NTSIB’s dear friend Michelle Evans of Dear Ben Nichols and The Vinyl District: Washington, D.C. has graciously allowed us to share her recent interviews with Jon Snodgrass of Drag the River and, tomorrow, the lovely Mr. Austin Lucas. Catch both gentlemen at SoundFest in Seattle, Washington, August 17-21.
Drag the River have been one of my favorite bands for quite some time, so imagine how stoked I was to hear they are selling their albums in a “Pay What You Can” style. On top of that, they’re back on tour and joining the likes of Lucero, Austin Lucas, and Larry & His Flask at this year’s SoundFest in Seattle. Catch ’em while you can.
So what made you decide to sell the entire Drag the River catalog in a “Pay What You Can” style?
To be honest with you, the only jobs I ever had, ya know, that I never got fired from, were record stores for years – two or three different ones – and it always seemed weird to me, CDs cost $13.99, $15.99, but once it gets unwrapped and comes back, ya know, records are only worth the music that’s on them. I don’t know if I’m explaining myself right.
I know what you mean. I’ve sold back CDs that I’ve paid $15-$20.00 for, and I’m getting, like two bucks for them, because maybe it wasn’t the most stellar CD, but if you’re selling back Jawbreaker, for instance, or Lucero’s Tennessee, which is out of print, ya know, you can get mad money for those.
Exactly. Speaking of which, I gotta signed copy of that record.
Jealous! I’ve got Tennessee on vinyl, but it’s not signed. I’ll have to work on that. So you were saying…
Oh yeah… It’s just people have different amounts of money, and I’m fine with whatever, and all those records that we made, that we’re putting up right now, they’re in the black. I’m not saying we made a lot of money off them, but I mean, we don’t owe money on them. Everything’s done, so we can afford to do that, and I see what everyone pays, and I’m fine with every amount that comes through. I mean, it’s a wide difference. People give what they can. Bands don’t really get paid that much on their records, so it all works out, and we’re gonna use that money to make our next record. We have to pay for our own records. We have to pay our own way.
And you’ve done that all along?
We haven’t done it all along. I mean, we’ve done it a lot. We’ve done it to a degree, and we’ve definitely done it more than a lot of people, probably. There are definitely some records we’ve tried to do it with, and then it got to the point where it just got a little too expensive, and then there would be record labels that we’d be working with that were always there ready to pay.
Do you find that there’s more artistic freedom when you pay for it yourself?
No, it’s just the sense of pride of owning your own thing and doing it yourself and not having to ask anyone for money, and just doing it. It’s mainly that and also legally, it’s just your stuff, and no one can ever claim it. We’ve been doing this a long time and know how things are supposed to be done, so it’s easier if we just pay for it ourselves too. And it’s weird, ya know, sometimes what you spend almost nothing on ends up being the best. Ya know, sometimes you end up using that demo you made for some song that you ended up spending thousands of dollars to record, and it’s like, I know we wasted a lot of studio time on this, but I like this one, and I know it’s out of tune, and I know I sang that really bad right there, but I don’t care. I like this one better, because it has the heart. But then there’s the vice versa too. That happens too. Ya never know, you just gotta be open.
Will you be recording the songs from the 2010 Demons?
We’re gonna do some of them. I think we’re gonna do “History with History.” We’re gonna do “Here’s to the Losers.” Ya know, Chad and I write alone a lot, but these songs are more collaborative. Some of them, like “Here’s to the Losers,” have been sitting around for five years and just needed a bridge and then were ready to go.
So you’re from Missouri, which surprised me, because I don’t feel like you sound like you’re from there. Sometimes you sound very Southern.
It’s funny you say that, because some people – and I’ve read this before – but some people think in the Americana genre that, like, we’re pretending – that we’re not really Americana. It’s not something I come across all the time, but I’ve heard it before, and I’m like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” [laughs] It’s like, why would I pretend to be something that doesn’t make money? But nowadays, there are people trying to make music like we make music, but we’ve been doing it a long time. We started recording our first Drag the River songs in 1996.
I think one of the things that make Drag the River unique are your vocals. Both you and Chad have very distinctive voices. I also care a lot about lyrics. If I can’t understand the words being sung, I don’t usually stick around to hear the message.
Yeah, I think that’s what we got going. Me and Chad work really good together. It’s funny. I used to not care about lyrics. I cared about melody more than lyrics a long time ago, before I made records. I didn’t care as much in the beginning, but I care more about lyrics every year. It’s more and more important to me.
So when can we listen to those beautiful voices live then?
Our show page is finally up on dragtheriver.com. We’re coming east and going to Canada and all kinds of other places August through November, and we’re playing SoundFest in Seattle.
How do y’all do in Canada?
It goes pretty good. It’s kind of weird, ya know. It’s sort of like being in a different country. [laughs] Honestly, I love it up there. It’s great. We’ve just slacked in the United States forever. We don’t even try, but up there and in Europe, it’s a totally different game. We actually do things like radio interviews, which here, we don’t hustle for things anymore. We have a very “take it or leave it” attitude about everything we do. We try not to over-do anything.