Well what do you know. Another week….another piece on a band from Ohio. There really must be something in the water up there. If I feature many more Ohio bands on here I think I’m gonna have to give Ohio it’s own category in wordpress.
Hailing from Columbus, The Wells are Robert Loss (vocals), Andy Gard (bass, vocals), Billy Heingartner (drums, vocals), Nick Mancini (guitar) and Lori Parsley (vocals). Formed as a trio in 2003, they produced the EP New Valley Death Blues in 2004, which was described by their local paper as “rustic Appalachian folk music and drawling country twang with a churning rock sensibility underneath.” In December of 2004 the trio began the recording sessions that would make up their sophomore effort, The Outcasts Will Make a Strong Nation.With Outcasts they seem to have turned down the Appalachian that was in the debut and turned up the rock. Now it would be best to revise their sound description to a loose rock and roll outfit with churning rock sensibility and a drawling country twang just under the surface stealing moments in the forefront when it can. Sheesh, that’s a mouthful. The songs on Outcasts are very well crafted both from a musical and lyrical standpoint. The principle songwriter in the band has an MFA in creative writing and puts it to excellent use in the 11 five minute segments that make up Outcasts and the soundtrack for these stories is equally well-crafted.
What really makes this album stand out is the characters in the songs. As it is noted in their one sheet; “they are shysters, little Huck Finns, farm maidens, murderers, sons and fathers, the dearly departed, drug dealers, spiritually confused, morally troubled, runners, stayers, lovers and thieves. Most of all, they are survivors.” See for yourself, all of the lyrics are published on the bands web site (always a god sign, IMO). Check out the samples here and pick the cd up for yourself. Personally, I am about to place an order for their debut cd.
The other night Robert Loss was kind enough to answer some questions for this piece. Personally I think this is the best interview I’ve put on the site to date, I hope you take the time to read it. It really proves that it is as mostly interviewee than interviewer that makes for a good piece:
9b.net: What is the meaning of the title of The Outcasts?
Robert: Its from the Old Testament, Book of Micah. Im not particularly wed to one religion, but I was sent to Sunday school, read the Bible. I remember first hearing that phrase at a non-denominational service for AIDS awareness week when I was about 20 and it stuck with me. The phrase can be interpreted various ways; Im looking at it from the most humanistic point of view, I think: theres always hope, and a dignity in surviving and persisting, and you find solace among the other outcasts. (At least thats how it was for me in high school .) Once we were putting together the record, it seemed like all the characters in the songs were, in one way or another, outcasts from their families, lovers, communities, or themselves. Thats when I wrote I Had a Dream, Jesse, which is probably closest to being a title track. I was trying to write a song to the title of the record, which we hadnt even agreed on yet as a band, and it came out differently.
9b.net: I saw you had mentioned in a myspace blog entry that you have begun writing songs for the next cd. How is that progressing?
Robert: Im always writing songs and were always working on them. By the time the record came out, we had maybe 7-8 other songs we were doing. Since then weve been focusing on learning more. Were planning to record two of them for a summertime single two that are a little different and probably wont fit on the next record. We dont have a strong idea of what the next record will be like, but were starting to make sense of all the chatter and static. Imagine a radio you cant quite tune in, but the signals getting stronger. Were going to keep taking chances. You cant keep doing the same thing, even if not many people know what youre doing.
9b.net: Your songs do a wonderful job of storytelling. Where does the inspiration for the characters such as Vera Lynn come from?
Robert: Very kind of you, thanks. Im still trying to figure out where Vera Lynn came from, especially since Id never heard of the torch singer of the same name. But I must have, maybe when I was a kid, my grandmother played her or something. All of this debris floats around in my head maybe its the same for everyone and sometimes it all floats together, like the junk that collects on the edge of a pier. I gravitate toward stories, always have tried to understand the world from a narrative point of view. A song like Knockdown Dragout is really about the gaps in the story, where someone knows, but theyre not telling. That interests me. The storytellings connected to the folk influence, too. And its just what other people say, too, a mix of other tunes, especially older ones, what you overhear, the news, all that. I Shot Tom Joad obviously connects to a novel, two songs, and some of our current political leaders; Red Shirt Era sort of came from Graham Greenes The Power and the Glory. And sometimes I have just a fragment of a lyric the first two lines of Knockdown Dragout are a good example and I have to figure out whos talking and why.
9b.net: Any thoughts of ever bringing your show to the sunshine state?
Robert: Seeing as how its snowing here in Ohio as I write this, hell yes. Were trying to get more out of town shows lined up. Its tough. Any band who does it knows how hard it is. I did it very briefly as a solo act, sometimes with a friend of all of ours, Eric Nassau; that man tours a few months of the year on his own right now. You need courage, stamina, and low monetary expectations. Of the five of us in the band, two are freelancers, one works full-time 9 to 5, and two are involved in universities. So its a time thing, too. But to take your songs across the country its the American Dream, isnt it? So yeah, we want to come to Florida. Well happily play debutante balls, retirement homes, Epcot.
9b.net: Top 5 albums currently rocking your iPod/CD player?
Robert: In no particular order:
Abbatoir Blues Tour Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (Its the double disc that comes with the new live DVD. The studio records are great; I think theyre what hes been after these past couple years, that lean, almost elegant but still dirty sound.)
Jubilation! Great Gospel Performances, vol. 1
Secret South Sixteen Horsepower (One that slipped past me earlier on. That man has an ungodly voice.)
Boys & Girls in America The Hold Steady
And Show Me What You Got by Jay-Z, Dylans Theme Time Radio Hours, Modern Times. Tom Waits Orphans (saw him live in Akron it was stunning). Hobos Cookbook by Appalachian Death Ride, a great band from Athens, OH area.
9b.net: A lot of places describe The Wells as alt.country. How do you feel about wearing the alt.country label? Any fear of it pigeon holing you guys?
Robert: Like any label, its got limitations and benefits. It gets you in the ballpark, and most people who would be at all interested in alt.country already are looking for some different use of the country/folk thing. Anymore I dont even know what the term means. The most recent Neko Case record reminds me of Joni Mitchell, except her voice. But thats supposed to be alt.country? With the best bands, you can hear the label, but the songs transcend it. We just plow forward, you know, hands at ten and two, and try to do something different. But I laugh when I hear claims like Alt.country or Americana or whatever is dead. Bullshit. The people who say that arent listening, or they have too narrow an idea of what those words mean. That underbelly of folk and country and blues and the marriage of those to electricity, and other forms of music none of that is going away. Maybe that neatly packaged idea is dead, but it was never really that simple to begin with.