By: Kate Willis
Photographs by Colin Jones
CL:You are half way through what looks like a pretty exhaustive European tour.
A little over half way. We’ve had a blast. We always have a good time when we come over.
CL: You’ve been here a few times?
Yes, well this is our second time to the UK but we’ve been to Europe a couple of times a year for the last three years or so. I think this is my fifth or sixth tour.
CL: What has the reaction been like?
Pretty good, I can’t complain. It’s always cool to see the different types of folks that come out to see us. In its own way it’s not that different to going to different parts of the US, it’s such a diverse place too that there’s certainly typical regional reactions.
CL: Did it seem as if the crowd were listening to you for the first time or that they knew your music?
Yeah, generally speaking yes, I would say that would be one major difference to the States. They may come because a friend mentioned us or they decided to join a buddy who was going to a show. I feel its often some folks going to the gig for something to do. I’d think that about 75% of people at the US shows know who we are. It seems as if folks over here are more familiar with the music, which is nice.
CL: What has been your favourite gig so far?
Man, that’s kind of hard to say, because they are all special in their own way. There’s always a high point of one or another. We generally, as a band, don’t come to a consensus of what was the best gig until the tour is over. Although London will be a bit different as it’s the biggest attendance so far, so that’s good.
CL: You left home very young. Did you leave with plans to become a musician or just to leave home?
It’s a very long story, music did not play much of a part in it. I was playing music at that point but it was never something I was really actively pursuing. The whole story is a long one, but let’s just say I had some drive to do something different than follow the normal path a teenager may take.
CL: Fourteen is really young.
It is! Every year as I get older fourteen seems younger and younger. When I was fourteen I felt really grown up, you know? In the States it is easy to fall between the cracks if somebody is not actively bothering the cops to look for you ….. it was not a situation like that for me.
CL: Sometimes Dogs Bark at nothing has just been released after a four year gap, with the exception of a duet EP. Has it taken that long to write the songs or did you just need a break?
It was a coalescing of a lot of different things that had to happen. We made the record over a year ago and at that point it had been three years since the previous one had been released but, I think that I needed a little bit of a break. I had some things in my own life that I needed to square up with. I hadn’t taken a real breather from music up to that point. We continued to tour and by most standards people would see our on line presence and would say ‘you guys are still on the road?’, compared to how we used to be. So, we were still working, but I just needed to deescalate for a while. Some of the songs I wrote a long time ago and some I wrote just in the months coming up to the recording itself but, I think that certain things take their own natural amount of time and you have no control over that, you know, how fast an hourglass runs. Its either time or it’s not.
CL: It’s a creative process so you can’t rush it.
No, you can’t put an egg timer on it.
CL: Is it semi autobiographical? I guess most music is, just exaggerated?
Closer to fully autobiographical than semi. I am not very good at writing third person accounts of anything. That may be a good sign or a bad sign. Just because I have been through a lot of ups and downs in life. The best I can do is take my own stories and shape them in a way that they become more accessible so that another person can take a piece of the story and apply it to them. A lot of folks out there want to connect to an artist and to do that there has to be a certain amount of honesty there. When you are in the big glitzy commercial world of Country music you are not writing your own stories. They may be a generic story that you could possibly relate to but when they come from the artist themselves the fans pick up on that in a way that cannot be reproduced with commercial music.
CL: You had a very different way of recording the album. Is it a way of working that you would like to do again?
I would probably do it that way again. In some ways it’s a little more old fashioned, you know? When Country musicians got together to make a record they went in the studio and started figuring it out as they were cutting the tracks. That is how I decided to do it. I didn’t want to overthink anything we were doing. I didn’t want anybody in the band to over think it either. I knew that with a good cast of players, a good engineer and a good producer it was almost no way that we were going to come out with a bad product. In a lot of ways, the record has a looseness and a comfort and a live sound to it that would not have been achieved had we done it the conventional way. It felt really good to try something new and I hope it’s the way I will continue to make records.
CL: ‘Lady in the Spotlight’ is a very well timed song for now considering the #MeToo movement. Was this written recently or just a coincidental timing?
I didn’t write it because of that, I don’t think that at any point I was conscious to say that this is a song for the present situation in the feminist movement in America but more as a man who is trying to pay attention to what’s going on in the world as best I can. I’d say you’re putting your head in the sand or you’re aware of what’s going on. The #MeToo movement is shining a light on a lot of different aspects of gender inequality and sexual assault and harassment, but in the entertainment business that was the place the general public expected it the least, for some reason. People didn’t expect it, as in their eyes, female artists in their position in popular culture have given the appearance of a lot more power than any other place; in the home, the workplace etc. Maybe I was indirectly influenced to write that song based around the state of affairs. I felt that it was time for me to say something about it myself. It feels good to put a little light under it.
CL: That’s quite brave as a lot of guys would not do that, particularly in the mainstream.
No, it’s not a thing that most men are tackling. In doing so you have expect the fall out from other men around you. Also, it forces you to re-examine your own behaviours. As much I think of myself as a very conscious and progressive male adult I’m sure that there are plenty of things in my life that I’ve got to unlearn that were brought on to me by the system that we live in. I’m just hoping to give a mans voice to it as well.
CL: What is your favourite track on the album?
Probably Lady in the Spotlight. That is actually my favourite. It’s the least conventional recording style we did, the instrumentation is very non-standard for a country album, four acoustic guitars and a synthesiser, no pedal steel, no electric guitar, no bass, no drums. I did not have any idea how that song was going to flesh out. I literally went in to the studio with no idea, except for .. ‘I know this is going to be the bed track for the acoustic guitar and I want that on there’. The rest was built around it. It just feels really understated in a way that adds a lot of power to the song itself, and that was really cool to watch it come to life.
CL: I assume that ‘Jimmy’s Dead and Gone’ is particularly about yourself?
Kind of. It’s a tongue in cheek song. It’s such a classic cliché song for people to write songs about freight trains. I’ve spent a good part of my life riding freight trains around and it’s a nudge and a wink as it’s so cliché yet still continues to be done. People still write songs about trains because trains are romantic and part of the landscape of the traveller and rambler but I had this moment where I thought ‘Goddamn it I’ve actually put my hands and feet on a freight train and ridden them around. So that’s why the tag in the chorus is ‘You’re Goddamn right I wrote another song about a train’ is because it’s a little bit of a friendly stab at the very generic train song that everyone likes to write about. It’s nod and a wink to Jimmy Rodgers as well and a little nod to Waylon Jennings because the line ‘Jimmy’s dead and gone’ comes from ‘Way More’s Blues’ so that was a double entendre. I’ve been listening to Jimmy Rodgers since I was a teenager and Waylon Jennings as well, so I thought it was extra ironic to throw a little bit of a wink to those guys in the song.
CL: My fav track is ‘Give a Little Lovin’ from Home is Where the Heart Is.
Oh thanks. It’s a humorous one.
CL: I saw you in Roberts in Nashville during Americana Fest and really liked your music. I shared some clips on social media then saw you were playing at the AMA UK Awards and a European tour.
CL: Who is your biggest influence?
It is so complex to say who had more influence that the other. If I had to I’d say from singing along to their recordings it would definitely be The Carter family.
CL: What was the 1st song you sung in front of an audience?
Hmm I don’t know as I started to sing around campfires when I was fourteen years old. Trying to pin down one is difficult. But you know one of the first country songs I learnt before I even realised that I was that in to country music was not long after I had Ieft home. I remember singing with a couple of gals that were friends of mine and still are and learning ‘Angel from Montgomery’. I remember singing that around a campfire in Arizona. That’s really the first time I really sang, I started singing in a punk band.
CL: Where would you most like to perform?
I cannot wait for my turn to play on the stage at The Ryman Auditorium. That’s probably top of my list of places to set foot and play. I’m sure that my day will come. I’m waiting for it. It will happen one day.
CL: Which of your own songs are you most proud of?
Hmm, if I had to pick one … you know I would probably have to say, one of my earliest songs ‘Two For the Road’ is probably my favourite one to play. Simply because I wrote it almost ten years ago now and I have grown out of a lot of the songs back then and that’s one of the few that I just have never got tired of playing. It’s one for the first songs that I ever wrote and I still feel good about playing it today, is a good sign.
CL: Thank you for your time and enjoy the show.