Not exactly an interview or a review, but full of love

A night that ends with Jon Snodgrass (of Drag the River) singing for you is a very good night indeed. Even better if he is actually singing live for you and not just playing on the old Ipod.

Jon had a quick layover on his way to Memphis to play with Cory Branan (a show that I could not attend, no I don’t want to talk about it, I might cry). [Seriously, we need to find a way to supplement our income so that we can pursue our rock star lifestyle because the day job thing is getting old. What gives, universe?—Daisy] We met up for drinks with a couple other friends. [Which I could not attend. No, I’m not at all bitter, why do you ask?—Daisy] There wasn’t time for a podcast or really even a formal interview but I did learn a few things about Jon, about myself and about the world. Here they are in no particular order: Continue reading

As seen from the inside out

Under a magnificent, sprawling tree, there is an unusual house on a mysterious street in Nashville. On this funny little street the weather is never quite like it is in the surrounding neighborhood, sun shines through rain clouds and snow falls from the clear blue sky, sometimes only on the extraordinary little house. The light there, day, night or dawn, always seems slightly purple. The grass is scraggly and pathetic but gigantic flowers bloom all around. In this house lives a mysterious little family, The Joiners. Does the odd little house on the peculiar little street make the Joiners different from everyday people, or is it the Joiners that make the street strange?

No, people, I haven’t completely lost my mind. It’s just that on stage or off The Joiners seem, to me, like characters from a book. A novel I read as child when I was too young to understand exactly what was going on. When I close my eyes and imagine them, I see the scene above. You see, the Joiners are my friends. It’s like old home week on HCT sure, but the truth of the matter is, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. I live in a mystical, magnetic center of music talent (East Nashville) and I know a lot people. I can’t cover them all, because, honestly, I don’t like all the music my friends make, or it just isn’t the HCT groove. But every now and then some things come along that can’t be passed over, they are just too good.

A few weeks ago I was in a brightly colored, well-loved, neighborhood bar watching The Joiners play. I was completely thrown over by their music. I don’t know what I expected, but lovely moody, emotionally complex, musically simple songs was what I got. After the show I told Mr. Joiner that those were some of the saddest songs I’d ever heard. “Sad?” he replied, “but they are full of hope!” No, I maintained, sad sad sad. Fast forward a couple weeks and those crazy kids have finished their album, Olives & Oil. I listened. I listened again. I made a copy for my car. I listened a lot. I played it while I cleaned house. While I worked. While I sat around on my porch, drinking and watching traffic go by. The songs are sad, but truthfully, they are full of hope, in their own strange, crooked little house on a shady lane kind of way. Yes, full of hope, sadness, a little twang here and there, a lot of moodiness, and a bunch of love (for the world, for stories, for people), it’s all packed into 10 little songs.

A little known secret about me is that I am a helper. Or I try to be (it doesn’t always work out for me). So right now I’d like to help The Joiners and I’d like to help you, dear readers. It turns out I can do these things simultaneously. You see The Joiners are giving away their album in a free download. And you need good music. So if I hook y’all up, right here, on this blog, then everyone wins!! You get good music, they get more exposure. It’s genius, really. And more than that, I have badgered these lovely kids into giving a mini interview, so you’ll know a little more about them (although after reading some of this, you may wonder why you though you wanted to know more).

The Joiners are Rachel Joiner – drums & vox, Taylor Joiner – guitar & vox and Joe Bidewell – harmonica, accordion, bass & vox. They make me happy, both with their music and just being who they are. They are all great kids. I want to be just like them when I grow up.

Here’s a few questions answered by our (mine and now yours too!) pal, Taylor Joiner:

– So who are you anyway?

We’re the Joiners. I thought you knew that already. You really should’ve done your research before you started this interview.

– Oh I know who you are! You are the guy who is clearly never going to return the book he borrowed months ago.

I’m Taylor. I used to have a band in Athens, GA called Cafeteria. We were poised on the edge of greatness until I lost it and hauled ass. I’m better now. My wife and drummer Rachel is from Birmingham, AL. where she used to play ice hockey on the boy’s team and pursue her love of writing. Our bass player Joe Bidewell used to live at the Chelsea hotel in Manhattan and play keys for Velvet Underground alum John Cale.

– Tell me a story about how you’d imagine your Best Day Ever.

I’d rather tell you about my worst day ever.

– Of course you would.

I was ten and really in need of a Transformer (the toy that turns from car to robot). I called my mom at work and pleaded with her but to no avail. Thinking on my feet, I decided to clean the house from top to bottom before she got home.

Arriving home from work, she was so happy with what I’d done that she rewarded me by taking me to the mall to get the coveted toy. On the way out of the garage we ran over my cat, Mr. Kitty. It was quite violent. My older brother scooped him up in a towel and drove with my now totally freaked out mother to the vet.

They returned twenty minutes later with Mr. Kitty’s blood stained collar.

– Jeez, man, way to bring the room down. Did you bring me tissues for this story too? Or at least a beer to fortify me afterwards?

“Do you still want to go the mall,” my mom asked, pale from the experience and probably pretty worried about me. Looking up at her from the pillow I had buried my face in, I managed through my tears to answer. “Yeah.” We got to the mall only to discover every single store had sold out of Transformers. Not even a GoBot to be found. Dejected, we made our exit, but not before passing my dad eating dinner with his new family in the food court. “We ran over the cat, Dad.” I mumbled, hoping for a little credit for having gone through such a horror. “That’s too bad,” he replied. We turned and left, toy-less and sad. Today, when Rae asks me to clean the house, my reply is simple, “Two words babe: ‘Mr’. and ‘Kitty’.” I think she understands.

– Okay, I think I need a shot of whiskey or something before we go on. You must be trying to punish me for saying your songs were so sad. Okay, next question: There’s been a lot of talk lately about the EVILS of file-sharing. By giving away your new release you are basically going against the entire crazy machine of the industry. Do you think as an artist this hurts you or helps you?

Definitely helps. It costs so much to make a CD to sell, whatever level you’re at, it all gets recouped by whoever paid for it unless you sell a ton. If you’re lucky enough to sell a ton, you had to pay for radio promotion, press promotion, and all the other stuff that goes into it.

Manufacturing for digital release, promotion on the internet, distribution, all that stuff, is much cheaper than making a CD now, so why not give it away? At this point we just want people to hear it. I read somewhere that the philosophy used to be “give away 300 CDs to sell a thousand,” but now is “give away a million CDs to sell a thousand”. We’re lucky if folks download our record, cause after that, they come to the show, buy shirts, and just might plop down a little extra for the vinyl version. Free digital music aides the return of vinyl.

People who like the music enough are happy to pay a few bucks for the version they can use two hands to hold. The art is bigger and the sound is something you can’t digitally recreate. Digital music is convenient but not the best sounding and there are other ways to make a living off of the art. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for folks to find us and get turned on. When we’re Madonna, we’ll see what the milieu looks like then. In the meantime, wanna buy a shirt?

– Who are the bands that you’ve played with or seen recently that you think deserve more attention, either from fans or record labels?

The entire Trey Deuce club. These are East Nashville guys who play in each other’s bands, help each other out by playing shows together, record each other’s music, and basically just support each other however we can.

What’s the best thing about Nashville? The worst?

The best thing here is definitely the talent pool. The best players in the world are here, all genres, hands down. The worst: the air quality. The Indians that lived around the area back in the day used to hunt in the Nashville Basin but never resided here. The name they gave this area meant loosely “Valley of Fever.” I believe they were referring to the havoc this place wreaks on one’s allergies.

– What songs (besides your own) can you not get enough of right now? Does what you are listening to influence the music you are making?

I let Rachel pick the music and then tell her I think it’s terrible.

Honestly, this question always gets me and I’ll tell you why. A couple of years ago I applied for a job at a fancy bistro here in town. The application asked me to name my favorite foods. Of course, they were expecting me to name a bunch of fancy stuff to show off my knowledge of fine food. Knowing this but wanting to be both unique among applicants as well as honest, I wrote “pizza and sandwiches.” Now, I can cook whatever I’m asked to but they wanted to know what I liked to eat, so I told them.

Disappointed in my response, they didn’t hire me (maybe not the only factor but nonetheless, it didn’t help). I mention this cause your readers might want to hear of obscure bands that they might like that they’ve never heard of but I’m not really the audiophile that say, Rae or Joe are. Having said this, I’ll give it a try. Vic Chestnut’s Little had a particular hold on me for awhile. Will Oldam’s brother has a band called Anomoanon and they sing a song called “The Night is So Uncertain” that I like to sing to guys named Frankie who like to party. Rae turned me on to Superdrag the other day and I really like their song “Sucked Out.” I’m sure there’s more but like I said, pizza and sandwiches.

– How do you go about writing songs? / What is your creative process?

When I was in Athens and just getting started, a guy I knew told me to write every song that came to mind down on paper until it was done, or I couldn’t get any further, regardless of how good. Most of the time the song writes itself and I just decide whether it’s any good or not. Keith Richards once likened it to being a radio receiver, dialing around till something good comes in from the ether. I like the way that sounds but let me be the first to say, I’m no Keith Richards. He’s got a longer antennae.

If you were going to die tomorrow and you could only send one last message out into the universe, what would it be?

Drink apple juice cause OJ will kill you.

The album, Olives & Oil, is available for download at the Joiner House. Please, if you take it, go back and leave the Joiners a comment, show them some love and pass the word to your friends who also like good sad songs full of hope.

In the gutter with Ben Nichols

[We can’t always get the coverage we want, but fortunately HCT has agents all over the globe. A few days ago our pal, Ethel, had a conversation with Ben Nichols of Lucero. We’ll let her tell the story…—Cricket]

It’s past two on a New York Saturday morning. My clothes are covered in splatters of beer and less identifiable filth. My feet must really be killing me from the pounding they’ve taken for the past few hours, because there’s no other reasonable explanation why I would have chosen to sit on the curb with my feet in the gutter. At least, that’s what I told myself at first. The other reasonable explanation crouches two feet away, and NOW would be the perfect time to ask him some burning, insightful questions. Yet the only flotsam in my whiskey sea brain is “I am sitting in a New York gutter outside CBGB’s with Ben Nichols. This is awesome.”

Nearly twenty four hours later I get a cleaner (albeit no soberer) opportunity. The die-hards of the Lucero fan base have accompanied the band to an East Village bar and pretty much everyone has been drinking since 6 pm, when we all boarded the Temptress for a Lucero concert cruise. Almost everyone is wasted enough to think it’s pretty funny when some joker takes advantage of the two Lucero CDs in the jukebox and plays “Drink ‘Til We’re Gone.” Ben is looking suitably embarrassed as the small crowd starts to sing along, drowning out his jukebox doppelganger, and I utilize the distraction to cozy up to the bar next to him and make my play.

“You know, we were thinking earlier that most of your fans have probably heard some of your songs more often than you’ve sung them.”

“Oh definitely,” Ben responds.

“I mean, you probably don’t pop the new Lucero CD in your player and listen to it twenty times in a row like I would.” Duh. Yeah, nice play. [Excellent. I love it that you’re as smooth as we are.—Cricket] [She hasn’t grabbed his ass yet.—Mimi]

He laughs in affirmative, but I still feel like the world’s biggest fangirl tool. [I’m sure he appreciates it when the girl fans come out since most of their fans seem to be drunk men.—Mimi] Thankfully, I gave up ever trying to score with Ben Nichols about 2 seconds after the first time I met him.

Not to say he isn’t hot. Hordes of screaming fangirls would rend me limb from limb like so many tattooed Maenads for even suggesting such a thing. No, I just realized upon meeting Ben and the rest of the Lucero boys the very first time that I wanted them to be my friends. I wanted us to always be able to hang out and have a drink and a laugh. I wanted, in fact, all the good times I’ve had with them thus far; being John’s groupie-for-a-night in L.A., stealing Roy’s tiara backstage in Ventura, and even having drunk, shirtless, sweaty Brian hang off me in the front row at CBGB’s. I’ve seen Lucero in five or six different states and every single time I see one of them I feel happy. Not just because I know they’re going to put on a great show, but because I like the boys in the band.

So back in New York City, on a drunkass Saturday night, I find myself in a similar situation to one I’ve been in many times before. It’s the time of night where I am just drunk enough to start pouring my heart out to Ben Nichols in the most stilted fashion possible. Even as I do it, I’m feeling sorry for the guy. I try and rescue my lame ass opening by talking about the songs they played (on a motherfuckin’ boat!) on the boat cruise. Because they played “Hold Fast” (on a boat!) I get into the topic of my favorite songs, and he remembers how I went through a phase of screaming requests for “Hate and Jealousy.”

“You know what inspired that song, right?” I have no fucking clue, and I tell him so. He offers to explain but warns that it will probably ruin it for me.

“I don’t think you can, Ben. I mean,” I say “I mean” a lot when I’m drunk, “You write the songs but we take them and make them our own based on what’s going on in our lives.”

It’s a damn good thing I’ve got this philosophy, because the actual inspiration for the song comes from a line in the movie Red Dawn. From what Ben tells, there’s a character that notches his gun stock for every kill he makes. At some point some other character says “All that hate’s gonna burn you up, kid.” The response? “It keeps me warm.”

I don’t know how it comes up, but Ben reveals a certain love of attending Renaissance Faires. [I hear he thanks his Dungeons & Dragons character in the liner notes of the forthcoming Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers as well. To be dorky is to be human?—Cricket] He claims to have a full suit of armor and a “big ass sword” and he likes to get dressed up and go drink mead. I am, needless to say, dumbstruck, as my own tendencies lean towards such behavior as well. Except I am not a genius songwriter.

Still trying to keep the subject on him, I ask about his family. I’m sure I could find out this shit with some well-placed web searches, but I’d rather find out from Ben that he’s the eldest of a few brothers (2? 3?) and that he hopes to have kids some day. “Two boys,” he says. [Unless he plans to steal them from gypsies, this is actually, from what I hear, a crap shoot.—Mimi]

It is then that I am struck by something I have been noticing the past two nights, but have been unable to articulate. Ben’s hair is going grey at the temples. [I double dog dare you to ask him about this the next time you see him.—Cricket] The first time I ever saw Lucero it was most certainly not. My god, I think, we’re getting old. Me and Lucero. We are getting old together. Ben’s hair is going grey and my ass is getting wider and good lord we’re all still acting like drunken fuckin’ lunatics. I wonder if Ben thinks anything similar, and I really should ask him how long he thinks the guitar playin’ will cut it before he needs to do something else to support a family. But he starts in about his current girlfriend, and how he thinks she’d start a family with him, and I’m distracted by my desire to know how hard it is to keep a relationship together when you spend as much time touring as Ben does. He gives me the answer I already know. “It’s real, real tough, most times.” Sometimes I wonder why I open my damnfool mouth.

I like these little talks that Ben and I have. They’re never really brilliant, and I never come away feeling like I know anything intimate about Ben (although that shit about Red Dawn is pretty mind-bending, huh?) but it sure is a nice way to pass the drunken time. This Saturday, I’d sit and talk to him forever, but I notice Roy has started playing Naked Photo Hunt without me, and there’s no way in hell I’m letting those bastards hit the high score without my help. By the time we’re out of quarters Ben is gone, and I’m another few months and a couple of bottles of whiskey away from asking him all the shit I should have.

[Ben’s band, Lucero (and let me clarify, for Brian’s sake, that Ben is in Lucero, though it is not Ben’s band, but had this been written about any other member of the band, I’d had said the same “John’s band, Brian’s band, Roy’s band”–are you happy now, Brian?) is playing Mucklewain this coming weekend. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, maybe you should. It could be your chance to stalk Ben and ask him about his D&D character.—Cricket]

A few words with Scott from The Avett Brothers

If you’ve been hanging around these parts for a while you probably already know how much we at HCT love The Avett Brothers. I’ll pretty much do anything I can to keep them at the front of your minds, get you buying their albums and keep trying to convince you to see them live. Recently I had a chance to ask Scott Avett a few questions about the band and music. Maybe if all my raving hasn’t yet convinced you, you’ll like him enough to give The Avett Brothers a chance?

Hard-core Troubadours: I’ve had a hard time defining your sound and I see every reviewer saying something different. How do you define your music? Is there even a label you can put on it?
Scott Avett: This question is asked all of the time and we don’t have an answer. I am not sure if we are even qualified to name what we do. I do believe you can label it, I just don’t know what that label is. What label would you place the Violent Femmes in?

HCT: Your music has continuously evolved throughout your albums. Is this a conscious decision you made or just a natural occurrence born out of how much you clearly love playing?
SA: This is a natural and conscious decision on our part. Everything we do should evolve and improve in some way as time passes. If not, I think we need to rethink what we are learning and doing.

HCT: How do you feel about fans pulling songs down off MySpace? (I’m mean, it must be flattering to have fans love the songs so much, but do you feel that filesharing etc. hurts the band?)
SA: The only problem we see with file sharing is when we have new songs, unheard songs and we want to play them live, which is what we live for, we can’t because they will get “released” on line before we can release them properly.

HCT: You have huge summer tour schedule ahead of you. Are you excited for it? Do you feel like you get more out of playing music for/with people, rather than just in the studio?
SA: We don’t get enough time in the studio, a lot happens when we go in the studio in a very short amount of time. I would like to see us in the studio more in the next couple of years. However, playing for people is a very big part of what we are and what makes us…us.

HCT: What’s the craziest thing one of your fans has ever done?
SA: Well, I don’t know if it is crazy but a couple named their child Avett. That might be considered crazy to some. We’ve had lots of things happen on the road and the craziest are probably best kept in the past.

HCT: What music are you currently listening to that you really love?
SA: You can’t beat the sounds of the everybodyfields from Johnson city, TN. You can’t beat the Beatles. That new Gnarls Barkley is pretty sweet. I also love AC/DC but mostly live footage. Mastodon is a great band with great concepts. Hall & Oats are of my favorites and there‘s a fellow by the name of Justin Gordon hiding out somewhere in CO that writes beautiful songs and plays some of the best acoustic guitar out there. Today I have been listening to demos that Seth and I are working on and Paleface’s new record, Play Guitar.

HCT: Are there any bands that you’ve played with or seen that you think deserve more attention, either from fans or record labels?
SA: Daxx Riggs, the singer of Deadboy and The Elephantmen is one of the best singers of rock music alive today. Also, Paleface from Brooklyn NY.

HCT: How do you go about writing songs? Is it something you all do together, or do you each bring pieces to the table and then fit them together?
SA: Both ways are useful for us.

HCT: What’s your favorite part of live performing/touring? What’s your least favorite part?
SA: Traveling can sometimes be hard on the body, sitting and waiting for so long. But, that is a minor complaint; we see a lot of things and are going to have a lot of stories to tell. I can’t count the people that I meet that are absolutely amazing.

HCT: I saw you guys perform live and I noticed that both Seth and Scott have heavy key chains that hang down and sort of work with them while they are playing. Is this intentional added percussion or do y’all really coincidentally have that many keys and just keep them around?
SA: Sometimes I think a man can be judged not by his possessions or money count but by how many keys he has. More keys, more doors can be unlocked. As we get older we have more doors to go to etc. This may not be true but it sounds like it could be.

HCT: What songs would like to cover? Song you love so much you’d want to share them in your own individual style?
SA: I like old Charlie Poole songs for covering and I am always planning to do more of them, since now we don’t do any. I also would like to cover “Rich Girl” by Hall and Oats. Seth really likes covering Sam Cooke songs.

HCT: What are the biggest influences on the current incarnation of your music?
SA: Traveling, heartbreak, guilt, shame, love, happiness, and sadness.

HCT: I know there’s a lot side projects going on with each of you, and other artistic endeavors, do you ever feel stretched too thin?

HCT: Do you have any advice for bands starting out?
SA: Play as much as possible and write songs about what you know. Avoid worldly issues. TAKE CHANCES and don’t be afraid of embarrassing yourself.

Even if you aren’t in a band, take Scott’s advice and take chances: check out The Avett Brothers tour schedule or go pick up an album or two. And then come back and tell me how much you love them.

Talking to Corb Lund, cowboy musician

Vindication is one of the best feelings in life. I have a history of liking artists who later turn out to be Scientologists or who do things like insult their fans while black-out drunk. So the fact that Corb Lund is dryly hysterical, not full of himself, and an actual, honest-to-God cowboy makes my month.

When I talked to him about what it means to be a Canadian cowboy, Corb was spending a week or so of downtime at his home in the Edmonton area (Edmonton is a city in Alberta, which is a province in the western part of Canada. Canada is the country north of America on maps—just to be clear.). He’s been touring pretty solidly for the last couple of years in Australia, Europe and the States. Cricket and I saw him in Nashville a week before I talked to him, and you can tell that they’ve (The Hurtin’ Albertans) worked the kinks out of their routine. [Yes, it was very smooth and totally unkinky.—Cricket]

If you’d like to see the guys for yourself, you have two options in the next couple weeks. Either you can carry yourself to D.C. for the 2006 Smithsonian Folklife Festival and see Corb and the band on June 30, at 3 p.m. on the Jubilee stage. Or you can haul your ass to the Calgary Stampede and see the boys headline the rodeo on July 13 at 9:30.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is showcasing Albertan culture this year (why they chose to do this is not completely clear), and Corb’s father, D.C. Lund, will also be exhibiting his paintings (he’s a cowboy artist, y’all, come on!). Come out and see the whole family.

Harvest Ghosts by D. C. Lund

The Calgary Stampede (and I can’t believe I am actually explaining this to people) is a HUGE rodeo. It’s The Rodeo for a large part of the continent. Corb’s family has a long history with the Stampede. In Corb’s own words, “My grandpa, Clark Lund won the all around championship at the Stampede in 1938. He was also a rodeo judge there for many years after he retired from competition. His five brothers, my great uncles, all competed at the Stampede back then also. My other grandpa, Ivins, competed at the Stampede. My mom, Patty (Ivins) Lund, won the ladies barrel racing in 1959, which was the first time it was offered as a major event. She is now a ‘Pioneer of the Calgary Stampede’. She won the barrel racing in ’60 also. My dad competed there for many years when he was a pro steer wrestler. I won some day money there in the steer riding when I was a kid in the early ’80s.”

Yeah. You already like him, right? His family ranches near the Montana border and have been doing that since the 1890s. Like Corb explains in his shows to American audiences unfamiliar with Canada, Alberta is the Texas of Canada—all the oil and most of the cattle. Their culture is solidly western, and within Canada this is a source of a lot of cultural conflict since the Canadian population is centered in Quebec and Ontario (central Canada).

Corb’s sound is all his own and completely unique, but you can hear his firm rooting in the foothills of the Rockies in his new, Harry Stinson produced album Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer (as previously mentioned, not set to be released in the States until September of this year, but available on CDBaby and iTunes or as an export on Amazon).

Corb hasn’t broken through in the States yet, so get your hipster groove on and like him before he’s popular so you can say “Oh, I used to like him, before anyone knew who he was.” In Canada he pretty well-known, with heavy rotation on the Canadian CMT. He’s got some big fans north of the border–Corb appears with his band in the movie Slither starring actor Nathan Fillion (who is also a proud Albertan). He also won the Juno Award this year for best traditional album.

So why is he not more popular below the 49th parallel? The same reason people drink whiskey—stupidity? We know he has at least a few pretty hardcore fans in the States already, like me and Cricket and the guy who got this tattoo of some of Corb’s lyrics on his arm:

[With what appears to be Hank III’s three bars. How odd.—Cricket]

Corb’s take on this is: “I wouldn’t fucking get my lyrics tattooed on myself. They’re not that good.” He’s wrong about that, but since humility is in short supply in the music industry, he gets a pass there.

Talking to Corb Lund, I found him as bright and funny as his music, which is a relief. Maybe if we haven’t convinced you previously of this, knowing he’s a real cowboy will help? C’mon, everyone loves cowboys.