Saturday
Mar242018

Margo Price Interview

The Margo Price story is well known by now, selling the family car and pawning her wedding ring to finance the recording of her debut solo album Midwest Farmers Daughter. The album finally received the deserved love from Jack White’s Third Man Records, having been rejected about everywhere else. The acceptance by Third Man was a blessing in disguise because she was finally signed to a label renowned for allowing its artists the freedom to express themselves artistically, a factor critically important to Price. "I’d castrate my arm rather than sell out" she notes without a hint of humour. "The more popularity I get the more I have to try even harder to keep my feet on the ground and not sell out and not get into advertisements for products I don’t believe in. Sometimes it’s hard to turn down the money, not everybody buys records these days and it gets very gruelling being out on the road all the time away from my kid. But I love it and it’s what I am."

Midwest Farmer's Daughter is confessional, raw and personal. A depiction of her life journey, warts and all, from childhood to the present day, confronting family trauma, bad relationships, depression, a short spell in jail and the tragic death of one of her twin baby boys. Its successor All American Made, though not musically dissimilar, casts a wider net questioning gender equality, politics, insincerity and exploitation. I wondered how comfortable she is when not writing in the first person or real-life issues. "I’d soon run out of things if I keep writing about myself’’ she laughs’’ I think I’m a strong writer when I deal in the first person but both my myself and my husband Jeremy, who cowrites with me, have written fictional. We might be watching a film and a scene influences a song idea. We recently wrote a song about a couple that finds a bunch of money and go on the road running from the cops and another story about a stripper and her dippy husband. I like writing about stuff like that too.’’

There is a song writing bloodline in her family. Her uncle Bobby Fischer took similar risks to his niece when packing his bags and leaving seventeen years of steady employment with International Harvester in Illinois to head to Nashville in 1970 to try and make a breakthrough as a songwriter, a career he had pursued part time for a number of years. With the support of his wife, who remained in Rock Island Illinois with the children for a further three years, he survived a few rocky years to eventually establish himself and wrote songs subsequently recorded by artists including George Jones, Reba Mc Entire, Charley Pride, Conway Twitty, Tanya Tucker and Lee Greenwood. I asked would she ever see herself recording a Margo Price sings Bobby Fischer album. "I do, I definitely do. He’s one hell of a writer and I’ve learned a lot from him and look up to him so much. He keeps notebooks full of lines, just song ideas. My husband and I have been over with him sometimes and he’ll say, I have a song title. We worked together on the song, put it down on a tape recorder and he had us sign a contract that it was a co-write. He’s blood but there was no such thing as a handshake, business is business! For his eightieth birthday I went over to his house and sang Writing On The Wall for him and was so nervous’’

The past two years have been a whirlwind for Price with the release of her two solo albums within an eighteen-month period, resulting in endless touring, appearances on Saturday Night Live, Austin City Limits, Jimmy Fallon in the States and Later With Jools Holland and Glastonbury in the U.K.  The twelve preceding years laid the foundation stones for her breakthrough, recording three albums with Buffalo Clover, a rock and southern soul fusion band that she and her husband Jeremy Ivey co-wrote for.  I question the temptation to release another album immediately to continue the momentum or will she spend a bit more time touring the two last albums. "Jeremy and I have already recorded a third record’’ she explains "though I’m not sure if we will put it out next, we decided to just record as much music as possible now. I’m thinking also about a new direction of sorts but it will still be roots, there won’t be any electronic music going on or collaborating with any DJ’s, that’s for sure!  We’ve recorded the album that I just mentioned in Nashville having gone to Memphis for Midwest Farmers Daughter and All American Made. I might go down a complete different avenue, Joshua Tree or something like that, maybe the West Coast, I like to change it up.  It’s hard to decide when to release the next album because we recorded All American Made in December 2016 and waited all the way until October 2017 to get it released and I’m already tired of those songs now (laughs), reinventing them and changing the tempos to keep us interested and on our toes.  I’d really like to get back on the Spring album release cycle, it’s the perfect time, so I’m thinking of the next album release in Spring 2019. I’ve got stuff going on between now and then, I’ve been working on the soundtrack for a western film and we’ve talked about releasing a compilation of Buffalo Clover recordings including some stuff that’s unreleased so we’ve got a few things to tide us over. I’ve also got a country artist that’s one of my favourites and has a hold of one of my songs to hopefully record which I’d love.’’

The title track of All American Made was in fact written during her Buffalo Clover days and might not have seen the light of day had there been a different outcome to the last American Presidential election. "The election definitely gave the song more weight and gravity. The message has always been the same, I’ve always questioned authority and not trusted the powers that be and the last election definitely brought the song out, it’s amazing how events can change a song.’’

Price is representative of a growing group of female artists in East Nashville with the talents to make industry breakthroughs given the opportunity and some good breaks. I mention artists such as Lilly Hiatt, Erin Rae and Lillie Mae, three exceptionally talented artists, all neighbours of hers. Price has consistently written about gender inequality both in financial and career opportunities with This Town Gets Around from her debut album and Pay Gap and Wild Women from her current release. A torch carrier and spokeswoman for her peers perhaps. "I love Lilly Hiatt, I’ve played drums in her band! There’s always music circles going from disco to a poppy sound and then people get tired of the shallowness. I think now is a good time for musicians in general who are writing real heartfelt songs and not one dimensional. You may have heard of Dan Bradbury, he’s one of my favourite writers and he’s also struggling a lot to get people to believe in him and put his music out. I just tell them this is the purgatory period and there is light at the end of the tunnel and keep working hard and you’ll get the breaks. I really love Lillie Mae also, she’s been playing bluegrass for years and years, since she was a young child, she’s a phenomenal picker and great guitar player as well as the fiddle. Erin Rae is coming on tour with me opening on some dates in The States, such a talented writer, the Joni Mitchell of her generation’’

The C2C tour that she is currently playing is interesting in that realistically herself and Emmylou Harris are the only two acts of the twelve performers who could be classified as country in the true sense. They are also the only acts of the touring group that don’t get wall to wall airplay on Country Music Radio but have still managed to made major industry inroads. With a touring schedule that has resulted in her being at home for the grand total of two days in the past two months I wondered, given that she would be performing to a different audience than her core followers, if the exposure would be beneficial."Yeah, but you know what they say about exposure, some people die from it! Last night in Glasgow, I’m not sure if many people at the show knew or ever heard of me. It took some work but I think I did win them over. We were the only act to have pedal steel so I’m quite happy to represent the roots side of things and when I went to my dressing room and see its next to Emmylou Harris’s it makes me want to cry! So that’s good enough for me.’’

The mention of Emmylou Harris prompts me to recollect a conversation I was fortunate to  eavesdrop on a couple of years back. It’s September 26th 2016 and I find myself at The American Legion in Nashville, attending a party night hosted by young local honky tonker Cale Tyson. With the Americana Music Festival closing the previous day the evening promises to be the perfect come down before heading home to the real world the following morning. Between acts I slip out to the near empty bar for refreshments where, to my surprise, both Margo Price and her husband Jeremy Ivey were seated and in conversation with the bar maid, a charming lady who must have been approaching eighty years of age and who was obviously known to the couple. Only an hour earlier Margo Price had completed a live radio recording of Skyville Live, on stage with Emmylou Harris and was recounting the tale to the intrigued bar maid.’’ I’ve just been on stage with my lifetime hero Emmylou Harris’’, said a beaming Price to which the bar maid replied "But honey, you’re a big star now." Price gets quite emotional when I recall this incident, wiping a tear from her eye. We are seated in the hospitality room at the 3 Arena, where Price is due to perform that evening at the C2C Festival, on a bill that coincidentally also includes Emmylou Harris.  "Oh my God I remember that well. It’s pretty surreal some days. I had actually played The Americana Award Show at The Ryman in 2016 a few nights previous to that. I couldn’t find my ticket and didn’t know where my dressing room was. I thought I’d just go backstage and hang out. I passed the dressing rooms and saw a sign on one door that read Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Margo Price. I got so nervous that I thought, I can’t go in there right now. I went to the bathroom and stayed there for a while before I plucked up the courage to go in to the dressing room. When I did they were all so nice to me and I got a photo taken with me between Bonnie and Emmylou and after I played they both shook my hand and gave me some compliments and I was on cloud nine. Even last night in Glasgow when I went to my dressing room and see it next to Emmylou Harris’s it makes me want to cry’’ she laughs. "I love her so much and have covered so many of hers and The Hot Bands Songs over the years.’’

Emmylou Harris is only one of country music royalty that Price’s has been rubbing shoulders with in the past couple of years. Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson and Buddy Miller, all heroes of hers, have shared various stages with her but possibly the most striking endorsement of her rising profile was having Willie Nelson guest on the track Learning To Lose on her current album. As the track fades out Nelson can be heard signing off by saying ‘Allright … that’s good’. And good the track certainly is. ‘’We were listening to a lot of Willie Nelson when we wrote that song so it was written in the style of Willie Nelson’’ she points out "I had never met him and my husband and I were in our bedroom writing the song and I said wouldn’t it be cool to get Willie to sing on this song. It was a pipe dream having not ever met him so we were on cloud nine when he agreed to sing on it. I’d love to hear him sing the whole song himself one day. His vocal was so good and his guitar playing too. We had so many solos from him that we didn’t know which one to pick for the track. I was sitting there listening to them with tears rolling down my face.’’

Interview by Declan Culliton  Photographs by Ger Culliton

Wednesday
Mar142018

Tony Poole Interview 

Those of a certain age, together with earnest music historians, will be familiar with the U.K. 70’s band Starry Eyed and Laughing. Formed by Tony Poole and Ross McGeeney in 1973, their title was taken from a line in the Bob Dylan composition Chimes of Freedom, a song recorded by The Byrds on their 1965 debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. Poole’s trademark Rickenbacker playing combined with Mc Geeney’s Fender Telecaster sound was further evidence of The Byrds influence on them but they matured into much more than a mere tribute band, developing a distinctive stamp of their own with material that embraced both countrified folk with a sound that would be tagged today as power pop. Signed to CBS Records in 1974 they recorded their self-titled album that year followed by Thought Talk in 1975 and also three John Peel Sessions over that two-year period. A poorly managed career promoting tour of the States together with their management company folding unfortunately derailed the band, who finally disbanded in 1976. You’re left to consider what heights they could have reached had they been launched five years earlier, as the arrival of British Pub Rock followed by Punk and New Wave in the mid 70’s alienated theirs’s – and many other band’s - core sound.

Tony Poole’s musical career in the intervening years concentrated more on production duties, working with numerous acts including Maddy Prior, Steeleye Span, Pentangle, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Rose Kemp and Danny and The Champions of The World.  He has recently returned to creative writing and performing duties in collaboration with Danny Wilson (Danny & The Champions of the World) and Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires). Bennett Wilson Poole, their self-titled album, is due for release next month following some excellent pre-release reviews in many publications including Lonesome Highway.

Tony Poole’s continuing enthusiasm and positivity is a joy to behold, well in evidence as he articulated the highs and lows of his career to date and his passion for his current project with Danny Wilson and Robin Bennett.  

What career expectations did you have when Starry Eyed and Laughing were signed to CBS in 1974? 

You know, at the time there was really no 'career' expectation at all - just a drive to write and perform, inspired by the music of The Beatles, The Byrd’s, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and all those great artists who expressed honestly what it is to be alive in this time, and find some understanding of it all. I think that is still the motivation for many artists doing the same today - a 'career' is just about being able to keep doing that.  

Fond memories or regrets looking back at that period?

Many great memories - probably the best was playing the Amazing Zigzag Concert at the Roundhouse with Michael Nesmith, John Stewart, Help Yourself and Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers. Pete Frame and John Tobler's Zigzag magazine represented that same honesty I mentioned. It was incredible to be a part of that celebration and fantastic to have had it all recorded ('The Amazing Zigzag Concert 5 CD Box Set' on Road Goes On Forever Records). The only regret I can mention is that we didn't survive longer and have a chance to grow as a band.

The pub rock scene was particularly vibrant at that time with bands like yourselves, Ducks Deluxe, Ace, Eggs Over Easy, Bees Make Honey, Brinsley Schwarz, Kilburn and The High Roads and Dr. Feelgood at the leading edge. Did you consider yourselves part of an alternative movement to the overblown prog scene at that time?

All Great Bands! But not really - we were kind of in our own bubble - our virtual 'scene' was populated by those artists I mentioned. And, strangely enough, although we were playing in that same 'pub-rock' period, (and played many pubs!), we never felt part of that scene either - our music didn't quite fit, and we only briefly interacted socially - usually in 'dressing rooms' (a euphemism a lot of the time) or in service stations at 4am after gigs.

You toured with some heavyweights in the U.S. at that time. Who impressed you the most and what are your memories of that tour?

The biggest impression was when we supported Flo & Eddie (The Turtles) for three nights at The Bottom Line in New York. The place was heaving, the atmosphere magic and they were fantastic. In the audience were Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Slade (!), The Flying Burrito Brothers (who we invited on stage to play with us!) - I recall meeting Eddie Tickner, The Byrds' legendary manager. And of course, after becoming friends with Mark & Howard (Flo & Eddie), they eventually produced the very last Starry Eyed and Laughing records. Apart from our gigs, being on Columbia Records meant we got to see Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder show in Hartford - absolutely amazing to be in the presence of the music and words live and right in front of our eyes and ears: Dylan, Baez, McGuinn, Joni, Mick Ronson and the rest of that gypsy gathering. We were kindred visiting gypsies on our US tour too!


Some of the bands or their members seamlessly (with shorter hair and narrow trousers!) infiltrated the punk movement or new wave as it eventually became. Were you a supporter or coconscious objector to Punk / New Wave 

Definitely a supporter! I loved The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and Siouxsie, never saw them but their records were amazing (for different reasons- The Pistols for their sheer force and amazing production, and The Clash for their rawness). And although I also loved many of the suddenly short-haired skinny-tied new wave 'punks' (Elvis Costello, The Police - sorry if that offends anyone), I never felt I could do that convincingly and never did - I did have shorter hair and a skinny tie though!

Tell me about your efforts to regain the rights to the masters of the albums and the remastering process that followed?

Luckily for us, our record deal was cleverly negotiated by our manager Norman Lawrence (a wonderful man, sadly died at 58 from Leukaemia in 1998), through a licence to CBS that had an expiration date. So the rights in the recordings are all ours. Recovering the actual masters was a trial of endurance, as nobody at the label even remembered we'd been signed! Eventually I managed to trace them, and then had the well-known problem of disintegrating Ampex tape. The re-mastering was a long process, sometimes of trial and error, but became easier with more recent archive tracks as the music software increasingly approaches a kind of magic 

You survived in the music industry in the intervening years and still maintain an obvious enthusiasm for all things music. What were the highs and lows of that period?

The high that matters is really just having managed to survive doing (mostly) the true thing I love to do. Specifically: being able to produce Danny's album, getting to work with The Dreaming Spires, knowing Roger McGuinn and getting his ultimate praise for what I do (still a dream to produce him!).

The lows (living in my car, being broke consistently, being virtually paralysed for 3 months with polymyalgia 4 years ago - those are ones that come to mind) don't even seem that low in hindsight- just part of life's adventure - we're soon gone anyway!

What musically has impressed you most since then and how does the standard of recording and performing artists compare to those of your early career?

I think there's been a consistent thread of genuine artists and songs that carry the same honesty and questing of those that I mentioned at the start - I'm so happy to be connected to the ones I've come to know, and to play with or produce. Recording has becoming so much easier and available than when we started - I think becoming a recording engineer (as it really was in the analog days of mechanical machines) and producer comes from my frustration with that. But the essence of it remains the same - the intention and the 'realness' of a record is far more important than how perfectly auto-tuned and quantised it is (to quote the great Robin Bennett: 'you can ride your horse to win, but that's not the race we're running in').

Which brings us to the present and your involvement in Bennett Wilson Poole. Had you ambitions at the outset to record and perform with Danny Wilson and Robin Bennett or how did the project develop?

Our manager, Howard Mills, says it was absolutely inevitable that we'd do something together! We're such great friends, and having sung and performed with both of them previously, I think he's put it perfectly! (He’s a very wise man).  For me, it's been completely serendipitous - a natural confluence of skills, personalities and common outlooks on what we're here for.

Who took the lead in respect of the song writing duties?

This all started with Danny and Robin deciding to write some songs together on Facetime. So, I think that was pretty much equal between them. When they'd had a few written, they asked me if I'd get involved and sent me some demos - that was a no-brainer, and would have been without hearing a thing! They're both incredible songwriters. I sent them a couple of phone demos of unfinished songs which they liked, and we three finished them very quickly on the morning of the first session - it was a wonderful 'common-mind' experience. For 'Lifeboat', Robin actually took the phonetic sounds I sang in the chorus and wrote down what he thought he heard (' I don't know ...there is no easy way to know how we got here'), - it worked out perfectly. I wrote 'Hate Won't Win' the morning after the murder of Jo Cox, a Thursday which happened to be two days before a session, and sent them a phone recording - on the Saturday, we finished the song together and had it recorded by the end of the day - up on YouTube on Monday. The short answer is that we’re all very pro-active and have all been 'front men' in our careers, so it's a completely equal thing.

What tracks on the album are you most proud of?

I couldn't possibly choose - they're all like children and have taken a life of their own. Time will show which means the most eventually. And to be contrary to what I just said, I think Danny and Robin's 'Hide Behind A Smile' is probably going to be the classic ... it's such a universal truth of this culture we're all living in.

The closing track Lifeboat (Take A Picture Of Yourself) is very much a reflection of the double standards that prevail today and at nearly eight minutes long is epic. What was the motivation for the song?

I saw a news front page that had a photo of an overcrowded and possibly sinking refugee boat in the Mediterranean - right next to an article on 'selfies'. The juxtapositon just hit me - two sets of humans on this same planet, yet in such different worlds. How could it be? The drowning mass unseen and ignored by the individual self-obsession of this culture. I just thought I'd put them all in that same boat. In which we all are, ultimately. My original words were a lot stronger actually, but as is usually the case with extremes, less effective if understanding is the aim, rather than destruction.

The album has been receiving great review even a couple of months before its official release. Have you been taking by surprise by the reaction?

Very surprised! Though I must say Danny and Robin's enthusiasm for the album, and the reaction from many friends we sent copies to did form a kind of thought that we'd hit something special, and a modest expectation that people would like it. You get a feeling that the wave is pulling you, rather than you pushing against it. I've had it just twice before, firstly in Starry Eyed And Laughing when Geoff Brown wrote a glowing review in Melody Maker of our 8th gig ever, and we just seemingly sailed upward to a major label record contract within months.  Secondly, after I produced The Men They Couldn't Hang and became their de facto manager (I was the only one with a phone!). The wave for them - such a great band! - was an absolute surge - No.3 in John Peel's Festive 50 in 1984, front page of the Melody Maker, and clandestine handing over of singles for exclusive reviews! It's a different world and music business now for sure, but the positive wave feeling still applies. I think we've just been very honest with our thoughts and influences in the writing and recording of the songs, and those thoughts and influences are shared by so many.

You’ve already starting performing the album live. Are you intending playing as a three piece or with a band when you perform at The Kilkenny Roots Festival in May?

We're playing as a three piece at The Kilkenny Roots Festival in May - it's shaping up to be about 50-50 Full band/trio gigs over this summer.

Can we expect some Starry Eyed and Laughing, Danny & The Champs and Dreaming Spires material on the set list or all Bennett Wilson Poole originals?

Yes! We've rehearsed 'One Foot In The Boat' and 'Flames In The Rain' from the 2nd Starry Eyed LP ... we're also doing some Grand Drive, Goldrush and Dreaming Spires tunes - specifically The Dreaming Spires' amazing  'Searching For The Supertruth' which I played and sang on and produced. A wonderful Goldrush song that made the charts 'Wide Open Sky'. Grand Drive was Danny's band before The Champs, and we're doing a great song of his about Elvis: '5th Letter'. Coincidentally, I produced and played on another song Danny wrote about Elvis: 'Colonel & The King' on his 'Hearts & Arrows' album - I like that connection. And one of my favourites of Danny's (there are lots!): 'Old Soul' from his solo album 'The Famous Mad Mile' - soon to be released on vinyl I think! I'm sure there'll be more ... and also some surprises!

Interview (in the style of Zig Zag) by Declan Culliton

Friday
Mar092018

Peter Mulvey Interview

Singer-songwriters never tread an easy path and the demands of the journey are filled with unseen twists and turns. One such travelling troubadour, Peter Mulvey, has navigated this chosen path with great élan and joie de vivre as his career has developed. Take his prodigious energy for continuous touring and his ever- impressive recorded output and you are close to the perfect example of the creative drive involved in turning dreams into reality. Lonesome Highway asked Peter to give us a peek into his current state of mind and also, reflect on the past, as he prepares for his Irish tour. 

Your next Dublin concert is coming up on 21st April next at the Workman’s Club in the city centre. Is this to highlight your latest release, Are You Listening?, which came out in March last year?

I’ve been on the road all my life. Every show is just about the audience, and myself, and the room. A moment that comes and then goes. Sure, I’ll play stuff from Are You Listening? but I’ll play very old stuff and brand new songs. I imagine I’ll play a song or two that get written between now, when I’m typing these words, and that day at the Workman’s Club.

The record was produced by Ani Di Franco, and released on her record label, Righteous Babe Records. Was it your song in 2015, Take Down Your Flag, that led to your initial meeting?

We’d met long before then and been peripherally aware of each other. But in 2014 I did a show with her in Anchorage, Alaska, and we had supper and bonded a bit, and she brought me on a few little runs here and there. It was during one of those that the murders at Mother Emanuel happened, and we sat together with her bandmates Terence and Todd just mulling it all over. I went in the dressing room, wrote Flag, went onstage, sang it, and when I came off Ani said “teach me that tune” and that’s where it started. So, it was natural that she would shepherd my next batch of songs out into the world.

That song was written as a result of a mass shooting at the AME Emanuel Church in Charleston and there was also an online benefit concert which you organised in support of the victims and their community. Were you pleased with the support of the music fraternity and the results, which generated quite a lot of media attention.

I was pleased to be of some small help, and to be some tiny drop in the river of our ongoing American awakening. We have a long road. We are a country awash in racism. Our current president is clearly racist, and an awful human being. I hope that this whole era is a wound being lanced.

As a musician, Ani Di Franco has always displayed a very eclectic vision, delivering a mix of folk, punk, rap and more recently, jazz leanings, across her records. How did she impact on your song-craft and the overall production?

She’s a born leader and a tremendous listener (those are the same thing, now that I say them out loud.) All of this ran through her lens. My favourite part was when she was overdubbing all the subtle vocal flourishes and piano and glockenspiel. 

Her guitar style is very percussive and rhythmic, something that you share in common; is there anything you learned from collaborating with her that has changed your approach to playing? 

Everything, though most of that is probably so deep in the past that it’s unavailable to me consciously. It’s just in the DNA now, Michael Hedges and Ani DiFranco and David Hidalgo...

You have been influenced by Chris Smither in your formative years as a musician and collaborate regularly with David Goodrich. What do these artists bring to you in terms of your musical development?

They’re my mentors, and still my dear friends. Smither brought me along into the world and taught me everything, and Goody and I grew up together.

You are looking back at 25 years of playing, recording and touring, averaging 100 gigs a year. What drives you to keep up the unrelenting pace over so many years?

Actually it’s 130 gigs a year over that span. But I’d go with “brisk” rather than “unrelenting”. I just love my work. I love a room, I love listeners, I love songs. At my age, I do have to engage in better self-care than I used to. More walking. Less drinking. More sleeping. I hope to keep a brisk pace into my seventies. Smither sure does.

Has the dynamic of touring changed much over this time?

Not at all. It’s a familiar thing and I wouldn’t really want it to change.

Does the relentless travel take its toll on your performance levels?

The opposite is true: I really feel I get into the swing of things as a run goes on.

Is getting paid from performing live the main source of income?

Yes, and it always has been. I probably just break even on records. I usually only sell three or four thousand records over the release, and that’s not a huge amount.

The lack of royalties on downloads and streaming has driven many talented artists out of the music business. How do you survive in an environment with the many constraints on income generation from all sources these days? 

I never depended on it in the first place. I was lucky enough to find the part of the job that I love, and that hasn’t dried up.

You have been a frequent visitor to Ireland over the years but we have not seen you for a while (three years?) – did you decide to finally take a time-out from your demanding touring schedule to take stock?

Not at all. I just didn’t have someone booking me tours over here. Now I’ve found, strangely, an American agency that does a decent job.

When did you first visit Ireland and how do your experiences of that time compare with the Ireland of today?

I was an exchange student in 1989 at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth. Mostly I just cut classes and hung out on Grafton Street with all the young buskers who were doing songs from Fisherman’s Blues and This Is The Sea. Peter Gabriel tunes, and Violent Femmes tunes. I made money in Irish coins and spent it on a used army jacket in Temple Bar ... I’d take the money and go hitchhiking and stay in youth hostels. And then I didn’t come back until 1997, Celtic Tiger and all that. Things change. Things don’t change. People are people. We’re all just primates with cell phones. 

You display a real lust for life and draw your influences from a number of creative sources - including poetry/ literature/narrative/daily encounters. Does your writing tend towards the personal perspective as a preference?

I tend to veer pretty widely. I have two records written right now, and just put the personal one down. I’ll follow with the universal one after. I will say, over the years, that those two antipodes have merged.

In 1995, your release, Rapture, included a hidden track and spoken word song, Aurora Borealis. Is there a factual story behind this track?

Yes indeed. A friend of mine was the kid. Hitchhiking in the South, taken in and given a place to stay by a racist, sexist jack wagon. The whole story is true. I stole it. What an unmerry band of thieves are we writers.

Your release, Letters From A Flying Machine (2009), was a departure in that it was a concept of sorts; letters from you to your nephews and nieces, read as spoken word pieces. What was the motivation behind the recording?

It all just arose from real life. I was setting down artefacts in my relationship with my brothers’ and sisters’ kids, things for them to dredge up when they become adults. And it seemed vibrant enough to make a record out of it.

You have also written a book, Vlad The Astrophysicist. It is dedicated to Children, Adults and other Old Souls. What was the original idea behind this?

It was one of the letters. And it’s a true story: I met an astrophysicist from the Czech Republic, and I asked him “Why haven’t we heard from another civilization” and he gave me an honest answer. It blew my mind, and so I really, really needed to find a way to get it into the world. So, it became one of the spoken word pieces on Letter... and then it became a TEDx Talk. And then a book. 

Was this the key factor that lead to your appearance on the Ted Talk programme?

The curator of the TED event got dragged to one of my shows and immediately asked me to participate in TEDx. It’s invite-only and it doesn’t pay. Which normally, as a working artist, I’d be a little wary of. But it’s a pretty beautiful idea.

In 2014, Silver Ladder was your 16th official release and was funded by a kick starter campaign. Have you happy memories of that experience?

Indeed I do. It’s a great feeling when you realize that you have the stalwart support of an audience that goes back decades.

Chuck Prophet produced this record. What did he bring to the project?

He is an instigator, a born antagonist, a court jester and a devil’s advocate. He made me walk the plank at every moment. The opposite of Ani. Both of them got good results.

You embark on a yearly bicycle tour in America. Apart from promoting fitness levels beyond most musician’s comprehension, have you encountered many close shaves on the American highways and byways?

Occasionally, yes. Cars are suspect. They isolate us in our glass bubbles and make us aggressive and careless. It’s part of why I do the bike tours in the first place: to find yet another way to stay human.

The latest release, Are You Listening?  suggests a growing frustration at the creeping indifference to hardship, inequality and suffering in the USA over recent times. Is the title a reflection of this?

The lynchpin of the whole record is an Anton Chekov quote: “Art should prepare us for tenderness.” It appears as an epigraph in the poem that made it onto the record, Winter Poem. I’m actually very hopeful about my country: Trump is clearly one of the worst people ever to hold the office, but, significantly, he is the oldest to hold that office, too. He’s the past. Frankly, my generation is kinder and softer and more creative and more nurturing than his was — the evidence bears that out. And the kids, don’t get me started. The kids are great. I’m very hopeful. I can’t help but notice that Sinn Fein’s new president is my age, and that she quoted Maya Angelou in her acceptance speech. I don’t know much else about her, but those two things seem promising from this distance. I think the future’s promising everywhere.

Your high energy performance levels have been captured on your live records (Glencree/Ten Thousand Mornings), collaborations (Redbird/The Knuckleball Suite), instrumental projects (David Goodrich), recorded standards (The Good Stuff) and indeed your entire body of work. How important is it to challenge yourself and step outside of your comfort zone when it comes to taking on different projects?

Picasso said that art shakes the dust from ordinary life. My experience is that you’d better be growing, always growing, if you want to be of any use to an audience. I’m just looking for ordinary magic.

You often include cover songs in your live shows and recorded output. What motivates your choices when it comes to selecting specific songs?

Oh, it’s just like trying on a jacket in a thrift store. Does it fit? Does it feel good? Sold.

Is the glass half full or half empty right now?

The glass is twice as large as it needs to be.

So, looking forward to seeing your return to Ireland in April. Is there a full tour this time around and what can we expect?

Oh yes. Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast, Ballymore, Dundalk, Leap, Limavady...

Peter Mulvey plays Dublin Workman’s Club on Saturday 21st April next. There will be other Irish dates announced shortly.

Make sure you catch this superb musician on his upcoming Irish tour. His live performance is always one that stays in the memory and Peter Mulvey gives everything he has got in communicating, entertaining, motivating and inspiring an audience to go out there and live life to the full. 

Interview by Paul McGee

Friday
Mar022018

Peter Oren Interview 

Indiana born Peter Oren’s dramatic baritone voice combined with his visionary song writing places him among the most talented young artist currently representing the lo-fi music genre. His concerns at the continuing interferences by humans in atmospheric and geologic issues is the subject of his recent album Anthropocene. Depressing as the subject matter may be, the album is dreamlike and immensely enjoyable, enriched by Oren’s calming and restful vocal delivery. Due to perform in both Dublin and Kilkenny next May Lonesome Highway spoke with Oren about the motivation for his writing, his frustrations and the artists that he currently admires. 

I believe your initial writings came by way of poetry. What motivated you to add music to the words?

Right. I had an English teacher my senior year of high school that had us read and analyse a poem as a class. The year prior, I stopped hanging out with a group of old friends because I was tired of the way they made fun of each other in a group setting. I started hanging out with a couple of new friends not long thereafter, and one of them I knew a little bit better than the other. The friend I knew better graduated a year early our senior year and went to Spain to work on a farm. The friend I didn’t know so well also knew a bit of guitar, so we ended up trying to write songs together for fun and joke about being famous indie musicians.

Had you studied music growing up?

There was always a piano in the house so far as I remember. I was made to take piano lessons at a young age, but I hardly practiced and didn’t really enjoy it. Later at 12 or 13 I asked for a guitar after learning more about music, particularly classic rock such as Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd. I didn’t take guitar lessons more than a year or two as I recall. I played in the middle school church band at my catholic school. I stopped playing so much when I left the private middle school for high school. All this is to say that my musical training is limited and that I mostly just took the chords I learned and figured out which ones go next to the others.

Your work appears often inspired by travel and observation. Is the material written on the spot or ideas stored and fleshed out when you sit down to complete an album?

It depends. My workflow is far from streamlined. I think Living By the Light was mostly written while traveling. Lake Crescent was written a month or two after having visited Washington state. Songs mostly happen independently, but I guess that some of the songs for my current album Anthropocene were written with the album in mind.

Your lyrics are as much about questioning as voicing an opinion?

I feel like I have a hundred songs that start with “I don’t know.” It’s my accidental-go-to opening line. I have plenty of opinions, but even more questions. I’d rather have understandings than opinions, but sometimes opinions are all you can have. An opinion is like an untested hypothesis. For example, in my opinion, a shift to an economy that prioritizes meeting people’s needs, protecting the ecological health of the planet, and maximizing autonomy via direct democratic control would be significantly better than capitalism, but this hypothesis has scarcely had the opportunity to be tested, with the exception of the anarchists in Spain back in the 30’s, the Zapatistas in Chiapas, MX, and recently the Kurds who formed the PKK. What I’ve read about these groups has been limited, but favourable.

Many established artists and bands dip in and out of environmental issues, often genuinely, sometimes a more cynical marketing exercise. Your song writing predominately addresses ecological issues.  Do you feel like a lone voice by times and have you considered forming a movement with other like-minded artists?

I definitely don’t feel alone in being tuned in to the ecological catastrophes of the day. I think there were a number of albums called Anthropocene when I looked it up, but not many in my genre if any. It was mostly metal I think. But there are definitely songwriters who are concerned and putting it in writing. It’s not always front-and-centre, and the artists aren’t as big as, say, Drake, but they exist. I’m definitely interested in seeing more people not only deeply concerned about the state of things but also taking action.

I don’t know what a movement of artists addressing the pervasive environmental problems would look like, but I hope that it would involve a look in the mirror that it would not just scratch the surface of the problem but also find the systemic causes.

Artists travel a lot in order to make a living, which makes our footprints much larger than most. I don’t blame them, mostly. I for one am just trying to survive capitalism in a way that might contribute to change, but I’m not sure it will. I fly and drive a lot more than I would otherwise. Sometimes I wonder what the “music industry” would look like in an ecologically-sound economy. High-speed rails to shows powered by wind and solar? Shows via the web and less travel? Collective ownership of the labels they are on?

Does much of the subject matter of your work depress you and is your writing a means of dealing with the inherent despondency contained within the material?

Yes, often I write to relieve depression brought on by the big issues we face collectively but have so little power over individually. In the case of “Anthropocene” I was writing from my own perspective and frustration, but I was spurred by a friend who was feeling depressed about the state of things and wondered out loud where all the songs about climate change are.

Your latest album Anthropocene, one that I’ve been treasuring since its release, appeared only one year after your debut recording Living By The Light.  Was all the material for the album written in that twelve-month period?

I’m glad to hear you dig it. I think most of the material was, yes. The song New Gardens was written way back in 2011 and brought into the mix when my ex said I should consider it because the line “save the fences for the rabbits” sounded timely, given Trump’s border policy. Oh, also, River and Stone was written in 2014. And Canary in a Mine was tumbling around my box of songs for a couple years I think. I don’t remember exactly when I wrote it. Had to look through the list of songs to answer that question...

 How challenging is the material from Anthropocene to deliver live while playing solo and do you prefer performing with a band or unaccompanied?

I rarely play with a band, unfortunately. I wish I could afford it, but it’s difficult to pay people at this stage to be quite honest. I wrote the songs without a band, usually on guitar first, so they’re built to be played solo. It’s not a big deal. I think they sound good stripped back. When I’m really raking it in, though, I’ll surely play with other people. It’s lonesome playing alone!

Tell me about how your relationship was formed with producer Ken Coomer?

I played a show opening for Gill Landry. He was accompanied by a band, including Jacob Edwards on drums. I kept in touch with Jacob and passed him Living By the Light. He passed it to Ken, then put us in touch when Ken indicated interest. Eventually I met with him at his studio while I was in Nashville and played him some new tunes, and we decided to work on a record.

Are you working on a third album at present?

I have a bunch of half-written songs and ideas for songs that I’m trying to work through and figure out which things are good, which are not worth the groove on a record, and which I can get placed in beer commercials so I don’t have to pay rent anymore. I’ll be free to do so until late March, so I’m hoping I come up with significant progress towards an album (or at least a song for a beer commercial) in that time.

The most obvious comparisons with yourself is Bill Callahan, an analogy that you may be tired of at this stage!  I understand you’re on record as an admirer of his work.  What other current artists or music moves you?

Yeah, I heard that almost every night on my recent tour with Jens Lekman. Bill’s great, so I can’t complain.

I really dig Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief. She’s an amazing writer. So outstanding. Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff is also great. Her song “Pa’lante” put me in tears. Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station is a favourite. All Of It Was Mine is my favourite of hers. Joan Shelley’s great. I listen to Sleeping Bag a lot--a buddy from Bloomington, IN. I really dig Ka. His lyricism is so good it’s ridiculous. I wish AA Bondy would put out a new record. I play his three records more than anything else I listen to, probably. Blake Mills would be my first pick if I were building a band. He’s an absurdly talented guitarist, a standout songwriter, and a great producer. Also, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Duran Jones and the Indications, Angelo de Augustine, Elvis Perkins, Jessica Pratt, Kevin Krauter, and Lean Year all ought to make my list. Why not, this is an internet publication, right? 

Interview by Declan Culliton

Peter Oren plays upstairs at Whelans on Saturday 5th May. Tickets €12 are on sale now from Ticketmaster.

 

Wednesday
Feb282018

Midland Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Stephen Rapid