Peter Bruntnell Interview

It would be difficult to describe singer songwriter Peter Bruntnell’s music any more accurately  than NME did when they wrote "Peter Bruntnell’s music should be taught in schools." His albums and live shows have been highly regarded by Lonesome Highway for many years and he continues to be regarded in the music industry as one of the finest UK artists of his time. Son Volt, Richmond Fontaine and Kathleen Edwards all had him support them on tour, an indication of how he is also regarded by his musical peers. Unassuming and humble, he is more likely to highlight other artists and their work in conversation rather than dwell on his own considerable output. Peter is the type of guy that you’d love to sit down with, have a beer and talk music. Which is precisely what Lonesome Highway did recently when he made one of his regular trips to Ireland.

How many years into your career at this stage?

My daughters twenty two now, so twenty two years at it now.

Easier or more difficult nowadays?

Actually, it’s easier. I was just sitting at the bar here in Cleeres (Kilkenny) with a pint of Guinness (laughs)  and I thought to myself this being the first date of the tour, I’m so glad that I’m playing in Ireland regularly now, thanks to promoter Willie Meighan and Clive Barnes. I’m not just saying this but it’s probably my favourite place in the world to play, here and Northern Spain which I’ve just played and love.

Was an early career ambition of yours for your music be heard in America?

No, I didn’t think that far ahead. America is so vast, in order to do anything there you have to have a big marketing team and trying to make it there for me would be impossible.

Is that why so many American Americana acts target Europe?

Yes, much easier for them to be heard over here and get tours that can pay.

You were well ahead of the posse in your condemnation of Donald Trump with the opening track of your current album Mr. Sunshine!

I really don’t know, most people I know think he’s pretty despicable. When I wrote that song he wasn’t even running for President. I was just writing it from the perspective of the poor Scottish people that got displaced from their homes and next minutes he’s President of The United States! It’s not exactly great is it (laughs).

I was very impressed to read that the album Nos Da Comrades was recorded in your home studio. Tell me about the process?

Well, we created a studio in the local village hall in Devon which I hired for £120 for a week. We set up and did all the drums, bass and electric guitar there. I went in there with two players and we tracked all the songs and got all the drums, bass and my guitar down in a week. I then did all the over dubs in my studio in my own house. I got James Walbourne and Dave Little to come down and play some electric guitar and that was about it. The album took about three years to write from the first song.

Has the Americana UK umbrella been helpful career wise for you as an artist?

Well I’ve been doing what’s now called Americana for quite a while, back to when it was called alternative country in the early days of Uncle Tupelo and then Son Volt and Wilco. It’s not a bad thing to be part of because there are folk that are sympathetic to that genre in different towns and will book you so it’s been healthy for me and very good. There was a time that I got a bit fed up with that tag but I have to say now that it’s been beneficial really.  I got nominated as album of the year by the association so that can only be good for my career. Similarly, the Americana Music Association in Nashville has taken off in recent years, I played it a few years back and was supposed to play it again in 2016 but couldn’t afford it. There’s a funding programme in the UK from the PRS and when I played there a few years ago it was great. I had Mike Heidorn on drums, the original Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt drummer, and Dave Boquist the original Son Volt guitar player was on bass for me and it was tremendous but I had the funding from the BRS. I was invited in 2016 but the PRS won’t support the same act twice so I then tried to organise some gigs to cover the cost. I got a few but it wasn’t going to cover it. My wife wanted me to use some of our savings to go which was really sweet of her but I couldn’t justify it to go and do maybe only one gig.

The Son Volt connection goes back a while, you mentioned James Walbourne when we chatted earlier who has played in your band and Son Volt. How did the connection materialise?

It happened because in the 90’s I played a festival in Hamburg called The Hurricane Festival. Son Volt   were my favourite band at that time and for quite a while before that. It just so happened that they were on after me on the same stage so I got to meet them and more astonishingly their crew liked my set which was the biggest turning point in my career. Before that I was under pressure from my record company to be somebody or play a certain way as record companies do, putting pressure on young artists or artists young to the business. I wasn’t that young but pretty new to the industry, having released my second album. Son Volt liking my stuff and then meeting them gave me such a boost and when they played their UK tour their guitar tech got in touch I was asked to support them on their five dates. Once I did that tour I became friends with them.  I then did a deal with Rycodisc to make a record in Boston and I asked the record company guy if he could get pedal steel player Eric Heywood and Dave Boquist the guitar player to play on the album. They thought that was a really good idea but I was basically too shy to approach them personally so the record company made the approach and it all happened. James Walbourne is one of my best friends, he’s doing fantastic with The Rails and just back from America playing with The Pretenders opening for Stevie Nicks. 

I was interested to hear your influences as a young guy, prog music and rock music being very much your choice of listening in the mid to late 70’s

Yes, I loved Genesis, still do (laughs). Foxtrot is a favourite album for me. I was in 5th Form at the time and listening to Thin Lizzy and Van Halen and the rock thing. I didn’t actually get the new wave thing at the time, thought it was a bit raw for my musical taste at the time.

Comparisons are often made with your song writing and that of Elvis Costello. Was he an influence?

Not really, I only bought The Best of Elvis Costello last year after I’d written the new album! I think perhaps the music has all come from the same place hasn’t it, a bit of soul with some Kinks and Beatles so you could say his influences were similar to mine. Writing this new album my influences were actually mid 60’s Kinks and The Who.

The album Nos Da Comrades released last year received such positive reviews. How did that reflect in actual sales and getting more punters to your shows?

It’s done as well as well as any album I’ve put out and I suppose that’s good because I decided I was going to be the record label for the album which I thought might earn me some more money. So, I did a distribution deal with a company in the UK and looked after the rest myself, trying to get airplay and all that. Considering that I didn’t have any marketing budget at all I’m pleased at how it has done and that people seem to like it. 

How difficult is it to get Radio airplay in the UK?

Well it is for me. I can only speak from my experience. You know what it’s like, if you pay a plugger to try and get your record on the radio you can throw five to seven thousand pounds at it and still come up with nothing. I just can’t do that, don’t have that kind of money knocking around and I know the likes of Bob Harris well enough to e-mail him. I don’t do too badly but it’s so hard without a huge marketing budget to get anywhere.

You’ve worked with Clive Barnes both in Ireland and the UK. How did that relationship develop?

That came about because I played with Clive in Kilkenny at The Rollercoaster Record Store Day about three years ago. I was just about to play a UK tour with Jeff Finlan and was driving to Cork with Clive and we were playing some of Jeff’s music in the car and Clive suggested we do a trio tour and I was up for it. Jeff thought it was a great idea so it ended up with me and those two guys in a car, touring around, having a great time and basically just happy to be given a chance to play somewhere.

Was the tour a singer songwriters circle format?

No it’s wasn’t. I thought it was going to be that way but they didn’t want to do that for some reason (laughs). So the format was, one night play I’d first, Clive did a set in the middle and Jeff played last and the next night we’d reverse it. Clive played guitar with both of us of course. I liked to play first and when I’d finished go to the bar, have a pint and watch their sets! The problem being on last is that I had  to follow Jeff and he’s really good and when he’s rocking he has a bit of Lou Reed attitude about him which is so cool, he’s fantastic I really love and respect what he does.

You’ve relocated to quite a rural setting it the UK. Is that environment inspirational in terms of your song writing having moved from London?

I don’t really know, possibly not. It’s a different scene where I’m living now. When I lived in London I’d meet up with James ( Walbourne) and we’d head up to The Borderline and watch the American bands that were coming over all the time, The Bottle Rockets, Chuck Prophet and people like that. I can’t do that now, the best I might get is a dodgy pub band locally. The scene has changed in London now though with not as much on offer. We used get acts worth seeing every week at The Borderline and in a small acoustic club at the back Andy’s guitar shop, not like that so much anymore. You guys are so lucky over here in Dublin and Kilkenny, great pub music, great Guinness, friendly people who come out to gigs in the middle of the week. In the UK, outside London, you can forget about getting people out to gigs Monday to Thursday. That’s why I love playing over here so much.

Interview by Declan Culliton


Jim Miller Interview

Jim Miller talks about Western Centuries

Western Centuries debut album The Weight of The World featured in Lonesome Highway’s review of their favourite albums of 2016. The band are essentially a collaboration of three singer songwriters and blue grassers, Cahalen Morrison, Jim Miller and Ethan Lawton. They hooked up with pedal steel player Rusty Blake and bassist Dan Lowinger to form the band and seemlessly recreate the classic country / roots crossover sound perfected by The Band and The Flying Burrito Brothers nearly five decades ago. Lonesome Highway spoke with Jim Miller (co-founder of Donna The Buffalo) to get the history behind the formation of this super group in advance of their first visit to Ireland.

Where did the motivation come from to form Western Centuries?

We’re all bluegrass and old time country players so we actually started jamming together informally you know, traditional bluegrass stuff because all of us have been playing that all out lives. At that time Cahalen and Ethan had some original songs so we decided to see what the songs sounded like with bass and drums. We evolved from there but we didn’t take it too seriously at first. It was great fun so last year we thought, why not go ahead and take it a bit further.

Tell me about the Country Hammer project which featured Cahalen, yourself and Ethan and how it evolved into Western Centuries?

I’ve always loved singing traditional country songs and Cahalen grew up in rural New Mexico and his parents are big time country music fans. He had written lots of country songs but hadn’t gotten around to recording them and asked me if I’d like to help him. I said sure, but it wasn’t as if we were going to be a touring band. So, he had about twelve songs to put down on that record and I was just a side kick, they were all his songs. That basically was Country Hammer, it was put out but we didn’t tour with it, was more like a fun thing but we got a really good response. Ethan had his songs too,  I had played all my life as a backup guy which I didn’t want to be anymore, I wanted to be part of the creative side of things though I’d never written a song before. So I started writing too and we decided collaborate for the Western Centuries record. It was actually my first attempt at song writing. 

With three songwriters contributing to the album were the songs previously written and in cold storage or did you all write specifically for the album?

For me I wrote them for the album. For Cahalen and Ethan a kind of a mix, they had some in cold storage that they hadn’t tried in a country format and other ones they just wrote for that record. The fun thing is that now as we are working on songs for our next record when someone comes up with a great song it inspires us all, you think oh my god, I have to come up with an equally good song, which is a challenge but it’s fun. I can’t imagine being faced with having to write thirteen songs myself to put out a solo record!

Does that suggest that having three songwriters in the band is more  of a motivator  than ego crippling?

Absolutely, all three of us are inspired by each other. Ethan listens to Caribbean music and Cahalen listens to straight country and I don’t listen to much country at all, more Wilco and r’n’b and that kind of stuff. That pushes us in different directions which is exciting.

Are all of the band based in Seattle?

No. Cahalen and Ethan are based in Seattle, I live about sixty miles north of New York City on the Hudson river, our bass player Dan Lowinger is from Ashville North Carolina and our pedal steel player Rusty Blake is from Nashville. Four different locations across the country. I actually met Cahalen in Seattle, my wife was working there in grad school and I was just tagging along. We met at this party called Fuck Winter. The winter’s in Seattle can be very similar to what I think you guys have, never ending drizzle, so they have this annual party in January, it’s a jamming bluegrass party. I heard about it and went along and right enough it was jamming and drizzle that never stopped (laughs)

The album manages to maintain a consistency throughout even with the shared responsibilities. Was that your agenda or did it occur due to the compatibility between you?

It was our agenda but we weren’t sure that it would work. We were nervous about it but it seems from the reviews that it did work, though I can’t exactly say why. We really enjoy working together and maybe that comes out and also the addition of the pedal steel and the fiddle adds another dimension to the songs. Because we are all blue grassers we are way big on the vocals and we wanted three part vocals for the big choruses which has something to do with it as well 

Your own compositions, I’m thinking in particular of Rock Salt and The Long Game, very much recall the sound of The Band. Were they an influence on you as a young musician?

They are my favourite band of all time though I wasn’t consciously writing songs that sounded like them but somehow I must have created that sound because people keep bringing that up. if I want to listen to music in my car it’s always the Band and Levon Helm, played until the cows come home (laughs). They appealed to me because of the stories they told with their music and the fact that they had different vocalists, the whole cooperative thing is inspiring to me. The rest of Western Centuries, because they are younger than me, don’t know their music as much as I do.

Another song that you wrote Knockin’ Em Down tells of the less glamourous side of touring however tongue in cheek the lyrics might be. Is touring really that rough?

(Laughs) That was actually written about a different band, I’ve been in a lot of bands let me tell you. Starting at the age of nine! That song was written about a band I was in that every tour seemed to involve driving in snowstorms, all we seemed to be doing was spinning our car  wheels night after night!

The album as a whole achieves a wonderful classic country feel right down to the artwork. You used Bill Reynolds from Band of Horses to produce the album and recorded it in Nashville. Tell me about those decisions?

I’ve known Bill for many years, we both originally played in the band Donna The Buffalo, a rootsy cosmic hippy type band at that time. We really enjoyed playing together and Bill has done really well at production, working on a whole bunch of records. I pushed that idea with the band and I also loved the idea of making a record in Nashville. I mean, Emmylou Harris recorded three albums in that studio so when I even sat in the toilet in the studio I thought, my God Emmylou was here! (laughs). The artwork on the album was deliberate, the photograph on the cover was taken by friend of Cahalen in a small town in New Mexico, probably as far as you can get from humanity. The photo  taken by her shows her dad actually herding goats in the winter on horseback. We wanted an image on the cover that would convey something a bit deeper than ‘here’s the happy band ‘image or a picture of us leaning against a barn!

Have you toured in your previous musical life in the UK?

I was just in the UK a couple of weeks ago with a different band I’m involved with called Red Dog Run, an acoustic banjo, guitar and fiddle group playing folk and roots. We had shows in England and Scotland, part of the Gainsborough Friends of American Music Festivals. It was very much a one off, I don’t know how they even found out about us! Cahalen has toured lots in the UK over the years often with Eli West, I keep hoping that I can tag on to him and follow his burning star (laughs).

I see you’re playing Music City Roots in Nashville on April 5th and receiving high praise from Jim Lauderdale who hosts the show.

I’ve known Jim Lauderdale for twenty-five years. When I was in the Donna The Buffalo we made a record with him where we were his backing band, the album is called Wait For Spring and it’s a crazy assed record. He’s a nut and a half (laughs), such an endearing guy and somehow he got the idea that he was going to have us be his band, he wrote all the songs for the album and we recorded it in Nashville in a studio where he did all his earlier records.  You should check it out, it’s one of the wackiest things. He actually got this weird psychedelic painting of all of our faces on the cover. I check in with him regularly because he goes so hard, never rests, never stops, I don’t know how he pulls it off but there he is. 

We get the opportunity to see Western Countries live in Ireland / UK next month?

Yes, and we’re really looking forward to it, particularly Ireland. I think we’re going to do well in Ireland, that’s a hunch that I have (laughs). When I played in Scotland a few weeks back some people there were excited for Western Centuries to be playing there also and I’m thinking how did they even hear of the band! Our first date in Ireland is in Kilkenny is in a pub called Billy Byrnes and I believe It’s sold out and our Saturday show is selling fast too.

Interview by Declan Culliton


Israel Nash Interview


Israel Nash Gripka appeared on the music scene back in 2009 and caused quite a stir with his first 2 releases; New York Town and Barn Doors & Concrete Floors. His latest releases have seen the music evolve into new directions and explore the sonic possibilities of what some are calling Psychedelia-Americana. He is an innovative artist who deserves all the plaudits that are coming his way.

On tour with the Band of Horses and now using a shortened name of Israel Nash, he is joined by trusty band member Eric Swanson on pedal steel and vocals. Both musicians grant Lonesome Highway an interview at short notice just before they are due to take the stage and share some insights into the life of a developing artist. 

You grew up in the Ozark mountains. What were your earliest musical influences?

My earliest musical influences were with my Dad and we would listen to a lot of classic rock n’ roll. Just great Credence Clearwater Revival stuff, rockin’ down the highway kind of stuff, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles. All that got me wanting to play and do that stuff at a young age. I started playing guitar from age 11 after doing piano lessons before that, but once I found the guitar - that really felt natural. I started writing songs by the time I was 12 or 13 also. It was that process of starting and the idea of knowing I could just write a song.

Can you tell us about your name and the origins of the family background?

The Grypka part is Polish, and my Dad was a southern Baptist minister, so it was their spiritually - led aim to call me Israel.

Moving to NYC was the catalyst for career momentum. What do you remember about your debut release (New York Town) in 2009?

It was the first time I had gone away from Missouri where there is not really an industry or a bunch of studios. I played in bands all over but I knew I wanted to be in New York; in a city for the first time that had some action. It changed my life and started growing things; it was the first time I went to a real classic studio, The Magic Shop, which has since closed down.

Did you have a lot of the songs in place already or did you write more after this move?

About half and half. There were songs already written as there was a lot of excitement about the move to New York and it was about that time that I met Eric and the rest of the band and Ted Young, our engineer on all the records. Just to be around people like that, at that level, New York was a big catalyst.

The second release (Barn Doors & Concrete Floors) followed in 2011 - was this very different in construct from the debut?

Yes, that was the first one with the band and we rented this barn in upstate New York, brought a bunch of gear and everyone stayed. That started the process of how we track; find a place where we can stay and make music and be in the moment. That is where we are at now as I have a studio and it’s kinda the same.

The release of Rain Plains (2013), sees you now located in Dripping Springs, Texas. What brought about this move in location and how did it influence the new songs?

I wanted to get out of New York at some point and my wife and I wanted to buy a house and have a kid. It just felt like a really good time to go. I had been in Austin and loved the vibe and the weather and I loved the idea that we could get some place that is a lot more affordable than New York. We bought some space and it is the old country and just a beautiful place to live and it was a big change in my life to be out in the middle of nowhere and a lot of growth for me, which continues to affect the songs.

In 2015 your last release, Silver Season, is critically well received but was also seen as a move away from the traditional country and folk influences of the earlier records. Do you agree with this and if so, has the shift been a natural progression for you?

Yea, it was definitely natural and I guess that, for me, I like the idea of always progressing and moving forward and seeing where it goes. I think that in the Americana genre there are a lot of artists who do very similar things on each record and that’s fine completely but I wanted to be able to progress and try different things. The thought of making the same record every time would be kinda boring for me. It’s nice to see what happens in the studio and to see where we can go. That’s what is cool about being an artist and making music; who knows what in 10 years might happen? It’s not like saying you know exactly what’s going to happen or how it’s going to sound; it just kind of evolves and there are always new ideas or some other reference, feels and vibes from other albums and other productions that swirl in peoples’ heads.

Your live band also perform as your studio band. Is there a danger of burn-out in having the same musicians playing the same songs repeatedly?

ERIC: There is that risk. We always talk about working in the studio and the difference in playing live on tour, how they are totally different things. Some bands try to capture the studio onstage but we don’t necessarily do that – not that we throw it out the window, but we look at it like it is a living breathing thing that develops and parts change every time, so that is one way to keep it fresh. We have a great time on stage.

Do you enjoy the touring process?

I do. There are these dualities like a have a wife and a child and a home but touring has changed my life too and it has made the World small and opened my eyes. I was always a liberal kind of progressive guy. There is something about Europe that over time has solidified things for me in a different way. Seeing people having lives so far away really helps those ideals that people are the same and there is a spiritual journey on tour that I enjoy. But I enjoy being home too.

Has technology helped bring your music to new audiences?

I think it is still necessary to tour and to give something to your fans. That is great but I think It’s all those things that allow me to be sitting by myself and writing a song. My true love will always be that process of writing a song and I like to have my space at home and be locked away and working. Melodies and ideas will come and you try to jot ‘em down.

Is it still possible to get paid with the streaming royalties from the likes of Spotify being so small these days?

It’s definitely easier today than it was five years ago. But you realise that being a musician is really just continuous work and that’s why people are now 75 years old and still onstage. There is just something about it that you just have to keep making things happen. We have a studio now and we have been producing some artists there which is part of the growth of the whole thing.

What informs your song-writing process? Is it melody first before the lyrical content or vice versa?

Somewhere in-between, generally a melody or a lyric will hit and it will be like a chorus or something. Then I’ll start playing it and work the music and get a verse structure. Now with the studio I can play it back 100 times and start feeling it, so really the studio has brought about new opportunities and resources to make music.

What are the biggest constraints with touring these days?

I think it’s a bit strange to be always moving around. I don’t know in anyone’s life if we are designed to be daily nomads, but at the same time, there is something to look forward to every day and we humans need that too. At the end of the day we have a great time on tour playing shows and tomorrow we have another show to look forward to… 

Do you like to take much time off when it comes to refuelling the creative muse?

Usually I spend time with my family and if I can circuit into my zone and if I’m there for two months, I will probably have 3 or 4 songs a month to show. That is the most enriching time for me to write.

So, is the glass half full or half empty?

I think that it is half full – it’s overflowing…!! 

I was very impressed with the calm and generous nature of Israel when we met. Both he and Eric, his band mate, were very welcoming and at very short notice. The conversation was relaxed and the answers given were spoken with honesty and an easy openness. Lonesome Highway thank both Israel and Eric for their excellent insights and reflections into life as musicians on the road to greater things.

Live review of the gig – 15th February 2017

Israel Nash takes the stage with his band mate Eric Swanson, who plays pedal steel and sings harmony vocals. The duo play 6 numbers and by the end of their 30-minute set they have won over many of the arriving crowd for the main act. The pedal steel is a very atmospheric sounding instrument and fills the space with a plaintive tone that perfectly suits the guitar progressions of Israel. He can take a song into new areas when playing in this stripped-down format ad it is a credit to both musicians that they carry it off with some room to spare. Parlour Song, a reflective lyric about gun violence, is particularly good and is followed by superb versions of Rexanimarum, LA Lately, Rain Plains and a cover of I Shall Be Released by Bob Dylan. Stirring stuff and a real statement of the talent on show here.  

I wish that I could say the same for the main act as Band of Horses come across as overly loud and the songs get drowned out by booming Bass guitar and a muddy sound. The vocals are hard to hear from my place on the balcony (perhaps it was better downstairs?). I have most of their records but tonight the band just fail to inspire and the long set list of 20+ songs seems to drag along from one to the next with little colour in-between. Most of the back catalogue is featured, with the notable exception of Mirage Rock, and in fairness and the capacity crowd seem well into the show. I was left feeling that ‘less is more’ and by the end of the night I was more taken by the honest performance of Israel Nash and Eric Swanson.

Interview, review and photographs of Israel Nash and Eric Swanson (above) by Paul McGee


Interview with Cody Braun

Few households in the music industry can boast the pedigree of the Braun brothers.  Originally from Idaho, siblings Cody and Willy’s band Reckless Kelly have been at the forefront of the roots scene in Austin Texas for two decades, long before the genre became christened with the Americana tag. Younger brothers Micky and Gary also front their own band Micky & The Motorcars. The brothers learned their trade at a very young age as part of their father’s travelling band Muzzie Braun and The Boys. Their grandfather Musty Braun was also a working musician, playing anything from country to jazz as a professional performer. With music flowing through their veins it’s no wonder the Braun brothers have survived and continue to survive in an industry that offers ongoing challenges and obstacles. They understand the meaning of hard work, reinvention, survival and the importance of offering a quality product to their listeners both in the studio and at their renowned live shows. Reckless Kelly and their entourage arrive in the West of Ireland next month for dates in Galway, Clifden and Lahinch. Lonesome Highway caught up with Cody Braun to discover how the tour came about and what exactly can we expect from the Texas invasion. 

How did the idea of the Seven Days in Ireland tour come about?

In 2005 my brother Willy and I along with a song writing friend from Nashville took a 7-day trip over to Ireland for the first time. We flew into Shannon rented a car and had plans to see the entire country stopping in a different town each night. To make a long story short Clifden was as far as we made it. Our song seven nights in Ireland tells the whole story. We met some great folks who we immediately became friends with and spent half of our trip in Clifden and the other half in Galway. We fell in love with the western country side and this will be our fourth trip back. 

We have since been to other parts of the country but are always drawn to the area we first visited because of the beauty and the friends we made.

Since the first trip we have been telling family and friends about how wonderful Ireland is and our song Seven Nights in Ireland has become one of our most popular tunes over here in the US.

We have talked for years about putting a trip together of family, friends and fans and coming over as a group to see what kind of racket we can make. After a failed attempt a few years ago we were finally able to pull it off and are all very excited to make the trip together in April.  

Did you deliberately target the West of Ireland rather than booking the larger cities?

Yes, this is the part of Ireland we know the best and our friend David Griffin " Griffins Pub" has helped us find other gigs in the area. After visiting the larger cities Dublin and Cork we found that we were more comfortable in the smaller towns where it was easier to connect with people and the pace is a bit slower. 

Is the intention essentially to bring your audience on the tour or to also get the local punters out to the shows?

A bit of both really. We hope that the locals will come out and enjoy the music and the folks we have brought along with us. Most of the people coming on the trip are close family friends so we are looking forward to showing them a good time and hopefully building a local following at the same time.  

You have most certainly lined up a talented bunch of artists to accompany you. Tell me about the selection of other musicians on the tour with you?

We picked friends that we love to jam with. Jason, Courtney and Matt are incredible writers and musicians but also have a deep love and knowledge of where country music came from. When we get together we usually end up playing old country songs all night like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. My brothers and our father Muzzie and I all love to sing songs of our own and songs by our heroes like Guy Clark and John Prine. 

We picked artists and friends that we love to hang out with and who share the same love for music. Also, friends who can keep up with us at the bar!

How will the three shows be formatted with the number of artists on the tour bus. Precision scheduling or organised chaos? 

It will change every night. Most of the shows will be acoustic with one honky tonk/country rock show in Clifden. We have a bit of a plan but hope to keep it casual and fun. Lots of jamming together with some of our original tunes mixed in with our favourite covers. 

Your posts suggest that this trip may become an annual event. Is this your intention?

We will see how it goes. This trip is mostly family and friends so they are a bit easier to please than paying customers can tend to be. We are going to do our best to keep coming back and if we can bring a group of good people along with us from time to time we are pretty sure we wont have trouble filling the spots available. We want to keep it fun and manageable for the band and our goal is to come back at least once a year with or without a crowd. 

Interview by Declan Culliton




James McMurtry Interview


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

Is live touring something that you enjoy?

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

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

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

So, is touring really profitable anymore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you play with the same guys all the time?

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

Do you still have the residency in the Continental Club?

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

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

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

Do genres annoy you?

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

Does You Tube open up avenues to your music?

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

Perhaps it opens up some traffic to your website?

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

Do you plan to go back in the studio soon?

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

Do you enjoy the studio experience?

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

Can we expect a broadside against Trump?

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

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

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

Do you find the creative process one of isolation?

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

Do you do a lot of reading or research?

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

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

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

Is the glass half full of half empty?

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

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

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 21 Next 5 Entries »