The stories of Brandon Peterson and Dan Bouza emerge from East Islip, NY roots. Their history dates back 10 years when they lived less than 10 minutes away and attended high school together and their paths have continued to converged ever since. But it wasn’t until two and a half years ago (when Brandon approached Dan with a song he felt needed to be heard), that music became an entirely new operation for the pair. What began as two friends embarking upon a single-song recording experiment in a backyard-shed-turned-recording-studio, became a brotherhood. Cloud Caverns was born and “Unto Ourselves” became the earliest recording for the Blind Willow EP.
The Cloud Caverns name unites the extremes; that which lies both above us and within our depths. When Dan isn’t devoting his time to Cloud Caverns, he works as an engineer at VuDu Studios in Port Jefferson, and is involved in several other projects. Brandon has been dividing his time between his wife (they married just last week), the band, Hotel of the Laughing Tree, of which he is also a member, and moving to Tennessee.
Check out my recent interview with band members Dan Bouza and Brandon Peterson, to gain some insight into what makes this duo tick. You can also get to know Cloud Caverns by downloading their very own “Christmas Yet to Come,” (released, hot off the virtual press, exclusively for SPARKBOOM’s Jingle Boom: Holiday Bash), and joining us on Saturday, December 20th in the Huntington Arts Council’s Main Street Gallery, for this FREE event. As you listen to Cloud Caverns at this holiday event, with the gallery bedecked in festive decorations and original art, you’ll appreciate the season and the music in a new way. Oh, and of course, don’t forget to wear your best ugly sweater, so you can Jingle Boom, all the way.
Lauren Jahoda: What are each of your roles in Cloud Caverns?
Dan Bouza: With Cloud Caverns it’s kind of hard to define roles, because Brandon and I–since it’s such a studio-based project– the two of us kind of do everything. So sometimes I’m playing bass guitar and keyboards, and sometimes Brandon’s playing bass guitar and keyboards. He does most of the singing and he writes the lion’s share of the stuff, and then I just come in and add a bunch of bells and whistles and production to it. And that’s how it gets made.
When you say it’s a studio project, are you referring to the band itself?
DB: Yeah, at least it started out that way. We weren’t playing a lot of shows and it was just me and Brandon in an old shed that I converted into a studio, writing songs and recording them.
Where is this shed?
DB: It’s in my Dad’s backyard, in East Islip. We have since graduated from the shed (laughs).
(laughs) What is the shed being used for now?
DB: It’s sitting empty and has all my books in it now (laughs).
What did you study in college? Was Cloud Caverns a part of the plan or was something else?
How long have the two of you been “Cloud Caverns”?
DB: I think it’s about two and a half years now. Brandon came to me with one song. It was the last song on the EP, “Unto Ourselves,” and we recorded that and he came back with 4 or 5 other songs, and that’s when I knew we were going to keep doing this and it would turn into something.
What affect, if any, did growing up on Long Island have on your music?
Brandon Peterson: Although I don’t think Long Island has had a huge effect on us musically, lyrically I think it’s definitely part of our core. We both grew up here and it’s always been home to us. So all the memories and stories we’ve cultivated growing up here, make their way into our songs somehow.
Why did you choose “Gypsy Loft” as the title track for the album?
Dan Bouza: I had just moved into a house that was previously occupied by a family of real life Gypsies. When I moved in, the place was a wreck. A group of friends, Brandon included, helped fix and scrub every inch of the place over a period of about two weeks. My bedroom was in the loft, which is where the majority of the album was recorded, so it seemed fitting.
Album Art: AJ Estrada
What are your plans, if any, for your next album?
Dan Bouza: We have about 20 songs lined up for the next album. We’ve been in pre-production/writing mode basically, since we finished Gypsy Loft, and we’re getting ready to start actually recording it next month. We’re pretty excited to get back into the swing of things.
How did your connection with SPARKBOOM come about?
Dan Bouza: A friend of ours had mentioned to Raj [Tawney] and Michelle [Carollo] to check us out when the album first came out. They reached out to us to play the after party at their screening of Mistaken for Strangers. We had a blast and realized that they’re really doing something special for Long Island.
Did you create “Christmas Yet to Come” specifically for Jingle Boom? If so, how did you come up with it?
Dan Bouza: We did. Brandon showed up with a demo one day after Raj had asked us about playing a Christmas song. Brandon wrote 95% of it, so it’s probably best if he answers how he came up with it.
Brandon Peterson: I wanted to write a Christmas song that transported me back to the 90s. I remember as a kid, the week of Christmas was the absolute best week ever. We’d be with our loved ones every night, go driving around to look at lights and decorations on other houses, see distant family members, etc, etc. I tried to channel all these manifestations into one song. It is also inspired by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, hence the title of the song. It has to do with hanging on to old holiday memories, whilst harvesting new ones.
“CHRISTMAS YET TO COME”
And join us here…
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 20th
6 PM – 10 PM
Huntington Arts Council, Inc.
213 Main Street
Huntington, NY 11743
Steven T. Licardi, Bri Onishea, James Kim, Frankie A Soto, and Meredith Nussbaum
Caitlyn Shea and REME 821
Craft Beer courtesy of Saint James Brewery, delicious treats courtesy of Stella Blue Bistro, and yummy water by Hint Water, prize giveaways courtesy of Sip Tea Lounge and more!
THIS IS A FREE EVENT ($5 SUGGESTED DONATION)
Leif Vollebekk and I met in New York on Friday afternoon, just prior to his opening performance for The Barr Brothers show at The Bowery Ballroom. As we talked, one of the Barr Brothers was showering in the next room. We were sitting on a couch (Leif and I). It was the day after Lief had just heard the news, that he (as well as Nathaniel Rateliff), will be touring with Gregory Alan Isakov, come January 2015. Leif and I discussed a variety of things including his degree in philosophy, Newport Folk Festival, the Montreal music scene, his collection of musical instruments, how to cook, and… a stolen journal. “F… yeah! This is Leif Vollbekk’s interview!”
Lauren Jahoda: You released your first album, Inland, four years ago, right?
Leif Vollebekk: That’s probably right (laughs). I don’t remember. Yeah…four years ago…2010.
What were you doing right before you committed to pursuing a career in music above most other things?
I was at school. I was studying philosophy in Ottawa because they said it would be free if I went there. I would have rather gone to McGill University but they said it would be $1,000, (laughs) like nothing (laughs), but I was like “Fuck you McGill! You don’t want me bad enough to pay for all of it!” (laughs) It turns out that I should have gone to McGill (laughs) because I moved to Montreal eventually and that’s where all the musicians I fell in love with are. That’s where these guys [The Barr Brothers] are from. I chose philosophy because I liked it and I knew I’d end up doing music somehow and I didn’t want to do it right away. I don’t know what I was thinking, but it made sense.
Did you finish your degree?
Yeah. I finished my degree. It’s hard to go back into that head space. I remember writing a lot of songs then and six months later thinking, uhh, that’s the worst song ever. That’s so terrible. I’m embarrassed of that. I remember thinking, just keep on writing. I told myself that if I don’t hate it after a year, maybe I’d be onto something.
You needed to let the songs sit.
Yeah. I was really thankful that I didn’t put out the first things that I did, like the home recordings.
If you listened to those very early songs now, do you think you would still feel the same way?
Oh, I found a bunch of them in my parents’ basement. My mom said, “What is this?” It was the old four-track and then I listened to them. They were from when I was 16, 17, 18…just thinking about it makes me so grossed out. I don’t even know, ugh. It’s really gross (laughs). The old me is a weird me.
I think it is for everyone (laughs). Was music a large part of your childhood? What was your first instrument?
My first instrument was the violin and then I picked up the guitar. I just didn’t get anywhere with the violin. I was pitchy. I started playing the guitar and everything was in tune because of the frets. So one summer, when I was 15 or 16, there were days when I just got up, picked up the guitar and then it would be 6 PM. I would not stop playing. I wasn’t practicing, I was like the monkey at the beginning of Space Odyssey, ya know. Just bashing at it (laughs). By September, I learned how to play guitar. I knew what a chord was. I knew how to tune it. I knew how to sing songs. Growing up though, my folks listened to a lot of music, but no one really played that much piano. My mom’s dad and all her brothers did, so all my instruments I got from them. Because they’re all dead (laughs). I have dead people’s instruments (laughs).
Oh no. Did they give them to you or did you inherit them somehow?
The electric was given to me by my uncle. He said “If you want it, take it, my arthritis is so bad.” He called it his Hawaiian guitar because he set it up to play slide on it and sing Hawaiian songs (laughs). In the 60s, there was this trend of Hawaiian music I think? (laughs) Maybe there’s something there? I don’t know (laughs).
It was exotic (laughs).
Yeah. It was exotic and it had this [Leif mimics the sweet sound of Hawaiian music]. So I just set it up and yeah, I love it. It sounds great. It can only do so many things but, what it does is amazing. I play my grandfather’s acoustic. They all sound great, but they also have limits, which is what I like about them too. That way, I don’t have to make a choice… like buy a Martin for $2,000.00 (laughs).
So you still use those same family instruments?
Have you bought anything else?
I bought a Wurlitzer. I bought two of them actually because they break…[Leif catches me imagining a Wurlitzer keybo]…(laughs) I want to hear what you think it is.
I think it’s an organ (laughs).
Kind of, yeah. It’s basically the electric guitar equivalent of a piano.
That’s actually what I was imagining (laughs).
It’s kind of amazing. Some famous recordings, like “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles is on a Wurlitzer and Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend.” It kind of sounds like an electric guitar, but it feels like a piano.
The comparison is a bit of a stretch, but I imagine that, like the pedal steel, it doesn’t have a…it’s not an earthy sound. It’s more like an ethereal sound.
Yeah! It is kind of like that. That’s interesting because the pedal steel also didn’t exist pre-1950s. Inside the Wurlitzer it’s kind of like a xylophone.
Is it easy to transport?
I have them here with me. It’s heavy, but not too heavy. I prefer to play the piano, but I got tired of playing gigs where there weren’t pianos. I would just play acoustic, electric guitar and sing and part of me would be think, that’s right you can do it, but I didn’t like doing it. I felt like I wasn’t playing songs with the right feel or the way I wanted to.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s sort of like you know what’s missing. You know what’s good for your songs.
Yeah. Totally. It becomes way too much about the lyrics if I do solo/acoustic all night. So I just started bringing the Wurlitzer.
Can you tell me about the music scene in Montreal?
It changes every 10 years. It just morphs into a different beast. The people who do really well end up disappearing or playing less. When you start selling out arenas, you stop playing Montreal 10 times per year, not like when you were starting your band, playing with different people and trying new things. I think that also makes things change. And if you don’t do well, you quit and get a job sometimes. Every 1o years, it’s totally different people, and different shapes and sizes. There’s a band called Shapes and Sizes but they changed their name (laughs).
There are a few clubs that are part of it…it’s kind of complicated. There’s the French scene that’s not part of the English scene, and there’s the English scene that’s not part of the French scene.
Do they ever mix?
They mix sometimes. I played on this amazing French singer’s record a few months ago. So that’s cool. So they mix. I’m finding that it has started to happen within the last two years. The scene is great. It feels like a really small community of artists, but if you’re not in it, it’s quite large. There are a lot of venues and a lot bands. A lot of different configurations and crossovers. I’m too immersed to describe it (laughs).
Do you live in the city?
Yeah. I live on the cusp of the French and the English areas, that metaphorical line.
Can you name some current or fellow musicians who inspire you?
I really got into Gillian Welch. Her and David Rawlings’ thing is very rootsy and they are inspired obviously by the Carter family and that kind of thing. It’s kind of weird because my current influences are people who are influenced by what I’m influenced by. Even the Ryan Adams record I really like and even the later Bob Dylan records I’m really into, but those are especially rooted in old folk songs and ripped off of 1940s/1950s melodies. I love Sigur Ros. They’re the best.
Yeah. They’re awesome. I’ve heard you talk about them before.
I miss the keyboard player in that band though. He left and he was one of my favorite parts of that band. Really beautiful.
I saw your journal online…it’s called “FuckYeahLeifsJournal” (laughs), but the last post was from 2012.
Yeah that’s my friend Andrea. I left my journal…it’s not really a journal, more like my songbook…and I left it at City Winery here in NY. I was in Vancouver and she was going to NY and I asked her if she would get it for me once I realized that’s where I left it. I didn’t know her that well at the time so she thought it would be funny to be like “Yeah, sure. I’ll be sure not to read it”…*wink**wink*. So she took a picture of everyone she met in New York City reading my journal. She’s got firemen reading it, police officers, tourists, her friends and some really angry people who didn’t want to do it, the naked cowboy with his guitar. That’s what that was.
I think that’s safe to say (laughs).
Can you tell me about your experience performing at Newport Folk Festival this summer?
It was great. It was the best festival I’ve ever been to, ever. Every stage there was someone amazing playing on it, all the time.
Which stage did you play on?
I played on the Quad Stage. It’s a great stage. Inside the Fort. It was amazing. Gregory Alan Isakov played there right after me, so we were sharing a dressing room and that’s when we met and that’s how these things work out. So I get to tour with them. Otherwise, I don’t if we wouldn’t have met. Everyone who runs it is a sweetheart. I got to talk to Mavis Staples too. I went to one of the after-shows too and that was great.
You recorded at four different locations for North Americana — what was it that made you arrive or leave those places?
It’s not even an interesting story. I started recording at this one great studio in Montreal and I decided I wanted to go further and do different songs and record them differently because I was figuring out what sound I wanted. Then they booked up and I was touring. They were booked out for about 8 months. So I went to the places where people sounded good. I ended up in France because I was touring and I ended up at this studio because I was working on someone else’s record — it was where Feist did The Reminder. It’s a nice place and I decided to do a couple of days there in between my tour. So, I didn’t have to pay for a flight to get there or anything. Then, I liked this one engineer who worked on a Sigur Ros and Ryan Adams record, so I wrote him and asked him where he wants to record and he said at this place. So we did this place in New York. I just had songs that needed to be recorded and I had to figure out where I was, in relation to who I wanted to work with. Yeah. It just kind of happened.
I really love the song, “From the Fourth.” Can you tell me a little about writing that song?
That’s the last song I wrote for the record, so it’s always nice when people like that one. I wrote the first two verses and then I carried them around for awhile. I was working on it in this little village in Ireland called Clonakilty and I was on tour with Sam Amidon and then he missed his flight and I had to do the show solo. They were so amazing, this bar called De Barra’s and this guy Ray…he was like, “Well, how about I get you an apartment?” So I stayed there and I had the apartment to myself. I worked on it there. I liked the song but it was missing something. I don’t remember when, but I wrote a third verse because it had only two verses. It was very in-need of that third verse. It takes forever sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t. The ones that are good and the ones that are bad aren’t distinguished by how they are written at all. It’s just a bunch of stuff all the time. It’s like cooking. Some things take time and it’s better if you braise it for 10 hours and sometimes it’s better if you just don’t cook it at all. But the timing can really kill things and sometimes it can help things. Just keep all the burners on and don’t fuck it up.
Did you just make that analogy up right now?
I very much enjoyed meeting and talking with Leif. His music is amazing. He was obviously at a high point, just moments away from opening The Barr Brother’s concert, and still aglow in the fresh news that the next leg of his musical journey, to begin in January, will be alongside Gregory Alan Isakov and Nathaniel Rateliff. It is a certainty that, in the days to come, you will suddenly see and hear more and more of Leif Vollebekk and his incredible music… like the very moment when the subway comes above the ground.
November 16, 2014 marks the THIRD ANNUAL GUITAR MASH BENEFIT CONCERT + JAM + AUCTION at City Winery NYC! Along with Music Director, MARK STEWART and Artist Chairs, TOM COLICCHIO (Top Chef) and CHAD SMITH (Red Hot Chili Peppers), the concert will feature performances by DAVID BROMBERG, CHRIS “CRITTER” ELDRIDGE (Punch Brothers), VALERIE JUNE, ROBERT RANDOLPH, DUKE ROBILLARD, SCOTT SHARRARD, NANO STERN and QUINN SULLIVAN.
Guitar Mash is a movement. From metal shredders to acoustic aficionados, Guitar Mash uses live events and social media to create opportunities for amateur and professional guitarists to play together.
Guitar Mash was founded in 2012 with the goal of creating opportunities for people to be actively involved in music, and to make music with other people. It was founded on understanding the guitar to be The Great Connector, that which gathers people around the proverbial campfire. What began as an untested experiment in communal music-making grew with the beautiful leadership of our musical director Mark Stewart into the acclaimed Inaugural Benefit Event at City Winery November 2012, and a series of “Campfire Jams” around the New York area, as well as stints at events like Make Music NY.
In addition to connecting amateur and professional musicians, Guitar Mash has helped people rediscover their potential to create, and has inspired many to reacquaint themselves with their guitars.
In anticipation of this year’s GUITAR MASH event, HEARTSTRINGS MAGAZINE interviewed Mark Stewart. In addition to being the Music Director for GUITAR MASH, the rather accomplished Mr. Stewart also hails as music director/instrumentalist for Paul Simon, founding member of Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Polygraph Lounge, and has performed with musicians including Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Joan Baez, Edie Brickell, James Taylor, The Everly Brothers and many, many more. During our conversation we discussed topics as varied as, touring with Paul Simon, his childhood family-band, Stony Brook University and didgeridoos…oh yes, and of course…Guitar Mash.
Lauren Jahoda: You were born and raised in Wisconsin — how did you end up in Park Slope, Brooklyn?
Mark Stewart: Well, New York is one of the centers of the cultural universe and I completed my graduate studies on the cello at SUNY Stony Brook (Long Island). I chose Stony Brook for two reasons — it had a world class faculty and also because of its proximity to New York City. So I thought when I was done with my studies, I would have at least some knowledge and also some gigs going on already in town and would start my professional life in what really is the most vibrant of American cities, culturally and musically. And so, that’s precisely what I did. That is, in a nutshell, how I ended up in New York.
So while you were in graduate school, you were gigging in NYC and the Long Island area?
Yeah, I was gigging in town and my name was starting to get around, but it was as a cellist. Also when I finished my doctoral studies in ’89, I got a gig as a college professor at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania. So 3 days per week I was out in Pennsylvania teaching at Mansfield and the other 4 days I was gigging with different groups.
Were you strictly playing cello at that time?
I was doing both (guitar and cello) by then, but I was known as a cellist in New York.
When did your career as a professional musician begin taking shape?
The first thing that changed things for me was that I got a call from Bang on a Can. They were putting together Bang on a Can Allstars, and they called me and asked if I was interested in being their guitarist. That was in 1992. Of course, I was thrilled to get that call and I started doing that. But that was only one music scene in NY. The second was two years later, when I resigned my college job and moved into town full-time. I got a call from the lead guitarist for the Broadway production of Tommy. He was having a hard time finding a sub and the problem was finding a real rock and roller who could follow a stick, a conductor. And he was speaking to a cellist friend of his and his cellist said, well I know a cellist who’s a real rock and roller and he gave him my number. So I got the call and I worked my ass off for a month to learn that book, and went in and succeeded and overnight I had a reputation as a guitarist. It was a strange fluke. You spend a long time working your way up, which I was prepared to do on the cello and was involved in doing just that. But with the guitar, it was overnight, just because of my strange skill set — a rock and roller who could follow a stick.
How did you become the Music Director for Paul Simon, and eventually for Guitar Mash as well?
I was suddenly in the Broadway world, and I did that for about 5 years and one night I was playing the opening night at Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Lincoln Center and Paul Simon was there that night. I was the head musician and at the reception at Tavern on the Green, he had a lot of questions for me, and the last one was, “Can I get your phone number ?”(laughs). So he came over just a couple of days later and we had a great afternoon together. A month later, I joined his band. I’ve been playing with Paul since ’98. And yeah, I get to play everything with Paul — guitar, cello, wind instruments, banjo…it’s just a lovely gig.
As for Guitar Mash, I grew up with a father and mother who led everything in song, so that was always very natural. We sang at home and we also had a family band called the Stewart Family Troubadours. 15-20 concerts per year. Medieval, Renaissance vocal music and instrumental music, and American folk music. We played from when I was 6, until I was 16. My two siblings– my older brother and younger sister– and my parents. So when I say “led in song”, my dad was an Episcopal priest and a very vibrant celebrant, he would get the entire congregation to sing and he would improvise call and response things. So I grew up seeing a lot of joy in music together. So Rebecca Weller (Founder/Producer of Guitar Mash) called me a couple of years ago with this idea and said people tell me you’re my man. That’s the short story.
That’s an incredible story. When did you begin creating music?
My earliest memories include music. I was probably singing at the same time I was beginning to talk. My parents were singing so much in the house. It was just a part of life. We love to crack each other up with songs. We love to pull up a song that someone hasn’t thought of in a long time. And when I was young, my parents were just so involved in music, not only in the church but they were involved in a concert in Milwaukee called the Milwaukee Pro Musica, and so they were in a professional group singing early music — music from the early 13′, 14′, 1500s. It was modeled after the New York Pro Musica, and it was led by Noah Greenberg in the 50s in NY. When they would come over, those remarkable musicians, that’s where I learned to play the cello. They would let me bounce the bow on the string. I wouldn’t use the word “create” music, I would say my earliest memories are always accompanied or led by music. A composer Charles Warnen says an interesting thing — when people ask him about creating music he says, “Humans do not create. Humans organize.” (laughs).
When asked what kind of music you play, in the past you’ve answered: “Well, I play a little bit of popular music, quite a bit of semi-popular music and an enormous amount of unpopular music.” I love your use of the word “unpopular” to describe experimental music — how did this reference come about?
I guess it was born out of a frustration with standard labels of music, but it was also an attempt to genuinely describe what I do in a succinct fashion. What I realized, looking at the way music is categorized, was that this was the most succinct way I could describe what it is that I do. I felt like it kept the standard labels out of it. There’s a reason we have names for things. There’s a reason the blues are called the blues, there’s a reason that techno is called techno, jazz is called jazz, classical is called classical…there are all sorts of reasons and there are all sorts of music in between and so many people who live in between those words or above them or with them. That’s one of the great things about NYC. Frank Sinatra kind of had it backwards when he sang, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere…actually in NY, you can make it in a way that you can’t make it anywhere else. The reason being that there are so many communities, cultural communities, in the city and so for me, that’s why I love NY. All the things that are going on here. All the different communities, all the different music, all the different schools of thought and schools of openness. This is the place.
I watched the fascinating video that Q2 Spaces (New York Public Radio) shot about your instrument lab, while inside your home. When did you start bringing life to instruments that were left behind?
Yeah. It started early. The seeds of it began in my family’s home. We had a music room and it was filled with sound makers of all different kinds, some of them fairly recognizable — old piano and a beautiful pump organ, a harmonium — and then of course, all the instruments the kids were practicing — violin, french horn, cello, flute, those kinds of things. Then there were also instruments my mom used when she was teaching public school — xylophones, kettle drums, tambourines and glockenspiels. It was a place where music would emerge no matter who was in there. My friends would come over and they wouldn’t be kids who were taking music lessons but they always had a great time in that room. I think that was my initial inspiration for what would then come to flower later in my life. But it was when I joined Paul’s band–when you’re on a pop tour, you’ve got some free time because you have a great community of people helping you out. I’m not carrying stuff and I’m not responsible for getting myself to the airport. What I’m responsible for is being in the lobby when I’m told and playing really well every night. So I had a lot of free time and, right away, I realized that I wanted to work on projects, and something that occurred to me immediately was that I wanted to play wind instruments. I had always played stringed instruments. So when we were in San Francisco, I wandered down to this wonderful store called Lark in the Morning and found a beautiful cheap didgeridoo, and I bought that and started playing wind instruments and discovered that every single cardboard tube or metal tube was a didgeridoo waiting to happen. When I discovered that, I realized there were a lot of simple sound-makers around us, just walking through the world. I just started making instruments of all different kinds and keeping my eyes open for those instruments that have been left or neglected in the dust bin of history. I think I said something recently that they used for a title — “The Island of Misfit Toys” (below) — I think I’ll stand by that analogy.
We have these wonderful instruments, pianos, saxophones, guitars, that do everything very well. You can transpose and play in all these different keys, we have this equal tempered scale…they do that very well, but I am being attracted to instruments these days that do one thing. They don’t do a million things. They do one thing and they do it really well. If you find a great lamppost that you whack and it rings in a beautiful way — ah! (laughs) There it is! It’s a perfect example — and you get your ear right in there and listen to all those overtones. You’re not going to be able to make an instrument that does that, but you can find an instrument that does that and because you just found that lamppost, you’re there! And if you’ve got a buddy with you, you can just say “lean in, listen to this…” and there’s an audience of two. And then you move on and that lamppost says “Finally, finally somebody realized.” That’s kind of what I’m into these days (laughs).
Mark’s involvement with GUITAR MASH has been equally as hands-on and community-building, as is his continuing request that we simply lean in and join him to experience the music that is there waiting to be discovered and realized in the world around us. So grab your guitar and lean in to the City Winery on Sunday, November 16, 2014, for GUITAR MASH and the music-led life movement that awaits you there.
Despite the relentless downpour taking place outside City Winery NYC on Wednesday night, Joe Purdy fans, as usual, packed the house for this sold-out show. It was the perfect setting for the crowd to sing along to Joe’s 2004 “I Love the Rain the Most,” which we were all secretly hoping would make it onto his set list (and, of course, it did). Some sat on stools at the bar and along the windows, while others sat at the small, candle-lit tables surrounding the stage. I sat at one of those tables beside Joe’s manager, Brian, and his parents who came in from Connecticut that night to see Joe play. They were as enthusiastic about the performance as the other Purdy followers in attendance. I heard Brian’s dad singing along to Joe’s songs as we sipped our waiter’s wine recommendations, which included a homemade specialty of the night. The label on the bottle simply stated, “Joe Purdy Wine.”
I last spoke with Joe in September (My Hillbilly Confidence: An Interview with Joe Purdy), just prior to his AmericanaFest performance in Nashville. After spending an hour or so on the phone with him, it was clear that Joe had discovered early on that, creating music is what he always wanted to do, and that, driven by his passion to pursue it at all costs, Joe was able to avoid doing what others might think he would otherwise have to do. With that ethic, Joe has tirelessly made his music available to us — from the self-titled Joe Purdy (2001) to Eagle Rock Fire (2014) – straight from his heartstrings to ours.
Joe follows his own simple formula– he says what he wants to say and does so with an inspiring mix of raw talent, authenticity and humor — which sometimes takes the form of witty annotation during his live performance. At City Winery, Joe repeatedly interrupted himself mid-song to say …”true story”… (using humor to accomplish light, yet unmistakable reinforcement of the thought he just sang). When he pauses during the performance of his songs, and uses his humble, confiding voice to speak directly to and personally with his audience, it is a mellifluous gift that Joe Purdy brings. The result is that each participant in his diverse and international fan base, is engrossed and united by that overwhelmingly warm sound and honesty.
Joe began his set with several songs off of Eagle Rock Fire (2014), followed by “Sinkin’ Low” from Take My Blanket and Go (2007). He then put down his acoustic guitar and walked over to the piano, to give us a unique performance since, as Joe pointed out, it’s unusual that he has a piano available to him on stage. There, he played one of my all time favorite Purdy tracks, “Been Up So Long” (piano) from Last Clock On the Wall (2009), among others. He subsequently played a series of what he calls “short songs,” including “River Boat Captain.” The short songs resemble sonnets — brief, organized and powerful. Each lasted no longer than a minute. As Joe pulls you in, ever-so-quickly on each short adventure, and then releases you seconds later, you can’t help but feel the astounding fleeting embrace.
The newest song in this evening’s performance is what I like to call the “Emmett Till” of songs. For those who do not know the reference, Emmett Till is a young boy, whose murder became the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Within this song, Joe collects and brings forth the unsettling injustices of our history into one palpable composition:
My brother was killed by a policeman.
My brother was only 19.
My brother was shot by a sniper.
My brother, he died on the street.
My brother was beat by policemen,
and he died on the prison floor.
My brother, he fought in Vietnam.
My brother was killed on the front of war,
My brother, he died in his hometown…
We wear stars and stripes in the broken heart of the country…
Joe and I had scheduled to meet after the show, as a follow-up to our last interview. Prior to our meeting, I watched Joe come up the basement stairs to personally greet and meet with his fans in the main room. Although more than half of the capacity crowd remained (waiting), Joe spoke at length with every single one of them. But there weren’t just the usual, “great show!” and, “thank you’s!” exchanged. The coolest part was that, as I watched, I saw Joe glad, even eager to directly connect with each one of his fans. Joe’s willingness to make himself accessible to his listeners, both through his music and personally, is just who Joe Purdy is. It can all be summed up in what Joe told me about his experience at AmericanaFest–how he had missed most of the festival’s events because he chose to spend time caring for a friend who had become ill. We see it in his recorded music and live performances, in his post-performances and in the decisions he has made along the way (which are all his own). This night was no different and only increased the appreciation I have for Joe Purdy the musician and for Joe Purdy the man. They are genuinely one and the same. True story.
Keeley Valentino released her self-titled EP just last month under the direction of her mentor, Matt Mangano of Zac Brown Band. The EP is Keeley’s third album, following her debut The Mechanics of Leaving and Three Cities, which was generated from her travels throughout San Francisco, Nashville and Los Angeles. Keeley’s music resembles a conglomerate of soulful Americana/Roots, country, pop and elements we have yet to harness and label. Early on Keeley observed that the genre-fitting compulsion was driven even by geography. She explains, “I’ve been told that I’m too country for pop and that I’m too pop for country. When I lived in Nashville, I was told I should move to LA to pursue my career – and when I got to LA, I was told to get on the next plane to Nashville…” (www.keeleyvalentino.com).
The first track on Keeley’s recent release – “Everything in Between” – is a track I immediately envisioned playing in the car on my next road trip. The song sets a virtuous precedent for the tracks to follow; the song’s inspiring energy is carried by Keeley’s confident and empowering female vocal.
Keeley described the origin of her lead single,”Little Things,” to American Songwriter; “It was a long and beautiful drive on a country stretch, and it just kind of came to me. I sang the first verse and the chorus over and over to myself in my car. When I got home, I worked out what I had in my head and finished it up. It felt like I had finally found the words to something I had wanted to say for a while.” “Little Things” speaks for itself and it comes as no surprise that the song has become a fan favorite, as Keeley’s heart can be heard through and through.
She closes the EP with “Burned” and “Underneath,” two stunning ballads to which we all can relate, but often fail to notice, let alone admit. Through these two tracks, we find surrogate catharsis of expired but lingering relationships in one and the motivation to unmask ourselves in the other.
Joe Fletcher and I decided to save our interview for post-AmericanaFest, so that we could extend our discussion to the next stop on his festival trails and delve into his 3rd (but 1st solo) album, You’ve Got the Wrong Man, just before its October 7th release.
We spoke mid-day Monday, while Joe was still in Southern California, subsequent to his performance at Way Over Yonder on Santa Monica pier. As a devoted attendee of Newport Folk Festival, but only a far-off admirer of their sister festival (Way Over Yonder), I was excited to hear how the weekend was spent. Joe reflected on the camaraderie and spirit backing all Newport Folk events, some performers that us East coast folks should be tapping into, and the prospect of embarking on next year’s ultimate cross-country adventure — Newport Folk Festival to Pickathon — back-to-back weekends, back-to-back fun.
In anticipation of his upcoming solo release, we interviewed Joe about everything from his 10 years as an English teacher, white lighter superstitions and word selection for his record title in attempt to avoid iTunes and Google search confusion, to carrying on the music and memory of David Lamb.
Lauren Jahoda: Hey Joe! I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.
Joe Fletcher: No! I was just in a thrift store…one of my weaknesses.
Me too (laughs).
(laughs) And I’m in a rental car and I don’t have a lot of CDs with me, so I was just stocking up on some music for the rest of my trip.
Cool! Did you get anything good?
I got some old favorites — a Jim Croche Greatest Hits CD that my dad always used to play, I got PJ Harvey To Bring You My Love, which is one of my favorite records…these are sadly all CDs that I have at home, I think every one of them, but they we’re really cheap so…I got Achtung Baby by U2, which really brings me back to my senior year in high school and there’s one more…Paul Simon’s The Rhythm of the Saints — this is a real trip back to my high school years. A mid-life crisis or something (laughs).
That’s awesome. Where are you headed?
I just got on the highway in San Diego and I’m going back to Los Angeles. I spent a few days already. I flew into Los Angeles, I was there Tuesday and Wednesday. and went to Joshua Tree to play. Where are you located?
In New York, on Long Island.
I saw that you were at AmericanaFest. Did you have fun down there?
Oh yeah! How about you?
Yeah, I sure did. That’s where I live, so it’s pretty awesome when something like that comes to your town, especially when you get to be a part of it.
Yeah. It was actually my very first time in Nashville.
Did you leave with a positive impression?
Definitely. I can’t wait to go back. I could see myself living there. Everywhere you turn there’s someone who can help you in some way. Everyone is connected through music.
Yeah. I noticed that. I visited it for years and I toured there a lot, 6 or 7 years before moving there and I caught the bug early. I wanted to move there for a long time. I just moved there a year ago, actually on October 1st, it will be exactly a year that I’ve been living in Nashville.
That’s great. Are you happy that you made that move?
Oh yeah. I’m on the road 6 or 7 months of the year, so it’s amazing to me that it’s been a year. I’m really happy with it.
Do you live outside Nashville?
I live in East Nashville. I don’t know if you made it over there while you were there.
We did. We went to the Groove a couple of times.
Oh yeah. I’m about 3 miles from there. Tucked away in a little neighborhood.
I interviewed Jonah Tolchin in East Nashville. You probably know Jonah, since you both come from the Rhode Island music scene.
Yeah, we had a breakfast the following Monday!
Jonah had a lot of wonderful things to say about you. He’s such a great person.
He is. Very warm and open.
Yes. You performed at Way Over Yonder this weekend — how was it?
It was actually fantastic — not that I expected otherwise — but I didn’t really know what to expect. Newport Folk is involved and I’ve been involved with Newport Folk for 3 years now and I had a feeling it would be a pretty top-notch operation. It was just really cool. I couldn’t really picture the scene, the way it was — it’s actually on the pier. It takes place actually on the wooden boards of the pier. The audience, the stage, the backstage…everything. And there’s one main stage, that Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams and Chris Robinson played on. Then there’s the Carousel Stage for the smaller acts. Just two stages. The stage is literally in the carousel. The horses are right there in front of you.
Wow, that is certainly unique. Did you feel that Newport spirit there, despite it being so far away?
It is very, very different than Newport, but the one similarity that I noticed was just the vibe among the musicians, ya know, friends reuniting and just meeting a lot of new people. I saw a lot of cool bands. A lot of the bands that I had not heard of were from California or more specifically the Los Angeles area. Just bands I wasn’t aware of before. The Far West — who I actually saw, they played in Nashville the Sunday before AmericanaFest — my friend JP Harris threw a record release party in East Nashville and they were on the bill. They were out touring, so I saw them and their name looked familiar to me but I couldn’t figure out why. I eventually figured out that it was because I kept seeing it on the Way Over Yonder poster too. They blew me away in Nashville and they blew me away again at Way Over Yonder. It was nice getting to spend time with a group of musicians who you like their work. I felt the same with a girl who I didn’t know before, her name is Leslie Stevens. We had a lot of mutual friends who put us in touch in advance and she came up on Friday and sang a song with me and I sang a John Prine song with her during her set on Saturday. So I just made a lot of friends in a short period of time. I was able to connect with people. It was just a pleasant atmosphere surrounding any event that Newport puts together. There’s no real ego among the artists and everyone’s just kind of in it together. Whether you’re in Newport or on Santa Monica pier, you’re in an idyllic location and it’s just hard to be in a bad mood.
I can understand that completely. Way Over Yonder is a lot smaller than some of the festivals you might be used to playing.
Yeah it is. Newport Folk is only about 10,000 people a day, which usually blows the minds of people who have never been there before. Because it has such a name and such a history, people think of it as being bigger. It’s just not, and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s still around. They could try to move it to a different place…I mean they sell out every year before the line-up is announced, these last few years…so they could obviously sell more tickets, obviously they could make more money, but the history and the location is really important to them and I really admire anything these days in the music industry that isn’t based upon the financial bottom line. It’s rare.
I feel the same way. It’s that commitment — to the history, to the location, to the fans and musicians — that brings me there every year. I went to Pickathon Music Festival over the summer for the first time…
Oh yeah…that’s my girlfriend’s favorite festival. She wasn’t there this year, but she’s been there the past few.
I can’t imagine not going back every year for the rest of my life. It’s that good.
Yeah, it was killing her to miss it. She had been at Newport Folk the weekend before and she couldn’t make it. She works for a company called Live & Breathing. They do really top-notch, high quality video sessions usually in really cool locations. They go to Pickathon every year and they have an area called the Pumphouse where they set up shop.
Oh I know it well (laughs). What’s really incredible about Pickathon, that a lot of people don’t know, is that they cap the festival at around 3,500 people.
Wow, I gotta make it out there. Hopefully I’ll be playing next year.
Yeah I hope so too! I know that Newport is the weekend before and that makes things tough. I actually met Jay Sweet while I was at AmericanaFest and this was the first summer I couldn’t go to Newport because I arrived early for Pickathon and I was worried that he was going to ask me if I was there this year because it was the first weekend in a long time that I wasn’t. And of course he did ask, and I said no because I was at Pickathon (laughs). And he said honestly if you said any word other than Pickathon, I would have yelled at you (laughs). For those who know about it, there’s a lot of respect for Pickathon.
When is it?
They are back-to-back weekends. Newport is the last weekend in July and Pickathon is the first weekend in August. My goal is to get both done this year somehow.
Yeah, yeah. It’ll be worth it.
You weren’t born and raised in Rhode Island, but you did live there for a long period of time, correct?
Yeah, most of my life. I was born in St. Louis, Missouri and moved to Rhode Island right before kindergarten. It’s kind of a long story but I moved around a lot when I was in elementary school, but from 5th grade ’til about a year ago, I lived in Rhode Island, except for one year while in college. But yeah, basically not born but certainly raised in Rhode Island.
Nathaniel Rateliff, who I interviewed during AmericanaFest and who was also at Way Over Yonder, is originally from Missouri.
Leslie Stevens is from St. Louis, Missouri too. It’s nice to see these Missouri kids making good.
It certainly is! Small world. I also read that you were an English teacher — is that true?
That is absolutely true. I was a teacher for 10 years.
When did you start teaching?
I started in 2001 and I left after the school year that ended in 2011.
Pretty recently then.
Yeah, three years ago. I was playing music and touring…I played music all year round but I would tour over summer vacation, February vacation and April vacation. It was a really good job for trying to launch a touring lifestyle because of the amount of time off was really conducive to getting out and losing money. You had a job and you didn’t really have to worry too much about making money. Once I figured out how I could make money, then I had to let it go. But it was a really wonderful experience. It definitely shaped who I am in a number of ways. Definitely a very valuable experience. I’m glad I did it.
What ages were you teaching?
I started out the first couple of years in middle school and pretty much went on to teaching high school. It was a charter school k-12 campus, so there was some flexibility straddling middle school, but then I think the second to last year I had high school classes, except for one 8th grade class, that I did as a favor (laughs).
I actually went to school for teaching English, grades 7-12, and received my certification.
Yeah. I remember reading that you said you taught your students about Robert Johnson and some others.
The school let me invest in an American roots music elective, it was separate from my English classes, but for 3 or 4 years I taught this elective and was able to propose things that were my genuine interest. I had a good audience of musicians and music fans, who wanted to know where the music was coming from. I had a really wonderful experience with that class. We put on a concert at the end of every year and by the time we got to the end of the year and you had kids arguing over who was going to the Johnny Cash song or the Robert Johnson, that’s when you knew…kids were walking away with an expanded musical mind. I think it’s important to have a frame of reference. There are so many things these days…the White Stripes are a perfect example because of a lot of the kids in the class were fans of that band and so much is drawn from early country blues and roots musicians, there are a lot of references. It’s important to know where that stuff comes from.
Yeah. I also read that with the new album, you had asked your booking manager to book your tour throughout Alabama and that is what ultimately inspired You’ve Got the Wrong Man.
Yeah, that was a tour I did right after I left teaching, in the fall of 2011. The previous album was already out, so I was touring on behalf of White Lighter at the time, but I happened to be out on this solo trip and yeah, I had asked the guy who was booking me at the time because I’m really interested in the traditional American styles and I’m a big Civil War buff. At that point in my career, there were only a handful of places that people were asking me to come to so I’d go where I’d want to go and set up a tour around the historical sights I wanted to see. Now it’s a little more complicated because you have to hit this city and that city, but I still do a lot of stuff during the day, in between shows. I get up early and go to museums, Civil War battlefields, especially if I’m out on the road alone. That’s one of the reasons I like touring solo.
There are a lot of references to Alabama. The Hank Williams Museum, which I visited for the first time. It was a really moving experience. Florence, Alab. was just something I kind of began imagining while I was down there. Florence, Alab. is not mentioned in the song but it’s the title of the song. Something about that trip was a turning point in my life. I had two weeks worth of shows in Alabama and that was my first trip totally alone. That trip was actually supposed to be a duo tour but the guy coming with me quit the band the day before we were leaving. I had never been on a long two-week trip on my own before. Ya know…am I going to be able to do all this driving? What if something happens? What if I get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere? I just thought of all the things that could happen. But what actually happened is that it was one of the best experiences of my life. Ya know, him quitting the band, although very upsetting at the time, it was probably the greatest gift he could have given me. It put me out of my comfort zone — something I was afraid of, but now something that I cherish.
Yeah, leaving your comfort zone is almost always necessary and traveling alone is an extremely rewarding experience.
I love it. I’m out in California and I’m out here another week by myself and then my girlfriend is flying out. That’ll be fun too, but being alone is a beautiful way to see the country because you don’t have anyone else to talk to. I’m a bit of a shy person by nature but when your in a club in San Diego, which is a town I hadn’t been to before, it kind of forces you to connect with people and meet with people. If you were traveling with the band, you kind of talk to the people you know, even if you don’t like them so much (laughs). Not that I don’t like my band (laughs)…you just tend to gravitate towards what’s comfortable. I was talking about that with a guy who was in the band I was playing with last night because he was asking me about traveling alone and I said I probably wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation if I had three guys with me.
Yeah, that’s so true. I’ve traveled alone before and it’s so amazing because you take advantage of all that is around you. You just absorb every opportunity because you can and because you should and because you’re alone.
Yeah. It’s a good thing. You learn a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of…how far you can drive in a day (laughs). Farther than you probably think.
I realized that the titles of your records aren’t named after songs within them — where do your titles come from?
I did actually write a title track for White Lighter that came out after the album came out. So there is a song called “White Lighter,” it’s just not on White Lighter. It’s not on any record. The reason I called it “White Lighter” is because I grew up in an area where a white lighter was considered very, very, very bad luck and a lot of people know that and a lot of people don’t. It seems to vary by region. Some places know it and some have no idea what that refers to. I just like the sound of it as well and I read a little more about it and it has a lot of connotations from the witch world, which I’m not into in any way, shape or form, but a good witch is a white lighter and I just thought it was an interesting pairing of words and it meant a lot to me from being a college student. I know it’s something that signified bad luck.
Yeah me too. I remember everyone refused to use white lighters.
Yeah, I would be at parties and if they asked you for a light and you pulled a white lighter out of your pocket, they’d take it and throw it off the deck and into the woods…just like get that out of my house, what were you thinking bringing that in here…don’t you know?
Yeah. It’s really interesting.
Originally when I was writing for the record, there was a song called “You’ve Got the Wrong Man” that kind of fell by the wayside. I knew it was going to be a solo record. My band is Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons, so one of the reasons was that my first record came out under the name “Wrong Reasons,” my second record came out under “Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons” and this being the solo record, I had no choice but to call it “Joe Fletcher,” so technically if you’re looking on iTunes, it’s a nightmare because it’s three separate bands. It sucks. I’ve tried like hell to get them to fix it but it’s like trying to walk to Oz. The kingdom is impenetrable (laughs). So I was playing with titles that had either “wrong” or “reason” in the title so that people might see and be like oh that is the same guy…that’s funny I know Joe Fletcher, that’s Joe Fletcher from Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons. So I figured if it had one of those words in the title, it might help. It’ll probably help in a Google search too. “You’ve Got the Wrong Man” is a song that I nearly finished that I abandoned a year ago that I really liked at the time but it’s part of my process to sit with it for awhile — to get really excited and then the next day, week, month or year later, I see the flaws in it and I disappear it (laughs). I liked that title and I felt it fit the record. It was going to be that or Just One Reason and I think I made the right choice.
And if you had named it Just One Reason, you would have “Reason” to link to “The Wrong Reasons.”
Yeah, exactly. And instead of the Wrong Reasons, it was a solo record so that’s “just one reason.” Yeah. It started to feel a little bit corny to me, but I still like this one.
The track “Oceanside Motel” — is that one of the songs you recorded in a motel?
I recorded a lot of songs in hotels, but none of those actually made it onto the record. I recorded in a lot of places but only 3 of those locations are actually represented on what I ended up keeping for the record. I was traveling around and touring when I was making this record and I had a very mobile recording unit, it only takes about a half hour to set up, but then you have to play with it to see how the room reacts to the microphone, ya know. So it’s not the kind of thing you want to do every night after a show because it’s a little involved just to get the right sound. If I was going to be in a hotel for a couple of days, if I had some off days, I’d get a room for a few days and record something. I did that a handful of times, but I ended up keeping stuff I recorded in my old apartment in Rhode Island before the move and then in the meantime, I spent a lot of times at this property outside of Athens, Georgia and that’s where the bulk of it was recorded. This old farmhouse from the mid to late 1880s…right after the Civil War…1867, 1870…somewhere around there. And then the last 3 or 4 songs were done in my new house in Nashville. Any song that has guests on it was recorded there. I recorded everything alone up until then. We just threw a party and before things got too out of hand, we moved everybody into a couple of rooms and arranged them by the loudness of their voice. It was all recorded by just two microphones. Everything on the record is live…playing and singing at the same time. It’s just supposed to be sitting in a room, listening to me play by myself.
What kind of equipment did you use to record?
I have a relatively new, nice tube microphone that is the main mic and then I have one other condenser mic set up and an old, I don’t know what year it was made…probably the late 80s…a Tascam 4-track cassette unit, it just takes regular cassettes. It can layer up to four things and you can do it any number of ways. When I was in college, a lot of people had these and then that was all replaced by digital. But on most machines, you can record on all tracks at the same time, if necessary. I think there’s something to be said for working within limitations and deciding what the important things are. What are these four tracks going to be? For this record I only used two tracks. I just played the songs into the two mics and those mics were in different places in the room. And those difference places I recorded were as important as the equipment, they are as much a part of the sound as the equipment. When you really listen to it, you’ll hear the sound of the songs change. So sometimes my voice sounds far away, there’s a lot of reverb on it but no effects, it’s just the placement of the mic in the room. For instance, in the house in Georgia, there’s a room with a really high ceiling where if you clap your hands it echoes for a few seconds.
I can tell, almost every song sounds a little different.
The only two songs recorded under the exact same circumstance were the two with the background vocalist because we recorded those back-to-back. The place in Georgia was just a wealth of possibilities. You could be in the double parlor or in a secret stairwell or in a closet. I just had the most fun moving it around. I recorded a lot of songs under a lot of different circumstances — just trying to see what fit the mood for the song. It was a lot more involved than it sounds, when you say “I recorded my new album on a four-track.” A lot went into it. It was a hell of a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.
I have to talk to you about the song “Mabel Grey” for a number of reasons — I want to talk about you covering Brown Bird’s song but before I do, I want to address the lyric: “We landed our ship in Malta…” I’m Maltese and I couldn’t believe it when I heard it because many people have never even heard of Malta before or just know very little about it. Is David Lamb the original writer of that song?
He is. He actually co-wrote it with another friend of mine.
Do you know the background of that song?
I do know it was an actual ship. From what I’ve read about the ship, it does not sound as though the song was written about that particular story. It was a shipwreck. It was kind of a well-documented shipwreck. I haven’t read anything about it in a long time. I was covering that song, beginning when Brown Bird stopped being able to play live, when Dave was basically going through treatment and then recovering and I had decided that way before the situation changed that I was going to put it on the record. Dave heard that version of it but I wish now that I would have asked him more about the song. I mean I loved it, I heard him play it for years but I never really inquired any more deeply, but he had a great imagination. He was very interested in sea stories, just like I am and he worked in a shipyard until he stopped working fully to concentrate on the band. I have a feeling, if I had to guess…I could ask MorganEve about it, she would probably know. I still close my shows with that song every night…for awhile now. I just can’t see not doing that any time soon. He had the opportunity to hear me play it and hear the recording that is on the record — that was done in February of last year and I had already asked his permission to put it on the record, but he didn’t know I was going to have all the guests on it, so I sent him the recording as soon as I could. It was a lot of our mutual friends who showed up to sing on the song. It was a strange turn of events because I started it as a tribute to keep their name out there when they couldn’t be on the road and then the situation obviously changed for the worse.
What is it like playing that song in his memory?
It’s different every single night. I try to make it very much a sing-a-long, with the chanting parts at the end. I show everyone how to do that and then I switch to sing Dave’s part and so while the crowd is doing the la-dee-dahs behind me, it’s a flood of ya know, different emotions and mental pictures…never the same but sometimes it chokes me up pretty bad and other times it makes me smile. It’s kind of about where you’re at and what the situation is, but the one thing I can say is that it is different every day.
What made you choose “Mabel Grey”?
I like crowd participation. I’ve seen Brown Bird a lot and I like how they always got the crowd going and Dave closed with it a lot. There are many songs I love and I’m definitely going to introduce more of them in my sets but that one is just…I can’t think of one that you can get the participation on. Especially when I am out playing alone. People don’t always get excited seeing a guy take a guitar out of a guitar case and I try to debunk a lot of the stereotypes of the sad man with the acoustic guitar.
That’s my favorite kind of musician, by the way (laughs).
Since the first two albums were recorded with your band and this one is solo, what is that like? Do you think you will continue solo for the next album?
No. I have a lot of songs for the next record and it’s definitely going to be a band affair. Undoubtedly.
You’ve Got the Wrong Man comes out on Tuesday 10/7/14. In the meantime, you can stream it here.
You can pre-order the album from iTunes and it’ll also be available via Amazon, Google Play, etc. on Tuesday! Find out more information at www.joefletchermusic.com!
By: Lauren Jahoda
Mountains…check. Music…check. Gondola…check! The Gondola Sessions is just about the neatest idea I’ve heard of since SerialBox Presents. They recruit bands for live acoustic performances inside surrogate recording booths, also known as gondolas, while gliding through the sky amidst the mountains of Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado. Rayland Baxter, Elephant Revival, Bombino and Steep Canyon Rangers (who will be the subject of a HEARTSTRINGS feature article soon), are among the knock-out musicians they’ve hosted already. It really just doesn’t get much better than that.
Keep an eye out for the upcoming release of Nathaniel Rateliff’s Gondola Session, and debut album Falling Faster Than You Can Run which is stunning all who are fortunate enough to listen.
For now, start with Rayland Baxter’s performance of “Willy’s Song” on the Gondola: