The Return of UnderOath: A Conversation with Chris Dudley

By Blake Ells

Photo Credit: Nick Fancher

UnderOath has a long history with Birmingham. Their first record deal was with Takehold Records, the Christian-centric Birmingham label that was acquired by Tooth and Nail that also hosted an annual festival called Takehold Fest in town. And it was at Cave 9 that Spencer Chamberlain performed his first show as the band’s lead singer.

The band parted ways with each other after earning a couple of Grammy nominations. That was around 2013, but they got back together to celebrate their biggest release and accidentally got the band back together for its first album in eight years.

Keyboardist Chris Dudley spoke with us about that record, how the band reunited and how the “scene” has evolved—if you want to call it a scene.

Birmingham Stages: Why did you guys decide to reunite and put out a record for the first time in eight years?

Chris Dudley: It’s a little bit of a long story, but the gist of it is—we hadn’t initially planned to do that. We broke up and a few years later, we realized that we had a ten-year anniversary coming up for Define the Great Line. The initial plan was just to get together and play a show for that—just a hometown thing to celebrate that record. 

That sort of snowballed from that into a weekend of shows into, “What if we played for a full week?” and that ended up being a full tour. We thought, “Okay, we’ll go out and do this tour celebrating those two albums; just have fun together.” It wasn’t a “the band’s back together” thing at that point. I guess it was about halfway through that tour when we realized: A – how much fun we were having and again and B – in those years since we had broken up, we had all kind of grown a lot. And at that point, Aaron [Gillespie, drums] had not been in the band in, gosh, I think eight years? He had grown a lot, our relationship had changed a lot—so we got to talking on that tour, “If we did want to do the band again, what would that look like?”

So that was the genesis of the idea. At first it was just wanting to get together and play a show, but we realized, “Hey, we can actually be a band and do it sustainably and not have to kill ourselves.” [laughs] It all ended up turning out well.

Birmingham Stages: What did you need to make it happen? Was that piece Aaron? Was it something else?

CD: It wasn’t Aaron. I think the biggest thing was me and Tim [McTague, guitar] and James [Smith, guitar] getting into a spot where we were comfortable with it because we’ve all got multiple kids and wives at home. When we broke up, the gist of that the three of us were not down for being on the road nine months a year; being gone all the time. And at that point, we were like, “We’ll do UnderOath at 100%, 110%…” because I started playing in UnderOath when I was 16-years-old and I’m about to be 35. That was the only thing we had known. And our view on it at that point was, “We’re either going to do UnderOath at 110% or we’re not going to do it at all.” But that 110% to us at the time just meant being on the road all the time. 

When we started talking about doing the band again, the big thing for us was, “This is a ton of fun. We’re having fun doing it. We love each other. But me and Tim and James aren’t going to do this as a ‘get the band back together’ per se unless we can come to some sort of agreement on being gone.”

Which we did. We got to a point where we’re really not gone more than three months a year, which has been beneficial in ways that we really didn’t even realize. When we are going out there—when we are on tour—we don’t feel obligated at all to be there. It’s really like, “We’re getting to do it again.” We’re having fun. We’re enjoying being on the road. We’re enjoying each other’s company. And we’re not to that point where we’re just tired of looking at one another and just wanting to go home [laughs].

That’s been great, and so far, it’s working out awesome. We’re about to head out on our first tour since officially being a band again. We’re pretty stoked on it.

Birmingham Stages: What have you been doing in the meantime?

CD: A lot of family time; catching up on time with my kids, which was great. I’m actually scoring some films which is pretty cool. I’ve been wanting to get into that for a while, and I’m finally doing that. I’ve got a couple of those that will be out this year. 

I’ve been writing a lot. Because I realized when the band broke up that I hadn’t written in a long time without feeling obligated to; UnderOath, there was always a cycle of writing and recording and touring and, when it came to write, I wasn’t writing because I felt like I had all of this music in me but because, “Well, we need to have a record out by summer of next year, so we need to start writing.”

After we broke up, I was doing a lot of writing and not knowing what the music was going to be for. As it turns out, a lot of that music ended up on our new record. 

Birmingham Stages: How did this collection of songs happen? Was it a lot of music that you already had lying around? Was it something you wrote together when you got back together?

CD: It was a little of both. When we decided that we did want to make a record, there was definitely no shortage of creative juice to squeeze. Because we had all been not writing together for years and we had a lot of ideas; a lot my stuff that was written but didn’t really have a home—Spencer [Chamberlain, vocals] had another band he had been doing for a while and he had a lot of material that he had written on his own; Tim had another band; Aaron is always writing. We had a ton of ideas, it was just a matter of getting together and working through stuff to figure out what the album was going to sound like. That was a whole process in and of itself because one thing that we didn’t want was that we didn’t want to try to write an UnderOath album. We didn’t want to try to write an album that “sounds like UnderOath.” We didn’t want to have it feel fake or contrived. “Now we’re writing for UnderOath, so the guitars have to sound like this.” We wanted to get together and the stuff that was exciting us and the stuff that we were pumped on, that’s what we wanted to be on the record. I think that’s a big reason why the album sounds as different as it does. We really threw out that idea of, “Oh that doesn’t sound like UnderOath” and it was more like “If we’re in the studio and we’re hearing this riff or this part of this song and we’re all laughing because of how excited we are about it, then it’s going to go on the record.”

Birmingham Stages: How have you managed to maintain a linear sound through a lot of turnover?

CD: I guess that’s two-fold: One, I don’t know that we have had a linear sound. It seems like every record that we put out has been a pretty big departure from the record before it. 

And two—as far as the “turnover”—it’s usually perceived as being more of a thing than it is, I think. If you look at Wikipedia or whatever—past members of UnderOath—that was almost all when we were in high school and nobody knew who we were. Once we got serious and we realized that this was what we wanted to do and we went all in, that was basically right when Spencer joined the band in 2002 or 2003. In my mind, that’s when UnderOath became UnderOath; Aaron left and came back, but even throughout that time, there was a lot of different music coming out. The record that we put out with Spencer was a lot more melodic, a lot poppier than anything we had done before. And when the time came for the next album, which ended up being Define the Great Line, the label and everyone is like, “Well, you need to lean into these pop tendencies. Write bigger choruses.” All this stuff. “Then you guys will be huge.” But that’s not what we were feeling. We wanted to be heavier and darker. And Define the Great Line came out and it ended up doing really well.

Basically every time we put out a record, it’s like, “Well, you should do this…” and we don’t want to do that. We want to go in a different direction. I think that’s a lot of the same for this new record. “You guys don’t want to alienate your fanbase” and all of these things that get said in certain meetings and such. But we were like, “Hey, we just want to write stuff that we are jonesing on and that’s it.” 

And that continues our streak of not having stuff sound the same and people liking it and a lot of people not liking it [laughs].

Birmingham Stages: Did you ever imagine that doing this was something that would earn Grammy nominations for you guys?

CD: Not at all. We get asked from time to time, “What are your goals with this record? What are your goals with this tour? What are your goals with this band?” And I always say, “Any goal that I ever had for this band was passed 20 years ago.”

Once we actually went out and we saw that there were people coming to our shows, that was more than we imagined would be—like I said, I started playing in UnderOath when I was 16 and we’d play on the weekends and we would go see—pick a band coming through our local venue and there’s 80-100 people coming to see them. For us, it was like, “Oh my gosh. Look at those guys. They freaking made it.” You know?

It sounds cliché and insincere, but it’s honestly not—every time I think back of the stuff—on paper—that we have achieved as a band, I’m always like, “Dude, no way.” Thinking back to where we started, I don’t have any more goals. I don’t have any more aspirations. Yeah, I’d love for us to play in front of a million people, but that’s just ridiculous. 

We never thought any of this would happen, and it’s so crazy.

Birmingham Stages: What do you think of the hardcore scene today? Is it still a vibrant, growing community or is it 35-year-old guys like us that were into it that are still into it?

CD: I guess it depends on how you define the hardcore community. In Tampa, there are a lot of good, local heavy bands coming out of that scene as there were 15-20-25 years ago. 

It’s different now because we’re older and we’re so engrained in what we’re doing and so busy with that that I don’t think we pay as much attention. There’s a band called Limbs that we are bringing with us on this tour we are about to do and they are a hardcore band from Tampa and they’re really, really good. We wanted to bring them on this tour because we think they’re sick and they’re from where we’re from. 

With the advent of the internet and how easy it is to get your music out, I would think that the “scene” is bigger than it’s ever been. You’re able to access music anytime, anywhere. You look at a band like Code Orange that is doing what, in my mind, is something completely different, but so much of what they’re doing is a throwback to bands from the early and mid ‘90s. You kind of see that coming back around. The fact that they are being appreciated as much as they are bodes really well for—if you want to call it that—the “scene.” 

Birmingham Stages: Is it challenging for you to make venues that hold 1,000 people feel more like that DIY type of spaces that you started out in? Do you want to do that?

CD: I don’t think that’s necessarily the goal. I remember playing Birmingham in the late ‘90s and playing in front of 50 people and there’s that energy you get that you can’t get anywhere else. But on the same token, there’s an energy that you can only get when you’re in a room with a lot of people or an outdoor venue. I don’t think it’s a better or worse vibe, but there’s something to be said for production and the scale of what you’re doing. I don’t think you’re ever going to get a big room to feel the same as a small room, but on the flip side, you’re never going to see a band in a tiny room and get that, “Oh my God. Look at that.” When you get 5,000 people screaming the same thing, there’s a feeling there that you can’t get in a small room. I definitely have a unique love and appreciation for both.

We’re trying to give that room the vibe that is right for that room. And that’s our goal for this tour.

UnderOath comes to Iron City on Monday, April 30. Advance tickets are $33.50 and can be purchased at Limbs, Veil of Maya and Dance Gavin Dance will open the 7 p.m. show (doors open at 6 p.m.).

The Vibe is Live: A Conversation with Lech Wierzynski of The California Honeydrops

By Blake Ells


The California Honeydrops leapt to a new level when the legendary Bonnie Raitt discovered their music. Two years ago, the band opened for her at the BJCC Concert Hall and, for the first time since, they’re swinging back through on their own headlining tour. On Saturday, April 28, The California Honeydrops will perform at Zydeco.

Before the stop, frontman Lech Wierzynski spoke about that relationship with Raitt and how it raised the band’s profile. He talked about how he discovered blues and jazz music as a child in Poland and about how important the live show is to his band.

Birmingham Stages: The last time you guys came through, you were opening for Bonnie Raitt. How did you connect with her and how valuable was your time with her?

Lech Wierzynski: She came to one of our shows. There was a song that she wanted to record called “Here Comes Love,” which was a song of ours off the Like You Mean It album. She liked the song, wanted to record it, wanted to meet the band; so she came out to see us play at an underground club—like a warehouse. She came by and chilled out and we got to meet her and she was nice. A year after that, we got the call when she said, “Hey, maybe these guys can open for me.” And we said, “Oh, yeah, for sure.”

On the tour, we got to know her better. She’d come into our dressing room and sing with us when we were warming up and that led to her singing on the record. 

Birmingham Stages: Obviously, she’s one of the greatest of all time. What did support from someone like that mean to you guys?

LW: Obviously, there’s a degree of validation that you’re getting there, you know? It’s nice to know that someone that knows music loves you. She’s our number one fan. She loves the band, and that’s been really good for our careers. We were kind of ignored for a long time; we were written off as a party band. Having someone that’s a serious musician say, “Hey, these cats are for real” really raised our level of appreciation from other people that didn’t know about us. 

Birmingham Stages: You guys started out playing train stations throughout California and eventually, you sold out the Fillmore. How overwhelming was it to make that leap?

LW: It’s exactly what you said—it’s overwhelming. You’re used to being on the floor with everybody else; especially the way we play. We like to connect with the audience; we like to be a part of the whole thing. That’s an adjustment you have to make—to be up on a big stage away from your crowd. It can be a good feeling, too.

Music and money—art and money—are two things that really don’t make sense together. Because music is best in your living room with just a few people just jamming together. That  can be a peak musical experience; just jamming with a few friends and having a dance party at your house, you know? Trying to translate that experience into something like selling out a show at the Fillmore and making money off it is a tricky business. But we try to stay true to the roots of that feeling; of that small room feeling as we can.

Birmingham Stages: You were born in Poland and you created the band in California, but you have a bluesy, jazzy, New Orleans vibe. How did you find that sound within you when it maybe wasn’t really in your surroundings?

LW: I was surrounded by it. My dad listened to New Orleans Jazz; that was his favorite music. Louis Armstrong. Nat King Cole. Those were some of the only tapes we had in the car. That [expletive] was just on repeat, man. [laughs] 

Then you come to America when you’re a kid and the easiest way to fit in with the other kids is music, you know? The easiest way to grasp the culture is music. You get thrown in the fire and you think, “How am I going to fit in here?” So you gravitate toward something like that. That’s how I came to love music. 

One of my friends made me a tape of the Rebirth Brass Band when I was a kid. I was playing trumpet because I was listening to Louis and Sidney Bachet and stuff like that. So it just kind of came together.

I think I always wanted to do something that felt a little more acoustic; a little more intimate. I tried to put that together with the other influences; with some of the other music that I love. 

There was a guitar player named Snooks Eaglin out of New Orleans that would play a lot of Ray Charles with a guitar, and it was cool to see him do this rhythm and blues stuff in a stripped down setup. 

Birmingham Stages: Have you connected with some of those bands that influenced you? Have you played any with Rebirth [Brass Band]?

LW: Yeah. We’ve played a bunch of shows with Rebirth over the years in California and other places. We’ve opened for them a bunch of times; we’ve done co-bills with them. That’s an awesome experience because that’s a band that was a huge influence on us in terms of their vibe and throwing a party and having a good time. That second line beat—that’s New Orleans—and that’s been a big influence on us. 

Birmingham Stages: You released a live record really early on—relatively speaking—in your discography. Why was that a high priority for you to get that live recording out?

LW: Because we’re a live band, man. That’s where the vibe is; the vibe is live. You can’t fake that in the studio. We wanted people to hear us because that’s what we’re selling—the live vibe. Playing in a studio is alright, but playing a live show is much more fun a lot of times. We wanted to capture that fun instead of slaving away in a studio trying to get something perfect. We wanted something imperfect that’s got a good vibe. 

The California Honeydrops come to Zydeco on Saturday, April 28. Tickets are $12 in advance and can be purchased at The Aquaducks will open the 9 p.m. show. 

Listening Station: New Music from Charley Crockett

By Brent Thompson

In October 2017, Charley Crockett was included in Rolling Stone’s “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know.” And while such recognition certainly heightens his exposure, it doesn’t begin to capture the scope of his music. Lonesome As A Shadow, Crockett’s fourth full-length album – and first of all-original material – finds him covering a wealth of stylistic ground but in a surprisingly cohesive fashion. Though you hear strains of Hank Williams, Sr. in “I Wanna Cry,” the classic Soul sounds of Arthur Alexander in “How Long Will I Last” and a nod to his fellow Texan Freddy Fender on “Goin’ Back To Texas,” it all somehow makes sense when played through Crockett’s filter. Produced by Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell, Margo Price, Zac Brown), Lonesome As A Shadow was recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording. Once known for busking in some of the country’s most noted musical cities, Crockett has turned his hardscrabble apprenticeship into a familiar-yet-unique sound that is finding its rewards.

Listening Station: Joshua Hedley Steps to the Forefront

By Brent Thompson


For an artist in his thirties, Joshua Hedley has a deep reverence and understanding of timeless Country music. A longtime touring sideman and stalwart figure at Nashville’s famed Robert’s Western World, Hedley now steps front-and-center for his debut release, Mr. Jukebox (Third Man Records). A 10-track collection including nine originals and a breezy version of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” the album assures us that Hedley’s voice will be heard for many years to come. Harkening back to the classic sounds of Jim Reeves, Ray Price, George Jones and Conway Twitty, Hedley pulls off a difficult proposition – sounding fresh and timeless at once. And given the success found by modern Country artists who draw on traditional styles (Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Chris Stapleton), the timing and climate couldn’t be better for Hedley to make this artistic statement.

Married to the Music: A Conversation with Neon Moon

By Brent Thompson

Many songwriters admittedly wait for inspiration to strike when it comes to creating new material. But for the self-proclaimed “twangy Americana duo” Neon Moon – comprised of married couple Josh and Noelle Bohannon – songwriting is a craft that requires discipline and determination. To that end, Neon Moon recently completed a project called Our52Songs that found the duo releasing a song each week on YouTube for a calendar year. The band’s debut album, 6:53, consists of five songs written during that period (plus one additional track that forms the album’s title). Currently, the band is touring throughout the South and on Sunday, April 22, Neon Moon will perform at The Nick. Recently, Josh and Noelle spoke with us by phone from their Nashville home.

Birmingham Stages: Josh and Noelle, thanks for your time. Given the large number of songs you posted on YouTube, how did you choose the six tracks for the 6:53 release?

Noelle Bohannon: Out of those 52 songs, there were all sorts of songs of different genres. We picked five – there might be more on the next record from this project – but we picked five that we felt passionate about and felt that fit that throwback Country feel.

Josh Bohannon: I don’t know if there was a rhyme or reason – we just felt really connected to the ones that are on the record. Initially, there were only five [songs] on the record and we felt strongly about that and we went back later and wrote the sixth one – the 53rd song; hence 6:53. It was hard to push some of them back for a later date, but we weren’t really sure how well the project was going to be received, so we weren’t really sure about diving in head-first. Those were the five we felt strongly about so we wanted to dip our toes in the water with them initially. We figured we could always come back and put more out, which is what we’re hoping to do later this year.

Birmingham Stages: Your band is a great example of how artists can utilize modern outlets  – including YouTube and Facebook – as a method of distributing and publicizing your music. Overall, how do you view the climate for artists these days?

JB: It is one of the best times to be alive for releasing music as an artist because you have so many avenues and have the possibility of having your music heard. With that, there’s also a level of saturation that comes with it too. For us, all we can do as artists is try and write the best material that we can and put it out into these avenues and, hopefully, people are actively searching for good music.

Birmingham Stages: It seems the current environment allows for flexibility in how frequently – and to what volume – you release your music.

JB: I grew up in a generation when albums really mattered and listening to a 12-to-15 track cohesive piece of work was something really special. This day and age feels like it’s moving back into a singles-driven world. It’s sad in a way that the older model is going out. We are just trying to figure out a way to find our place.

Birmingham Stages: Your timing seems to be good as the “throwback” style of music you referenced is reaching a wide audience these days. Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Margo Price and Chris Stapleton are all having success in performing honest music with traditional sounds.

NB: Yeah, it’s a cool thing that our timing ended up being what it was and we’re stoked about it.

Birmingham Stages: It’s unique that you are able to do this together. Most married artists leave a spouse at home when they hit the road, but you are able to forge your career as a couple.

JB: It’s really a blessing to be able to be on the road and be on this journey with somebody you’re so close to. We’re almost 10 years into our marriage and we know how to navigate it and not push each other’s buttons as much. The road is stressful enough so we try to be as compatible as possible.

NB: We just put on a podcast and cruise [laughs].

Photo Credits: Ashley Wasley (top) and Kristy Rodgers

Neon Moon will perform at The Nick on Sunday, April 22. Justin Howl with Sam Frazier, Jr. and Justin Nelson round out the evening’s bill. Doors open at 9 p.m. and showtime is 10 p.m. Tickets to the 21+ show are $6 and can be purchased at

Road Trip Review: Jimmy Buffett in Alpharetta, Ga. 4-17-18

By Brent Thompson


If Father Time really exists, then Jimmy Buffett isn’t taking his calls. On Tuesday, April 17, the 71-year-old Mayor of Margaritaville bounded youthfully across the stage during his two-hour, 26-song set at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, Ga. Backed by a stalwart band that includes CMA-decorated musician Mac McAnally, Buffett gave Peach State Parrotheads the hits they paid to hear.

Well-worn Buffett staples including “Margaritaville,” “Fins,” “Volcano,” “Pencil-Thin Mustache,” “Son of a Son of a Sailor” and “A Pirate Looks at Forty” rang alongside familiar covers including “Southern Cross” and “Take It Easy.” A surprise show-stopping moment occurred when McAnally took over the stage for a dizzying solo rendition of Duane Allman’s open-tuned opus “Little Martha.” Island and coastline video images – coupled with Atlanta-specific footage that drew cheers from the sold-out crowd – provided the onstage backdrop for Buffett and his Coral Reefers. Opening act Caroline Jones played a spirited, brief set and later joined Buffett for a duet version of “Come Monday.”

Simply put, a Jimmy Buffett concert still provides the kind of escapism that many of us seek, even if it’s only for one evening. Your doctor was back in his office today, but last night he sported a coconut bra. And your lawyer? Well, she donned her grass skirt.

The show was Buffett’s first performance at the Alpharetta venue but something says it won’t be his last. In addition to his self-proclaimed “summer job” of amphitheatre-hopping, Buffett will co-headline shows with The Eagles in Miami, Minneapolis and Denver this year.


Words and Feelings: A Conversation with Nicole Atkins

By Blake Ells


Nicole Atkins released her fourth full length record, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, on Florence, Alabama’s Single Lock Records in 2017. It’s been critically adored and for good reason—with the effort she managed to create her own unique version of Soul that is rooted in the Americana to which fans of the North Alabama tastemaking label have grown accustomed. 

Before returning to Birmingham for the first time in five years, she spoke about that unique sound, getting sober, Nashville, her relationship with John Paul White, Single Lock Records and one wild night at The Nick.

Birmingham Stages: You went in a little bit of a different direction with Goodnight Rhonda Lee. It’s a bit of a new sound for you. What inspired that?

Nicole Atkins: I always experiment with all of my records; with different sounds and what I’m listening to at the time. I’ve had quite a few friends that listen to a lot of prog rock. It’s kind of my own version of Prog Rock. On my first record, when I started making the songs, my friend in town had a studio and he was always like, “All of your song sound like they were written for a 1960s musical.” So I stacked all of the backup vocals—because I couldn’t play lead guitar—and the label said, “Oh, she sounds like a girl group.”

I kind of wanted to get back to that, but to do a record in a very focused way, where the sound was more consistent and more aligned to what we sound like live as a band. I had a friend that I met while I was getting sober, and he said, “Girl, you’re Soul here. You’ve got to make a Soul record.”

So I worked for a few years to write my version of Soul music, not just regurgitate other people that have come before. I would take a Country song and put a Bobby “Blue” Bland groove underneath of it. So yeah, I worked for a few years to try to make it happen.

Birmingham Stages: How long have you been sober?

NA: It’s been over a year now. It was a year in February. 

Birmingham Stages: Do you feel like that made you better as a songwriter and performer?

NA: I grew up on the Jersey Shore. It’s a hard partying town. That’s just what everybody does. That’s what my family does. It was inhibiting my creativity because it was basically just making me depressed. “Maybe if I cut this out, I won’t be so depressed anymore.”

It definitely helped.

Birmingham Stages: That Soul sound also has an Americana sound. It’s something really unique that you did with this record. Did that influence come from your time in the Carolinas?

NA: That’s when I got turned on to songwriting. It’s a funny story; I was just telling my friend about this because she’s a lot younger than me. Remember when “Americana” was called “Alt-Country?”

Birmingham Stages: Yeah! And you actually wrote with Old 97s back in the day, right?

NA: Yeah, I wrote a song with Rhett [Miller] for the last Old 97s record. I had no idea he was going to put it on there; I thought we were just writing for fun because we had both quit drinking and we were both trying to bide our time before a show. But yeah, that was cool. That was a little college trophy.

Do you remember Sassy magazine?

Birmingham Stages: Yeah.

NA: Well, you’re a guy, so probably not. But Sassy magazine was a cool magazine for girls back in the ‘90s. And they had this article on, “Let’s introduce you to Alt-Country.” It was an article on, like, Flat Duo Jets and Whiskeytown. Wilco. The Jayhawks. And I read about it and I went out and got a Jayhawks record. I was in a band with another girl where we sang harmony. It opened me up to a whole different kind of music that was kind of Punk Rock and Country.  So when I was down in Charlotte, that’s all that me and my good group of friends used to do—sit out on the porch and play songs. 

Birmingham Stages: I grew up listening to Punk Rock, too, and now I listen to a lot of what we call Americana. What is that connection? What is that attraction?

NA: I don’t know. I think it’s youthful rebellion and wanting to get some anger out. Punk Rock wants to express that through feelings, and Americana wants to express that through words. 

The stuff I listen to the most, though, are ‘60s Rock records. 

Birmingham Stages: So that’s what you were into when you were in Jersey?

NA: That’s what I’ve been into since I was 3.The first thing I ever remember seeing was The Who’s Tommy on HBO when I was three and just being floored. 

Birmingham Stages: How did you connect with Single Lock for this record?

NA: When I first moved to Nashville, I got an offer to play at the venue—116 E. Mobile St. I thought that was weird because I’ve been touring for ten years and I’ve never played there. 

So I went down and I played a gig there and the guy that was running the venue was just the nicest guy you’ve ever met. It was almost off-putting. I’m from Jersey; I’m like, “What the [expletive] is wrong with this guy? He’s so nice.”

The next time we played, they threw this party for us at Billy Reid with snacks and stuff. It was all just so nice. 

He was talking to me and he says, “John Paul [White] has a label here. He started it all himself at Thirty Tigers and he wanted it all to be even more independent. They have their own distribution.” And yada yada yada. And I was like, “Whoa.” I was on Thirty Tigers, too, and I’m a friend and a fan of John Paul, and I couldn’t believe that he was able to do all of that. So I gave them a copy of a record and asked if they could pass it on to them.

They ended up coming to Nashville and having dinner with me. We all got along with them really well. I’ve been in every kind of label situation; from majors to indies to self-release. This has been the most—it’s a unique and actually pleasurable experience in the music industry. And that’s kind of rare.

Birmingham Stages: I know record deals work much differently these days, but is that a relationship that you hope to continue as you begin looking toward another record?

NA: Yeah, for sure.

Birmingham Stages: How did you end up in Nashville? Was it just easier doing what you do from Nashville? A convenience thing?

NA: Well, I married a guy from Scotland who was actually my tour manager. I had to move out of Brooklyn because I just couldn’t afford it anymore. The entire neighborhood of Williamsburg—which we all moved to because it was so cheap—became…you had to be super rich to live there. So I was living back in New Jersey, and I love the Jersey Shore, but Ryan had moved over from Scotland and was adopting all of my old hometown friends. He started working with this band—J.D. McPherson as FOH and tour manager. We became really good friends with them and they were all moving to Nashville. 

So I was like, “Okay, we’re all in our mid-thirties and we’re all going to move to a new town and make new friends together. Let’s try that out.”

We have a yard now. I’ve never had a yard. I mean, my parents have a yard. I’ve lived in New York for most of my adult life, and I’ve always only had a tiny little apartment. My parents won’t come visit because my dad says we have snakes in our yard. 

Birmingham Stages: You’re closing in on 40 now. Any reflections on life at such a milestone?

NA: When I was younger, I thought, “Forty. Oh my God. People that are 40 are so old.”

In my first band, I was 25 and they were all 35. And I was like, “Jesus Christ. They’re ancient!” 

It’s weird; I think age is pretty relative now. I definitely feel healthier than I’ve ever felt. I feel more creative than I’ve ever felt. And I still look pretty young thanks to bulletproof Italian genes.

It’s a cliché, but I wish I was thinking and feeling like I do now back when I was 25. When you’re younger, you torture yourself so much with self-doubt and bad decisions. And you get older and you think back and wonder, “I can’t believe that I spent so much time worrying about something that matters so little to me now if at all.”

Birmingham Stages: Do you remember the last time you were in Birmingham?

NA: Oh God, yeah I do. The last time I was there was 2013 and we were playing at The Nick. I’ve had some crazy times at The Nick.

Birmingham Stages: I assume those were much less sober times.

NA: Oh hell no. Yeah…they were…the woman that runs it would give us whiskey after whiskey, and we’re all like, “Yeah!”

It was someone in the opening band’s birthday and we had a dance party after the show. This great band was opening for us called Arc Iris and we switched the letters around on the marquee to say Narc Virus. And I remember shouting at them, “Ya bunch of [expletive] narcs! Get out of here!”

Birmingham Stages: Did you headline that night or did Narc Virus?

NA: It was our show. Narc Virus opened for us [laughs].

Nicole Atkins comes to Saturn on Wednesday, April 18. Indianola and Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers open. Doors are at 7 p.m and the show begins at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are $12 and can be purchased at

Listening Station: New music from Trampled By Turtles

By Brent Thompson


Some things are worth the wait and Trampled By Turtles reminds us of that on Life Is Good On The Open Road [Banjodad Records/Thirty Tigers]. The Minnesota-based sextet’s first new album in four years, Open Road will drop on May 4. Longtime loyal fans – and they are many – will welcome the 12 new tracks that find the band melding Folk, Bluegrass, Country, Rock and even Punk into a unique style of its own.

After taking a lengthy hiatus, the TBT members reunited in a cabin in the Minnesota woods and discovered the chemistry among them still existed. Pre-release album tracks including “The Middle” and “Kelly’s Bar” find the band inspired and in top form. An extensive tour – beginning in the group’s home state – coincides with the Open Road release date and takes TBT on a coast-to-coast trek through September.


Expect the Unexpected: A Conversation with Jukebox the Ghost’s Tommy Siegel

By Blake Ells

Jukebox the Ghost formed at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., but the piano-driven rock band has roots across the South. Pianist and vocalist Ben Thornewill grew up in Louisville, Ky., while vocalist and guitarist Tommy Siegel grew up in Richmond, Va. (drummer Jesse Kristin is from Boston). Now the band calls New York City home.

The band returns to Birmingham behind Off to the Races, its latest album released on March 30. Before the visit, Siegel talked about piano rock, the acts that came before them, the band’s writing process and the science of cover versions.

Birmingham Stages: Why aren’t there more rock and roll bands based around a piano?

Tommy Siegel: I’m not sure why there aren’t more piano rock bands. My gut is that it might have to do with the people drawn to a piano versus a guitar. We’re sort of lucky that we have someone in the band that’s a classical prodigy that also just enjoys playing rock music. But I think that’s a rare combination.

Birmingham Stages: Obviously Elton John forged that path, but I guess someone like Ben Folds did a lot to open that door for bands in the last 20 years?

TS: Every generation has that one big piano rock band. There’s Elton John then Billy Joel then Ben Folds then maybe Something Corporate or Jack’s Mannequin qualify for the next one and we are jockeying hard to be the next one after that.

Birmingham Stages: You’ve played on bills with a lot of those guys that you mentioned. Have you developed good relationships with those bands?

TS: A lot of those opening gigs are surprisingly the product of behind-the-scenes booking agents negotiating. I think a lot of it for them is, “What’s a good bill that’s going to bring people out—that fans of both bands are going to like each other?”

But from touring with some of those artists, we did end up becoming good friends. I think it helps for us to tour with other piano rock bands. It draws crowds that are sort of already excited to hear somebody play the piano. It makes for a great opening gig.

Birmingham Stages: Do you write individually or do you get in a room and write together?

TS: We do the Beatle-y method; where we all kind of bring songs to the table and as a band we kind of fine tune it. We’ve also gotten serious about self-recording and producing. A lot of the times we come to the table with a fairly complete song and then just do the fine tuning as a band.

Birmingham Stages: Years ago, you turned “It’s a Beautiful Life” into a lounge song. Have you since put your own spin on other songs? How do you choose the songs that you want to cover?

TS: It kind of depends song by song. These days, every year at Halloween, we do a short little tour called “Hallo-Queen” where we a set of our own stuff, take a break, get into costume and then do a full set of Queen dressed up as the band. For those, we don’t really reinvent the wheel; those songs are perfect as is. We do the best we can just to execute them.

But yeah, for some songs, we try to reimagine them for our band. We sometimes do Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” and that requires some reinventing on our end.

Birmingham Stages: Have you taken “Hallo-Queen” on the road or is that just a New York City thing?

TS: We haven’t done a full tour of it because it’s exhausting to do more than a handful of shows. Last year, we did four of them, so we did San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Philly. We try to spice it up.

Birmingham Stages: You waited a little bit longer this time between records—what was that process and why did you take your time a little more with this one?

TS: It was a combination of factors that made it a long wait. One was that we were on a record label called Cherrytree which went defunct; it was part of Interscope. So we were making the record independently, which is just a little slower. If you’re on a label, the label just cuts a check to a producer and you just finish it in one big chunk.

But since we were self-financing our own record, it was a longer process; figuring out who the right [producer] would be and piecing it together from different sessions. It took a little longer on the songwriting end as well. We always come in with way too many songs; this time we had about 75 songs that we whittled down to the ten that are on the record.

I’m always amazed. Every time you make a record, you think it’s going to come out a year earlier than it actually does. This time was no exception.

Birmingham Stages: How much more difficult is it being heard now than it was ten years ago when you started recording? Or is it easier?

TS: We’re used to having the rug pulled out from under us every few years. When we were first starting out, it was all about MySpace. We were adding people, sending people tracks, all that stuff. We even booked some tours on MySpace. Then it was all about Facebook Groups and then those ended. Then it became Facebook Pages and Instagram and Twitter then streaming services came.

We’ve just grown to expect the unexpected and you have to adapt. That’s part of why we emphasize the live element and the touring element and putting on a good live show. Because that’s sort of the only thing you can count on these days. I think if you’re banking on making money on recorded music, you might want to rethink it.

Birmingham Stages: Touring is the one thing that’s never really changed, right?

Yeah, thankfully, people still like going to concerts and buying concert tickets. As the economics of music purchases have shifted toward the miniscule, people still like going to shows and they still like wearing t-shirts. That’s where we place our bets.

Jukebox the Ghost comes to Saturn on Saturday, April 14 with special guests The Greeting Committee. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the show begins at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at


Street Corners, Subways and Songs: A Conversation with Charley Crockett

By Blake Ells

Charley Crockett just turned 34-years-old, but the country and blues singer has lived as many tales as his fellow Texan, 78-year-old Billy Joe Shaver. His new album Lonesome As A Shadow will be released on Friday, April 20, and there’s a good chance that it’s the one that takes Crockett, a descendent of Davey, all the way from his days of train-hopping to headlining his own tours.

He added a last minute, midnight show at The Nick for Thursday, April 12 as he passes through town to open for Turnpike Troubadours at Druid City Music Hall in Tuscaloosa on Friday. Before the stop, he talked about hitchhiking, train-hopping, recording in Memphis, how he’s related to Davey Crockett, how much he loves his home state and the difference between Country and the Blues.

Birmingham Stages: I thought it was happenstance, but as it turns out, you actually are related to Davey Crockett. How are you related?

Charley Crockett: It’s on my grandfather’s side, who’s still alive; he’s 94. He’s also named Charles Crockett. There are various ways we’re related up through Arkansas—up where the family was from—and they came down through Texas to the Granbury area. Elizabeth Patton was the wife that he had the most kids with; his first wife died young. Elizabeth is buried out in Granbury, Texas, which is not too far from where I was brought up.

Birmingham Stages: What part of Texas did you grow up in?

CC: Well, I moved around. I was from South Texas, originally; the same town as Freddy Fender; down around the Rio Grande Valley. My mom and I moved up to Dallas, and from there, I actually started living part of the time in Louisiana. That’s how I got into street playing. I did that for a bunch of years; lived all over the country just hoboing around, playing on street corners for a long time.

I got back to Texas and I put a band together on the Deep Ellum-Fort Worth Blues circuit, which is kind of crazy—we started playing out in Granbury a bunch at this beer joint called Revolver and I’d drive by Elizabeth Patton’s grave site every time we’d go out there and play. It’s like 50 miles away from Dallas or something like that—it used to trip me out.

Birmingham Stages: Why did you set out hoboing around when you were young?

CC: I think a lot of times people end up as musicians because it’s a profession of last resort sometimes. I was getting in a lot of trouble when I was younger. I felt like I didn’t have any direction to go; I didn’t feel driven to choose that angular paths that were being thrown in front of me and music was my answer to all of that. Once I started playing, I kind of dropped everything else and really started focusing on it.

To be honest with you, the way I started out playing in the street was I started playing in parks. I was just trying to find a place that I could get by myself—without people around—just looking for a place to play where I wouldn’t be bothering anybody and there wouldn’t be anybody bothering me. So I started playing in parks just because there was a place to go. People started coming up and throwing me a dollar or giving me change. That’s when I started taking it more serious and moving to better spots.

That’s all I’ve been doing ever since I started playing is moving to better spots.

Birmingham Stages: So when you began playing parks—that was around New Orleans?

CC: Yeah, it was around New Orleans. It was kind of wherever I was traveling around. I did it around New Orleans, Dallas, Austin; then I started getting into hitchhiking on the highways and that’s a really big thing among street musicians—especially around New Orleans. I learned how to get myself around by playing with other musicians in New Orleans who were already traveling. Trying to go to New York, we’d get dropped off—a combination of hitchhiking and train-hopping and you’d get to Asheville—play in Asheville, North Carolina on the street for a while and get a little more money—head up to New York from there. It’d be this kind of highway going back and forth.
If you play above ground in the parks in New York City—if you play on the street corner in the East Village—the cops run you off real quick. It’s illegal to do that because of the noise stuff with residents. So I naturally went down to the subway, because even though it was also illegal down there without a permit, you could get away with it as long as you weren’t amplified. So I would do that, and then I started playing on the train because these poets that were rapping on the train would see me on the subway platform and try to get me to come on the train with them. I didn’t know what they were talking about and I got nervous playing with them.

One day I got cornered and I wound up playing in the subway trains all day. And I made, like, five times more money than I made standing on a subway platform. So I kept doing that.

Birmingham Stages: Do you have any horror stories from your time hitchhiking?

CC: I mean, maybe not horror stories. It can be really scary; it’s lawless, you know? You think that wild west code is gone in modern times, but I can tell you, when you’re train-hopping and you’re hitchhiking, it’s not because everything you’re doing is illegal. It’s mostly down-and-out type folks. So if somebody wants to rob you or if somebody is not psychologically well that’s out there hitchhiking or hopping on trains, it can be really dangerous. I’ve dealt with stuff like that, but not as bad as it would seem. It’s more about getting hurt jumping on or off a train or getting in a car with some crazy person.

I’ve seen some crazy stuff; I’ve seen people get stabbed on the subway cars of New York, stuff like that. People used to use us inadvertently as a diversion; when we’d be singing on the trains, everybody would be looking at us, so sometimes we’d catch someone getting in a lady’s purse when she wasn’t looking because we were in there singing. I’ve seen that kind of stuff a lot.

Birmingham Stages: How did you graduate from playing subway cars to bars?

CC: Well, like I said, I was always just moving to better spots. I put a little more money in my pocket, had a good crew; we were promoting ourselves a little better, driving people to a page online.

I ended up signing a record contract; got discovered by some people in Manhattan on the R-Train. That was kind of my first time getting off the street level at all; playing on stages in New York City for a while. That kind of fell apart and when it fell apart, I didn’t want to go in the direction that they wanted to take us. It was going from the streets to doing this Pop thing that I wasn’t ready for or didn’t want to do.

I didn’t want to go back to the streets. I had been squatting in warehouses for years and I didn’t want to keep doing that. I got out of the city; I was living out in the country on a buddy’s farm that I knew, recording my own stuff and going to blues jams. That was really my transition into learning to play on a stage—going to blues jams in New York City, in New Orleans, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Francisco—I’d be traveling around. That’s when I learned how to lead a band. You get thrown off stage one night because you [expletive] up the band’s money, you learn real quick if you want to ever go back in there.

Birmingham Stages: Where is home now?

CC: Austin. I live in Austin, Texas.

Birmingham Stages: Do you think Texas is your path or do you think you’ll ever give that up to move to Nashville and do the Nashville thing?

CC: [laughs] That’s funny. Well…where do you live?

Birmingham Stages: I live in Birmingham. I was in Austin last year; love that place a lot.

CC: Oh, man, I love Birmingham. I love that town.

I’ll answer your question, it’s just funny to me. I do my business in Nashville. That’s the funny thing. I can’t avoid Nashville because everybody’s there—the label, the agent, the publicist. And I remember being on the street in New York and I saw this mass exodus from New York City down to Nashville—this must have been in, like 2010. I knew it was going to blow up.

But I’ll stick with Willie Nelson. He always said the Grand Ole Opry’s call letters, WSM, stood for “Wrong Side of the Misssissippi.” [laughs]

I joke. I love that town, too. But I came up in New Orleans, man. The only towns I know that have that soul of New Orleans—which is the thing that I need—besides New Orleans, is Memphis and Austin. Texas has been my bread and butter. Down here in Austin, I can go hear Cajun and Creole music all the time—get that New Orleans sound. I can hear Texas Swing. I can hear Tejano. Soul. Funk. Blues like a [expletive]. That’s why I live here. I’d rather live in the country than anything, but if I’m going to be in a big city, I’d rather be in Austin right now. I’ve got a lot of love for Dallas/Fort Worth, because I played the [expletive] out of those bars for a couple of years, and when it was hard to get gigs anywhere else. If it’s hadn’t been for playing in Deep Ellum and DFW as heavy as I did, I don’t think I would have ever gotten on with the people I’m on with now.

It’s a Texas/Louisiana story. It’s playing in Dallas and Austin and New Orleans. I’m proud of that regional heritage.

Birmingham Stages: When I was there, I was able to hang out at the Continental Club quite a bit. And I know that’s probably just a small taste, but it’s a cool town. I wish I could get out there more often.

CC: Hell yeah, man. You know everybody’s complaining about how blown out Austin is, and Nashville’s the same thing. It’s like Justin Townes Earle—I remember he said a few years back—somebody asked him what kind of advice he’d give a young musician moving to Nashville trying to make it. And his advice was, “Don’t move to Nashville. Move to some smaller town.”

And I agree with that. I love living in Austin, but I don’t know if they would have paid attention to me in Nashville. In Dallas/Fort Worth—even though that’s a big area, it’s a small music scene. Like Tulsa—Tulsa has this really small, tight knit music scene. You can get known in the music community like that a lot faster. Birmingham is that kind of city—there’s a really small, supportive music community—that I’ve seen at least, when I pass through. I think you’d be better off to play around Birmingham and get people to recognize you than you would playing around Nashville.

Birmingham Stages: Definitely. I think you may have actually played some shows with our own St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Did y’all play around a little bit?

CC: Yeah, man. I’ve done a couple of shows with them. I think they sold out—they sold like 2,300 tickets at a venue in Dallas we played. It was wild.

Birmingham Stages: You mentioned Memphis, and I know you recorded this new record there at Sam Phillips’s studio. What led you there?

CC: Well…I guess because I didn’t want to record in Nashville. [laughs]

I really liked Margo Price’s first record, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and I really liked the way it was recorded, the way it sounded. I saw that Matt Ross-Spang had worked on it, and I knew that he was working out of Memphis and he had been at Sun a long time. So we hit him up—I never expected to hear back from him or nothing. He hit me back and was like, “Yeah, come see me over at Sam Phillips Recording Service.”

He was like, “Do you know where that is?”

And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah.”

And he’s like, “Are you sure?”

And I’m like, “Yeah, I know where that is.”

So I go over to Sun Records and call him up and tell him I’m here, and he’s like, “Nah. You’re not here. You’ve got to come down the street to Sam Phillips. I knew Sun Records, but I never knew Sam Phillips. So I went down there, realizing I didn’t even know it existed. I hit it off with Matt; I like the old school feel of the studio over there. I like the family; Sam Phillips’s son, Jerry Phillips and them—they run it—a family type joint.

I just liked Matt. He had a really cool, laid back vibe. I played him a bunch of songs that were in my head and he was like, “Well, I can record any one of those.” So we did that. I got some help paying for it and came back in there a couple of months later, and we cut the record in four days. And I’m real proud of it, man, because I’ve got this real thick, Texas and Louisiana sound, where I mixed together a lot of the influences that I had playing on the street—various blues places and whatever. It brought a lot of Memphis soul—this Memphis, gritty soul—to my Texas and Louisiana style, which I’m real proud of; I’m real proud of that bluesy, soulful stuff.

Birmingham Stages: You’re often identified as a Blues artist, but you’ve also recorded a collection of Country covers that range from Hank Williams to Roy Acuff. What’s the difference between Country and the Blues?

CC: I don’t know, man. Lightnin’ Hopkins said, “Country wasn’t nothing but white man’s Blues.” You talk about Lightnin’ Hopkins or Lazy Lester—those were some country boys. To me, it’s the same thing—people just call it different things. I knew I could do that old-time Country stuff real good because I loved that music, I learned it in the street and I wanted to record something and I hoped that young people could identify with it, since I’m a younger man living in my time. Maybe I could help bridge the gap; get young people to look back at this music. Whether that’s classic Country or classic Country Blues—all that type of stuff—I don’t think we can outdo that music and I want young people to hear that music.

Birmingham Stages: That old-time sound—where did you pick up on it? Did it come from your mom?

CC: In a lot of ways, yeah. She was listening to Billie Holiday when I was a kid. It wasn’t like I was singing along and learning Billie Holiday songs when I was five or anything like that, but she instilled a confidence in me; we sang together when I was young. I never questioned whether or not I could sing, because we’d do it together when I was a kid.

To be honest with you, I learned Hank Williams songs from other musicians in New Orleans. There was this dude that I would see traveling the country from time to time, and one night, we both ended up on Royal Street on New Orleans at the same time. He was playing this song, and I learned it off of him. A couple of days later, I was like, “Hey, what’s the name of this song?” And he says, “Oh, it’s called ‘My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.’ Hank Williams did it.”

And I was like, oh [expletive], this is Hank Williams. That’s the way I heard Lightnin’ Hopkins. Someone was playing it at a Blues jam. It was like, “I Once Was a Gambler.” Swinging it real slow and heavy Blues. I was like, “Man, did you write that song? I love that song you’re playing tonight, man.”

And he was like, “Man, I didn’t write that song. It’s Lightnin’ Hopkins.” So I started looking into him. That’s how I got into it.

Birmingham Stages: The last time you were here, I think you were opening a solo set for BJ Barham.

CC: Yeah, at Saturn. With Charlie Mills, a trumpet player. That’s a cool venue.

Man, I used to hang out at The Nick when I’d be passing through town, down there under the highway bridge or whatever it is right there. I love that place, man. I didn’t even know I was playing there until a few days ago because it got added. I used to be hoboing around, and I’d come in there and watch people play a late night show and I’d think, “How do I get on this stage?”

Birmingham Stages: It’s great. I know you’re heading to Tuscaloosa the next night, so I guess they added this one on.

CC: Yeah, we’ve been doing a lot of that. A lot of times, those types of gigs—the gigs we hit on the way to places—they’re the most fun for us. We did that in Tupelo—we added one on last midnight because it was en route and we were playing in the middle of the day. They’re blasting Gary Clark, Jr., who used to play in there—it was an amazing show. The Nick’s got that same kind of vibe. I went in there, not thinking anything of it from the outside, and man, there were just some popping bands in this joint. It was ridiculous.

I care more about playing in a good room with a good vibe than the amount of people there. Sometimes, it throws you off playing in too big of a room, you know?

Charley Crockett plays a special late-night show at The Nick on Thursday, April 12 at midnight. Admission is $6. For more information, visit