Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Popes interview

The Popes: Hello Again Or
Story and photo by Daniel Coston

You should have seen them, you should have heard them. For many years, this statement has been used by many to describe the Popes. In 1988, the Chapel Hill-based quartet released their debut EP, Hi We’re The Popes. At a time when very few bands in the region were even releasing a single, the Popes self-released a six-song record that felt like the lost link between the Merseybeat-inspired melodies of the past, and the restless energy that would soon infuse so many younger bands. The band then sent the record across the country, gathering national interest from magazines, and many deejays.

What should have been a blazing start to the band’s career, however would eventually become the best known document of this band’s potential. After working for three years to secure a record deal, the band recorded an entire album for RCA subsidiary First Warning, only to have the deal fall apart. The band folded soon after, leaving behind a few spare songs on hard-to-find cassette compilations. While members of the Popes eventually found their way into new projects such as the Lovely Lads, Stumble, and the Public Good, a reunion as the Popes didn’t seen to be in the cards.

In 2011, Hi We’re The Popes was re-released on CD, finally giving many fans the chance to hear what the fuss had been all about. “I think it was because we listened to the EP when it got digitized, and we were surprised at how good it sounded,” says Popes guitarist and vocalist John Elderkin, sitting at the band’s first rehearsal in over twenty years. “And then people actually bought it.”

“We then thought that everybody else has been reuniting, so why not us?” adds fellow guitarist and vocalist Steve Ruppenthal.

On February 4th, the Popes- Elderkin and Ruppenthal on guitar and vocals, and Henry Pharr on bass, with new drummer Chris Garges- will return to Chapel Hill with a headlining show at Local 506. There are no set plans for the group beyond this show, although the band seems open to continuing this new chapter of the band. “Maybe a Charlotte show, and then New York,” says Elderkin with a laugh. “Who knows?”

Having already played together in high school, Elderkin and Ruppenthal put together the Popes with a clear idea of its sound. “I always thought of the Popes as this cross between Clash sensibility, and Beatles sensibility,” says Elderkin. “It was a 50/50 thing. To me, the Clash were a pop band.”

Joining forces with Pharr and original drummer Albert Nisbet (followed by Jim Rumley, who replaced Nisbet after the EP’s release), the band soon put together their first EP. “We had written these songs,” says Ruppenthal, “[Producer] John Plymale was very nice, and worked with us, but we were clueless about the whole studio process. The songs were a snapshot of college life, with a twist.”

“Steve and I had never been in a studio,” adds Elderkin.

“I had been in a studio long enough to rehearse,” follows Pharr. “I remember we ran through four or five songs, and Plymale saying, ‘It’s sounds disjointed.’ It wasn’t until we played ‘Not Beautiful’, and that finally kicked it in.”

When asked about hearing that EP today, Ruppenthal says, “I didn’t want to listen to [those songs] for a long time,” admitting that the feeling was somewhat fueled by disappointment with the band’s outcome. “There were also these themes that I couldn’t relate to, anymore. It wasn’t until we remastered them, that I heard them again. Now, I think they sound really good.”

“When we put that EP out,” says Elderkin, “people were surprised that we were serious about making a record, and promoting it. Nobody else in the area was doing that. Soon after, Dillon Fence, the Veldt, and others started making records.”

Over the next three years, the band toured constantly. However, the band’s only release during that time would be the six song cassette, Afar. Their focus had turned to getting a record deal. “That’s the way it seemed to be going,” says Elderkin. “It seemed to be moving towards that. We spent a lot of time recording demos, to get a label deal, but we never released any of that officially. Now, that seems unfortunate, but that was our thinking, at the time.”

While the future of the Popes is undetermined at this point, the reunion has already succeeded in giving fans the chance to hear the band in person, instead of traded CDs, and well-worn cassettes. It’s also given the band some perspective on what they did, and still can accomplish. “We realize now that they were good songs,” adds Ruppenthal, “that we should get together, and play these songs for people that like them.” 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ever wonder where my Observer pics end up?

Scene & Heard is the section where much of my work with the Charlotte Observer ends up. Below is the link to last week's postings. Check out more pics here from the Kilgo's Canteen reunion, and go back through my event photos through the years.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Glenn Miller Orchestra photos, January 22, 2012

Newberry Opera House,
Newberry, SC
photos copyright 2012 Daniel Coston

Fleet Foxes interview

Fleet Foxes: Wander This World Together
interview, introduction and photographs by Daniel Coston
Originally published in Big Takeover Magazine, winter 2009 issue

The first thing you notice about Fleet Foxes is their sound, a mixture of musical influences that we have all heard in different places, but rarely put together in this fashion. Then you see them live, and you see five musicians pouring out multi-part harmonies and playing a variety of instruments, and you realize that this band is for real.

Both their self-titled album and preceding Sun Giant EP suggests an alternate universe of sound, one where troubadours embrace both Beach Boys Smile-era harmonies and arrangements, and folk melodies and lyrics that give it a seemingly personal touch that draws the listener in further. Fleet Foxes is that rare band that reminds you that the palette of musical possibilities can still reach farther than we have come to expect.

For guitarist, singer and songwriter Robin Pecknold, the past year has brought a steady stream of possibilities and changes. By his admission, he is still getting used to all of the attention that his band now commands. But it is his honesty and love of music that makes talking to him all the more enjoyable. 

BT: When I saw you in North Carolina last month, you were playing a packed 200-plus venue, and then three days later, you were playing to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom in New York City. What is that like to go from the smaller crowds, to the bigger crowds at this point?

Pecknold: It just depends upon the crowd. Unless you’re playing to twenty thousand people, I think it’s really up to you and the crowd to decide what wavelength you’re on together. You can play a show for a hundred people, and if they’re all totally not into it, that’s gonna be a different experience than six hundred people at the Bowery all totally behind you, and supportive. Size means less to me than general feeling of the crowd. 

We played the Pitchfork festival, which was over 10,000 people. At that point, it was kind of abstract. Aside from the few people that you can make out their faces, it’s almost like looking at a painting. But they all were really sweet and supportive, and that was different than some other festival experiences where it’s the same amount of people, but nobody is giving you any attention, and that decides how you feel about all those people, and what makes you nervous.

BT: How have you been handling the media coverage? Have you been having to get used to talking about your music?

Pecknold: I think it’s a drastic shift from living at home, writing music and working a job, to being on the road all of the time, and meeting people. Having people recognize you is a very different experience. I think it takes a little adjustment. I don’t think I’m fully used to it yet. There are elements that are harder to deal with than others. Obviously, it’s all a big blessing,  but it’s tough being away from your family, or not having time to write songs, but at the same time, it’s a very lucky thing that has happened.

BT: The roots of this band go pretty far back. How long have you been friends with [guitarist and songwriter] Skye [Skjelset]?

Pecknold: For almost ten years now. Once I started writing songs when I was around fifteen,  we started working out stuff in my basement, just for fun. I guess that was the start of the band, but there was never a name. 

I think we discovered a lot of stuff together. At around that age when you’re  discovering music for yourself, becoming a music listener. That’s what you want to do. We would kind of show each other stuff. 

BT: What I was struck by in reading your bio is that the music you were listening to growing up was very diverse, which is very much like the music that you’re writing now. It’s not one category, it’s several. Was that always a point in your head, you didn’t want to be one thing, you wanted to be whatever it felt like at the moment.

Pecknold: Yeah. Every song was kind of an exercise, or a stepping stone. I don’t think that you should hold songs as sacred. The song is just a reflection of what kind of choices you wanted to make at that time, and what was inspiring you, or what felt good at that moment, and that’s always changing. 

The music that I listen to for enjoyment is usually just stuff that’s beautiful, or stuff that you can hear the person behind the song. To me, that’s the only criteria when listening to something. So that doesn’t have a genre requirement.

BT: Do you think categorizations for some people sometimes get in the way of just listening to music, or enjoying music? Should people be more open to those things?

Pecknold: That’s tough. When you hear a song and enjoy it, that’s an honest experience. And any time that you put that into words, it doesn’t really matter what the words are. You had an experience with that song, and that is what ultimately matters. And I think that it’s true no matter how somebody comes to music, whether it is by comparison or categorization. Ultimately, if they react well, they’re reacting to something within the song, and that’s what they’ll take away from it. 

BT: Are there things that you hope that people take away from your music, both with the record and EP, or is it whatever the listener gets from it?

Pecknold: I don’t know. The more expectation you put upon the listener, you know, you hear a song, and it’s really over the top, and if I hear a song that’s too over the top, I think it’s just pandering. That the artist is putting an expectation on what that song is, and how that song is going to affect the listener, and that’s affecting their song in a bad way. You hear a song that’s very bombastic, or very emotional, and it comes across as fake, or it’s so, one thing. It’s not really letting you have an experience with it, it’s telling you how to feel. So I think that the less you think about a listener, or how a song is gonna come across, the better just to leave it up to them.

BT: You and Skye have been working together for a while, but how did you find the rest of the band? It’s a really strong collective you have, a real five-man group.

Pecknold: Yeah, totally. That took time. We’ve played with other people in the past. For us, it wasn’t really about technical ability. Ultimately, if you’re gonna be in a band, it’s important to start with people that are already your friends, or people that you want to be friends with. 

In the past couple of years, we met Casey [Wescott], and through Casey, who plays keyboards, we met [bassist and vocalist] Christian [Wargo]. And we’d been fans of Christian and his music because he was in a band called Crystal Skulls. And it was the same way with Josh [Tillman], who plays drums. We’d known of Josh because he was a singer-songwriter playing shows in Seattle, and that’s how we’d gotten to be friends with him. 

So it was really just people that we knew that had their own creative impulses. And I think if we weren’t doing this band, everybody would be working on something else. And as a member of the band, it’s inspiring to me that everyone has their own creative drive, too.

BT: Have you found that having these five guys in the band has influenced what you and Syke were writing? Could you hear more of what you could create through them?

Pecknold: Yeah, I think it opens up a lot of doors. Playing with people well-versed in what they want. I think in the future, it’ll lead to more musically rich stuff. Because Christian and Josh will come up with stuff that is really cool, and stuff that I never would have thought of. I think that’s super-cool.

BT: The Sun Giant EP came out earlier this year, before your full-length album was released this summer, but I’ve heard that you had already recorded the album before the EP.

Pecknold: We finished the LP in November of last year. It was kind of a long process making that. There were a number of songs that had been in the works, and it came down to the last day of mixing that we were like, still deciding the tracklist out of all these songs that we had recorded. It really took that long, until the last day of mixing to really know what the record was. 

So the day after that, we showed the record to Sub Pop. We had been talking to them a little bit. And they said that they wanted to put it out, but they could only put it out in June, seven months later. Because that’s how it works. If you’re recording something without a label, a label that might put it out is not waiting for you, because you’re not on their label. They’re planning their release schedule, anyway.

We were really excited to be on Sub Pop, but it was frustrating to have to wait to put it out. So basically we had finished the record, and we had this new batch of songs, which were being worked out. And we were just working on them for fun, and they were kind of turning into their own little batch, that works together as five songs. So we were like, let’s just record these five songs that are their own thing as an EP in January, and then put it out on our own as soon as we get it back from the manufacturer. 

We spent a week making and mixing the EP.  Because we had done demos for all of the songs, we knew what they were gonna be. Then, once we finished the EP, Sub Pop came down to the studio and listened to it, and they said, “Yeah, we’ll put this out, on the same schedule that you were gonna put it [the EP] out.” So that was fun for us. 

I don’t think the EP is more representative... of where the next record is gonna go, because it was done later. They [the album and EP] were kind of the same time, more so than the next record will be. I think the next record will be a lot different.

BT: Has the next record started to take shape?

Pecknold: Yeah, I think it’s coming together. Obviously, we haven’t recorded anything yet. I’m always trying to think about how those songs will come together, because there are a lot of songs in the works.  

BT: When I saw you live, I really struck by the four-part harmony that you guys have. Tell me about the importance of harmonies within your band. 

Pecknold: For us, first off, it’s really enjoyable to sing with other people. It requires a different kind of concentration. You can’t really just tune out, because you always have to be listening to everybody else. Especially at shows. You can’t just sit back and play guitar and sing your lead vocal. You have to be constantly hearing what everyone else is doing, and stay on top of it.

And the other thing is, we wanted the record to sound full, but we didn’t want to have to add big electric guitars, or strings. It felt like this was a really fun way to make the record sound full, without having to add all of these parts that we couldn’t do live. Any extra arrangements we did went into vocals. And for me, I grew up singing idly with my folks, or doing musical theater stuff, it’s always been a part of my life.

BT: I read in Mojo Magazine that you have traded emails with Van Dyke Parks. How did that come about?

Pecknold: I first emailed Van Dyke when I was... maybe 15, or 17. I was super into Smile, and through Smile, I found all of his music, like Song Cycle, To Discover America. I found his email address, and I said, “Hey, I really love your music, I’m trying to write songs, too.” And he wrote back this incredibly sweet, really encouraging email, that was like, “Keep doing it, keep following your individual path. Try to make that you really love, or feel proud of.” And that was really encouraging, at that age. 

Then he wrote about a month or two ago, saying if we ever wanted string arrangements, give him a call. It was pretty bizarre. I don’t think that he understood that he inspired me, and was kind of responsible for the band in some obtuse way. And then he emails offering us help. To read that, it ws kind of a mindf-ck, for me, and very cool.  

BT: What is it about the Beach Boys’ Smile period that speaks to you?

Pecknold: Just hearing how... Smile is so weird to me, and yet its it still pop music. It just proved to me that how fluid that medium is. The rules governing pop music are much looser  than the rules governing hard rock, for instance. And those songs are just so good. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Heron Interview

Heron: Upon Reflection
Introduction and interview by Daniel Coston

After years of working with, and listening to many fantastic musicians, I am always grateful to discover that there still is more great music to enjoy. For me, such is the case with the British band Heron. Formed in Maidenhead, England in 1967, this collective of singers and songwriters are still making music that fans around the world are continuing to discover.

Heron’s sound coalesced on their 1970 self-titled debut, recorded in a field near the band’s rehearsal barn in Appleford, Berkshire. Released on the Dawn division of Pye Records, he album remains a high water mark of the British folk-rock scene from that era, with memorable melodies and laid-back harmonies. When the combination of a record plant malfunction, and a delivery van strike derailed the momentum for the band’s “Only A Hobo” single in 1971, Heron instead plowed forward with a double album, Twice As Nice And Half The Price. Recorded the following year in a cottage, in the Devon vilage of Black Dog, Heron pushed beyond the notions of a “folk” sound, and moved more into a collective sound that it still hard to define.

After the band broke up in 1972, several members of the band reformed several years later, and played and performed sporadically until the early 1990s. All the while, a growing worldwide audience had begun to discover Heron, with the early albums commanding high prices from collectors. Over the last several years, Heron’s original lineup- vocalist Tony Pook, vocalist and guitarist Roy Apps, vocalist and guitarist Gerald Moore, and keyboardist Steve Jones- have reformed to produce new music, and find new audiences.

Here together, in a rare group interview, is the story of a band that still refuses to be pinned down, and still does things on their own terms.

Coston: Talk about the beginnings of Heron.

Tony Pook: Roy and I met up when we were at school, and then we started playing at the Liberal Club. We knew Gerald as Gerald, Gerald T. Moore. We’d had no connection with him before that, until he, Roy and I teamed to do what we were doing.

Heron was originally me, Roy, Gerald, and Martin. And a guy called Mike, who had something to do with King Crimson, and the King Crimson crowd.

Coston: What were your influences in putting Heron’s sound together.

Pook: There weren’t any. It just emerged. What came out, was what we did.

Steven Jones: I got out of college in 1968, and I met Gerald soon after, and was the link to I meeting you guys. Later, I had been doing duo gigs with Gerald, and I think I came up for a visit, first.

Jones: I remember Roy, Gerald and I rehearsing the songs for the first album in the barn in Appleford, and [manager and producer] Peter [Eden] coming to see us down there, and Gerald said, “We could get Steve to come down and put keyboards on it.”

Gerald Moore: We had done the recording session at Pye first. And then I sold Peter on going down to Appleford, and then [Peter] had to sell the idea to [the record label].

Peter had been booking me in for sessions, and he had all kinds of things going on. He basically said to me, “Let’s do a session.” And I said, “I don’t want to do my own thing anymore. I want to play with Heron.” And he came down to see us at the barn. He said, “I’d rather do your thing, they’re too folky.” And I said, “Well, they’re my mates.” And he said, Well, all right.” But Pye really liked it.

Coston: The legend is that Heron had a bad experience in the studio, and that led you to recording in the field.

Pook: We didn’t have a bad experience. We just didn’t like it. The place had no windows, it was underground.

Roy Apps: I certainly wasn’t happy recording in the studio. I hated it.

Coston: Who came up with the idea of recording in a field?

Jones: We all think it was us.

Moore: I think it was my idea. I said, why don’t we bring the Dawn people down to Appleford. We didn’t say, “Why don’t we do it in a field?” straight away. We said, “Why don’t we bring them to the farm, because Traffic had something at their place. And then when they came down, I think Tony said, “Let’s do it by the river?” Originally, they were going to come down to the farm. Peter came down first, and by the time Peter got to Pye, it was in the field. So it probably was everyone, and Peter.

Pook: I think it was everyone’s idea. We liked being at the barn, and it was only a short walk to the field. You read stuff, and some people think it was a contrived thing. But we were living out there, and it sense to record out there.

Coston: Were there any problems in recording outside?

Apps: We just accepted the trains. We would have had problems if the weather had been rubbish, but it was gorgeous weather.

Jones: We wanted the [sound of] the birds, but we couldn’t actually record them. We had to stick a mic out some distance to get the birds.

Coston: What happened to the band after Heron’s release? How did you decide to record a double album?

Jones: I recall that there were so many tunes, that we were actually getting clogged up. So that we could get to the new stuff, we had to get down the old stuff. We had to create space for the new tunes.

Pook: My recollection is that we said, “Why not do a double album?” Do two albums for the price of one.

Moore: I remember that I wanted to amaze everyone with our breadth of [songs]. We could do Motown tunes, folk tunes, our own tunes. We were branching more into playing the bass and drums.

Apps: I was itching to do a bit more rock and roll, although we still had a certain amount of the old style Heron stuff.

Moore: One, we wanted to break the mold of folk band, rock band, singer-songwriter band. We wanted to cover several genres, and say that we weren’t any type of band. Also, if you look at the back photo, we wanted to show people. Billl Boazman, Terry Gittings was one of your mates. Mike Cooper, Jeff Hawkins. Bill [Boazman] was there, and we said, “Bill, do a tune.” And he felt a bit embarrassed, because he felt it was our album. And we said, “Nah, come on, man, you’re our mate.” Cooper was more than happy to put his slide on things. We had a scene, we had a vision, and we didn’t care about things. We wanted to do our own thing.

Apps: The record label had more problems with that.

Coston: What happened to the band after Twice As Nice?

Pook: We needed a break.

Apps: The record company lost interest. To be fair, they put a considerable amount of weight behind the first album, but after Twice As Nice, I remember Peter telling us that that they weren’t going to do another one, because they wanted to hear a “direction,” as they called it. They wanted a bag to put it in, and we didn’t have one. Gerald had a lot of things that he wanted to do.

Moore: I moved to London, we moved to London.

Apps: We sort of drifted apart, rather than splitting up. Gerald pulled me aside, and said, “Right, that’s it.”

Moore: I put Heron on whatever gigs I could to keep it going, but in the end, we had different interests.

Apps: You had to leave, Tony had to leave, put in the end, without the record company behind us, there was no way to live by our own devices, so it was harder to stay together.

Coston: How did everyone gig back in touch in the late 70s?

Jones: For me, it was getting the mobile studio together, and we met in Cookham.

Moore: I was hitching a ride.

Jones: And I hadn’t seen you in ages, and said, “Hey, get in,” and you said, “Listen to this.” And we got to the churchyard, and you pulled out a harmonica, and you played....

Moore: “Working For The Dollar.”

Jones: And it got us talking about stuff, and then, with the studio, we had a place  to work out and record. Tony, he was in touch, but he was in Falmouth, which is a long ways away.

Coston: What led to the band picking up and recording again in the 1990s?

Jones: Once again, it was the recording thing. I went on holiday with my wife Lyn, and we happened to be at Black Dog. And I said, “Hey, let me show you where we recorded.” We went down to the farm, to see if it was there, and it was. But a woman said, “Oh, I know all about you.” We talked about the cottage where we recorded, and she said, “Oh, Robin and his family would love to see you.” Robin and his family had bought the album, and on the way home, the idea was hatched that it’d be great to get the guys back together to do an album again.

It also came from me not knowing how widespread our stuff has become. I’d felt like our stuff had been forgotten about, and lost. And I thought that it would-be good to do an nostalgic album to cover the stuff we did years ago, and then do the more modern stuff, and have a double album. One album to cover the old stuff, and one album to bring in the new.

Coston: When did you discover that a new generation had discovered Heron?

Apps: I sussed it from my own kids. They’re in their twenties now, but they were in school. They loved it, and their friends really loved it, and it made me realize. I got to mix with a younger set of musicians, and they all really respected it.

Jones: My discovery was the internet, getting a website, and all sorts of people contacting us. Young and old, and mainly from Japan. There was a lot of young people from Japan.

Coston: What has been the response to the last couple of albums?

Jones: People keep buying them!

Coston: How do you put your songs together?

Moore: We don’t, really. Roy has a song, or whoever has a song, brings it along and we arrange it without saying much, and arranging anything. People just do their thing naturally, and it either works, or it doesn’t.

Apps: Everybody brings their own thing to it, and somehow it works.

Coston: Describe the new album.

Moore: It has a sound that keeps old Heron elements of harmonies, and melody, and pastoral mood, but its not really the same. It’s more grown up rhythmically, and more grown up harmonies.

Apps: We’re much better musicians than we were then.

Coston: Would you say that you all work at your own pace?

Pook: I do, yes. Very, very slowly.

Apps: Gerald works on his very, very frantically.

Coston: It’s now been forty years since Heron’s debut album. Did you expect to still be doing this, all these years later?

Moore: As a kid, I always dreamed that I would doing this, when I was older. I saw Chuck Berry play when he was fifty, and fifty seemed like an incredible age to do a gig. But I don’t feel like as I thought it would feel. I would’ve thought way back then that I’d still be full of the idealism I had back then. But I suppose I’m more professional now.

Apps: I envisioned myself as a Hemingway character on the beach, and young musicians coming to me for advice. (laughs)

Coston: Finish this sentence. Heron is....

Pook: Fab! (laughs)

Jones: Without regrets.

Check out Heron’s website at www.relaxx.co.uk

Kilgo's Canteen reunion photos

Kilgo's Canteen reunion
January 12th, 2012

Kilgo's Canteen was a popular teen and dance show that was taped at WSOC from 1957 to 1970, and syndicated throughout the Southeast US. I happened to have lunch at Jonathan's Restaurant in Matthews, NC last month, and saw a flyer about this event. Olivia Fortson, my fantastic editor at the Observer, was gracious in letting me cover this event for her, and it also gave me the chance to speak to host Jimmy Kilgo for my There Was A Time book. Here's a few photos from the event, for those of you that were there, or wish you had been. Anyone who would like copies of these photos can email me at danielcoston@aol.com. And, twenty minutes after photographing this event, I was photographing B. B. King, which you can see via the link from last week's post.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mike & The Ravens interview

Mike & The Ravens: From Pillar to Post
by Daniel Coston

“Logistics, mostly,” replies noted writer, producer and musician Will Shade, when asked why Pillar To Post, the new album from Mike & The Ravens, will be their last, after 50 years together. “Getting all six of us in one place for an extended amount of time has become very difficult. Especially since we rehearse, arrange and record in the studio. The band does not rehearse ahead of time. [Guitarist] Steve [Blodgett] might bring in some demos that he’s written beforehand, but the band learns the songs and arranges them in the studio, and finally records them. This takes months, which entails both [vocalist] Mike [Brassard] and I leaving our respective homes for up to half a year!” 

Formed in Pennsylvania in 1960, Mike & The Ravens put together a raucous sound that pre-dated garage rock and punk by half a decade. Their adherence to all-original material caught the ears of fans throughout the Northeast US area. After breaking up in 1962, the band did not reconvene until Shade put them back together some forty years later. “I found a live tape of them playing at Rollerland in 1962,” remembers Shade. “They sounded like an R&B Ramones. They played fast as hell. They didn’t so much perform songs, as get them over with. I told them that’s what I wanted.”

When asked how the band has been able to do this again with the original lineup, Shade responds, “Through sheer good luck! And since most of them abandoned music, they didn’t succumb to the clich├ęs, like drug and drink. They formed when Eisenhower was still President!” 

For their new album, “The band was far tighter then they’d been when they got back to record their first album, ‘Noisy Boys! The Saxony Sessions,’ in 2006,” adds Shade. “For that album, some of the members hadn’t touched their instruments in decades. Not only were they up to running speed on this album, they also knew what was expected of them.

When asked to describe the band, founding member Steve Blodgett responds, “Lots of pent-up energy and frustration. A total of 320-plus years. Everyone likes to joke around. The line between joking around, and rock and roll is pretty thin. We know each other very well.”  

More records from the individual bandmembers are in the works, adds Shade. “It’s been a real sonic adventure and spiritual odyssey. I used to be frightened of aging. But I remember standing in the studio with Mike. We were listening to the Johnny Burnette Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio, and both of us were jumping up and down, playing air guitar. I wasn’t a guy in my 30s, and Mike wasn’t a guy in his 60s. We were both teens being transported by the spirit of music. I see guys out in the studio working harder and longer hours than any 20-year-olds I’ve seen. I’m absolutely in awe of their willingness to jump off a cliff, with no idea where they’re going to land.” 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Some of my B. B. King pics from last night

And all from the first song. I still need to edit the second and third song!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Shooting the new Chad & Jeremy live album

Shooting The Reflection album

You might ask, what does it take to shoot a Chad & Jeremy album? It involves a lot of factors, but for this album, key ingredients included ingenuity, a bit of strategy, and an erupting Icelandic volcano....

Like many of you, I first heard Chad & Jeremy through the radio, although it was 1960s oriented radio stations by the time I started listening to them. I knew that they had been part of that remarkable first wave of the British invasion, but there was something different about their music. The harmonies, the wistfulness of many of their songs. There was something a little more grown up about their sound, and a little more thoughtful. I collected their albums at record stores and flea markets, and hoped that I would someday get to some them in person.

In the early spring of 2007, Chad & Jeremy booked a show at the Newberry Opera House. The venue was a restored 1882 opera house in the middle of Newberry, a town in South Carolina that is less than two hours from Charlotte, NC, where I live. I already had a gig booked that night in Charlotte, shooting an event for the local daily paper, but I couldn’t say no to this. I also saw that the Opera House had a no-camera policy, which I decided to deal with when I got down there.

Newberry is still very much an old southern town, and has the rural roads to prove it. I have gotten myself very lost on a few occasions since then, but remarkably, I made it to Newberry on this inaugural trip with no problems, despite running late from my other gig, and only a rough idea of directions.

The band was already into their second set when they arrived, so no one at the theater thought to ask for my ticket (which I had not purchased), or noticed that I had put a 35mm film camera and two lenses into my coat, with my camera flash in my shirt pocket. Let me say that I usually do not do these things like this very often, but this seemed like a special occasion. This was a Chad & Jeremy show, for crying out loud! I went with my gut feeling that things would be okay, and off I went.

I found a seat in the balcony where the ushers couldn’t see me, and I snuck a few photos here and there. At the end of the show, Chad and Jeremy both came out to sign autographs in the lobby, and everyone’s pocket cameras started appearing from their pocketbooks. So, I pulled my camera from my coat pocket, and took photos of the band talking to fans.

I decided to purchase a CD, and took my place in line. Because I was at the end of the line, Chad and Jeremy had a little more time to talk to me, and they were happy to pose for me. Jeremy eventually headed off, but Chad and I ended up talking a good while, with Chad talking about plans for a new album. This was all very cool stuff for a fan like myself. Later, I got in touch with Jason, who ran the Chad & Jeremy site, and they put my posed photos of the guys on the website. I also sent the photos to the production manager of the Opera House, which has led to me doing photos at the venue ever since. My instincts were correct!

Jason and I stayed in touch, and I kept looking for another Chad & Jeremy show. In the spring of 2010, the duo booked a show at the Don Gibson theater, a newly renovated 1939 movie theater in Shelby, NC. It seemed a no-brainer for me, but when I emailed the venue about photos, I got an email saying that the venue had a very strict no-photos policy, and there was no hope of changing that. Soon after, I was hired to shoot a huge reception for the Charlotte Symphony the same night as Chad & Jeremy’s show, and it seemed like the Shelby show was not going to happen, for me.

The week before the Chad & Jeremy show in Shelby, a major volcano is Iceland erupted. I visited Iceland in 2005, and saw this volcano from a distance. I remember our guide telling us that while the volcano had not erupted in a couple of decades, it could still go at any time. The week of Chad & Jeremy’s show, flights all across the world were grounded, as volcanic ask filled the jet streams. One of those flights was for the special guest of the Charlotte Symphony event, and I received a phone call from the Symphony, telling me that the event had been canceled outright. Unbeknownst to me, Jeremy had taken an earlier flight to the US, and got over to these shores before the cancellations began.

So, there I was, a couple of days before Chad & Jeremy’s show, and now my schedule was free. I had also seen on their website that the Shelby show was being recorded for a live album. Yet the whole no-photo thing was bothering me. One of the things in the venue’s original email was, “We don’t want the concertgoers to be disturbed.” Hmmm, I thought, concertgoers.......

The Thursday before the show, I decided to again play to my instincts, and I wrote Jason an email. I know that the venue has a no-camera policy, I said, to protect the concertgoers. But what if the concertgoers weren’t there? What if I happened to show up at soundcheck, and took photos there? I sent off the email, hoping that Jason (or the band) would see if it before Saturday.

Five minutes later, Jason emailed me back. “I don’t believe this,” said Jason. “Chad and Jeremy were just talking about you, and they had the exact same idea! What’s your number? Chad will call you shortly.” Sure enough, Chad called my cellphone, and I made plans to arrive at 4pm the day of the show.

At four o’clock that Saturday, I arrived at the venue. As it happened, I got there the same time as Chad & Jeremy, so we all walked in together. Soon, the guys were ready for soundcheck. My instructions were simple. Wear your stage clothes, don’t worry about me, and just do your thing. This allowed the guys to focus on soundcheck, which was a little more daunting, due to the live recording. Shooting in an empty hall meant that I could go wherever I wanted, and get the angles I wanted. Despite not knowing about me when they arrived, the lighting folks were thrilled to have a “real photographer” get shots of their lighting setup, and put up a set of lights that looked really good, and very natural. We also got some posed pics onstage after soundcheck, as I pretended not to be as excited and nervous as I was.

After a few posed shots, I said, “Let me get some shots from behind you.” During soundcheck, I had noticed that I had crouched down behind the band, and utilized the key lights, you couldn’t see the empty seats. Once I started shooting from behind, I also realized that I could also see the reflection of Chad and Jeremy in the top of Chad’s piano, which I immediately shot, as well. During those photos, Chad held up two fingers (the “peace symbol”), which looked great. This was soon followed by the reverse of the peace symbol, followed by the good old American middle finger. “This will be our photo when we retire,” said Jeremy, as I took photos, all the while laughing my head off.

After soundcheck, the venue’s manager said that it was okay if I took photos during the show, as long as I stayed out of the way of concertgoers. “We’re done,” I replied, “but I’ll get a few photos from the side of the stage.” The show was, of course, great, and I also made sure to shoot Chad & Jeremy’s name on the marquee outside.

I had a great time shooting the band, and now I’m happy to say that you can see the results of that evening. One of the great things about what I do, is the experiences I’ve been lucky to have with many of the artists and musicians that I admired. It’s something that I know that not every listener gets to have. First, you’re a fan, and then, you’re shooting an album for them. Chad and Jeremy were a lot of fun to work with, and if Gered Mankowitz ever allows the guys to go out on loan again, I’d do it all again. I’d even sneak a few photos for them, if necessary.
-Daniel Coston

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jason & The Scorchers interview, 1996

Jason and the Scorchers:
"Clear Impetuous Return"
by Daniel Coston. Tangents Magazine. October, 1996

While there are many bands that climb to the heights of success, there are few who return to those heights again, years after they've fallen from grace. Jason and the Scorchers is one of those exceptions.

Roaring out of Nashville in 1982, the band mixed influences ranging from Hank Williams to the Sex Pistols to form a musical concoction many dubbed "psychobilly" or "country punk." Albums such as Fervor (1983) and Lost and Found (1985) gave the band worldwide acclaim, and a loyal fan base that still cherishes those records.

By the early '90s, however, after years of constant touring and record company pressures to produce "the next big thing," the group was beset by mediocre albums and personnel changes, and looked to be another rock n' roll casualty. But proving that some fires don 't die out so easily, the band's original four members reunited last year, and have now released their best album since their early glory days, Clear Impetuous Morning.

In talking to lead singer Jason Ringenberg, guitarist Warner Hodges and bassist Jeff Johnson last month before their show at Tremont Music Hall, I found three musicians who were honest about their past, and excited about their return to the limelight.

Tangents: Tell me about the new album.

Jeff: "Written in the country, recorded in the city" basically sums it up. Jason wrote a lot of stuff in Nashville, and then brought it down to my basement outside of Atlanta, and we just hashed it out with about a month's worth of rehearsals, and headed downtown to a friend of mine's amp repair shop. He has a studio in there, just a warehouse-type room that he gets really great sounds in, and everybody feels really comfortable.

Warner: It's weird. In some ways we literally went back to the way we did things years ago when there was just no money involved. We rehearsed at Jeff's house in the basement. It sounded like absolute hell, but if we could make it sound good in there, we could make it sound good anywhere. And then Bakos Amp Works, the place literally is an amp repair shop. A vintage amp shop. The guy just has studio gear, but he really knows what the hell he's doing. He just helped us get sounds that we were looking for, and we really tried to get back to what the essence of the Scorchers is all about. We made a real concentrated effort after the last record and we kind of got the train back on the tracks, we all sat down, and it was like, "Okay, do we all really want to get serious here, do we feel good about Jason and the Scorchers, or do we want to call it a day, or what?" Of course, all four of us were like, "Hell, let's just really bear down." Jason wrote some great songs, Perry wrote some really good hooks, we had good material, and it was just a good feeling across the board. Jeff and I produced the thing, and it was just natural. Everything happened really positively, and it was a real quick turnaround for us. Usually records take us a little bit longer. We got serious about it in September, October of last year, and by mid-June we had a mastered record done, which for us is a really quick turnaround.

T: Was that planned, to record in this guy's amp repair shop?

Warner: We originally went there to do the demos, 'cause it was a cheap place to do the demos. We walked in, and we were like, "Man, this place looks like hell." But by the second day, it was like, "Wow, this place sounds great. We could cut here." By the time we got the demos done, it was like, "Yeah, this is where we want to cut." Jeff had been saying all along that he wanted to record in a different city, a different vibe. We'd recorded the last one out in the country, and that was a good thing. We needed to do that at the time. It was just a good call all the way around. The engineer was the perfect guy for us to work with. It all just fell into place. It all worked. Rehearsing at [Jeff's] house rather than going to SIR, and bringing all this gear and all this crap, it made us focus on the music.

Jeff: Back to the early days, that's what we always said. We rehearsed at Jason's house. There was no time limit. If the creative juices were flowing, we didn't have to stop. In a rehearsal studio, you're watching your watch...

Warner: ...sitting there, going, "Hurry up. We gotta load out of here in 30 minutes. C'mon, come up with a great idea."

Jeff: This way, after ten o'clock we could work on acoustic things if we wanted to 'til midnight. If they had an idea that they went to bed with, it would still be there in the morning. We'd jump right on it, and started on a fresh day.

Warner: In a good way, it forced us to just think "band," and "new record." We also quit doing shows. It was like, if we keep trying to tour while we're doing this, it'll take us forever to do the thing. So we said, "Let's quit doing shows." Jason really focused on the songwriting. Every time we got back together, we had three or four new ideas, and two that didn't work last time are really coming along, and we recorded literally everything he wrote. It was probably the best songwriting role that Jason's had in a long time too. There was no garbage, there was no weak songs.
Jeff: The songs were so good, we didn't want to contaminate that over-production, so we kept it simple, and not fence ourselves in with a lot of elaborate bulls--- that a lot of studios have, and it kept us on the track of just making a Scorchers rock record. An honest record, where we just try to texture it in the moods of the songs, rather than effects and overdubs.
T: Jason, has the way that you write songs changed over the past 15 years?
Jason: Yeah, I think it's always been a process that was at first just simplifying the process, and being a little more direct. Then I think I became a little too direct, actually. I had to open it back up again with this last record. I think it always changes.
T: Has the way that you put the songs together changed?
Jeff: It kinda got back to the way it used to, via us all being in the room and arranging the songs, and everybody giving input. "That doesn't feel right. Let's try this," or try that. Everybody voicing their opinion, and just hammering it out.
Warner: It did almost get back to the old days. The original impetus was the idea from Jason, and we'd take it and do s-turns with it, or be like, "Yeah." Nine times out of ten, the song either clicks immediately, or we work it to death. There's no middle ground.
Jason: Sometimes. The only disagreement I have on that part is the last song on the record, "I'm Sticking With You," which just evolved over a two-month process. It was a 3/4-time folk song. Gradually, it just became this epic psychobilly anthem. [Laughs]
Warner: I heard it the first time you did it. I just didn't think you guys would go for it.
Jason: Even 'til the end of the process, I wasn't sure it was gonna work.
Warner: Even the demo was weak.
Jason: Even to the last mix. The guys who put the mix together, 'cause the song's just all over the place, the guys just nailed the mix, and it finally made sense. And it's one of the strongest songs on the record now.
T: What was the inspiration for the album's title?

Jason: I was hanging out at his place when we made the record, sleeping at his place. We'd wake every morning, and it'd be real clear and cool.
Jeff: You said something about, "Gee, it's a beautiful morning." And I said, "Call it that," and then it evolved into "cool, clear morning."
Jason: Or "sweet morning air," that was the first one. Then we gradually added words and changed it, and that's how that became it. It's interesting, because when we first proposed the title, it didn't go over very well with people around the band. But now, fans are really reacting strongly to it. It is a very strong title. "Clear," "Impetuous," "Morning."
T: You've gotten a lot of good reviews for this new record. Are good reviews something that you still get excited about?
Jason: I think the great thing about this band is that we still get excited about everything. We still get excited about playing a room with lots of folks, or no folks. I know that when I had my breakfast and opened up USA Today, and we were in it, that was a lifetime moment for me.
Warner: For Jeff and I, 'cause this was the first one that we got to produce ourselves, and there's that second-guessing after it's totally done that, "Well, I hope to God that you're so off-base." We knew that Jason dug it, Perry really was into it. Jason wasn't sure about the idea at first. It's a real weird step. The band producing itself. Most labels aren't into that.
Jeff: Originally, we would produce the demos, and then a producer would get a hold of that and perfect that.
Warner: Theoretically. [Laughs]
Jeff: But I think we've got a handle on what the band sounds like to us, with being on stage with this monster every night. And then the engineer we used is basically a genius, I think. In getting just the tones, where the separation is not too glossy. It's still raw, but it's enough in the mainstream where it will translate. It won't offend anyone.
Warner: To take that point further then, yes, when the reviews started coming, it was like, "Okay, we didn't miss the nail on the head." 'Cause there is that second guess. It's like "Well, we dig it. God knows what everybody else is gonna say." It's really cool when you start reading that stuff and it makes you feel good about your work. My God, you pour your heart and soul into a record, and the last thing you want to see is somebody slice it to pieces.
Jason: I was kinda worried about going into it, 'cause it's such an ambitious record. Sometimes people want to slam ambition, and it hasn't happened so far. People have been saying what we felt about it, that it's our strongest record, or very close to our strongest record.
Warner: Also, we've been around 15 years. It's kinda hard to do. The first couple's easy, but as you go through time, it's hard to make a record that goes "Wham!" again. Pushes the envelope again, which is what we wanted to do.
Jeff: Essentially, we picked up where we left off with Lost and Found. We got off the track a little bit there just by being naive, and being caught up in business of music. We kind of lost our focus, but now I think by seeing the damage that that can do, we got it back, and directed it back to where it should've been all along.
T: Was there a certain incident or incidents that brought you guys back together, and made you regain your focus?
Jeff: I bought the CD, and heard the band sober for the first time, and liked what I heard. [Laughs]
Warner: He thought, "Man, I'd go see these guys." We all sobered up. I think that helped immensely.
T: On this new album, you covered [The Byrds/Gram Parsons'] "Drugstore Truck Drivin' Man." How did you come to cover that?
Jason: When we started the A Blazing Grace tour, I brought it into the band. I just thought it was time to bring a Gram Parsons song, and we always do weird covers. It just thought of it as a live thing, and two, I just felt the song's the essential spirit of rebellion. It's a very rebellious song. It's always sung really laid back, and real mellow, like the singer's the victim. And I always heard those lyrics, if you sang 'em right and the band played it right, as the ultimate expression of rebellion. And it worked great live. The demo was okay, but we decided to take it further and cut it on the record, and it came out brilliant. The guys just produced it perfectly. The difference between the record and the demo is pronounced.
T: Do you feel a kinship to bands like the Byrds?
Jason: Oh yeah, certainly, in terms of that they were pioneers of something, and we feel that we're pioneers, too. People seem to say that about us. Musically, there's similar influences. The big difference, of course, is that the Scorchers are in the radical '90s. There's a lot of punk rock in there, high energy rock n' roll. In fact, you could probably say that that's what separates almost all country-rock, modern and old. (Modern country-rock) is very aggressive.
T: Speaking of that, how do you feel about the current mainstream revival of country-rock?
Jason: I think it's good for us on a career level, 'cause everybody talks about us as the pioneers of it. Whenever you've got people talking about you, that's good. I'm sure it'll peter out someday, and we'll still be there doing what we do. But for now, it's a good thing. And it's good timing for us, 'cause we're coming at people with our strongest record in ten years, and possibly our best ever, so the timing is just perfect. Life is good for us right now.
T: What were some of your influences that made want to mix country and punk rock? The term "country punk" has often been thrown at you guys.
Jeff: It was kinda accidental. [Jason] came to Nashville lookin' for a band. He wanted a raunchy country-type band, and he happened to fall on us. I don't know if I know what the ingredients are, really, but it just kind of happened.
Warner: The "country punk" thing, f--k, whether you like it or not, we started that. It wasn't like, "Okay, we're a country-punk band," that's the way we played rock n' roll. It just happens that we listen to Hank Williams, but we also listen to the damn Sex Pistols, too. It just shows up the way we play chord progressions and things. Hell, if you take the distortion away, you've got country songs. But if you distort 'em all to hell, all of a sudden you've got punk rock. I don't know. People talk about that crap all the time, and it's just the way we play. It just so happens that we like to do hoe-down music too. There's nothing wrong with that. That whole thing about you've gotta categorize it, and pigeonhole. You've listened to the new record. There's God knows how many styles of music going on at the same time.
I appreciate that about the Scorchers. Playing guitar in the Scorchers is great because, s--t, anything you're capable of playing can be used somewhere. The only things we don't do (are) funk and classical.
Jason: Yes, but I'm bringing that into the next record.
Warner: On a couple of nights, it kinda sounds like free-form jazz. We listen to everything. It's all there. The Rolling Stones are there, Hank Williams is there, Merle Haggard, Sex Pistols, Bob Dylan, Neil Young. It's all there. But those are influences, they're not the music. If you don't take that and go somewhere with it, all you're doing is someone else's s--t. For us, I think it worked out great that we can do our own stuff because we could never play like Van Halen, anyway. We weren't worth a damn in high school when we tried to play other people's stuff. It sounded like hell.
T: Did your parents want you to be musicians when you were growing up?
Jason: It's different in every case. My parents really weren't sure about it. They were really supportive, but they were really worried when I started coming home with guitars. And then, the first summer I came home from college, I said, "This summer, instead of going out and working, I've got gigs in a whole bunch of bars. I'll make $40 a night, I could $200 a week doing this. This is gonna be great." What I'd done was gone off to a bunch of places and talked to them about it, and I thought I had gigs, which turned out I didn't have any of them. I was back working on the railroad again that summer.

Warner: My folks were musicians. This is what I do. I've never heard that whole "go get a job, be somebody" thing.
T: Another great song on the new album is "Everything Has a Cost," with Emmylou Harris. How did that come together?
Jason: It's interesting. That song was started back during the Thunder and Fire days. There was a bunch of great songs written that never made the record, because it was the height of corporate influence on the band. If the guy running the show didn't like the song, he just threw it out, and that was the end of it. In fact, three of the songs on this record were started in those times. "(Walking a) Vanishing Line," "Jeremy's Glory." When I started working on this record, I remembered that song, and I started working on it again. Reworked the lyrics, and wrote it as a duet. And I brought it to the guys, and everybody said, "Emmylou Harris." That was it.
Warner: "We want a girl singer. Who would that be?"
Jason: It wasn't even a question, really. We two or three other second choices, but she was first choice. I kinda know her a little bit, so I started calling her, and she came to do her part and did a great job. She was real cool about it. She's a real princess.
T: Do you believe the song's message?
Jason: Absolutely. You pay for everything you do, good and bad.
T: Is there anything that you have paid for your careers in music?
Jason: Yeah. Every good and every bad, there's a price for it, and the prices just keep going higher as you get older, but what you get gets better for the price you pay. The band's probably playing better than it ever has. What I'm seeing on the record, and what I think I'm gonna see on the tour, is the band still has the energy it used to have, or close to it, but our musical energy is dramatically much higher, so its making for really good shows.
T: What's a better subject for songwriting, good or evil?
Jason: That's a good question. I've never been asked that in fifteen years. Evil tends to interest people more. If you somehow can mix them together, that's when it's really good.
T: Has your fan base changed over the years?
Jeff: We get a wide variety of folks. It's been pretty much consistent, because there's no boundaries to a Scorchers audience. We get old people, young people, kids. We had a couple of teenage girls in front of [Jason] that couldn't have been older than 13, 14. But they knew the words.
Warner: We get older people that get into the country side of the band. The more slower, melodic side of the band, which is fine.
Jason: [to Jeff and Warner] Did you see the couple last night?
Jeff: They seemed they were a really happy couple, holding hands and digging the band. And we're like, "What is that?"
Warner: It's really weird. A few years ago, we did a bunch of Bob Dylan shows, and it the audience was like, 12 and 13 year-old kids; to 60 year-old people that were 30 when he started. That's what impressed me the most looking at his audience base. Of course, he's got a 30-year career to draw on, but it was everything from 13 year-old kids to people who ain't too (far) from calling it a day.
Jeff: There's just something for everybody. We played Bowling Green, Kentucky last week as kind of a warm-up gig. It was a line-dance bar. And then, when we played Finola, I saw line dancers come to the floor, and it just knocked me out. People are sitting there (and they) don't know what to think, and all of a sudden there is a song for them, and they're doing their little bit.
T: Does touring over a long period of time change you?

Jason: Yeah, you get lighter. [Laughs] You get lighter, and you get more wrinkles, but, you see, we've been on the other side of it. The first time around, we did a lot of touring, and don't think we appreciated what we had, 'cause it was so easy. There we were touring, and we're rock stars. Then we had it taken away from us, and now it's coming back. At least, we hope that it is. It seems to appear that way. I think it's more appreciated now, because if you're out there touring, and there's demand for you, and you're busy, that's a good thing. That's a really good thing, and I think I'm gonna dig being worn out tired, as opposed to the alternative.
T: Is there any subjects that you always wanted to talk about more in interviews, but interviewers never ask about?
Jason: This is my sixth [interview] today, so I think I've been asked everything. [Laughs] I think I'd like people to ask more about pre-Scorcher Scorchers. These guys all played together in high school, in little bands and stuff. Warner and Perry went to high school together. I think that would be interesting to find out about. I don't know very much myself about that.
Warner: Perry and I have been playing together 22 years. Jeff and Perry have been playing about 18 or so. Jeff doesn't want to talk about that. [All laugh] Forget that s--t.
Jeff: That's a little too long. Wait, didn't I just meet y'all two-and-a-half years ago?
Jason: [to Warner] How long has it been between you and Jeff?
Warner: Between all three of us, it's been about 18 years. Jeff and I actually had a band, and Perry played in and out of it. Perry was so damn young, we couldn't get him into bars.
Jeff: If we'd have a fight with a drummer, we'd drag him down there to fill him in.
Warner: We'd put a hat on him, and sneak him in. Perry was the first guy I met when I moved to Nashville. I was playing with Perry in my parents' basement when I was 15, and he was 12. I'm 37 now. That's 22 years.
[At this point, a young fan in his 20s came up and immediately said, "Hey man, your new album kicks ass!" He also said that he wasn't sure at first if the abrupt ending to "I'm Sticking With You" was intentional]
Jason: My mom didn't know what to make of that at first, either. It just cuts off. I like the song.
Warner: That s--t right there is why we're here, period. To me, that's the only goddamn reason to be here. When people say that, everything else doesn't matter.
T: Looking back, do you have any regrets, anything you'd change?
Jeff: I'd have a larger bank account.
Warner: All kinds of regrets, and things you think you'd do different. But by the same token, if the stuff that happened didn't happen, then we wouldn't be sitting here.
Jason: I think I would have enjoyed the early days more. I was kind of obsessive in those days. I was kind of an art monster, and very sensitive. I think I could have enjoyed those things that happened the first time around. I know I'm profoundly enjoying it know. I look back on those first tours of Europe, and being on the cover of all three English newspapers, which I didn't even really appreciate.
Warner: It was like being on Rolling Stone three straight times.
Jason: It was really cool. Those kind of things, I was just too young to realize it. Packed houses everywhere in the world.
Warner: But you're young, dumb and full of c--- at that point. It's like, "There's no end to all this great stuff." I don't know about the other guys, but I look at it completely differently, because it was taken away. And when you get that back, you treat it a lot differently. You can real get mushy and all kinds of s--t with it, but the end result is that I've never enjoyed playing more than I do with these three guys. I had the chance to play with some other folks, but it just wasn't the same.
Jeff: There's a certain energy that just happens. I don't know how to explain it, but I've played with a bunch of better musicians, and it just doesn't ever lock in, and you don't feel that electricity. Something about this band, it's done it from the first rehearsal, and it's in our pocket. We can pull it out.
Warner: I like telling people it's damn near like Jeff, Perry and I learned to play together. Perry and I really did when I started playing guitar, and we all feel the same things. The other night in Bowling Green, we made a mistake and we all stopped at the same part in the song. We couldn't have planned a stop in the song and rehearsed it any better than the stop was, and it was a f--king mistake, but we all three did it. There's a chemistry there that you just can't get anywhere else. You can find a bunch of better musicians, but what makes the band work, you can't put your hands on it. If you could, everybody'd f--kin' be doing it.
T: Is the music business designed to homogenize bands, or is that just the way it happens sometimes?
Warner: [Shaking his head] I don't know, man. When you're young, you just want that record deal. You get that record deal, and then you realize, "Oh s---t, I'm fighting Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson..." The music starts taking a back seat, the business part takes over. You gotta have that together, or you get f--ked, and the music suffers.
We're in a situation now just after years of mistakes where we kind of know what not to do, and we try as much as possible to keep everything out of the way so we can just make music, and it's hard. It's difficult to do.
Jeff: It's easy to get caught up in that. I don't know if it's really homogenizing the music, but you lose your focus on it. There's so many things that are thrown in your path, where you need to do this, you need to do that, that the music takes a backseat. But we've got it now where we've got good management.
Jason: Self-sufficient, real supporting.
Jeff: Yeah, and Jason's back to being an artist, rather than having to be a business guy, even though he could, but there's only so much you can do in a day.
Warner: But the problem is, it becomes so much of that, that there's no time to work on new music. No time to create, 'cause you're busy trying to protect everything else.

Jason: It's a difficult balance, keeping the balance in line.
Jeff: It's two different worlds.
Jason: Yeah, it is two different worlds. You got to take care of that other world, but you can't let it swallow it up. I think that's one of the reasons that Clear Impetuous Morning is so good, is that we all just threw everything aside when it was time to make this record.
Warner: When we all made the group decision to do what we did, we were like, "Okay, now we're f--king musicians for the next six months. That's all we are." We're not musicians trying to find a T-shirt deal, or musicians talking to the record company about management, and all this s--t. But it's very difficult to do. When you get to that point where there's gobs of f--kin' money, you think, "Wow, I can really be a musician now." Except that if you're not protecting your gobs of money, somebody's gonna f--kin' be taking it. It's a real weird thing.
Jeff: Just gotten back to a family, organic-type feel. When we were broke, I was living in the back of my car basically when I met Jason, and it was like, "Okay, we can go over to Jason's and play music, and it's warm in the house," and we just got this feeling going. There was no distractions, and by doing [Rehearsals for the new record] at my house, we got back to that. We could have barbecues together, and everything was connected rather than like, rehearsal halls, like we were talking about earlier. With rehearsal halls, you got someone coming in right behind you. It just doesn't connect to do the same to write and do production, pre-production. Things like that.
Warner: You can't create on a time clock.
T: It's a sappy question, but in the end, does it all come down to your music?
Jeff: That's what it is now, because nothing else really matters. If you don't have the music, you don't need businessmen. You don't need a record company. So we looked at it like, let's have a good time with this, and not take this too seriously. I heard Jason say one time that we were gonna make some good music, we were gonna have a good time, we're gonna try to make some money for the gigs, and do it as long as we can. Anything else is just corruption, and just a road to ruin, which is very true.
I'd like people to come see us and all, but I don't have a quota, like, '0h, we've gotta have ten thousand next year." We just do what we do. If people like it, fine, if they don't, they don't gotta come. [Warner, loving what Jeff just said, laughs and exclaims, "I love you, man!"]
Warner: That is it, in a nutshell. We made some records in the late '80s where the record company was like, "Give us a hit single! Give us a hit single!" And we didn't give them a hit single, and we made bad Scorchers records, trying to placate them. As opposed to "F--k it. Let's just do a Jason and the Scorchers record."
And for us, the rewards are different now. We made a great record that the four of us liked when it was done. There ain't many of them that we've done that way. By the time you get to the end, and it's mixed, mastered and done, you're tired of it.
Jeff: I don't know if you've ever been around making records, but there's a lot of replays, a lot of problems that arise. This one, when I took it home and listened to it after it had been mastered, it was as fresh as if we just started it, and usually it's like, I don't want to hear that for six months.
Warner: You put so much time and effort into it, by the time it's done, you're already semi-tired of it. I don't mean that in a bad way, but you are. You've heard it so many times, and then you get to go out and play it every night. And it was cool for the four of us to finish the record and go, "S--t, this is a good record."
We knew we were on to something, but it was even better than we thought it was gonna be. And the record company was pleased, which was real cool. We want them pleased, but it wasn't like we've got to make this for them. We made the record for us, and they liked it too. Cool, gravy.
Jeff: That's the way it's turning out, 'cause I knew in my heart when I heard the playbacks, that if this thing gets stinkin' reviews, if everybody says it's the worst record we've ever done, I knew it wasn't. I knew that it felt like it used to be amongst the four band members.
Warner: And you know what, that's almost it. Back before we ever had a record deal, we were traveling around in the van, and we were lucky if we had one motel room to sleep in, we had a blast. We were just too damn stupid to know it. That's all we were trying to achieve, was to make a record that we all dug again, and we did, so the rest of it is all gravy. Hopefully, we sell some records. We want to. We want everybody to hear the damn thing, but it's okay. It's all we can ask.
Jason: There's bigger rewards to play for this outfit. There's a big price to pay, too, but there's bigger rewards. One of the biggest rewards of my 20 years in music was when we were making the record, it was every bit how it sounds. People have been saying that about us. "It sounds like you were having a great time making it," and that's how it was. Moments like when we went into the solo on "Tomorrow's Come Today" right out of nowhere. The first time I heard the mix to "I'm Sticking With You," just priceless moments. That day with Emmylou Harris. When I drove down to Atlanta, and they'd already got two basic tracks cut, and then I heard "Drugstore Truck Drivin' Man," and it just rocked.
Warner: Yeah. Jason came down late, expecting us to still be getting kick drum sounds, and he walked in, and we had two tracks down. It was like, "Yeah, we're moving!"

My thanks to Adele Parrish of Myers Media for setting up this interview, and to Jen Plantz of Mammoth Records for recommending us.

© 1996-2001 Tangents Magazine— All Rights Reserved

This must’ve been the web version of this interview. Man, did I really used to transcribe this much stuff from month to month?

I really liked doing this interview with the Scorchers. Perry Baggs, the drummer, showed up right when we were finishing up. They were all really nice to me. Sadly, Jeff left the band again in the following year, with Perry leaving a few years later. I still see Jason play solo from time to time.

The moment that I remember most from this interview was after we were done. I was due to be back in Mint Hill that evening to videotape the Independence High football team, a gig I held from 1992 to 1997, that evening, but I had such a good time talking to the band, that I ended up being late. And sadly, subsequently missed the Scorchers’ show. My life was increasingly becoming a blur of small gigs (video work, writing sports for a paper in Matthews, which I did all through Tangents in the late ‘90s) around the increasingly large blur that was Tangents. I was telling Warner Hodges about all of this, and he said, “Daniel, you’ve got to concentrate on one thing in your life. Otherwise, all of the little things you do just end up being half-assed.” And it was an arrow to the brain. I wouldn’t be cabable of that for a while, but I knew he was right. A month later, I discovered still photography, and I would begin to move towards that light.

-Daniel Coston, February 2010