzy, Kris Kristofferson and Jerry Lee Lewis through to the more contemporary throes of Old Crow Medicine Show and Justin Townes Earle. 

Meade’s new album Let Me Off At The Bottom features 11 new meade originals. It is the first record he has made with The Flying Mules (Lloyd Reid - guitar, Mark Ferrie - double bass, Thomas Sutherland - drums). It was recorded live (for the most part) at the legendary Cava Studios in Glasgow and mixed by Morgan Jahnig in Tennessee.

Can you give me some idea of how music became such a big part of your life growing up in Glasgow?

I'd say there were a few factors involved. My big brother Raymond has always been music mad, he started playing guitar around the age of 7 so growing up I'd say he was the main influence on me. He got me into the likes of Guns 'n' Roses and what have you at an early age and although I didn't show an interest in playing until I was about 12, his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I also have a couple of uncles who fed my earliest interests. Ian is a great guitarist who was right into his blues and would always indulge our young ears when we visited. He actually took me to my first gig, which was to see BB King in Edinburgh and at 11 years old that blew my mind. My other uncle Vincent was mad on The Beatles and used to make me tapes of all their albums and I'd listen to them until they wore out. So I'd probably have to blame them! It really wasn't until my early teens that it became a big part of my life but when it did that was it, and thankfully it's never left.

What music originally made you decide to pursue making it as a full time artist? 

That would have to be the old rock 'n' roll stuff, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. I was lucky enough to see the three of them on the same bill in London when I was around 14 or 15 and after that I wasn't interested in doing or being anything else. I loved the Blues and The Beatles before then but it was those guys that made me want to pursue it.

At what point did the music that inspires you now become a part of your conscious listening?

I'm not entirely certain. One thing always just bleeds into another and I'm never really aware of shifts in my own taste, or indeed inspiration. I think any writer should be influenced and inspired by everything and anything they hear, whether it's their cup of tea or not. Take the parts that are useful to you and throw the rest away.

Your new album was recorded locally in Glasgow as opposed to the previous album being tracked in Nashville. What were the differences in the two experiences?

To be honest, for me the only difference was the location. Both times I had the songs I wanted ready and the musicians that I wanted in place to perform them, and that's all you need. Both were cut for the most part live in great studios, both were a lot of work and fun, and both came out sounding better than I'd imagined going in. Obviously it was a dream come true going over to Nashville and having that experience with Morgan and all those guys who's records I love, but finally getting to make this album in Glasgow, with the band who I've played with for years was just as exciting for me. I'm equally proud of both. 

How much do the economics of the situation effect the way you produce your music?

Money is always going to be a problem at any level but you can't let it get in the way of what you ultimately want to produce. We initially tried to cut a couple of corners financially with this record and just weren't happy so ended up digging deeper and doing it right, and it's a much better record for it. I'll always look into cost beforehand so I can try to plan accordingly. If I need to take on some extra shifts a week that I don't particularly enjoy then so be it, or if I need to sell some stuff to get the money then I will, and I have done many times. If you really believe in what you're making there is always a way. It might not be your first choice or even your second, but if it needs done you'll do it.

How long have you and Lloyd worked together? He seems a perfect foil for what you do?

Around 7 or 8 years now. He's my favourite person to play with by a long way and anyone who's heard him won't need telling why. He is without doubt the most natural guitarist I've ever met and still constantly surprises me with what he hits out with on stage. He has a wonderful ear and always plays for the song, never to show off, and that for me is the difference between the good and the great, and he's definitely great. His harmony singing is spot on as well which appeals to me no end. We both have the same love for the music we play and approach it with the same mentality, which is why I think we go so well together, it's never in all these years felt like work. I think there's definitely a mutual respect between us, we've been through a lot together and, where other relationships have suffered and fallen apart, we're still tight. Plus his beard is lovely

Are you a prolific writer or is the process a slower one?

I've been called prolific but I don't really see it that way, it's just what I do and the way I work. If you call yourself a writer then boy you'd better write! I always write something down every day, be it a song, a line or even just an unusual word, anything at all. You can never have enough words or ideas and, even if they come to nothing, it had you thinking for a while so that can't be a bad thing.

Live you cover some classic and some obscure songs. How do you choose these? 

No rhyme or reason to be honest, if we hear something we like enough to learn then we will and throw it in the set from time to time, keeps us on our toes.

Another thing about your live show that sometimes doesn’t come across on record his how good a piano player you are. Do you have a preference for the piano over guitar or vice versa?

Why thank you. I would have to say piano is my first love. I can sit playing nothing in particular and be lost for hours. The guitar I also love but in a different way. I mainly write on the guitar, I play it more, certainly live, but it doesn't come as naturally to me. I have to really work at guitar whereas piano is always play. I'm definitely more at home in front of a piano. 

There has long been a predjuice against “country” music from these Isles even though a large part of there music originated here. Have you found that? 

I wouldn't call it a prejudice against country music, I just don't think people over here have ever been particularly arsed with it. It never seems to have properly taken off here for one reason or the other, maybe that's why it left in the first place! I do think there's a level of ignorance involved, a willingness to believe that it's all rhinestones, line dancing and Garth Brooks or whatever, which couldn't be further from the truth. But these kind of attitudes are slowly shifting but I think it'll always be a bit of a niche market over here.

In that light how does location effect perception?

I don't really know in all honesty, I think that changes from person to person. I've come across people that are more willing to appreciate homegrown talent and others who would rather their country singers to be American, some find that to be more genuine or something. It's never been an issue with me ... a good song, singer or band is always going to be a good song, singer or band, wherever it originates. It shouldn't matter.

You will be doubtless touring Let Me Off At The Bottom for awhile. What are your plans in that respect?

We have several shows and festivals lined up for the next few months already, you can see them at the website www.danielmeademusic.com. And then we're working on a more substantial tour in support of the album come September, more news on that soon.

How difficult is it for an independent musician to sustain a career these days?

As difficult as any other profession it seems, it's a hard time for a lot of people now. I'm fortunate enough to be doing what I love, a lot of people aren't. I don't make a lot of money and what I do make goes back into the next record or tour but I wouldn't change it for anything. I think to make it work you have to be flexible with what you will and won't do, I never turn anything down out of hand. Everyone has to make ends meet somehow and if you think your above doing certain things then you'll not last long.

The subject matter of many of the songs deals with the downside of relationships and a drift toward anaesthetising the pain. Have you done a lot of research in that area?

Ha ha, 'research', that's exactly how I like to look at it now. I have yes, a little too much truth be told but I can't grumble, everyone goes through their own shit, it's all part of growing up and becoming who you are. I didn't so much drift toward it as jump head first into it so I do know I'm lucky to be out the other end relatively unscathed, some people aren't so lucky. It's certainly given me a lot to consider, ponder and write about the last few years so I guess it wasn't all bad. The quiet life suits me now though.

What are your aspirations for the future? 

To keep breathing, moving and playing, keep it simple.

Interview by Stephen Rapid

Wednesday
May112016

Interview with Dave Insley

Dave Insley grew up in Chapman, Kansas until the age of 12 when his family relocated to Arizona. There he spent most of his spare time playing guitar and writing songs as well as hiking and climbing. During his high school and college years he played in country and rock bands, and in 1983 his cowpunk group, Chaingang, debuted in Tempe. Chaingang played country music for punks. Insley’s next project was the Nitpickers, a Tempe-based bluegrass band. Another Insley group, Trophy Husbands, released two country records and, for a few years, toured nationally. In 2005 his solo debut, Call Me Lonesome was released. Relocating to Austin, Texas in 2006 he released Here With You Tonight. Then in 2008, Insley released his next album, West Texas Wine. Just The Way That I Am, his latest album showcases the most mature writing and nuanced performance to date. Dave Insley’s Careless Smokers. began a weekly residency at a new Austin club, the White Horse Saloon in 2013 and unless on tour, play to a packed house every Saturday

You and your brother both released a series of country/roots albums individually. In that light was that music you grew up with at home or where did the inspiration come from?

Our parents were into country music and big band music, so Mark and I grew up with long players by Buck, Merle, George Jones, Johnny Cash on the turntable daily, along with stuff like Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Of course we learned about rock music (for us Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf and Iron Butterfly) from our school chums, so those LPs made it into the pile too.

When did that inspiration turn into the motivation that made you want to write and sing and how did you go about doing that?

Our folks used to trot us out to sing for their friends when they were entertaining, and Mark and I both had some songs worked up for these occasions.  I was 11 when I got my first guitar, but I'd been messing with Mark's before that. Ever since those days I've never felt anything else called to me in the way that music did.  Simply put, I've always wanted to do this, it's been my dream for as long as I can remember. I had a lot to learn to become a writer, but it came fairly naturally and once I found my voice, and learned to trust my instincts, then I learned how to catch songs, when inspirations or ideas came knocking. Sometimes overhearing a snippet of a conversation or accidentally coining some minor phrase would be enough to get into the flow of songwriting.

How much was the Austin country scene an influence on the direction your music took?

It's an ongoing inspiration to live in a town where, not only can I see some of the greatest musicians in the world, but I can work with them, and be friends with them. When I was growing up in Arizona, and before I became a touring artist, Austin was always a fantasy to me. But now, it's come true!

Did you ever have the ambition to go to Nashville to see how that might help or hinder your career?

I have spent a fair amount of time in Nashville, been there for music conferences, and to perform numerous times. I like Nashville, as a place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there; Austin appeals to me more because the lifestyle, the liberal culture and the music scene all fit my style better.  

At this point do you feel that you are largely making music for yourself and those people who have discovered your music rather that it being a good career move?

Ha, music is NEVER a good career move! haha. I've always made the music first for myself, and secondarily with an audience in mind (sometimes the audience a song is intended for is single person, sometimes the audience intended is more of a general audience). Ultimately, I don't feel like my work is complete if I don't perform the music for someone, nonetheless, I write for myself; the process is cathartic and therapeutic, lord knows what would have become of me without my music

How important, in terms of continuing your music, has been the opportunity to play at the White Horse on a regular basis?

It's the greatest gig I've ever had, frankly. We've been playing there every Saturday night for 3 years. We've built a great audience, the club loves us, and for me it is nice to have a reliable, hip place to play every week, without having to worry about booking, promoting, traveling, etc. My guys always have fun and the dance floor always stays full, the White Horse has been a godsend to me!

You have always created interesting visual packages, with Beth Middleworth, for your CD. Is the visual part of being an music artist an important factor for you?

I grew up in an era when artists put out albums, and everything about the album was significant: the sequence, the pacing (time between tracks), the packaging, all working together to create an effect. I have always felt that the visual aspect plays a role in how people hear the music, the packaging and music combine to create the overall effect. One of the greatest blessings in my life was finding Beth!  She is a genius, and she gets me, and what I do. We've been friends now for nearly 15 years, and she is one of my very best friends indeed.  Collaborating with her to create the packages is one of the funnest and most joyful parts of the production 

How has the country music scene changed in Austin (and indeed throughout the industry) over the last decade and has that affected your own world view?

Well, for one thing, who was it that thought "bro country" was a good idea? Seriously! I've always been a traditionalist (even when I was young and playing in punk rock bands). Scenes come and go, and music always strays this way and that, but without fail it always returns to its traditional form eventually, and that's where I come in. In terms of my world view, hmm, I would say that it is particularly easy for a performing artist or a songwriter to become cynical, but that's a trap worth avoiding. I've met the kindest and sweetest people through my music, and my "world view" when I'm playing my gigs and meeting people is profound gratitude that people are listening and are interested in what I'm doing, and sheer joy at being in front of an audience.

Where do you think roots music in general is heading these days. There seems to be a lot of bands and artist on the fringes making traditionally styled music?

It's just careening down the road like always! In my view there have always been a lot of bands and artists on the fringe, making traditional music. But what we have a lot more of now is electronic media for getting the word out about these artists, that accounts for the seemingly endless supply bands, etc.

Does the care you put into your releases act as something of an antidote to the rather faceless option provided by the download?

The download has its place, and in fact is vitally important when you put out a record, however the physical copy is always going to be much more impressive.  I've always liked being able to hold the music with my hand. Looking at the artwork the artist has chosen on a CD package, while listening to a new album is more visceral than holding a download card. Of course, holding a vinyl LP is the best of all! 

Has the recording process been made easier now with technology. There seems to be a lot of small studios out there?

Oh yeah, there are tons of studios, and quality can be done more easily and less expensively than in the old days. Still, there are various points during the production when you have to pony up real money because the old fashioned way of doing something might sound better, but cost more money. There are a lot of little steps where a producer can drop the ball, but its not wise to try to skip some steps to save money. 

You are a family man now, does that change the nature of the music you make or can you put yourself in to the role required to tell the story in song?

Well, I write more "family love" type songs now than I used to, but I try not to overdo that sort of thing when picking a setlist for a live show. I'm perfectly at ease taking whatever role I need to, in order for my story songs to make sense, and let's face it they are generally written from either my point of view, or at least a point of view that resonates with me.

Your band Careless Smokers has been with you for some time. Is it hard to keep committed, like-minded players onside or they as committed to the music as you?

My guys are great, great people, and we've all been together so long that we all love each other, and are "family." And they can really play, oh my!  They're every bit as committed to what I'm doing, and to this style of music as I am.  They work hard to always be available to do my records and shows, and I'm fortunate to have developed deep and lasting friendships with all of them. 

What is the future likely to hold for you and what would you like the future to be in the best of possible worlds?

I don't sit around thinking up lofty goals for myself, I just hope to continue to get satisfaction from doing it, and satisfaction from bringing joy to my friends, family and fans with it. I know that I'm totally blessed to have the opportunities that come with making music, and I'm super grateful.

Interview by Stephen Rapid  Photography by Valerie Fremin
Wednesday
Mar162016

Interview with Eric Church

Eric Church was born in the year that punk exploded. Church has largely ploughed his own furrow with his edgy take on songwriting and performance. By his own admission he is not a traditional country artist, though he is marketed in the contemporary country genre.

Signed toCapitol Records since 2005, he has released five studio album and one live album. Church is a very successful artist and several of his albums and singles have reached number 1 on the Billboard Country charts. His most recent album, Mr Misunderstood, saw him confirm his ‘outside” status when it was initially released to  fans without even his label’s knowledge.

Eric Church has the status now to do things his way and that is a positive direction for the artist. Lonesome Highway interviewed him prior to his performance at the 3 Arena, the Dublin leg of the 2016 Country 2 Country festival.

Mr Misunderstood was released with no titles and no credits on the artwork, Was there a specific reason for that?

That was because of inspiration actually, as I didn’t expect to have an album out. I’d sat down one day and wrote for the first time in a long time and wrote Mr Misunderstood. That was the first song and the next day I wrote Mistress Named Music (with Casey Beathard) and on the third day I wrote by myself. So all of a sudden this window opened for me, with creativity and inspiration. I’d never had that happen, as normally I have to write about 100 songs to find what it is I’m searching for, but not this time. I knew they were all exactly on the same album. The interesting thing was what to do with that, as we just came of from the Outsiders album and we weren’t supposed to schedule another album until this coming summer. But to me it’s a crime against the in aspiration of the writer to have to put it on a shelf and get back to it. It’s the worst thing you could ever do as an artist,  so we looked for ways to put it out and, it was my idea, I said ‘let’s put it out’, and as I’m a vinyl guy I wanted to send it to the fans first. The label did not know about it and we ended up having to purchase a record plant in Germany to get it done without the label knowing. When we went to Walmart and the big distributors, we said that it was a Christmas album. So we kept it secret at every level and it arrived the morning of the CMAs and it was there for our fans. All of a sudden they became the mouthpiece. The interesting thing there is, usually the label gets it first, then radio followed by the critics and the media. That’s all to tell the fans about it and that’s backwards. You’re always trying to get it in their (the fan’s) hands. So you should go to them first and let them tell people about it. So that’s the one thing we tried to flip. 

I love vinyl, to me it’s the closest thing to what I hear in the studio. It’s not exactly there but it’s the closest thing. When you get into CDs and MP3 and that stuff it’s just so different. I think that’s what the resurgence is, as people are getting back in to that escapism of what music is. 

How important is the role of your producer Jay Joyce in shaping the sound for recording?

I think he’s critical and the one thing about Jay is that we understand each other. There’s many times in the studio where you can have a bunch of musicians that you may have to explain thins to, but with Jay I never have to do that because we understand what were thinking. That’s special when you find that. I can say “hey man, this is this or that” and everyone is looking at me in the studio confused but Jay gets it. So when you speak ‘music’ fluently with someone like that, that is rare. Jay and I have always had that connection, even early on. We have the two most different backgrounds that you could ever have, as we are two totally different people, but we really agree on what should happen musically.

On the album you mention a number of musical names such as Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jeff Tweedy. Where they big musical influences for you?

Everybody finds muses, and when it came to Mr Misunderstood they were artists that I love that I don’t know that everybody knows. They are people that I look to,  to get inspiration; people like Elvis Costello and Ray Wylie, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. I think it was important to put that in there to show that this record had a little more depth. I wanted the country fan who knew me as a quote ‘Superstar Artist’ that they hear all the time, may dig deeper than just what they hear on the radio. It is what makes us up, just look at the DNA and those guys are an integral part of my DNA. 

There are elements of soul, blues, reggae …

Yes, there is.

Your duet partner Susan Tedeschi on Mixed Drinks about Feelings is not a usual choice to sing with.

She amazing. Her and Derek Trucks, and he’s one of the greatest guitar players on the planet. Again, they are people that I’m a fan of and I try to expose some different voices to country music. 

Does what you’re doing now and the success you have had take away from your songwriting time?

No, the songwriting for me has always been about being committed to the craft. I can say when it’s all said and done, as it was in the beginning, that I’ll be a songwriter. All the other stuff I can’t control, but I would still write songs. That would be the most important thing for people to know about me; that I’m A, B and C a songwriter. Everything else, I  hope, takes care of itself. If it all ended tomorrow as a recording artist I’d still be writing songs. It wouldn’t matter if I made money at it as it’s what I do.

In that light do you keep notebooks of lines or ideas as they might arrive?

I do, a lot I put on my iPhone. There are windows that open inspiration wise and when they happen, you have to pay attention. There’s no rhyme or reason and I wish I knew what it was. Some people write to a deadline, which is an interesting thing, as when you have one some people write better that way. But I don’t think I’m that way. I’m more into when it starts to happen I know to pay attention to that. I can go a long time without a song then I can write 30 in two weeks. 

When that happens to you, do you feel an overall theme is emerging?

That’s interesting; sometimes and sometimes not. This time I realised about three songs in that I had the beginnings of an album and what surprised me was that every day after that I started to second guess myself. I was thinking ‘they can’t all be good’ and that I was losing my edge; because, as I said, I normally write a lot to get good ones. But this time four or five songs in I thought they could be on the same record. I started to go to people saying ‘Am I nuts, or is this good?’ That’s when it started to formulate and something was happening that had never happened to me. For this album I probably wrote 18 songs and there’s 10 on the record. That has never happen before from a quality standpoint. Normally I’d be a one-in-five guy. I think that this was a different thing. 

You have been using your own band on this album. Is that something that you prefer?

As we were trying to keep it from anybody knowing, it was just us. The difference is that The Outsiders was more bombastic. It was restless creativity. I had had a hard time with the Chief album, as that was where we want from nobody knowing us to everybody knowing us. I had felt a little bit constrained as were in a format, and it had won (both CMA & ACM) album of the year, and we were the focal point of what was happening then and that bothered me. I’ve always been good on the fringe and not in the middle. I’ve never liked being that guy. The Outsiders was a little bit of rebellion against that. It was us going ‘let’s go nuts’. With Mr Misunderstood there was a lot of space. It was just the songs and a lot of them are just one-takes.

Do you feel misunderstood?

Well, I felt that as a younger person. So that song is less about me now. The younger person, male or female, who marches to the beat of their own drummer; as music lovers we’ve all felt that we may like something that not everybody else does - but that’s ok. Equally you may do something different and that’s ok too. For me it’s more about that.

The Mistress Named Music?  

Well, that’s my favourite song. 

What do you think of traditional country music?

I love it personally, but I’ve never done it better than other people. Really early on I realised that that is not my strength. I’d rather hear Alan Jackson or one of those guys rather than me trying to do them. They’re better at it. I’m a fan of it and it’s great to see it coming back. I love the singer/songwriter troubadour element of it. For me the harder country beat is in Americana. That’s where the true spirit of country is. What’s happening at radio is because of commercialism. It’s pop music. The biggest problem that all formats have is that when something begins to work then everybody then does that. Especially in Nashville where one thing worked, then everything begins to sound like that. That’s because it’s basically pop music. It becomes popular culture and becomes commercialized, then it loses the heart. It will work for a little bit but then it’s going to recycle. But now some of that realness is coming back. It’ll make the music better. 

You toured on The Outsiders Tour with Dwight Yoakum as an opening act. How did your fans take to that?

It worked good. If you look at the kind of career that we’ve tried to carve out, that’s the career that he carved out 20 years ago. Some people wonder how it would go when it started, but I thought it worked great. I watched almost every night and he’s so good. He can still do it to the nines.

On the album you play both acoustic and also electric guitar. Do you like letting go with the latter?

I’m an insecure guitar player. I ended up playing a lot of parts on the record and that’s where Jay’s great as he tells me just to play and that “we’ll never use this.” So I’ll take a pass and it ends up being the one on the record. Because I think he is going to replace it I don’t feel that pressure. It’s the best when you’re not thinking too hard about what you’re playing. You’re playing from your heart and not from your head. One of my favourite things right now is playing the Mr Misunderstood album, as we haven’t had the chance to play it anywhere and we don’t know it that well yet. We recorded it and it’s been three months, so now playing it every night’s a little different. It’s at that stage where we don’t know it well enough to know what we should be playing. That’s fun. In the studio I know the feeling that if you chase a song too long and something starts to buck on you and it’s not happening. I believe that if it starts to get difficult to get a track then there’s something wrong. It’s time to move on. I do like to play acoustic and we are going to be doing two acoustic shows in Red Rocks. It’s not something I’d want to do all the time but I do love it. It is something that shows a different element of the songs.

Is Europe a place where you want to succeed?

A lot of artists come over and play Country 2 Country and then think that they’re big, but that’s not Europe. You have to commit to all of Europe. For us it’s been great. I happen to believe, and it could be naive, but I don’t think so, that music translates culture, it translates language. It’s a universal language. If you commit to it and play it, it works. This is a little bit of an exception as it is a kind of “soft ticket” as if I came to Dublin without this event, I wouldn’t be playing the 3 Arena. I’d be playing a theatre, which is what I’d rather do. The thing I can say is that I love the day that we’re on (with Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves) as I had turned this down a couple of times. I said I would if it was cohesive with who we are. You have people who are songwriters and troubadours who would go anywhere in Europe and road-dog it. For me it was important to get that right or I’d rather come and do my own show.

Interview by Stephen Rapid, assisted by Ronnie Norton. 

 

Tuesday
Feb232016

Interview with Sid Griffin - Long Ryders

The Long Ryders were originally formed in Los Angeles in the early 1980 and disbanded in I987. During that time they blended a mix of punk attitude with a strong roots sensibility and released several albums. A comprehensive box set of their work Final Wild Songs has just been released with the first pressing quickly selling out.The band are doing some dates to support this release before finishing the tour in Dublin at Whelans on Sunday 8th of May. Lonesome Highway took the opportunity to ask founding member Sid Griffin some questions.

The band has reformed for selected gigs and tours since parting company originally in the late 80s. How difficult is it for the four of you to schedule the time to rehearse and to tour?

Extremely difficult. I live in London as you know, our brilliant guitarist Stephen McCarthy lives in his native Richmond, Virginia, our bass player Tom Stevens lives in northern Indiana, and our drummer Greg Sowders lives in Los Angeles. No one lives anywhere near the other guy! And everyone has families but to be fair two of the band have grown children. Two of us have kids at home. So it is very difficult to organise any touring or the like.  

You’re touring in support of the release of the Final Wild Songs 4 CD box set. In compiling that have you ever been inspired to consider doing an new album or are the circumstances of releasing new music now too complicated and costly unless backed by a label?

The Final Wild Songs box set was compiled primarily by Tom Stevens, our bassist. He is a master archivist, what Bill Wyman is to the Rolling Stones. He knew where everything was and is! 

There is some minor discussion about doing a new album but it is soooooooo difficult to get us all in one room. And doing it via the computer and not seeing the other person…man, that is just not, not, not the Long Ryders way! This is something we will discuss on the European leg of our shows in April and May of this year. When we get to the USA in July I am sure we will either have a plan settled on or we will skip the idea entirely. 

You emerged alongside a number of other bands who were all labelled the 'Paisley Underground’ yet your leanings were more towards a roots-orientated sound. This was before Americana or alt-Country were terms to try and define a sound. Would that have made any real difference to the band’s identity or career if you had started later or where you, as front runners, better as you were?

It would have made all the difference in the world, Steve, if we had started later in our career or even started earlier. As the writer Johnny Black wrote, “The Long Ryders were the perfectly right band at the perfectly wrong time”. This is the Lord’s Truth. People say we didn’t go as far as we should have but the fact is we went as far as we were allowed to. 

Everyone who did like our sound played our music. There was no place left to go to. Every other DJ, especially in Europe and the UK, was playing this ghastly synth pop rubbish. I still hate that music today! And I notice it is completely, undeniably out of fashion. You might hear it on an Oldies station but it is very old hat. Americana, which the Long Ryders helped codify and define, is now the hip currency in the USA by some length and it is getting more and more of an audience in Europe every week. As Willie Dixon said, “this rock is the fruit but the blues are the roots”, and I agree. 

Where do you think the Long Ryders rightful place in the history of (country) rock is?

As an important, indispensable link in the chain. We brought the music of Gram Parsons to the generation of Johnny Rotten and now look what happened. It is a shame we didn’t last longer but there you are, nothing can be done about that now. 

You and Tom compiled Final Wild Songs his much of that was work and how much was fun?

It was a bit over two years work. Hard to believe but true. Getting all the songs decided upon, finding the original tapes or the best version possible to use as a source, getting all the photographs together and trying to find photos people have not seen a zillion times…man, it was very hard work and stressful at times. I cannot speak for Tom but I found myself juggling a lot of balls in the air and praying I would not drop any of them. I am a musician, not a magician, right? 

Since the band’s demise you have taken a more acoustic/bluegrass direction with your music. Did you miss the amps and the drums and the Rickenbacker?

I do not miss playing electric music whatsoever. I played with a great, if you will allow me to say so, a great electric band, the Long Ryders. And I am tired of the volume and wanted to do something different. I did not even play mandolin fifteen years ago…now I play every day and in fact consider myself a mandolinist and not a guitarist. 

 

It is true bluegrass music is not popular, audiences will always respond to the big, loud 4/4 beat but playing lightly and tightly and rockin’ along in 2/4 on a Bill Monroe song has a helluva lot to recommend it! Heck, Adele, of all people, she LOVES bluegrass music from her time in the USA and our Coal Porters’ fiddler Kerenza Peacock plays fiddle for Adele (you don’t think she makes a living playing with me, do you?). 

 

My Rickenbacker was in the closet for months. I just got it out to rehearse for this tour. 

What do you think of the current state of what passes for country music where bands are more influenced by big-hair metal and rap than by a real sense of rock and punk attitude brought by bands like yourselves and Jason & The Scorchers and Rank & File?

I have no affection at all for “bro country” or the C&W out of Nashville where you can tell the most country band the singer has ever dug is The Eagles. That stuff means nothing to me. I thought the first Rank & File album was one of the best albums I have ever heard in my life. How funny to think Alejandro Escovedo was, at best, the third most important guy in that band. Now he is Mr. Americana in the USA! 

Age has its own limiting factors but is playing again with the band a shot in the arm in terms of energy and attitude?

Oh, I am playing with the Long Ryders to a) support the box set, and b) to see my dear pals, Tom, Stephen and the drummer. I forget his name. Craig? There is no real money in a Long Ryders reunion, believe me. But it will be fun, they will make me laugh like they did in the old days, we will see many old friends and old faces, so what’s not to like?  

As regards it being a shot in the arm I consider it more a shot in the dark. I would love to see if we are treated like old pals, like a heritage act, like Famous Unsung People, or exactly what. I do so look forward to this European tour, yep. 

I’m sure there were ups and downs in your career like not being able to take up the offer to tour with U2 but what are the more memorable aspects of being a Long Ryder for you?

U2 asked us to open The Joshua Tree tour dates, from date one till about two months into it. Our final album, Two-Fisted Tales, was delayed so we decided not to do it and to join the U2 tour later on. As you know we never did get to open for U2 at all, not even once. So this was a major opportunity blown, no question about it, and a fairly big regret of mine. We twice turned down touring Japan and Australia, that was a dumb move too. But life goes on. 

Bono memorably said our song Harriet Tubman’s Going To Carry Me Home was a classic, that people would be singing it around campfires in 200 years. People sometimes make fun of him but what a cool thing to say. I owe him so much for that quote, it has been around the world. 

What are your own personal plans for there future in music and with your writing?

There is a new Coal Porters album out called No. 6, yes Number six, in September, and I will tour behind that. I have a broadcasting offer in the USA I am seriously considering and so, at present, I am not sure about what I am going to write next. We shall see. 

Interview by Stephen Rapid

Friday
Feb052016

Interview with Lindi Ortega

Living now in Nashville Canadian singer songwriter has forged her own path over four albums which have blended a mix of country, soul and blues influences together to create her own vision of contemporary roots music. She is a regular visitor to Europe and retuned this time with a three piece band to accompany her fiery and individual vocal presence. Lonesome Highway took the opportunity to talk to her before her show in Dublin 

On Faded Gloryville you used three different sets of producers. Two of who you had previously worked with. Was that expediency or the plan?

It was a suggestion from my manager when we were trying to figure out who we were going to get to produce the next record. He suggested that instead of just having how about having a couple. I never had thought of it and I was apprehensive at first because I was worried about continuity and a little nervous. But then I sat and thought about it I realised that I had heard other albums done that way that sounded great. So I though of it worked for them it might work for me. Then I got attracted to the idea as it was something I’d never done. The idea of going down to Alabama to record a few songs was really cool to me. Muscle Shoals is so filled with such a unique musical history. I’d recorded in Nashville before but never in that area. Say in the end it was “why the heck not.” It was three sessions with technically four producers because it was Ben Tanner and John Paul White in Muscle Shoals. They did the three more soul leaning songs.

Did you then pick the songs for the different sets of producers?

I did. I’ve always been a fan of not just country music, I mean I love country music obviously, I also listened to old blues, Motown and soul. I love voices - Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Solomon Burke, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and Otis Redding. I love all that stuff. It has always crept into my music and especially into my live repertoire. we had done a song like the Bee Gees To Love Somebody before we recorded it. My manager was the one who said you should put that on the record. You always take a gamble when you do that however as people are often married to the original version. There give you hell if they don’t like it. Sacrilege! Foe me it was a song that meant something to me lyrically. When I first heard it it was Nina Simone’s version. I’m a huge fan of hers. She does a lot of covers but always makes them her own. I knew it was a cover and of course when I checked it was the Bee Gees. All I’d know of their music before that was the disco songs.

What criteria do you use to pick a song to cover?

Nine times out of ten, as I mentioned, it’s the lyrics. How they relate to things I’m going through and how I can emote those feeling through those songs. Sometimes I feel that the songs is reading my mind or heart in some way. It can be a way of dealing with things I’m going through. To Love Somebody was at a time when I was going through a serious unrequited love. A deep yearning for something that will never be reciprocated. I try to do them my way so if people don’t like it they don’t like it. It’s neither here or there, it’s really just me getting something out. (Laughs).

Have you considered at some point releasing a covers album?

Yeah, I’ve always really wanted to do a covers album and down the road I’m sure there will be one. I just don’t know when.

After four independent albums and with some signs of a slightly broader outlook from some labels do you think that you might get an approach from a major label?

I don’t. I actually don’t think so. I feel that, even with Chris Stapleton, those things are an anomaly. A lot of people are talking about how things would change Nashville but unfortunately I don’t see that. Last year people thought that Kacey Musgraves would change everything - but it didn’t. it really only happened for her. That’s fine, but it’s not really something that I’m still chasing myself. I love the freedom that I have to do what I want how I want. If I had someone breathing down my neck telling me what to do it would change me.

They might well put your in a pre-labelled box.

I don’t like boxes … unless I was a pigeon. (laughs).

So where to you see you music heading?

I love music and I’m inspired by so many different things and I imagine that I’ll want to experiment with different styles and sounds. I hope too that I would grow more as a songwriter, a singer, as an artist. I’ve been writing some new songs as of late which are a little different than what I’ve normally done. I’m using my voice a little differently. For the longest time I though that in order to prove myself as a singer that I really had to belt it. That was how I got people’s attention when I was playing in loud bars and no one was listening so I said ”listen to this” and I was just wailing. Then they would pay attention. But now I’ve got an appreciation for soft approach to sing in a more whispered way. I kind of love the nuances of aching, hushed, slow kind of lullaby tunes. So I started top experiment with writing songs like that. So I hope that I’m going to evolve more. Who knows if it’s the right direction or not. I just do what I do.

In your writing you have both written solo and with co-writers. How does that work out for you?

I don’t actually find it easy to co-write. It depends who it is. It’s very much like going on a date, a cliche, but true. You have to really connect with the right person and they have to understand where you would naturally come from and almost be a mind reader in a way. There’s definitely a certain style that I have that’s dark and quirky. If they don’t get it it’s hard. Nashville has that side where it can be formulaic where they’re trying and aiming to get that hit song. One that’s going to connect with radio. What I do is not at all what makes radio. I’m ok with that as I’m not particularly a big fan of all that - the stuff that makes it onto the radio in the new country scene at the present time. I’m not wanting to be that at all. 

There are songwriters in Nashville who want to make money and I can’t fault them for that but sometimes you find someone who is making good money but can still do the other which is their true passion. They are able to connect with me. They’ve gone and listen to music and understand where it’s coming from. It’s nice when that works out. There’s one songwriter that I always work with in Nashville who has been on every record I’ve put out except for the first one. Some of my quirkiest songs have been with him (Bruce Wallace). I do love writing on my own though and sometimes it’s just a timing thing. I don;t have the luxury of having six months to write, I’d love to have that luxury to sit down and be like “don’t bug me for six months”. It would be interesting to se what would happen if I could concentrate and focus like that. But in reality it’s that you have a small chunk of time when you’re not touring and being a crazy woman and you have to write a record. So sometimes it’s easier to come out with something when you get together with people as you can spark ideas more quickly. 

 

Are you able to write on the road or do you need a quieter location?

Well I wrote a song yesterday on the road. So, yes I can write on road. It really depends. Also I don’t have a formula.The lyrics don’t always come first. Yesterday it was before the soundcheck and we had a lot of time to kill and I was just sitting strumming the guitar and a whole song just came out. I don’t know where it came from and to me that’s magic. The closest thing to it that I can imagine. Lately I find myself writing a lot about space. I’m on a bit of a space kick. The galaxy and traveling through time.

Do you find that once you have been labelled as an Americana artist that’s no matter what you do musically that’s where you’re filed?

That’s true but again there are some serious purists who would never say I was country and then others say that’s what I am. I don’t know. Who knows what to call it? Country music is a huge thread in what I do but should and blues also have a part a you see in the live show. It’s interesting to me in that when I was reading a reviews of a record by a friend of mine that say that soul was this current trend that everyone’s following. and I thought wasn’t like I was trying to follow a trend as I actually just genuinely like the music. This review was looking at it like it was a bad thing. But I think it’s great. I’ll be trying all sorts of things for years to come.

When your up onstage how easy is it to read the mood of a audience?

Well you know when they’re enjoying themselves or they’re not. Tough sometimes I think they’re not and it turns out that they are. Some audiences are quiet and very respectful and some are rowdy and hollering. If they talk really loudly and talk through there whole set that gets to a point where no amount of wailing is going to turn them around. Usually we do alright though. 

After this European tour what are your plans?

There’s no official release date for a new album. I’ve been inspired in my writing so I’m not sure when we’ll do the next album. But I haven’t retired yet! (laughs). 

Could you live in Faded Gloryville?

Well the song was inspired by the film Crazy Heart and it worked out for him in the end. The opening scene in the bowling alley makes me think “Am I going to end up like that?”. That’s what I call ‘faded gloryville’ that questioning if I would end up like that. The truth is unless you have had a big radio hit to give you a financial cushion that at this level your future is uncertain and you do have moments when you go “maybe I should get a real job.” I think though that I will always love music but to think that i might be touring this heavily in my 60s is somethings don’t know about. As beautiful as it is to create music and to be onstage and perform  -  which is my absolute favourite thing in the world to do - and as wonderful as that is there is a huge sacrifice that I make everyday by being here and not in a place where i’m rooted. I feel that I’m missing out on some things. Like my parents are getting older and my Dad had cancer a couple years ago and he was going through chemo and I was on the road. So You feel guilt ridden and that’s something that’s not talked about a lot. Being a musician get’s glorified a lot and there is beauty and glory in it and that can’t be denied. But there’s definitely a very lonely side living out of a suitcase every night. it is so hard to maintain a relationship with one party on the road. It takes strong character and disposition to be able to handle that on both sides. In the end if I don;’t feel that what I do is not good for my soul or I stop liking being up there onstage then I’ll stop doing it. 

There are a lot artists who made great music who now seem to have vanished.

Well I might still be considered an emerging artist but when I was in Toronto and I was spinning my wheels playing little coffee houses there were little independent records out that I loved. I’d have one record that I loved and then I’d never hear from them again. I’d often wonder “what happened?”. Yet I understand that people have their reasons. Some have families. I’ve always dreamed of having a side project that just about getting up there and doing something different. 

Your now living in Nashville do you feel that’s a better career base than Toronto?

When I left Toronto the country/Americana thing wasn’t really well know or a lot of bands doing that as it was much more indie rock driven. So it seemed that there was more for me to do in Nashville. Since then with the advent of shoes like True Blood and The Walking Dead that have been using Americana type songs I think that the whole genre has been elevated and it seems that the music is now accepted and being played a lot more. It’s a bigger genre as a whole so I feel if I did go back it would be a different story than when I left. But I don’t know if I would go back, it’s not that I don’t love Toronto, but I think i’d want to go somewhere different. I don’t know that I want to stay in Nashville either. It’s a great city and it’s done a lot for me but I also love New Orleans and I’d like to spend time there. Texas is great too. Vancouver is another beautiful place. 

Interview by Stephen Rapid   Photograph by Ronnie Norton

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