A Good Read A Good Listen and a Good Drink: AF the Naysayer

It’s a simple yet sublime pleasure, and just thinking about it can make you feel a little calmer, a little more content. Imagine: You bring out one of the good rocks glasses (or your favorite mug or a special occasion tea cup) and pour a couple fingers of amber liquid (or something dark and strong or just some whole milk). You drop the needle on the jazz platter (or pull up a blues album on your mp3 player or dig out that mixtape from college). Ensconcing yourself in the coziest seat in the house, you crack the spine on a classic (or find your place in that sci-fi paperback or pull up a biography on your e-book reader). And then, you go away for a while. Ah, bliss.

In this series, some of NTSIB’s friends share beloved albums, books and drinks to recommend or inspire.

AF the Naysayer (Amahl Abdul-Khaliq), founder of Dolo Jazz Suite, and co-founder of Self-Educated Vinyl, makes some groovy beats, and this is his debut music video:


He’s currently out on tour with Prism House and Slomile Swift, and they are working their way around the country.

New York, your show is on Sept. 11 at Spike Hill, in Brooklyn; Ohio, yours are on Sept. 19 at Bourbon St. in Columbus and Sept. 23 at Chameleon in Cincinnati.

The last time he came through New York he sat down and did the very first live-action A Good Read, A Good Listen and a Good Drink, outside the aptly-named Trash Bar, also in Brooklyn. The following is a transcript of that conversation:

NTSIB: All right, let’s go, let’s hear about your favorite book, album and drink. Tell me all of your nerdy LBJ thoughts.

AF the Naysayer: Ok so I’m really not much of a fiction reader. I don’t know why, even though as a kid I did like comic books, I just was more interested in history. So the last book I read that I was really intrigued by that wasn’t music related was Flawed Giant, the biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) [by Robert Dallek]. It was strictly only on his Presidency, from Vice President to President. And it was really extensive, like over one thousand pages. It was like reading the New Testament and the Old Testament. It was about that long.

He was just such a mafioso president. He got the most bills passed during his time as president than any other president in history. He did the most underhanded things and got away with it, it was just insane. He was really a watch-dog president. He was an anomaly. He was just an interesting person. I was just so intrigued by it. It’s a really long book, not necessarily a good read for a lot of people. But I was very intrigued. That’s my recommendation for a book.

NTSIB: And for a record, to go with that book?

AF the Naysayer: Oh, I don’t know what record would go with that book. I’m just going to name one of my favorite records.

NTSIB: Okay, that’s good too!

AF the Naysayer: Gil Scott Heron, one of my favorite artists of all time, favorite singer/songwriter, his album Winter in America, it’s not one of his most popular album, due to I guess the record label, but it’s an amazing album, from track one to the end. One of my favorite albums of all time, so that’s why I’m going to nominate it.

Gil Scott Heron "Winter In America" (1974) HIGH QUALITY

And I don’t drink alcohol, so –

NTSIB: Well that’s all right, you can tell me about your favorite soda. Or hot chocolate.

AF the Naysayer: I love ginger beer. Ginger beer is amazing. So is a good root beer. But I guess since I’m at a show [in a bar]-lots of time they don’t have those. I’ll be lucky if they have ginger ale. Sometimes they do, for mixing drinks. So I guess my go to drink at a bar would be club soda with a squirt of lemon juice and a splash of cranberry juice. And if I want to get fancy with it I’ll get a crushed mint leaf.

A Conversation with Pete David of the Payroll Union

The Payroll Union

photo credit: Nina Petchey


In the three years that Now This Sound Is Brave has been going, I have come to think of some of the bands we cover as “my bands” – bands who have struck a singular chord with me and whom I have continued cover, excited to share news of their movements. If I had to rank “my bands” based on which ones hold the biggest place in my heart and spend the most time on my personal listening turntable, the Payroll Union would likely top that list. We’ve been covering the band since spring of 2011, and this year has been the most exciting in our shared history with the band yet.



This year has seen them touring the UK, beginning an exciting collaboration with historian Andrew Heath, and, best of all, releasing their first full-length album, The Mule & The Elephant . TM&TE is a more somber outing than previous Payroll Union releases – though more in sound than lyrical content as they continue to focus on the hard and bloody stories of early American history – but it is the most rewarding one so far.

As Dr. Heath expounds upon in the album’s liner notes, “the album is no celebration of the history of the Early American Republic, but rather an eloquent measure of how unevenly the U.S. managed to live up to its democratic promise.” The early years of “the great American Experiment” were rife with ambition, death, and longing. Some of the stories illustrated on TM&TE include the tragic life that lead to the ruthless ambition of Edwin M. Stanton, the campaign for temperance by preacher Charles Grandison Finney, the relationship of Thomas Jefferson to his slave Sally Hemings, and the duel that ended the life of Alexander Hamilton.

The feeling that rises to the top on TM&TE again and again is one of yearning, from the longing for a dead loved one to the wish for a different outcome in a tragic situation to the yearning to be remembered for the good one did despite the precarious balance of the scales of one’s life. Singer Pete David’s voice seems naturally suited to these tales of longing, with its dark and woody timbre, especially at what feels like the emotional crescendo of the album in the double-shot of “The Cawing Cuckoo” and “Mary Lamson”. The more you listen to this album, the more the tendrils of this longing snake into your heart.

Knowing how the mention of early American stories sets him off on passionate tangents, I was very pleased to have Pete answer a few questions for us. Join us as we talk about the Payroll Union’s collaboration with Dr. Andrew Heath, the murder of “the Beautiful Cigar Girl”, exactly why Brits are making songs about early American history, and more.

How does a fine young British gentleman come to be so interested in the history of the treasonous American colonies? And how does he then rope other British gentlemen into making music about said history?

America’s unlikely experiment in democracy is fascinating precisely for that reason: it’s amazing that it happened. I think I gravitated to the Early Republic because I’m almost expecting it to all fall apart at some point. The stories are so rich and varied and the ideas so lofty and patriotic. It’s the paradox which keeps me hooked and that still exists today; the country’s attempt to live up to its promise is so appealing a subject. In terms of the band, I think they find the subjects interesting but it was never in the job description: ‘must be able to display knowledge of 19th Century American history.’


How do you put yourself into the minds of the subjects of your songs? Some of them are such heartbreaking stories, and that feeling comes through in your voice.

Exactly that. Putting myself in their skin is what I try to do. The voice is where I find the character and I don’t know if this comes across entirely but I do try and fit my voice to my subject. “House on the Hill”, the final song on the album, is supposed to be tender and so my voice is very different to, say, “The Anxious Seat”, where I’m attempting to inhabit an authoritative evangelical preacher. I love those little moments, tiny expressions of the voice, where I’m able to imbue the words with the feeling they deserve. I think “Mary Lamson” is probably my most successful attempt at that and mourning is a strange emotion to try and express in song.



Where does “Cawing Cuckoo” come from? The heartache of it is wholly relatable and seems like it could come from any number of painful relationships, modern as well as past.

Cawing Cuckoo is a funny one in that it was inspired by a New York murder in the 1830s. Mary Rogers – the “Beautiful Cigar Girl” as she was known – was found battered in the Hudson River and there were various suspects but no one was ever charged. She worked in a cigar shop and the story got a lot of attentione becasue she attracted a lot of newspapermen, as well writers like Irving, Poe and Cooper. Poe was actually a suspect for a while. I got quite consumed by the case. The story was strung out by the papers and various ‘witnesses’ came forward for their moment in the limelight. I worked on it for some time but then I ended up stripping away a lot of the detail and it soon became quite a simple heartbreak song. The lyric comes from the perspective of the murderer, who in my retelling of it, is the boyfriend who has come to the conclusion that she has been unfaithful to him. He was the character I was drawn to, particularly his weakness and uncertainty. Tragically, he ended up committing suicide. It’s a bitter song and yes, it’s true, it could really be anywhere at any time, especially when I say, ‘there are no pictures of you now.’ I wasn’t particularly thinking of photographs when I wrote that line but I can see how it would fit that interpretation. It’s a song of regret and resentment but I there’s enough sweetness in there to at least pity the protagonist. I suppose I was thinking of the Sun Kil Moon album, Ghosts of the Great Highway, when I wrote that one, particularly Glenn Tipton. Great song, beautiful but brutal.


What is the source of “Imitation of Life”?

Stolen from the film of the same title! It’s a Douglas Sirk melodrama and probably my… hmmm, second favourite film. The main protagonist is a black woman whose daughter is born very light-skinned and can essentially ‘pass’ as white. The daughter runs away to avoid suspicion but her mother tracks her down. In the film, it’s the most wonderfully tender scene and I felt the need to recreate it in song. Seriously, try and watch that film without crying, it is incredible. It’s also pretty radical. Sirk was obsessed with Bretcht and used all the distanciation techniques and reflecting the contradictions of the family unit back onto the audience. Imitation of Life is his masterpiece.



What can you tell us about your project with historian Dr. Andrew Heath?

Well, the project will be broadly focusing on music and history, but then more specifically we’ll be producing an album using a lot Andrew’s research on antebellum Philadelphia. We’ll be creating a website where people can delve a bit more into the subject matter and we’ll be producing a short film looking at the process. We’ll also be staging a number of events throughout the year to open the project up so I’m very excited about the whole thing. Andrew has been a huge inspiration to me and I’m really looking forward to working on something with more defined parameters. Having said that, it’s certainly a bigger challenge for me as a songwriter. The city itself, as an entity, is what I’m trying to get inside. As a band we’ve already begun talking about how we’re going to portray that and it’ll be a very different approach than the first album.


How was the mini-tour? Do you feel like you made a lot of new fans?

The tour was a lot of fun and we were fortunate enough to have great crowds and we played with some fantastic bands. Actually, I’d really recommend a couple of the other bands. Check out Johnny Panic & The Fever based in Liverpool and The Yes Mess in London. Both great. The two London dates at the end were a really good conclusion to the week. Loads of energy at both gigs and we got a chance to meet a lot of new people and yes, hopefully we made a few new fans.


Do your fellow Brits find your obsession with American history odd at all?

I think some people find it a bit strange, but that’s usually a reaction to my ridiculously long introductions to some of the songs when we play live. I can see the quizzical looks on some faces so I’ve tried to reign that in a bit. As opposed to a five minute lecture, I can just tell them in a sentence what it’s about but I get a bit carried away sometimes. I think generally it’s quite a good talking point when I chat to fans and for those who have even just a passing interest in the subject, it’s quite an interesting quirk.


The Payroll Union Official Website

The Payroll Union @ Bandcamp

The Payroll Union @ Facebook

Wasara: Hehku

Wasara is a death metal/folk hybrid from Finland, and they just recently released a new record called Hehku (“The Glow”). It is a dark, brooding gem of a record, and as soon as I heard it I wanted to know more about both the songs and the people singing them. Here, lead singer/lyricst Antti Ã…ström (lower right corner, above) and I chat about the record and the band:

Where in Finland are you all from?

All of us are from southern part of Finland. I’m from this small town called Lohja, about 50km from Helsinki. At this time of year there’s nothing “southern” in here… 50cm of snow and -20 Celsius – just cold and dark.

How did you get together as a band?

We started this in ’96 with our bass player Ipi and ex-drummer Mikko, we have known each other since childhood. First our music was improvised punk, played as loud as possible in our basement, but it soon developed to more metal-like Finnish rock/punk with influences from every possible genre.

There was a time we had a few songs with synths and techno-beat and on the other hand we had songs that were pure black-metal. We were about 16 when we started this and we all had wide musical backgrounds despite our young age – hence the chaos.

There have been few changes in the Wasara camp along these years, but this line-up (Antti, Ipi, Tuomo, Saku, Harri) has shown its power, like our new Hehku album proves.

First demo was recorded in the year 2000 and it was the first “official” thing under the name of Wasara. It’s been long road to finally be at this point and have our third album in our hands. It was truly a journey with many ups and downs.

The first demo was recorded in 2000?

Yes. It turned out to be too “rock” ‘cos the guy who recorded it was a hip hop guy and didn’t quite get what we tried to achieve soundwise :D Second demo was more what we wanted and that got us the record deal with Firebox Records in 2003. Wasara’s first album Kaiken kauniin loppu was released in the same year.

Your music is a really interesting combination of death metal and folk music. What inspired you to meld those genres?

We haven’t really given it any thoughts . . . we just write the kind of music that we want to listen. And like I said before, every one of us have long history of listening and playing different kinds of music. I, for example, have been a huge death metal fan since I got my hands on Grave’s Into the Grave album.

I also love traditional Finnish music and instruments. One of my favourite Finnish folk bands is Värttinä. They capture perfectly the Finnish atmosphere with different kinds of instruments and with beautiful female vocals. Other bands which have been huge inspiration for me are Amorphis, CMX, Mana Mana, Paradise lost, 3rd and the Mortal, Käsi, etc etc.

Are your songs variations on existing Finnish folk songs, or are they new songs written in a traditional folk-y style?

They are new songs as far as I know. Some of the songs were born in a completely different style than folk or death, but after every one of us had put their own layer on the songs they transformed in their present form. We don’t care if the song is folk or doom or something else, if it sounds like Wasara, then it must be Wasara.

Main thing for us is to achieve the right atmosphere for every song. In the process of Hehku we had all the strings in our hands and we took our time to make it as good as possible, without any compromises. If we wanted to put violin or a piano to a song, we just put it. It took almost a year to record Hehku but it was worth it. Now we just hope that people will find it amongst the endless stream of new music.

Is there a lot of overlap between the death metal and folk scenes in Finland?

Not sure what you mean but there are very few bands that combine folk and deathmetal and sing in Finnish. It is not that common, but bands who go abroad and get some publicity, usually are those who combine folk and other Finnish stuff in their music. In Finland it’s not that popular to play folkish metal.

I was wondering how the song titles translate. I tried Google translate but I have a feeling they got quite thoroughly mangled in the process. (Saatanaiset, for example, is rendered as “Bring Women.”)

And what is the instrument at the start of Saatanaiset, is that an organ? A guitar?

The instrument is an accordion (Finnish: haitari) and it is used almost on every song on the album.

The titles of the album are (roughly translated):

1. Saatanaiset ( she satans or she devils)
2. Ikuset ( eternals )
3. Minulla on monta nimeä ( I have many names )
4. Saunalaulu ( saunasong )
5. Kuollut on kuollut ( dead is dead )
6. Totuudennäkijä ( seer of truth )
7. Unohdetun mielenvirtaa ( mindstrem of the forgotten )
8. Kainista kasvaneet ( risen from Cain or grown from Cain )
9. Kymmenen unohdimme ( We forgot the ten )
10. Hehku ( the glow )

Saatanaiset was most likely written in a post-hangover depression. Saatanaiset as a word translates to something like “she satans”.

The lyrics tells a story where women uses their beauty and looks in general to lure men to their slaves:

They watch without remorse those men those worms /
they sing their songs, they sing to their slaves /
how could they dominate, how could they make their men to be the darkest soil /
They took us with them…Saatanaiset!


Two of the songs on Hehku struck me as being more folk than metal: Saunalaulu and Kainista kasvaneet. What are those songs about?

Saunalaulu (saunasong) is a song about my familys sauna which is over 100 years old. It tells a story [about] how boys are turned to men in the sauna and how sauna is the place for truth. Elderly people tell their stories in there. It is a place for cleansing ones body and soul. For me it is the album’s most personal song.



Kainista kasvaneet is a song about going to hell. We were condemned to hell from the very beginning when Cain turned to the darkside. We are constantly lured by different kinds of things. No one is so pure they could ever get to heaven.


I’ve also gathered from the internet that “Wasara” translates as “Hammer”. Is that right?

Yes, but it is nowadays spelled vasara.


Wasara on Spotify.

Wasara on Facebook. (In Finnish)

Meet Me Where The Crow Don’t Fly, Water Tower

The last time I wrote about Water Tower Bucket Boys was in September. Since that time they have changed their name to just Water Tower and become a trio. They’ve also put out a new record, called Meet Me Where the Crow Don’t Fly, and if, like me, you are into high-quality punk-infused bluegrass, you will want to get ahold of those tunes right away.

Meanwhile, after listening to (and LOVING) their earlier record, Sole Kitchen, I had some questions. Below, Kenny Feinstein (guitar, mandolin, harmonica and vocals) has some answers.

Is it difficult, being a (mostly) bluegrass band, and hailing from an area of the country (i.e. the Pacific NW in general) that’s best known as the epicenter of grunge?

It is not difficult really. We are just as connected to grunge as we are to country music generally speaking. In fact, our most intense/hardcore fans seem to come from Seattle.

I understand Gil Landry of Old Crow Medicine Show has given you a copy of a very special map. It sounds like the Marauder’s Map, but for buskers. I bet he doesn’t give that out to everyone. What are some of the stories of the map? And also what states does it go through? (Are you allowed to give excerpts? Like if you find yourself in Nebraska and have to sing for your supper, where should you go?)

The map started in Asheville, North Carolina for us because that is where we met Gil. The trail winds down through New Orleans, through a few hot spots in Texas (had to miss these), a few spots in New Mexico and Arizona, and plenty in California. Because of our schedule, we had to drive from Baton Rouge, Lousiana to Madrid, New Mexico pretty much non-stop.

We started out at around 3 pm or so and drove late into the night. Somewhere outside of Dallas at 2 am we ran into an insane lightning storm. The rain was so bad we had to stop on the side of the road and wait. After 20 something hours of driving we finally made it to New Mexico and took a little nap in middle of the desert.

A very valuable piece of the map is in Madrid, New Mexico. This is a one-street town/artist colony with a pub called the Mine Shaft Tavern at the end of the block. The houses that line the street all seem to be inhabited by different types of artists. Behind the stage in the tavern is an entrance to a now defunct mine.

Basically Gil said “you need to get to this town.” Even though the place is so small, tourists come from miles around to see what wonders lie there. Gil said you can busk across the street from the bed and breakfast any day and make good money, so we did. He also mentioned that the people at the tavern would ask us onstage, which they did. We had a great adventure in that town, and a great couple of shows.

Why did you name the band Water Tower?

We live close to a water tower where we used to spend a lot of time hanging out and playing music.

Normally I ask what was the rock and roll lightning strike song. This time I’m going to ask: what was the country lightening strike? (Though you can tell me the rock and roll lightening strike song, too.)

Bill Monroe- Shady Grove. Rock song: The Offspring- Bad Habit

What was your first show (that you went to, not that you played)?

Red Hot Chili Peppers in Mexico City.

What was the first record/tape/cd/etc you acquired? What was the last one?

I found a Paula Abdul tape in my brother’s trash can. I cherished it until it was gone. Latest record I got was Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV.
And now, as further enticement, I present some recent videos for new songs:
Meet Me Where the Crown Don’t Fly, the title track on the new record:

Meet Me Where The Crow Don't Fly (Official)

Easy Way Out, recorded at the 2011 Pickathon:


The Far West, Bitter Drunk and Cold

NTSIBbers, if you haven’t already had the pleasure, please meet The Far West: Lee Briante (lead vocals / guitar), Robert Black (bass), Erik Kristiansen (pedal steel), Alan F. Rogers (drums) and Brian Bachman (guitar).

Collectively veterans of music scenes in places like Texas (all of it), New York (upstate and the lower East Side), Massachusetts (Boston and western Mass), Louisiana, the Gulf Coast (all of it), Alabama, and Sweden, they came together as a band in Los Angeles, CA early in 2010.

Their first record, Bitter Drunk and Cold, was recorded in less than a week at the American Legion Post 416 in Encinitas, California with the help of engineer/ producer Colin McLean, and released in 2011.

I was hooked from the first song – which happens to be the title track – and spent a week or two carrying it around with me in order to appreciate it properly. It’s good walking and thinking music; by which I mean, I would put it on as I was headed home after work and the next thing I knew 20 blocks had slipped by without my noticing.

These are some of the questions I had once I’d finished marinating in the tunes, and Lee Briante with the answers.


Did you name the band after the steamboat The Far West that was a supply vessel for Custer’s Last Stand? I happened to be reading The Last Stand, by Nathanial Philbrick this summer and saw several references to the ship, and I was just wondering.

We did not name the band for the steamboat, although it certainly is a great story and would be a great namesake. The Far West was decided on as we felt it captured a certain feeling of longing, searching as well as made reference to the frontier and the feelings linked to that.


Robert Black joined the band by answering a Craigslist post you made that was just a video of Waylon Jennings singing A Couple More Years. How did you pick that video to post as your band-mate wanted ad? Are you especially fond of that song?

I had been watching Hearts of Fire, the 80’s movie with Bob Dylan, late at nightand this scene interested me:



I looked up the Waylon Jennings version and it just seemed like the right amount of cryin’ in your beer & twang. The pedal steel by Ralph Mooney is beautiful and Waylon’s sweating and playing his heart out. At that time I wanted to build a bar band that would be playing songs like this at closing time. Shel Silverstein wrote A Couple More Years. In terms of songwriting, it’s just a perfect song that really captures something special.


I’m also curious about the title track of your record. I’m guessing it’s about Los Angeles? But I was thinking about it when I was there, last summer, how the place was so warm and sunny and yet felt so empty and still.

Bitter, Drunk & Cold is indeed about LA, my initial feelings after moving here from the east, a few of my personal experiences and the overall loneliness that a lot of folks that move here alone, not knowing anyone at all, and having certain expectations are bound to experience. Most people have come a long way to be here, in terms of miles, sacrifices and their own personal histories.

This makes LA a unique city in many ways. A transient city, with many folks coming and going, feelings of possibility and of absolute desolation are both abundant, oftentimes simultaneously. It can be the last stop for dreamers, putting it all on the table one last time, making one last push. That makes for a one of kind feeling here in LA, that love / hate dichotomy that you hear.


And I wanted to know more about recording at the American Legion Outpost. What made you decide to record there, and what was it like?

Our drummer Tony had a connection there, as well as his mother occasionally volunteering her time there, Tony had organized several all day musical jam sessions / BBQ’s there. The Far West had played a few of those, as well as several Friday & Saturday night performances.

The room itself has a great wealth of character, wood and tall ceilings, which added up to a room with great energy and sonic possibilities. These days a studio can be anywhere you can plug in microphones and equipment and when we asked the folks at the Legion if we could use the space as a studio they thought it was a fine idea.

They agreed to open the doors early so we could set up and work all day, as long as we didn’t mind working around them and customers when the opened the doors around 3pm. So over 4 or 5 days we set up and recorded all day, with deliveries coming and going, bar patrons tinkling glasses etc. Some of that noise can be heard on the album, but we wanted to record live, not in a sterile studio.


Finally, what’s next for you all? Tours? Videos? etc.

We continue to gig regularly in Southern California, write new songs and work on music. We are in the process of making a video or two, and are planning our return to the South-By-Southwest music festival in Austin this March. (Dates and times still TBA.)


And now for some video! First, the Waylon Jennings song that brought part of the band together:




And then two from The Far West themselves:

This is Where I Get Off, at the Redwood Bar:

The Far West - Where I Get Off (Live at Redwood Bar)


Town Called Lonesome, at the Hotel Cafe:

The Far West-Town Called Lonesome (Live Hotel Cafe)

A Conversation With: Blackwater Jukebox

Blackwater Jukebox, aka Geordie McElroy, originally from Queens, NY but now based in Los Angeles, is the fourth member of a (so far) very exclusive club: bands whose music April and I both like. (Other members: The Felice Brothers, AA Bondy, and We See Lights.)

I won the virtual game of Rock-Paper-Scissors this time, and thus got to sit down with Mr. McElroy for a virtual chat about his tunes and his very diverse resume: he has been a bus driver, a taxidermist’s apprentice, a deejay in Vermont and a field music archivist for the Library of Congress and private collectors.

In the spirit of fair warning: I use way too many exclamation points and there is some discussion of dead bobcats.

So I’ve read your bio, and my first response is HI I AM AN ARCHIVIST TOO!!! (I am, for real, that is my day job!!)

Amazing that you are an archivist! I don’t know what gave you the bug, but for me the turning point was the discovery of Alan Lomax (and all his associated acts/performers – especially Leadbelly). I fell head over heels and knew that’s what I was supposed to be doing with my life – the concept of an Indiana Jones meets Phil Spector who travels the world in search of harmonic treasure rather than gold just slayed me.

What got me was actually a project I did as a senior in college when I had to spend a lot of time in the archives, reading old minute books for the literary society I belonged to.

I haven’t yet gotten to be Indiana Jones in search of music, but I did work on a massive natural history photo collection that allowed me to visit the Canadian Arctic and British Guiana without ever leaving my desk. And occasionally I get to read letters that start with “Somehow, we survived the revolution.”

What are your favorite stories from your travels and/or collections?

As far as field recording stories go: one of my favorites takes place in Mongolia, during what began as a fishing trip for taimen – the largest and most voracious salmonid. A week into the vacation from field recording, on the edge of the Khan Kentii Strictly Protected Area (where Genghis Khan’s ultra-secret gravesite supposedly lies), our guides got hooched up on ger (fermented mares’ milk), and told us about a shaman throatsinger, who apparently knew a song that could reanimate the dead.

Needless to say, fly fishing quickly took a back seat to locating this itinerant Tengrist shaman with the power of reincarnation. Against all odds, we tracked down the throatsinger. Only instead of regaling us with ancient incantations with the power to bring the dead back from beyond the grave, the shaman just sang us some AC/DC songs, taking extreme liberties with the melody and lyrics. My favorite rendition was DIRTY DEEDS – hands down.

I think pretty much ANYTHING would have to take a back seat to finding the wandering shaman with the power of reincarnation. I totally love that he sang you AC/DC songs instead, too.

The reanimator shaman with a penchant for cock rock really hits home some key concepts: 1) every corner of the globe – no matter how remote – has been impacted by 20th century American music, 2) real musicians do not make boundaries between folk and pop music – they just play what they want.


Antonio Fabiano aka "The Cisco Kid" (guitar), Geordie McElroy (banjo), and Jym "The Snake" Fahey (harmonica & kazoo), live at Silverlake Lounge. Photo courtesy Geordie McElroy


What was it like being a taxidermist’s assistant?

The taxidermy game was as fun (and visceral) as it sounds. When puberty hit, I became OBSESSED with fishing – and the art of fish mounts as a result. One thing lead to another and after literally hundreds of hours of taxidermy instructional videos on VHS (I highly recommend the Bob Elzner series), I began to do “extremely amateur” taxidermy jobs on millpond pickerel and roadkill oppsums.

In terms of stories, my favorite is when I was working for moonlighting for a taxidermist and working as a residential instructor at a boarding school in Winooski, VT. My boss had me drive out to the Northeast Kingdom to pick up a bobcat from some old timer – the thing was in one of those cheap styrofoam coolers – and it did NOT look good. I brought it back to my apartment in the dorm, and had to find a way to keep it cold, while simultaneously hiding it from my students.

It would not fit in the fridge, so I literally had to keep the bobcat container in my tub, and fill it with snow (which was rapidly melting this time of year) every three hours. After all the work, when my boss finally saw the critter, he realized there was WAY beyond mounting – estimating that it had been dead for at least three months. My guess is that the geezer found the bobcat dead in the woods as the snow started to melt that season.

Auuuugh rotting bobcat in the bathtub! My one (and so far only) encounter with a taxidermied bobcat happened when I was working for a newspaper. I was the real estate reporter and one of the houses I was covering had a stuffed bobcat on the sideboard in the dining room. You know, just chilling. It was too big for me to move so I just had to include it in the pictures.

Anyway! Moving on! You’re releasing an LP On Dec. 20th called TAKE THAT! (YOU MUTATED SON OF A BITCH), what’s that about?

It is lot of banjo and breakbeats based mash-ups and reworkings Hollywood theme songs, mixed up with some ancient Lautari melodies and whatnot.

What is an ancient Lautari melody?

The Lautari are a “clan” or “cast” of Romani. In my (humble) opinion these are the greatest folk musicians in the world. They act like dj’s – absorbing all the music around them (Romanian folk tunes, Byzantine liturgical chants, Turkish fantasies, Russian dirges, movie themes, etc) and spit it back out in an improvised fashion that is never played the same twice – but hard and funky enough to rock weddings and religious festivals that can go on for days – literally.


FULL CREW: Sadie D'Marquez (EASTSIDE GIRLS vocals), Alex Volz (EASTSIDE GIRLS / 10,000 WILD MILES guitar), and Geordie McElroy. Photo courtesy Geordie McElroy.


While we’re on the subject of mash-ups and reworkings, let’s talk about some of your earlier releases for a minute, starting with East Side Girls.



I was practically clapping my hands with glee on the street because I LOVE Buffalo Girls (the folk song) which, as far as I can tell is the bones it’s built on. And there’s the “round the outside” which I somewhat belatedly realized I associate primarily with hip-hop – largely thanks to Eminem borrowing from Malcolm McLaren who was borrowing from square-dance calling.

But what is Sadie D’Marquez singing in the first round of “Rebel to the core singing ??” The second time I can hear the “hallelujah” but the first time I can’t make out the words.

(Related: Thanks to Spotify, I have now heard Alvin and the Chipmunks sing Buffalo Girls. Not sure if I’m traumatized or tremendously entertained.)

Glad you like BUFFALO GALS as much as i do. Sadie’s lyrics go: a girl walks down the street / through the hills of the new world / the last stop of the western world / true queen of the angel town scene / where harmony’s language / and poetry’s currency / we’ll she’s an east side girl and she’s been hounded by them / gold diggers and folk singers / dogs in the limelight / so far away from their flatland homes / she’s got that high ground, that root sound, that serpentine moonshine / she’s got feminine divinity / rebel to the core, singing allahu akbar (changes to “hallelujah” the second time through).


And 10,000 Wild Miles Back to Tennessee – is that a reworking or an original? Which pilgrimage is it about?

10,000 WILD MILES comes from a defunct bathroom turned storage closet in the basement of the Hancock County Public Library in Sneedville, TN. The high elevation hamlet seemed like a rich folk vein for two reasons: 1) it’s the hometown of Jimmy Martin – my favorite bluegrass musician, and 2) the epicenter of Melungeon culture. The lyrics come from a poetic letter home by a local boy (identified only as William S.) who had gone off to fight the Kaiser as a doughboy. The letter was posted from Saintes-Maries-de-La-Mer in France, and addressed to: Collins’ Farm, Sneedville. I can only hazard a guess as to who the recipient was.



The last set of songs you put out were Moonshiner and Barbarosa. What’s the story behind them?

MOONSHINER comes from the Smoky Mountain archiving expedition of late October, 2008, when I travelled to outer reaches of Thompkins Knob, NC in search of Caleb Isquith – a promising flat-picker and writer in the Asheville scene, who had fallen into obscurity after his institutionalization for paranoid schizophrenia.

This reworking of a traditional gospel hymn is reported to be the last song Caleb wrote, days before bleeding to death in confinement during a self-castration attempt. The extreme measure was an attempt, in Caleb’s own words, to “stop the changing.” The musician’s aunt and occasional dulicimer accompanist, Beth Ahearn, allowed me access to the original lyric sheet and notations to MOONSHINER. To my knowledge, no other recordings of this song exist.

The B-side, BARBAROSA, is an ancient Traveller tune picked up during bonfire sessions amongst the encampments of grape pickers in the Barossa Valley.




And finally, what do you have planned for 2012?

Expect multiple full-length recordings from Blackwater Jukebox in 2012. I’m hitting the ground running, recording original songs and radical reworkings of traditionals. What’s more, 2012 is going to see a heap of instructional materials – banjo, music/songwriting theory, and production tutorials, field recording primers, along with video journals of amazing, yet unknown LA master musicians, and of course, Blackwater Jukebox videos. In many ways, the material released in 2011 was just a prelude for what’s coming next.


Upcoming shows for Blackwater Jukebox
12/30/10, Lot 1 Cafe in Echo Park, 11pm
1/28/11, Silverlake Lounge in Silverlake with Sadie & The Blue Eyed Devils, 8pm.

A Conversation with Rick Steff


Our friend Michelle Evans has another report from Nashville for us, this time with the diversely-talented and widely- and highly-regarded Rick Steff.



Photo by Brandy Munsell


Rick Steff, to me, is one of the best things about Lucero, so I jumped at the chance to speak with him at Mercy Lounge in Nashville. We discussed life in Lucero, his incredible career as a journeyman, and, last but certainly not least, his daddy. (Turns out, his father and my grandfather may have played together with the Ringling Bros. Circus.) Long ago dubbed by yours truly as “The Nicest Man Alive,” Rick is as talented as he is nice. I think you’ll agree.

What have you been working on recently?

Well, I do a lot of records. I’ve been on more than a couple hundred records. Most recently, the records I’ve done outside of Lucero, that I think are of certain note, are the Amy LaVere record, Stranger Me, that’s on Thirty Tigers. John Stubblefield also performed on it, and it’s just a really unique record by a really unique artist that we’ve had out on the road with us before. Her back-up band, at that time, was Paul Taylor, who’s worked with John and went to school with John, and Steve Selvidge, who played with Lucero during Brian Venable’s tenure away, and he’s now in The Hold Steady, who are all friends of ours. They aren’t the guys on this record, but that’s kinda where she comes from. The record was produced by Craig Selby, who did the Arcade Fire record, The Suburbs, that won Grammy of the Year this year, so yeah, Stranger Me is a real great record. It was kinda put together last minute, so we kinda built this record from scratch, so I’m real excited about that.

I’m always working on different projects. Last year, it was Huey Lewis and The News.

Did you, really? I love that.

Yeah, I did the Huey Lewis and The News reunion record, which was really awesome. He was hilarious. Huey was recovering. He had had a stint put in his heart.

It all kinda started in the previous year. I had done this record and movie with a guy named Klaus Voormann, who was the guy that drew the Revolver cover for The Beatles and was the bass player on John Lennon records and George Harrison records. He’s really one of the guys who discovered the Beatles. Anyway, he was 70, and he was going around the country reuniting with all these people he had worked with throughout the years and making a movie. So he came to Memphis to do a track with Bonnie Bramlett, and I played on that. We hit it off, and ultimately I got to play on the tune that he cut with McCartney and Ringo, so that was really cool, and it’s in the movie as well, which is called A Sideman’s Journey. It’s Klaus Voormann and friends, and it’s really just a movie about people who do what I do. Journeymen.

So back to Huey. The cool part is, he was getting his surgery done, and I loaned him the film to watch while he was in the hospital, and I got a voicemail from him – still have it on my computer – “Rick Steff. Huey Lewis. Big fan of your work. Just wanted to call and tell you that I love that you were in that movie.” So I’ve got a voicemail from Huey Lewis thanking me for a movie I was in. It’s, like, really surrealistic shit which doesn’t really happen to me. So, yeah. It was awesome. So, ya know, sometimes you get to do stuff that’s really cool.

So you really keep busy.

Yeah, and that’s not all! [laughs]

Oh! [laughs] Do tell!

Just got through working with a young girl, who’s record I’ll finish next week, called Alex da Ponte, from a band called Yeah, Arturo, and I’m really excited about that. I think she’s gonna be someone to watch. She’s really good.

So yeah, that’s all. I just try to play on… Well, sometimes you play on things for money, and sometimes you play on things for art, and usually the things that you like playing on the most aren’t the most lucrative, but that’s the way it is. But me, I’m just glad to be able to do some of everything.

I don’t think we can do an interview without mentioning your dad, Dick Steff, and his legacy.

Oh, yeah, well Dad, ya know, played on all these great records: Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis, Rufus Thomas’ Do the Funky Chicken, Elvis’ Complete American Sound Studios Sessions, which was the “Suspicious Minds”/”Kentucky Rain”/”In the Ghetto” time period. I would go with him to sessions, and I just wanted to be Dad. I just wanted to do what he did.

There’s a gentleman here playing horns for Lucero who studied under your father, correct?

Yup, Scott Thompson. He did our most recent record and played live with us, and he was one of Dad’s main students and worked with him for a long time. He plays probably closer to my dad than anyone else I know. It’s wonderful. It’s a personal thing that’s also nice for me.

Jim Spake also studied under dad. Dad taught Jazz Theory and things like that at Memphis State, now the University of Memphis, so if you were a music major in the ’60s and ’70s, you kinda almost had to take something from him if you were a jazzer, and most horn players tend to be jazzers to some degree.

So it’s incredible. I mean, these are people my mom knows and loves.

As a fan of things in general, and as a fan of you, and as a fan of Lucero, I think it’s really awesome to see you being a fan.

Oh, I’m a super-fan! Are you kidding? I am a super-fan. I have never worked with a songwriter who I respect as much as Ben Nichols in my life. Ever, in my career. I have never worked with a band I am more comfortable playing with, both musically and the integrity of the people involved in this band. So, yeah, I’m an uber-fan, all the way.

How did you first start with Lucero?

Oh, that’s an interesting story. Again, doing journeyman kind of stuff. A guitar player I worked with a lot is a mutual friend of John’s, named David Cousar, who worked on Amy LaVere’s record. John was helping coordinate a session for this poet friend of ours named City Mouse. I didn’t know him at the time, but it was a spoken word thing, and he wanted an accordion, upright, acoustic guitar, and drums, so David Cousar, John Stubblefield, Roy Berry, and I played the backing track at a guy named Chris Scott’s studio. So we did this record, and I hit it off with Roy and John, and they were toying with the idea of having some keyboards, because there had been keyboards on the records in the past, before I came. So we tried it, and I didn’t leave. We just hit it off, and it was awesome, and I felt very lucky. It came exactly through a journeyman type of situation.

When someone you’re an uber-fan of, like Ben Nichols, says how much integrity and talent you bring to Lucero, how does that make you feel?

I’m glad he feels that way, but I’m very not… I don’t know. It’s wonderful. I’m glad he feels that way. I’m honored. I’m totally honored that he likes what I bring to the table, but I’m the lucky one out of this deal, as far as I’m concerned.


An Update with Austin Lucas


NTSIB’s good friend Michelle Evans checks in with road report on Austin Lucas. Midwestern Ohio NOTE: Austin is playing Zanesfield TONIGHT. More details below.




I was able to catch up with Bloomington, Indiana musician Austin Lucas this past weekend before his set at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville, where he and his back-up band for the past couple of weeks, Glossary, opened for alt-country Tennessee rockers Lucero. It was a line-up made in heaven, for which people from all over the country drove and flew in. We talked about what it was like for him touring with Glossary, his European fan base, and what’s ahead.

You can catch him with his family band in Zanesfield, Ohio this Friday, November 25th at 7 p.m. at the Mad River Theater Works Studio, and/or next Friday, December 2nd at The Bishop with Murder by Death in Bloomington, IN. I don’t recommend missing these shows; he won’t be touring the U.S. again till next year.

How’s it been touring with Glossary?

Amazing. It’s like being on tour with five stand-up comedians. We just laugh a lot, and I mean a lot. Usually, I laugh a lot on tour, but it’s not often I go on tour with a band that’s been together 15 years and really knows each other and really gets along and also has so much camaraderie between them, and they’re dynamic is really good. They’re all really funny people and all really sweet people. Fitting in with them could’ve been really daunting, ya know, like a 6th wheel, but in this case, the 6th wheel runs real smoothly. It was the most natural tour experience I’ve had with another band.

How long have you been on tour with them now?

Two weeks. It was a short little tour.

How did y’all mesh musically, like with them playing your songs?

For me, great. In my way of thinking, really great. A lot of people at the shows were like, “Holy shit, I wish they were your band all the time.” At least the people who said anything to me felt that way. I’m sure there were people who thought, “He didn’t play any of his old songs,” or “He didn’t play very much acoustic,” but that happens.

Now, Todd Beene was with you that entire time, correct?

Yeah, of course. He was with Lucero up until our tour and then with us, and now these two shows with both of us. He prioritized Glossary and Austin Lucas. It was very sweet of him.

What’s ahead?

A lot of resting. I’m going home. I don’t have any dates, really, until I go to Mexico and then Europe, so I don’t have anything going on till then. I’m going to write songs, get in the studio maybe around January, something like that. We’ll see.

And you’re bigger in Europe, right?


How does Europe generally treat you? Like what are your favorite spots?

Finland’s my most favorite place to play in the world, without a doubt. Finland, the UK, and Germany are my three biggest markets, and in the UK, it’s really the south where I do well, like in London, Brighton, and pretty well in Leeds, but I haven’t really broke in the west and the north as well. In Europe, I sell out quite a few venues. At least I have on my other tours.

Which folks do you or have you toured in Europe with? Anyone we would know?

In the past, usually, I’ve packaged up, like with Chuck Ragan, Mike Hale, and Josh Small. Also Drag the River and Cory Branan. The last tour was with Digger Barnes. He’s a German guy, and he was Chuck’s bassist for a while. He was originally my bass player in my band Austin Lucas and The Pressmen, my back-up musicians. Then he met Chuck, and he played with us on Bristle Ridge and was on the first several tours. He’s awesome. He’s amazing, and he’s got his own solo stuff. We did a tour together last year.

So who’s playing with you on this upcoming European tour?

I’m just going to bring my back-up band, The Bold Party. We don’t have anybody supporting. It’ll be the first tour I’ve done over there in a long time where I wasn’t packaged up and ensured that the music quality was really good every night. There aren’t a lot of acts over that that play what we play or Americana or alt-country or whatever, so we’ll see. Should be a great time no matter what.

JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound: If Life Was Easy As a Song


JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound release their Bloodshot Records debut, Want More, today and it is a fine, fine soul album that feels and breathes and dances with a deep shimmy, not playing out as a lifeless set-piece as can easily happen when a modern band takes up a sound closely associated with an earlier era. Lyrically, it’s a relatable album that speaks in real terms instead of heart-shaped metaphors. Musically, it’s a straight-up rump-shaker of rich grooves that just seems to grow richer with each listen. And, personally, I was singing along within two or three spins of the album.

JC was kind enough to answer a few questions for us…



When and why did you start singing? How did the Uptown Sound come together?

Because my mom was always singing, I started singing around the house as a toddler. I did Chorus in elementary and middle school, and formed my first band in high school. JCBUS came together because Ben, our bassist, and I answered an ad put out by Billy, our guitarist, who was looking to make aggressive dance music.




A press release describes your music as “post-punk soul”. What does that mean to you? How do you think your music fits into this era?

Post-punk soul, to me, is emotive music that doesn’t try to fit into the typical “soul” girdle of warmly lit, grease-lensed love. We discuss love in our music, but usually more graphically than traditional soul, and we also don’t only take the point of view that the common portrayal of love is the ‘be-all, end-all’ ultimate goal. We write about the lighter side of lust and the general messiness of love, its hindsight is less hazy and more 20/20 when we write about why a relationship went wrong, etc. I don’t think our music fits into the post-punk era so much, but it does harken to a post-punk aesthetic that’s been pressed through a soul filter.

I hear some Stax influence in your music, like Otis Redding and the Dramatics. Who else are you influenced by?

For me personally: Patti LaBelle and Tina Turner are huge performance influences. Vocally, I draw inspiration from Otis, Teddy Pendergrass, Anita Baker and Amy Winehouse.

For the band: Bad Brains, Gang of Four, Living Colour, The Stooges, Bowie, Tower of Power, The MGs… the list could go on and on.



How did the idea to soul up Wilco come about?

Well, it started with Billy wondering what Syl Johnson (we were working with Syl at the time for the Numero Group revue) would sound like covering music like Wilco or Bowie, and from there it blossomed into the version we do now.



How did things come together with JCBUS and Bloodshot?

We stormed the Bloodshot office and held them hostage until they agreed to our demands…

What have you and the band been listening to lately?

Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Adele, Tune-Yards, JD MacPherson, Jill Scott, Joe Bataan… A lot of stuff all the time, really, but the artists I listed above have been getting a lot of play lately.


Listen to and download their first single, “Everything Will Be Fine”.

Everything Will Be Fine by JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound


JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound Official Website


Photos by Nate Burrell, courtesy of KDHX

Take That Hovercraft Straight To Paris: Holy Ghost Station, by Dustbowl Revival

Good morning, NTSIBbers. Today I would like you to meet Dustbowl Revival, a roots/jazz collective from Venice, California. They recently put out a record called Holy Ghost Station, and if you like your bluegrass to have some jazzy swing, this record is for you.

Also, if we have any swing dancers in the audience – or people that love swing dancers and want to provide them with snazzy new music – I am reliably informed that Dustbowl’s tunes are, in general, ideally suited to the St. Louis Shag, the Collegiate Shag, Balboa, and the Jitterbug. Furthermore, Lowdown Blues, one of my favorites, is perfect for the Lindy Hop.

Zach Lupetin, founder / ringmaster of the Revival / Collective, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the group:

What inspired you to delve so deeply into this particular era / genre of American music?

I’d say first, I started writing songs when I was in high school and my father (a great blues harp player in Chicago who often plays with Dustbowl when he’s in town) was blasting a lot of big band, blues and early rock n’ roll – British invasion stuff. My mom was heavy into the sixties folky scene and Patsy Cline and those country artists that had crossed over.

In college it sorted started seeping in and I had some friends in a band there that pushed me to look earlier, which sort of started a love-affair with close-harmony bluegrass and jug-band style tunes, Dixieland, that playful Fats Waller piano boogie and the earliest form of all – the church music and Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and so forth.

I lived in the Village in NYC for a little while and there is this crusty old bar called Arthur’s Tavern on Grove and there is a Dixieland band that has played ever Monday night for the last 59 years or something absurd. Old cats who can really blow. Something about that sound, the raw happiness in it, that really stuck in my mind – not sure why. It’s like seeing into a past life or something. You’re deep in it without any real reason to be.

Seeing what C.W. Stoneking and The Del McCoury-Preservation Hall Jazz Band are doing combining roots and pre-war jazz forms really got me going. The band has been together for over three years now and keeps getting bigger.

Do you ever go out on tour, or is it a strictly catch you in Los Angeles kind of affair?

The band is a bit of a large gang (usually 7-9 of us at a time) so extensive touring has not quite happened. Though we have played a good deal in San Francisco and the Bay as well as Seattle, Anchorage, Chicago, and San Diego.

The LA area is so diverse that it’s easy to fall into a nice rhythm of playing clubs and events here. I’ve traveled extensively in Europe and lived in Prague for a bit so I’d love to bring the group across the pond – would be a blast.

How many of you are there, exactly, and who plays what in the band as of right now?

Our core instrumentation is usually: acoustic guitar (Z.Lupetin), mandolin (Daniel Mark), fiddle (Connor Vance), trumpet (Matt Rubin), trombone (Ulf Bjorlin), clarinet (Nate Ketner), a gal singer (Caitlin Doyle) (plus washboard), drums (Josh Heffernan), upright bass (Austin Nicholsen + often we have a gypsy guitar player (Ray Bergstrom), blues harp (JT Ross), tuba, banjo (Matt Breur) accordion (Gee Rabe) and pedal steel.

We even had a bagpipe once! We act as a collective so we are constantly having new musicians in the area come in and out.

Thanks Zach!

Now, as examples of the Dustbowl Revival’s groove, I give you my absolute favorite song of theirs, Le Bataillon. Be sure to listen carefully to the lyrics, as they are amazing and kind of trippy:

Le Bataillon by dustbowlrevival

And also some video:

"Riverboat Queen" performed by The Dustbowl Revival live at the Echoplex