Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts

Jan 6, 2021

The Immediacy of Life with Justin Wells

Photo by Chad Cochran


By Robert Dean


When I called Justin Wells to talk to him about his latest record, The United State, I was in the trenches of a New Orleans-sized hangover. I'd gotten into town the night before and drank myself stupid to the point of sharing an All That Jazz po-boy from Verti Marte with a homeless dude named Mike. Jameson, so much PBR, and endless sketchy bars - yes, I got tested and wore a mask. I used to live in New Orleans, so anytime I drop into town, it's a waterfall of old friends, but then I start doing shots with them. I played it cool for the rest of the trip, but naturally, on the first night, I lost my shit. 


Setting up the interview, I wasn't a hard yes on my trip. But once I'd committed, I didn't want to flake, being what they call in the biz, "a professional." So, from the comfort of my Airbnb bed, I was renting from one of my friends, I made it to my call on time while not opening the blinds. The darkness kept me company as I sailed through the conversation, despite working through the throbbing in my teeth and head. Justin Wells never flinched. He handled my bad jokes about a near-death experience with drinking a bottle’s worth of Irish whiskey the night prior with his usual demeanor. A guy like that, he's a road dog, who’s experienced too much to let another journalist who'd maybe, unofficially wound up in speakeasy situations, drinking in the dark with French Quarter bartenders deter him from giving an honest interview. 


The thing about Justin Wells that people gravitate to is that you feel his authenticity. You can tell he's not playing a game and that his destiny, how he handles his business, but also his music, rests entirely on him. On the new record, The United State, it's a long sounding of the social alarm that we're in this thing together, for better or worse. "I'm tired of having to pick between teams. I was tired of friends on each side of the fence turning on one another. There's so much division and for what? Can't people tell they're being played? It's like a sales call: We're A trying to appeal to B and we're B trying to appeal A. We probably don't agree on everything, but let's pretend so we can get all of the power. There's issues at stake, but not every issue requires a war of this side calls it Fall and this side calls it Autumn." 


And talking to the guy and listening to cuts like "The Screaming Song," or "Never Better," it's immediately apparent Wells isn't full of shit. After an honest conversation, he's a reckoning of common sense because those common bonds of struggling through a pandemic should be something we can agree sucks if we'd only leave the politics at the door. "When I wrote the record, we weren't in a crisis, obviously. But the concept is personhood. It boils down to the human experience. There's a universal struggle we all go through to some degree. We can talk about that because we all know what it's like to deal with things at one point or another." 



When the Pedialyte started to kick in, I got faster with my thoughts and asked how he was coping during the pandemic. "It ain't easy. I don't even know how to work," he says with a laugh that trails off into a short sigh we can all understand. "I'm dying to get back out there. I miss the fellowship, the people. This music, these voices hollering out together, that's our equivalent of what they do on Sunday mornings. This is our church." 


When I asked him what he's hoping for once the vaccines get spread out into our communities, he's onto something, "There were some empty seats back then at the beginning of my career, and we'll deal with it again. We'll get back. I like it when the room is a little too hot for all of us, and the fire marshal ought to be called, that's what I can't wait to get back into. There's a power of live music that I think people are about to rediscover and it's going to be great for working musicians. I believe that." There are worse things to keep the faith dialed in. We're collectively ready for dirty bathrooms, too many overpriced beers, and communing with strangers, offering our faith once again to the church of the guitar cranked through an amplifier and not a care in the world, even if it's only for those precious few moments. 


You can buy Justin Wells' record here. Stream it if you must, but at least buy a t-shirt. 



Nov 19, 2020

Chris Ligon’s Summer Vacation

By Kevin Broughton

For four years, Chris Ligon has been most widely known as the composer and lyricist for Chicago supergroup The Flat Five, who’ve given voice to his creativity and quirky, eccentric humor. We spoke with him last week in our feature on the band’s sophomore release, Another World, only to find out he has his own album release set for Nov. 20. 


How could we resist? Summer Vacation, ten tightly arranged, slightly kooky songs, tips the time scale at a whopping 23 minutes. And it’s everything you’d expect: delightfully whimsical musings, reflections and meditations. And in at least one instance, instrument and song title merge into a musical form of onomatopoeia.


Do you play and track all the instruments yourself?


Yes, I play everything and record in my basement. I'm not really a great instrumentalist but I teach myself how to play something then I record it and then I forget it and move on. 


"Bee Beard" sounds like a beard of bees would look; just some pretty basic keyboards. Whence the inspiration?


This one I played on a "Baldwin Fun Machine" from the 70's. I love the sound. I've always wondered about those guys who you see with 8 million bees all over their face like a beard. It kind of makes me sick really. 


"Hard To Follow" and "Diet Drink": are those pianos a tad out of tune? Maybe "God's Famous Heart," too? 


Yes, my upright piano is really out of tune, but I've learned to like it and work around most of the bad keys. Sometimes limitations will take you in a writing direction that you might not have thought of if you had all the greatest equipment. So, I'm a big user of broken down old instruments. Kind of like the Island of Misfit Toys! 


It's somehow fitting that "Evil As Evil is He," the one overtly political cut on the album, is a polka in a minor key. How did you pair that particular musical style with those lyrics?


I thought it sounded kind of like a Kurt Weil-German cabaret thing that was popular in the underground when Hitler was raising hell 85 years ago.


Nice. LOL. Finally, where can people find Summer Vacation? 


Summer Vacation is being distributed by Pravda Records. Hopefully it'll be available by next week at www.pravdamusic.com.

Nov 17, 2020

Ain’t Gonna Be Today: Five Questions with Ward Davis


By Kevin Broughton


Kicking off with a blaze of harmonized electric guitars sounding like when the Allman’s Elizabeth Reed checked into the Eagles’ Hotel California, Ward Davis’s new album Black Cats and Crows doesn’t waste a second on formalities. Out Friday on Thirty Tigers, the record is a triumph on all fronts. A muscly country-rock record filled with murderous story songs, heartbreaking vulnerability, and that unmistakable voice—Davis’s weathered croon, barrel-aged then left out in the sun—are all brought to life through Davis’s and producer Jim “Moose” Brown’s care for their craft and disdain for sterility.


Without listening to a note of Black Cats and Crows, the company kept in the liner notes alone—co-writers Cody Jinks, Kendell Marvel, and Shawn Camp—will tip off any discerning music fan on how respected Davis is as a songwriter. And his characters are relatable. “This is my coping mechanism. I know music is a coping mechanism for a lot of people,” Davis says. “It’s important that it’s crafted well, but it’s also important that it’s honest so that people can relate to it and get something out of it.” But it’s not just songwriters that have taken notice. Among the world class musicians who took part in the recording of Black Cats and Crows, a name not too often thrown around in the world of country music appears; Anthrax’s Scott Ian, who guested on the ominous murder ballad, “Sounds of Chains.”


We’ve said here many times that as bad as 2020 has been on so many fronts, it’s been a great year for independent music. Davis’s Black Cats and Crows – upon its Friday release – will keep that hot streak alive. It’s an outstanding country-rock album that will leave fans wanting more from this songwriter coming into his own. We caught up with Mr. Davis for a lightning-round set of questions, mostly about the writing process and the music industry. 


    Kevin: It’s been a couple years since we last heard from you, on your 2018 EP Asunder. Are the 14 cuts on Black Cats and Crows songs you’ve developed since then, or do some of them stretch back beyond the EP?


Ward: Some of the songs on this record go back 15, 16 years. Some are just a few months old. I spent 15 years writing songs every day in Nashville hoping a George Strait or Tim McGraw would hear one and cut it, but it never happened. It’s a scary thing to think about, all the great songs that slipped through the cracks in the pavement on Music Row. The ones I cut on here that are aged, are the ones I was proudest of when I wrote them. 


    KB: There’s a line in the chorus of the title song, “God must have it in for me, why He only knows.” Is that coming from a historical point in your own story, a metaphor for alienation and sense of unfairness in people in general, neither or a little of both?


WD: I mean, bad luck is bad luck. Hard times are hard times. Bad stuff happens sometimes for no good reason. I’ve had a lot of friends that aren’t here anymore for reasons that I can’t even begin to comprehend. A lot of different scenarios do a lot of people in. I think a lot of times we ask God “Why?” and He doesn’t give us a straight answer. We were just pointing that out. It might feel like alienation, but it’s a pretty normal feeling, most people understand. 

 

    KB: You have a lengthy and impressive list of artists for whom you’ve written: Willie, Merle, Sammy Kershaw and Trace Adkins, just to name a few. How is your songwriting/thought process different when you’re writing them for yourself?


WD: I honestly don’t remember how I used to write songs. I was always chasing the golden geese of Nashville. I was putting songs together like Legos. I stopped that about six or seven years ago. Now I just write when I want. Or when I feel something. Or when I need some therapy. I’ll sit down and write a song in 20 minutes, but I won’t write another one for five or six months. I don’t think I have a process. I think I just write songs with people who like to write songs with me and that I like to write with. 

 

    KB: Over the last two to three years, there’s been a slew of artists churning out quality, thoughtful, earnest music that in a sane world would have a natural home on country radio. Stapleton, Jinx, Tennessee Jet, Jesse Daniel…this album would certainly fall into that category. Two-part question: Do you see country radio ever moving back from the pop/bro brink, and if not, what is the path going forward for indie artists without terrestrial radio airplay?


WD: I hope they don’t change it. All that shitty music on the radio drives people towards guys like me. The path is, “Stay real. Stay honest. Be human. Humans are listening.” 

 

    KB: For those not familiar with your history, how deep into the world of Nashville co-writes and publishing are you, and regardless of future releases of yours, will that remain part of your livelihood? 

 

WD: I haven’t been a part of that world in over 6 years. I barely know anyone down there anymore.


 

 



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Black Cats and Crows is available everywhere you consume music this Friday.

Nov 13, 2020

The Flat Five: Another World, indeed



By Kevin Broughton


With their precise harmonies and pitch-perfect melodies, Chicago supergroup The Flat Five splashed into autumn 2016 with It’s A World Of Love And Hope, a wonderful pop album that exuded joy. Four years later, the band (Scott Ligon, Nora O’Connor, Casey McDonough, Alex Hall and Kelly Hogan) is back with its sophomore offering, Another World. While the shimmering pop sensibility and vocal mastery remain, The Flat Five navigate through darker, more serious themes, telling stories of a different set of characters synthesized by Chris Ligon (Scott’s older brother,) the band’s lyricist and composer. 


Oddly enough, the contrast wasn’t conceived of reflection upon current events. 


Another World, a tightly packed, efficient record (11 songs, 35 minutes,) begins and ends bubbly and bouncy – hopeful even. In between, though, there’s some emotional heavy lifting – imagine a series of “Sam Stone” sad songs, buoyed by lilting, uplifting melodies and vocals. This album is a mirror image of the band’s first…maybe a funhouse-mirror image. 


To dig into the wonderful, puzzling evolution between albums one and two, we first went back to Kelly “Leather Lungs” Hogan, our favorite resident of Wisconsin (“the northern South,” in her words.) The lady who compares her love of sad songs to a dog’s affinity for rolling in squirrel guts held forth on the sequencing of Ligon’s songs; how a musician’s life during Covid can resemble a blue jay repeatedly smashing into a window; and why The Flat Five may or may not be bellwethers of societal turmoil. 


Next, we visited with the thoughtful, enigmatic Ligon to see how his creativity takes musical form, and the symbiosis between his writing and the band’s spot-on implementation of his vision. 


First, Ms. Hogan:


We last spoke in the fall of 2016, and we both remarked on how crazy that year had been…


Oh, boy. Little did we know…


…and four years later, we have the second Flat Five record, when 2020 has been screaming “Hold my beer!” every other day. What the heck is going on with these quadrennial albums and national craziness?


We don’t dig it! (Laughs) We’re like “Why is this craziness happening?” Four years later, around another crazy election. We don’t know. We’re cursed! No, we’re not cursed, we’re blessed. (Laughs) We named the first record It’s A World Of Love And Hope in February of 2016, having no idea what was going to happen in October or November of that year. And for the last four years we’ve been clinging to the idea that yes, it’s still a world of love and hope. 


This one we named Another World because our material’s gotten a little darker…


…Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed.


Shut up, man! (Laughs) But we named it in February before the pandemic; we didn’t name it after Covid. So yeah, here we are. Another world. Sorry. The Flat Five did it. It’s our fault. (Laughs.)


I remember what you told your bandmates about the title of the last album: “Let’s go for positive broke and call it It’s A World Of Love And Hope.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the title of the new record is Another World; it’s hard not to notice the contrast between this batch of songs and the last one, is it?


Yeah, because we vowed to be a positive band; that was Scott (Ligon’s) idea to be positive. And I love sad songs. There were times when I’d bring a sad song with cool three-part harmonies and the reaction was “let’s be positive.” But after a while “Up With People” will wear you out. I was in a band in Atlanta called the Rockateens; our first name was gonna be “Down With People.”


Before we get into songwriting, in the tonal or sonic sense, the two albums are quite similar: campy, fun, soothing and whimsical, with a throwback feel reaching to anywhere from the 1940s to the 70s. Does Chris just give y’all the lyrics and leave the melodies and arrangements to the band? Does he send demos? 


No, no. That guy…he’s got melodies that are so sophisticated. He composes and puts lyrics to music. We get a song from him. We respect his melodies. Some of the songs on this album will also be on his new one. Like the song “I Don’t Even Care,” that was new for us when we were recording it in the Wilco Loft. Mine and Nora’s vocals on that one are just our scratch vocals from that day. Some songs on our new album have been around for a while. And we do respect his melodies. There was one song where I suggested, “Why don’t we do the minor key on the very last verse?” We thought about it, because we always get everybody’s ideas. We played around with it and decided, “Eh, let’s just be true to Chris’s vision.” 


That said, the songs…


The record opens on a bouncy note with “Drip A Drop” and “Look At The Birdie,” then things take a decidedly dark turn. There’s “I Don’t Even Care,” about a woman abandoning an alcoholic spouse; “The Great State of Texas” from the point of view of a death row inmate…


(giggles) Right…good times!


Oh, but it gets better! “This’ll Be The Day,” about a girl who dies in a car wreck. And that’s just the first half of the album! They sound fun, till you dig into lyrics. Would you like to dish on any of those?


Well, the lady in “I Don’t Even Care” buys the guy a puppy. She tried everything! 


It was really a challenge to sequence this album, you know, trying not to put all the bummers together so people can make it through the record. But we love the bummers! I like to roll in a sad song like a dog rolls in a dead squirrel. But even in “The Great State of Texas,” there are funny moments. He says he heard his last Beatles song, “the one Ringo sang.” It’s a tiny bit of whimsy that really tells you about the character; he must be a Beatles fan. He lets you know it wasn’t “Hey, Jude.” “It might be Octopus’s Garden.” (Laughs)


Chris’s irony is off the charts.


Oh, for sure. Even in the happy songs, there are little “shivs.” And then you’re like “Ow! Do it again!” It’s a happy shiv. 


And while we’re in the “let’s hang around at the hospice” mood, “World Missed Out” might be the most heartbreaking song I’ve ever heard. I mean, a 17-year-old throws a party, and just end up stacking empty chairs. I guess it’s just counterintuitive that the melody can so cool and the lyrics so sad. What’s it like recording songs with that kind of dichotomy? 


Oh, I love the challenge of singing a happy-sounding melody with a little cream-filled bummer in the middle. I don’t know…each song I guess I try to take individually. I loved Chris Ligon’s music even before I met Scott Ligon. I trust Chris Ligon. If he wants a song to be this way, that’s what we’ll do. 


But on “The World Missed Out,” I mean, it sounds like a Barry White make-out song. And it could be. We joked around in the studio, and actually one time sang it like Barry White: The world missed out, oh yeaaaaaaaaahhhhhh, baby. (Laughs) We put all the gravy on it. But the song is the boss, and the song didn’t want that on it. I’m not sure if that answers your question. 


But on that first verse – there’s humor. The kid chewing on a Hot Wheels track…


I chewed on Hot Wheels tracks!


I did that, too! Mostly we chewed on the connectors…you know, those red things that look like a tongue? 


Hot Wheels track connectors, with what appear to be teeth marks

 


Indeed I do.


Yeah, that early 1970s stuff that made us how we are. 


What’s life been like for an established Chicago musician in the days of Covid? Are you able to play gigs?


Nooope, I’m not. (Laughs) Because I live in Southern Wisconsin and the rest of the band lives in Chicago. The rest of the guys, in terms of our band functions…Scott Ligon plays every instrument in the world; so does Alex Hall, our drummer. Casey, the same. Nora plays everything. All I play is tambourine and the occasional triangle. I just focus on the singing. So in the band, I do the booking and the social media stuff because I feel like they do all the heavy lifting. They’ve all been playing shows because, well, they play instruments. Nobody wants to hear anyone play the tambourine, I can tell you that right now. So I’m not able to do online shows.


We’ve done tiny things here and there; we did a benefit with the song “It’s Been A Delight” from the last album, for a charity in Chicago. But it was really difficult to do because of the Zoom lag. We did a band Zoom right after the lockdown in early March, and trying to sing together that way just does not work. So we had to make it an acoustic version; Scott played guitar and sang his part, then sent it to the rest of us. We didn’t know if it would work, but it came together. 


Overall, though, it’s been tough; a lot of roller coasters. And I finally got to a point where I had to say, “I’ve quit music, at least for a while. I’m on a sabbatical,” because I was like a bird that kept flying into a window, thinking it’s the sky. And I was being tempted to make bad decisions, like “I’ll come down to Chicago, we’ll do a Zoom show with a grand piano and a film maker!” And then after two weeks we’re all like, “This is stupid, we can’t do this.” So it’s super frustrating, but I just had to stop flying into the window about it. 



Before I ask a philosophical question I’ll stipulate that I’m a lifelong Republican who voted for Joe Biden…


Thank you, thank yoooouuuuu! What state are you in?


I’m in Georgia.


Oh my gosh! Thank you so muuuuuuuch! Wisconsin! I did that, you people! It was me! 


(Laughs) My philosophical question is, is this still a world of love and hope? 


(Pauses) Yes…yes it is. There are dogs…there are people. So, yes. It is a world of love and hope. I believe that. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be talking to you. I mean, there’s flowers and dirt and dogs. I’ve been blessed, even though I’m 10,000 percent unemployed (musically.) I’ve been working for my friend, Lynda Barry, an amazing artist, helping her run an etsy shop. We’ve raised a bunch of money for charities. 


So, yes. 


I can turn the recorder off, leave it on, or delete this question all together, but it’s hard not to notice that Bloodshot isn’t distributing this album, and the label’s last year or so of trouble is no secret. Care to comment? 


Well, it was a really, really hard decision not to go with Bloodshot. They love us and we love them, but they basically advised us not to go with them for this release because of the uncertain future of the label. It was a nice friendly parting, but my heart’s broken for bloodshot. I don’t know what’s gonna happen and they don’t either. But I won’t comment on my personal feelings about that whole situation. 


Kel, thanks for the time. I really enjoyed it…


Thank you for the Southern accent in my phone! It feels so good in my ear! I’m leanin’ on it!


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So intrigued were we with the evolution of the Flat Five’s work, we went straight to the source, composer Chris Ligon, to dig a little deeper.


The most intriguing thing to me about Another World is that the general sound is so similar to It’s A World of Love and Hope, yet the lyrical contrast couldn’t be more striking. Were you just in a different place when composing this time around? 


I think to a degree I was. I don’t particularly like to think in terms of politics or what’s going on in the world; that’s really not what I do. I like to let things flow naturally and just be inspired by anything that comes to my head, rather than write for some “cause,” or because the world is a certain way. I would say that there were some instances that were intentional in that regard. But that’s really not what I like to do, you know? 


Let me follow up on that, because about a year ago you gave an interview to Chicago Magazine, which described your songwriting technique as “hitting chords on the piano while meditating, waiting for images to appear.” Fair to say that a lot of dark images were forthcoming this time? 


I would say this:  I sometimes write in area that are darker than others, as a rule throughout the years. When I write, it’s not necessarily for The Flat Five. Sometimes I have; I’ll think, “Oh, this is a good Flat Five song.” I just write a lot of songs, and have done so for the last 40 years. There are some things that are darker than others, just in my history of writing. 


But I didn’t sit down to write and intentionally think of turmoil in the world and think, “This would be a good way to go in terms of a Flat Five record. Now when they themselves sit down and assemble the album, that’s entirely their doing. I’ve presented them with songs sometimes that they didn’t feel like they wanted to record at the time, that they’ll just put in the back of their mind until later. I think it’s the Flat Five’s assembly of the songs, their choice of my songs – that maybe something darker, more solemn, a little less “party in the streets” – may be more appropriate at this time. 


Although with the results of the election, it may have required more of a celebration; I don’t know. And the “Over And Out” song at the end, I thought that was kind of a risky thing because they didn’t know how the election was gonna turn out. I think it turned out much better, knowing that we seem to be going in a better direction as a planet.  



The same article also called you “Chicago’s answer to Harry Nilsson,” which I’d assume you took as a compliment. Nilsson was an obvious free spirit and iconoclast, but his music wasn’t for everybody. I mean, the Beatles loved him; but is that a fair comparison?


 I love him! I think it’s fair in the sense that I prefer to write music, record it and send it out there for people to hear it. And while I have done live shows over the past 30 years, they’ve been fairly sporadic. Especially over the last five years. 


I believe Harry Nilsson was similar, in that he didn’t like to do live shows. I don’t know whether that was for the same reasons I have. I don’t know whether he had stage fright, or what his deal was. But for me personally, I love the writing aspect so much that I’ve cut back on doing live shows intentionally. In my case, when I have a live show on the horizon, I think about it almost exclusively and I prepare for it. I’m not a person like my brother, Scott, who can pick up a guitar after not holding one for a while and sound amazing. I have to really re-remember my songs. That’s how infrequently I play out. So I prefer not to have my mind cluttered, having to remember my old songs. I like to have an open mind about the new things I’m writing. It’s really hard for me to think about more than one thing at a time; I’m not good at juggling.


Mike Campbell once said of the Heartbreakers’ songwriting philosophy: “Don’t bore us; get to the chorus.” The bulk of your songs come in under two and a half minutes. Have you always placed a high value on being so concise? 


Kind of. Occasionally a song will end up short just because I’ve become impatient with it and want to move on. Other times it’s more intentional. You know, there’s a Chicago band I really love, an avante-garde outfit called The Residents, and they put out an album in 1980. It was called The Commercial Album, and it was 40 songs, all one minute!  


(Laughs)


And it was great! There were so many ideas; you get to hear so many great melodies over 40 minutes. I’m not big on long-winded anthems. I’m not a person who likes to JAM and draw things out unnecessarily; I kind of like to just get in and get out, and leave people with the idea, leave them with the melody. I’ve always believed it’s better to leave an audience wanting more than to have people looking at their watches, wondering, “Is this about to wrap up?” 


Humor and irony are big parts of your writing. I’m having a hard time divining who some of your influences are, other than maybe Dr. Demento. 


Haha!


Care to fill in some blanks? 


Well, there are thousands. I’ve always loved music. My parents played a lot of records when I was a kid, so we had a lot of good stuff to hear: jazz records, pop vocalists. I heard a lot of music from the time I was born, and it was pretty eclectic stuff. So I have a great record collection, and so does my wife. We trade records and buy each other records. 


But there are hundreds and thousands of people whose music I really love and who influence me. Sometimes it shows up obviously; other times it’s maybe something that I’ve thought of while sitting at the piano that pushed me to continue in this vein. Maybe it’s just a snippet of a verse, some chord that reminded me of a particular person’s stuff. I’m definitely influenced by tons of people; just not one particular person. It’s not that I’m following in one person’s footsteps. I just love all types of music. 


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The Flat Five’s Another World is out today on Pravda Records (the truth, wink, wink), wherever you purchase music.  Bandcamp. AmazonSpotify.



Oct 30, 2020

Livin’ on Cold Pizza: A Conversation with Sam Morrow

Photos by Christine Solomon

By Kevin Broughton


As awful as 2020 has been, it’s been a great year for independent music. And as we enter the home stretch, Los Angeles-based Texan Sam Morrow does his part with today’s release of Gettin’ By On Gettin’ Down on Forty Below Records. Steeped in the rich history of Southern California rock ‘n’ roll, Morrow’s fourth full-length LP is rooted in grease, grit and groove. 


There's hardly an acoustic guitar in sight; instead, amplifiers and guitar pedals rule the roost, with everything driven forward by percussive rhythms that owe as much to R&B as country music.


The late Tom Petty tagged his “Buried Treasure” radio show on SiriusXm as “The very best of rock, rhythm and blues.” He could have said the same thing about this very album. T.P., God rest his soul, would have loved this record. It’s blistering and groovy, and the best indie rock record since Whiskey Myers’ self-titled 2019 effort. It’s certainly the best rock album this year. 


We caught up with Mr. Morrow a while back to talk about the unconventional writing approach he took this time around; how music can and should be a refuge these days; and the benefits of being paid in currency rather than exposure. 


The Little Feat vibe is strong in you. There’s even a reference to “Sailin’ Shoes” in the last verse of “Rosarita,” the album’s opening cut. How did Lowell George come to have such an impact on you?


Man, I didn’t even get hip to Little Feat until six or seven years ago, but as soon as I discovered them and Lowell [George], the thing that stuck out to me was the way they melded styles. The way that they take country, zydeco, rock ‘n’ roll – and a bunch of other stuff too – and just meld it…and Lowell, well, his guitar playing is my favorite and his voice is very underrated. You don’t realize how good his voice is until you try to sing his songs. 


And the band…Richie on drums is one of the most melodic players I’ve ever heard, if that makes sense. But you could tell that he just really listened to the rest of the band. And that’s what I think makes a really good drummer. 



I saw a documentary about Lowell a few years back and found out he actually tuned his guitar up a full step. And I thought, Yeah, that makes sense. It produced that signature, sort of warbling, high-pitched slide sound. I hear a lot of it in “Wicked Woman.” Did you – or the studio band -- do any innovative stuff with your guitars and/or rig setups for this album?


We spend a lot of time with our guitars, looking for tones. I’m kind of a “tone-hunter,” I guess; I like to sit down with guitar players and experiment with different tones before we start recording. One of the things that Lowell did – sort of his signature thing – he used serial compression on his slide stuff. He’d stack two pretty standard compressors on top of each other, so one is actually compressing the other. That’s how he got those really long notes while he was playing slide. 


So we did a lot of creative stuff with compression and pedals and different tunings, for sure. 


Your drummer, Matt Tecu, sent you a series of beats that you then wound into songs. That’s an interesting – and maybe a little counterintuitive – approach to songwriting. Of the nine cuts on the album, how many would you say had that genesis? 


Ah, I’d say at least half; I’d have to go back and look. I wrote these songs over the last couple years. What had grabbed my interest during that time was grooves: Little Feat, for instance, used so many different grooves in their music. And bands like The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd – they had lots of grooves, too. I guess I just wanted to turn the songwriting process on its head and go at it from a different angle. Playing in a band with a cool groove makes it fun, know what I mean? 


I’m curious about the process…You’ve got these beats. Do you then drop in a guitar riff? Is there a lyrical phrase you start repeating? How does that work? 


Most of the time it was a groove or a beat, and I’d play guitar over it, looking for the progression that sort of fit. Then I’d sing a melody over that. Lyrics usually came last with me, for whatever reason. That’s typically how it would go. 


You’re a Texan transplant in Los Angeles. I’m sure it’s not unheard of, but a Texas musician moving to California for career enhancement isn’t typical. What was your motivation to move?


Nah, it wasn’t career enhancement; it was a life change for me. I got sober about nine and a half years ago, and came out here to go to rehab and just sorta stayed. I just haven’t left yet; I’ll probably end up back in Texas at some point, but LA has a really cool and interesting music scene. It’s so diverse. I tell people that you can “find your pocket of people” here, which I have. I’m here for now, man. 


“Quick Fix,” from your 2018 album Concrete And Mud, made it into an episode of Showtime’s Billions. Did you get any sales/publicity bump as a result?


Uh…not really. I got a check. (Laughs) It was fun, having my music playing in the background. I like Billions. It’s a really cool show. The creator, Brian Koppelman, and I have become friends. It was really cool. I’m not really sure about the exposure…it was a nice check. And I’ll take that, since I usually get paid in exposure. I’ll take money from time to time. (Laughs)


You should probably send this record to the music supervisor for Yellowstone; that show moves musical product.


Yeah, I know! I’ve been hearing such great things about that show. Do you watch it? 


I kinda have a love-hate relationship with it. There’s great scenery, great music and some really good characters. The writing…let me put this diplomatically: It’s perfectly geared toward Kevin Costner’s acting skill set. 


Oh yeah? (Laughs)


I cringe at the dialogue, but got hooked into the show on Episode One because the first music I heard was a Whiskey Myers song.


Yeah, I’ve heard they have awesome music.


Don’t write off the idea; pitch them!


You said that on this album you wanted to make “funky, layered rock where it's not just the songwriting that's important, but the presentation, too.” In roots-based music – for lack of a better term – it’s typically the songwriting that’s first among equals. Could you expand a little bit on striking a balance between lyrics and presentation/production?


I just feel like one of the most fun things about making music is the actual production of it. Being in the studio, experimenting with sounds; that’s what’s really fun to me. And I think in roots music/Americana music, there’s not enough of that. So I just wanted to strike a balance with that. A lot of times I’ll refer to Americana as “Genericana.”



Nice! 


Yeah, it’s just like the same acoustic guitar, the same flowing electric guitar. I mean, I get it; I’m not saying it sounds bad. But I just tend to get tired of stuff quickly. Sh*t, I’m already bored with this last record I made! I probably shouldn’t say that, and I don’t mean it in a bad way. I’m just one of those people who has to change to keep his interest up. I’m always exploring. 


But yeah, I think more people in roots music should do a little more experimenting. And I hope I did some of that on this record. 


Concrete And Mud was sprinkled with lots of topical and societal themes. Two years later, is there any sort of big-picture takeaway you want listeners to have?  


You know, man, I think listeners are given enough themes…they’re just getting so much bullsh*t right now, being on Facebook and being online. It’s like you can’t have a conversation with somebody without hearing about politics. I just wanted to stay away from that and be – for lack of a better word – a refuge from it. Because I’m f*cking tired of it. All I want is a president I can wake up and not hear about…


Yep!


…and it’s not that I’m not sympathetic or empathetic to it. I have my own views. But I’m just tired of it, man. That’s kinda where I came up with the name “Gettin’ By On Gettin’ Down;” what gets me by is music, and that’s the kind of record I wanted to make. 


I just wanted to make a fun record. 


-----


And man, did he ever. This one will be in your heavy rotation for a while.


Gettin' By on Gettin' Down is available on Amazon, Bandcamp, Apple Music, etc.

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