Showing posts with label Jimbo Mathus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jimbo Mathus. Show all posts

Jan 15, 2019

"Good Music," McCartney, & Memphis: A Conversation With Liz Brasher

©Rich Good
by Kasey Anderson

We’re just at the beginning of 2019 but Liz Brasher’s debut album, Painted Image (January 18, Fat Possum), is likely to end up on plenty of year-end lists. I’ve known Brasher a while now and so, rather than firing off a bunch of prepared questions, I thought I’d just continue a few of the conversations Liz and I have been having over the course of the last year or so. I’m no stranger to being interviewed myself and as grateful as I know we all are for any attention that comes our way, there are only so many times you can do the Debut Record, This Is Me! Interview before it starts to feel robotic. I wanted to give Liz a break from that and delve into the things that really inform her work, and helped shape Painted Image.

What strikes me immediately about this record is how well it works as a piece, rather than a collection of songs. For some folks, their debut LP is just, “Well, these are the 12 songs I have, let’s make a record!” but - and please correct me if I’m wrong - you seem to be in a constant state of writing so I have to imagine a fair amount of material got left off this record because it didn’t necessarily fit with the way you wanted to introduce yourself as an artist. At what point in the process do you feel like you hit on, “Okay, THIS is what the record is and THESE are the songs that work”?

You're absolutely right. I am in a constant state of writing! I write a song and then move off it so quickly it almost became overwhelming trying to narrow that down to one album, much less my debut! So something close to 100 songs were left off of the record. It was basically a process of listening back and thinking through, "What right now is the best representation of who I am and what in turn make up the strongest songs that I can have on my debut?" I had criteria to meet -- what I wanted my introduction to the world to sound like. I wanted it to have a timeless sound, to be mysterious, powerful, evocative, soulful. So there wasn't a definitive moment but between myself and Scott Bomar (producer), we narrowed them down to what we felt was the best representation of me and my music. 

A hundred songs! Damn. I just started work on my seventh record and I’ve written maybe a hundred usable songs in my entire life. 

Yeah and that number has only doubled since the album was recorded last year! It's both a blessing & a curse, this constant stream.

There is a timelessness to the record, and there’s a purposefulness to the arrangements that really struck me. By that I mean: everything has its place and everything is working in concert to provide a comfortable place for your voice to sit. I think a lot of times, artists can end up treating certain instruments or arrangements like a novelty -- “We’re a rock band but here’s our song WITH A HORN SECTION!” -- and the finished production ends up not being of much service to the song itself. That’s not the case with your record. Because you’re in Memphis, and there are elements of what people associate with Soul Music on this record, I think those comparisons are going to be easy for people to reach for but what I heard almost immediately was a Dap Kings dynamic, where everything has its place and it’s all textural — there aren’t always these dramatic horn lines. Were there reference points you brought into the studio, like, “Okay *this* is what this song needs” or was it more generalized than that? Once you knew what the pieces were, how did you go about fitting them together within the context of an album?

I definitely had reference points I used. The Dap Kings dynamic being a huge one since I'm such a big fan of Amy Winehouse, of course so many tracks from Stax, specifically Otis Redding songs, Etta James's entire Muscle Shoals record Tell Mama.. etc., etc. but I think this is where Memphis comes into play more than anything. Memphis has a history of good horns parts in songs, especially in complementing vocalists, and this is still true today. Scott knew to go to Marc Franklin (trumpet, arranger) for the arrangement of both the strings and the horns. He has a phenomenal ear and added the exact parts that had been missing all along. They really did fall perfectly into place.

Yeah, it’s a really beautifully arranged record and there’s enough space for your voice to really come through. I read an interview with Donald Glover recently where he talked about wanting to make what he called “Everyday Music,” and he cited artists like Stevie Wonder, Badu, Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation record as sort of touchstones for the kind of music that doesn’t require a certain set of circumstances for listening. Like, I love the Pusha T record but it’s not what I’m reaching for on Sunday at 11:30am when I’m doing a crossword. You seem to have a goal similar to Glover’s — songs that fit seamlessly into the listener’s life. Is that fair to say and, if so, do you feel like you got there with this record? What would the next step be from here?

That is fair to say. Man, I love his references for everyday music. I could listen to all 3 of those artists at any given time. I always think of music in terms of either good or bad, but then I sub-categorize that to music for musicians vs. music for everyone. I'm much more interested in making music for everyone and the everyday because I know what that's meant for me. That's why I mentioned the idea of timeless music. It's music that transcends a situation or an era or a theme. It's music for humanity, to be played anytime or anywhere and to always get something new out of it. I hope this record gets there, but I think only time can judge that. 

The next step from here is to keep writing. To collaborate with artists who inspire me, to constantly challenge myself, and to keep making good records that I want to hear, and hopefully the rest of the world will too. 

It seems like people get caught up in the idea that there can’t be harmony between making records that are creatively satisfying and challenging and making records that are accessible when, to me, if you’re doing the former well and you have any regard at all for your audience, you’re going to end up accomplishing the latter. 

At the end of the day we're all human and most likely what's satisfying to me (the artist) is gonna be satisfying to the other humans (the listener).

You spent most of 2018 on tour and played with a pretty eclectic cross-section of artists, from the Zombies to the Psychedelic Furs to Emmylou Harris and your songs never seemed out of place to me, which reinforces my belief that genres in general are an absurd construct. Is that something you give much thought to? 

I give a lot of thought to genres, not because I want to but mainly because the world makes me. By nature it's easier to understand something when you can classify it. This type of plant, that type of animal, this type of wall paint. But what we try to classify by genre is the most intangible 3+ minutes that exist. It's futile to box in something that by definition can't remain in a box. And even if you do place a song or band in a genre, in a few years that genres name will change and evolve. We create songs that obviously have their roots in music we have listened to or the world we've observed, but the act of actually forming the songs comes out of nowhere... like pulling it out of the air. To me it's so belittling to then put them into man made subcategories, which we most of the time don't even agree with! My approach to all of that is to just listen to as much good music as I can. I'm a record collector & when I can't spin records I'm listening to the radio or my phone or i'm at a live show. Good is literally the only boundary I put on what I listen to, which becomes my personal opinion. I'm super studious & sponge-like, so usually once I delve into an artist or album I start to spit out songs that are influenced by them. It's really bizarre & also impossible for me to ever say i'm this or that genre. In short (ha!), YOU'RE RIGHT. GENRES ARE ABSURD

This brings me to something else I’ve noticed about you: there does not seem to be much time during any given day when you’re not listening to, playing, or discussing music. This is not just a “branding” thing or the front-facing stuff we all do to some extent for whatever our “social media audience” might be; that is genuinely who you are. Has it always been that way? Was there a record or were there a few records that moved you from casual or even avid listener to someone who more or less lives and breathes music?

Yeah you just described my day. I was raised around music, so in my home as a child my mom was constantly singing, I was always rehearsing for church solos, and my dad was giving me the good secular jolt of playing the oldies station in the car. He had Elton John and Michael Jackson on the turntable at home. I played and replayed The Beatles night and day. When I discovered them, I couldn't stop. I became the weirdest kid in the neighborhood because my crush was Paul McCartney; pictures of him and the Beatles plastered all over my walls, like a serious first crush! I understood fandom but I didn't want to be a fan I wanted to be up on stage singing WITH him. I had a radio hidden in my closet where I could secretly listen to the top pop songs of the week (secretly because I wasn't allowed to listen to secular music). Once the internet got to my house and I got older I was illegally downloading every song I thought I needed to hear. Boyfriends would make me burned CDs because they knew how much more I'd appreciate that than anything they could buy me. I snuck out of the house to go see live shows many many times. There's never been a barrier to me and music. I think I'm just wired that way, to be constantly searching out and in love with this crazy thing. 

Whenever I talk to you I’m like, “Man, I thought I liked music, maybe I don’t like it at all?” Because it so clearly just consumes you, whereas for me it’s *one thing* I love. We’ve talked a little bit, outside of this interview, about hip-hop and how that has influenced each of us — as you feel and hear yourself growing as a writer or an artist, do you come across things that are outside of whatever genre you know will be ascribed to you and think, “I can use that”? I know this is probably a difficult thing to answer as you’re just releasing your debut record but how would you like to see your work evolve or progress from here?

I've moved through that thought a lot. I've been using drum break samples to write entire songs to, specifically with the thought of wanting to collaborate with the hip-hop world. I write good hooks and I think they could sit well there too. I take everything in to use it eventually. I think i'd like to just see my songs evolve with me, which they're already doing.

I want to go back for a second to the idea of “good music” and what that means to you, both as a listener and as an artist. What’s the litmus test for you? How do you identify a song or a record as “good” or “not good” the first time you hear it and, conversely, when you’re writing, what’s your measure for when a song is “done” and you know it’s as good as, or better than, the songs it’s going to live alongside?

The litmus test is so fluid! I'm obviously not consciously thinking about whether it's a good or bad song when I'm listening to it for the first time so initially it's about a primal feeling of resonating with me. At the core, a good song will inspire. This could be lyrically, rhythmically, in form, instrumentation, ambient sounds, life... it's endless. A bad song usually just pisses me off when I hear it. 

When I'm writing I try to be as decisive & limited as possible. Because options are endless, it's easy to get so hung up over little things. The more natural & without self-editing that my song can flow out of me, the better it will be. I leave overthinking to others because I don't like to do it! But I will spend hours limiting myself to 3 chords on a guitar, or seeing how many times I can phrase lyrics differently within one vocal melody, or playing a bass line over a repetitive groove all day until something clicks and everything starts to line up in my head. I can only do so much fixing - I'm mainly concerned with finishing. You can layer as many parts as you want, bring in as many top notch players, but if it's not a good song at the core it's always just gonna be a mediocre song with good shit on it. The songs will always evolve by the time I'm in the studio, or when other musicians enter the song. Andy Warhol said "Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art." That quote is so great because it's true. Sometimes I just need to get bad songs I'm writing out of the way for the good ones to come. It happens in a pattern of 3 for me.. I write 2 bad ones and then a good one suddenly appears. Although I think it's important to value quality of song over quantity written, it seems logical that the more I write the higher my chance for getting a good song will be.

It also seems like the more you write, that ratio of not-usable-to-usable will shrink. But I absolutely think there’s something to be said for just writing in the moment and going back to edit later instead of trying to dissect every song while you’re in the middle of writing it. I do a lot of editing but I try to make sure the editing process is separate from the initial writing process because they’re two very different things.

You mentioned Memphis and its history and I want to get into that a little bit if we can. Memphis is one of my favorite places to play and one of my favorite places to spend time and while it’s incredibly rich in history and people have an understanding of and respect for that, I think to some degree, especially in the last decade or so, Memphis has lived in the shadow of Nashville. Is that an accurate characterization and are there ways in which that’s beneficial to the music community in Memphis? The talent pool there is still incredible and it seems like the community there is incredibly close-knit (which is not to say that Nashville folks aren’t supportive of each other). Is it a positive thing that Memphis is discussed often as kind of peripheral to Nashville or do you feel like people are missing out because they’re not paying enough attention?

That’s accurate. Memphis has been in the shadow of Nashville. It’s beneficial in that we can keep creating what we want to and not worry about whether it’s mainstream. It makes for a more authentic and less sterile sounding creative breeding ground. It’s also the last real affordable music city in the nation, which is always a plus for artists. Historically people in Memphis have always done whatever they want to & that’s still the case. I think people are missing out on the coolest music scene in the nation, a city of super talented outcasts. 

The Nashville-Memphis dynamic reminds me a bit of Seattle and Portland in the early-to-mid ‘90s. A great thing about those little communities is there’s a lot of support and I think a healthy level of creative competitiveness. 

Who are some folks, in Memphis or otherwise, who are doing work that you’re inspired by? Musicians, writers, anyone whose work you’ve been moved by.

Don Bryant & the Bo Keys, Impala, Jack Oblivian, Jimbo Mathus, Mark Edgar Stuart, Steve Selvidge, Amy Lavere & Will Sexton, The Dirty Streets, Matt Ross-Spang (producer), Jeff Powell (vinyl mastering engineer/cutter), Bruce Watson at Delta Sonic Sound, the Young Avenue Sound guys, in the film world Waheed AlQawasmi & Christian Walker are representing Memphis nationally. So many many more! 

Love Jimbo Mathus! The Jimbo/Eric Ambel team has produced a couple of really excellent records between them. 

So when the record’s out will you do anything to mark the occasion, step back and appreciate what’s happened and what’s coming? I know as well as you that “What comes next?” Is such a strange question to get asked in these situations because the answer is, “Work.” It’s like anything else, you just go back to work but that first full-length is really a big moment and I hope you’re able to appreciate it, even if just for a second.
We're going to do a live taping of the album over at the Ditty TV studios next month. It'll be a lot of fun to play with a big band for that. You got it right, work is next! 


Painted Image is available for pre-order, and out this Friday.

Jan 8, 2015

Jeremy Harris' Top 15 Albums of 2014

15. Foxy Shazam - GONZO
I don't know what happened but this album really grew on me. With every listen I was more 
and more into the crazy pop/rock sounds one of Cincinnati's most original sounding bands. 
The biggest bonus is that the album is free at

14. Those Crosstown Rivals - Hell and Back
This is one of the purest rock albums to be released this year. Very high energy from start to finish 
and features some guest vocals by Fifth on the Floor's Justin Wells.

13. Dallas Moore with Mama Madgelee Moore - Old Time Family Jam
While popular radio may have proclaimed their own "summertime albums", this was mine. The perfect music for sitting on the front porch eating peanuts and drinking cheap beer. (At least that's how I spent my summer) Dallas unleashes his talents by showing his vocal range and playing every instrument throughout the Appalachian folk songs on the album while being accompanied by his mother's dulcimer and her angelic voice.

12. Roger Alan Wade - Bad News Knockin'
I could sit and listen to Roger Alan Wade tell stories all day long but hearing him sing them is so much better. 
With this release he once again shows his serious side and offers a superb performance.

11. Joseph Huber - The Hanging Road
Joseph Huber brings one of the most complete and well mixed albums of 2014. With a little more exposure 
this could've been a huge album this year and deserves any and all praise it received
from those lucky enough to get a listen.

10. Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Speaking of a huge album; Sturgill went all out on this one and received critical acclaim from so many people that I'm just wasting space by trying to pile on at this point. A must own for all underground music fans.

9. Jason Eady - Daylight and Dark
If Jason Eady isn't one of the best songwriters currently around then I don't know who is. An emotional train ride from start to finish.

8. Texas Hippie Coalition - Ride On
Just as THC states in their lyrics, "Rock ain't dead, it's just in rehab" and these red dirt rockers are doing their damnedest to bring it back to the masses by busting out their most solid release to date.

7. Jimbo Mathus - Dark Night of the Soul
This may be one of the harder to describe albums on my list. A little rock, a little country and a bunch of badass. Great all the way through and features two wonderful tracks written by the late Robert Earl Reed.

6. Bob Wayne - Back to the Camper
A giant step forward for Bob as he seems to be coming into his own while still embracing what fans have come to love and expect. Throw in some great duets and there is something for everyone within these tracks.

5. Phillip Fox Band - Heartland
Finally a full length Phillip Fox Band album. Building upon the sound first established in their debut EP 
"Motor City Blood" the boys swing hard and hit one out while maintaining their self proclaimed 
"country fried rock n roll" sound.

4. Red Eye Gravy - Dust Bowl Hangover
Have you ever wondered what it may sound like if Hank 3 didn't go overly weird at times on his last few releases? Me neither, but if I had thought about it I think this is as close of a guess as I could come up with.

3. Whiskey Myers - Early Morning Shakes
A smoothed up southern rock sound is maybe not the best way to describe the sound of Whiskey Myers but I think it gets the point across. The real question is, why hasn't Whiskey Myers blown up like Blackberry Smoke yet?

2. Robert Ellis - The Lights From the Chemical Plant
The ups, the downs, great lyrics and a song questioning religion. Sturgill? Nope, but nice guess. Solid from start to finish and I'll be listening to this one for years to come.

1. Matt Woods - With Love From Brushy Mountain
I once saw a list where Matt Woods wasn't even number one on a list of the most talented singers named Matt Woods. I'm sure this will make him feel better not only from that but also from all the sad songs that put his latest release at the top of my list.... or is it the bottom. Guess it depends on which way you count.

by Jeremy Harris

*unedited, because Trailer is lazy

Jun 25, 2014

Top Albums of 2014: 1/2 Report

This will change a great deal in the next 6 months, but it gives you a good snapshot of just how strong the music world is right now - despite my usual rantings and ravings otherwise.

1. Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

3. Lydia Loveless - Somewhere Else

4. John Fullbright - Songs

5. Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis - Our Year

6. The War on Drugs - Lost In the Dream

7. Drive-by Truckers - English Oceans

8. Jimbo Mathus - Dark Night of the Soul

9. Fire Mountain - All Dies Down

10. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires - Dereconstructed

11. Old 97s - Most Messed Up

12. St. Paul and the Broken Bones - Half the City

13. Kelsey Waldon - The Goldmine

15. Nikki Lane - All or Nothin'

17. Jason Eady - Daylight and Dark

18. Josh Nolan - Fair City Lights

19. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold

20. Beck - Morning Phase

21. Whiskey Myers - Early Morning Shakes

22. Willie Nelson - Band of Brothers

23. Jeff Whitehead - Bloodhound Heart

24. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else

25. Mastodon - Once More 'Round the Sun

Favorite Songs of 2014: 1/2 Report

Here are my favorite songs of the year thus far. No rankings yet; they're arranged only in alphabetical order at this point. You may notice a glaring omission, namely Sturgill Simpson. Problem is, even after 30+ listens to Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (which you'll see on the best 
albums list later today), I still can't pick out a favorite. If forced, I'd probably go with 
"Turtles All the Way Down." A Spotify playlist has been added below.

Feb 18, 2014

Jimbo Mathus - Casey Caught the Cannonball

From his killer new album Dark Night of the Soul (out today!), here's Jimbo Mathus with "Casey Caught the Cannonball."

Feb 14, 2014

Album Review: Jimbo Mathus - Dark Night of the Soul

Jimbo Mathus is a redneck poet. Dark Night of the Soul is his latest edition of backwoods verse and it may be his strongest yet.

It opens with a simple piano and Jimbo's wild-man southern soul-singing before kicking in with a Muscle Shoals bass-line on the title track. The tune never really cuts loose musically, but Mathus' full throat delivery is all you need to know he means business.

"White Angel" follows that up with a slow burning southern rocker about a cocaine addiction. Whoever he's singing to isn't being judged, merely presented with the sad truths of his dependent existence. This song and the sadsack lament "Tallahatchie," later on the album, were co-written by our dearly departed pal Robert Earl Reed. They are passionate monuments to Reed's talent and heart.

"Writing Spider" is a powerful and deceptively simple look at faith, loss and regret. Jimbo's strength as a writer who can project universal questions onto simple moments is on full display here. Imagine William Faulkner wrote a Tom Petty song.

My favorite cut on Dark Night is "Medicine." It's a loping, trippy portrait of a man about to run smack into a wall of drug withdrawal. "Hey doctor, bring me my fix" he yearns, with the dawning realization that sickness is creeping in quickly.

Dark Night of the Soul presents all facets of Jimbo Mathus: soul-singer, folksy storyteller, strutting rocker, country songwriter - there's little he can't do and sound like a master doing it. The most gripping thing about this record is just how little Mathus holds back. He's found his groove and is barreling headlong and breathlessly forward.


Dark Night of the Soul is out this coming Tuesday (2/18) and can be purchased on Amazon and the Fat Possum site.

Dec 27, 2013

YouTube Gems: Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition

From the 2013 album White Buffalo, here's Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition with the video for "Tennessee Walker Mare."

May 9, 2013

Mar 5, 2013

Best Albums of 2013 So Far: March

Well, now that we're a full 2 months into the year, I've had enough time with some new music to come up with the first "best of" (in my opinion) list of 2013. It looks to be another banner year, folks.

1. Shooter Jennings - The Other Life (Mar. 12)
(Review coming soon)

2. Ashley Monroe - Like a Rose

3. Jimbo Mathus - White Buffalo

4. Son Volt - Honky Tonk

5. Fifth on the Floor - Ashes & Angels (Mar. 12)

6. Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck - Eden

7. The Stone Foxes - Small Fires

8. Night Beds - Country Sleep

9. Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis - Cheater's Game

10. Chris King - 1983


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