Sep 2, 2020
Aug 15, 2020
Jun 11, 2019
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?
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.
(To band mates) Okay, desert-island records…you have to pick one.
“Old 97s, Too Far To Care.”
“Pinkerton by Weezer.”
“Led Zeppelin 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
Mar 30, 2019
Jan 7, 2019
Dec 22, 2018
Apr 4, 2017
Usual disclaimer: This list is fluid and will change a great deal going forward.
Also, these are just Trailer's favorites. The year-end list will be staff voted.
11. Nikki Lane - Highway Queen
12. Sunny Sweeney - Trophy
13. Japandroids - Near to the Wild Heart of Life
14. Natalie Hemby - Puxico
15. Rhiannon Giddens - Freedom Highway
16. Dead Man Winter - Furnace
17. Dale Watson & Ray Benson - Dale & Ray
18. The Band of Heathens - Duende
19. Power Trip - Nightmare Logic
20. Ryan Adams - Prisoner
*New albums from Rodney Crowell and Mastodon would likely be in the top 20;
I just haven't digested those albums quite enough yet.
Feb 27, 2017
Jun 19, 2014
May 2, 2014
May 10, 2012
Living in the deep south and not having pockets quite deep enough to go to Jazzfest in New Orleans or Hangout on the coast, Beale Street Music Festival is the only festival I can frequently attend, so I make a point of going as much as possible. This year, I missed Friday due to needing to work, but was still able to make it to Memphis for 2 hot, fun days of music. The crowd was down a little this year probably because the headliners weren't quite as big as usual, but you still can't get this much entertainment for $75 anywhere else. And as hot as it was, the weather was wonderful, considering it didn't rain for the first time in like, ever. Here's a rundown of who I saw at the festival.
Robert Randolph and the Family Band - Excellent, loud, supremely talented. Great show in the blues tent. How did this guy not get a full stage? Anyway, awesome set. Cool lights. I was tired so I don't remember a great deal more, but it was a nice end to a hot, fun weekend.
John Hiatt - We caught a few songs from Hiatt before heading over to Drew Holcomb. Sounded good. Other than his biggest "hits," I've never been a huge Hiatt fan, so I didn't feel guilty for cutting out.
Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors - Probably would be megastars if they changed their genre from pop-rock to "country"…way more interesting guy/girl duo at the lead than Sugarland possesses. Warm, melodious set full of great hooks and killer vocals.
Son Volt - What you'd expect from Jay Farrar, as far as stage presence, but the band sounded GREAT. Jay's vocals were excellent too. You know what you're getting with a Son Volt show, but there's nothing wrong with being all about the music. Finally got to hear my favorite song, "Windfall" in concert.
Childish Gambino - Culture and genre shock going from Son Volt to Donald Glover's rap alter-ego. Despite counting myself at least a moderate hip-hop fan, this was my first rap concert. The bass felt and sounded amazing. Childish Gambino was out to prove his rap cred and he did so. It got a bit tiresome midway, with no conversation breaks (guess I was hoping he'd do a little comedy routine in the middle or something), but he's a strong performer who never got winded and proved himself a true hip-hop artist, not just an actor doing a side gig for fun. Huge crowd for this set.
The Cult - I'd heard bad things about Ian Astbury and the boys live beforehand, but they were solid. They rocked pretty hard - some of their newer songs were very punk sounding, much less arena rock than the songs that made them (semi) famous. Ian was pretty engaging and though he didn't try particularly hard, they put on a good show.
|Sundown on the Mississippi|
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - Hell of a show. Grace is a thoroughly engaging performer and her vocals were top notch. She also played nearly every instrument on the stage over the course of the show. Her band is tight as a drum too. Go see 'em if you get a chance. Not an ounce of disappointment from this one. Another big crowd for this set.
Jane's Addiction - Tired old man syndrome kicked in just before this set, so we only made it halfway through. Hey, gimme a break… I'm over 35, it was 90+ degrees most of the day and I'm a desk jockey. Jane's Addiction's set was much more lavish than earlier performers. They had digital screens, crazy lights and people hanging from circus swings. Perry Farrell was a great showman and the band seemed very much a well-oiled machine, despite the sound not being that great. I heard my favorite tune ("Mountain Song") and their biggest hit ("Been Caught Stealing") so I didn't feel too bad calling it a night.
Old 97s - Awesome show. Best sounding band of the weekend, for my money (of course Union Station is surely "better" but I'm more roots rock than bluegrass oriented). Rhett Miller was friendly and his voice was great as the band played all their better known songs ("Big Brown Eyes," "Question," "Barrier Reef" etc) along with some from recent albums ("I'm a Trainwreck" "Every Night is Friday Night"). Perfect set.
|The Chris Robinson Brotherhood|
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood - I prefer Robinson's harder rocking Black Crowes work, but his folksier side is also worth seeing live. Tight band, strong performance from Chris. A little jammier than I prefer, but I'd rather see them than say, Phish, any day.
Black Stone Cherry - We got our hard rock fix in at this show. Hottest freaking show of the weekend…. it was 93 and we couldn't squeeze up into the shade of the overhang, but we toughed it out with some adult beverages. Black Stone Cherry rocks hard; the guitarist seems straight out of some 80s hair metal band and he was the 2nd most energetic performer I saw this weekend, running around the stage nearly the entire set. BSC's vocalist is a treat to behold live - soulful and unique. These southern hard rockers played their biggest hits like "Blind Man," "White Trash Milllionaire" and "Like I Roll" along with a few cool covers like Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way." Very talented band. The drummer was nuts, all afro'd out and a blaze of arms and fingers - he once threw a stick at a stagehand mid-song… and never missed a beat.
Michael Franti and Spearhead - Far and away the best show of the weekend. While the focus was more on love and fun than music, the band didn't slack at all, and Franti is surely one of the greatest live performers working the circuit right now. He spent a good third of the show out in the crowd, all 6'6' of him, singing, playing guitar, slapping hands and spreading love. I've read in previous concert reviews that this is their usual show protocol, but it didn't come off anywhere near "going through the motions." The atmosphere was sincere, warm and vibrant. They opened the show with "Everyone Deserves Music" and went on to make me think everyone deserves to see Spearhead live. Much like the Beastie Boys, Spearhead just has this vibe and broad appeal that's so contagious, I can't imagine anyone hating them. Other songs they played included "The Sound of Sunshine," "Say Hey (I Love You)" and "I Know I'm Not Alone." Despite the overwhelmingly positive bent of the performance, it never felt cheesy or awkward. This is a band with "it," whatever "it" is. Beach balls, cute kids on stage and other cute kids leading chants from the audience… the gruffest and most cynical individuals among us couldn't help but smile the whole show. Franti's a liberal, but I'm pretty sure you could get Congress in a Spearhead show and they'd agree on nearly everything by the last song. I don't care if you're not into reggae-influenced dancehall pop rock, if Michael Franti and Spearhead do a show close to you, be there.
The Civil Wars - As talented as you've heard. As boring as you may suspect. They were cute and cuddly and sounded great, but unless they pump up the volume a little in the future, I don't see them maintaining their level of popularity. "Poison and Wine" was the highlight for me. Huge crowd for them.
Alison Krauss and Union Station - Call it heresy, but we only stuck around for about 5 songs before moving on to Robert Randolph. I do want to hear a full show from AK at some point, but we were more in the mood for some bluesy slide guitar on this night. Alison sounds as good, no better, than you've heard. I swooned. The band was of course, untouchable.
|Robert Randolph & the FB|