For those of you that don’t know, JKutchma‘s new record, Blue Highways, is one 40 minute long track encompassing nine songs. It also cuts off abruptly at the end, in the middle of a chorus. All of this is by design, as you would expect from a canny veteran like Kutchma. I got the chance to talk to him about the record last week here in New Orleans, and immediately relayed the conversation to the Ninebullets writing staff before the Miller High Life washed it all away. With Jason’s permission, here’s the method behind the madness of Blue Highways:
First off, the length. The 40 minute run time of the record is designed to evoke the 40 minutes surrounding a sunrise or sunset, from the time the sky begins to change until it regains its uniformity. Much like myself, it seems, Kutchma endeavors to begin road trips before everything is fixed in place. Even if the actual rising or setting only takes 3 minutes, the change from day to night takes much longer, and that kind of transformation is what he wanted to capture.
Then there’s the single track nature of the album. Releasing the record as a single track is something Kutchma had been wrestling with since its conception. When he was debating whether or not to release the record in two versions (one 40 minutes long and one track, one divided into tracks), he heard a conversation on a music podcast he respects a lot. They were talking about an artist they’d seen at SXSW: this artist (Le Butcherettes) was so hard to find now, that to buy a record you couldn’t go to iTunes or Amazon…you had to actually go to their website. That was when Kutchma decided, in his own words, “Fuck everyone in the universe. I’m doing what I want.” If people think going to a website is so difficult, if they need art handed to them on a silver platter, they don’t deserve it.
Later, a blog asked him for individual tracks to promote the album. He weighed the idea of releasing singles, and asked his wife Beth (seen at the Holiday Hangout playing bass for Red Collar in pearls) about it. She told him, “If you want to do that just because it’s what’s done, then it’s not your artistic vision. You’re only doing it because it’s what people want, and that’s not who you are.” That sound advice settled the matter for him. If you like a song on this record, but don’t like it enough to open up garage band or audacity and select and save the track as a new mp3 yourself…you probably don’t like it as much as you think you do.
And that is the summation I can give you of my conversation with the indescribably cool JKutchma and his stellar wife Beth.
Ninebullets has a review of Blue Highways coming down the pipeline, but in the meantime you can pick it up in digital form from his Bandcamp, or nab a fancy version of the release from the Last Chance Records Store.
This year’s celebration of Last Chance Records head honcho Travis Hill’s birthday, like every year, was also a celebration of life in general. The pins given out in the VIP package summed up the 2014 that so many of us had: ‘Hard Work And Plenty Of It’. I’m sure by now most of you who read this site have been inundated with Holiday Hangout 2014 tweets, photographs, or drunken text messages, and now that the event is over may be breathing a sigh of relief. But not so fast; I still have a few things to say.
The Holiday Hangout is much more than a simple concert, or mere festival: it’s a rock and roll family reunion. This year four 9bullets writers (Charles, RSV, Scott, and myself) gathered with dozens of our closest friends and sang our hearts out to our favorite bands. Those are the things you may have picked of from the never-ending Instagram updates from Little Rock that got less frequent and blurrier as the night, and weekend, went on. I want to tell you about a few things you may not have been able to perceive from over the internet. There may be some friends I made or artists who played that I don’t mention, and for that I apologize. I think every Holiday Hangout might require a novella (and spare liver) to cover adequately, but I have the time and space I have. What follows are the key moments, observations, and musings from my White Water Tavern nights this December:
Austin Lucas – Just as this year has been hard for some of us, it sounds like it’s been a hard year for the smooth-voiced Lucas as well. For his set (backed by his band The Bold Party), Austin pulled out all the stops to deliver a powerful rock and roll performance. He also played songs from his new record, which I’m already unbelievably excited for. Those songs have a distinctly more country feel than Stay Reckless, but their true defining quality is the incredible songwriting. Austin has always been a storyteller, but what was on display here was an attitude and clear-eyed determination pouring through his lyrics that I haven’t seen from him before. He also joined in with Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires for their barn-burner “Dirt Track”, and watching the passion with which he sang “Keep on working, keep it on the dirt track” was inspiring. Now is the time to pay attention to Austin Lucas.
John Moreland – Yes, yes, you know. John was amazing, and his new songs hit you in all the places you thought In The Throes had already thoroughly covered. It’s like Robin Hood hitting the bullseye with another arrow. The general consensus is that John’s mainsteam success is a matter of when, not if, and I for one am glad of it. John Moreland’s music comes straight, no chaser, and the rest of the world could use plenty of it.
Magic Mike – Some of you may be wondering who the magician hanging out with bands all the time is, and why he’s there. Go see his show and you’ll see. Mike loves these bands as much as any of us (he got Red Collar their first gig at the White Water years ago), and he knows how to show a crowd a good time. He also threw a knife at me. It was a good weekend.
Jkutchma and Red Collar – I was ill-prepared for seeing Red Collar. Last year JKutchma had to play two solo sets, an ice storm preventing the rest of the band from making the Hangout. I’d listened to Red Collar’s albums and liked their music, but wasn’t a new convert. This performance may have changed that. Red Collar is a powerful band, full of explosive energy and straight-to-the-point lyrics. Their fans, unconditionally devoted, were unbelievably excited to see the band and it showed in the messy, sweaty, almost conversational relationship between those on the stage and those in front of it. I spent the entirety of their set wanting to get to know the band’s music better so that I could take part in that relationship. JKutchma also played solo, and I can tell you this about his new songs: you want to hear them.
Two Cow Garage – This is the band that will not quit. Micah Schnabel and Shane Sweeney keep turning out new songs that are as catchy as they are visceral, lyrically potent, emotionally charged. When you see them on stage you cannot doubt that they mean every word they say. The musicianship and energy of their drummer, David Murphy, have propelled them to a new sonic plane (which I think is a D&D thing, actually). You would hardly recognize some of their older songs the way they play them now, and all the change is for the better. Micah and Shane both played new songs during their solo sets, and demonstrated the range of their songwriting. Two Cow Garage is not a peanut butter/chocolate situation, folks: these are two men who have been writing songs for years, managing to grow both on their own and together as a band. It’s a wonder to behold. And speaking of peanut butter, for their full band set they were joined on guitar by 9bullets reader favorite Todd Farrell, and speaking of Todd Farrell…
Todd Farrell – It’s hard when your friends make music. First off, what if it isn’t good? Second off, what if you think it’s good but that’s just because you’re friends and the rest of the world hates it and your friend has to become an insurance salesman? Well after the Holiday Hangout I can safely say neither of those cases are true for our friend Todd Farrell. In addition to playing guitar for Two Cow, Todd also played solo at the Arkansas Record Exchange In-Store show (trading his guitar off with Austin Lucas), and one song on Sunday at the demand of Micah Schnabel. The response that Todd received, not just from the crowd but from his fellow musicians, was incredibly heartening. You could see the bonds forming, the songwriters nodding to each other over a clever turn of phrase, laughter and applause mid-song from a crowd on the edges of their proverbial seats because they were seeing something new. The first night of the Hangout, Todd was walking up the stairs at the White Water as Otis Gibbs, grey-bearded bastion of folk, was walking down them. They stopped at the landing and spoke with each other for a few minutes, I have no idea about what. But then they shook hands and they headed their separate ways. That moment felt important to witness.
So there you have it, my take on this year’s Holiday Hangout. Thanks to everyone at the White Water who made it happen, everyone who played, everyone who went and sang and shouted and danced and swore and shook. All we have to do to get to the next one is make it through another year.
Here’s a video of Micah Schnabel, Brent Best, David Murphy, Todd Farrell, Joey Kneiser, Ben Nichols, John Moreland, Travis Hill, and Shane Sweeney playing “Like A Rolling Stone”. If you have to skip past the first three minutes of laughter and terrible jokes because Shane forgot to plug his guitar in, that’s what you have to do. But I don’t recommend it.
There are some artists that are just better acoustic, all by themselves, and you see this in the difference in their live shows and their albums. Now don’t get me wrong these guys are usually fucking amazing either way but the stripped down versions are more my taste. It’s pretty rare that you actually get to compare studio recordings and that’s just what Jason Kutchma has given us with Sundown, USA. He recorded this one with the Five Fifths and then went and did a solo version. Both are great because the real strength is in the songwriting but I prefer the solo version. This isn’t a slight against the full band, after all, Pastorals was a Goddamn religious experience and still in heavy rotation for me. This one just feels like it was meant to be what the solo version ended up being. Now had I only ever heard the Five Fifths version I would be damn glad I had it to put in my ears and I’d still be writing about it so don’t go thinking you don’t need both in your collection, because you do. (On his website the solo album is titled At The End Of Every Day I Make A Sunset while on Last Chance’s store it’s listed as Sundown, USA (Solo Version))
I guess the difference is that the tone of the solo album is more somber and the music feels like there’s a little less hope than on the Five Fifths version. Jason Jutchma appears to be a pretty easy going guy if you’ve caught him live or watched him on YouTube and maybe that’s because he exorcises his demons through his music and songwriting. It’s a bit of a puzzle seeing him smile while singing lines like:
I scratched and crawled I cried and bawled
I was shamed cause I believed
That somehow this, the way it is, ain’t how it’s supposed to be
How I love every one of my poor failed dreams
makes it seem like he’s pretty sure there’s something beyond the sadness he’s writing. And that’s the trick here, even on the darkest tracks there’s never really a sense of giving up or giving in. There’s always some hope in there and I get the feeling that Jason really believes it’s all gonna work out somehow. This theme ithe s there on Sundown, USA, it was there on Pastorals, and even on Red Collar’s Welcome Home. I think that’s what draws me to his work and won’t let me get the songs out of my head. For an album full of what amounts to sad songs I can’t help but feel better after having listened to it. I just can’t help it!
Some light downtown burning bright
And some dumb kid looks up to the sky
He says nothing’s gonna stand in my way
I was that kid and I still am some days. That’s part of why it’s a damn shame we haven’t talked more about Jason on here. Aside from thinking I can’t think of a single person I know that couldn’t relate to at least a couple of songs on any given album, his songwriting is damn good and the music is right at home with our usual themes. I’d say that every record I’ve mentioned here is Essential Listening. Which version of Sundown, USA ends up in heavy rotation for you is going to depend either on your taste or your mood just like it does for me but both ought to be in your collection. You listen and decide with version you like better…