Highway Song: A Conversation with The Vegabonds’ Daniel Allen

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Michael Weintrob

Daniel Allen – lead vocalist of The Vegabonds – has an easygoing demeanor considering that his band is playing in Wisconsin on the night of our conversation and its van is being repaired in Kentucky that same day. Asking if he would like to reschedule our call in light of the aggravation, he just laughs and says it’s a good time to talk as he is just sitting. Somehow this mental picture befits a band that tours as incessantly as The Vegabonds. Comprised of Alabama natives and current Nashville residents, the quintet released its fifth album, V (Blue Elan Records), in January. With a style reflecting the timeless sounds of Tom Petty and The Allman Brothers Band, The Vegabonds are reverent and relevant at the same time. On Saturday, August 10, the band will perform at Zydeco’s Jam in the Ham Festival. While patiently waiting at the dealership in Kentucky, Allen weighs in on the band’s new album, songwriting and today’s musical climate in general.

Birmingham Stages: Daniel, thanks for your time. We are enjoying the new album, though I assume you have been living with these songs for quite a while.

Daniel Allen: Actually, I was just thinking about that – it’s funny you said that. One of the songs on the album – it’s actually the last track called “Help Is On The Way” – I was thinking about how long ago we wrote that one and it was probably written in 2013, which is crazy to me.

Birmingham Stages: Are the songs on V newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Allen: Most of them are new. “Help Is On the Way” is an older song, but it’s the first one we went to and the first one we recorded for this album – that kind of got the ball rolling. The first track on the album called “Partyin’ With Strangers” – we released that as a single about a year and four months before the record came out. We’ve been playing these songs live for probably a year and a half before the record came out.

Birmingham Stages: Why do you think “Help Is On The Way” resurfaced after so many years?

Allen: I think lyrically it hit us in a certain way. It’s basically talking about how in 2008 and 2009 the whole market crashed. It touched a lot of people in Alabama and it touched my family personally. My dad had a building materials business that kind of went under because the housing market was crap. That’s basically what the song is about – going through that situation personally and as a country as well. It touched everybody.

Birmingham Stages: How do you feel about the current musical climate? Some artists applaud avenues such as iTunes, Youtube, satellite radio and Spotify. Others say the current setup makes it difficult to be found among the crowd.

Allen: I do feel the same way about both of those statements. It’s great that you can put out a single or an album and somebody in Japan can listen to it as soon as you put it out. I think that’s crazy and it’s awesome. But at the same time, bands on our level aren’t making money off records anymore. Where we find [technology] beneficial is on the touring side which is what we do year-round. It’s easy for people to listen to music which brings them out to the shows, which in turn enables us to connect to them a lot easier. I know how it was in the older days, but I wasn’t doing music then and this is the only way I know. Apple Music and Spotify are great avenues to get your music out there and we use them as tools for touring. It’s shortened attention spans for people because there is so much music out there. To me, it’s hard to get hooked on an album these days because there’s so much content out there. You have to figure out how to reach people.

Birmingham Stages: How does your writing process work? Is there a set routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike?

Allen: I’m writing all the time, even on the road. I’m jotting down notes and lines and throwing them in my phone or my notebook. When I get home, I get my son off to daycare and then I’m sitting down writing songs. It’s almost like I can’t turn it off.

The Vegabonds will perform at Zydeco’s Jam in the Ham on Saturday, August 10. Advance tickets to the 18+ event are $15 and can be purchased at www.zydecobirmingham.com.

A Beautiful Discovery: Catching Up With The Smoking Flowers

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Eric England for The East Nashvillian

Kim and Scott Collins are partners in every sense of the word. The married couple – known musically as The Smoking Flowers – performs strictly as a duo and owns the record label Bandaloop Music. Equal parts alt-country, punk and classic rock, The Smoking Flowers’ sound is timeless and fresh at the same time. The band recently released two albums – 2018’s Let’s Die Together and the 2019 acoustic outing Snowball Out Of Hell. On Saturday, August 10, The Smoking Flowers will perform at Marty’s PM. Recently, Kim and Scott spoke with us by phone from their East Nashville home.

Birmingham Stages: Kim and Scott, thanks for your time. We are really enjoying Let’s Die Together.

Kim Collins: We’re still touring for it. We just put out another record but (Let’s Die Together) is still the focus.

Birmingham Stages: Were the songs on Let’s Die Together and Snowball Out Of Hell newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Scott Collins: The material on Let’s Die Together was definitely the newest stuff that we had written at the time of recording. It was the lion’s share of our live shows and it still is. On the acoustic record we put out a couple of weeks ago, there are songs that are different versions of songs on Let’s Die Together, but they’re acoustic presentations of them. Some of the songs on that record were old, lost gems that we rediscovered.

Birmingham Stages: How do older songs resurface and eventually become relevant to you?

Kim: Sometimes it’s just, “Oh, you remember that song?” It’s not that we don’t have any new ideas – we go back so deep in songwriting. I’m 30 years deep on material and Scott is 20 years. We have a back catalog and sometimes you don’t want an old song just sitting there collecting dust, so there’s no rhyme or reason to it.

Scott: I feel some songs are like wine – you lay them down in the cellar and 10 or 20 years – lyrically or musically – they make more sense or they’re more relevant to your personal life and that was the case for those. When a couple of these songs were originally conceived, I was singing them and sometimes letting a female sing the song gives the song a whole different identity.

Birmingham Stages: A difficult part of a touring musician’s life is going on the road and leaving loved ones behind. As a married couple, that situation obviously doesn’t apply to you. If you will, talk about the unique experience of being a married, touring couple.

Kim: Living in Nashville, I’ve seen the challenges of so many friends in relationships with musicians. What it creates for us is that we get this lifestyle together. As dreamers and lovers of travel, it’s ideal for us. Not everybody can play together, live together and go on the road together, but it makes us stronger together. It’s been a beautiful discovery.

Scott: We’re more and more grateful the older we get – it’s a special blessing to have.

Birmingham Stages: With only two of you in the band, how would you describe your musical approach? Though bands such as yours, Shovels & Rope and The White Stripes have recorded and performed as duos, it’s still an uncommon setup.

Scott: The live focus is on the vocal performance and dynamics. It’s something that’s scary at first, but after 10 years of touring it’s like method acting almost – we just react to one another. That’s nice because you never just go through the motions – you can really be in the moment.

Kim: I will say that I try to trick Scott [laughs] like taking it down dynamically where we’ve never done it before just for own good and it translates to the audience. We’ve gotten good at following each other. In not having other players, we’re able to do that more freely.

Birmingham Stages: You both play several instruments. Which instrument do you typically use for songwriting?

Kim: Mostly guitar.

Scott: I will say it comes in handy with songwriting. You can start something on guitar, but when you play it on piano or mandolin it can reveal entirely different things about the song. So, it’s nice being able to do that.

Kim: I like to even hash it out on drums to give it a certain rhythm or vibe and that can help you go in a different direction.

Birmingham Stages: As label owners, you are a great example of the freedom available to artists in today’s music industry. How do you reconcile the pros and cons of today’s climate in the era of iTunes, Youtube and satellite radio?

Kim: There are a lot of pros, but the one con I’ve found is not being able to reach a larger audience when you own your own label. The larger labels have access to late night shows and Saturday Night Live or getting [an artist] to open for a big band – you can’t do that without a big label.

Scott: If you choose to do the indie thing, you have to realize it’s the arena you’re playing in and go for that and build your audience on a club and theatre level. But artistically, the pro is you never have to answer to anyone. You can really blaze your own trail.

The Smoking Flowers will perform at Marty’s PM on Saturday, August 10. For more information, call (205) 939-0045 or visit www.martyspm.com.

Road Trip Recap: Gibson’s Summer NAMM Jam

Legendary guitar manufacturer hosts star-studded event in Music City

By Brent Thompson

On July 18, Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon provided a spacious and inviting setting for Gibson’s 2019 Summer NAMM Jam. Les Pauls and 335s roared with authority as an eclectic mix of artists performed in the nearly three-hour event. Jason Isbell, Lee Roy Parnell, Chris Isaak, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Cassadee Pope, Parmalee, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jim James and Nathaniel Rateliff – among others – played to a capacity crowd.

Chris Isaak
Jason Isbell
Jason Isbell
Cassadee Pope
Lee Roy Parnell
Ray Wylie Hubbard & Aaron Lee Tasjan
Parmalee
Jim James
Nathaniel Rateliff

The Deeper Meaning: A Conversation with Jimbo Mathus

By Brent Thompson

Photo courtesy of the artist

Jimbo Mathus’ musical existence is characterized by a revolving collection of people, instruments and genres. A solo artist that has been associated with several projects – most notably Squirrel Nut Zippers – Mathus is continually exploring new creative avenues. In April, Mathus released Incinerator [Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum Records], an 11-track collection that includes contributions from Lilly Hiatt and Andrew Bird. On Thursday, July 18, Mathus will perform at The Nick with Kate Taylor Hollingsworth opening the 10 p.m. show. Recently, Mathus spoke with us by phone from his Taylor, Miss. home.

Birmingham Stages: Jimbo, thanks for your time. How is your touring schedule these days?

Jimbo Mathus: It’s really mixed. With the Zippers, I go sometimes for two, three or four weeks. With Incinerator, I’m just starting with where people know who I am and might be interested in what I’m doing and I try to expand out from there. I’ve had a solo career since mid-’90s and it’s just one foot in front of the other. There’s no hard and fast rule.

Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about the creation of the album.

Mathus: The producers were Matt Patton and Bronson Tew. Matt’s in Drive-By Truckers and The Dexateens and Bronson’s a great engineer and musician from Alabama. They just got me in there and we started New Year’s Day in 2018 and we really had no plan other than to get me in there and be real comfortable. Instead of tracking the songs on guitar, I tracked them on piano and we left a lot of space. We work pretty fast and we don’t over-work a record. We started this about a year ago and it’s already out and we’re touring behind it.

I like to make records that mean more and I should know what I’m doing after 40 years. I like to have a record with a purpose and a meaning, not just a collection of songs for the sake of a collection. I started seeing a concept take shape – the concept being, “Why is it that I do all these albums and why do I create all this music? Why has this been a lifelong passion and a calling?” I started realizing how much of what I do as a songwriter is capturing people and remembering people and how much people come and go in my life. There are a lot of songs dedicated to people that have been a huge influence on me that have passed away. There are a lot of songs on there about people in my life now that are inspiring and motivating to me. So, it took on this meditation on mortality and what’s the deeper meaning. At that point, I started looking back on songs in my history and one song is 30 years old. So I did go back and reimagine some things. Going back 30 years to a song, that’s a lot of recollection. I was pondering some things but didn’t have the bigger picture. After almost 300 songs and dozens of albums, there has to be a purpose – that’s what I’m searching for.

Birmingham Stages: I’m close to you in age and it can be hard to accept that we are to the point where losing family and friends becomes more and more common.

Mathus: We’re on the downside. A song like “Never Know Till It’s Gone” is a perfect example. You can ponder those things, but as a writer and musician people ask me to come perform music at funerals. To be a part of that part of life – it’s a real honor and a real privilege.

Birmingham Stages: How do you view the current musical climate? Some artists applaud the accessibility to listeners via iTunes, Youtube, Spotify and satellite radio. Other artists say it’s a challenging time to be found among the crowd.

Mathus: I think there are two parts to that. Yes, someone in Siberia can download my album and find me. When I came along, you had to physically go places and be very active. Now, you can easily do it and I like that a lot. There’s a lot more noise out there. How do you get through? Well, I’ve been a journeyman musician for all these years. I’ve had major highs – I’ve sold millions of records and I have Grammys and all that, but over the long term it’s about staying focused. Hopefully, a record like Incinerator comes out and can cut through the noise a little bit. There are people who want some bark and experience in their music and I can offer that through my songs and youthful zeal I present onstage and in the studio.

Birmingham Stages: With the large catalog of music you’ve created, how do you construct your set lists these days?

Mathus: The studio band is basically my backing band, so we’re basically presenting the Incinerator album in its entirety with all the harmonies. So, it’s more of a meditative show. Otherwise, it’s whatever I feel like doing [laughs].

Birmingham Stages: Keeping on the topic of your catalog, how do older songs stay fresh to you after you performed them hundreds of times?

Mathus: I can go back to that initial moment when the song came to me. Songs are like tombstones to me – you can go back and revisit them and the memories flood back. It’s like re-creating a moment and a memory.

Jimbo Mathus will perform at The Nick on Thursday, July 18. Kate Taylor Hollingsworth will open the 10 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 21+ show are $8 and can be purchased at www.thenickrocks.com.

People Will Respond: A Conversation with Hollis Brown’s Mike Montali

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

From Simon & Garfunkel to KISS and The Ramones, Queens, N.Y. has a rich musical history. Hollis Brown is a Queens-based band that plays a timeless brand of rock & roll befitting of its borough. In June, the quartet released Ozone Park, a 10-track collection produced by Adam Landry [Deer Tick, Rayland Baxter, Nikki Lane, Vanessa Carlton]. On Friday, July 12, the band will perform at The Nick with Onehundreds and VOLK opening the 10 p.m. show. Recently, Hollis Brown vocalist/guitarist Mike Montali spoke with us by phone from his New York home.

Birmingham Stages: Mike, thanks for your time. How did the Ozone Park material take shape? Were these newer songs, older songs or a mixture of both?

Mike Montali: I think it was a combination of both. A few of the songs had been around for a little while. We did three records in six years or so and we toured them all until the next one was out. We had written a couple and put them on the back burner, not knowing if they would be anything at all and we have a few of those right now – it’s always good to just be writing. We wrote a couple of them specifically for the album with the direction we wanted to take the sound. It was a bit of both – probably half and half.

Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about working with Adam Landry and the decision to record the album in South Florida.

Montali: Adam is a great producer. We met him through a friend named John McCauley – who’s in a band called Deer Tick – and he was working with him on a record and we really liked that record and John recommended Adam. He produced our record down in Nashville and when this record came around we called him up and our executive producer wanted us to use this studio down in Ft. Myers, Fla. and we said okay. We called Adam up, got him down there and we made the record happen that way. It was really a great experience because it was an escape from city life to be on the beach and go fishing after the sessions. It was a pretty cool experience and you can feel the summer vibe on the recording.

Birmingham Stages: You recorded and mixed the album in nine days. It must have been nice to work so quickly and efficiently.

Montali: That’s how I like to do things. I get bored really quickly, so taking two days get a drum sound would drive me crazy. We like to be as prepared as we can and go in and get that raw sound. If you’re prepared, you can do that and not wasted time and money. The raw idea is usually the better one.

Birmingham Stages: How do you feel about the current musical climate? Some artists applaud the accessibility that’s available via iTunes, Youtube and other modern outlets. Other artists say it’s difficult to be found among the crowd given that anyone can easily record and distribute music.

Montali: I think both exist – I think it’s a combination of the two. Depending on what day it is, I can feel either way. I think both are true, but at the end of the day it’s all relative. There are obstacles, but you have to keep doing what you believe in and work harder than the next group and people will respond.

Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process?

Montali: I usually do stuff on my iPhone. Paul Weller said, “When the faucet opens, try to catch as much water as you can.” Usually it comes pretty quickly and you try to catch it before it goes to the next person.

Hollis Brown will perform at The Nick on Friday, July 12. Onehundreds and VOLK will open the 10 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 21+ show are $8 and can be purchased at www.thenickrocks.com.

Road Trip: String Cheese Incident’s “Independence Incidents” in Atlanta

By Adam Johnson

Fox Theatre 

Atlanta, GA

July 5 & 6

They’re not shows, they’re incidents. If you’re new to it – or if you’ve not yet experienced it – that’s ok. “Give it a try, have an open mind and then form an opinion” was the advice given to us at my first incident. Keith Moseley (bass player for SCI) gave us that advice. I didn’t need to wait to form my opinion – I was already hooked. 

Fast forward to the 2019 “Independence Incidents.” What better way to celebrate our freedom than dancing with 4,500 of my closest strangers!?

The positive energy from the Fox Theatre could be felt for a 10 block radius. At first glance the Fox looks like she would be a small room with cramped rows and aisles. This could not be further from the truth! The room opens up and seems to be ever expansive. There isn’t a bad seat in the place. The staff is very friendly and I even noticed several unable to fight the urge so they busted out and started dancing with us! 

The first night highlights for me were…

Set 1: 

The funky explorations started early and you could not tell that they had not been in the Fox prior to this. The first stretch from “Got What He Wanted > Will it Go Round in Circles > Got What He Wanted > Rhum and Zouc” – SCI really opened up on this first series and set the tone for a really funky weekend. They wrapped up set one with a really fun version of “All We Got” that left us ready for more.

Set 2:

Opening strong with “Rollover > Impressions” – they had a lot of fun with both of these and kept the energy climbing. Then to get a great cover tune with “You Wreck Me” into “Bumpin’ Reel” had me smiling ear to ear!

Encore:

The encore sending us off with a cover of the reggae tune “Could You Be Loved”

Full Set List from July 5 2019 (credit to friendsofcheese.com)

Set 1

Black Clouds

Got What He Wanted

Will It Go Round in Circles

Got What He Wanted

Rhum N Zouc

Gone Crooked

Miss Brown’s Tea House

Cedar Laurels

All We Got

Set 2

Rollover

Impressions

You’ve Got the World

You Wreck Me

Bumpin’ Reel

Vertigo

Rollover

Encore

Could You Be Loved

Night 2:

Saturday night picked up exactly where Friday left off with lots of funk, dance and even more exploration. My personal highlights were:

“Hi Ho No Show” – they stretched this one out a bit and gave us time to really get into a groove!

The stretch from “45th of November” all the way to end of the set with “Into the Blue” – this seemed like the show was never going to stop. It is absolutely amazing how the guys can carry you from one song to the next and you really don’t even realize it’s happening!

“Yield Not To Temptation” with Rhonda Thomas singing to open the set was an unexpected treat! 

The best part of the weekend for sure was from “Search > Joyful Sound > Rumble > It Is What It Is > Colorado Bluebird Sky” – I’ve thought a lot about how to describe this and I can’t quite get my head around it. The show peaked at the start of “Search” but then again, and again and again. And when I thought that was it… they hit us “Colorado Bluebird Sky.” As if that wasn’t enough… they bring Rhonda back out and cover Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” for the icing on the cake. What a great way to celebrate our freedom! 

Set 1

Song In My Head, 

Water > Hi Ho No Show, 

Valerie (Amy Winehouse Cover),

 45th of November,

 MLT > Boo Boo’s Pik-A-Nik > Into The Blue

Set 2

Yield Not To Temptation (Rhonda Thomas on vocals)

It Is What It Is > The Big Reveal,

Bhangra Saanj,

Search > Joyful Sound > Rumble > It Is What It Is > Colorado Blue Bird Sky

Encore

I Wish (Stevie Wonder Cover with Rhonda Thomas on vocals)

SCI will be back on stage in Dillon, Colorado for two nights (7/16-17) prior to their three-night Incidents on the Rocks July 19-21.

Abby Anderson Performs at Tuscaloosa Amphitheater

By Brent Thompson

Some words of advice to those attending the Rob Thomas concert in Tuscaloosa on Sunday night: Be. On. Time. At 7 p.m., Abby Anderson will take the stage and you will want to catch her set. Rising country star Anderson is supporting Thomas on his 44-date Chip Tooth Smile tour while her latest single “Good Lord” climbs the charts. The Texas native and Nashville resident has received praise from Rolling Stone, The New York Times and The Washington Post in addition to being named to CMT’s 2018 “Next Women of Country” class.

Abby Anderson will perform at Tuscaloosa Amphitheater in support of Rob Thomas on Sunday, June 30. Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com.

Marian McKay & Her Mood Swings Perform at Elyton Hotel

By Brent Thompson

On Wednesday, June 26, Marian McKay & Her Mood Swings will perform on the Elyton Hotel rooftop from 6-9 p.m. Anyone familiar with Birmingham’s music scene is aware that McKay – the owner of landmark Charlemagne Records – has been a fixture on the local jazz scene for a number of years. The Elyton rooftop at sunset will provide the ideal setting for McKay and her catalog of timeless standards.

Elyton Hotel is located at 1928 1st Avenue North. For more information, visit www.elytonhotel.com.

Hayes Carll Performs at Saturn on June 27

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: David McClister

Hayes Carll has forged a renowned career since the release of his debut album, Flowers & Liquor, 17 years ago. Garnering Americana and Austin Music Awards – plus a 2016 Grammy nomination – the singer/songwriter has enriched the Texas singer/songwriter legacy while offering a unique style of his own. On Thursday, June 27, Carll will perform at Saturn.

In February, Carll released his sixth album, What It Is [Dualtone Records]. Co-produced by Brad Jones and Carll’s singer/songwriter wife, Allison Moorer, the 12-track collection finds Carll singing about staying in the moment and – more importantly – enjoying the moment.

Actor/musician Ben Dickey will open the 8 p.m. show.

Hayes Carll will perform at Saturn on Thursday, June 27. Ben Dickey will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $20 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.