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

Jun 11, 2019

A Conversation With Josh Fleming of Vandoliers



By Kevin Broughton

Seems like the best country bands these days used to be punk rockers. It’s certainly the case for the Dallas-based Vandoliers, a six-piece outfit formed in 2015 after front man Josh Fleming’s punk band, Phuss, broke up. The rest of the self-proclaimed “Converse Cowboys” (a shame that now nobody can use that as a band name) had done their time in various punk and folk outfits around the DFW. Within three years the band was on the cusp of a storybook achievement: Playing South By Southwest in hopes of signing with Bloodshot Records.

Fleming’s dream came true, and with the iconoclastic label’s backing, they lit out for Memphis to record Forever, an album that combines his focused, fiery storytelling with the raw, rough-edged roots you might hear from Lucero or the Old 97s.

The Vandoliers' sound is truly a tour of the many subgenres that originated in the Lone Star State, from outlaw country to Texas swing, electric blues, and even Tejano. At the same time, it’s a twist on those familiar sounds, delivered with a wink of the eye and a bang of the head. 

For all the surge of critical acclaim and the uptick in album and ticket sales, Fleming and his mates remain focused, humble and hungry. We caught up with the lead singer a few weeks back and talked about the recording process, the catching of a lifelong dream, and his genuine affection for Marty Stuart.

Where was Forever recorded, and who produced it?

It was recorded in Memphis at American Recording Studios with Adam Hill.

What drew you to Memphis and that producer?

There’s a couple we met – Bill and Kate -- in Memphis, who own an “band” Airbnb  and when we would pass through there touring, we sort of fell in with their group of friends. Bands like Lucero, The Drive By Truckers, The Mavericks -- all the Americana bands -- would stay there; it’s this cool 1960s mansion. And they were really pushing us to record in Memphis, because they work with the City of Memphis; trying to bring in artists and add to the local economy. It’s a great city, but it’s kind of having a hard time.

We just fell in love with the city. Everyone’s super sweet and everyone has a great story; it’s Old South, so there are still some ghosts hanging around. So anyway, we met Adam, who’s a great dude. He gets our sense of humor and had us all laughing to the point of our stomachs hurting. We went and toured a bunch of studios, and it was like walking into a time machine. Like, Don’t mind the cigarette burns on the carpet, Johnny Cash didn’t like holding his cigarettes. (Laughs) We ended up at American, where Wilco’s A.M. was recorded. It’s a great big square room that I just really liked; it could house the band so we could all play at the same time.

And we’re on Bloodshot Records now, but we had a budget that we had to meet. We had a certain amount of money for housing and studio time, which we thought would be about eight days. So we just went in there and got to work. It was great.

A question about the arrangements: It sounds like you have a full-blown horn section in several songs. Did you have other guys involved, or did y’all do some overdubbing of Cory Graves playing by himself?

Cory only did overdubbing on “All On Black.” Everything else was one fiddle and one trumpet, which is what we use (playing) live.

Well, it’s a really big sound, man.


Yeah, thanks. We tried to keep as much “ear candy” out of it as possible. The only other dubbing we did, really, was doubling up the vocals on the chorus on “All On Black.”

I was gonna ask…it sounds like you’re doing the harmony on some of those songs; is that you or someone else?

Cory does a lot of the harmonies. We didn’t have a lot of time, so if we figured out that it was quicker for me to do it, I did. That’s me harmonizing with myself on “Miles And Miles,” but Cory does most of the harmonies on everything.

You know, it seems like a lot of the great Americana bands – The Gourds come to mind, Reckless Kelly comes to mind – there’s a really great multi-instrumentalist who sings great harmony and ties everything together.

Yeah. I’ve got one of those. (Laughs)

Do you do all the songwriting?

Well, yeah, a lot of it; Cory does some, too, but we all pretty much take songwriting credits. There’s four ways to look at songwriting: Lyrical, melodic, arrangements… and, f*ck, I’ve forgotten what the fourth one is. (Laughs) We just worked together as a unit on this album. I do a lot of the lyrics and progressions, but everybody has a hand in it.

Y’all are obviously big fans of the Old 97s, and their influence on your work is clear. You also credit Marty Stuart as being an inspiration, but I think that element is a little more subtle. Did you grown up a fan of his? Did your parents turn you onto him?

My wife turned me on to him, but he was one of the first people to do “rock country,” and break a lot of the rules of traditional country. And at the end of the day he’s one of the biggest time capsules of music history. When he went solo after playing with Johnny Cash and Earl Scruggs, doing his own thing…right now, he’s one of the most important people – outside of guys like Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson – in all of country music. Also, you know, he’s a fan of our band and we’ve gotten to tour with him.

Have you seen him live?

I haven’t.

Well, you’re f*cking up. Go see him, and every band you see after him will suck. That is the tightest, best band you will ever see in your life.

Well, I’ll make a point of it. It’s pretty cool the way he’s gotten a new wave of momentum later in his career with the Fabulous Superlatives. What have y’all learned from being around them and touring with them?

He’s everything you want a hero to be. He had no reason to be nice to us, and they stopped their sound check to introduce themselves to us on our first tour with them. They’re the highest-class people you’d ever want to meet, and they’re so immensely talented that I don’t even think they realize it anymore. When their drummer is one of the best singers you’ve ever heard…and that’s how talented the rest of the band is.

In this business you get big-timed a lot when you’re young. Marty has consistently been like, “Y’all are cool. I love what you’re doing.” That takes away a lot of the self-doubt.

You’ve also mentioned that you’re a big fan of Bob Wills, whom I’m told is still the king. What is it about his work that touches you?

That comes from my dad. My dad and I loved taking long road trips, and even when I was a teenager who didn’t fully understand him, I would gravitate Bob Wills because I thought it was funny and cool.  The guitar and fiddle playing were great; it’s just one of those long-running things that reminds me of my childhood. And it reminds me of my dad, so I’ll always love it. (Pauses) But at the end of the day, I don’t know that this album was influenced by Bob Wills. There’s not one western swing song on there. (Laughs) We just love music. That’s why our band’s so weird: We just like a lot of different music.

If you had to list, say, five albums that you consider albums that are absolutely indispensable for the serious music fan, what would they be?

I’m gonna do this differently and do a round-table with the band, since I didn’t think about it when you texted me yesterday.

Ha! Okay.

(To band mates) Okay, desert-island records…you have to pick one.

“Old 97s, Too Far To Care.”

Pinkerton by Weezer.”

“Led Zeppelin I.”

“Ramones I.”

Who’s Next, since our drummer loves Keith Moon.”

Finally, you’ve spoken about how getting signed to Bloodshot was a big-time event for the Vandoliers. Could you briefly describe the nature of your relationship with the label, and how it’s impacted the band professionally?

I mean, we’re halfway through our first run of this record, and our ticket sales are way up. Which is weird. We’re in places we’ve never been, and people already know who we are. The biggest impact, though, is the Old 97s; they’re the ones who sent our record over to them. The folks at Bloodshot listened to it and loved it. And once we played the showcase at South By Southwest last year, they asked us if we wanted to be on the roster. It was like a cliché or a dream: I’m going down to Austin to play South By Southwest and get a record deal. That actually happened to me.

They’re a tight-knit family. They’re hard working and honest people, and I trust them. And we’re excited to be on their roster.


The Vandoliers are:

JOSHUA FLEMING: vocals, acoustic guitar
DUSTIN FLEMING: electric guitar
MARK MONCRIEFF: bass
TRAVIS CURRY: fiddle
GUYTON SANDERS: drums, percussion
CORY GRAVES: trumpet, piano, organ, vocals

-------
Forever is available on Apple Music, Amazon, etc.


Apr 18, 2019

Rod Melancon: The Farce the Music Interview

Photos by Barry Grimes
Interview by Kasey Anderson


You were born in Louisiana and the culture and sound of the bayou comes through clearly throughout Pinkville, but you spent a few years in Los Angeles, specifically around the Grand Ole Echo scene, which is still an under-the-radar scene compared to Nashville or Austin. How did big a role did Los Angeles, and that specific scene, play in your development as a writer and artist?


Los Angeles played a major role being that I had already moved there when I started fooling with songwriting. I was 19 when I first started trying to structure my own songs. I remember around age 21 putting the guitar down. It would be a year or so before I’d get back into it. Around age 24, I got introduced to the Grand Ole Echo scene.  Ben Reddell started a label and funded/released my first record Parish Lines. I was big into the folks that hung around there. Dan Janisch, Bob Woodruff, Rick Shea and David Serby. These guys were 20 to 25 years older than me but they sort of took me under their wing. I looked up to them and I still do. Check out Bob Woodruff’s Dreams and Saturday Nights. It’s a great record that was released in the mid-90s through Asylum. Dan Janisch was and still is one of my favorite songwriters in L.A. “Cannot Settle Down”, “I Dream of You” and “Everybody Gots Somebody They Used to Love” are stone cold classics. I believe Mike Stinson still covers Dan’s songs. The Cinema Bar in Culver City was my favorite hang. Julie Richmond and Kim Grant guided me into the scene there. I’ll always have a special place for L.A. It gave me my start and awoke something in me I never knew was there.


Cinema Bar's a cool place. Didn't some legendary Lucinda Williams show take place there? I don't know if I have that right. And the Echo was a really cool scene, still is. I know you've talked about seeing Phoebe Bridgers there early on in her career, when you and I first met you said you'd seen me play the Echo years before. A lot of the folks who started out there strayed a little further from Americana into, I dunno, whatever other made-up genre you want to use to classify them.


Your sound, though, and especially the sound of Pinkville, doesn't immediately bring to mind Los Angeles. These are dark songs, and you and Adrian Quesada did a great job on this record of framing your voice really nicely. How did you connect with Adrian and Will Walden, and when you started writing the songs for this record, did you have that kind of darkness in mind?


I met Will through the music scene in Echo Park around 4 or 5 years ago. He used to do sound at the Silver Lake Lounge. He was only 21 years old. We’ve been playing together for over three years now. It’s funny to think about that all these years later. He’s been on every tour I’ve done. He’s my right hand man. Interesting fact: His dad is renowned tv composer Snuffy Walden. Snuffy composed and won an Emmy for The West Wing. My favorite of his is The Wonder Years score. Will inherited that trait. A few years ago I was talking to him about what I envisioned as a record intro. “Picture a platoon cautiously walking through the humid jungles of Vietnam.” He came up with the riff on the spot. That riff would eventually become the opening track of Pinkville. I connected to Adrian Quesada through Mary Jurey at Blue Elan. It’s funny because he told me recently that at first he didn’t think he was the guy to produce me. He said he thought I was more of a country/Americana artist. After I described my vision to him he changed his mind.  After the last record, I told myself I’d lighten up on the dark subject matter but in the end I created something even darker than the last. I guess it’s just who I am. I gravitate more towards those kind of characters. I read In Cold Blood at a very young age. I guess it stuck.


I read In Cold Blood pretty young, too. That one and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried both come to mind throughout Pinkville. How much do you draw from outside material - books, films, news, whatever? Everything around us has a way of informing what we write but how often does something you've read or seen jump out at you to the point where you chase it down until it becomes a song? What's that process like for you?


Yeah, I read The Things They Carried right before I started working on Pinkville. I loved the mixture of brutality and tenderness. That last chapter really got me. The opening track of Pinkville was something I experienced at a young age. It stuck with me and eventually I was able to put that story in to a song. My writing process on this record was different because I pulled a lot of things from my personal life. Rehabilitation, Pinkville, Manic Depression. I am the narrator in those songs. That is something I usually wasn’t comfortable with but with age and experience it came naturally. I am inspired by lots of things. Personal experiences, books, films. Some things just come out of nowhere. Cobra came out of nowhere. I wrote the lyrics late one night. Those are the most mysterious and interesting ones to me.  No explanation on why I did it or where it came from.


There's a very plainspoken approach to some of that autobiographical material. Which isn't to say there aren't great turns of phrase or really beautiful lines it's just that a lot of it is matter-of-fact. "Rehabilitation" sticks out to me as really just a recounting of the day-to-day of rehab. It's not bereft of redemption but that's not really the point of the song. It's a kind of dirt-under-the-fingernails recounting of your experience. Was that the intent? To de-romanticize and de-stigmatize rehab by laying the process out so plainly?


Exactly. Rehab is the same schedule over and over for weeks. The rhythm and groove stays the same. Though there is the occasional “oh lawd” moment. A patient escapes, a patient gets pregnant. A few months after I was out a close friend I met there overdosed. I remember during a session, they asked me to play a song. I played “Feathers.” After, he came up to me and asked me about that song. “How in the hell did you come up with that?”  Three months later he was dead. “I can still see his face when they broke down the door....”


It's sort of the same way with "The Heartbreakers". Was that another instance of trying to humanize something that seems much larger than life?


Totally. I envisioned it as a Tom Petty origin story. Will started playing the riff on tour a few years ago. It was before Tom died. After he passed away I knew I had to finish the lyrics. I relate with his story because we both grew up in the swampy Deep South. We both moved to Hollywood at a young age. Not trying to sound like Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James but I related with his story a lot. It felt like the right thing to do and it’s nice seeing folks react so positively to it.



The reach of those songs and that band is just immense, so it was nice to see you distill it back down to its origins. Do you feel like that dream they were chasing still exists? When you moved from LA back to Texas, did you feel like you'd done what you could in LA and needed a change? What took you to Austin?


I’m not sure if that rock n roll dream still exists. I’m sure some form of it does. I got signed in L.A. so that’s proof that’s it not completely dead yet. Every time we’d tour through Austin it was always amazing. Saturday nights at The White Horse. Making more money in one night than I ever did in L.A. The bands and songwriters are great. It’s also a genreless city. Folks would ask if I was worried about being surrounded by so many great bands. Honestly, I WANT to be surrounded by great bands. It’s inspiring. Folks that treat music as a competition are high. Townes did his thing here and so did Roky Erickson. Best of both worlds. Niels from Blue Elan had been telling me I should make the move. He said check back in with me in two years and let me know if you made the right decision. It took me less than a year to realize I had.


It's a special place, for sure. Portland took its little slogan, Keep Portland Weird, from Austin. The whole "Keep it Weird" thing started there in Austin as a call for folks to support local businesses and was then adopted by a few other cities, Portland among them.


You've been public about your sobriety -- obviously "Rehabilitation" references that -- and about mental health issues. How have sobriety and treatment changed the way you write and perform, if at all. Do you approach songwriting differently than you did before you got sober?


I’m much more focused now that I’m sober. Nothing to cloud my brain or throw me off course. My personal life settled down so I was able to focus on songwriting and my career. It helped me mature and my responsibility level went up. Folks ask how do I stay sober playing in bars and venues. Honestly that keeps me sober. Nothing against folks that drink but it caused a lot of unnecessary pain in my life. No one to blame but myself. The guilt is still there. I feel bad for the way I treated people that cared for me. That guilt will probably never leave but I’m thankful I can wake up knowing I have no one to apologize to and I can remember everything from the night before. Hell of a thing.



Hell of a thing indeed. Tom Waits, who you cover on Pinkville, is a sober guy and when asked about sobriety affecting his songwriting process, he said, "One is never completely certain when you drink and do drugs whether the spirits that are moving through you are the spirits from the bottle or your own. And, at a certain point, you become afraid of the answer. That's one of the biggest things that keeps people from getting sober, they're afraid to find out that it was the liquor talking all along." I've always really liked that quote. If you know how to do it, you know how to do it. It seems like Waits is a pretty big touchstone for you, creatively. What drew you to his songs and, specifically, to "Goin' Out West"?


I love the theater and monologues of Tom Waits. He’s a visual artist and really paints the scene. I gravitated to Goin Out West because of the subject matter. A brute of a man is pitching himself to Hollywood. The traits he brags about are mostly criminal but at least he looks good without a shirt. Y’all get that dude an agent! I related with it because I too moved to Hollywood with hopes of being in the moving pictures. I was in a handful of really bad films. “I ain’t no extra I’m a leading man.”


Part of that song too, though, is the folly of the narrator thinking that what the people "out West" want is a renegade, an outlaw, when what they really want is a soft, beautiful face upon which to project the image of an outlaw. The juxtaposition of real danger and the illusion of danger is really at the heart of Waits's thing, I think. And we see that not just in Hollywood but in this idea of Outlaw Country, a sub-genre of a sub-genre of music that, I guess, both you and I play. People love the idea of an outlaw - they love the outlaw image and the iconography that does along with it - but when somebody actually steps up and speaks their mind, be it about the president or how under-represented female artists are on country radio, or whatever, people get uncomfortable. That's kind of a bizarre thing to me. The flipside of that is we now have this glut of artists who work very hard to present a very calculated representation of the outlaw image they believe people want to see. It's nothing new in music or film, or life even, but it seems to be prevalent again, this idea of the outlaw persona. You seem to have found a label and a team that don't try to push that on you, or push your songs into that categorization. Is that a boundary you set with the label?


I agree 100 percent on that. The label has been great about me doing my thing when it comes to the music part since the beginning. I’m very thankful for that after hearing so many label horror stories. Folks love playing dress up. A doctored up “outlaw” bio or trying to appear a certain way. One of my favorite Sturgill lines is “The most outlaw thing that I ever did was give a good woman a ring.” I’m far from an “outlaw.” Maybe outlaw in the fact that I make records my own way. Though I still enjoy playing Xbox and hold a large amount of Middle Earth knowledge. Some of these folks would never want to appear “nerdy” or admit that they enjoy these things. One of my favorite spots in Austin is I Heart Video. Tons of VHS tapes and film memorabilia. I’m also much more comfortable in a pair of Nike Cortez than cowboy boots. Sure I’ve had a few run ins with the law but I’m more embarrassed by that than proud.


To me it's always, if the songs are good, I don't care much about how they're presented or marketed. That said, you do seem to have a pretty good hold on how to be engaging on Twitter and Instagram without being panderous or persistently self-promotional. Is that a hard balance to strike for you? How do you strike that balance?

Thankfully as far as that goes I’ve been able to just be myself. The older I got the less I cared about my “online” image. That’s when I noticed folks started paying attention. Most people can tell when someone isn’t being authentic. Authenticity always shines through in the end. Whether it’s through song or social media. I enjoy that side of it. I’m surprised when folks react to things that I post. The world has a better sense of humor than I originally thought.


I think that authenticity comes across.


The record's out, you're going to Scandinavia again soon on tour, and I imagine you'll be busy this summer. Pinkville is more or less going to be your life for the next 18 months or so. Does that take a toll on you? Do you hit a point where you're ready for the next thing or have you adjusted to the timing of the album cycle at this point?


This time it was different because I felt like it was the most well prepared release yet. The team was all set, the artwork was there and a Europe and US tour was booked. I’m already seeing the difference that makes. It takes a big load off of me. I enjoy being on the road. I’ve got a great new booking agent now through Atomic. His name is Jimmy Dasher. How can you go wrong when that’s your agent’s name? I’ve done a lot of questionable tours. 4 great shows and 15 bad shows was usually the case. Though this all builds character. You have to go through this. It’s the hustle. Folks want immediate fame through reality tv music competitions. Even if you win, you are usually forgotten within a few weeks. Careers are earned on the road. Whether you are playing to 5 people or 50 people, it’s the necessary path and what it takes to build a foundation. Cue Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page”.

----------
Pinkville is out now!

Mar 29, 2019

A Conversation With Tim Bluhm



by Kasey Anderson

It would be easy to characterize Tim Bluhm’s new solo album, Sorta Surviving, as a “departure” from the California Soul and jam-band-adjacent aesthetic of Bluhm’s work with Mother Hips, and I suppose that characterization would be accurate enough but, at this point in his career, Bluhm has woven together a wide enough variety of styles, and meandered down a wide enough variety of musical paths, that to try and pinpoint anything as a departure from Bluhm’s “signature sound” is reductive. Sorta Surviving differs from a Mother Hips record in that the band is different, the instrumentation is different, and the presentation is different, but it’s a record that anyone with an appreciation for what Bluhm has done -- and continues to do -- as a frontman and songwriter should be able to sink their teeth into.


Sorta Surviving was recorded at Cash Cabin, the legendary property where Johnny Cash recorded the American Recordings series that re-re-resurrected his career. Bluhm described Cash Cabin as, “more like a living room than a studio; full of Pendleton blankets, old rusty stoves, memorabilia,” while talking to me from his own home studio in Northern California.


“It was sort of coming full circle,” Bluhm said, describing the sessions, noting that Rick Rubin had signed Mother Hips to his label, American Recordings around the same time the first album in Cash’s American Recordings series was released. “I listened to that Cash American Recordings album so much, back then and getting ready to go into the studio for this record.”


For Bluhm, Cash Cabin was appealing beyond its history because it sits secluded in rural Tennessee, removed from the trappings and distractions that tend to worm their way into everyone’s lives, no matter what else is at hand. “I spend a lot of time in recording studios,” Bluhm said, “I watch what people do, see their behavior patterns, and the tendency in all of us is to get distracted by our phones, our responsibilities outside of the studio, all of that stuff. You start thinking about what time you have to go feed the parking meter, what you’re going to have for dinner when you get home, little day-to-day stuff like that and it can impact the vibe in the studio, it can impact the performances and the songs. It was important for me to get away from all of that.”


At Cash Cabin, Bluhm assembled an all-star band including Jesse Aycock (guitar, vocals), Jason Crosby (piano, violin, organ), and Nashville session legends Gene Chrisman (drums) and David Roe (bass), and handed the production reins to Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools. The result is an album that draws heavily on traditional country structures and arrangements and brings to the forefront another hallmark of some of Bluhm’s favorite Classic Country songs: humor.



Perhaps the album’s centerpiece, “Jimmy West and John Dunn the Bully” exemplifies Bluhm’s wry humor as it follows the schoolyard conflict between the two title characters, Jimmy West facing down the hulking Dunn in a battle to defend the honor (and prized belt buckle) of the song’s narrator. Those with political leanings could probably find easy allegory in the David and Goliath tale but Bluhm says the song, like everything on Sorta Surviving, is grounded in one
guiding principle: “forget genre, forget everything else, just tell a good story.”

It’s a simple enough formula, and it works. It’s the stories that will keep you coming back to Sorta Surviving, and to Tim Bluhm, in whatever incarnation he chooses to present himself and his songs next.

----------

Sorta Surviving is available today on Tim's site, Amazon, etc.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails