A conversation with drummer and founding member Kurt Sodergren
By Brent Thompson
An 80-year-old and an 8-year-old can equally enjoy a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy show – how many bands can make that claim? Formed 25 years ago in Southern California, the swing revivalists have performed more than 2,800 live shows – including appearances at the Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center and the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXIII – while releasing 11 albums and being prominently featured in the 1996 Vince Vaughn film Swingers. On Thursday, August 9, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy will perform at the Lyric Theatre. Recently, drummer and founding member Kurt Sodergren spoke with us by phone about swing, the road and the unifying power of music.
Birmingham Stages: Kurt, thanks for your time. Where are you right now?
Kurt Sodergren: We are home. Summer’s not been as busy as normal. It’s been kind of nice because I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with family.
Birmingham Stages: A lot of artists I interview these days discuss adjusting their touring schedules to spend more time at home.
Sodergren: We actually just had a band meeting and talked about that very thing. Everyone wanted to do what we needed to do to make a living, but we didn’t want to go overboard and get burnt out. It really helped us a lot when we made that change.
Birmingham Stages: What first comes to mind when you reflect on 25 years of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy?
Sodergren: Where’d the time go? It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. It seemed like it happened so fast, but I guess it didn’t because we started touring in a van and probably drove to New York and back three times in that van – we still have it, actually. It seems like a blur right now, but we put a lot of time in to get to where we are and it was always a lot of fun. There was never a question about whether we wanted to continue to do it. Even now, there’s no end in sight that I can see.
Birmingham Stages: There has to be a satisfaction – and even some job security – to playing a timeless form of music.
Sodergren: Oh, for sure. There are whole generations of families that come out. There are people who brought their kids in utero and now the kids are 12 or 13. It’s an American art form, so it’s pretty great to be involved in it.
Birmingham Stages: When the band started, did you ever think that you would be responsible for starting a revival and that your band would turn future generations on to swing music?
Sodergren: That’s a lot of kudos and I don’t think we can accept all of them because there are other bands. We do think that what we’re doing is unique and the energy we bring to the stage is definitely one-of-a-kind. We were just doing it for the love of the music. It was Scott’s [Morris, guitarist and vocalist] idea – we were playing heavy blues at the time in a trio and he said he wanted to change and start playing swing. It was a little confusing to me, but I was into the sound – it feels really good. It’s great to bring the music to people that don’t normally like to go out. That’s the way I grew up – going out to see music. It would be a shame if people stopped doing that, so if we can have any part of people still going out and having a great time – or if someone’s having a bad day, they come see us and it becomes a great day – we’re happy.
Birmingham Stages: To the point of having a great time, it’s nice to see a show that provides an escape from the world around us. Obviously, a lot of great music has been made using politics and world issues as platforms, but sometimes it just needs to be about fun.
Sodergren: I agree. To the point of politics, I think there are always things that can bring people together and music is one of them and food as well. No matter what someone’s opinions are about what’s going on in the world or who they support, I think that music is a place where we can all come together and agree. That’s really super important, especially now when people are so divided. That’s why we’re an apolitical band – we’ve played for a lot of different Presidents and were excited to do it.
Birmingham Stages: If I understand correctly, swing music is in your blood as your grandfather was a musician.
Sodergren: He got drafted two weeks shy of his 38th birthday into World War II and played sax, so I think that saved him. He spent most of it playing for soldiers on R&R and officers’ parties and so forth. He enjoyed it but he missed my dad and my grandma for a year. So, whenever I’m on the road for two weeks and get homesick I try to keep a little perspective [laughs].
Birmingham Stages: How do you view the current climate and model that exists for musicians?
Sodergen: When we first started, we did two music videos and they were pretty pricey. They got played on MTV and VH1. Now, we record our own for peanuts. Our latest video, “Why Me?,” is on Youtube. It has a lot of views and we did it ourselves in Andy’s [Rowley, saxophonist and vocalist] house. On the other side, there’s not a lot of money to be made selling records like there used to be – unless you’re Taylor Swift or someone like that – so our bread and butter is the live show. We bring merch with us and it definitely helps pay the bills. It’s a double-edged sword.
Birmingham Stages: As a drummer, are you out scouring music stores for new gear or do you basically stick with what you already have?
Sodergren: I used to really enjoy it. That’s one thing Scott and I did when we first met – we would go to music shops. There’s a local place here in town that had a lot of vintage gear and I was super into it. But I’ve got five kits now – I’ve pared it down a little bit. I have one I bring on the road and one in my rehearsal room and it’s exactly what I want, so I really don’t spend a lot of time now looking for new stuff; I have a lot of friends that do. I try to get into the drum room everyday to practice, but I don’t think much about the gear.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy will perform at the Lyric Theatre on Thursday, August 9. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $27.50 – $42.50 and can be purchased at www.lyricbham.com.