It might not be the first thing you notice. The first thing is probably the musicianship throughout or the down-home quality harmonies on a song like “Hangman” or the sweetness of David Mayfield’s voice on a song like “Human Cannonball”. But it doesn’t take long to notice it, and it is the thing that will stick with you the most about this third full album from Cadillac Sky (made up of Bryan Simpson, Matt Menefee, Ross Holmes, Andy “Panda” Moritz and Mayfield), Letters in the Deep: the emotional wallop. It is not solely one thing or another; it is all the elements, from lyrics to instrumentation to vocals to dynamics, combining to make an incredible whole.
Recorded at the home studio of Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys in Akron, Ohio, with Auerbach in the producer’s chair, in many ways, Letters in the Deep is, as Auerbach declared at the end of the four-day recording session, Cadillac Sky’s “first record”. With new band member Mayfield (brother and cohort of Jessica Lea Mayfield, who has also benefited from Auerbach’s production skills), a new direction and a new commitment to capturing the vitality of their live shows on record, Cadillac Sky is like a new band, vibrating with energy and hunger, bursting with stories to tell.
Founding member Bryan Simpson and aforementioned newest member David Mayfield were kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
Can you give a brief history of your band? I know a number of my
readers will just be learning about Cadillac Sky for the first time as
they read this.
Bryan Simpson: A brief history of the band: well, we sort of kicked things off in November of 2002 in Fort Worth, TX- I met Matt our banjo, piano, drum guy in Texas at a benefit we were both playing with other bands, and a friend of mine knew I was looking to put together a sort of pseudo-bluegrass band and had seen a gold plate on Matt’s banjo (a banjo he had won in the contest) that read “2000 National Champion …..”- Matt hates that story, but he will stress he only played that banjo ’cause that’s the only one he had. So, anyway, my friend said I ought to check him out. So, we sort of got together at the back of the parking lot and played a few tunes- and it was love at first sight. He was my long lost musical soulmate. Ha. And from there, it came together easy. He knew Ross, and I knew a couple of other guys, and it came together pretty quick- within about two weeks.
Well, we wandered around in the desert for a while, but it never went anywhere. We were making music but nothing else. Weren’t even really trying (too left-brained?). It was sort of our virgin voyage for most of us to really be true partners in a band, and by 2004 we broke up. We all went off and did our own thing for about a year and just felt like what we had was or could be special, and, so, Ross leading the way (he’s to blame), we put it back together. Made a record in 2005 that Ricky Skaggs got wind of and really loved. He signed us to his label- around that time our bassist bailed and we scavenger-ed the countryside only to found the perfect guy in our backyard- Houston- Andy Moritz- now forever known as “Panda”. We then made another record- under what one would not call the best of circumstances- with a division in our band forming between us and our guitar player at the time that I feel like even showed up sonically on that recording. So we knew it was time to make a change- far past time, so we went looking for a guitar player. I called a friend of mine named Tyler Grant- he gave me a list of great guitar players he thought would work, but in triple-faced bold print he had David Mayfield written- said he would be perfect for our band if he would do it. I called him up- he was into it. And once he jumped on board, it started something that’s become more than a band. A real brotherhood was created, and God has moved this thing along at such a swift rate musically and more importantly spiritually, that it really has been jaw dropping.
Then at some point last year, David was out with his sis Jessica Lea Mayfield playing bass- which he does between tours with us, and they were opening for the Black Keys. Dan asked him what he was doing musically outside of his sister, and he passed along our CD. Dan must’ve heard something because he wanted to take us into his studio – and that all came to fruition last September in the making of “Letters in the Deep”. And here we are today. Four glorious days in Akron , Ohio, at Akron Analog Studios. That’s basically where we’re at- too much I know- brief? Not so much, sorry.
Tell me about your personal history with music. What did you hear or
see that first sparked your love of music? Who were the artists you
listened to early on that had the most influence on you?
Well, I can’t really quantify what sparked my love of music- it was just there early on- maybe it was the sense of community that music is usually such a part of. Maybe my grandfather’s love of traditional roots music was what sparked my interest in that style- early on at least- the opportunity to hang with him- mostly it’s probably because it’s the only thing I have ever been halfway decent at, ha!
The artists that influenced me early on were- Bill Monroe- Tim O’Brien big time, Ricky Skaggs, Tom Uhr and the Shady Grove Rambers- a local group that had an original sound-
David Mayfield: I grew up in a very musical household. So I was constantly surrounded by musicians and instruments. You had to move a guitar or a mandolin to sit down in our living room because they were always laying around. My mom or dad would just walk into the room, pick one up and start playing. So the first music I heard was my parents and my Papa. I remember also listenting to my parents’ records a lot. Stuff like Reno & Smiley, Jimmy Driftwood, all the way to Jackson Browne and The Starland Vocal Band.
The new album, Letters in the Deep, has such an emotional rawness to
the whole thing – the words, the music, the vocals, all of it. Do you
think that came from Dan Auerbach’s “hit it and quit it” recording
style, from the addition of David to the band, something else entirely
or a combination of things?
BS: Certainly a combination. I think our fans had a lot to do with it- a few very honest fans expressed that, although they loved our previous records, that they didn’t contain the same energy, sincerity, “raw emotion” that our live show unveiled. And we agreed, btw. So when me and Dan were talking, we sort of found common ground in the fact that he wanted to put something on tape that was us and nothing else. No computers- just five guys staring each other in the eye, around a few mics, making music mixed with blood, sweat and tears… certainly believe that added a certain humanity to this record, which, to me, makes it more relatable even though the music is far more blurry in definite direction. But yeah, Dan, David, the fans, all of that.
DM: I don’t feel like I really changed the band when I joined, I think of more as I allowed them to be themselves fully because I was an outsider who was excited about new possibilities, they really just needed some big change to jar them creatively.
I love what it says on your MySpace page about Dan Auerbach saying “BE
who YOU are RIGHT NOW” being a mantra during the recording of this
um. Can you talk a little about that experience of recording with
Dan and what things you might have learned from that session that
you’ll carry into future recordings?
BS: Our prayer is to not live in the past, not live in the future, but just to stay concentrated on the moment so you don’t miss the beautiful subtleties of life. Our faith has allowed us that freedom, and I think that’s what “be who you are right now” is about.
Dan just served as a constant reminder that most of the best things that we’ll ever experience in life will not be planned- and so it is with this record. We went in the studio with somewhat of a plan- Dan thought great records are made by prepared bands- but we certainly didn’t have it all worked out- and there are some moments on this record that, without Dan’s humble approach to recording and producing, would’ve never seen the light of day.
DM: As far as Dan’s influence, he really shaped the sound of the record, but as for the arrangemnets, they were all there beforehand. I think we could have made this record somewhere else, and it would have all the same lyrics and notes, but that emotion would not be there. That came from Dan and his method of pulling the trigger and making decisions on the spot. Too many options can really stifle you in the end. Dan’s process forced us to live with little anomalies that would have been ironed out in a modern studio setting, ironing out all the life of the track as well.
The instrumental pieces on the new album are beautiful, and the names
of the pieces – Lee of the Stone East, West and North and The Long
Sigh – made me wonder if there was a story behind them. Do you think
there might be longer pieces like that in the future?
BS: Yes, I hope so- they really tie the whole record together and really took it to another place- I didn’t have much to do with those- Matt and Ross and Panda- really brought those things to life- but they do seem to tell a story- and sort of give the record an almost score, if you will- like the lyrical songs are the dialogue in the movie, and the musical vignettes are the score- I don’t know, maybe.
What albums are going to be playing in the Cadillac Sky tour van this
BS: Well, I’ve just gotten my hands on the new National record, and the first few listens have proved deserving of many more listens- it’s pretty great. The new Mumford and Sons record will keep you attentive while navigating the dark highways, and of course, the new Black Keys record- I can’t stop singing “Next Girl”.
DM: You know I can’t go on tour without my copy of Bridge Over Troubled Water. I think it is possibly the best album ever made. But, along with that, I’m listening to Among The Oak and Ash, Leslie and the Badgers, Tywanna Baskette, and my sister Jessica Lea Mayfield’s new album, which isn’t out yet but is blowing my mind.
Letters in the Deep will be available June 8th, and here are a few mp3s to illustrate just why you need to buy this album: the instantly likeable “Hangman”; my favorite track from the album, “3rd Degree” (which still knocks me out with its intensity, even after several spins) and instrumental piece “Lee of the Stone: North”.
Cadillac Sky are on the road now, landing in Cleveland to play the Beachland Ballroom on June 5. It promises to be a great night.