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

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)

Introducing: Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall is from Portland, Oregon. As the son of a preacher that founded his own church, Marshall grew up with religion at home and even played and led the church’s music.  Then, after several years of floating around the indie music scene, Marshall gave himself an ultimatum: make a record before you turn 30. With help from bassist Allen Hunter (The Eels), drummer Ezra Holbrook (The Decemberists), and pedal steel player Paul Brainard (Richmond Fontaine), he made it just under the wire, releasing August Light in 2010, at age 29.

The record has a strong country core with ribbons of western swirling through the bottom and indie-rock grace notes on the top. It’s a complex and fascinating mix, and after a couple of listens I decided I wanted to know more about the man behind the sound. Here’s what I asked, and what I found out:


What were you doing, musically, before you decided it was time to fish or cut bait, as it were, and make a solo record? Did you jump directly from church music to a more secular concept, or was it a gradual shifting?

I’ve been going at it solo from the outset, so it was just a matter of timing when I decided to finally go in and make a full-length/fully-realized studio record. I’d done a number of recording sessions before, just sort of working out a style and sound that I felt was sort of my own. I got to the point where I felt I was sitting on a really strong batch of songs, so it was just a matter of executing a studio recording that would frame those songs in the best shape possible.

And as far as the distinction between church music and secular, I’ve never really felt compelled to make one in terms of the music I write and perform. Art is art to me, and I like to think music is still art, even though it has more baggage than other artistic mediums. I think there is definitely a specific type of art and a style of music that is directly written for the church, what we might call “liturgical” music in the Christian tradition.

I’ve definitely recorded some gospel music, but I don’t see myself in that role as an artist. And what is commonly called “christian music” is just an industry definition, and I’m not comfortable at all taking what I do and calling it that. If it deserves any classification, it’s just American music, and I’m just an artist who borrows from that medium, whether it’s gospel, country, blues, folk, or rock and roll.


How did your family react to you choosing secular music?

If I’m doing something I believe in and am working hard at it, my family is always behind me. And there is no one more supportive than my folks. I doubt if the thought of whether or not what I sing is “secular” or “christian” ever crosses their mind. I wasn’t raised in a home where faith was something rigid or oppressive. It was always presented to me as a really beautiful and heartfelt thing, and music was always central to that.


How did you meet the musicians who worked with you on the record?

Jeremy Wilson produced the record, and his ties to the Portland music scene are pretty deep, from his time with the Dharma Bums in the late-80’s, early 90’s. When we started talking about the sound we’d go for, he keyed in on some of the guys he thought would knock it out, and luckily they all we’re free and able to get behind it. Paul Brainard plays pedal steel for Richmond Fontaine, who is a Portland band that I’ve admired for a really long time. They were the first 21+ show I ever saw, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since.

So he played steel on the record and did the string arrangments, which are really the highlight of the album for me (“For Too Long Now” and “Everytime the Wind Blows”). Allen Hunter played bass, and he’s just a stud; plays in a band called Kleveland, and tours occasionally with the Eels. In fact, he’s doing a world tour with them this summer.

And Ezra Holbrook, who played drums, is just a boss all around. He was the first drummer for the Decemberists, plays now with Casey Neill and the Norway Rats and is the lead MC for a local band called Dr. Theopolis. He does some killer songwriting and performing solo as well, has a new record out right now actually. The other elements were done by close friends of mine who I’ve worked with before either in the studio or live.


What were some of the specific challenges that you had to climb over to get to the point where you were ready to make the record?

I’d actually go back 6 or 7 years ago to a season in my life where I had just started recovering from really the darkest possible period I hope I ever have to go through. And I just had a really simple goal which was to keep writing songs and to eventually cut an album that I could look at and call good before I turned thirty.

It was really just trial and error from there, but a few years later when I was continuing to experiment with songwriting, I just got a strong, organic sense that it was time to really go for it. I wasn’t playing out or anything at that point, but it’s the moment where I started to. And when this particular record started coming together the way it did, with the group of songs and the effort going into it, I came to a really fulfilling realization that I’d set a goal and reached it.


Your sound is an interesting mix of country and western and indie-pop. Which artists would you say influenced the development of that sound?

The country elements come straight from the giants: Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, and on into George Strait and some of the contemporary artists I really like, such as Ryan Adams and Hayes Carll and even big-time guys like Zac Brown Band and Brad Paisley. This is where I’d throw Bob Dylan into that mix as well. And Neil Diamond, for fun. And Elvis Presley kind of presides over everything as far I’m concerned. In general though, I’m just a music hound.

I get in deep to just about every flavor there is and I can talk shop with just about anyone on any genre. I actually probably listen these days to more gangster rap than anything else. But as far as the indie streak, I’m pulling from bands I grew up copping, like Sunny Day Real Estate, Mineral, Flaming Lips, and even awesome-era U2.

I saw Arcade Fire’s first show in Portland when they opened up for Ted Leo and the Phamarcists back in 2004, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. Their whole presentation and approach is really refreshing and inspiring, and there are nods to that influence in a few different spots on the record.


And then the traditional three:

What was your transformative song – the rock and roll lightning strike – and why?

Goodness. I’d have to really meditate on that for a few days before I could really say for sure. But I’m gonna go with Elvis’ “American Trilogy.”  That performance puts the fear of God in me everytime I hear it. It’s shockingly epic, and the footage I have seen of him performing it live, with the orchestra and the Stamps singing back up; it’s just terrifyingly brilliant. The greatest vocal performance I know of.


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

The first real “show” I ever went to, which is different in my mind from what I think of as “concerts” in an arena, was a So.Cal. punk band called The Blamed in the basement of an old church building in Southeast Portland that was called The Push. I still remember thinking of the ringing in my ears as my own personal badge of honor for like two days afterwards. I felt like I’d passed through some kind of labyrinth, you know?

I have a photo I recently found that I had forced my brother to take soon after that show. I’m dressed exactly like the lead singer of the Blamed, with cut off Dickies and a “wife-beater,” as they were so unfortunately called, and black Converse low-tops with the star logo on the side.

I had made this fake microphone, and I did this punk rock jump/kick thing just like him, but my jump was off the washer and drier in our garage. Not exactly as cool as jumping off the kick drum. I put the picture on my fridge after I found it so I can always be reminded that, at my core, I’m really just a big poser.


What was the first record you bought? What was the last one?

I can’t really pick out a first from the abundance of cassette tapes and cassette singles we had around, but I do remember the first two compact discs my brother and I brought home when we got our first CD player. Oddly enough, one of them was the Blamed’s album on Tooth and Nail Records called “21,” and the other was Weezer’s Blue album. We were pretty sure that record wasn’t punk at all, but I don’t think anyone at my age at the time could resist the hits on that album.

The last record I bought probably won’t tell you much about me as an artist. It’s just a mixtape by former Roc-A-Fella artists Freeway and Beanie Sigel, and I got it so I could hear Sigel’s Jay-Z diss (even though I love Hova), and because they are two of my all time favorites.

Probably a more relevant one to highlight is the second to last record I bought, which was Ryan Adams and the Cardinal’s new double-album “III/IV.” I wasn’t sure I’d like it because his cheeky rock stuff has never been my favorite, but it’s actually one of his best in my book.


Finally, here he is with “I Found You”, live in Portland:


The Bell

Band members (from left to right): Nicklas, Mathias, Jan. Photo  courtesy of Bad Man Recording Co.

The Bell are Nicklas Nilsson, Mathias Stromberg and Jan Petterson, from Malmö and Stockholm, Sweden. Last month they released Great Heat, their second record, which they put together with a great deal  of help from modern technology. I carried it around with me on my iPod for a week or so, and then, intrigued by their beats, made use of technology myself, and had an email chat with Mathias and his bandmates:

Mathias, I see that you sing, but which instruments do the rest of the band play?

Jan and Nicklas play all instruments, but write most of the songs on guitar and keyboard/piano. They fiddle with the computers and then we record vocals (all of us even though I do lead) and produce/mix everything together the three of us.


Why did you name the band The Bell?

There really is no specific answer to this question, it springs from a lot of things. From “For Whom The Bell Tolls” by Hemingway, which is just such an excellent title – to just sounding neat. We like the singular notion of One Bell, as well. THE Bell. It sounds alarming and like enlightenment.


I checked a map to see just how far apart Malmö and Stockholm are, and it looks like it’s approximately the same distance, as, say, New York City to the tip of Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, or about a six hour drive. I know you managed to record and mix the record while living in the different cities, but how did you all meet in the first place? And also who lives in Malmö and who lives in Stockholm?

Jan and Nicklas are small town boys both geographically and by heart. Jan’s from the north of Sweden originally and Nicklas from the south. I’m from and in Stockholm. Me and Jan go to know each other out on the town, as he used to live here. We realized we were into the same music (and books, films, wine and fonts) so we hung out more and more. Then he moved to Malmö for love.


Fonts? Which ones? Which font do you both appreciate the most, and why?

Today I would have to say old Poster Bodoni. Getting that fifties Italian café vibe …


Did you ever meet in the middle, as it were, to work on things? Or was the entire record made solely with the help of modern technology?

As mentioned earlier, we did most of the groundwork over the web and then met up to do vocals and production, both in our “home studio” in Malmö and rented spaces both in Malmö and Stockholm. So in short: we were creative online and anal producers in studio.


How did you all get interested in this particular kind of dark, drum-propelled synth-pop?

We all got laid for the first time in the eighties. So that’s where our very most primal love lies. For me personally, there was a lot of great synth clubs in Stockholm (and not very much else apart from horrible metal places where you’d get beaten up unless you looked like a muscular transvestite) so when I started to go out in my teens I tended to go to goth caves getting into EBM and electronic stuff. All this sort of evolved over time into more guitar driven stuff such as the Factory and Creation stuff in the late eighties.


The Stockholm club scene sounds like an “it’s all ABBA or Opeth” kind of situation. It is an interesting dichotomy, that “Swedish music”, or at least what Americans know of it, swings between two wildly different extremes of bright, bubbly pop and/or dance music and, well, death-metal.

Well, this it was it used to be like. Nowadays we get a lot of different clubs, ranging from obscure indie and electronica to just plain … well, bad stuff. So although I think these extremes exist (even if the death metal scene really is Norweigan rather than Swedish – here, the long hairs do garage rock or sleaze it seems) it is not as it once was.  And for this we’re very thankful. Swedes have always been an extremely open minded people so that narrow mindset does not work for the younger generations.


Which episode of Jersey Shore did your song end up in, and which song was it? Have there been any recent placements that top that one?

Can ANYTHING top Jersey Shore??? No but seriously, checking online the episode was called “The Tanned Triangle” … haha. How great is that? We had a song from our last album in Vampire Diaries last spring and a recent placement in No Ordinary Family and hoping to get a few more in the next few months.


A Jersey Shore appearance is indeed pretty epic, even if I can’t bear to watch that show at all, not even with the sound off.

I would like to be diplomatic and state that “it’s great that they’re doing their thing” but that would be indicating it had some level of artistic integrity.


And then the three that I ask everyone, the modified Proust Questionnaire, if you will:

What was your transformative song – the rock and roll lightning strike?

Matthias: Today I would have to say There is a light that Never Goes Out by The Smiths. It’s when I discovered heart & soul in music. Before that it was all … surface. Obviously, this soundtracked long make-out sessions when I was 14 together with the rest of the tracks on The Queen is Dead. Such a beautiful work of art. After that I realized that the alternative came in different flavours.

Nicklas: I had a friend who had a synthesizer. One evening while he was out in the kitchen eating with his parents I learned to play The Model. I think I was 8 years old at that time. Music became more transparent after that.  I suddenly knew I could play the same melodies and harmonies that were actually pressed on vinyl. Strange and shocking. I still sometimes revisit that feeling when using keyboards today.

Jan: Television – Venus


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

Matthias: Kraftwerk in Stockholm in … 1985, I think. It was fucking excellent.

Nicklas: 1982. A local new romantic band with loads of delay on vocals and guitars. The drummer had a white shirt with lace and very very long sleeves. The volume was so high that I lost my balance every now and then. I can’t remember a single tone they played. But I still want a shirt like that.

Jan: Ian Hunter in my home town of SkellefteÃ¥. I was 10 years old and I desperately tried to copy Ian’s haircut.


What was the first record/tape/etc that you bought? What was the last one?

Matthias: The first of any importance was Yazoos You and Me Both in 1983 and the last … I’m sorry, I’m from Sweden. We don’t really buy records. We subscribe to Spotify. But on that note, I listened to The Crystal Stilts new album just a minute ago and that is awsome!

Nicklas: I bought Tintin Red Rackham’s Treasure. Not much good music on that one. But almost immediately I traded it for Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity. The last one was a pretty lousy demo by a local band. I can’t mention the band name. I know the guitarist.

Jan: Donny Osmond – Puppy Love and The Maccabees – O.A.V.I.P

An example of their groove: Today, from their new record, Great Heat:

Get More Gritty: Again and Again

Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Again and Again, of Seattle, who I learned about from Twitter. After I had poked around their website a little bit and listened to a couple of songs, I was intrigued and wanted to know more. After getting past some technical difficulties, drummer XwesX (Wes Keely) (center) and I had the following email chat:


Who was in which band, previously, and how did you get together to form Again and Again? And who does what in Again and Again – did anyone switch roles (or instruments) from previous bands?

OK, well, to start this off, Dutch VI (above left) plays guitar, Geoffrey C Walker (above right) sings, and I play drums. We had a few other members over the years, but at the current moment this is the core group, and we have a few fill in bass players that go out on tour with us from time to time. Geoffrey used to sing in the Victory Records band called On The Last Day based out of Seattle, Dutch VI also plays in a few different hardcore bands that we are not really allowed to talk about, and I was a founder of Walls of Jericho and have also played in bands such as Most Precious Blood, Throwdown, Until The End, Remembering Never and a few others.  I also spent years as a hired gun for several different bands over a span of 5 or 6 years.

There was no role switching as far as instruments go, although we all play other instruments. Dutch plays a mean set of drums from time to time; Geoffrey plays guitar and bass and knows how to rock a Pro Tools rig like no other; and I play guitar as well as bass.


On the “hired gun” front, I see from your blog that you were out with the Jonas Brothers. How did that happen and what was that like, because there’s quite a vast gulf, musically, between Throwdown and the Jonas Brothers. Also, tangentially, I have noticed that there are an awful lot of ex-hardcore drummers in pop and/or pop-punk bands. Is that just a coincidence, or a kind of natural progression?

Haha, well, ok, I did some touring with Jonas this past summer, but there was no drumming involved. I was on the tour working for one of the lead sponsors of the tour that works with the Jonas group.  It’s funny, I did a tour just before that one with Jordin Sparks and a lot of people were asking me “are you drumming for her?” because really with the amount of jumping around that I have done in the past something like that is pretty possible.

As far as hardcore drummers in pop music, well that one has been happening on and off for years, people like Andy Hurley playing in Fall Out Boy with Pete [Wentz], and Chad Gilbert playing in New Found Glory after sinning in Shai Hulud.  I think its just one of those things where people just play in HC bands for years and eventually you just want to do something else.

Pete and Andy used to go to WOJ and Earthmover (band 3 members were in before we started WOJ) shows in Chicago and they played in HC bands too. We all used to have fun and play shows together and mosh it up, but eventually some of us just wanted to do other things.  Some people go back to school, some get married, some start pop bands and become millionaires, it happens.


Hah! There’s also Alex Johnson of The Cab, though I don’t remember now which HC band they got him from. Though Andy Hurley (and Joe Trohman) have since gone back to heavy music, with The Damned Things.

Yeah, it’s awesome, they are all doing great. Andy and I just recently got back into touch, he’s a rad dude and a solid drummer I hope to see him play again one day here soon!!


On the ProTools tangent – have you been producing your own records, or are you working up demos and then working with a producer?

YES, the first record we had some help from a sweet dude named Steve Carter, he’s a great guy and a great engineer and has million dollar ideas.  Steve and Geoffrey pretty much handled the first record [Again and Again, 2008]. I mean, we all had our hands in, it but the majority of the producing was all on them.  The second record, Get More Gritty [2010], was pretty much all Geoffrey. Derek [Casey], the guitar player and song writer at the time, had hands in it as well, but for the most part it was Geoff.  We had some outsiders mix and master the record, which is always a great idea.


Is sending a record to someone else to be mixed and mastered a good idea because it’s helpful to have someone listen to it / “edit” it who isn’t so close to it?

Yes, I mean sometimes we are so deep in it that we can’t always hear the songs for what they are or what they aren’t.  It’s nice to have another set of ears on the songs.  For example, our latest release Get More Gritty was mixed my one of my oldest friends, Marc Hudson, who happens to be an amazing engineer and has a great ear. I have been working with him on and off since I was about 15.  He spends most of his time on the road with Taking Back Sunday and Saves The Day, [so] he has such a different outlook on how things should sound, and sometimes that makes all the difference in the world!


Why did you pick Seattle as your home base? (Also I’d like to know more about the Barn of Solitude!)

Seattle is a great place to live, we have all lived in a ton of other places, I mean between us all, we have lived in Vermont, Michigan, Virginia, Kansas, Germany, South Florida, Orange County and Washington.  Seattle is by far all of our favorite place to live, it has mountains, desert, snow, rain, rain forest, city, hiking, camping, great music scene, jobs, and great food. It’s just the best! Seattle just happened to be the place that we all ended up, before meeting each other. (Other than Dutch and I, we were friends before the band.)

The Barn of Solitude is a great place, free of most distractions, where we wrote and recorded our first 2 records. It has a great sound and we have been fortunate enough to use it whenever we needed to over the past 3 years.  It’s 30 minutes out side of the city, up in the hills of an area called Sammamish, just east of the city.  We also shot a a video there for More Ripley Less Darrow.  It’s just an awesome place to play, write, and hang out.


Woah, that’s a lot of moving. And I say that as someone’s who’s moved, I think, nine times since 1998, or something like that.

Yeah, I mean between dudes in the band that have been in other band, moving and traveling just kind of comes with the gig.  Some people are fortunate enough to start a band in their home town and never leave only to tour and record, we just haven’t had that luxury.


“Wish I Could Be” and “More Ripley, Less Darrow” are so far my two favorite songs, MR,LD in particular because a) I appreciate a good ode to a self-rescuing princess but also b) it isn’t a simple song. The narrator sounds like he’s really wrestling with the issue. What can you tell me about those songs?

Well all of the songs are written biographically and are situational of course.  There are metaphors all over the place. Geoffrey really puts the work in to tell a good story in a catchy way.  We really try write catchy fun songs but  at the time we also try to keep ourselves entertained while playing them, which in turn makes them a little complicated by nature.  There is a lot of pre-production that goes into our songs, and we try to write more songs that we will need for a record, so we can sort out the best of the material that we have at the time.  We are in the process of starting to write and demo some new tracks, [and] we’re very excited to see what will come out next.


Again and Again - More Ripley, Less Darrow OFFICIAL


Why did you name the band Again and Again?

That was Geoff’s creation. It was funny, when he and I joined up and we were talking about doing a band together, I asked him “what’s this band going to be called?” and he was just like “Again and Again.”  I don’t think that I have ever been in a band where one guy had already decided the band [name]. It’s always such a pain to have 5 dudes trying to come up with that they think is the best band name, him having the name he liked and being set on it was great, because we totally avoided that situation.

When I asked Geoff why that name, he told me this: “To me Again and Again means a lot. It represents persistence and perseverance, sometimes to a fault. But it’s about never giving up”.


Who did the cover art for Get More Gritty and the website? Something about the style seems very familiar and I can’t tell what it is. I am having a moment of Why Do I Recognize That Bear?

If you recognize the bear you are probably just thinking of something else.  There are a lot of people that do the “scratchy” type drawings people like Derek Hess and Jake Bannon but I can assure you it was neither of them, it was in fact my roommate and long time friend Rawb Evans. We had this idea for the new record of a “scratchy” bear and he made it for us.  There are a lot of bears here in Western WA!


I see you’ve been on Warped Tour before, do you have any plans to go out on tour again soon? Not necessarily on Warped Tour, just, at all?

YES!! We did a short 4 week tour in OCT/NOV and have been planning on heading back out, sometimes life and holidays get in the way, that and the US getting blasted with snow everywhere but here in Seattle hahahahaha.  We will be out very soon.


And now the questions for all three of you. What was your transformative song – the rock and roll lightning strike – and why?

Geoffrey: When I first heard a rough version of Excuse This Honesty everything clicked.  I’m proud of everything we’ve done, but that song just really defines what we are at this point.  It has all the elements of music that we’ve been trying to inject into these songs.  Excitement, beauty, sincerity, and intensity.

Dutch: Excuse This Honesty is the jam, it embodies all the rock but still stays groovy and has tons of emotion in the melodies.

XwesX: I feel is the song that actually hit us in the face and the “transformative song” was a song called TMNT2, that never actually saw the light of day. It’s something that we wrote and recorded and it only made it to preproduction before we came up with 4 or 5 songs that were just way better, but had a familiar feeling to the TMNT2 track.  It really was the song that started defining what A&A sounds like today.


What in the world does TMNT2 stand for? Part of my brain wants to parse that as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, and I know that can’t be right.

XwesX: HAHAHA, that’s exactly what it stands for. I can’t tell you why, I can just tell you that that is indeed what it stands for!!


Also, let me rephrase that last question a little bit: what song(s) made you fall in love with rock and roll?

Geoffrey: I can think of a few. But narrowing it down is tough. So here are two. It might sound cliche, but Smells Like Teen Spirit made a big impact on me. It was just so HUGE sounding. So aggressive and in your face.  The other is Closer by Nine Inch Nails. It was the first time I’d really heard electronics in modern music that didn’t induce vomit. It was dirty and grimy and shockingly honest. Trent Reznor remains a hero of mine to this day.

Dutch VI: I have a record more than any one song: Pink Floyd, The Wall.

XwesX: There are definitely a few records that strike me as “the ones” that made me wanna rock but I think when all is said and done it was probably the Arise record from Sepultura. My brother used to air drum to this record all the time, and spin these drum sticks that he had to all the awesome drum parts. I don’t think he could have ever played them for real, but it was cool to watch him when I was like 13.


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

Geoffrey: Aerosmith!  They played a ski area near where I grew up (during the summer).  It was on the Get A Grip Tour.  So good.

Dutch: Steve Miller Band, 1998

XwesX: Body Count, 1992


What was the first record/tape/etc that you bought? What was the last one?

Geoffrey: First: I wish it was something that gave me mad street cred.  But I’m pretty sure it was New Kids on the Block.  I was only 8 or 9. Haha. Last: The last record I bought was the Tron: Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk.  It’s so epic.

Dutch: First: Weezer- Blue album, Last: Behemoth- Evangelion

XwesX: First: Guns N Roses “Appetite for Destruction” , Last: Mumford & Sons “Sigh No More”


Okay! Thanks so much for talking with me. And with that, I’m going to leave everyone with one more song for the road:

Rock ‘n’ Roll Photog: Love Crushed Velvet


We are crazy with the interviews here all of sudden. Today, Jennifer talks to A.L.X., singer of Love Crushed Velvet.

IMG_7623A.L.X. and Love Crushed Velvet at Crash Mansion

Love Crushed Velvet, last seen on NTSIB participating in the Beatles Complete on the Ukulele event, will be putting out a new record in the middle of April. Recently, I sat down with lead singer A.L.X. to discuss a variety of musical topics:

During the Beatles Complete on the Ukulele event I thought I heard someone say you were from Austria. That’s since been cleared up – you were born in East Germany and later moved to the United States – but in the process of straightening that out, you dropped a tantalizing reference to having briefly been a cult celebrity in Austria. What was that all about, because it sounds like a good story.

It was one of those weird things about being in the right place in the right time. I ended up living there back in the ’90s – I was actually a student at the time.  Even though I was born in Europe, have European parents and was used to going over there to visit, I wasn’t used to actually living abroad.  It’s a big difference between staying with your family for several weeks versus someone just throwing you – 18 years old, 19 years old – into the middle of a European city.

During the first couple of weeks I was just checking out all of the music clubs and ended up falling into a circle that – unbeknownst to me at the time – included some of the top rock musicians in the country. And when you go there as a young American singer from New York – and I only realized this in retrospect –you don’t have to be great, all you have to be is half-decent and have attitude. Just the fact that you’re American, they will embrace you. So being American, being from the New York area, and being a rock singer – the kind of doors that opened were just unimaginable to me as a young kid.

So within 2-3 months I ended up having a band with a bunch of guys who were quite well known – Falco’s guitar player, Peter Kruder (one of the Kruder and Dorfmeister founders) played with us for a bit – and it was great fun.  It didn’t last very long – in retrospect, it felt like five minutes–but it opened up a lot of doors to me over there. That was an important period in my life because it gave me a sense of affirmation that, “hey, I can do this!” Even though it’s now a distant memory, and what I’m doing now musically really doesn’t relate much to that period, it was still a great thing to experience when you’re an 18 or 19 year old.  If only I’d realized how much harder it would be every step of the way since then–because you just assume that it’s going to be so much easier everywhere else you go from that point. And then you get back to New York and no one gives a shit who you were when you were somewhere else, and it hits you:  “Damn, this is gonna be hard!”

So now, this new band you have going, Love Crushed Velvet, how did that start?

I’d been playing with a couple of great musicians in one of my solo projects, and we’d become good friends. Thommy Price, who was the drummer for Joan Jett and the Black Hearts, and with Billy Idol right before that, and Jimi Bones who was with Blondie and also with Joan Jett at one point – had been playing in support of a solo album that I’d cut a few years earlier.  We’d been playing the music from that A.L.X record for about a year, and it eventually morphed into a completely different sound. The songs changed – as songs often do anyway.  You can play a song with 30 different musicians and it’ll feel like 30 different songs.

The direction of the music took on a very interesting feel. Thommy’s drumming has a very crisp and powerful–but not heavy-handed–snare delivery.  Listen to the Billy Idol records from the mid-’80s, you can really hear that in there, and as we started playing we found a sound that was really very different from a lot of rock you hear nowadays, which is often either big radio cockrock or really indie and alternative. I love a lot of the alternative music out there, but there wasn’t that much of it that had that combination of being big and muscular yet had an alternative feel to it at the same time. So that’s kind of the birth of Love Crushed Velvet.

I’d started writing around the sound of this band and everything just fell into place very easily, really from the first studio sessions. I’m too close to the record to tell whether it’s good or not, and it certainly took a long time to record.  But it wasn’t a difficult album to make. The songs, the vibe, everything fell into place very easily. So I’m hoping it’s the start of a good thing and a long thing.

I’ve listened to the record a couple of time now, and in the song, Love Crushed Velvet, the “love crushed velvet” that you’re looking for – what is that? What does that mean?

If you look at the lyrics, not surprisingly, the song is about sex and how so many of us mask our sexual identity as something else. Because our sexuality is really the core of who we are, our essence as people.  It’s not in our heads, it’s in our hearts. And that song really just explores the whole concept of chasing who we really are from that perspective. Just allowing ourselves to be free on that level. And the video we made of the song played with that idea, with the concept of having multiple masked identities.

Okay. So your next big gig in New York is Earth Day?

The next one that’s firmly booked is Earth Day. Between now and then, we will probably end up doing three or four Love Crushed Velvet shows. The other thing I’m doing is I’m traveling around a fair amount doing an unplugged tour—solo–and taking the Love Crushed Velvet songs and stripping them down on an acoustic guitar. I’ve done five or six of those shows already. Between the Love Crushed Velvet band shows there’s sometimes time and space to kill and we still want to get the music out there – this is just a different way of doing it; a more intimate way of presenting it.

All right. Now, Google tells me you also run a chemical company?

Running is a big word. It’s essentially a green technology company and is something I fell into.  I’ve kind of grown up around it, it was a family business that I was involved with it one way or another since I’ve been a kid. I’ve never seen myself as a person who could do just one thing, and I love the yin and the yang aspect of having two different lives.  Being a musician can be a very esoteric thing. The business side of music is a disciplinary, regimented thing, but I’ve always hated the music business and want as little to do with the business side of it as possible. But this other business, I find it really interesting. I travel for both worlds, so I can play music on the road and do the other business at the same time. It’s a nice balance against being too free-form as an artist, which I fall into far too easily.

I had a stray thought about lacquers for guitars –

We do that too. Those are my favorite trips! Yeah, you get with the guitar companies and you talk about the lacquers, but basically you sit around all day playing the guitar.

That sounds like the best business trip ever.

It’s amazing. So, what kind of music do you like?

Big drums and dirty bass lines.

Well, that could be a lot of things. What was your transformative song? The one that really woke you up?

It was Beat It. I remember being in the kitchen, and hearing it on the radio for the first time – I was really young, obviously – but that opening guitar riff came out, and I remember really distinctly reaching out to turn it up. And I’ve never been much of a Michael Jackson fan beyond that, but that opening riff, I have an almost automatic Yesssssssss!, punch the air with both fists response.

Fall Out Boy did a cover of it, and when I was at Bamboozle a couple of years ago – this was before he [Michael Jackson] died, they don’t play it now that he’s dead – they played it. I was in the back of the pit, being squashed by the crowd, and they launched into it right as I was deciding to get out, and as I’m walking past the security dudes, I’m waving my arms in the air.

And then – I didn’t realize until I was getting out – but in order to get out you had to walk towards the stage, through the line of security dudes. And I had to really focus on not stopping and staring at them on the stage, so I didn’t get in trouble. But as I got towards the front, where I could see the kids with their faces turned up towards the stage and bathed in the light and the guys really focused on what they were playing, and Patrick Stump’s voice soaring over us, I thought This is where it is, this is where the magic happens.

Also, uh, Welcome to the Jungle, because I’m predictable that way. And Dr. Feelgood. Anyway, that’s a good question. What was your transformative song?

I’ve had a few of them. The one that woke me up was, ironically, a Billy Idol song. It’s from before I had ever heard of him or Generation X: It was the last Gen X single, Dancing With Myself.  This was god knows how long since they’d been broken up already.

I was living in the suburbs at the time, and you couldn’t hear anything like that on the radio there.  But one night I came across this alternative station that would play older punk and new punk, that wasn’t Bruce Springsteen, that wasn’t the Eagles, all the kind of stuff that didn’t move me musically when I was, I don’t know, fourteen or something like that.  And I remember there was this radio show that used to come on at 10 o’clock at night, and as soon as the show started – b-tchk b-tchk bnar nar nar came out of my radio and I was like, “Fuck!” It had a simple rhythm and incredibly simple guitar line, yet just felt like it was going to explode out of the speakers, it just had so much energy.

And finally now, after having made a number of records, I can figure out how they created that, how they gave that much energy in the studio. But at the time it really opened me up to punk and all those punk bands. And fortunately–or unfortunately–I was a generation removed from it already, so I was really too young to be in that scene. So what I had to tap into were really the later generation of post-punk bands coming up around New York at the time. But that Gen X song opened my eyes to a different, more simple, more energetic kind of music. It was a jolt to my central nervous system at the time. That really woke me up to the accessibility of it, it just had two or three simple notes that could make people dance and go crazy.


IMG_6355A.L.X. and Love Crushed Velvet at Brooklyn Bowl


So this is always a fun question. What was the first show you went to?

The first show was the Kinks. I had a friend who was a couple years older than I was – I was thirteen or fourteen – who was a big Kinks fan, and this was the late ’80s so by that point, in retrospect, the Kinks were sort of on their downhill slide. They probably hadn’t been relevant for six or seven years, but they were still great. The two things I remember were how often Ray Davies changed his jacket, and how much pot smoke there could be in a big place. But it was cool. There was something I loved about the Kinks–they were dirty, but were still sophisticated.

I got to know more about them over time, and learned about Ray Davies. He’s a pretty interesting cat, very literate, very smart, very thoughtful guy. But at the time, it was all about simple riff rock with a lot of pot smoke and a lot of different jackets. It made an impression as my first show.  I think it was at Roseland, so being at a smaller place like that, with a great band and that kind of atmosphere, was quite different than being at an arena show.  The world that I was exposed to attracted me and scared me at the same time.

My first show was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, in an arena, and Lenny Kravitz opened.


Yeah. And I was also, like, fourteen, and had no idea that openers existed, so I was like, Who is that? That’s not Tom Petty! And this was – ’89, Full Moon Fever – so he was on his up-tick again.

He’s brilliant, Tom Petty. He’s such an underappreciated songwriter. It’s funny, when I was younger, I never cared for his voice, it wasn’t appealing to me. And if I don’t like the way the singer sounds, I just can’t get past it.   I now like his voice, I appreciate it for its distinctness, and looking at Tom Petty as a songwriter, god he’s good.

I went out after that and acquired his back catalogue at Tower Records. Which took some doing, in 1989, since everything was still on tape. Which actually brings me to my next question: What was the first album that you bought – record or tape or CD or whatever?

Led Zeppelin IV.

Interesting. Yeah, mine were Born in the USA and Nervous Night. I think I used my birthday money – I was 11.

Led Zeppelin IV was a record that I got turned on to it by older friends. And Zep, just like that Kinks concert, was enticing but scary. When you’re a kid of thirteen and you listen to Led Zepplin for the first time, you’re not quite sure what to make of it.  Having been around it for thirty-some odd years, we’re now all so used to it, it’s a part of our vernacular, it’s almost like it’s in our bloodstream, but hearing that for the first time – especially Black Dog– you can see why people thought they were Devil worshippers way back in their era.  Because it’s scary but it’s sexy. It’s all those things rock and roll is supposed to be, really, and at the highest level. So that was my first record.

What was the last one that you bought?

Record record?

It doesn’t have to be a record record. Album. Collection of music! I haven’t – oh wait, I have bought a record record. Not on purpose, though – it was part of a larger band package. I don’t even own a record player! I do have a walkman, though. It’s kind of beat to shit, but I’ve got it.

I’ve kept my old records, but I don’t store them in my apartment. They’re somewhere in the basement of my mother’s house because if you live in Manhattan, you need a certain amount of space for record players.  It’s not like CD players, which you can just stick in any corner. Record players, you have to be able to open them up and move around them. You need accompanying square and cubic footage around record players.

But the last CD I bought, it’s this cool band, I’m not sure where they’re from, called Diamond Rings, and I bought them about a month ago when I was in Houston. There’s a great record store there called Cactus Music, it’s just fantastic. There are no record stores left anymore, so this is now one of the great record stores in America.  It’s relatively small, but they do live bands and showcases in there, and is everything a modern, relevant record store should be. They were playing Diamond Rings when I was in there, and I was like, cool record!

Circling back a little bit – I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Beatles Complete on the Ukulele event, since my normal Beatles tolerance is . . . somewhat limited.

That show was mostly about bands interpreting the Beatles, and interpreting the Beatles, it’s an education.  Look at their choice of chords, their choice of structures, their choice of melodies.  When I grew up I was the same way–I was never really moved by the Beatles, I didn’t find them dirty or sexy or edgy enough.

My objection is that they’re, like, really irritating wallpaper after a while.

Yeah, well, they’ve also been overplayed.

Yes, they play the same five songs all the time, and then I’m like, Enough now.

But, I thought the Beatles thing last week – it’s interesting to hear the songs played by someone other than the Beatles, because they become new songs, in and of themselves. And I remember standing at the bar with my bandmates and we were just chatting, and then hearing Hey Jude, having someone else play it –

On the accordion, no less!

– yeah, and it’s just such a fucking good song. It just gets bigger and bigger and bigger – as a songwriter that song is a masterpiece, it’s just so well done.

But the dirge-like pace at which the Beatles played it is excruciating after a while. I have to say I developed a whole new appreciation for I Am the Walrus. I think it was Black Bells – they were the first ones up after the Uke mob – and I’m pretty sure they did I Am the Walrus because they really stomped through it, and I was like, This is a great song! . . . wait a minute.

When I heard the original version of Hey Bulldog, one of the ones we covered, I wasn’t excited by it – am still not. I don’t care for the way it’s mixed, I just don’t respond to it.  But when we got together and broke it down, suddenly you’re like, hey, this is a cool song. Taking that James Bond-y guitar line that George Harrison’s playing and making it your own…

A lot of their music is like that. When you strip it down to it’s core essentials, just as writers, their sense of melody, they’re just an amazing creation. They’re so strong, there’s not a lot of weakness in their catalog.  You can argue with how it was performed – but they also did so many different renditions of their songs.  If you go back to collections of the Beatles outtakes, some of the songs have four or five or six different versions of them. In a few cases they were all released in some form or the other.

So how did you get involved in the Beatles Complete on the Ukulele thing? Do you get invited to that?

I got invited by Roger Greenawalt–he and I have known each other for a while and have done a few different projects together over the last ten-twelve years.  He was the first producer I met when I moved to New York.  I cut some demos with him, back, hmm, right at the tail end of the ’90s? And Roger produced four songs on the Love Crushed Velvet record.

While we were cutting the Love Crushed Velvet tracks, he was conceptualizing the Beatles on the Ukulele thing.  Two months later, he did his first Beatles event at Spike Hill [a bar in Brooklyn] which was much smaller, much funkier, not the quasi-spectacle it is now. I ended up getting up and doing a couple of songs, and he’s invited me and the band to come back in subsequent years, so this is actually the third time doing it. I was there when it started!

From the beginning!

Thank God not on video, that first time.

Apparently he’s doing Led Zeppelin on the ukulele next? Is that what I hear?

Yeah, he’s been talking about it for a while. I haven’t gotten invited yet – I’m hoping that means it hasn’t happened yet.

I’m actually terribly intrigued by the prospect of Led Zepplin on the ukulele. I think Immigrant Song with ukulele might be quite dramatic.

If you think about it, Zeppelin on the ukulele makes more sense in some ways than the Beatles on the ukulele, because Jimmy Page used nonstandard tunings on most of his songs.  They had mandolin, a lot of other things going through their records. A lot of Zeppelin has that sonic frequency of the ukulele underneath it.  Even if it might not have been the ukulele per se, it might have been a mandolin instead, but they give a similar effect. I can see it working.

Maybe he can try the Rolling Stones on the ukulele next.

That one I’d be a little bit more careful with.

That might be awkward.

You can’t ukulele-ify the entire world.

That’s true. Still. It would be funny. I would be entertained by the Rolling Stones on the ukulele.

I would be entertained by Nine Inch Nails on the ukulele.

[cackling with glee] That would be PERFECT. [manages to contain laughter] Anyway, that’s about all I had, so, in conclusion, thank you so much for meeting with me today, and for letting us put one of your songs up for people to download.

Song: Problem Child

I like it because: It’s a gleeful bad-boy anthem, and also an interesting bookend to He’s Not a Boy, which is a “You can’t change a bad boy, you just have to love him as he is, and really, would you have him any other way?” song by The Like. The two bands are very different, musically, I just enjoy the way these two tunes “talk” to each other.

Listen to the record streaming at bandcamp: Love Crushed Velvet


— Jennifer

Patrick Sweany: Let ‘Forward’ Be My Credo

Patrick Sweany

Listening to Patrick Sweany’s albums is like reading his life. In between and over top of melodies that are sometimes sweet and sometimes rough, deftly finger-picked on acoustic and electric guitar, Sweany uses the full range of his rich baritone to sing of everything from the rigors of touring to the most painful complications of love. He doesn’t pull many punches, laying out his struggles and fears with his career and his personal life under a lens that looks as unflinchingly at himself as it does at anyone else. His voice, sometimes soft as a hand brushed against a loved one’s skin, sometimes as harshly ragged as a rusted-out muffler dragged down miles of dusty backroads, reflects the truth of every word.

Drawing on influences from Mississippi blues to classic soul to New Orleans R&B; to classic country & western to protest folk to rock of all stripes to a wealth of other styles and sounds that he has avidly devoured since his childhood, Sweany has steadily, industriously been carving out a career for over a decade, producing five albums to date (with one, C’mon C’mere, co-produced by Jimbo Mathus and Dan Auerbach and another, Every Hour is a Dollar Gone, produced by Auerbach). Coming out of Northeastern Ohio and currently settling in Nashville, Patrick Sweany is a sharp, smart, funny, determined man with a flair for storytelling. Though he has a degree in English Literature (“which I pronounce ‘Let-trah-chah,’ and rotate my palm upward, swirling the brandy in my imaginary snifter,” Sweany says), it’s clear that Sweany was meant for music not only because of his immense talent, but because he is also someone who truly loves music (When I told him of how standing in Sun Studio in Memphis had me fighting back tears, he confessed, “The Stax museum did the same to me, just brought me to tears.”*). This may seem like a redundant thing to say about a musician, but, trust me, it’s more rare than it should be.

Patrick Sweany’s fifth album, the beautiful That Old Southern Drag will see physical release on February 15 (and it’s already available for download on his Bandcamp site). Thanks to a push from NTSIB collaborator Nate Burrell, I was able to sit down, via e-mail, with Sweany for a lovely chat that revealed how The Cosby Show was integral to his development into a musician, the existence of a secret juke joint in the middle of downtown Cleveland and more.

Alright, Mr. Sweany, let’s do this thing. (And thanks again for doing this thing with me.)

I know your father plays guitar and was an influence on you, but was there a “moment” that set you on the road to being a musician?

The moment where I decided “I want to be a musician,” was probably when I was about 12 or 13. I was probably 12. Mom and Dad were working, my brothers were down in the basement playing video games, and I was listening to a Pete Seeger album that my dad had, on the big console stereo. The album was recorded live, and it was just so great. The way all those people listened to him and sang along when he asked them to and erupted with applause, and the way that performance made me feel. I hadn’t really been exposed to a lot of different music, other than what my dad had, so none of this music sounded dated, or folk-y in the derogatory sense. I was just a kid. I had no concept of what the social and societal ramifications of the particular time frame (MLK, Kennedy, pre-summer of love, civil rights movement) were when that recording was made. I knew that at that point in my life, this record moved me and I wanted to be there. The guy on the record was just one guy. My Dad could play most of the songs on that record. I knew my dad was a cool guy, so I figured I’m his kid, I could be cool, I could pull this off. I felt so knocked out and excited by guys playing guitars and singing, I just wanted to be like that. I wanted to do what they were doing. It was different than watching a guy win a game.

There were other times. Hearing Ray Charles’ “Night Time is the Right Time” on The Cosby Show. Watching it in the living room with my Mom and Dad and my brothers. That was before everyone had cable, before most TVs had remote controls. All the Huxtable kids were lip synch-ing and dancing to the record. Ray’s voice, that band, Margie Hendricks singing, hollerin’, “Squeeze me, hold me tight. You know I love you… etc.” It made me so excited. Remember, I’m just a kid, and sex wasn’t anything I was remotely thinking about. I knew what it was, but I didn’t understand anything about it. I was excited like a kid gets about riding bikes or new toys. I wanted to holler like that. I didn’t understand what Margie and Ray were saying, but I could feel it was something different. I wanted to make people dance like the kids on TV. I didn’t want that song to be over. I don’t think we had a VCR or anything at that time, not that many people did, if any. It was just gone when it was over. I felt little bit embarrassed because I wanted to know about it, but I didn’t understand. It was just something that I thought about. It would make me excited when I thought about it, and I would mouth what I thought the words were when I was alone, and maybe dance around a little bit, using my imagination, like a kid does. I didn’t really know who Ray Charles was until a few years later, but I figured it out pretty naturally.

Your answer leads into so many other things I want to ask you. For instance, the joy and excitement you obviously found in music then still comes through in your performances now. One of the things that knocks me out most about your music is the passion that comes through, especially in your voice. Since you’ve been at this for a while now, do you find that passion and excitement difficult to maintain? Or is it just like breathing for you?

Doing a gig/performing is always exciting. If I let it all hang out, really let it fly on the bandstand, play good, holler in key, and really move around and get sweaty, I feel really good. Better than anything else, I’ve found. It’s kept me from getting into self destructive behavior (despite providing countless opportunities to do exactly that!), it’s given me an opportunity to meet people and see places I never would have known existed. It seems to make other people able to feel good. Vocalizing that emotion is important to conveying that, so I sometimes push the voice a little harder than I probably should, but I have a pretty firm grasp of my limits, or least what I can bounce back from. I get a lot of satisfaction from entertaining people. The physicality of it is important. It’s not all of it. A lot of the greats are great because they reached people, made them feel like they were a part of it. (“That song reminds me of when I was ______.”)

I feel like I’ve got a perspective on American music that’s a little unique to what most people know, but it comes from a root that’s familiar to them. I put what’s happening in my life into a song, but I try to be aware that the purpose of this whole thing is that people all feel the same on the inside, and they feel good when they feel somebody relates specifically to them.

I need to do this. I’m 36 years old, and I don’t know how to do anything else. Do you have any idea how intimidating it is to fill out a job application with a 15 year gap in your employment history titled “self employed musician.” I went to colleg
e. I got a degree, but I used college as a diversionary tactic so I could be a musician. The education I was able to absorb along the way was invaluable, and allowed me a lot of perspective that I probably would have missed out on, but it was always secondary to music. I guess maybe that’s where a lot of that fire comes from, still trying to prove this is really what I’m supposed to be doing.

You say you feel you have a unique perspective on American music – can you expand on that?

I probably wouldn’t have said “unique perspective” if I knew I had to explain it. It’s a figure of speech musicians use that means “I’m stupid and insecure, but I want people to think I’m smart and cool.”

But I love talking about me, so here goes…

Mom was born in Liverpool, England. She’s the same age as McCartney. Poor. Working class. Went out dancing, like kids did then. Saw the Beatles like any other dozen bands that played around the clubs and dances. Beatles got popular. Brian Epstein’s family owned a lot of the record stores in Liverpool. So, my introduction to the most influential phenomenon in modern popular art and culture is this quote from my mother: “You know they got famous because their manager’s family owned all the record stores, then they got into drugs…”

So, beyond their first batch of American singles, of which my Dad had a record, I never listened to them until very late in my college career. And even then, not much. I listened to the folk records that my dad had, when I developed enough attention span to really listen to music. My dad stopped buying albums when Dylan went electric. And for some reason I just really dug that stuff. Pete Seeger, early Gordon Lightfoot, the first Dylan albums, Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, etc., just made sense to me. Beautiful songs, deceptively simple accompaniment. Just people singing and playing acoustic instruments. Dad had some Leadbelly albums, and some comps with Lightnin’ Hopkins and acoustic John Lee Hooker that were just otherworldly. He had some Rock and Roll stuff, like Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, etc. Through that, I read album jackets and just threw myself into learning about all these fingerstyle acoustic blues guys from the 1920s and ’30s. Willie McTell, Booker White, Tampa Red, Charlie Patton, Skip James, Gary Davis, Furry Lewis, The Memphis Jug Band. And lots of piano players, Little Brother Montgomery, Speckled Red, Roosevelt Sykes. And I just dove in, this is what I want to do. I want to play this music, the way these guys did it. No plugged in guitars, no artifice. I studied and performed this stuff and really worked hard to get to the essence of what made this stuff happen. I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to come at this stuff with modern rock music as the template or filter through which I viewed it. It didn’t sound dated or hokey to me. It sounded good. I was listening to modern, popular music with my friends, and enjoying it, but none of them played guitar or any instruments, and nobody thought the old stuff I was into was cool. I figured out almost every one the guys I liked plugged into electric guitars as soon as they were able, and I got into Muddy Waters, Elmore James, B.B. King, Magic Sam, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and then I started really getting into Soul music. Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Percy Sledge. At the same time, I was also digging on George Jones, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Tom T. Hall, Conway Twitty, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams. I was still riding around in beat up cars, drinking cheap beer with my high school friends, listening to the first Metallica tapes, lots of Led Zeppelin records and stuff like that, which I still love, but I always had this secret guitar life.

Speaking of the classic bluesmen, I read that you played with Hubert Sumlin and Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin. How did that come about and what was it like to play with them?

(And speaking of wanting people to think I’m smart and cool, I feel proud of myself for recognizing all but two names you listed.)

I was hanging out with “Moonshine” Pete Schidmt, a real raw, cool harmonica player who lived down the street from a gig I had way out in the country east of Cleveland, but it was only about 90 minutes from where I was living in PA for a couple years. He’s a white guy that used to run around in the ‘hood in Cleveland back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and he knew all the real cats. Pete was kind of a street guy, real tough, kind of wild, but cool. Real sweet guy. I’m sure he gave a dozen amps and mics to guys in the hood, like (Cleveland) Guitar Slim, and cats who played blues, but didn’t leave the hood. He married Slim’s niece, had some kids and was living life out in the sticks when we met. We got to be friends and he said, “I’m going to take you to see Robert, and then we’ll go play with Slim.” Robert Jr. Lockwood, who lived in Cleveland and was one of my all time heroes. I had opened some shows for Robert, and he was always really nice to me, and I’ve watched him dozens of times. He’s the most underrated influence on the sound of the guitar in the latter 20th century.

Well, Pete had a guy that would bring up jugs of moonshine from Alabama. It’s the best I’ve ever had. The old cats that didn’t drink anymore would almost always take a little shine and reminisce. That Pete is a smart fella’. So, I got to sit knee to knee with Robert Jr., and pass the guitar back and forth, with the pretense of dropping off a little shine. I couldn’t believe it. Pete says, “Hey, we got to go to Slim’s birthday party. Bring this jar, don’t drink any of Slim’s, I got sick last time I drank his shit.” Got it. So, we go down in the ‘hood. It is deep. We park and walk up to this big, old, 3 story, firetrap house down near Hough, buzzer on the door(!) with a kid working the door, and walk up to the third floor, up these narrow stairs. We walk in, Pete and his wife know everybody, and it’s a big linoleum floored, wood paneled room with a little bar at one end, tables against the walls and amps and drums in the corner. They’re selling beer and shine, and they were waiting on Pete to bring another amp and get down. It was an honest to goodness juke joint, right in the city. Fun as hell. People dancin’, it was great.

So, afterwards there’s most of a jar left, Pete says, “Keep it. Give some to Hubert when you see him.”

I was booked to play at the Marietta, OH, Blues festival later that month, Bob Margolin (of the Muddy Waters Band) and Hubert Sumlin (Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player!!!) were the headliners.

I cornered Bob beside the stage and said, “Hey Bob, blah blah, I’d like to give Hubert some shine, don’t want to be a bad influence or wreck your show, I’ll taste some if you are worried about it, we gave some to Robert Jr., etc…” Bob said, “I’d love to have Hubert sip some and turn on the tape machine when we get home.”

“That’s great Bob, here you are.”

“You wanna sit in?”

“Why, yes I do.”

Easiest question you’ve ever been asked, right?

A juke right in the middle of Cleveland. How fantastic.

How long have you been in Nashville now? Thinking of “Leaving Ohio”, I wonder if it’s gotten any easier for you since moved down there.

Financially, it’s as tough a situation as I’ve ever been in, but I really love living here. It was tough at first, no close friends, feeling like I was just starting a whole career over. I’m getting to know more folks and my personal life with my fiancee is great, we moved here together. Pretty happy as it goes. More Ohioans are moving here all the time. I miss home though. I guess everybody does.

I had mixed feelings about Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney moving down there at first, but I understand
the desire.

Speaking of the Black Keys, there was discussion on the Black Keys Fan Lounge Forum about how living in Nashville might affect the sound of the band since many people think of country music when they think of Nashville (even though I know there are a number of great rock bands based out of Nashville now). Do you see Nashville influencing your musical direction?

As far as influencing the sound, that is something to consider. It certainly has. I am among the most skilled, educated and professional musicians in the world. The guys I hire in Nashville show up prepared, on time, with the right gear, and ready to play. They are knowledgeable and confident in their abilities and able to take direction in order to make who they are working for sound the best. In Nashville, you are able to hire the right man for the job.

The terrible music that is recorded here that is marketed as country music overshadows most of what the world outside of Nashville views as “the sound of Nashville.” If you listen to shitty pop radio music, it’s shitty music. People buy it for some reason, so they keep reproducing it, usually here in town because it’s centrally located, tons of studios, tons of musicians, etc. It’s the music BUSINESS center. If you work in fashion, New York is where you go for opportunities. Nashville = Music. If you make shitty throw-away music, you’ll make shitty sounding throw-away music here. If your are happy being derivative and soulless, location can’t help that. If you care about how your record sounds, you won’t sound like a those records.

Hell yes, Nashville is influencing my musical direction. It’s influencing to me to explore my roots more deeply, be more careful with language, and be a better performer to differentiate myself from the crowd.

Speaking of your language, your songwriting is so damn honest. Is it ever hard to perform a song that is particularly personal? A song like “Two or Three” seems like it might rake you over the coals. How do you deal with that when it comes showtime?

There is enough time in the writing process, and the subsequent practice performing the material prior to recording, to be able to put distance between you and the story. I guess it comes from interpreting other really heavy duty material that you didn’t write, that you really relate to. I used to cry every time I listened to certain songs (by other artists). Now I don’t. When you read a book that you really like, in your mind, you put yourself in that story, one way or another, and you are able to deal with it, and gain catharsis from it.

Do I like talking about the really shitty situations in my personal life in the past? No. Did I come away from that particular situation you referred to in “2 or 3” with any sense of closure or feeling that I was the good guy? No. Not at all. Broken homes are awful things. Children suffer for it. It’s never completely okay.

Things just get easier to work around as you get used to them, over time.

Short answer: you get used to it. A performer performs.

I can’t recall where I read it or who said it, but someone once said something about how the best soul love songs were really just gospel songs done in a secular vein, and I know that a few of the songs that Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote together were actual adaptations of gospel songs, right down to the titles. “The Edges” seems like that kind of song: depending on your perspective, it could be romantic or spiritual. Was that conscious? And which is it for you, romantic or spiritual?

I was really tempted to just say, “Both.”

And leave it at that, but that’s not very nice.

Haha! I almost gave you “both” as an option, but decided I should try to make you choose one.

“The Edges”: I just respond to, and feel comfortable with that type of song. The gospel influenced secular song. It has a groove that, by design, elicits emotional reaction and frees the singer to express him(her)self by providing a template of language or vocabulary that seems fresh, due to the freedom of phrasing. It works like a sonovabitch.

I don’t feel it as a conscious decision, I just get little ideas, and I flesh them out, try different grooves and make sure I’m not directly ripping something off. (Ya’know, sometimes I make sure.)

“The Edges” is about when I met my fiancee and how she made me feel like I could start to get on with having a real personal life. I was not really a very happy person. No relationships of any depth, by choice, and a little bitter. She changed that. Did not see that comin’.

I am also a sucker for that bugaloo groove and deeper voiced singers like Jerry Butler, Brook Benton, etc., and I hadn’t really ripped off either one, lately.

I gathered some questions from the Black Keys Fan Lounge forum because you have some avid fans there. One person wants to know more about “Frozen Lake”. Aside from being a lovely piece, it has a little different feel from the rest of the album. Clearly recorded live, it has a really intimate feel. Can you talk a little bit about the song and the recording of it?

Well, I don’t know what there is to say about it. We recorded it in the hallway, miked my acoustic guitar with a really nice ribbon mic, and also had it plugged into an amp in the bathroom. Maybe a little ambient mic in the room to give it a little, well, ambience. Sang it and played it. My thrift store Sam Cooke song about how it’s really easy to end up alone.

Amps in bathrooms seems to be a popular choice when recording. Give it up for shower-singing acoustics.

Another forum regular would like to know how you and Dan Auerbach met. I know Dan used to play with the Patrick Sweany Band), so was it just through the usual musician connections? You two seem like brothers from different mothers in terms of musical aesthetics and influences (and I’d wager that Dan drew some influence from you).

A friend of mine, Mike Lenz, was giving Dan some lessons and letting him sit in at gigs and said, “Hey, you should hear this kid, he’s into all this Mississippi stuff and Hounddog Taylor.” So, Dan came out with his dad, Chuck, and I invited him to sit in, he kept coming out, and eventually I just got rid of the bass player and had Dan handle the low end guitar stuff instead of a bass. Hounddog Taylor did this with his guitar player, Brewer Phillips, and he was one our mutual heroes.

I’ve showed Dan some things, guitar stuff, alternate tunings, but he was well on his way down the path, always focused. I’m older than Dan, and I was heavy into the Country Blues thing so I was the guy to ask. The Ampeg Gemini 1 that Dan plays on their first record, he found out about from me. The Gemini 1 was my first amp and still my favorite. Dan was in the band until he just got too busy with the Keys. We still hang out, now that he lives in the Nash.

While we’re on the subject of Dan, another forum regular is curious about the most memorable moment during the recording/production of Every Hour Is a Dollar Gone.

I would have to say the most memorable moment during the recording of Every Hour… is when Dan invited me to join the Black Keys as the lead singer and maracas player, and I turned them down. Just Kidding. There aren’t any real memorable things that come to mind. It’s work, you show up, you run the songs, listen back to the tracks, we spent 3 days tracking and it was done. It happens fast, there isn’t much messing around. That album was done almost 4 years ago.

Tell me about the Tiger Beats.

The Tiger Beats are my friends Ron Eoff (Cate Bros, The Band), Joe McMahan and Jimmy Lester (Webb Wilder, Los Straitjackets). We play old ’50s style blues and R&B; like Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James, Bobby Blue Bland, etc. It’s my all fun, no hassle blues band.

Nice lineup. So, there’s probably no plans to make a Tiger Beats

record? Do you just play around Nashville?

We have been thinking about doing a record, and writing material for it, but focus is on my new record right now. We only play in Nashville, by design, for the time being.

What are your plans for the foreseeable future, outside of your record release shows?

Future: The Van. Covering as much of the map as possible.

Any chance of a gig in Cleveland proper?

Possibly in the spring, we may play Cleveland.

And, finally, because I tend to get my best music recommendations from musicians I love: what music have you been listening to lately?

I have really been eaten up with Joe Tex, which is nothing new, but deeeeeeeeeep soul. Nick Lowe’s The Convincer, but it’s from 2001. That album wrecked me yesterday when Joe McMahan turned me on to it. Transcendent.

I was just listening to “Skinny Legs and All” the other day. My curse as a music blogger: while everyone else is listening to newer and newer music, I keep listening to older and older music.

Well, Mr. Sweany, thank you so much. This has been such a pleasure. Congratulations on the new album and your engagement.

Thank You! I really appreciate your patience. In the last two weeks, I’ve driven back and forth to NW Arkansas twice, drove to Jacksonville, FL, and back, and played two shows and an instore, here in town. It makes all the difference in the world to actually talk about real things in an interview instead of rehashing the one sheet. Thanks.

Patrick Sweany Official Website

Patrick Sweany on Bandcamp

*Patrick and I both recommend the book Soulsville U.S.A.: the Story of Stax Records by Rob Bowman.