MICHELLE EVANS INTERVIEWS MATT WOODS

As anyone who follows me on any of my social media sites has probably gathered, I’m a huge fan of Knoxville-based musician Matt Woods. I have to be in a strong state of mind and heart to listen to his music, and anyone who writes songs that make me feel that much is automatically Essential Listening for me. I had the opportunity to interview Woods briefly last time he was in West Virginia, the state I currently (and for a brief period of remaining time) call home. Woods has a lot going on right now. He’s currently on tour with Larry Fulford and Pete Stein and will be going out later this year with Caleb Caudle. He has a 7” out now, called Deadman’s Blues, with a new record due out this spring. On top of that, he’s participating in a giveaway over at Dear Ben Nichols that’s also featuring Lucero and wood carving artist, Bryn Perrott.

Let’s get to it.

You have a new single out right now, “Deadman’s Blues,” with an EP to match.

Yup. There’s an acoustic version of “Deadman’s Blues” on there and a version of “Help Me Make It Through the Night” by Kris Kristofferson. It’s the first time I’ve ever recorded a cover. I wrote “Deadman’s Blues” in the summer of 2011, because I was out of business for a while with my broken finger. While I was down with the broken finger, I hoped to write a lot of music, but I pretty much only wrote that one song. [laughs]

It’s a pretty intense song, lyrically, especially because you tend to write songs that are non-autobiographical. What inspired you to write this one?

Being on the road, mostly, you know. Just, you know… Being away. It’s a very personal song. It’s just, kind of, you know… Part of life, kind of a thing. And, you know, there are always elements of truth in a song. There has to be. It’s a pretty introspective tune, and I don’t always write that way. I mean, sometimes I do, but, like you mentioned, sometimes I write story songs, but even with those, there’s always parts of me in it. The emotions are pretty real, even if the account is fictional. Like, “Johnny Ray Dupree” is a fictional account about a murderer, but the emotions in it are pretty real.

I think you’re good at that too. Not a lot of song writers can write about what they don’t personally know, because I’m assuming you’re not a murderer. [laughs]

Right. [laughs]

I like songs that tell stories. They’re some of my favorites.

I think the thing about it, though, is that if you’re writing story songs… Like, a story song can work for face value, you know, just as this narrative, but I think those songs always work best when there’s subtext in there. You know, when there are more intangible, underlying themes going on. Whether it strikes the listener or not, there’s subtext in my story songs. I hope people connect to those songs in that way, but, ultimately, if they just like the song because it’s about some dude killing people, that’s cool too. [laughs]

Oh, I think it strikes them for sure. The fact that there are underlying emotions and truths to your songs… I think that’s evident, and I think that’s one reason why people enjoy your songwriting and performances so much.

Thank you.

“Port St. Lucie” is an interesting tune. It’s got this happy beat that puts me in a great mood, but the lyrics are not happy at all.

No. No, it’s not, and I think it’s the juxtaposition that makes it. It’s, like, the most cheerful misery you have ever heard. [laughs]

[laughs]

It’s weird, I have this song I’ve played forever. I wrote it in the late 90s. I’ve traveled with it and brought it through all of the bands I’ve had and everything, and now Bryan [Childs] really loves it, so maybe I’ll record it again. I’ve recorded it five or six times. It’s called “Sunshine.”

Oh, yeah, that’s a great one. You should definitely record it again. I know a lot of people who love it, too.

I was playing a lot around Knoxville in those days, when I wrote it, and, for some reason or another, it became apparent that people were connecting with it, and a lot of women in particular would connect with it. They would come up, and be like, “That’s my song!” And they were so happy when I played it. It also kind of struck me as odd that, like, when a lady would come up and be like, “That song, that’s me,” and it’s, like, so sad. The song is really sad, you know, the content of it, and I want to tell them, like, “I really hope not,” [laughs] but it’s cool that it moves them. Sometimes I think it’s mistaken for a happy song, because it really kinda moves along, you now, but if it’s coming from me, it’s probably not a happy song. [laughs]

[laughs] Sad Bastard’s Song Club.

[laughs] Yup.

I think that’s been happening a lot with “Deadman’s Blues.” I see it around, you know. People talking about how they can relate to wanting one thing that doesn’t necessarily coincide with some of their other desires. It’s a very universal, human theme, I think. I think even people who don’t travel for a living can to relate it.

Well, it’s what we hope for, as songwriters, that people can relate.

Matt Woods is touring now. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for tour updates and news. Enter to win the Deadman’s Blues 7″ and Manifesto CD here.

MICHELLE EVANS INTERVIEWS JUSTIN WELLS OF FIFTH ON THE FLOOR

The first time I met Justin Wells, I wasn’t quite sure how to take him. He’s well over 6 feet tall with a booming voice, a self-described “full o’ shit” jokester mentality, and a rather intimidating albeit charismatic stage presence. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to dine with him, see some more Fifth on the Floor shows, as well as talk with him, and ssshhhh, you guys, he’s kind of really awesome – about as awesome as his music, I’d say.

Here’s one of those conversations.

So, you’re quite the sarcastic one. It took me a few times before I figured you out. [laughs]

[laughs] People ask me all the time, “When are you serious?” and the thing is, I’m not. Ever. Maybe when I’m on stage, but even then, not even half the time.

You’re very serious-looking on stage, though. Very serious.

I am. I am! I think that part of my personality has evolved, because I’m a big dude, and people are instantly fucking defensive when they meet me.

Sure. I can see that.

Yeah, see, and it’s like, man, there will be no ass-kickings. I just wanna talk. I have to clown around, you know, to make people feel comfortable, and I do. I try to. I smile a lot, and I clown around a lot.

I see big dudes, and I think, “Ooo! Fluffy teddy bear! Cuddly!”

[laughs] I’m more along those lines, to be honest. [laughs]

Well, now that we’ve got that cleared up [laughs]… I wanted to ask about your voice.

Shoot.

Yeah, I noticed there are certain songs y’all don’t do anymore or don’t do as often, and since I’m big on voices, I’ve noticed the way you use yours has changed – or is that all in my head?

Well, I don’t know if there’s Fifth on the Floor stuff I can’t do anymore, but our song “The Fall,” off our second record… I don’t know if I can’t, because I haven’t tried in about a year, but I’ve actually learned how to sing over, you know, 10 years of fucking doing this, and I’ve learned it’s not worth hitting one or two notes at the expense of the whole rest of the night and the whole rest of the tour. Voices aren’t like guitars, where you just find the note. We’re given a range, and you can find a few more in either direction, but it’s gonna hurt ya. I try to play to my strengths when I sing.

Makes sense.

Yeah. And Parsons sings in the band too, and he’s just a fucking incredible vocal talent, and, you know, should, by all means, be heading up his own band, and, you know, I don’t have to hit those notes anymore. If we need someone else to hit them, then someone else will.

You’re coming off a solo tour with Unknown Hinson, though, right? How’s that been?

It has been awesome. Unknown and the guys have been very kind to me. They’ve been great, but what’s been even better, is their fans. Their fans have been really kind to me. It was hard to know going in, how people were going to react, and everyone’s been really kind. We’ve had a lot of fun, had a lot of un-recallable nights [laughs], a lot of good rooms.

What’s your solo stuff like?

[laughs] It’s a lot more talking. [laughs] It’s a lot more talking than Fifth of the Floor shows [laughs] But it is! I want people to have a good time, so I talk a lot, trying to get the stage warm, and I’ve just been trying to make sure people have a good time. There are a lot of Fifth on the Floor songs, of course, but I change them so they work for me solo.

So Fifth on the Floor has had many incarnations, as fas as band members go. How many of you are original?

Just me. We started out as a 6-piece. We’ve had a shit-ton of change-overs, and, you know, we never wanted to be “that band,” but that’s just what happened. Parsons has been with us going on three years, and, you know, Aaron quit earlier in the year. The road just wasn’t working for him anymore, and we obviously wish him all the best. He had some things going on at home. Kevin Hogle replaced him and just came on board a few months ago. He’s in a band called 500 Miles to Memphis, who are friends of ours out of Cincinnati. We’ve toured with those guys and played with those guys quite a bit, and Kevin was definitely on my short list. He’s toured the world in various bands and, when he was in college, doing marching band shit. I didn’t know how much time he’d have available, but he definitely made the time available to play with Fifth on the Floor, so it worked out. Both on stage and off, he’s a fantastic member, a fantastic drummer, and one of the most positive people I’ve ever met, and he’s bald [laughs] The rest of us have the hair thing pretty well covered, so we needed the bald guy. And he has, like, sparse, chiseled facial hair that he manages, somehow, to change every night, like a video game avatar [laughs].

OH. Sexy. [laughs] Seriously, though, from what I’ve seen so far, Kevin does seem like a good fit.

Yeah, man. It’s fun. It’s really fun. It’s like we’re starting over. It’s fucking energetic.

We parted ways with Matt too. We played with Matt for seven years, and Matt’s a brother. He was one of the original Fifth on the Floor members. Matt and I started the band back in ’06, and our lives, on a personal level, just went different ways. Things just weren’t in sync as much as they used to be, so we got this fellow named Ryan Clackner out of Tennessee, who played with Bob Wayne for years. He’s a fantastic talent, and he’s the other side of facial hair [laughs]. We have to pay him, and then we have to pay his beard, and it has to have its own seat belt [laughs]. No, Ryan’s a bad-ass. It should be fun.

I would think when you bring in new people, you get new energy and new ideas. Is there any particular reason why y’all go through so many members? Is it the heavy touring schedule?

Yeah, man, everybody fucking ever has been in Fifth on the Floor [laughs] But to answer your question, I don’t know. You know, I don’t know. I’ve always loved bands that did that, and we actually had someone else who was the lead singer, who sang more songs than I did, and, really, we should’ve just changed the fucking band name. We aren’t the same band, and you can hear hints of that on the first record. You can hear where we’re at now and how that’s different from then. We wanted to be a rock and roll band, and now that’s what we are. Our goals changed, we’ve gotten a little older, and we take this a lot more seriously and really try to focus on Fifth on the Floor as a career, and not just something that allows us to drink for free in different cities [laughs]. Bands change, like any relationship, and I don’t think anything ill is meant on either side.

And, you know, we do tour heavily, and it takes a special breed of fucking people to be able to do that. I’m not speaking of us in a good way [laughs], because, you know, we’re drunken messes [laughs], and it’s just not for everyone.

Shit, dude, if I could sing or play an instrument even remotely well – I can’t do either – I would totally be one of those people. But I can’t, so I write about it and travel to shows and look into ways I can work with the musicians I love, maybe touring with them, or whatever.

You sound like me. It used to drive me out of my mind to be home.

Yes! But you have a wife and two twin daughters now. How has that changed things?


It’s great having someone at home. It really is. It makes me wanna be home, but when I was just by myself, I could just fucking tour 365, I wouldn’t care. Now, there’s this huge part of my life I leave behind when I go, but I love both, and to give either one up would, you know, create a void. We found our rhythm. My wife’s very supportive. I mean, it’s not easy, but I don’t worry about it. She’s a fucking bad-ass. I’m always happy. I just get restless. I don’t like being in the same city very long, and touring allows me to keep moving.

I just really feel like I got it made, man.

Fifth on the Floor plays tomorrow, Saturday, December 14th at Buster’s Billiard’s and Backroom in their hometown of Lexington, KY. They are touring through January and also start touring with George Thorogood and The Destroyers on March 10th at the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville, TN.

Michelle Evans Interviews Todd Farrell of Todd Farrell Jr. & the Dirty Birds:

todd-farrell

Todd Farrell & The Dirty Birds is a Nashville-based band celebrating the release of their first full-length album, All Our Heroes Live In Vans, due out October 31st. You can catch them tomorrow night, though, performing new and old songs alike at Mercy Lounge in Nashville, with the likes of Arliss Nancy, P.J. Bond, and Andrew Leahey & The Homestead.

Farrell and I didn’t have much time to chat, so we went straight to the important stuff.

So, where are you from?

Well, I was born in Dallas. My whole family, from forever, is from out there, and then I moved to Atlanta when I was 6. I lived there for 10 years, till I was 16, and then, when I was 16, I moved to Charlotte, NC. Lived there for about two and a half years. I graduated high school there, and then I came to Nashville to go to Belmont University, where I studied Music Business, play in bands, record bands, and I still do both of those things. I’ve been to Nashville ever since, so since 2006.

Why did y’all move around so much?

Dad got different jobs around the southeast, and when the time was right, we’d pack up and move on.

I have a similar background. It’s not common to meet many people with that background who aren’t military.

Everyone assumes that. It’s also tough, because people are like, “Where are you from?” and it’s tough to answer. I usually claim Atlanta, because
I spent the most time there.

I do that with Philly.

In general, though, I think moving around a lot, we have certain strengths that other people don’t have. Like, a lot of my friends lived in the same small town their whole lives, and they have all the same friends they grew up with, vs. people like us, we moved around a lot, and we learned how to adapt quickly to different situations.

Absolutely. Adaptability is definitely one of my strong suits. It made me an introvert, though, and I’m not good at emotional attachments. It’s easier to leave someplace if you don’t make too many friends. Did you find that to be true for you?

No. I think it was the opposite for me. It forced me to really come out of myself, and, too, luckily, there was the Internet to keep in touch with people, and that made transitioning and keeping in touch with people a lot easier.

So where’s “home” for you?

Oh, Nashville. Nashville’s home and will be for as long as I can foresee.

Makes sense. You’ve shared the stage with Austin Lucas and Arliss Nancy, among others, and Nashville is kind of the hub for your genre.

Yeah, it’s really cool, because so many people have relocated from here: Jason Isbell, Austin Lucas, Cory Branan… And it’s cool on that level, but also because everybody wants to pass through here. It’s a tough live scene, though. I tell anybody who passes through here, ya know, “I’ll book you a show, and I can guarantee you anywhere from eight to 80 people will be there, and we won’t know till the downbeat of the first song,” because there’s just no telling in Nashville.

Yeah, that’s the downfall of an oversaturated market.

Yeah, it’s oversaturated and a little bit jaded, and there’s just so much going on, it’s hard to be every place you want to be.

So, I know we’re both a little crammed for time at the moment, so tell me really quickly about your new record. That’s what people want to know about, right? [laughs]

[laughs] Sure. Well, I hope so. [laughs] Well, I write all the songs, but everyone arranged the songs, recorded the songs, mixed the songs… We pressed the record, all of it.

So it’s totally DIY.

It’s as DIY as you can get. We don’t have a label. We’re all freelance musicians and have audio engineer backgrounds. I used to work for a recording studio a couple hours away, and we were free to use it when it wasn’t booked, between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., so, ya know, we sucked up the drive and just took advantage of that opportunity, and we got it done.

That’s admirable.

Thank you. It’s our first record together. My first record was really a songwriting project that I didn’t think would go anywhere. It was just something fun to do and put on iTunes to see what happened. Ninebullets reviewed it and people caught on, and so that turned into finding a band and playing together ever since. This record is our fresh start. This isn’t just Todd Farrell and those 6 weird songs. [laughs]. It’s a band record, not just a Todd record.

Well, lastly, tell me about the title.

Honestly, it’s pretty much in essence about the show tomorrow night. I mean, it’s a lyric from one of the songs on the record, “Pawn Shops,” but it’s also about playing with some of your heroes. It’s about these poor dudes working really hard to make good music and do what they love, and it’s about working just to be where they are. We strive to be even at that level. Those guys – Arliss and Bond and Leahey – are huge influences and heroes of ours. It’s about them and other musicians like them.

Todd Farrell & The Dirty Birds – Pawn Shop

Michelle Remembers Her Larger Than Life Friend:

I asked Bryan if I could write a piece about Josh Burdette, of the legendary 9:30 Club in Washington D.C., for Ninebullets for what would have been his 37th birthday today, because, you know, I can. I have access to this huge outlet where I can express why he was important to me, and to explain why someone who did not know him well is having such a seriously hard time accepting and coping with his death.

Bryan said “sure,” but I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said or written. Everything I write doesn’t seem to be enough, so I think I am just going to encourage you all to Google him if you didn’t know him, feel sorry for you if you didn’t, and ask everyone who reads this to pay tribute to him by thinking about Josh’s message of balance and kindness, for which he stood.

Happy birthday, Josh. Those of us who knew you, even a little bit, miss you.

(Photo Credit: Nick Barbato)

MICHELLE EVANS INTERVIEWS M. LOCKWOOD PORTER:

M. Lockwood Porter grew up outside Oklahoma admiring the likes of Bruce Springsteen and John Moreland. Sounds like a recipe for, at the very minimum, good taste to me. I caught up with Porter to talk about his Christian upbringing, coming of age, and his new solo album, Jonah’s Gone, due out July 11th.

Tell me about your background.

I grew up in Oklahoma in a small town outside of Tulsa, and I just really loved music from an early age. My first musical love was Bruce Springsteen. I fell in love with the song and album, “Born in the U.S.A.”/Born in the U.S.A. when I was, like, five years old, and ever since then, I kind of knew that that’s what I wanted to do. I was an only child with not much to do, so I became obsessed with my parents’ records and dallying around on my mom’s piano. My dad got me a guitar from a pawn shop when I was in 5th or 6th grade, and I just taught myself how to use that.  Basically, I’ve been writing songs since I was a little kid, and then in middle school and high school, I got into the local music scene around Tulsa and played in several different bands. The scene kind of started out as Christian punk rock, then it kind of evolved into more of a hardcore and metal scene.

What? [laughs]

Yeah, the bands we looked up to when I was, like, 13, were in Christian punk rock bands. It was the first exposure I had with playing with other people. The scene quickly moved past that, though, and became various hardcore, punk, and indie rock bands while I was in high school. It was also when I was really writing my own songs. And, actually, it was around that time that I met John Moreland. He wasn’t actually somebody I knew really well, but that’s how I know John. He was playing in bands around Tulsa. He was a couple years older than us, and we all kind of looked up to him.

With good reason.

Yeah, and even before he was doing his own thing and writing his own songs, he was a really good metal-core guitarist. We’ve all been following his career since he started doing his sort of singer-songwriter thing, and we’re all super-impressed how, from the very start, his songs were amazing.

It’s true. It’s not fair. [laughs]

Totally. [laughs]

So, is Christianity still a theme in your work? Is it something you identify as?

Well, you know, I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma going to the Southern Baptist Church, and while it’s not really a part of my life anymore, it was definitely a big part of my life when I was younger. I would say there might be traces of it in the songs, but it’s not an overt theme in the songs.

 Sure. How we grow up influences the art we make for those who make art. I feel like it would be weird if it weren’t in there.

Definitely. But, I guess the beginning of the project I’m working on now sort of started when I was 18 years old, when I left Oklahoma to go to college. I didn’t really anticipate how much that would change what I was doing with music. I found it pretty hard to find other people to play with for the first couple years I was away from Oklahoma. I was kind of unaware how rare it was to have such a close-knit group of people – and part of it was because we were so young – where everyone knew everyone and all the bands and could easily find someone else to play with. My solution to that was to try to write songs that sounded good by myself and that were more about the lyrics, creating turns of phrase, and putting together lines that were really meaningful to me and might mean something to other people.

Smart.

Thank you. So, since then, I’ve kind of been writing on my own, but it was never my main focus to, you know, have a solo career or anything. Instead, it was something I was doing on the side while I was looking for a band to play with.

I’m curious, where do you live now? Are you still in Oklahoma?

No, I’m in the Bay Area in Berkeley, California. I had gone to college on the east coast, then, after college, I moved here, and I’ve been here for four years now.

Where did you go to college?

Yale.

What did you study?

Literature and American History. And pretty much the whole time I was in college, I had trouble finding a band to play with. I was playing with a band for, like, a year at the very end of college, but it was never really serious. We played a couple shows. We didn’t record anything, really.

Then, when I made it out here, I was a lead guitarist in a band for a couple years, and I was just kid of a sideman. I found that to be really fun, and I was totally content to be a sideman for a while. Then, about two and a half years ago, a friend of mine, Peter Labberton, who plays drums and is also a recording engineer, were talking one day about how he wanted to record some stuff, so we did. We recorded an album, which he played drums on and engineered.  I wrote a bunch of new songs for it, and it kind of turned into this much bigger project than we thought it was going to be. We finally finished it this spring, and it comes out July 11th.

Where’d the name of the album, Judah’s Gone, come from?

Well, I’m using the name Judah as a metaphor for growing up and coming of age. You know, the whole “You can’t go home again” thing and growing out of the culture you were raised in and also all the feelings of freedom, nostalgia, shame, and guilt kind of all mixed up together that come with that. It’s not overtly biblical, but it’s the closest thing there is to biblical influence regarding the album. When I was at Yale, I went from this small Baptist town in Oklahoma to a very liberal, intellectual place, and that kind of sped up that whole coming of age process for me. There wasn’t anyone there I felt could identify with me in what I was feeling and going through. The first songs I wrote that I was really proud of came out of that time, out of trying to figure out who I am.

It’s my first solo album, and I just think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done so far.

You can catch Porter at his record release show on Tuesday, July 11th at The Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco and will be touring in the fall and winter of this year.

MICHELLE EVANS INTERVIEWS CORY CALL OF ARLISS NANCY

Cory Call at the Ninebullets Anniversary Party, 2012.

I caught up with Cory Call of Arliss Nancy to talk about their upcoming record (and accompanying tour), due out this October. The interview is pretty lengthy and speaks for itself, so I’ll just leave you to it.

Let’s start with the new album. Where are you with that?

It’s just about finished. I’m actually heading into the studio tonight to do the last of the guitar tracks, and then it should be done being tracked by Saturday or Sunday, and then we send it off to our label, Gunner Records, in Germany by the end of June. The album’s called Wild American Runners, and I’m pretty damned stoked on it.

Yeah? Any particular reason?

Yeah, we wrote it all together, like the last album, and it just kind of shows where we are, and what’s been on our minds. I just feel like it’s pretty damned honest.

I thought the last record was pretty damned honest too, though.

Yeah, it’s just a little more representative of what we’ve all gone through. It’s more confessional. I think that’s a better word for it.

That makes sense.

Yeah, it’s just more confessional and also more straightforward rock ‘n’ roll this time around. We’ve also just been on the road for a long time with the last record. That was the first record we pushed really hard as a band. We’re just really stoked to play new songs too. New material.

You were out for a little bit earlier this year. Did you play any of the new material?

We did a couple songs.

How’d that go?

Actually, really well. I was pretty stoked. We had a really good tour, so it was nice to play some new songs on it.

What was the recording process like?

Well, we’re recording it ourselves. Jason, our guitarist, did the last one. He was working in a legitimate studio at the time, so, instead, we just bought all the gear that he would need to do it, instead of paying studio costs. Jason brought all his equipment with us on tour, and he was able to edit, lay the drum tracks, and get everything ready while on tour. We even recorded parts on the road. We’d get to a town and have a little bit of time, after we’d set up, to plug into the board. I’m pretty stoked about it.

It’s awesome that Jason can do that. Had he done things like that before?

Actually, yeah, he is a man of the industry. He started recording about 10 years ago. He just had his own studio set up in his garage in town, and he got really good at it, and one of the bigger studios just paid him to shut down and go work for them.

Oh. Fancy.

Yeah. He knows what he’s doing. He’s toured the world, and somehow, for some reason, he chooses to sleep on floors with us. [laughs] He did it all.

Wow, you guys are a very lucky band.

We are a very lucky band for that.

So, hey, what is your label situation in the U.S.?

Well, right now, Loose Charm Records just put out our vinyl for us, but as far as going into the next album, we don’t have anyone set up in the United States to release it as of now. We’ve sent out demos to a couple labels and heard back from a few, but as of now, it’s just going out in Europe. If it doesn’t go out on a label here, it doesn’t change a whole lot for us. We’re still going to release it and go out and tour and all that.

Which brings me to the Americana Rock Fest. I heard y’all were playing that?

We were, but we aren’t now. Our album deadline is June 23rd, and we couldn’t get time away from the final rounds of making the record. It was just too tight. I am super bummed about it. It just came down to how much I would love to play that festival, to how much I would love to finish the new album.

Yeah, it’s legit. It’s timing.

Yeah, we got put under a deadline.

Well, are you playing the Ninebullets Anniversary Party in October?

Yeah. Well, GB, our bassist, does all the booking, so I think that’s what he said. I don’t have a driver’s license, so I’ve learned to just shut the fuck up and get in the van. [laughs] But yeah, I’m pretty damn sure we’re playing. We had such a blast last year. Fuck it, I’m planning on playing! Fuck the band. I’ll come play either way. [laughs]

[laughs] Well, I’ll be there!

Awesome!

Yeah!

Well, last year, each person in each band got a certain amount of drink tickets. Just a few, but somehow, GB ended up drinking 14 free Guinesses that night. I guess people bought him some drinks. But he was just hammered on Guinness. He was so drunk – and it was the first week of tour – and he slammed his fingers in the van door. Like, his bass playing fingers.

Oh no!

It was funny at the time, but, uh, yeah the Ninebullets fest is a party and a half. It’s the place to be.

Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. I wish I could do something like that for Dear Ben Nichols. I’m looking into it. It’s not feasible where I currently live, but perhaps in the future, should I move. I’d like to put up more bands too. I put up Matt Woods and Adam Lee when they came through a little while ago, and it was really fun. Great dudes, and I like helping. I just want to help.

Yeah, I’ve been fairly homeless for the past year or so, but when I had a house, I always put up bands. I played with Matt in Denver on Friday, and then he played in Fort Collins on Saturday. He’s a solid dude to hang out with for 48 hours. I was like, “Man. I’m sad you’re leaving.”

I felt the same way. Well, hey, last thing: When does the new album come out?

Oh, yeah, it should be out in October, and in the States too. We start touring in Europe the end of August, and then we’re out for, I think, 45 days in the States in October. I’m pretty stoked.

Arliss Nancy – Failure
Arliss Nancy – Front Seat
Arliss Nancy – Both Got Old

MICHELLE INTERVIEW'S JOHN MORELAND:

Like a lot of you, I’m guessing, I go to a lot of shows. There are many benefits to this, one of which is asking your favorite musicians who they’re listening to these days. Over the course of the past year or so, I noticed their lists almost always had two names in common: Townes Van Zandt and John Moreland.

That’s a hell of a thing for an up-and-coming musician to share a “must listen to” list with the late, great Townes Van Zandt (with whom I am already familiar), so I did what any good lover of music would do: I checked him out. Not only was I happy I did, but I also grew to understand why they were usually mentioned together: They’re both musician’s musicians.

How did you get started playing music?

My family is somewhat musical. My dad plays the guitar. I started playing when I was 10 years old when we moved to Tulsa from Boone County, Kentucky. I didn’t have any friends yet, and I was bored all the time, so I asked my dad to show me a couple of chords. I just kind of kept going from there. Then, you know, a couple of years later, I realized you could just, like, make up songs, so I’ve been writing songs ever since then.

How old were you then?

I was about 12.

So you’ve been doing that since you were 12?

Yeah, and throughout high school, I was in a bunch of hardcore bands.

Oh, who were your influences?

Um, well, back then, I really liked Converge and Pg. 99, and Minor Threat was my favorite band. Also, just a lot of DIY hardcore. At some point, that wasn’t really doin’ it for me anymore, and I kinda just started going back to music my dad had always listened to when I was growing up, like Neil Young and Creedence Clearwater Revival and stuff like that.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people making the kind of music you make have hardcore, post-hardcore, and/or metal backgrounds.

Yeah, it’s funny. I also like 90s country. I grew up on a lot of that. I’m also a huge George Strait fan. I actually listened to him for hours last night.

It’s easy to do with him. I also love 90s Garth Brooks, and Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” is probably one of my all-time favorite songs.

Yeah, that is a good one.

You mentioned Neil Young. I love him too. He’s right up there for me. CCR is my all-time favorite band, though. People are usually surprised to learn that about me.

Yeah, I think they might be mine too.

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What were some of the first songs you learned?

Mostly stuff that was on the radio, like Green Day and Weezer. I would ask my dad to show me how to play them, and he’s pretty good at just picking stuff out real quick, and so he would teach me them.

How do you feel about Green Day and Weezer now? Like, were they just songs that you learned because they happened to be on the radio, or did you like them back then?

I still listen to the stuff from back then. Like, I still listen to Dookie, and I still listen to The Blue Album.

Personally, I only really like the Green Day from that era.

Yeah, I do too. Like, I don’t give a shit about any Green Day past, like, 1998.

That’s fair. I think Weezer holds up better.

A little bit. They’ve had some questionable stuff.

(laughs) Yeah… The Golden 90s. (laughs)

(laughs)

How do you feel about Pearl Jam and Nirvana? A lot of people view them as “guilty pleasures,” but I don’t.

I love them.

So do I! Thank you. I feel validated. 

When I was 10 years old, my cousin, who is older than me, bought me a copy of Nevermind, and I really love In Utero too, which I got later.

I think Nirvana did some important things, audio-engineering-wise, like on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I dug that they brought that dirty, grindy sound to mainstream radio.

Yeah, but I think that had more to do with Butch Vig.

Oh, definitely. As for Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder is touring again. I hope to get to see him solo. I’ve seen Pearl Jam in the 90s.

Yeah, he came to Tulsa not too long ago. I didn’t get to go, but I had some friends who went, and they said it was really great.

I don’t doubt it. So, I’ve noticed your older albums have a bigger rock sound. Your later ones are more stripped down. How did that progression come about?

Well, on the first couple records, I was kind of just writing for the band that I had at the time. When we first started, we wanted the band to be doing stuff that’s more like what I’m doing now. What I’ve realized now, though, is that we were really good at this very specific sound. You know, huge guitar and rock kind of thing. It sort of just came easily, so we kept doing it for a couple of years, and then it just, like, wasn’t really satisfying anymore.

I needed to branch out, and that led to Earthbound Blues, which was definitely, intentionally way different from my first two records. I was just burnt out on doing the exact same thing for a few years. It was time to do something else.

What were your influences on the earlier albums, and what were your influences on the last two?

They were very different. On the first two albums, it was a lot of John Mellencamp, who I love, along with Willie Nile, and kind of, like, 90s punk rock that I grew up on too, like Social Distortion. The last couple records were more like The Band, and I really love Randy Newman, and, of course, CCR.

You’re the first person I’ve interviewed who’s mentioned CCR, but you’re definitely not the first one to mention The Band. I grew up listening to them and classic rock, so I understand the appeal. How does a band like The Band become an influence to someone like you, who had a punk rock background?

To me, they’re basically everything I like rolled into one. Every little niche of American music is all in one band, and it’s from a time when R & B, country, folk, gospel, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll didn’t seem so far apart as they do now, I don’t think. That’s what I’m personally going for now, I think.

So, who are you listening to lately? Because everybody I know is listening to you.

(laughs)Well, thank you. Um, I listened to the past two Lucero albums while I was driving my grandma to Texas the other day, 1372 Overton Park and Women and Work, a lot of David Bazan, and there’s this new band from Oklahoma City called Prettyboy that I’ve been listening to. They’re totally, like, 80s dream pop, but it’s really, really great song writing. I feel like there’s a kind of art to pop song writing, and they’re really good at it.

What’s next for you?

My new record, In the Throes, will be out June 11th. I’m on a regional and west coast tour right now and then the east coast later in the year.

 

Moreland is touring now through the Midwest and West until June.

John Moreland – Nobody Gives A Damn About Songs Anymore

Photos: Carra Martin Photography

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MICHELLE INTERVIEWS BRYN PERROTT (THE LUCERO EP COVER DESIGNER)

Bryn Perrott, a Morgantown, WV-based artist who works at Wild Zero Studios, created the artwork for the new Lucero EP, Texas and TennesseeI caught up with her via email to see if she might answer a few questions, and she graciously obliged.

What is the story behind the artwork for the new Lucero EP cover you designed?

The album art for Lucero’s most recent EP is based on older tattoo flash. I’ve been a fan of Lucero for over 10 years now, and I was asked to do the cover through my wood carvings. I made a woodcut for Nikki Lugo (who works at Tattoo Paradise in D.C.), and she received that woodcut in the mail the same day another tattooer, Grant Cobb (who works at Spotlight Tattoo in L.A.), was guesting at Tattoo Paradise. He then purchased one, which he hung in his tattoo station. Jimmy Perlman, Lucero’s tour manager, saw the carving while the band was touring a little over a year ago. Jimmy, also a tattooer, often contacts tattoo shops, and visits them while they are in the different cities during tour. There’s a huge tattoo relationship with the band. Very connected. Jimmy got a woodcut and spoke about designing shirts at some point in the future, sort of welcoming me into the Lucero family. I thought it was fitting to use tattoo references for their merch. I made several drawings and a carving.

How did you get into wood carving?

I got into carving about 15 years ago. Its the same process as making a relief print, which I also did prior to just focusing on the blocks. I was also a printmaking major in college. I started working in a tattoo shop about five years ago, and it’s had a heavy influence on the images I choose, and how I build a composition.

Tell us about one of your favorite Lucero memories.

My favorites are recent memories. Getting to know them as people through making their art. I guess its nothing specific but becoming friends with the band and all the people who work with them on tour. Everyone is so hospitable and fun. In the past, my friends and I would drive to any city close to us to see them. I suppose there might have been some wild drinking antics in a 15 passenger van on the way to Columbus to see Lucero (the driver was sober). That feels like ages ago… 2004.

 

Do you have any Lucero tattoos?

I have two Lucero tattoos: I have the star with the “L.” (Unfortunately, not one done by a member of the band.) I also have “Nobody’s Darling” tattooed on my wrist.

You can see most of Perrott’s creations for sale at shows or on Lucero’s web site.

Lucero – Texas & Tennessee

MICHELLE INTERVIEWS LUCERO'S RICK STEFF ABOUT HIS SOLO EP:

Rick Steff of Lucero has come out with a three-song EP on Archer Records“Rick’s Booogie” (additional “o” an’ all). I caught up with him at one of the Illinois Lucero shows to talk about the makings of his EP, and what it was like to have his fellow Lucero members backing up one of his projects.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Steff is easily one of the nicest men alive anywhere, much less in music, and genuinely one of the most skilled and talented. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23RMdRMZa9A

What made you want to make an EP? How did it start?

Well, it started with just doodlin’ around on the piano and making these little boogies in down time and in the studio where we did Jeff Nichols’ independent film Mudand Amy Lavere’s Stranger Me album. Roy [Berry of Lucero and Overjoid] and I had just done over a hundred pieces of music for a soundtrack for an independent TV mini-series called Head Shop, which is about a tobacco/ smoking shop that gets in trouble for selling bath salts. I don’t know if it’ll get placed. I haven’t heard yet.

So, anyway, this afforded us the opportunity to record a huge amount of music, which we’d be making anyway. So, we were in and out of that studio a bunch, which is a block from where Roy and I live, since we live only a couple blocks from each other, and there was just some down time in there, and I said, “I would like to lay down this boogie before I forget it,” so I played it, and they [fellow Lucero members] were like, “We should do something with that.” I had thought about doing a single at some point, like the old piano player EPs they did in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, ya know. I mentioned it to the band, and they all wanted to play on it, and I certainly wanted them all to play on it.

That’s pretty awesome.

Yeah. The one tune is an instrumental, and the other one… Well, we play “It May Be Too Late” off of the most recent Lucero record, Women & Work, live, and often, and that song requires a capo on the neck of the guitar, and when you do that, you have to re-tune, so it leaves a long dead time on stage, so over the course of just playin’ little melodies trying to bide my time to play the intro to bring up the band, this was just born out of that. He’s [Ben Nichols] always been incredibly supportive of… anything. Anything that any of us wanna do. I never would’ve thought of doing anything like this without that band of brothers being there and going, “Yes, you should!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2z8pK6lfJjU

Sure, like encouragement.

Oh, more than encouragement.  Total support. Total, “What do you need?” So, it was done almost accidentally in a couple of days. The horns came in [Jim] Spake and Scott [Thompson], and Scott came up with what I think is a brilliant horn arrangement. It was just so good. So, anyway, we just crashed it out, and, ya know, I don’t have any, ya know, lofty goals or anything. It was just something fun to do, that I always wanted to do. It was lovely that somebody wanted to pay to press it out, ‘cause I wouldn’t have been able to do that, necessarily, myself.

Well, I’m glad you did. What roles did Roy Berry, Daniel Lynn, Kevin Houston, and you play in producing it?

Well, I wrote it, all by myself, and I, Roy, and Daniel produced it. Kevin Houston mastered it. Ya know, I find a lot of times, when people are doin’ stuff for themselves, and they don’t have a lot of experience doing things for themselves, that they can lose objectivity very quickly, and I’ve never been one to listen back, over and over, to my parts. I pretty much always tried to play the best, most serviceable part to fit the song structure, and then walk away. I don’t really listen to it over and over again.

So Daniel, who had engineered all the Head Shop stuff and assisted on the Mud soundtrack, along with Roy, just spent hours and hours mixing, and doing all this stuff. I wouldn’t even know how. I can’t really scrutinize myself. It’d be like looking in a theater mirror all the time and seeing every blemish. I just can’t do it.

I would think that would be difficult.

And Roy is the single-most inspiring instrumentalist I have ever worked with in my life. He is absolutely brilliant at a wide amount of things in which I have no skills. The mixing and the meticulousness from Roy—the knowing what to do—and the engineer who knew how to bring about those ideas, was totally them. On that level, they produced it, very much so. These days, though, most musicians produce their own parts. Like, I did mine, Ben did his, and so on.

For the techies out there, tell us about your equipment.

I play a Yamaha, and I play a Nord Electro. With Lucero, it’s very important that I maintain the integrity of the palette, which is the different aural colors that you choose from as a musician. In this case, classic instruments. Like, I would never have a Moog synthesizer or an electric piano, except for “Who You Waiting On?” It’s the only song that has an electric piano on it that I’ve ever played with the band, because it was trying to be a specific kind of thing. From that standpoint, I’m just an old-school pianist and organist kind of a guy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igVCd3T_OwM

What was it like to have the band backing you? Ya know, playing behind you, vs. the other way around?

It was the most honoring thing I could have eve asked for. The fact that Ben likes to do it live sometimes still makes me… Well, it chokes me up, and not because the tune is that way, but just because, you know, Ben as a songwriter and Lucero as a band, is what I’ve been waiting to do my whole life. You don’t ever get to play with people like that. So, from my perspective as a sound guy and a supportive guy’s role, I’ve got the best gig in the world, as far as I’m concerned. It just makes me feel incredibly honored and humbled, do you know what I mean?

Absolutely.

They’ve always been incredible to me. That’s family to me. I’ll probably do another little something at some point, just because it was so fun.

That’d be cool. Well, what is one of your most favorite songs to play of all time, and, I guess since we’re talking about them, what is one of your most favorite Lucero songs to play of all time?

Well, honestly, my most favorite songs I’ve ever gotten to play are, by far, Lucero songs.

Even when you were with Cat Power?

Certainly, if we are talking about the music that appeals to me, from my sensibilities and my background, which, while I’m a bit older—a bit older [laughs]—is still geographically the same set of influences as the rest of the fellows in Lucero. Cat Power was an amazing artist to work with—a very specific niche, and a lot of the work I did with her live, at least, was basically mimicking parts that she had played, in addition to the parts that I had played. In Lucero, I kinda come up with my own parts, ya know, in the songs, within the framework of what fits. With that said, no. There’s no songwriter whose music I’ve enjoyed playing on more.

I got to do this film, A Sideman’s Journey, with Klaus Voorman, the guy that drew The Beatles Revolver album cover and was the bass player on John Lennon records and George Harrison records, so that was a very exciting project to be on. It was, like, “dream come true” stuff, but the songs, still… to me… Ben is the best songwriter going. For what I want out of a rock ‘n’ roll song, for what I’m looking for, for it to reach me, he nails me every time. With that said, there’s lots of things I love playing. I love “I’ll Just Fall.” I think that’s just dreamy. And, gosh, “Last Night In Town” is incredibly fun to play. “Juniper,” off the new album, I adore playing.

Ben had said he loves playing that one too.

Yeah. I think that’s probably… Well, the bigger point is that, with most songwriters’ catalogs, there are tunes that you enjoy playing, and tunes that you don’t. I think that’s true across the board, but I’ve yet to find one with Ben that wasn’t a delight to play, and I’ve yet to find a song that the band did that they aren’t only uniquely capable of doing. Nothing tops it, to me, and I wouldn’t have been afforded to do this if it were not for Lucero and the records that I’ve done, and for people who have found whatever it is I do that they like, weren’t it for Lucero.

You had said Ben writes songs that reach you. What is it that you look for in a song that his songs fill?

Ya know, it’s not so much as something of a criteria. Sun Ra, who are great musicians, said, “If you could describe music with words, you wouldn’t need music.” I believe that’s very true, and I don’t ever go in going, “Gee, I hope there’s a modulation in this song. I sure hope there’s a double chorus and a bridge.” [laughs] It’s not like that. I think there are unique things that Ben brings compositionally to the table that I’m always prepared to be amazed by.

The same is true of everyone’s approach in Lucero. Ya know, you’ve got Brian [Venable], who is such a unique and unusual self-taught guitar player that does he things he doesn’t know he’s doing, and it’s perfect and primal, and the songs wouldn’t sound the same if they were without it. You’ve got Roy, who is incredible. You’ve got John [C. Stubblefield], who knows everything about Memphis Soul combined with his classical music background. The unique things they bring is what makes it that much fun.

Do you look for feeling, or is it all technical?

Oh, no, there has to be feeling! Technical, oh no. I don’t want … Oh, it’s totally emotive, and then you apply any technical skills you have to it. There’s one school of thought, and that’s that you should be incredibly knowledgeable of your craft in every way, but what I think is equally as important, is to look at every song with the wonder of a child, and to approach it from what your heart tells you what it should be, rather than out of a textbook. If there’s anything that I try to do, it’s to address it with that sense of simplicity before technique. With that said, yes, emotion, emotive, the feel of it, make ya tingle. On my EP, one is meant to be bouncy and make you smile, and one’s meant to make you a little bit melancholy, even though it’s done with notes instead of words.

Ya know, sometimes Ben’ll just have me sit and play little songs for him, and I love that.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHaXB2WySoA

I love you two on stage together. You seem to have such a great rapport.

Well, I love him, and that’s part of it. I love everybody on that stage. They’re kin to me, so it’s very easy for that to overflow on stage. We’re very lucky to get to do what we love for a moderate living. If you do what you love, you never really go to work.

It’s refreshing for me to hear an artist and a musician say that emotion matters, because as a writer about music, people sometimes want you to leave that out. They want you to write strictly objectively about something that’s mostly subjective, and that’s impossible.

Well, if you like the music.

True. That is a valid point.

If you don’t like the music… Well, there are critics out there who don’t like the music they write about, and that’s why they do it, and you get a totally different take.

Yeah, and I don’t write about what I don’t like, because there are plenty of people out there already doing that—already providing that service.

Well, I think what makes Ben’s songs what they are, is that he does mean it. He’s not writing about something he’s not intimately familiar with. It’s really a big deal to be able to be poignant and tough. It’s a lyricist’s dream gig, and he’s fortunate that he’s amazing at it. And, if when you watch a session or a show go down, everyone in Lucero is pouring everything they have into it.

Would you ever go out on your own? Tour?

[laughs] No, I don’t think anyone would come to a two-song concert.

[laughs] Well, I meant if you had more music to play.

If I had enough stuff that I felt like, “Hey, come and listen for an hour, and we’ll have fun,” absolutely, I would do that. This EP just sprung out of a really creative time with an amazing family of musicians.

Rick Steff is on a long-overdue and much-needed break right now, but you can see him perform with Lucero again starting in June for their summer tour.

This interview originally published at The Vinyl DistrictYou can purchase his music at Archer Records.

TAMPA/ST. PETE: TO DO: TONIGHT: JOE PUG @ NEW WORLD BREWERY + INTERVIEW

It wasn’t until I became a Contributor here at Ninebullets that I had heard of Joe Pug. (I know, I know. For shame! Better late than never, though, right?) Considering how hard and diligently Pug has worked over the past five years, and the fact that I prefer strong, expressive, earnest song writing styles, it truly is a wonder.

Pug’s music makes my mind wander. His lyrics are just specific enough that I can relate to them, but not so specific that I feel as if I would need to be him in order to understand them. That, to me, is one mark of a good songwriter.

I caught up with Pug for a few minutes during his busy touring schedule to ask him a few questions:

So, Bryan [Childs] booked you for the very first SxSW showcase. Do you remember that?

I do.

That had to be a good time. Got any good stories?

Oh, man, I wish I did, but that was the year I first played SxSW as well, I believe, and that was before we knew how to really do it. We had just done so many events, that, ya know, the Ninebullets event was awesome, but it was sandwiched between so many shit-shows throughout the day, that I was just going around, ya know, like a chicken with my head cut off. It’s all a big blur to me at this point, sadly.

This is your first jaunt into Florida. What took you so long, man? [laughs]

I know. We’ve been all over the country many times. I dunno… The way it happens – the way that music comes to different cities that aren’t New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, because you’re always gonna get bands coming through those places – is by people who are music lovers first and music promoters second. We’ve just never had the offers or opportunities to come through Florida before, and when we finally got it, we jumped on it.

Well, that’s awesome. Welcome.

Thank you.

So I’ve noticed that you get compared to Bob Dylan a lot.

Sure, sure. I mean, I’m a guy that, at the base of what I do – I play acoustic guitar, sing songs that I write, and play harmonica – I mean, I think it’s a valid comparison. I think it’s a pretty uninteresting comparison, but a valid one, nonetheless.

Who are your influences?

I have always been profoundly affected by all of the iconic lyric and singer-songwriters, like John Hiatt, John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Neko Case, all those people. I’m informed by all of their work. I’ve always looked to them, musically.

Who are you listening to these days? Anyone new?

Yeah, there’s a band from Los Angeles called Lord Huron, and their latest album, Lonesome Dream, is very emotionally affecting.

What is your writing process like?

Well, I write when I’m off the road. I tend to collect ideas when I’m on the road, and then, when I get home, I have time to process them, and that’s when I put them into form. It’s pretty matter of fact. I just wake up in the morning, have some breakfast, wait for a couple hours, then read and play guitar for a little bit. Then, in the afternoon, I will do a demo of anything I deemed worthy of doing that with.

It sounds like you’re pretty disciplined.

Well, uh, [laughs a little], there’s always room for improvement, but, yeah, I’m as disciplined as I can be right now.

I admire that. As a writer, too, I find it hard to stay focused if I am not in the mood to write. I will find any excuse not to do it.

Yeah, sure, that’s always the writer’s dilemma.

You have a very DIY, “find a way”-type ethos and attitude that I respect. Was that something instilled in you, or is it utilitarian in origin…?

When I first started playing and put out my first album, we did the rounds, and we talked to a bunch of different labels and publishing companies and stuff like that, and none of it ever jived with how I wanted business to be done. I also wanted to work for myself. I didn’t wanna work for somebody else. I spent my whole life up until then working for somebody else, and I just didn’t want to do that anymore. It just came down to that. I wanted there to be as few barriers between myself, the person who creates the music, and, ya know, the people who listen to it and are affected by it or anything like that.

 I like that. Well, last but certainly not least, what’s next for you?

Comin’ to Florida! [laughs] And this particular tour will go through May.

Thanks to Ninebullets and Thx Mgmt, Joe Pug is finally (yay!) performing TONIGHT with Matt Burke (of Have Gun Will Travel) and Lauris Vidal at New World Brewery in Tampa, FL . You can listen to and buy his music here, and, well, you heard the man: he’s touring through May. GO SEE HIM.

Joe Pug – Speak Plainly Diana
Joe Pug – Not So Sure
Joe Pug – Neither Do I Need A Witness
Joe Pug – Hymn #76