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slow #3/summer 1999

You should of course remember way back from issue one when I picked Neal Casal as a highlight of the Loose compilation. What? You donít? Well you should because his track All The Luck In The World is just beautiful, and thereís four albums of this stuff. And you never get to meet these obscure country singers, right? Why would they come here? Imagine our delight when we discovered he was in town for a show, some radio stuff (only found that out afterwards), and the most ridiculous in-store appearance Iíve ever snuck out of work to see. Alt.country crawled into Norwich, for one night only and we went mad telling people to come with us. Do you think they did? Some folk donít know what theyíre missing.

What the hell were you doing in Virgin this afternoon??
I have no fucking clue man. The place had none of my records, I think there was like one poster up in the bathroom downstairs. That was really one of the most ridiculous experiences Iíve ever had and actually Matthew if you werenít there I wouldíve fucking committed suicide on the spot. And it really got bad when I finished playing and you were gone! Because before I started playing you said "Oh hey, would ó you like to do an interview later?" and I said yeah, and then I finished playing and you were gone, and I thought this fucking guyís said "Man, forget this joker, Iím outta here". What was I doing in Virgin today? Thatís a really good question.
You did one song for each member of the audience.
Yeah, exactly! It was you, and that guy with his two boys and as it turns out I guess they came there to see me or something because one of the boys had read some article in Total Guitar magazine, which I never thought was a big deal at the time. So they said "That was great ó we really loved that", and all I could say was "...thanks ". And now he wants a guitar for Christmas, so Iíve wrecked another life. That was a very bizarre, surrealist, absurdist experience you know? I couldnít open my eyes the whole time. Well, I looked at you once or twice just for some kind of moral support even though I donít know you at all. I figured at least you understood a little bit of what was going on, but of course you really made it worse by coming over to me right before I played and saying "You know, this place doesnít have any of your records", and I said look in the country section and you said "I already did ó there isnít anything there!" So my spirits sank to my fucking heels... Very bizarre. But you know all these things like this ó theyíre just stories to tell, right?
So how does today compare with the rest of the tour?
Actually as far as the show tonight went... I had an attitude before I started playing because the crowd is so loud in here. It actually was really liberating because I thought this crowd isnít going to be listening to me for the most part so fuck it, Iím just gonna do whatever I want. So I went up there and I was completely loose and I played whatever I wanted to. I thought that I actually played really well tonight. It probably wasnít a very entertaining show, but I was real loose and I sang well and played well, thatís all I can say. Every night is an adventure, I can never predict even slightly whatís going to happen from one night to the next, and I guess thatís the good thing and the bad thing about being on the road. Itís great cos you never know, but it sucks because some nights are horrible. Some nights are amazing, but I really never know whatís gonna happen.
Any other weird places on the tour? What about the 12 Bar?
Last night? Well the 12 Bar in London is definitely weird, but itís great though. Youíve been there, itís just a fun atmosphere. They know how to act there, they can be loud and they can talk and they can drink and have a good time, which takes the pressure off whatever musician is playing there, but when it comes time to listen they understand that itís time to do that. And when itís time to have fun they go for it. Itís like theyíre educated or something ó they just get it. And that place invites it because really no-one has any business doing shows in there itís totally wrong, but itís completely right at the same time. This tour generally has been really good; compared some others Iíve done, this one rates pretty high.

So do you consider yourself part of the alt.country community then?
As a matter of fact I do. I had problems with that term for a long time because Iíve been into this kind of music for a long time. For a long time I thought the alternative country movement died the day Uncle Tupelo broke up. and then the final nail in the coffin was when Mark Olsen left the Jayhawks because they were my two favourite bands. I thought everything after that was just gonna be bullshit, but since then weíve seen No Depression magazine crop up in America and thereís magazines like Happenstance in England, and your fanzine I just read through today has a lot to do with it. Now Iím starting to think weíve got something here and Iím really sick and tired of hearing all these bands and musicians complain about it, like they donít like this label. I think itís bullshit because whenever youíre asked to describe a certain kind of music youíve got to say something and I think that alternative country is not that bad a term. The bottom line for me is that with this scene there are a lot of really good bands, a lot of good songs being written and a lot of good records being made; and the scene hasnít been poisoned by anybody selling like 10 million records yet. Everybodyís selling a modest amount, they have their loyal following and itís good, itís kept the scene healthy to me. Everybody keeps saying that they wish somebody would break through and sell millions of records but Iím not sure if that would be the best thing for this.
The press here are mad for Lambchop at the moment.
Lambchop? Yeah, first itís Whiskytown then itís Lambchop then itís somebody else, you know? I would love to see every band succeed, but at the same time I personally think the alternative country scene is in a very healthy state right now, thereís a lot of good music around and I donít think that musicians should feel that the term is negative in any way, because at least there is a scene; at least thereís some kind of loose community. And itís not so tight-knit that if someone makes a different kind of record, with some different instrumentation everyone points the finger and says "Well, youíre not alternative country anymore". I think itís a pretty broad category youíve got a lot of different kinds of music ó from very traditional country to like pretty out there more rock, electronic, whatever-the-fuck-you-want-to-call-it-stuff, so I think itís good and I think bands and musicians should embrace it because if it were to disappear tomorrow everybody would say "What happened to our scene?" When Iím on the road I run into different bands, Iíll see Calexico one night, (someone Iíve never heard of) another night and we all say hello and weíll jam and itís great. Nothing to complain about from my end.

Do you always play solo, or is there a full band?
Yeah, I have a full band. We did five shows throughout England, one in Scotland. You know we did this Glitterhouse tour (myself, Hazeldine, and the Good Sons), the band was along for that. Thatís really where my head is right now as far as playing goes. Iím doing all these solo shows throughout England to just try to blaze a trail for the band to come back next time. I like playing solo acoustic shows ó itís kinda cool actually cos I can play the same tunes that I play with my band acoustically and itís like a completely different setting. Itís cool to see a lot of these songs work in two different ways, but the band is what Iíd like to do most right now, because theyíre good players and they rock!!

Why is your only record deal in Germany?
No-oneíll touch me in America, I donít really know why, but that doesnít really concern me that much. Glitterhouse got hold of me, they called me when my second record came out and said they wanted to licence this record from me and put it out in Europe, and bring me over for some tours. I can feel their enthusiasm for the music, as opposed to some major label who just might as well be selling a fucking Volvo, you know what I mean? With Glitterhouse those people love music ó theyíre into this whole scene that weíre a part of. The president of the label sits for hours and makes those compilation CDs by himself — he doesnít have somebody else do it, he listens to all those records himself. He knows where itís at, so when he called me he was honest with me and I just thought "You may be small but you love this, and so do I, so letís work togetherĒ. Itís done a lot for me ó more than my days with a major label did. Far more; it just goes to show how far a little honesty will go.
Glitterhouse seems strange to us, because it really made itís name by licensing grunge records.
True. The thing with them is at that point thatís the kind of music that those guys fell in love with and they did the same thing for those grunge bands. I mean, Nirvana — they introduced them to Europe. And when that scene got completely poisoned, burned out by the massive feeding frenzy that the major labels inflicted on it... thatís what I was saying before ó Iím afraid of someone selling a lot of records on this alternative country thing because the fucking labels are gonna come and theyíre gonna sign every band and itís gonna be poisoned and itís gonna die. And then all the imitation bands start cropping up man, I mean whatís been the last three years in pop music? At least like the more rockier pop stuff — itís like Bush, all that shit, what is that? Thatís the morning after, the hangover from the grunge scene or whatever you wanna call it, which in the beginning was really great but it got totally fucked by the success. But getting back to Glitterhouse; once there was nothing left in that scene I think those guys just naturally fell into this groove, which is like a really good scene, and thatís where they wanna be.

How come you played guitar on James Ihaís album?
Well, I got hooked up with James through a producer — Jim Scott, he produced my first record. Also he produced Whiskytown and Hazeldineís records. Iíve been a friend of his throughout the years and he was doing Jamesí record last year and needed some help with some background vocals and some guitars and Jim thought I would be good for it. He said "Hey, come out to Chicago, weíre making a record in Jamesí basement. We'll try you on a couple of songs and see what happens". Our voices worked well together and I ended up on the entire record, and playing guitar on a lot of it. James and I became really good friends, heís a really great guy and he was nothing like I expected him to be. I expected this freaked-out rockstar and what I got was this really genuine guy, a generous guy. He lives in a house that your aunt would live in, totally normal. He drives a Volvo ó it freaked me out ó I told him I thought I was going to walk into the house and see like fifteen groupies lying around, offering me a line of coke and he said "Yeah and I'd throw you a guitar and say ĎTake the solo!!'" So Iíd bought into the whole Smashing Pumpkins stereotype thing, and heís not that at all. He sent me a guitar in the mail, just to say thanks for being on his record. And heís into the same rock trivia stuff as I am so we talk all the time, and I went on the road with him for a bit. I hope he makes another record because Iíd love to be on it, because I think Let It Come Down is a great record, and a very underrated one at that.

All country records are sad ó discuss.
Well I canít speak for anybody else, when it comes to that part of the scene. Where my sadness comes from... it started early in my life, it informs my music to this day and if people perceive it as overtly sad, thatís cool. I think itís rather hopeful myself, but what am I supposed to sing ó Poison songs?
Do you think you'd stop writing songs if you cheered up a bit?
Ah well, you see Iím very cheery though. Iím a very happy guy, really. Iím a very happy person Matt, I never invent pain for myself, you know? I donít go around looking for things to be miserable about at all. Thatís bullshit and I can detect that in a songwriter a hundred miles away and thatís definitely not where Iím at.
Give us examples!
No, I wonít do that. I ainít gonna cop for that, but you know Iím just writing about what I know, itís as simple as that. Itís the oldest clichť in the book, but Iím just writing what I know. Itís not about trying to make anything up, not trying to make anyone feel sorry for me, itís not trying to make anyone think Iím some tragic, sad figure. Thatís not where Iím at all ó Iím just trying to tell the truth.

 

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