The Right Vibe: A Conversation with The Steel Woods’ Wes Bayliss

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

The term “Southern music” recalls sounds of rock, blues, R&B, bluegrass, country and folk. In other words, definable and indefinable at the same time. The Steel Woods – Wes Bayliss, Jason “Rowdy” Cope, Jay Tooke and Johnny Stanton – play a timeless-sounding brand of music that befits the South and its musical heritage. On Friday, January 18, the Nashville-based quartet will release its sophomore release, Old News [Thirty Tigers]. The band will make two appearances in Birmingham this month – an in-store performance at Seasick Records on Thursday, January 17 followed by a headlining show at Zydeco on Friday, January 25. Recently, Bayliss spoke with us by phone while on a Christmas break in Florida.

Birmingham Stages: Wes, thanks for your time. You guys have an upcoming cruise gig [Southern Rock Cruise]. Is this your first time to do so?

Wes Bayliss: We did a cruise last year – the Kid Rock Cruise – and I’d never been on a cruise before that and it was a lot of fun.

Birmingham Stages: The cruise concepts – Blues, Jamband, Southern Rock and so forth – have become popular.

Bayliss: From what I hear, we wouldn’t be able to get tickets if we weren’t playing [laughs].

Birmingham Stages: We are really enjoying Old News. How did the album’s body of material take shape?

Bayliss: It’s kind of all over the map – that’s how I start most of my answers [laughs]. There’s no one real way – there’s a few [songs] that had been ideas for a while and a couple of them were brand new ideas that happened all at once. Some of them just came together right at the last minute.

Birmingham Stages: Do songs still get tweaked at the last minute even as you’re in the studio recording them?

Bayliss: I’ve said a few times that this record is a lot more premeditated and we sort of knew what we wanted when we went into the studio, but then it’s never exactly what you thought or exactly what you pictured. It’s pretty easy to change your mind about something when you’re in there actually putting it on tape.

Birmingham Stages: How does your specific writing process work?

Bayliss: I have ideas that I just write down and if I’m going to write with somebody, I will pull them out and go back and forth. Compared to other folks – if I write with somebody – they’ve got a book of ideas and that’s not really how it works for me. I try to bring something to the table, but mostly if I have an idea I’m going to write it. When I come up with something, it’s not very long until it’s a song. I rely on other guys for ideas a lot of the time – Rowdy and the other guys that I work with.

Birmingham Stages: When you write with Rowdy, is there a pattern that develops? For example, does one person focus more on lyrics or melody than the other?

Bayliss: There’s no real pattern – he’s a guitar player, so a lot of times he’ll have a melody and I’ll try to tweak it. He’ll have loads of lyrics – he’ll bring a song to me sometimes and it’s mostly done and I’ll see if I can do anything with the words and put my thing on it.

Birmingham Stages: You’re an Alabama native, correct?

Bayliss: I’m from Randolph County – an hour and a half southeast of Birmingham.

Birmingham Stages: How long have you lived in Nashville?

Bayliss: Five years.

Birmingham Stages: You’ve witnessed some serious changes in Nashville since you moved up there.

 Bayliss: Good grief! I’ve gotten to where I don’t even go to Nashville anymore unless I’ve got to. I live 30 miles outside of town, so it’s closer for me to go to Dickson which is a town just a little bigger than Roanoke, where I’m from. But yeah, it’s a completely different town in just the time I’ve been there. Johnny’s been there 15 years. It must have been like Urban Cowboy when he got into town.

by Birmingham Stages: Even though you live in an area that has a large concentration of musicians, is there a community feel to it or are you all busy going in different directions?

Bayliss: Until I had kids, it was very much like a community. Me and the wife would go out and everybody pretty well knows everybody. There’s something to be said for the vibe of living around loads of musicians and people you can learn from and look up to and who look up to you. I’ve got two kids now and when I’m home, I’m mostly home.

Birmingham Stages: The Steel Woods sound is very timeless and Southern-influenced. Do you strive for a certain feel in your songwriting? How would you sum up your band’s style?

Bayliss: We’re not putting a whole lot of work into a particular sound – it’s just what we’re doing. When we’re writing, we want to get the right vibe for the song. I really like stories. Even though the days of music videos have come and gone, I think of that stuff and I try to write words that will make you think of a music video and we don’t even have to film one.

65 South Presents: The Steel Woods at Zydeco on Friday, January 25. Josh Card will open the 9 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $12 and can be purchased at www.zydecobirmingham.com.

The Steel Woods in-store performance at Seasick Records will take place on Thursday, January 17 at 6 p.m.


Bread Crumbs for My Kids: A Conversation with Alejandro Escovedo

By Brent Thompson

Immigrant’s son, husband, father, tireless rock & roller, survivor – all of these descriptions define Alejandro Escovedo. Born into a musically-rich family, the 67-year-old singer/songwriter has woven his life experiences into a catalog of songs that is fresh and timeless at once. In September, Escovedo released The Crossing [Yep Roc Records], an album that documents the immigrant experience over its 17 tracks. Centered around two fictional characters, Salvo and Diego, The Crossing addresses the current state of our nation while touching on Escovedo’s own family heritage. On Tuesday, January 8, Escovedo will perform at Saturn. Cured of the Hepatitis C that plagued his life and career for many years – and now living in Dallas after a long stint in Austin – the stalwart musician recently spoke with us by phone.

Birmingham Stages: Alejandro, thanks for your time. I can only imagine the number of phone interviews you’ve done over the years.

Alejandro Escovedo: Believe me, when they stop I’ll be complaining [laughs].

Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about your adopted hometown of Dallas.

Escovedo: I love it, man. I’m really having a great time. I live in a wonderful place surrounded by great people and a lot of musicians. Change was good for us – we’re happy.

Birmingham Stages: What prompted your move from Austin to Dallas?

Escovedo: There were a lot of things involved. We had been in that hurricane and we were dealing with PTSD and I was just about to start medication to get rid of the Hep C. Austin had become very expensive, very different. My wife had a job here working on a movie – a TV series called Queen of the South – and it was only supposed to be for four to six months. But when we first got here, I began taking that medicine which was a six-month program and I got rid of it here in Dallas. Things started to brighten up for us and it became a good place to be. We’re very happy.

Birmingham Stages: I assume the present state of our nation fueled the subject matter of The Crossing. With that said, had documenting the immigration experience been in your plans long before the writing and recording of this album?

Escovedo: I’ve always written about my family and my father was from Mexico, so he was an immigrant. I wrote a play called By the Hand of the Father that we took on the road. It’s always been part of my writing process – it’s where I go. Family’s always been important – the journey of my family to America and everything my dad did in order to provide us with the things he did. The things we experienced as a result of growing up in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s has always been part of my story.

I think that on this record we really narrowed it down and focused on these two young men who were looking for a different America than what my father was looking for when he crossed. These young boys are coming across the border to look for an aesthetically-open America. The story is different but the journey is much the same. It’s not just about crossing the border – it’s about these young boys’ transformation from young men to men. Salvo is killed in America and Diego contemplates if the trip was even worth it at a certain point. So, The Crossing really represents different types of transformations in their lives.

Birmingham Stages: Were the songs on The Crossing newer compositions, older songs or a mixture of both?

Escovedo: I wrote this with [Italian musician] Don Antonio and Antonio Gramentieri is his name – we wrote it together. We talked about it when we were touring Southern Italy. He came over maybe six months later and we spent almost a month driving around Texas – the backroads – talking to a lot of Dreamers in this area around Dallas. We came up with 17 pieces of music by the time he had left. We had an outline of the story and it wasn’t until I went to Italy – I was there for about a month – that I wrote all the lyrics to the songs. So, it really kind of came quick but it was a story that was embedded in our psyche, too. A lot of what these songs represent is what Antonio and I have gone through in our lives.

Birmingham Stages: You mentioned in an interview with Rolling Stone that The Crossing also serves as a letter of sorts to your children.

Escovedo: I think all of my albums and songs have been like bread crumbs for my kids to discover a little bit about myself that they’re not aware of. I’ve been a hard traveler for many years – 45 years – and we’ve always been on the road. That’s the way artists like myself make their living. So, you’re gone a lot. I missed a lot of little league games and school events and things like that. The only method I have of communicating with them are these songs. My father was a storyteller and the stories that he told me helped me understand who he was as a boy and how that led to him becoming a man and my father. Hopefully, these songs will bear the same kind of gift.

Alejandro Escovedo will perform with Don Antonio at Saturn on Tuesday, January 8. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets to the 18+ show are $25 – $40 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

Road Trip Recap: Umphrey’s McGee in Atlanta 12/28 – 12/31

By Adam Johnson

Fans of the jam scene will often talk of going to a show as an experience. They will recount their experience in a way that conveys a deeper connection. Every show is special- meaningful in its own unique way. We discuss the band with the pageantry that rivals only the most loyal Alabama/Auburn fans. We “geek” out on how a setlist was engineered. We will spend hours studying how “this one song” played at “this venue” is nuanced in a way that you can understand only if you were there. Our passions overflowing- this is my story about my NYE run. 

My first Umphrey’s show was New Year’s Eve 2010 in Chicago. It is only fitting that my 50th would be a New Year’s Eve show as well. The four-night Atlanta run started strong and set the bar high. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Umphrey’s set the stage for a NYE run that would have a long list of epic bustouts, teases, debuts, collaborations and set several records for the band. More on that later… 

Night one highlights:

Set one- Higgins, August 

Set two- Bridgeless (unfinished), Much Obliged, Time (Pink Floyd cover) 

Encore: In the Kitchen (unfinished), finish Bridgeless 

There’s something about the Tabernacle that makes for a great “Higgins.” This “Higgins” would be no exception to the rule. Set two opened with a strong “Bridgeless” and was left unfinished as they morphed into “Example 1.” No Umphrey’s show is complete without Waful’s artistry. Without his light show, the show just isn’t the same. Night one would be a special night for the senses as Waful’s turned the Tabernacle into a life-sized snow globe and a blanket of fog so thick you almost had to climb your way through it. The Encore put a nice cap on the night as we were treated to a four-night cliffhanger with “In The Kitchen.” As we continued to breathe in the open-minded air, the band finished the night by revisiting “Bridgeless” that was left unfinished from the set two-opener. 

Night two was an interesting evening. While some songs seemed abbreviated at times, the jams from the evening were tight and long. Stasik, Kris and Andy seemed to be exploring quite a bit and were really in sync. Despite some debate over whether a couple of jams were stopped short, they featured highlights from each band member at one point or another. 

Night two highlights:

Set one- 2 x 2, Band on the Run (Paul McCartney and Wings cover- bustout tune with a 781 show gap) 

Set two- Wappy Sprayberry, YYZ (Rush cover, bustout tune with a 324 show gap) 

The “2×2” was one for the Hall of Fame in my opinion. At times the band produced a groove so hypnotic, the crowd made the entire venue shake. I’m a sucker for a good cover tune and the first set cover of Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” brought a smile to everyone’s face. Newcomers and avid followers had something to celebrate with the bustout of this one. You can’t deny the pull of “Wappy”- it’s a personal favorite for me. The mix of trance-like grooves, metal crunch, happy up-beat dance sounds and plenty of space for each member of the band (Waful’s included) to explore. We were also treated to another bustout, and cover tune when they guys played Rush’s “YYZ” and nailed it. 

Night three was such a unique, special night for me! I think this night alone will go down as a top five for sure. Just when you thought they couldn’t do something “new,” they proved you wrong with an original 

trick up their sleeve. From the design of the set-list, to the collaborations, each song seemed to provide a special touch, making for a most magical evening. 

Night three highlights:

Set one- 1348 opener with long jam and left unfinished, Utopian Fir with Genesis tease, Made to Measure (only my second time to see this one) with Jeff Coffin on sax, Virtual Insanity (Jamiroquai cover- this one is very special to me- in addition to it being unique to me, it’s the first time UM covered Jamiroquai and, they had Jeff Coffin on sax, Cory Wong on guitar and Jake on keys) 

Set two- Ocean Billy, Can’t Rock my Dream Face (only second time played and bustout with a 281 show gap), All in Time set closer 

Encore- Triple Wide (also another very special tune) and 1348 finished in the encore 

Walking away from the venue from night three was a bit surreal. So many highlights packed into one night. Usually you get all of that over the course of a 3-night run. UM packs all of that into one night! How can you not be hooked and begging for more? 

Night four, New Year’s Eve marked a milestone for me! Show number 50! I woke up bright and early that day and felt like a kid on Christmas Eve. Counting down the minutes until showtime all day. Reminding myself, this is what I need. 

Before I cover the highlights, I need to explain something. My connection to music started at an early age. Some of my favorite memories as a kid are when we would spend all night listening to tapes and watching mom play Pac-Man on Nintendo. She took me to my first concert, INXS. It was the “Kick” tour. We would listen to that particular tape over and over while she would play Nintendo. I lost my mom in 1989- she was 36. Several weeks ago, I had a dream that I met Umphrey’s and shared my story with them. In my dream we were hanging out I asked if they would please play an INXS song for her. They sort of laughed it off and left it as a “we’ll see.” That was only in my dream of course and not in real life. I have a personal philosophy not to request a song from a band. Rather to trust the music and let the set-list create the experience it’s supposed to. Trust the band. 

Night four highlights:

Set one- Cemetery Walk II into Cemetery Walk (first time they’ve reversed the order of these two), Roundabout (Yes cover and bustout 311 show gap) 

Set two- Draconian, Whistle Kids (Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret on horns), Looks (Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret on horns and Dr. Feelgood jam/lyrics) 

Set three- Hurt Bird Bath, In The Kitchen (finish from night one), Booth Love (Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret on horns), What You Need (INXS cover, first time ever playing INXS, Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret on horns) 

Encore- The encore could be a stand-alone show honestly. Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret started up in the balcony while the band took the stage. The band and MDFLS took a band-vs-horns battle and played: with In the Mood (Glenn Miller), The Ocean (Led Zeppelin), Voodoo Child (Jimi Hendrix), So Fresh, So Clean (Outkast), Donna Lee (Charlie Parker), and Unskinny Bop (Poison), then they went into Hajimemashite into Detroit Rock City (KISS cover and bustout with a 674 show gap). 

Umphrey’s MCGee will be back on tour when they kick off the “Wax On, Wax Off” tour in Richmond, Va. on January 11.

Music industry vet Todd Coder launches CODE-R Productions

By Brent Thompson

Todd Coder has been a fixture on the Birmingham music scene and beyond for many years. Now, the veteran promoter and talent buyer – known for bringing high-profile, national touring acts to WorkPlay, The Lyric Theatre, Avondale Brewing Company and numerous other venues and festivals – is launching his own company, CODE-R Productions. Based in Birmingham, the company will book shows at Iron City, The Lyric Theatre, Nashville’s Mercy Lounge, Cannery Ballroom and the High Watt among many others. 

“Starting my own company is something that I’ve envisioned for years but it just never came to fruition,” says Coder. “I’ve been lucky enough to establish outstanding relationships in the industry over the last two decades. I’ve gained a tremendous amount of experience from programming and producing major events and by working with a multitude of artists and venues during this period. It was obvious to me that the time was now.”

Exiting Emporium Presents after a two-year stint, Coder leaves the company on good terms and says he envisions a continued alliance with his former employer.

“The experience that I gained alongside Dan (Steinberg) and Josh (Zink) and the rest of the team at Emporium Presents is unparalleled and will forever be appreciated. I look forward to working even more with them in the future.”

https://coderproductions.com

Elemental: A Conversation with Sister Hazel’s Mark Trojanowski

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Dave Schlenker

As grunge filled the airwaves in the ’90s, an antithetical and hopeful sound rang out that was both fresh and familiar. The band responsible for that sound was Florida’s Sister Hazel. More than 20 years later, the quintet – Ken Block, Jeff Beres, Andrew Copeland, Ryan Newell and Mark Trojanowski (aided by touring member Dave LaGrande) – is expanding its audience while retaining its loyal fan base. Two Sister Hazel EPs released earlier this year, Wind and Water (from a thematic series titled “Elements”), appeared on Billboard’s Country Charts. In addition to recording and touring, the group remains committed to its multiple charitable endeavors. On Thursday, November 29, Sister Hazel will perform at Iron City. J. R. Moore (from Ingram Hill) will open the 8 p.m. show. Recently, drummer Trojanowski spoke with us by phone from his Atlanta home.

Birmingham Stages: Mark, thanks for your time. We are looking forward to Sister Hazel’s Birmingham show. As you know, our city has enthusiastically supported your band for many years.

Mark Trojanowski: It’s definitely been a city that was there for us with the first record and ever since then. We knew a lot of the radio programmers there from day one and Birmingham was also instrumental in breaking “Push” for Matchbox Twenty, too. That station there [WRAX FM] supported bands and our genre and helped develop a fan base for us. Between doing the Crawfish Boils and the other shows, we really have a great fan base there.

Birmingham Stages: Sister Hazel has maintained the same lineup for more than 20 years, a rarity in the music industry. How has your band maintained such consistency?

Trojanowski: I think a lot of it had to do with our philosophy. Bands that came out during our time period would put out a record and then disappear for a year and a half or two years and they’d try to start the machine up again and it was so difficult. We did that only on our first record because we needed a break. We did three years of 200-plus dates and we turned down an offer to tour with Aerosmith because we thought the band would break up if we went and did it [laughs]. Ever since that point, we never have gone away. For the last 10 to 15 years, we pretty much play every month and we play six to 10 shows per month. That has worked for our families, our home lives and meeting the needs of our fans. You just can’t disappear for months or years at a time and hope to have a consistent career, especially if you’re independent and doing everything on your own. Touring is the only way to keep yourself going.

Birmingham StagesWe are enjoying the Wind and Water EPs from the “Elements” series. If you will, tell us how the concept took flight.

Trojanowski: It came upon us out of nowhere. We got into the studio and recorded three songs and there was a push to record three more songs and put out an EP because we had all of this momentum. Why do we have to wait until we finish 12 songs? People are buying singles now anyway and don’t even care about full-length records. So, we had that concept of putting something out quick to get music out. From that point, Jeff – our bass player – came up with the concept of putting out four EPS in 24 months and trying to come up with a theme for it. But it was more than just getting out music quicker and it fit our touring life and home life. We didn’t have to stress about recording 12 songs and mixing and mastering and all of that  – you could do a little bit at a time and get it out. It worked better with our touring schedule.

Birmingham Stages: Expanding on your point of releasing music on your own terms, some artists applaud the current climate given the available avenues to reach listeners – Youtube, iTunes and other modern outlets – and the ease of do-it-yourself recording. Other artists say that today’s climate creates clutter and over-saturation for all of those same reasons. How do you view the current industry?

Trojanowski: I have mixed views. All of the technology and accessibility is great. When we first got signed to [record label] Universal, we didn’t want tour support but we wanted $10,000 to build a website because we knew where things were going digitally. They looked at us like we were crazy. I think what bothers me as a songwriter and an artist is that people that make movies and write books all got it right and the record companies and the Recording Academy blew it. There should be no reason why someone that writes or records a song is treated any differently than someone who puts out a book. People are still paying for books, whether they’re on kindles or in hardback or paperback. But ever since Napster, everyone expects music to be free. It’s frustrating because you just cut off an income stream to everyone who basically makes original music. There’s no money in streaming. [Technology] is great to get it out there, but I think that the people running the recording industry at the time didn’t have their act together and didn’t find a way to protect everyone. Now the train has left the station and there’s no going back. As soon as they went to single downloads, that was the end because it killed the record.

Birmingham Stages: Each night, there are certain songs that remain constant in your set list. How do those songs stay fresh after you’ve played them hundreds or even thousands of times?

Trojanowski: That’s a good question. There are two things with that. One, we try to do some different versions of songs over the years. “Champagne High” is a great example. We went through a time period where it was like the record and then we created an extended solo section and then it became an acoustic song and then it was a trio a cappella song. So that’s one way. We tried to make changes to “All For You” over the years, but some songs you just play them the way they are. Also, people sing back the lyrics and that makes it fresh because it’s fresh to them. You look at how people react to a song after 25 years. You always have 10 core songs you have to play and the rest is a mixture.

Sister Hazel will perform at Iron City on Thursday, November 29. J.R. Moore (from Ingram Hill) will open the 8 p.m. all-ages show. Advance tickets are $20 and can be purchased at www.ironcitybham.com.

In Print: The Alligator Records Story Gets Told

By Brent Thompson

Bitten by the Blues: The Alligator Records Story

Bruce Iglauer & Patrick A. Roberts

The University of Chicago Press

October 2018

For a young Bruce Iglauer, Chicago was heaven – and a haven – for a blues fan seeking the real thing. The city’s South Side clubs rang out with sounds of the genre’s true legends. Taking his passion to the next level, Iglauer produced and distributed Hound Dog Taylor’s debut album and Alligator Records was born. Since then, the label has released recordings by Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, Albert Collins, Johnny Winter and Son Seals among countless others. In Bitten by the Blues, Iglauer – with the help of Patrick Roberts – recalls the sessions and stories that turned his record label into a national treasure. Along the way, we learn about Chicago blues in general and Alligtator’s place in its fertile scene. And though he likely wouldn’t take credit for it, Iglauer’s label played a vital role in keeping a sometimes less-than-commercial – yet distinctly American – art form relevant.

In addition to being an enjoyable read for blues and Chicago enthusiasts, Bitten by the Blues reminds us that one’s passion can become one’s profession. Genuine Houserockin’ Music indeed.

https://www.press.uchicago.edu/index.html

 

 

 

Joy Williams Brings “Porch” Songs to WorkPlay

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Andy Barron

Since 2001, Joy Williams has released a steady stream of music, both as a solo artist and as one-half of The Civil Wars. In 2019, the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter will release the album Front Porch [Sensibility/Thirty Tigers]. Two tracks from the upcoming album (produced by Kenneth Pattengale of The Milk Carton Kids), “Canary” and “The Trouble With Wanting,” are available now. On Thursday, November 1, Emporium Presents: Joy Williams at WorkPlay. Anthony da Costa will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $20 and can be purchased at www.workplay.com.

 

Always An Adventure: A Conversation with Robby Staebler of All Them Witches

By Brent Thompson

For its 2017 release Sleeping Through The War [New West Records], All Them Witches enlisted the help of A-list producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson). But when it came time to record the recently-released follow-up album ATW [Red River], the band’s members – Robby Staebler, Charles Michael Parks, Jr. and Ben McLeod – put the production duties into familiar hands: their own. On Wednesday, October 31, All Them Witches will perform at Saturn. The Birmingham show marks the opening night of the band’s upcoming tour. Handsome Jack will open the 9 p.m. show. Recently, Staebler spoke with us by phone from his Tennessee home.

Birmingham Stages: Robby, thanks for your time. If you will, talk about the creation of the ATW album.

Robby Staebler: There were two things on that album that existed in some random form. “Half Tongue” – we just started playing that at a soundcheck at some point last year, just that riff. The other one was the heavy part of “Rob’s Dream” – that was something that me and Ben recorded years ago, like when we first started the band. That was something that we demoed and never looked at it again. Everything else just came about it – it was another fast process which has its drawbacks and bonuses, but it was a relatively quick thing. Over the course of two weeks of writing sessions and rehearsals, we basically structured the album and took another week to sit down and record it in a place we rented.

Birmingham Stages: It must be nice to write and record in such a quick, efficient manner.

Staebler: The last three albums we did were a relatively similar process. We just took an extra week with this one. I think we’re going to do something different for this next record. We were all living in different places, but I’ve moved back to Tennessee and I’m a good middle spot between Parks and Ben and I’ve got a studio. I’m renting a church and we’ve been rehearsing a bunch and just jamming. We haven’t been able to hang out and just jam for probably five years. We’re looking forward to this year and everyone being close and being able to play whenever we feel like it. I live 50 miles outside of Nashville because I can’t handle [living in Nashville] – I can’t be distracted. If I live in Nashville, I’m going to bars and making friends and spending all of my money. I live in this really small town and all I do is play drums everyday and work on graphics.

Birmingham Stages: After working with Dave Cobb on Sleeping Through The War, your band decided – with Ben at the helm, as the album’s press release states – to self-produce ATW. If you will, talk about that decision.

Staebler: It wasn’t really much of a discussion. We could’ve gone the same route – the producer thing – but we don’t really need someone to nudge us in directions. I’m not saying working with Dave diluted our process at all because it didn’t. It was a new experience and it was exciting. But we’re confident enough to be what we want and not really seek outside counsel for things like that. Ben’s super nerdy about the engineering aspect and recording – he really wanted to be at the helm, as they said. It was super easy and it was fun and relaxing. We could go as late or early as we wanted – there was no rush.

Birmingham Stages: At this point, do you see the band using the self-produced approach on upcoming albums?

Staebler: I think so. We’ve always been doing it ourselves with the exception of the last one. I’d put my money on us doing it ourselves.

Birmingham Stages: Your band is known for is work ethic and incessant touring schedule. How do you guys maintain that level of intensity?

Staebler: Because we’re each a real musician and that’s what our whole lives have been to this point. We’ve always played music and now I can pay my rent, see progress and talk to people and see that [our music] means something to them. If you call that “work ethic,” then you can, but we’re just doing what we love to do and being able to pay our rent doing it is more motivation. It’s always an adventure. We love traveling – it’s hard, it’s tiring and we miss our girlfriends, our families and our pets. But you only live once and if we get to go around the world and play stuff that we made and share our art with people, then we have to keep doing it.

Birmingham Stages: Going back to the subject of do-it-yourself recording and producing, artists now can forge careers without the required help of a label. Some artists say that’s great and some say it creates clutter because there is no gatekeeper. Simply put, anyone can record and release an album anytime. How do you view today’s overall climate?

Staebler: It’s definitely a pro that you can do it on the cheap. It’s accessible to people who couldn’t do it before and they can do it now. If they really want to do it, they can do it. It’s very saturated, but it’s just the world we live in. You can’t do anything about it. It’s just a matter of chance that someone listens and passes it on. There are so many things people will never hear that are amazing. Maybe it’s luck of the draw, but that’s how it is.

All Them Witches will perform at Saturn on Wednesday, October 31. Handsome Jack will open the 9 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $12 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

Still Making Good Records: A Conversation with Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers

By Carey Hereford

  Photo Credit: Danny Clinch

Muscle Shoals native Patterson Hood formed Drive-By Truckers in 1996 with his longtime friend and former roommate Mike Cooley. Since then, the band has released 11 studio albums and four live albums. The quintet – known for its blend of alternative and Southern rock – has an upcoming three-night run at Saturn on November 6-8. Recently, we spoke with Hood by phone about the recent album release by Adam’s House Cat (his former band with Cooley), his relocation to Portland, OR and the Truckers’ upcoming shows this fall.

Birmingham Stages: Patterson, thank you for you time. Recently you released the Adam’s House Cat album that was recorded in early ’90s. What are some details about this band and why did you choose now to release this album?

Patterson Hood: Adam’s House Cat was together in 1985 through 1991 and we were based out of Muscle Shoals area. We usually played Monday at the Nick in downtown Birmingham, and if it rained just about no one would show up. During that time, we regularly played the Nick and other places that are long gone like the the Tip Top in Huntsville. But by like the fifth or the sixth year we had become a pretty big band, yet we never had a big following. We had just finished the album right around the time that the band had broken up, and we decided not to release. This record we put everything – our heart and soul into it –  and ended up not releasing it. That was something that was always eating at Cooley and I. So, of course me and Cooley went on to form The Truckers; We put out several albums and played well over 2,000 shows. This year I made it my New Year’s resolution to release that album. All of the tapes of the original mixes were lost, so we needed to remix it. A few weeks ago we released the album, and did a few reunion shows which was great because that was the first time we had played together in about 27 years.

Birmingham Stages: How do you decide if the songs you write are meant for Drive-By Truckers or for your solo records?

Hood: I mean a lot of it has to to do with timing and a lot of has to do with the direction of the song and the direction that the band is in at the time. Recently, I have written a group of songs that will someday be a solo record. I was in the process of writing what will be the next Drive-by-Truckers record, and the first bunch of songs that I wrote for it just did not hit me as songs that would fit the band. Yet they were songs that I really liked so at some point when I have time I do want to get around to making that record. It turns out I continued writing and ended up writing what I needed for the next Truckers record and got those songs recorded, and I hope we can get that new album released by next fall.

Birmingham Stages: How has it been living in Portland, Oregon? Why did you choose to live there as opposed to living somewhere closer to the South?

Hood: It has been great. Unfortunately, I have not spent much time there in past few months because I have spent more time in Athens, Georgia than there place where I live with my family. I am 54 now and spent 53 years of my life living in two small towns in two states, Florence, Alabama and Athens, Georgia. It never dawned on me when I was young that I would live somewhere outside the South. We were in a situation where developers ran us out of the neighborhood that we were living in near Athens. I thought maybe this is telling I need to experience something else. It has been really hard moving my whole family across the whole country, yet it has been rewarding in some places, too.

Birmingham Stages: Are there any songs that you wrote for either the Drive-by-Truckers or yourself that seem unfinished or could be improved in anyway?

Hood: I am always pretty self critical when it comes to writing music. I feel like I am certainly a better writer than I have been at any other point. It is always pretty easy to go back and see things that I could have done differently. But overall, I am in peace with most of my writing. I probably have a harder time listening to my vocals of older songs than the writing itself. I have worked really hard over the past 20 years to become a better singer and I think I have made a good bit of progress in the last seven or eight years. But when I hear my vocals from some of the earlier songs they can make me cringe pretty bad.

Birmingham Stages: How do you make the band’s older songs stay fresh in comparison to the new ones?

Hood: I definitely do not feel any need to do everything the same way it was done on the record. If there is a line in a song that I feel like makes it a better song now, I will certainly do it live. If there is a way of singing it or playing it differently the band can do it. The Truckers over 20 years have had many personnel changes and they all seemed to end about seven years ago. We landed on this lineup and have stayed extremely stable since then. Prior to that it was a kind of revolving door of third guitar players and bass players. It is never expected for a new guitar player to play a song the same way a former guitar player would play it. Whoever is in the band I want them to make the catalog their own. We did a live album a few years back in San Francisco at the Fillmore and it contains many reinterpretations of songs on it. That is a record I am really proud of – I really like how the band plays all those songs. But I am not in anyway disparaging any of the former live albums – I am really proud of all of the versions of this band.

Birmingham Stages: What is the process of making your setlist each time you play?

Hood: We do not – we never do a setlist. We basically decide the first song shortly before we start playing. Everything that happens after that is decided on the spot, we have a clock on stage so we know where we are on time so they do not have to end up pulling the power. We generally know where we are going to end. But we cue each other with hand signals like baseball players use for which song we are going to play next. The goal is to make it feel like to the audience that there is a setlist. This process keep us on our toes and makes the show more fun for all of us because we do not really know what is going to happen next. This also makes us not play the same show twice and keeps all of our songs fresh.

Birmingham Stages: In your opinion, do think rock-and-roll is dead or gone?

Hood: I definitely do not think it’s dead – it’s not the cultural defining thing at this point in time. Hip-hop is certainly the big news of the past two or three decades. There are still great still great rock bands and great rock music. Being in the business of live music and touring around rock-and-roll is still the greatest ticket seller of live shows. Fortunately, we are at a point where we can support our families doing what we love. Also, we are still making good records. Our most recent record, in my opinion, was one of the best records we have ever made – even the most successful record we have ever made. For a 22-year-old band, that is something really to be proud of.

Drive-By Truckers will perform at Saturn on November 6, 7 & 8. Showtime each night is 8 p.m. Advance tickets to the 18+ shows are $27 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.