In our last Backstage in South Florida column, I reflected on some of the more notable interviews I conducted over the past 12 months. As mentioned last time, I had the opportunity to interview a number of special artists in 2011 -- for New Times as well as for various other publications -- and as a result, I became privy to some intriguing revelations and ruminations. Here's a second sampling of the intriguing conversations I had over the past year.
"There are times when I feel absolutely trashed because maybe I went too hard the night before or something like that and I go urrrgh," Flogging Molly's mainstay Dave King told me when I asked him how he maintains his stage stamina.
"But I look out into the crowd and realize they're there to have a good time, and I go, 'You know what, I'm sure as Christ going to give them a good time.' That's what it is. It's that inspiration. We're very lucky like that. The people that come to see our shows, they're just phenomenal... They come to the show and they have that great spirit and they really let loose for two hours, and it's wonderful. There's an upside to seeing the human spirit the way it can still enjoy itself."
Band of Heathens
Austin's Band of Heathens is a talented Americana outfit featuring a fusion of several talented singer/songwriters. But with so many bands emulating that genre these days, one has to wonder what exactly constitutes Americana these days? The group's Gordy Quist offered his assessment.
"I don't know why this happened, but somehow it's become a really broad term," he suggested. "It conjures up a folk/country feel most of the time with most people and American music is much broader than that. We're not setting out to say 'We're going to play American music, and we're going to play everything we can.' We just play what we want to play, but there's a lot of blues and R&B that's part of the spectrum of American music that oftentimes doesn't get represented in Americana. To us, it's just rock 'n' roll, which is just a mixture of country and R&B and blues. We just kind of play what we've been influenced by. We're trying to do something different."
Sloan is a successful band in its own right, a Canadian outfit with an extended trajectory that encompasses more than 20 years. Consequently, its latest album, Double Cross, finds it reaching a new plateau. The band members themselves are unabashedly bold in their assessment of this effort, even quipping that it's their best album since Exile on Main Street. What, I wanted to know, does that mean? Singer/guitarist Chris Murphy was only too happy to explain.
"I was just sort of joking," he confessed. "It's like the Stones... whenever they've put a record out, basically ever since Exile on Main Street, they've always said, 'This is our best one since Exile on Main Street,' but rarely have they topped it. I think Tattoo You had some good stuff on it, and Some Girls had its moments, but to this day, when they put out Bridges to Babylon or Voodoo Lounge, they'll say 'It's our best one since Exile,' and I think, 'Guys, it's not!"
I agreed, I told him, but no one's really nailed them for that.
"I think for our band, this record that we just made, I want to say that I really like it and it's up there with my favorites of ours. But I didn't want to start sounding like Mick Jagger saying, this is our Exile."
Murphy needn't worry. Sloan's quality has been consistent since the get-go, whereas with the Stones, the quality has been somewhat sketchy. It was clear he was happy I said that.
"It's good to hear that," he beamed. Sometimes it's hard to step back and look at the records and wonder, is this better than the last one, or is it the same, or is it worse?"
Alabama roots rocker Jason Isbell says that the release of a new album brings about a feeling akin to a catharsis. "It's like stepping off the edge," Isbell recalls. "It's almost like having a kid -- you may not be prepared, but it doesn't really matter. What has to happen just happens. When something works and I know how much I put into it, it feels really good."
I've interviewed singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith three times, and every time I talk to him, he strikes me as a shy, unassuming kind of guy. Painfully so, in fact. Despite the widespread acclaim heaped on him from such peers as Paul McCartney, Emmylou Harris, and Elvis Costello, Sexsmith possesses a disquieting lack of confidence that's never far from the surface. I asked him to share his thoughts on what he believes might be his perceived popularity.
"Sometimes it's hard to see it when you're a bit depressed," Sexsmith conceded. "But people do send me emails or they'll come up and say, 'This record really meant a lot.' That can sort of go a long way towards changing my mood, but it's all relative, really. I totally realize how lucky I've been, and I realize there are a lot of people who would like to be in my shoes. I was lucky to get in the door when I did. I got to experience the tail end of the record industry -- or the decadence of the record industry -- where they were throwing a lot of money around, and that doesn't exist anymore.
"I feel really lucky that I've managed to have this body of work that I have, where the older I get, the more people seem to discover it. I guess that's one of the good things about being on the internet. People can just google my name and all this stuff comes up. I complain quite often, but I shouldn't. Sometimes it's just hard when you're in a sort of funky mood."
I then brought up the subject of touring and the sort of satisfaction he derives from being a modern road warrior. I specifically wanted to know if he enjoys it. Here again, his answer was remarkably revealing.
"Oh my God, yes," he answered. "That's the best part of it. I can travel, and I've met most of my heroes. It's a weird way to live because you walk out on stage and people go hooray and then you walk off stage and they go hooray and then it's gone. But with a lot of artists -- I don't know what it is -- it's a low-self-esteem thing. You crave it... you need some sort of validation. Sometimes when I don't have an album out, I feel like I don't even exist.
"I remember John Lennon saying something like that when he took five years off or whatever. So it is a good job when people say nice things, but when I'm on I'm on my down time, it really is down time. I'm just sitting around, playing my piano, and having a cup of coffee or whatever."
The Jayhawks' recent reunion was met was tremendous enthusiasm by the band's fans, and their newest album, Mockingbird Time, proves that the time it took to regroup was worth the wait. I spoke with Mark Olson, one of the band's two principal songwriters, and inquired as to whether he regretted his initial decision to leave.
"Let's turn down the violins now!" he laughed. "I was with the band for over a decade, and I came to a point where I wanted to do other things with my life, and I was able to do that. The band had an incredible life, and it went on. Gary [Louris] and I actually started getting back together ten years ago. He came out to where I was living, and we wrote a song together and we did some tours together over the past ten years, and we did a record together, and now we've done another record together, which I guess you can call an official Jayhawks record.
"So in retrospect, I guess you can say that by leaving the band, it didn't upset the balance of the band as much as him and I slow-poking it over the past ten years. I just became aware of that. Being in communication, playing on and off over the past ten years, we never made an official Jayhawks record, but now we have.
"We've done a lot of touring together over the last three or four years off and on, but as far as the full band, they all had their moments where they got to a point where they were looking to move on too. So it just happens, you know? So as far as regretting anything, it doesn't do any good to regret anything. I just look forward most of the time. I've been kind of the... I don't know how to describe it... it's been sort of a gonzo journalist/songwriter kind of journey."