Son Volt Performs at Saturn on June 23

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: David McClister

In one respect, it doesn’t seem possible that Son Volt is in its 25th year of existence. On the other hand, with its timeless blend of rock, folk and country, it’s difficult to ever imagine a music scene without the band in it. On Sunday, June 23, the Jay Farrar-led quintet will return to Birmingham to perform at Saturn.

In March, Son Volt released Union [Transmit Sound/Thirty Tigers], a collection of 13 socially and politically-themed songs. The return of guitarist Chris Frame and the addition of new drummer Mark Patterson provide a spark to Union’s familiar-yet-fresh sound.

Newgrass/Americana string band Old Salt Union – which includes Farrar’s nephew, Jesse, on bass – will open the 8 p.m. show.

Son Volt will perform at Saturn on Sunday, June 23. Old Salt Union will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $25 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

Diverse Sounds: A Conversation with Los Coast’s John Courtney

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Andrew Bennett

Earlier this month, the pop/psychedelic/soul quintet Los Coast released its debut album, Samsara [New West Records]. But the band – John Courtney, Trey Privott, Megan Hartman, Damien Llanes and Natalie Wright – has been garnering a following in its hometown of Austin, Tx. for quite some time. A noted performance at 2016’s Austin City Limits Festival and an extended residency at the Austin club C-Boy’s allowed listeners to tap into the band’s hooks and funky grooves. On Friday, June 21, Los Coast will perform at Saturn. The show is part of Good People Brewery’s Saturn Nights series. Recently, Courtney spoke with us by phone from his Austin home.

Birmingham Stages: John, congrats on the release of Samsara. The songs are new to us, but I know your band has lived with them for quite some time.

John Courtney: It’s funny you say that – we spent a long time recording it. Seeing people’s reactions is really exciting and that’s the new part of it. It’s like we spent all this time baking this cake and now everyone gets to enjoy it.

Birmingham Stages: How did the material for Samsara take shape? Are these all new songs or have some been around for a while?

Courtney: It’s actually a mix of all sorts of things. Some of the songs Trey wrote when he was younger and they got reimagined. Some of the stuff I’d written and brought to the table. For the most part, Trey and I basically locked ourselves in a room for a couple of months and just wrote and wrote. Up until that point, all the bands I’d been in had been about just playing shows – which is always awesome – but until I met Trey, I’d never really focused on songwriting and song-building. Once we got together, the two of us just sat down and hammered out. It was a good process.

Birmingham Stages: There is a cliche in music that artists have their whole lives to write for the first album and then get six months to write for the follow-up. With that said, are you continuing to write while you promote and tour behind Samsara?

Courtney: I’m always making demos and cooking stuff up on my laptop. I’ve got bass, keyboards and guitar that run through this program I have. I just like to cook stuff up – going to back to the food metaphor – and sometimes it’s easy and fun, but sometimes I really sit down and pour over it. I like to keep my chops up and I like making stuff in different genres, so when the time comes to put stuff out there I have a catalog of stuff I’ve been working on.

Birmingham Stages: You mentioned different genres and Los Coast is known for exploring different styles in its sound. How would you describe your band’s stylistic approach?

Courtney: I think that we just like to listen to a lot of different kinds of music and I think that the glue that holds it all together is Trey’s soul voice. We really like the idea of every song standing on its own and not being too much like any other song of ours. In pursuing that goal, we started exploring different soundscapes and that led us to dabble in different genres.

Birmingham Stages: Did the songs continue to evolve even after you took them into the studio?

Courtney: Oh yeah, for sure. We were nit-picky about this album. There’s stuff you don’t expect to happen when you go in, but it does. When you’re relaxing and goofing off in the studio, that’s when a lot of cool stuff comes out of nowhere and we say, “Roll tape! Roll tape!” [laughs]

Birmingham Stages: You attended Berklee College of Music. How does the academic side of your training affect your playing and songwriting?

Courtney: In a lot of senses it is second nature – being able to play the scales and know what they are – but I had to learn to unlearn. I found that when I overthought it, the music became a little stiff. So I had to find that sweet spot where it’s in the back of my head but I’m letting intuition still guide me. If I start from just the theory standpoint, it always comes across as forced or contrived.

Birmingham Stages: How do you feel about the current climate of the music industry? The accessibility to listeners is easier than ever, but that also seems to create clutter.

Courtney: Wow, that’s a really good question. It is more difficult to get noticed, but since people can listen to all sorts of music whenever they want, I think people’s ears have expanded and people are more interested in diverse sounds. It’s a challenge to stand out. It’s an exciting challenge, so how do we make ourselves different? We try to be original.

Good People Brewery Presents: Saturn Nights with Los Coast on Friday, June 21. Venture Boi will open the 9 p.m. show. Admission is free and the event is 18 and over. For more information, visit www.saturnbirmingham.com.

By The People For The People: A Conversation with James Felice

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Lawrence Braun

With few exceptions, lineup changes are inevitable if a band exists for any length of time. In a three-year span between album releases, The Felice Brothers – a timeless-sounding folk quartet led by New York natives Ian and James Felice – revamped its rhythm section by adding drummer Will Lawrence and bassist Jesske Hume. In May, the band released Undress [Yep Roc Records], a collection of 14 songs cut live-to-tape with minimal overdubbing. On Sunday, June 9, The Felice Brothers will perform at Avondale Brewing Co. Recently, James spoke us with us by phone from his New York home during a tour break.

Birmingham Stages: James, thanks for your time. When did the current tour begin?

James Felice: We started at the end of April. We’re having a really good time.

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

Felice: Most of [the songs] are pretty much songs that were written for the record. The only older song is “Jack Reminiscing” – that one has been in rotation for years, but the rest of them were mostly written by my brother, Ian, or in sessions the winter before we recorded the record.

Birmingham Stages: What prompted you to release “Jack Reminiscing” on this album?

Felice: We had a bunch of these older songs that had been sticking around for forever and we decided to record a bunch of them without even really practicing them. That was the one that sounded the best, so we put it on the record.

Birmingham Stages: It has been three years since your last release [2016’s Country Ham]. How did you and Ian decide that 2019 was the right time for a new record?

Felice: A couple of different things, but if there are no songs then there’s no record. The first thing that has to happen is you have to have some stuff that’s worth recording – that takes time and energy for sure. I was out on the road with Conor Oberst for most of 2017 and Ian was doing a solo record, so neither of us really had time to focus on the band, writing songs and making the record that we wanted. We realized that, when we had time, we needed to make another record. It’s been too long – three years is too much time.

Birmingham Stages: Your band has always been known for a timeless sound while maintaining a current, relevant take on politics and society. How would you describe the band’s songwriting approach?

Felice: Ian does a lot of the songwriting and he is a more politically-minded man than I am. Our music is observational and is in the tradition of folk music – he and I are both really inspired by the work of Pete Seeger. There’s a political bend to good, powerful folk music that I think is really important and is sometimes overlooked. A lot of times, folk music is hokey or played for nostalgia when it was actually really timely when it was being made, especially in the ’30s and ’60s. It’s music made by the people for the people on the ground level. It gets a bad rap when the event of the day passes us by.

Birmingham Stages: Do songs continue to evolve even after you take them into the recording studio?

Felice: Oh yeah, for sure – a lot of songs change. The title track – when we started recording it, it was much more of a guitar-driven folk song. We started hacking away it and now it has a cool, funky vibe to it that we had no idea would happen when we brought the song to the studio but we’re happy that it did.

Birmingham Stages: It seems that the addition of Will and Jesske have given your band a shot in the arm. If you will, talk about their contributions.

Felice: They’re fantastic people to play music with – they’re hard-working and they’re both extraordinary musicians and both great singers. They’re the whole package and we’re so lucky to have them.

The Felice Brothers will perform at Avondale Brewing Co. on Sunday, June 9. Johnathan Rice will open the 7 p.m. show. Advance tickets are $12 ($19 if under age 21) and can be purchased at www.avondalebrewing.com.

Believe In The Song: A Conversation with Chris Knight

By Carey Hereford

Photo courtesy of the artist

Chris Knight is a living reminder that it’s never too late to pursue a dream. A music enthusiast from an early age, the singer/songwriter worked in land reclamation after graduating from Western Kentucky University. Once he heard Steve Earle on the radio in 1986, Knight decided to try his own hand at songwriting. Knight landed his first record deal at age 37 and has built a career on honest songs that reflect his rural Kentucky roots. In addition to his own releases, Knight has found his songs recorded by Randy Travis, Blake Shelton and John Anderson among many others. On Friday, May 31, Knight will perform at Saturn. Recently, he spoke with us by phone.

Birmingham Stages: Chris, thank you for spending the time to talk with us. How did growing up in Kentucky affect your music career as a whole?

Chris Knight: There was a lot to write about – I had a pretty big family. There was a lot going on back at the time.

Birmingham Stages: What inspired you to move away from working in the coal mines in Kentucky to become a singer/songwriter?

Knight: It was always in the back of my mind to try to do something in the music business. I started writing songs and easing my way in. Then I started making trips to Nashville about five or six years later. I had good people helping me and felt like it was a good time to do it. If I didn’t do it then, I never would have.

Birmingham Stages: What made you want to start your own record label? What are the pros and cons of having your own label?

Knight: Well, you don’t have people telling you what to do. You know it’s started to work out better because we cut the middle man out. We had access to smaller publicity and distribution and all that. It was just time do it. I had been through Decca Records and Dualtone Records – they were good for me, but I had three records for Dualtone and I just thought it was time to move on.

Birmingham Stages: How does your writing process work? Where do you find inspiration?

Knight: I would just, you know grab a guitar and come up with a line or two and build it from there. I might be driving down the road and think of something, and just keep foolin’ with it. It comes around, some for me take four years, some songs I can get written in a day or maybe two hours.

Birmingham Stages: With such a large catalog of music, how do you keep your older songs fresh?

Knight: I just play them. I have set changes from time to time, but other than that I just play all of them. I just go out and tour on what I got, and it seems to work out okay. I mean a lot of people want a new record six months after you put one out. But I’ve toured on this one for seven years and it’s time to get one out. I just finished one and that will be released sometime this year.

Birmingham Stages: Which album of yours are most proud? Why?

Knight: I like [2001 release] ​Pretty Good Guy a​ lot. I​ got more used being in a studio and more used to singing. I just think it’s more me with the production and all that.

Birmingham Stages: What album by another musician is your favorite?

Knight: I don’t know, probably ​Running On Empty​ – Jackson Browne. I was just 17 or 18 when it came out and I think it had a lot of good songs on it. Some of the stuff was recorded on a bus, some of it in motel rooms, and it’s partly a live album, too. It just seems to be the one I tend to like the most.

Birmingham Stages: What was the inspiration behind your song ​”It Ain’t Easy Being Me​”?

Knight: I don’t know – I just started writing and I had pretty much the first verse written pretty quickly. I played it for a friend of mine I was writing with and he really liked it. It seemed to be a little quirky and different to me. But, even then, I still didn’t really want to even put it on the album.

Birmingham Stages: What do you think about Blake Shelton covering ​”It Ain’t Easy Being Me​”?

Knight: I’m glad to have anybody recording my songs. John Anderson – he also did a good cover of that song. That was part of the reason why I went to Nashville, to get people to record my songs. I met Blake a long time ago. I was writing with a friend of mine, but that was when he was working on getting a record deal.

Birmingham Stages: What makes you stand out from other singer/songwriters?

Knight: I don’t know – I just write what I write. I’m not trying to pull somebody’s leg with my music. When I record a song, I believe in the song. People like to hear the stories I tell at my shows, too.

Chris Knight will perform at Saturn on Friday, May 31. Kyle Kimbrell will open the 9 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $20 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.

Coffee Talk with Kaydee Mulvehill and Zach Austin

By Brent Thompson

Mulvehill & Austin photographed at Filter Coffee Parlor, May 2019

Phone interviews are the norm for a music journalist, so when you get the rare opportunity to interview artists in person, you jump at it. Recently, I met with Kaydee Mulvehill and Zach Austin at Southside’s Filter Coffee Parlor. On Thursday, May 16, the two Birmingham-based singer/songwriters will perform at The Nick in a triple-bill show that includes Texan Matthew McNeal. During our time together, Mulvehill and Austin shared their thoughts on the local music scene and songwriting while leaving me with a memorable John Prine quote.

Birmingham Stages: Kaydee and Zach, thanks for your time. From a fan’s standpoint, Birmingham’s music scene seems more vibrant and active than ever. As artists, how would you describe the city’s scene?

Zach Austin: I think our local scene is strong and solid as far as everyone working together. Everyone pretty much plays with everyone and helps everyone. It’s like a huge family.

Kaydee Mulvehill: I had a band in 2006 that played until 2009. Back then, we would play The Nick. It was a great place to play, but was geared to full-band shows. Now, on the weeknights, it’s almost like a listening room. You would never know that unless you were there. I think the scene and talent are awesome, but I wish that there were more places where you could come and listen. In the past, some of the bigger venues would get on board in supporting the local artists and having them open up. I wish places would take notice of that and give local talent more opportunities.

Birmingham Stages: As artists forging careers in the era of home recording, iTunes, Youtube and social media, how do you feel about the current climate? Are the modern outlets beneficial or do they just promote clutter?

Mulvehill: I think it goes back to having an old-school work ethic. So much of that is true – you can promote yourself on social media, but the way people remember you is if you can walk up to them and have a conversation and make relationships. You stay after the show and talk to people and make an effort to engage in conversation – that’s what makes people tell their friends about you. You won’t make the same impact as building relationships with people if you’re just throwing it out there.

Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing processes?

Austin: My phone is full of random pieces of songs that I have ideas for, but sometimes I can just write a song in one sitting.

Mulvehill: I’m kind of the same way. One of the reasons my songwriting has gotten better is I have a good community of people to send songs to. There was a song I wanted to throw away and I sent it to people who said, “This is the best song you’ve ever written.” I was surprised. When you can send it to a group and get that feedback, that will take your songwriting to the next level. You get so down in it that you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Austin: You need to get into somebody else’s head and find out what they hear from it.

Mulvehill: Songs are so personal that to you they make sense because you know what you wrote them about, but for a listener – not knowing what the story is behind it – you want to make sure that your message is clear.

Birmingham Stages: You mentioned that the city’s music community is a close-knit one. Does co-writing exist among local artists?

Austin: It’s hard because I’m a control freak with my songs.

Mulvehill: It can make you vulnerable, especially if it’s something you’ve written that’s personal and someone says, “That’s stupid.” You have to be able to go into it without an ego.

Austin: John Prine once said about co-writing, “When I wrote that, I was thinking about my wife and I was really hoping that he wasn’t thinking about her, too” [laughs].

Kaydee Mulvehill, Zach Austin & The Lonesome and Matthew McNeal will perform at The Nick on Thursday, May 16. Doors open at 9 p.m. and showtime is 10 p.m. Advance tickets to the 21+ show are $6 and can be purchased at www.thenickrocks.com.

Concert Review: Tool at BJCC 5-7-19

By Adam Johnson

The great Tom Petty once said, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

I was a sophomore in high school when I fell in love with Tool. I remember the day the album Aenima was released. We got to school early that day and began devising a plan for how we would get our hands on the CD the minute Magic Platter opened. The obvious problem with this plan – we were stuck in school. Magic Platter wouldn’t open until 10. So we waited… scheming elaborate plans for how we could cover for each other, who would drive, how we could make it back onto campus. Then one of my buddies had the best idea. We would convince the driver’s ed teacher to let the class drive to Magic Platter that morning. We would give our money to one guy and he would buy every copy of the in the store. So, we bribed the driver’s ed teacher with free fast food of his choice and everything was set into motion. Then, we waited… and waited… and waited.

“The waiting is the hardest part.”  I think that accurately sums up what every Tool fan has been feeling since 2006 when the band released their most recent album, 10,000 Days. It sounds a little strange to say 2006 and most recent in the same sentence. But, that gives you a sense of why Tool’s concert at the BJCC captured the attention of the entire world. Tool has a way of creating an experience with their music. You can’t listen to Tool and expect to understand. You have to experience Tool and hope to understand. I have been waiting since 1996 to see these guys live. That is a long time to wait. But just like you have to be patient when listening to their albums (you really shouldn’t listen to only one song at a time), fans have been patiently waiting for the highly anticipated- borderline mythical- new album to be released.

This is finally happening. Fans received emails prior to the show warning us that there is a zero tolerance policy against any video/photography during the show. This was echoed inside the venue and coupled with the announcement, “You will be asked to leave.” You may be thinking to yourself, “Who is going to listen that? And besides, there’s no way they can police that.” I can’t blame you for thinking that. However, you try waiting 8,276 days to see a concert. Then tell me you are willing to risk not seeing it because you wanted to take a selfie. I am sure everyone there was tempted to sneak a picture at one point or another. Nonetheless, the fans who filled the arena complied. Then, near the end of the show, and true to form, Tool’s frontman Maynard James Keenan presented us with a surprise twist. He gave us the greenlight and announced we could take out our phones and begin recording. He told us to take to social media and share with the world what we were about to witness. This was not the real surprise as Maynard had another trick up his sleeve. Just then, the elaborate video display began showing a graphic that read “August 30th.” It was at this moment that Birmingham’s Tool concert became more than just another tour date. It was then that the world finally got an answer to the question we’ve been asking for an eternity. “When are we going to get the new album?!” August 30th.

Tool opened the show with my personal favorite “Aenema” (title track from the album that started it all for me). The music was tight, exploratory and very loud. We were treated with two new songs – “Descending” and “Invincible.” We were lucky enough to get extended versions of “Schism” and “Stinkfist.” In addition to an incredible setlist matched with high quality audio, the lighting and video elements helped to complete the sensory experience to make for an epic show.

Complete Setlist 5-8-2019

  1. Aenima
  2. The Pot
  3. Parabol >
  4. Parabol
  5. Descending (new song)
  6. Schism (extended)
  7. Invincible (new song)
  8. Jambi
  9. Intolerance
  10. Forty Six & 2

Intermission

  1. CCTrip Drum Solo
  2. Vicarious
  3. Stinkfist (extended)

Tool will be back on stage tonight in Louisville, Kentucky and on May 10 in Hampton, Virginia.

Concert Shots: Zac Brown Band at Tuscaloosa Amphitheater 4-25-19

By Brent Thompson

Like a next-generation Jimmy Buffett, Zac Brown knows how to move a crowd. On April 25, the frontman of his namesake band held a capacity Taudience at Tuscaloosa Amphitheater in the palm of his hand. Over the course of a two-hour set, Brown and his bandmates performed their catalog of hits, “Someone I Used To Know” (the single from his upcoming album release) and covered Kings of Leon, Def Leppard and The Charlie Daniels Band.

Look For The Inspiration: A Conversation with Fantastic Negrito

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: DeAndre Forks

In addition to possessing a raw and honest musical style, Fantastic Negrito is a good sport. Speaking by phone from his Oakland, Calif. home literally hours upon returning from Australia, he sounds understandably tired but engaging and thoughtful nonetheless. Born Xavier Dphrepaulezz, the singer/songwriter stepped away from music for several years before reinventing himself as Fantastic Negrito. And what a reinvention it has been. His past two releases – 2016’s The Last Days of Oakland and 2018’s Please Don’t Be Dead [Cooking Vinyl] – both earned Grammy Awards in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category. On Saturday, April 27, Fantastic Negrito will perform at Zydeco with special guest Magnolia Bayou. The show, sponsored by Birmingham Mountain Radio, begins at 8:30 p.m.

Birmingham Stages: Thanks for your time, especially on such little rest after returning from Australia. Had you toured in Australia before this recent trip?

Fantastic Negrito: I’d played Byron Bay, but this time I was able to do Sydney, Melbourne and the Byron Bay Blues Festival.

Birmingham Stages: How did the material for Please Don’t Be Dead take shape? Were these songs newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Negrito: Some of all of that. A lot of times I think I work well with bits and pieces. Something like my Chris Cornell tribute – the song that came at the end of the record – that came out of nowhere. “Plastic Hamburgers” had been in my head for years.

Birmingham Stages: Do your songs tend to evolve and take shape even after you take them into the recording studio?

Negrito: Absolutely. It’s kind of a catharsis. I love it when it’s organic and trying to be what it wants to be. I was talking with Quincy Jones about this a couple of weeks ago. He was saying, “The minute you start trying to write that hit song, God walks out of the room.” And I love that.

Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process?

Negrito: I’ve got kind of a leaky-faucet brain. It’s ongoing and it’s always happening. You take these pieces and you look for the inspiration. Once you find that, you ride it like a wave. Stay truthful – that’s the most important thing.

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

Negrito: The Bay Area has been churning out music for so long, going back to Sly Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tower of Power, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Metallica, Green Day and M.C. Hammer. You also have the Black Panthers and Hell’s Angels. There are some edgy people [laughs]. The people I named were not going to go along with the status quo. I’m just a product of this incredible place – its culture, its diversity, openness and hypocrisy.

Birmingham Stages: You stepped away from recording and performing for several years. What inspired your return to music?

Negrito: I felt it through the eyes of a child. I had a son who was young and I experienced it through his eyes, ears and heart and that was a very profound lesson – being taught about music by a young baby. In this part of my life, I wanted to contribute to music rather than get something from music. Early in my career, I was always looking for what music could do for me. Now, at this age, it’s what can I do for it.

Birmingham Stages: How do you feel about modern technology’s impact on the music industry? Some artists applaud the accessibility and others say this is a difficult time to be heard among the crowd.

Negrito: I think the main thing is not to think about it and just create. I think when you are contributing, you don’t have time to even think about that. Technology is great, but there’s nothing like the mind and spirit of a human being. This music comes from our ancestors and it’s very spiritual and it’s been passed on. I just started playing in the streets for five years. I picked up a guitar, walked out onto the street and I never looked back. I never worried about who was going to hear it or not hear it. It’s a matter of being focused, creating and letting it take form.

Birmingham Mountain Radio Presents: Fantastic Negrito with Magnolia Bayou at Zydeco on Saturday, April 27. Showtime is 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 7:30 p.m.). Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $15 and can be purchased at www.zydecobirmingham.com.

Concert Shots: Boz Scaggs at Mobile’s Saenger Theatre

By Brent Thompson

On Tuesday, April 9, Boz Scaggs performed at Mobile’s Saenger Theatre to a lively and responsive audience. Currently, the stalwart singer/songwriter/guitarist is touring in support of his latest album, Out Of The Blues [Concord Records]. While he played several tracks from his new record, Scaggs also played the hits that brought him fame including “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle,” “Look What You’ve Done To Me” and “What Can I Say.”