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
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
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
The press here are mad for Lambchop at
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
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.