Interviews

Apr 092014
 

John Moreland Loaded

If you don’t know who John Moreland is, it’s safe to stay you stumbled onto this site trying to find small amounts of ammunition for sale. Hello, friend! Put aside your worldly troubles and let’s talk about songs.

I saw John Moreland for the first time this past weekend, and matched my expectations. There was a magnitude 5.1 earthquake in Los Angeles while he played “Break My Heart Sweetly” and I didn’t notice. I think that sums everything up.

John was kind enough to take a few minutes and answer some questions outside the bar before his second show on a Saturday night. Here are the questions I asked him and the answers he gave.

9B: How do you feel about the expectation of access to the musicians that fans in our genre of music have? The hanging out before and after shows, the buying shots? 

JM: Usually it’s fine. I’m down to hang out with people, it’s all good stuff. Maybe a couple times it’s been sort of weird, because I’m kind of a quiet dude naturally. I think there have been times when people have thought I was an asshole when I didn’t mean to be, but I just wasn’t as talkative as they would like me to be. Usually it’s okay. Sometimes on tour, you don’t always want to hang out…but most of the time it’s fine. People don’t usually buy me as many shots as they buy Ben Nichols, so that hasn’t been a problem.

9B: A lot of your songs have religious themes or references, but you don’t strike me as a very religious person. Where does that come from?

JM: I grew up religious, in a religious family, so I think it’s just a language that’s natural to me. It’s stuck with me, even though I’m not really in that world any more. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I feel about that stuff now that I’m not an impressionable kid anymore.

9B: Do you ever do research into these stories? Some of your references, like to David and Uriah in “Cataclysm Blues No. 4″, are very specific.

JM: I had to do a lot of research on that one, because I vaguely remembered the characters but didn’t remember what happened. Actually, that one came from Ryan Johnson from American Aquarium. He had an idea to write a whole song based on David and Uriah from Uriah’s point of view. I was going to help him write that song…and then I kind of just stole the idea and used it in my song instead. He had to bring me up to speed on that one. I sort of vaguely remember my bible stories. I used to always be embarrassed in Sunday school because I was like the Sunday school slacker who wasn’t up on all the stories and stuff…but that’s been enough to drop some references in songs and get away with it.

9B: A lot of your songs on In The Throes are love songs…do those come from situations or emotions that are still present in your life?

JM: They’re recurring. It’s stuff that’s always going to come back up. I wrote that stuff, and some of it was written, and I thought that it was over…and I find myself back in the middle of it, maybe with a different person.

9B: Do you keep the same set list for every show? 

JM: Usually I’ve been playing ten or twelve songs. Last night I think I played around twenty, so I just played In The Throes as the first set and about half new songs and half old songs for the second set. I don’t have an exact setlist, but I have a general one in my head. It’s kind of broken into thirds. Certain songs go in the first third, or the middle, or the end. “3:59 AM” I’ve been playing last, I feel like it would be weird to play it third or something. Stuff gets moved around within its section, and certain songs come and go depending on what I feel like doing that night.

9B: Yeah, you played “Smoke and Cigarettes” last night, which was great to hear.

JM: I hadn’t played that one in a while until last night. Brought it back out to kill time, but I kinda dug it. I might start working that one back in.

9B: Talk to me about your ‘No Heroes’ tattoo.

JM: Well, it’s the title of a Converge album that I really like. There are people that I admire, of course, but it’s a reminder to be realistic with that stuff. I go through times where I kind of get caught up with hero worship bullshit. It’s not healthy, and it’s sort of demeaning to yourself. You forget that the people you’re putting on these pedestals are just like you, and you can do whatever you want to do.

9B: Have you played any shows recently with bands that took you by surprise?

JM: The first time I saw Adam Faucett, I’d never heard him before. I’d heard people talking about him, I knew he was from Arkansas. I saw him open for Ben [Nichols], and I ended up playing a couple songs that show even though I wasn’t on the bill. That fucking blew me away. I’ve been addicted to his records ever since. I played with Mark Utley in Cincinatti, he was really great. He had a line that said, “I started smoking again so I could spend more time with you.” I thought that was badass. I remember that. A couple weeks ago in Salt Lake City I played a show with this dude named Sammy Brue. He’s twelve, and he can play finger-style guitar better than me. He’s already really good, it’s just gonna be ridiculous to see how good he is in a few years. That’s all I’ve got off the top of my head.

9b: What have you been listening to on the road?

JM: This tour I’ve been listening to a lot of my friends. A lot of Adam Faucett’s new record, and Lilly Hiatt’s records. Aaron Lee Tasjan, his new EP that just came out…his old band, the Madison Square Gardeners? I’ve known him for a while, but I didn’t know that band until a few weeks ago at South By. I was staying with Chris Porter and Bonnie Whitmore and they showed me that stuff, I was just like, “Holy shit!” I’ve been listening to a lot of Madison Square Gardeners, and George Strait. Driving around Hollywood with the windows down blastic George Strait. That’s probably about it.

9b: What have you been reading on the road?

JM: I just read Willy Vlautin’s new book, called ‘The Free’. I heard about it, but I didn’t remember I heard about it; there’s a Drive-By Truckers song about one of the characters. Somebody in Alabama recommended I check him out. He’s from Portland, he’s in a band called Richmond Fontaine, and when I was going to Portland the other day it crossed my mind. I found it at the fanciest Barnes and Noble I’ve ever been to. So I read that last week, and it was great. Now I’m trying to find more of his books but they’re all out of stock at all the bookstores I can google, so I’m probably just gonna order them when I get home.

Check out John’s website for tour dates, merch, on facebook, and on twitter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5hbl20-gzI

Apr 072014
 
chadrexface
 
Overview is a series of reviews of short, done bodies of work that are probably out of print–complete discographies that are over. Some people say I should call this an oeuvre-view, some people don’t care about french puns, but everybody should spend an hour trying to track down these albums because they’re worth it. I mean, I found them somewhere and I’m better off now.
 
It makes sense to introduce Chad Rex’s story as an ancillary to Drag the River’s–he and Jon Snodgrass have been playing music together since middle school, Rex (known to some as Little Chad to distinguish him from Chad Price) played bass on the original Drag the River sessions. Likewise, the two records we’re talking about here were released by Jon’s label Mars Motors. But to limit the two albums Chad Rex made with his own band, the Victorstands, to that kind of discussion would be a major underestimation of two of the best Midwestern rock records I’ve ever heard.
 
Songs to Fix Angels came out in 2001, the same year as Pneumonia, Love and Theft, and Time (The Revelator). Gravity Works Fire Burns followed in 2006, coinciding with It’s Crazy. and Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers. These albums belong in those sentences. Part of what sets them apart from other country-rock albums we talk about here–and from Rex’s well-served influences Jay Farrar, The Replacements, Steve Earle–is the choice of flourishes. The Victorstands don’t call upon a pedal steel to ground their songs, they’re more likely to spray some piano flurries throughout; honing a similar groove as “Don’t Go Back to Rockville”-type R.E.M. stuff. Again, to limit this band to their influences is a short-sell. The “country & midwestern” template is there but it’s also wide open. Chad’s songs feel like they can go anywhere–like they might throttle the familiar at any moment–or connect two disparate wires and jumpstart the thing–and they do–they follow those esoteric flourishes–pursuing Husker Du or Big Star or Uncle Tupelo with the same veracity–in terms of power trio rigor and songwriting transcendence. 
 
Back to the Breakdown
 
Rex is playing bass with Drag the River as they tour behind their new self-titled LP. He and Jon were kind enough to talk about these releases with me when they came through Boston with Cory Branan in December. I got to the bar after DTR’s soundcheck–Neil Young’s On the Beach album was playing. “This is such a good album,” I said to Cory as  I waited for Chad to finish putting his gear away. “Neil’s the man,” he said. “No,” I said, “this album specifically is the best.” Then he told me about the good time they’d all had in New York the night before and how he’d gotten sick on the bus. I felt like I should’ve asked to get on the guest list; they guy at the door didn’t let me in before paying even though it was an hour before doors even opened. 
 
Chad: I kinda mumble.
 
9B: Yeah me too. I just wanted to talk about the two Victorstands albums and a little about you and Jon’s relationship. You’ve known each other a long time, right?
 
Chad: We were in sixth grade, so ’84,’85. We were both raised in St. Joseph, Missouri.

9B: Did you get along right away?

Chad: I don’t know if we got along right away. I met him just hanging around in the neighborhood because he was in a different sixth grade class than me. We were friends through middle school and toward the end of eighth grade we became better friends then we were inseparable through high school.

9B: Is that when you started in bands together?

Chad: I played music–I started playing drums when I was five, guitar when i was eight. Jon didn’t play anything until he was fourteen, fifteen. I talked his dad into buying him a drum set because we needed a drummer. Our friend Steve played bass and I played guitar.

9B: What was the name of that band?

Chad: The Screaming Fetuses. That Steve was Steve Garcia, the first bass player for Armchair Martian.

9B: A lot of people had gone from Missouri to Colorado then? Was ALL in Missouri while y’all were there?

Chad: ALL was in Brookfield, which was about an hour and half east of St. Joseph, around Kansas City. And I think Jon and I were in Kansas City at that time, we were just out of high school and moved from St. Joe to Kansas City when ALL came to Brookfield.

9B: Was Chad [Price] with them then?

Chad: No, Chad hooked up with them in Kansas City. I didn’t know Chad then.

9B: Ok, we’ll hook back up with that later. What kind of music did Screaming Fetuses play?

Chad: I don’t know, it wasn’t really punk, maybe just juvenile rock. The attitude was punk–a song called “I found my moms head in the toilet,” asinine stuff, fourteen year-old kid stuff.

9B: Were you all writing in that band?

Chad: Yeah. We wouldn’t even write lyrics, it was just off the cuff and ridiculous.

9B: What bands were you guys listening to?

Chad: Husker Du a lot. All the SST bands. Dino Jr. Sonic Youth. Jon was really into Sonic Youth. I love them now, but I wasn’t into them as much at the time. The Minutemen. The stuff we’d find at Music Land, the local record store. Pixies. The Cure. The Replacements.

Song for Paul Westerberg to Sing

9B: How easy was it to find that music at the time? Was it the kind of stuff kids at high school would talk about?

Chad: Yeah some of it. The Dead Milkmen, stuff like that. We had two record stores in St. Joseph. Record Warehouse–classic rock and pop music. And Music Land was in the mall–similar to Sam Goody–and you could order from them anything you wanted. So you’d look through their catalogue and if you knew what you were looking for, they’d have it for you the next week.

There was a radio station in the college town of Marionville Missouri that we got in St. Joe and a show called Static & Stereo–that’s pretty much where everyone heard that stuff for the first time. When Sister by Sonic Youth came out, they played that one front to back. College rock. Husker Du. Smithereens. Some people had older brothers who knew about music. A friend of my brother’s, Michael Buck, had a great record collection, and he would turn my brother onto things and my brother would pass it on to me. Everybody bought cassettes back then and we’d burn them for each other. You’d always look for something no one else had and then you’d be the cool guy. Something outrageous like the Butthole Surfers.

[At this point Whiskey Gentry starts to soundcheck. We grab our coats and continue conversation in sub-freezing temps. Fuck Boston. Thanks for sticking it out, Chad.]

9B: What’s there to do in St. Joseph? Jesse James got killed there, right?

Chad: Well, that’s up for… it was probably on the outside of city limits, but they moved the house into town. It’s where the Pony Express started and they’re proud of that, but the telegraph came pretty immediately after the Pony Express was founded and made mail-by-horse pretty useless.

9B: Is it pretty much a suburban kind of place?

Chad: It’s not super small, 80,000 people, 4 high schools, large enough where everyone doesn’t know each other. Segregated parts. Affluent parts. It’s on the Missouri River so they built it from the river out and all the newer nicer parts are away from the river. I still have a lot of friends there and I live in Kansas City now. My parents still live in St. Joe. It’s a conservative Midwestern city.

9B: Did you go into Kansas City or St. Louis a lot growing up?

Chad: Kansas City all the time. St. Louis was farther away. But as soon as Jon got his license we were in Kansas City all the time.

9B: Better shows?

Chad: Better record stores. Where we wouldn’t have to order them. That was a big deal. It was nice to sneak off.

9B: After high school what did you guys do? Did you want to go to college? Keep bands going?

Chad: We didn’t want to go to college, actually, and neither of us did. Jon and I lived in Kansas City for a year and then he moved to Fort Collins. I stayed in Kansas City about 3 or 4 years and then I moved to Fort Collins in ’95 to play bass for Armchair Martian. During those years in Kansas City, I played bass in my brother’s band called Go-Kart when I was 19. I had my own band called Odd Face with friends of mine and we played for a couple years. That was three-piece Husker Du stuff that I wrote lyrics for. I did a lot of solo stuff, I’ve always done that.

9B: Are there any Odd Face records?

Chad: Nope. There’s an infamous 4-track record that floats around and people like it. I recently found a copy of it and I think it’s just awful. I thought I’d look back on it more fondly, but it was just.. .there must be some redeeming quality about it, people love it. I couldn’t sing, some of the writing’s alright. It sounds like a demo recorded in a basement. Our bass player had a fretless bass, our drummer was into Neil Pert. Nothing kinda fit. But the songs were alright. There’s a couple songs I still play acoustic every once in a while.

9B: Did you like playing bass better or would you do whatever your band needed?

Chad: For Armchair, Jon called and said Steve Garcia was leaving. I had my band but we were just playing locally and not really getting anywhere. The scene in Kansas City at that time–we were the only band that sounded like that. It was an early-mid 90′s…

9B: Bottle Rockets were sort-of nearby?

Chad: Bottle Rockets had been around, yeah, but there wasn’t a country rock scene there. Son Volt was what changed all that for everybody. Uncle Tupelo was there, but not many people were influenced. Kansas City was more of a heavy rock and Jesus Lizard type rock. And we sounded like Husker Du. So it didn’t really fit.

So I moved up to Fort Collins to play with Jon and we did 2 or three tours and that’s right around the time the first Armchair Record came out. I didn’t play on the first record, but I played on Monsters Always Scream which we made at that time.

Then I moved back to Kansas City. Not sure why. I don’t remember. I think I was just homesick.

Edgar Bergan’s Ghost

9B: Is it colder in Colorado than Kansas City or is it the same Midwestern cold?

Chad: It’s colder in Fort Collins. People pretend it’s not, say it’s a “drier” cold or something.

But we had lost our house in Fort Collins. And nobody had a place to live. I was sleeping on couches. I would sleep in The Blasting Room, on the couch in the reception area. It wasn’t pleasant for anyone. Descendents were on tour, so Steve and Bill weren’t there.

9B: Did you ever record anything overnight?

Chad: No. We did the first Drag the River record there, though, just engineering it mostly on our own. So we would go over there after being at the bar somewhere in Fort Collins and Jason Livermore would set everything up for us so that whenever we came in all we had to do was press record and press stop. That’s as recording savvy as I am in a big recording studio. That was Hobos Demos stuff, that was fun.

9B: Husker Du is a hard band to get a hold of–because everybody says that they like them or whatever but there aren’t a lot of bands that actually have anything going for them that sounds anything like what Husker Du had. A lot of lip service. I think Jon has always been good at somehow getting some of that hard-to-redo sound in there and I hear a lot of it in the Victorstands stuff too.

songstofixangles

Chad: Definitely that guitar tone. I learned how to play chords from listening to Bob Mould. The ringing, the G with the drone, the high-note drone. And any time I tried to veer from that, either from just being bored or being tired of comparisons, it just not the same–it just seems like that’s the way I play. Sometime I sit down and try to write a folk song in C Major and use all the bar chords and I end up just going back to the usual chord changes. Armchair definitely more than what I’ve done. But the first Victorstands record too. I had to cover a lot of ground on guitar in that band, a lot like Jon in Armchair. So I tried to make us into a four piece with two guitars so that in the live show I could play a singer-songwriter role on acoustic guitar with the full band behind me. But it was hard to pull off, so we cut it back to three. We are actually a four-piece again at the moment–but with a keyboard player instead of a second guitarist.

Build a Rocket

9B: Is it the same group of guys?

Chad: Jason is still playing bass. But we rarely play. We went a long time without playing any shows at all. In the last two or three years we’ve played two or three shows, though. We did a Replacements tribute show in Kansas City.

9B: What songs did you guys do?

Chad: Valentine, Aching to Be, Kids Don’t Follow, Skyway, and one more, I think. We were invited to that and then we played the night before my wedding about a year and a half ago. We’re playing January in Kansas City. People keep asking us to play.

9B: What goes into your decision to do a show if you’re not such an active band? What makes you say yes or seek out something?

Chad: Everyone has different projects and families. I had to talk myself into the fact that the Victorstands would just have to be a hobby, where we would be able to practice and play a good show in town or open up for somebody good, play with good bands, have it be fun. No one really wants to go on tour. I still have other ideas, that I would put another band together. I’m writing stuff all the time and I’m writing right now. If I do make another Victorstands record i should probably do it soon. Maybe I’ll do one more with them and then do solo stuff. The second Victorstands record was basically just me playing drums, bass, and guitars. People came in and helped. Those sessions were all done in my friend Garret’s house. He’d set up a home studio and we were testing it out. We spent 9 months on it, working on the weekends and testing all the machines. It was a great learning experience and I wasn’t charged to make a record. There was no way I could’ve made that record in a recording studio. I would’ve had to have done it in a week or two. And we spent a lot of time on it. All done in Pro-Tools. I think it came out sounding really well because we went to Austin Texas and had it mixed by Eldrige Goings. He did an amazing job, made it sound 10,000 times better. It’s a really dry record. We tried not to overuse the effects plug-ins and stuff.

Blind the Moon

9B: Both those records came out on Mars Motors? Jon’s label?

Chad: Yeah, Jon and Eric Flash. I talked to Flash a little about doing a download-only record–because I can record stuff at home and send it to him. It’s easier for me not to think about record labels, though. I’d love to have a hard copy, but we’ll see.

gravityworksfireburns

9B: Ok, so you’re moving back to Kansas City and how long until the Victorstands came together?

Chad: I had it put together before I even got back. I called Jason and Matt, who was the first drummer, and… No, wait I’m completely lying. They called me because they needed a guitar player. They were playing under the name Drag the River.

9B: Really?

Chad: Yes, because Jason is Chad Price’s good friend, they used to play together. So I think the name was up in the air. Jason found the name from another band named Drag the River. Jason saw the name somewhere. So in a weird way Drag the River is actually named after another band. So I went and played for them with Jason singing and playing guitar, then we switched it around. I played guitar and he played bass. I had songs from over the years. We played for a couple years, put out the first record. In the meantime, my brother came in to play drums. So there’s actually two drummers on the first record. Matt on the softer stuff and my brother on the heavier songs. My brother’s still the drummer, Jason’s still on bass.

9B: You seem to still be writing all the time–what goes into your decision to record stuff or not? Since you moved back to Kansas City, what’s been the relationship between music and the rest of your life?

Chad: I do have a full time job in the kitchen at a bar & grill and the only reason I’m out with Drag the River now is that I have enough good will that when I told them I was going to go out on four or five tours that they didn’t fire me, which is good because I would’ve left no matter what. I wanted to come out again and they needed somebody on bass. Otherwise I have a very loose schedule. I spent some years not recording, just writing. Now I record stuff at home. I just got married, concentrating on that. I haven’t drank for a year and a half.

9B: Was that getting in the way?

Chad: Yeah, looking back it did. Kept me lazy and lethargic. It was nice to get out of that kind of rut. As far as decisions to play shows–I swore off playing acoustic shows a year ago because there are just too many people in Kansas City doing it. It’s hard because it’s ingrained in me to never turn down a show, but i’m just concentrating on my life and I don’t want to force myself to play songs.

9B: Was staying away from shows a decision that had to do with keeping yourself away from situations where you would drink?

Chad: No, it had do with just easing out of that part of my life in general, letting a hobby be a hobby. I wanted that weight off my shoulders for a little bit. I can’t go to a show without wanting to play in a show, so just trying to unlearn that was a challenge. I had to be able to learn how to be an observer. And it’s really weird still.

9B: When did you first start to notice that–like in high school?

Chad: Yeah, oh yeah. And I still enjoy seeing bands, but maybe there’s some sort of A.D.D. thing going on where I can only concentrate on what the guitar player is doing and not the song as a whole.

9B: Do you write only on guitar or?

Chad: I write on acoustic guitar and an electric piano that I don’t know how to use very well. I know some chords so if I can tap out a melody on the high keys it’s always a cool way that it works out. I have a drum machine on the piano which is probably the best part. Because if I’m writing on guitar and I turn the drum machine on, I can write something a little jaunty or different. If I’m left to sit on the couch and write, it’s gonna be a slow song. And I have a lot of those, and a lot of those recorded. But I don’t want a mellow record right now. I said if I make another, I’m gonna have to make some sort of summer pop record. Hard-driving driving around music. Way too much mellow music coming out. The slow ones are the easiest–well not easy, but it’s what I go to. And it all comes out sounding like a Jay Farrar solo record.

Cigarette Hand

9B: Did you listen to the new Son Volt from this year?

Chad: Yeah, I listened two or three times and I liked it. And the one before was good, too. But I think that sometimes when a band has such a good first release, it’s impossible not to level everything else against that.

9B: Yeah, and there’s nothing like “Windfall.”

Chad: Yeah, and it’s not even like he’s in a slump or anything because the new ones are good. But Trace, that record changed everything in the midwest, that was a music-changing record. Every band immediately hooked onto that, anybody who had been a fan of midwestern bar rock or Tom Petty or anything. There were bands that had that jangly southern stuff in the 80′s, but Son Volt just put it all together and everybody caught on for better or worse. It influenced my sound a lot.

9B: Were you guys into Uncle Tupelo much or not until they were done-ish?

Chad: Oh we heard of Uncle Tupelo because they were playing Kansas City before we were even old enough to get into bars. I remember them playing and my brother worked the door, so we got to hang outside during soundcheck. Jon was a much bigger fan of Uncle Tupelo right out of the gate. I liked them, but I never freaked out about them. I could talk about Son Volt all day, though. I think he’s a masterful lyricist.

9B: Have you ever met him? [Jon walks outside and joins in.]

Jon: Frozen brosefs.

Chad: He just asked me if I ever met Jay Farrar, but you’ve met him right?

Jon: Yeah we had the same shoes.

9B: Do you write anything besides songs?

Chad: I write lyrics by themselves often, but not anything else like books.

9B: What do you like to read?

Chad: Strictly biographies. Reading one on Harry Truman, the Brooklyn Bridge. I can’t concentrate on novels anymore.

Jon: I’ve been reading lately…we used to say I love the short story because I like a long nap…but I’ve been so hooked on those David Sedaris books because they’re short, and the Flannery O’connor short stories too. And Elmore Leonard.

Chad: Any rock biography, I’ve read em all.

9B: Do you have a favorite?

Chad: There’s a really good Aerosmith one.

Jon: Have you read Warren Zevon’s?

Chad: The one his wife wrote? It was ok.

9B: Did you read Bob Mould’s?

Chad and Jon: Yeah it was alright.

Chad: Sometime I have a problem with autobiographies. I really want to know more techie stuff, stuff that publishers wouldn’t want in the book. Like the Pete Townsend autobiography–I just want to hear why he started playing the A-chord like that.

Jon: Send him a tweet!

9B: What made you guys book a tour in Canada and New England in December? I guess it’s cold in Colorado, too.

Chad: Because it was warm when we were thinking about it. We were like “ah, we’ll be fine.”

Jon: To be honest, there’s less competition so you can get a pretty good shake.

[Soundcheck is over, so we go inside to avoid freezing further. Chad graciously exits and I finish up the interview with Jon.]

9B: What did you and Chad do around town when you were kids?

Jon: We rode skateboards and played Nintendo. We met each other at the Convenient Food Mart. Drank Mountain Dew and listened to Husker Du.

9B: Were you guys competitive as songwriters at all?

Jon: Maybe when we were kids, but definitely not now.

9B: Who’s a better drummer?

Jon: … me. Nah, he’s a good drummer. He taught me how to play guitar, taught me the chords. I learned how to play music with him.

9B: What’s it like still playing with him?

Jon: Oh it’s great. I would play with him for the rest of my life. We keep talking about putting out the stuff from this old rock band we used to do.

9B: Do you remember what they were called?

Jon: Yeah, it was called Hotsy. [Jon does jazz hands.]

Parting Dress

Chad writes awesome songs and sings them real good. Let’s hope his discography isn’t actually over. I would love a hard-driving summer record.

Find the two Victorstands records at iTunes and Amazon and emusic.

Read the first installment of Overview: Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance
Jan 142014
 

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.

Dec 132013
 

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.

Aug 222013
 

Rachel Brooke’s A Killer’s Dream came out at the end of 2012. I didn’t know who she was then and didn’t hear the record until a few months ago. It has quickly become one of my favorite records of 2013. We didn’t review the record when it came out and so I wanted to try and right a wrong. Her music is stunning and beautiful and sad and perfect. So instead of review an album that’s a whole bunch of months old I decided to ask Rachel a few questions.

9Bullets:  I was trying to explain to someone how I like sad stuff, music, books, movies, and they couldn’t understand it. I tried to tell them that I don’t find sad stuff sad in the same way other people do.  From your music it’s pretty clear you’re aware of sadness and are not afraid of it. What do you think is the attraction some people have to sad music? And what do you enjoy about a good sad song?

Rachel Brooke:  Sometimes I think people are afraid of sad music. I think that a lot of listeners aren’t attracted to it because it reminds them of thoughts or feelings that they don’t want to be reminded of..But, I love writing and listening to sad, depressing music because I feel that they are a true representation of the soul. Sad songs come out of real emotion, and when I’m listening to someone else’s songs I feel like  “at least not alone in this cruel world…Someone else felt these same things.” And that is very comforting.

9B:  I had heard some of Late Night Lover on the internet when I saw you play at the Choice City Stomp and I was immediately a fan. For those that weren’t there, The CC Stomp was an all day event at two venues. The day part was primarily songwriters on acoustic guitars while the evening part was primarily bands. You were the only female in the evening part. (a question I’m not really concerned with but I’m sure you’ve answered before) But what amazed me was that you were able to sit down with just you and the guitar after a long day and after a bunch of bands had played and had everyone listening to a quiet set.Is there a special type of mojo or something to have to find to do a show in a setting like that? How challenging is it to perform in that kind of environment? Do you ever do full band shows and how are those different?

RB:  I just do what I want. haha! Sometimes I’m by myself, sometimes I am a two-peice, sometimes I have a full band, and really I can be flexible in any situation..but no matter what, I have confidence in my ability and song, and I know that I can stand on my own among a night of full bands. Now, I don’t expect everyone in the room to “get it” or even enjoy it, but I know that I can stand behind everything I sing, everything I say, every mistake I make, and still enjoy every minute of it.

9B:  My guess is that you have probably been called an old soul by somebody somewhere (as have I) Do you know what the hell that means? Because I certainly don’t.

RB:  Yes, I have been called an old-soul. I think that it just means that you have a very simplified way of viewing and living your life. The world moves too fast now. And the “old-souls” like the past better, I think.

9B:  I’ve seen your tour schedule is fairly extensive. North America and Europe. How many dates a year have you been doing? Are there places that you get a noticeably better response?

RB:  I don’t know how many dates a year I’ve been doing. I didn’t count them. But Last year was really busy for me, though, and so was the first half of this year. This year was my first time in Europe and it was great. It was crazy going across the world and people knew who you were. I really liked Finland! Hopefully I can make it back there soon!

9B:  What’s on your schedule for the rest of the year? Shows, recording, writing?

RB:  I have some interesting things coming up..Right now I’m burrowing and writing. I have some shows coming up, and a new 7″ Bside coming out that I recently did with Sean Wheeler, Zander Schloss and Exene Cervenka. Muddy Roots Recordings is putting it out, and I’m excited to be a part of that. There are plans to do a few smaller runs this year, and bigger tours in the Winter and Spring..and hopefully another trip to Europe soon! But mostly I’m enjoying conspiring and writing. That’s my favorite thing to do.

Rachel Brooke – Ashes To Ashes
Rachel Brooke – A Killer’s Dream

Official Site, Rachel on Twitter