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Musical Mondaze

Jason Hawk Harris

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Photo By: Sean Rosenthal

It’s hard to imagine that completing an album – especially one as visceral and as mesmerizing as “Love & the Dark” – could be both a triumphant celebration and a realization of loss, but for singer-songwriter Jason Hawk Harris, there was a lot of pain in seeing his creative vision come to life. Surrounded by sorrow and haunted by personal demons, the founding member of The Show Ponies put all of himself into his country-influenced solo debut, and he knows there isn’t any looking back.

I’ve had a few moments in the last few months where I’ve thought, ‘Do I really want all these people to know this much about me,’” he says in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace. “I’ve come to the conclusion that this is just what I do, whether I like it or not.”

We recently sat down with Harris to discuss regulating artistic urges, not becoming a country caricature, and why his baggage will never crush him.

TrunkSpace: You went through a lot personally in seeing “Love & the Dark” become a reality. With everything that you’ve endured throughout the process, are there parts of you that wish this music didn’t have to exist in its current form? As an artist, are there days where you would have preferred there had been more “Love” to write about and less “Dark?”
Jason Hawk Harris: Hindsight is 20/20, so I think I look back on what’s happened now and see this beautiful mess that led to a record that couldn’t have existed without it. But when you’re in the shit, you certainly don’t want that stuff to be happening. So I guess the answer to your question is both yes and no.

TrunkSpace: How has expressing yourself through songwriting changed you as a person? Did the creative journey of “Love & the Dark” alter your way of thinking and how you looked at the world?
Jason Hawk Harris: Songs take on a life of their own after you’ve relinquished your grip on them and send them off into the world. That said, I don’t know if it’s the actual songwriting that changes me, or if my songwriting is just me documenting the changes that have happened as a result of the traumas and triumphs of my life.

TrunkSpace: The album will be released on August 23. With such a personal connection to the songs on “Love & the Dark,” what type of emotions are you juggling with as you gear up to release it into the world?
Jason Hawk Harris: There’s some really personal stuff on this record. I’ve had a few moments in the last few months where I’ve thought, “Do I really want all these people to know this much about me?” I’ve come to the conclusion that this is just what I do, whether I like it or not. I write as honestly as I can, because I’m trying to be honest with myself. My hope is that it helps people be honest with themselves too. That’s what my favorite lyricists do for me.

TrunkSpace: Is there ever a fear as a songwriter and artist that you are putting too much of yourself into a song? Does a part of you ever want to be more guarded in the process?
Jason Hawk Harris: Yes. In fact, I’ve had a number of moments where I go to my wife and say, “Hey, is this too personal?” And sometimes the answer is, in fact, YES. “Yes, Jason, it’s too fucking personal,” she’ll say, except she doesn’t like the F word. I shudder to know what I would’ve put out into the world if I didn’t have her to help regulate some of my more uninhibited artistic urges.

TrunkSpace: What would someone learn about you – both as a person and as an artist – in sitting down to listen to “Love & the Dark” in its entirety?
Jason Hawk Harris: That I’m sad in spite of the fact that I’m almost recklessly hopeful. I’ve got a lot of baggage, but I’m not worried about it crushing me.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Jason Hawk Harris: I don’t think I’ll ever write another song like “The Smoke and the Stars.” I don’t think it will be the song that connects with people the most, but I don’t think I’ve ever combined all my sensibilities into one song like I did with that one.

TrunkSpace: For years country music has had a very slick, pop-influenced spin that has turned it into much more of mainstream genre, but many artists like Sarah Shook, Joshua Hedley and yourself are bringing an old-school feel, which is making it fresh in a totally nostalgic way. Is your overall sound something that you set out to create or was it a natural transition when you ventured into a solo career?
Jason Hawk Harris: It was natural. Traditional country music lines my oldest memories. It’s the sound of my childhood. I’m influenced by a lot more than just country, so a lot more slips in, but I hope I’m respecting the traditions of the genre as best I can. I feel like a lot of mainstream country artists are making a caricature of country music that misses the mark. Even though I’m slipping in and out of country music on this record and in most of my music, I make it a priority not to do that.

TrunkSpace: We love great lyrics… the kind that stick with us well after the song comes to end. What’s a favorite lyric of yours that you have written and why?
Jason Hawk Harris: The second verse of “Phantom Limb.”

It’s coming in waves, it’s numb in between
When I’m not crying I can’t feel a thing.
And the air gets so thin, I breathe what I can.
Then blow out the smoke, that laughs as it floats
And waves like a flag. I wish you’d come back.

I like it because I really don’t know what the smoke is doing at the end of the verse, but it manages to be perfectly evocative of the larger theme of the song. This is what I’m always trying to do, but it only comes along every now and then. I just hope I catch it when it does.

TrunkSpace: What would 12-year-old Jason think of your musical journey thus far? Would he be surprised by the path you have taken?
Jason Hawk Harris: Well… He’d be surprised I was playing country music or at least country-influenced music. Twelve-year-old Jason really loved Queen, so ultimately I think he’d be disappointed with the fact that there aren’t more contrapuntal harmonized guitar solos than anything.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Jason Hawk Harris: No way. I’m doing this thing where I’m trying to live day-to-day, where I’m kind to myself and I don’t beat me up. Seeing 10 years of mistakes all at once might send me to an early grave. I like today. Today is good. I can handle today. I can’t handle 10 years, five years, one year, one month or even one day from now, but I know I can handle today.

Love & the Dark” is available August 23 from Bloodshot Records.

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Musical Mondaze

Vandoliers

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According to lead singer and guitarist Joshua Fleming, the Vandoliers’ latest album “Forever,” out Friday on Bloodshot Records, is more stripped down and raw than their previous studio offerings, a testament to producer Adam Hill’s desire to better translate who they are on stage to how they sound on a record.

The sonics aren’t the only place to feel that rawness either, as the frontman admits that many of the songs are extremely personal from a lyrical standpoint. “Fallen Again,” for example, speaks to his battles with situational depression and anxiety, and he calls seeing it come together – and ultimately make the album – “my rock bottom to my triumph.”

We recently sat down with Fleming to discuss creating a cohesive sound all their own, growing songs through respect and trust for their fellow bandmates, and why he considers himself more of a storyteller than a musician.

TrunkSpace: You guys are gearing up for the release of your Bloodshot Records debut, “Forever.” What emotions do you juggle with as you prepare to drop new music on the world?
Fleming: It’s nerve-racking, honestly. I can’t say I have ever worked harder on a project than this one, and the anxiety of releasing it is setting in. There are so many things you have to do to prepare for before the album drops, and in the eleventh hour it all seems to pile on at once. But once we are on the road, performing everything gets a little easier.

TrunkSpace: The band has been together since 2015 with its members traversing the music industry individually for many years before that. What felt different about bringing this album together that didn’t exist for you through other past experiences? What will stick with you about the process for the rest of your life?
Fleming: This recording experience was a change for us and it shows. We had time to write as much as we could to find the right songs. We took time on a mountain tour to compose the fiddles and horn parts. We went away from the distractions of home and went to Memphis for a week to record. The biggest difference was recording in the same room as a band. I hope we will be lucky enough to repeat this process for our next album.

TrunkSpace: We love what your producer Adam Hill has done with bands like Deer Tick in the past. As someone who is closer to the music than anyone else, where do hear his input/impact the most in the final mix of the album?
Fleming: Adam has a great ear, and he wanted this album to be stripped down and raw just like we perform on stage. It was all about getting the best take without relying on comps, whether it was the first go or the fifteenth. He pulled the best performances from us and it shows. We walked out of American Recording Studios a better band and it’s because Adam demanded greatness. I can’t thank him enough for that.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Fleming: Every song has its place, but I was vulnerable this past year. I have battled situational depression and high functioning anxiety during that time and, thankfully, I had an outlet to speak about it. “Fallen Again” is my most vulnerable and frustrated song to date, and my friend Rhett Miller helped me shape it and define it. I’m proud that this song blossomed instead of being put aside for another song. It meant so much to have the support of my band and my hero – together they transformed this song from my rock bottom to my triumph.

TrunkSpace: The band consists of six members, which is a lot of different creative brains all working under one roof. What is the process like in terms of songs coming together and implementing the input of the individual members?
Fleming: Individually each member brings experience and knowledge to the table. I trust these people, and I trust what they hear. Every song is different, but this album I co-wrote more than I ever have. After all of the songs were demo’d, we each took time to make a list of 10 songs we felt defined the moment we were in as a band, and we all decided which of the 50 songs made the cut. I work with the best musicians I know, and by allowing each member to have input we create a cohesive sound all are own. I couldn’t think of a better way to be a band.

Photo By: Mike Brooks

TrunkSpace: What do you get working in a band atmosphere that you wouldn’t be able to achieve as a solo artist? Does effort inspire effort in the process, and by that we mean, does one person’s eureka moment inspire the others?
Fleming: It might start with a riff like “Shoshone Rose,” or a time signature change from 4/4 to 6/8 like “Fallen Again.” Everyone has ideas and when you respect and trust each other the songs benefit. Our bassist, Mark, also plays fiddle and helped write the intro to the album on “Miles and Miles.” Our guitarist Dustin wrote out and helped arrange the trumpet and fiddle parts. We all have a place in the creative process and that’s what attracts me to being in a band versus being a solo artist. I’m not alone, I am supported by people I trust and I’m better off in that environment.

TrunkSpace: Can you envision a day when music is not a part of your life?
Fleming: No. I don’t have a choice anyway.

TrunkSpace: We often like to ask musicians if their roots – those places they grew up and live now – can directly influence their music identity, but we don’t feel like we have to do that here. “Forever” feels very Texas in terms of where it’s come from and where it’s going. The album seems to mix perfectly the vibe of the changing Texas landscape. Is that influence something that you guys consciously are aware of, or does the vibe of your surroundings just kind of seep into what you’re doing musically?
Fleming: We are a product of our region, we couldn’t help it if we tried. That being said it’s our responsibility to respect the traditions of the music we are inspired by, it’s also our obligation to push them to their limits. My hope is that our love for our regional music can be felt by the people who take a chance by listening to us.

TrunkSpace: We also love that your songs tell a story. Do you consider yourself a storyteller, and if so, what is the greatest story you’ve ever told in song form?
Fleming: I do consider myself a storyteller, more so than a musician, and memories are the breeding ground for inspiration. I don’t know if it’s my greatest story, but “Sixteen Years” means so much to me, because I was able to talk about my journey performing music for most of my life. I played my first show at a roller rink and I mark New Year’s of 2000 day one of my adventure. Within the lyrics I reference songs from past bands, trials and victories. At the root of the song, it’s my promise to never give up, and when the pressures of self-doubt piles on to me, the outward affirmation of chorus reminds me that I am alive, I am blessed and that it’s going to be OK.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could just ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your musical journey looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Fleming: I have already seen it, and all I have to do now is give it time.

Forever” is available Friday from Bloodshot Records.

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Musical Mondaze

The Bottle Rockets

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Sonically, The Bottle Rockets are a different band than they were when they first began writing and performing together in 1992, though lead singer and guitarist Brian Henneman admits that the musical metamorphoses that they’ve gone through are never as profound to the listeners as they are to themselves.

With a cleaner, crisper vibe, their latest album “Bit Logic” (available now from Bloodshot Records) may be their biggest leap yet, but at the same time, it’s a sound that they feel closer to than the distorted “fist fight” that had come to define them over their nearly 30-year career.

We recently sat down with Henneman to discuss fan families, the far off drunken days of their youth, and why you’ll be hard-pressed to make present day ZZ Top comparisons.

TrunkSpace: The band has been at this a long time. Are there still firsts for you out there in terms of experiences for the band? Does it still feel fresh when you hit the road?
Henneman: No. Not after 25 years. We’ve pretty much have seen everything that you can see. It’s just always fun to get out of town for a while, but no, there’s really nothing fresh anymore. I don’t think so. I think we’ve done it all.

TrunkSpace: Your personal time in music stretched before The Bottle Rockets. Has your artistic point of view changed as you’ve grown older and experienced more of life?
Henneman: Oh yeah. Sure. It’s just… you see things different when you’re older than you do when you’re younger, that’s a fact. The view from here is different than the view from 25 years ago, that’s for sure.

TrunkSpace: Taking into account that view from here, does present day Brian still relate to the songs you were writing 25 years ago?
Henneman: Amazingly, yes. That was just sort of a lucky break on my part 25 years ago, I guess. I wasn’t planning to be doing it. I wasn’t even thinking about that maybe I would still be singing those songs 25 years later. That was just something within, I guess – some self-protecting circuit.

TrunkSpace: When you play songs live that were written 25 years ago, do perform them for you, or is it for the fans? Are the fans growing with you or are you seeing new generations discovering The Bottle Rockets?
Henneman: Both. You know what we see a lot of is these kids of the original fans, so it’s like a family affair. You get these younger people coming, but they know everything because their parents were playing it. That’s interesting.

TrunkSpace: That is interesting. For the listener, you build a memory around a song or an album and it’s got to be cool to be able to see now that there is this connective tissue between various generations and that younger kids are forming their own ties.
Henneman: Absolutely, yeah. I know. That is interesting. It’s interesting to see the younger people have different songs attached to their memories. It’s funny. We’ll go to some town, I can’t really name them but you get into certain places where you realize that maybe this whole audience hasn’t heard anything that we’ve made since 1997. It’s kind of like they just want to hear all the old stuff. It’s weird. It does happen, and just kind of randomly. You can tell when it’s going on. You’ll play new stuff but they’ll just keep wanting the old stuff.

TrunkSpace: We’re certainly guilty of that. You put on your favorite record and you listen over and over again… trapped in a musical loop.
Henneman: Me too. I lost touch with Graham Parker after “Squeezing Out Sparks.” I’m the same way. It’s just how people do it.

TrunkSpace: Have The Bottle Rockets albums become chapters of your life?
Henneman: Yeah, for sure. It’s funny though because now, it’s like this version of the band with the current members has been together longer than any other version of the band. It’s like the old stuff, the really old stuff, was the other variations of the band and sort of just assimilated to memories of the new band now. “I have a new band, which is the oldest band that’s been running.” It’s like those really far off memories from the old wild drunken days and whatever. If you force yourself to remember them, you can remember them but everything just seems that this has been the only band. It’s been that long.

Photo By: Cary Horton

TrunkSpace: As you look over the catalog of music that you’ve created, where do you hear the biggest changes over the years?
Henneman: I think the biggest changes have come in recent times. Like the last two albums were both pretty big changes compared to the old days. There was a period of time where no matter what we did, I mean, even if we would made an effort to do something different, people would still hear it the same way. We wouldn’t hear it that way, but there was a period of years where no matter what we’d try to do, they’d still always put out ZZ Top references. And then you go back and hear it and go, “Oh, okay, I can see that.” It never is as different as we think it is, but I think the biggest differences have really come in the last two albums and it’s in motion. Like with this newest one, “Bit Logic,” it’s like that’s the direction things are going… cleaner. That big, loud, dirty guitar sound, I don’t do that anymore. I mean, I never say never of course, but I don’t see it coming back because it’s just… it’s changed. But still, it’s the same band. You’ve got landmarks. You know who it is.

Probably one of the biggest changes was when we first started doing those living room shows… just acoustic guitars, no microphones. We’ve been doing that for years now, but when we first started doing it, it was like all of a sudden we realized that people were maybe getting the songs for the first time. It was like all of a sudden people were like, “Oh, wow.” It was like they were talking about lyrics. And then we realized that all those years and all those loud guitars, that people weren’t even really hearing what the songs were about. That started steering the ship a little bit.

TrunkSpace: So going back a bit to the start of our conversation, what would Brian of 25 years ago think of “Bit Logic?” Would it seem like a stretch to him?
Henneman: Good question. Here’s a funny thing about this band is, 25 years ago, I didn’t even really think about stuff like that. It was just like everything was of the moment. It was like this is what we do, this is how we’re doing it and then somebody is going to capture this on a recording and it’s going to go out there and we’re going to go out and drive around and eat cheeseburgers and get drunk. It was just the simple, “Woo hoo, we’re out of the house!” I didn’t even really think about it. I think that the me now relates to the old thing better because the old me wouldn’t even think about the new thing, but if we had just done what we’re doing now way back then, I that would have worked too.

In those days, it was like, “Turn up the guitars, go man go!” The Neil Young influence was way heavier back then. It was like, okay, we wanted to sound like that, but it wasn’t like something that was, “We’re going to sound like Neil Young dammit!” That’s just kind of how it naturally was. We were loud and guitars sound that way loud and this is just how it goes. But you know, I liked cleaner guitar sound stuff back then too. In fact, I probably liked it better than the stuff we were doing as far as listening goes. I don’t know, I think maybe now we’re just living out actually closer to the stuff we used to listen to.

TrunkSpace: As artists, you always have to go back to doing what inspires you and makes you happy, because at the end of the day, why do it if it doesn’t?
Henneman: Right. Right! And that big loud thing, it was kind of a burden after a while. In the early days it didn’t matter because it was exciting and blah, blah, blah, blah, but it became sort of like a drag that was kind of like we’d go see other bands or whatever who didn’t do that and be kind of jealous of it. They don’t have to do that. Playing real tight together and everything sounds great and you can hear everything. And then we always knew that it would be like a fist fight when we’d get on stage. The sound of a frigging riot going on. And it took a long time to come around to changing that. In fact, we’re still working on it. We’re still perfecting that.

Bit Logic” is available now from Bloodshot Records.

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Musical Mondaze

Sarah Shook

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Photo By: Anthony Nguyen

Sarah Shook doesn’t write music for fame or adulation, she writes because she has to. An outlet for emotional purging, the songs she creates – gritty and authentic – are part of her own internal healing process. And while her latest album “Years” may have aided in exorcising the personal demons of the North Carolina native, it is also helping listeners of her brand of twangy AmericHONESTa search for answers to their own questions about the confusing world circulating around them.

We recently sat down with Shook to discuss songwriting catharsis, going boots on the ground, and why it’s necessary for artists to be transparent in what they’re creating.

TrunkSpace: What emotions do you juggle with internally as you gear up to release new material to the masses and is it important to tamper expectations given that once its released to the world, so much of how it is perceived is then out of your hands?
Shook: I don’t make music to please anyone. I make music to exorcise my demons and heal. The people who listen to my songs and feel connected to me, this music is for them, too. Their pain and suffering, their failures and victories, are every bit as valid as my own. My band and I worked incredibly hard to make an excellent record with “Years,” not because we want accolades, but because we challenge ourselves personally and collectively to be the best we possibly can. That’s its own reward in many ways.

TrunkSpace: Is there ever a moment when you finish an album and you feel a sense of loss or sadness because the experience is over and those songs no longer require your attention? Is it difficult to let go of the creative in the process?
Shook: Hell no. These songs are my catharsis, I don’t get tired of howling out the same words night after night because this shit is real and at this point this is bigger than just me, this is about bringing some relief and catharsis to the people who show up for it. Shared experience is powerful.

TrunkSpace: “Years” has been out for about a month now. Creatively are you a different person than you were when you first started writing the material for that album?
Shook: Creatively, no. Same old me. For better or worse. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: From our perspective, there seems to be a revolution happening in country music with singers/songwriters pushing back against the polished, packaged country that has dominated the genre for the last decade or so. Is that an accurate reading, and if so, why are artists hoping to redefine the country sound and vibe once again?
Shook: There’s a mighty thirst to find something real in a sea of glittery bubblegum superstardom. People are looking for something that speaks to them because it’s authentic and from the heart. Pop country artists might be selling out stadiums, but the little people like us are out here, boots on the ground, working hard AF, connecting with people. Pretty sure you won’t find Brad Paisley doin’ shots at the bar with his fans. We make ourselves available as much as possible.

TrunkSpace: You describe yourself as shy. How does someone who is shy ultimately settle on a career where being in front of people, both physically and emotionally, is part of the job description?
Shook: I’ve come a very long way in a very short amount of time. As an introvert, after a shit ton of socializing, yes, I’m definitely gonna need some alone time to recoup. But I totally enjoy meeting new people and the chaos of touring life. Being incessantly thrown into new and unfamiliar territory with so many unknown factors, this way of life requires fast and lasting change in one’s way of thinking. You just gotta roll with the punches, keep your head on straight, and keep moving forward.

Photo By: John Gessner

TrunkSpace: With that in mind, if you could spend the remainder of your career making a living writing and recording exclusively, could you walk away from performing in front of people or is there still a draw there?
Shook: I love touring, I love performing, and most of all, I love my bandmates. We’ve worked so fucking hard to get to where we are, I would totally be letting them down if I quit touring. I could never do that. They’re my family when I’m not home.

TrunkSpace: You seem to put so much of yourself into your music. On the lyrics side, do you ever feel like you’re saying too much about yourself and your experiences, and in the process, opening yourself up to third party dissection… especially in this social media age?
Shook: No. Artists need to be more honest and transparent in their art. I make mistakes, I’m not perfect, and when I fuck up I’m not afraid to talk about it.

TrunkSpace: You have a great rock star aura about you, but really, the first “rock stars” with swagger were the classic country artists. What are your thoughts on persona and attitude when it comes to an artist’s point of view? Is it all part of the necessary equation?
Shook: I don’t give a single fuck what anybody thinks about me. I know who I am. I know what my strengths and weaknesses are. I work really hard to better myself. It’s impossible to intimidate someone who has lived through the shit I’ve lived through and clawed their way kicking and screaming towards freedom and independence. Nobody is ever gonna keep me down again and there is no more liberating feeling.

TrunkSpace: We love great music, but within great music we are particularly drawn to great lyrics, the kind that make us curse the universe for not coming up with ourselves. What is a favorite line of yours that you have written and why?
Shook: “I didn’t come here to be seen, but I can feel your eyes burning holes in me.” Because I’ll never forget that feeling with that person in that moment at the bar. Ain’t desire a hell of a thing.

Years” by Sarah Shook & the Disarmers is available now from Bloodshot Records.

Featured image by: Jillian Clark.

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Musical Mondaze

Luke Winslow-King

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Photo By: Victor Alonso

Spending more than a decade in New Orleans, a city known for being a rich musical melting pop of genres and styles, gave singer/songwriter Luke Winslow-King a new perspective on his relationship with his audience. The Big Easy’s communal creative scene scene instilled in him the responsibility of an artist to be entertaining, authenticate and original, three qualities that are instantly apparent when listening to his latest album, “Blue Mesa,” due May 11 from Bloodshot Records.

We recently sat down with Winslow-King to discuss the importance of artistic exploration, why he feels more confident in his craft than ever before, and the reason he hopes others will find a meaningful message in the songs that have impacted his own life.

 

TrunkSpace: You recently moved back to Cadillac, MI after spending more than a decade in New Orleans. New Orleans is the kind of city than can leave its mark on people. Where has the city influenced your music and creative POV the most?
Winslow-King: I would say New Orleans has influenced my music a lot with the style, flair, and swagger that the culture there has to offer. I was really fortunate to learn from and play with some of the greats there including: John Boutte, Little Freddy King, Washboard Chaz, and Roberto Luti. You do gather an interesting artist’s perspective performing in New Orleans. Music becomes something that is shared within the community. Something that’s free, that’s in the air. I feel living in New Orleans gave me a sense of responsibility towards my audience. To be entertaining, authentic, and original.

TrunkSpace: Your new album “Blue Mesa” is a really beautiful blend of so many various genres. So often we hear about actors not wanting to get pigeonholed into any one genre of film or television, but can the same be said for a songwriter? Is it important for you to be able to write from a space of creative diversity?
Winslow-King: Yes, for me personally it’s very important to have the freedom to explore different genres, sounds, and traditions. Over my career I’ve been careful to not get pigeonholed as any one kind of artist, but also not to be known for being a “mixed bag” artist who doesn’t know the depths of any one tradition. I feel like all of the sounds explored on the album are ones that I’ve lived with. I feel justified in my abilities to perform within them.

TrunkSpace: What do you think “Blue Mesa” says about you as an artist and do you believe that it’s reflective of a continuous journey of discovering your voice as a songwriter?
Winslow-King: It’s definitely a stop along the way in my journey as an artist. I am continually exploring and discovering my voice as a singer and songwriter. I feel that “Blue Mesa” is definitely an arrival at a new height. I feel more confident in my writing and singing than I ever have before. I feel like my band is hitting on all cylinders and supporting the songs better than ever as well. I’m proud of it and am looking forward to seeing how audiences respond to the entire album.

TrunkSpace: If you could sit down and have a conversation with your 16-year-old self, would he be happy with the artist you have become today? Would he be surprised?
Winslow-King: I think so. The music I’m playing now is surprisingly similar to the music I was making when I was 16. I’ve gone on different tangents in my musical life exploring jazz, folk, dixieland and songwriting. Now I have come full circle in away. I was performing at clubs, festivals, and talent shows with the Winslow-King Blues Band in the mid to late ’90s playing blues rock covers. The only difference is that now I’m performing all original songs and have a lot more experience behind me. At that age, I just was excited about performing. I didn’t have aspirations of being a career musician. I think if 16-year-old me could see me now, he would be pleasantly surprised and excited. In the same way, I’m looking forward and encouraging 50-year-old me down the path.

TrunkSpace: The process of recording the album was a bit of a worldwide adventure. How important was that to you in making sure that the vibe and focus of the album supported the vision you had for it? Would the album have been the same had you recorded it at a single location here in the States?
Winslow-King: I don’t think the location of recording really makes that much difference. It’s more about the songs in the mental headspace of the performers. We have recorded some of my prior albums in Europe as well. “Blue Mesa” was recorded in the fortress village of Lari, nestled in the mountains of Tuscany. The setting was ideal and relaxing which had my band and I in a good headspace to relax and have fun with the songs. When you get to the studio, the songs and sounds have already been developed. I’ve found it’s best, once the red light is on, to sit back and enjoy the ride.

TrunkSpace: There are some amazing guest musicians on the album, including Roberto Luti and Chris Davis. Are you someone who finds creative inspiration in the creativity of others? Does being around those other musicians make you a better musician?
Winslow-King: Definitely, Roberto has been an inspiration, partner and maestro for more than a decade. He has greatly influenced my slide guitar playing and approach to music generally. Chris Davis, and bassist Christian Carpenter, really went the extra mile on this album to play simple and articulated parts. They really elevated the songs by playing selflessly and being dedicated to the greater sound.

Photo By: Victor Alonso

TrunkSpace: You have numerous records under your belt now. Has the songwriting process changed for you at all from those early days when you first began your career to where you are today with “Blue Mesa?”
Winslow-King: Yes, “Blue Mesa” is my sixth album. The biggest change since the early albums is that song craft has become more a part of my daily life. I used to assign myself homework and feel a nagging responsibility to sit down and produce more. These days song writing is a part of daily life. I just try to be ready when lightning strikes. To be a conduit. To pay attention to the sounds, phrases, emotions and ideas that are in the ether. I’m just trying to bring these down to solid ground and make songs that people can relate to and see themselves in, songs that people feel comfortable with. This approach has proved much more fruitful for me.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to overthink a song? Can a songwriter tinker so much that the creative spark that first made a song great ends up dimming a bit?
Winslow-King: Definitely. The same can be true with performance in production. I think that proves a true maturity in an artist. To be sensitive to that balance. You definitely have to have a certain technical proficiency whether it be instrumentation, production, or songwriting. That has to be balanced with the human visceral nature of music. Roberto is kind of our spirit guide in the band, helping find this balance.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist?
Winslow-King: I would say in the department of authenticity. I have very little tolerance for anything less. I have to be true to myself on stage and when I’m writing, or else I just can’t do it. Not necessarily being authentic to a certain style, culture, or genre so much as being authentic to my own true self; my own likes and honest tendencies. I make music that I love first. If audiences like it, even better!

TrunkSpace: When all is said and done and you hang up your guitar for good, what do you hope you’re remembered for? What do you want your legacy as a songwriter to be?
Winslow-King: I guess I want to be remembered for songs that made a difference in peoples lives. Not necessarily that saved the world, but songs that were there for people in times of need. I’ve written a few songs that I feel an obligation to live up to. Those songs have made a difference in my own life and I hope others find them useful as well.

Blue Mesa” is available May 11 from Bloodshot Records.

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Musical Mondaze

Ruby Boots

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Photo By: Stephani Vinsel

Ruby Boots, aka Bex Chilcott, pinged our radar earlier this year with the release of “Don’t Talk About It,” an album that instantly floated to the top of our Best Of ‘18 list. Defying genre labels and rising above simple sorting, the Australian-born singer/songwriter isn’t just a square peg finding her way in the circular hole that is the music industry she’s her own yet-undefined shape who is leaving her mark by being musically malleable.

We recently sat down with Chilcott to discuss how she takes compliments about her art, why she needs to give herself free reign to create “whatever the fuck” she likes, and the inspiring vibe of her new home, Nashville.

TrunkSpace: We have loved “Don’t Talk About It” since we first heard the album, and in fact, we think it is something that we should very much be talking about. As it relates to your music, are you someone who handles compliments well?
Chilcott: Well thank you, I’m glad you love it! I have learnt to say thank you as a way of handling compliments the best I can. Someone once pulled me aside and said, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I was trying to pay you a compliment and when you brush it off and don’t receive it, it robs me of the joy of sharing how I feel.” So from that moment on I learnt to say thank you so as to keep in mind that it’s not up to me to depict if someone enjoys what I create and receive whatever it is my music makes them feel, good or bad!

TrunkSpace: What we really enjoyed about the album is that, while each song works cohesively together, it really is a mosaic of different genres and styles. As a songwriter, are you someone who works within your own self-imposed boundaries or creatively is anything on the table as long as it suits the song?
Chilcott: I love this question! I am all about instinct. I know when I want something and I know when I don’t – it always comes based on a feeling, usually that is in the form of either joy or anxiety! (Laughter) It’s never very calculated and sometimes I can barely put what I want from a song into words, which is probably why the album has that mosaic feel, and quite honestly, I am always worried that the albums I make won’t be cohesive even though its something I do strive for! I don’t like boxes. We as artists should give ourselves free reign to do whatever the fuck we like, and that’s how I approach making music. As long as I can be proud of it, and if I put something out that I can’t get to that place, if I can take some kind of lesson away and grow from the experience then that has to be just as good as that sense of pride!

TrunkSpace: Breaking down the songs further, it also seems that lyrically you’re not afraid to pull back the curtain and reveal the rawest of emotions and personal experiences. Do you feel it’s possible to put too much of yourself into a song or is that honesty a part of what makes it all work so well?
Chilcott: Even if the song is not about a direct experience I have had, I will always try and put myself in it, and if it is, I try not to be too coy. Maybe someone could listen to one of my songs and feel understood in one way or another – perhaps they have been through something that hits home for them and they can take something away from it. Whatever it is, I am not afraid of being real. I don’t have time for fake.

Take the song “Somebody Else.” It’s based on a story, the whole gaslighting concept, and I had a very close friend spiral into deep depression because she had someone lie to her so consistently she thought she was going mad until she found out she was right. It was awful. So I write that from a first person point of view to best try to understand it. I have been hurt before too, so I throw that sentiment in there and hopefully a listener in a similar situation can feel understood too!

TrunkSpace: When you put so much of yourself into a song, do you second guess putting it out into the world, particularly in a day and age where everyone seems to have a soapbox they’re all too eager to stand on thanks to social media and other internet-based platforms?
Chilcott: I mean, it’s an assumption that each song has all of myself in it. I write in first person because it helps me connect with what I am writing about, but I don’t always write from deeply personal experiences. When I do however, I don’t stand on a soapbox because I don’t approach life like that. I have overcome so much in this life already that if I get kicked down, first I hurt but then I pick myself back up, dust all that shit off and keep moving forward, and I think that is a positive perspective to write from – show the hurt and the pain but show the defiance, the resilience and the victory of not giving up or being pushed around, you know?

Photo By: Cal Quinn

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist?
Chilcott: The songs. It’s ALL about the songs. In my mind, the songwriting has to always be growing or I should stop writing songs. And without that feeling, that I am growing as a songwriter, I feel like I should just quit what I am doing all together.

TrunkSpace: We have read about your journey from Perth to Nashville and the personal difficulties you experienced throughout your younger years. How much of that impacted who you are as an artist today? Obviously it’s impossible to know what could have been had we zigged instead of zagged in life, but do you think you would have a much different creative POV in the present had you had a more stable, less nomadic past?
Chilcott: I love this question too! Yes, your life journey shapes the way you see the world and so it’s exactly the perspective that you write from. Had it been different so would be my writing and my songs!

TrunkSpace: Is songwriting a form of therapy for you? If you didn’t have it as a creative outlet to get your thoughts out, do you think you would feel more emotionally bogged down?
Chilcott: It used to be therapy in the sense that it was the first outlet I had found in life to express my emotions in a way that made sense, but now it’s therapeutic in the sense that it helps me process things – how I view certain situations or things that are going on around me or even what’s going on inside rather than just expression from emotion in a more raw format. It allows me to question something and process it that way.

TrunkSpace: Nashville is such an amazingly creative city. Does being around other creatives inspire you to pursue your own art even further than you would if you were living in a different place?
Chilcott: Yes, it is, and yes, it does. There is always someone to collaborate with or a show that is happening that is deeply inspiring and the quality of music that is made in this city means there is always an awesome album coming out from someone I know that blows me away.

TrunkSpace: Writing, recording and promoting an album is a long process. As you’re continuing to put time and promotion into “Don’t Talk About It,” has your creative brain and essentially who you are in the moment (likes, dislikes and things you want to express) already moved on to what you would like your next artistic endeavor to be?
Chilcott: No, it doesn’t have the chance to move onto anything, it kind of gets stuck in this vortex of time for a while. All the focus goes into being present in the moment and giving your attention to the release. Sometimes it can appear that once an album is out that that’s it, but there is so much work to do around release time and if all goes well, for some time after that! Thankfully this time I have some incredible people working with me on this release so I am able to focus more on my live shows, etc!

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you with a time machine and offered you a chance to have a glimpse at what your career will look like 10 years from now, would you take the futuristic peek?
Chilcott: No way! I need to stay present in the journey and enjoy each moment. If I knew what it was leading to then it would take away all of my joy!

Don’t Talk About It” is available now from Bloodshot Records.

Featured image by: Cal Quinn

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Musical Mondaze

Jon Langford

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When terrible things happen in the world, particularly those that impact so many people, it’s difficult to proceed forward as if that something never happened. In the case of TrunkSpace, interviews can sometimes become conversations – discussions about the topics that, by chance and circumstance, have the power to connect absolute strangers and remind us that we’re all human.

A day after the tragic events in Las Vegas and the passing of musical icon Tom Petty, we were scheduled to sit down with Welsh-born musician Jon Langford, founding member of the Mekons and the Waco Brothers. Langford, who is currently in Los Angeles working on new material with the Mekons, recently released the solo album “Four Lost Souls,” but it was the souls lost and the ramifications of a particularly difficult news cycle that brought our discussion in an unintended direction.

TrunkSpace: We’re speaking a day after the passing of Tom Petty. Did he have any impact or influence on your career or music?
Langford: I loved Tom Petty. I thought he was fantastic. I just loved the economy of his music, how uniquely American it was. And I love the fact that, the only music my 15 year old and I kind of share, was Tom Petty. He loves Tom Petty as well, and that’s really strange because most of the stuff he listens to, I don’t know what it is. He was playing Tom Petty off his phone onto the aux in my car. I was going, “You like Tom Petty?” I was talking to him about Tom Petty, and his involvement with George Harrison and people like that. It just felt like he was someone everyone could kind of like, in a way. It was great pop-rock music, that was just done so right. He understood the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll so much.

TrunkSpace: And even those people who didn’t connect with his Heartbreakers work, they tend to reference his time in The Traveling Wilburys as a way his influence still touched them.
Langford: Yeah, I loved the Wilburys when they come out. I thought it was fantastic. I thought, what a great idea to have all those people in a band together. Who wouldn’t want to be in a band with Roy Orbison? Kind of amazing.

It’s very sad. Yesterday was just a terrible day. It was a day to stay off social networking, because it’s sort of idiocy that goes on with the social platforms. “Tom Petty’s dead. No he’s not dead. I’m gonna kill you because you said he’s dead.”

Then there’s ISIS, claiming responsibility for an old white guy going to Vegas with automatic weapons. Like ISIS is targeting old white guys who live on golf courses now, and radicalizing them? It’s just a fucking load of nonsense that people are using all these disasters to profit, and sow confusion, and promote really crazy political agendas.

TrunkSpace: It feels like we’re in a very divide-and-conquer time.
Langford: Everything. Everything that comes up. There’s guys like, “Oh no, he’s not ISIS, he’s a Bernie Sanders supporter, and he did it because he doesn’t like Trump.” Like Bernie Sanders supporters are all toting automatic weapons. It’s a fantasy world, and it’s the complete death of consensus. It was a day yesterday when people should have shut up and thought about what happened. It’s an opportunity. That’s the way after 9/11 was. That was a huge opportunity that people like Cheney and Rumsfeld saw landing in their lap – to change America into what they wanted it to be, and they ran with it straight away.

Something like this that happened yesterday, it kind of screams out to me. Maybe there’s too many guns around if the guy’s got a hotel room and a house totally packed with weapons that can cause so much mayhem.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned 9/11. After that day, there was a sort of unified response from the population. We all came together. Now a tragedy happens and we instantly take sides.
Langford: Absolutely. I think the isolation of social media, and the power it gives people to be keyboard warriors, has given people the right to say whatever shit they feel like. Racists and idiots who didn’t want to open their mouths because there was a stigma to being a racist before, are being completely liberated. It’s a disgusting situation, and it’s not gonna get any better.

TrunkSpace: Maybe that makes music more important than ever now? A group of people can get together at a Jon Langford show and find a unified focus. It can be the community that we seem to be losing within our own communities.
Langford: Well, I hope so. That’s the point for me, is to be part of a conversation. That’s what this album is about.

Langford and his band. Photo By: Nate Urbansky

TrunkSpace: Most people make the conscious effort to decide if and when they’re going to make an album, but for you, the universe sort of got the wheels in motion on “Four Lost Souls,” right?
Langford: Yeah, it was a suggestion by Norbert Putnam, of all people. We ended up playing some Johnny Cash songs at the opening of the exhibit of the Country Music Hall of Fame. People thought that would be a funny idea, to have an old Welsh punk rocker singing Johnny Cash songs with basically the entire cast and crew of the Nashville Cats from 1960s. (Laughter) It was great, lovely. I had Lloyd Green, Mac Gayden, Wayne Moss, David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, and Charlie McCoy as my backing band. We all had a great time. I always find music to be very inclusive like that. If you play music with people, a lot of things melt away.

I had a few glasses of wine with Norbert Putnam and he told me I sang like a pirate, and maybe I’d like to come to Muscle Shoals and record an album, because he’d moved back down there. It was a strange thing. I didn’t really take it very seriously at first. Then he asked me again, and he seemed to be really keen on the idea, and he told me how it would work and how we’d have David Hood playing the bass. And I got to go, I got to go and do this thing, but why would I go to Muscle Shoals and what would it be about? Then the songs just started popping out.

It was like a great suggestion that an old Welsh punk rocker would address his relationship with a fairly alien part of the world, that affected his life so much. It’s a double-edged thing, this incredible blossoming of creativity in the 20th century, that gave the world so much. It’s what I think is great about the American way. I was attracted to America’s rock ‘n’ roll and through rock ‘n’ roll came jazz, blues, country, Cajun and all these other forms. Then this kind of terrible legacy of the Civil War, slavery, Jim Crow, the things that were done during the civil rights years – there’s that legacy, which I was writing those songs not thinking that was all about to burst out of the ground again, like it did when Trump got elected.

The songs were kind of concerned with that, but it’s kind of a bit alarming that I wrote a song, “In Oxford Mississippi,” about how the Civil War never really ended for some people and how the memorials, Daughters of the Confederacy, put these memorials up and they’re bigger than the memorials to great Americans who struggled during the Civil Rights Movement. To those people, the Civil War is more real and important, or the Old South is more real and important, than the advances this country has made. I thought that was kind of frightening and worth pointing out.

And then within a few months of writing that song, we’ve got this whole issue of Charlottesville, and the Confederate statues coming down, and a president who compares Robert E. Lee to George Washington. He thinks they’re like cool historical figures, beautiful guys. It’s a fucking mess you’ve found yourselves in, I’m afraid.

Mekons photo by: Derrick Santini

TrunkSpace: With all of the social and political divide going on, it does seem like songwriters are using their platform to say more. The things that they’re concerned with now, on a larger scale that impacts us all, they’re more willing to talk about that now and use their platform.
Langford: I suppose that’s a positive thing. When you’re in the middle of a culture war, it’s kind of inevitable, unless you’re a complete moron. I don’t think I’ve ever done an album that wasn’t somehow trying to deal with, explain, or be part of a conversation. Yeah, I mean if other people are doing that as well, we’re kind of burrowing on the fringes of it already. It’s not like the Mekons or the Wacos or myself are in any way popular culture. We’re kind of unpopular culture. But you do what you can do, and when I write songs, that’s the stuff that comes out.

TrunkSpace: Do you use your writing as a way to work through the stuff that you’re seeing and absorbing?
Langford: Yeah, I guess so. You try to find something that’s universal, something that someone else might pick up on. You try not to make them too obvious that they’re just banal. It’s a tricky thing. I think songs are fantastic. I’ve spent a lot of my time listening to, and being moved and inspired by other people’s songs. And sometimes I don’t know whether what I’m getting out of them is what they intended, but that’s part of the beauty of it.

TrunkSpace: Absolutely. And when multiple people are connecting to a song in a different way, there’s something special about that.
Langford: With this album I could write a paragraph about what each song’s about, and it would be kind of pointless because I feel like the songs, they would be failures as songs if people needed to be walked through them.

TrunkSpace: And we’ve all experienced that – finding something to connect with in a song and then hearing, possibly years later, the meaning of the song itself and thinking, “Wow, I was completely off base.”
Langford: Well, there’s a great story about Picasso when he was describing the symbolism of Guernica in the 1930s. He said, “This is this, and this is that, and the horse is something, then the bull is fascism.” And then in the 1970s he was talking about it and he went, “This is this, this is that, and the bull is Spain.” It’s an incredibly powerful picture. You look at it, it’s an absolutely very, very powerful, angry, amazing picture, which I get a lot out of, and even he couldn’t really know what he meant. He made it, but he can’t dictate what it means to the point where he contradicts himself.

“Four Lost Souls” is available now from Bloodshot Records.

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Musical Mondaze

The Yawpers

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Photo By: George Blosser

Critics and fans alike are in love with The Yawpers. Often described as having a sound that is exclusive to the band, the Denver-born trio has been taking an honest and forthright approach to their music since they came together in 2011. That honesty and forthrightness doesn’t just exist within their lyrics either. Frontman Nate Cook is frank when responding to questions, both professional and personal, and is not afraid to offer as much of himself as possible for his fans to soak up and absorb.

We recently sat down with Cook to discuss the band’s new album “Boy in a Well,” how he works through a bout of writer’s block, and how he manages the praise for The Yawpers.

TrunkSpace: The band has been together since 2011. So much can change in six years, and at the same time, so much can (and usually does) stay the same. How much have you changed personally in that time and how has that impacted your songwriting?
Cook: I guess a lot does change in six years for a person. I’ve been married and divorced, moved around a lot, that sort of stuff. I guess I’m just in my 30s now so… my mid-20s were a different time all together for me. In some ways I take my writing a lot more seriously than I used to, and it has taken a little bit more of a personal flair, because I’m not as flippant as I was in my 20s.

TrunkSpace: A person’s point of view tends to change between that period of 20s to 30s transition.
Cook: Yeah, I can see that. It’s odd how inevitable the change is. One day you just wake up and you’re a different person without ever actually having done anything to change yourself.

TrunkSpace: Which must be difficult in a band setting because, so often, fans want their favorite artists to stay the same.
Cook: Yeah, I agree. I think that what people really expect, and we’ve been lucky is that our fans mostly just expect us to be authentic, and I think that that can read regardless of how stylistically we change.

TrunkSpace: Life is filled with so many ups and downs. You mentioned going through a divorce and moving around a lot. Are those ups and downs magnified when your career is all about being in front of people, either emotionally in your songwriting, or even physically when you are in front of people in a live setting?
Cook: Well, I think there’s a kind of a loneliness to this lifestyle. Just a lot of moving around and you’ve got the type of life that, by virtue, is kind of nomadic. So, I guess in some ways that becomes my personal life, it’s what I share with people on stage or through my music. My personal life just really doesn’t exist, because I’m not around to have it. And in that way I suppose it is kind of an emotional release, or at least an extension of my personal life.

TrunkSpace: Does it feel like as an artist… as somebody who creates… does it feel like fans want to see that personal side of you more given the social media age? Do they want more of you than just the music?
Cook: Oh yeah. For years people have always wanted that, but now the availability of it is… people expect it, I guess. That’s kind of a hard question to answer, though, because I feel like since the dawn of artists people have wanted to know about the people that make it. It’s just now that it’s easy to find out. Your life is a lot more on display than it used to be, even if the desire hasn’t actually necessarily increased.

TrunkSpace: “Boy in a Well” has a story theme that runs throughout it. When you focus on a story concept does that put limitations on you from a songwriting perspective?
Cook: Yeah, I don’t want to sound too up my own ass on this one, but I think a lot of times… limiting yourself allows you to maintain focus on what you’re really trying to say. So in some ways it does both simultaneously. Obviously, staying focused on the subject limits what you can talk about, but it allows you to talk about what you’re writing about more fluently.

TrunkSpace: If you’re writing tunes for that concept and you hit a block, do you start writing in an unrelated way for just yourself to put some distance between you and the focus of the block?
Cook: No, usually what I’ll do is I’ll write a lot of garbage until something works. But I usually try to stay within the confines of the concept otherwise I would lose it. I wrote probably 35 songs for the record and it has only 12 on it. A lot of times just writing garbage helps the good stuff come out.

Photo By: Demi Demitro

TrunkSpace: Of those 35 songs that didn’t make the record, does that mean you’ll never want to revisit them or the same theme again?
Cook: Yeah, that’s correct. Once something’s kind of done, and you’ve kind of passed judgment on it, it feels kind of dirty to go back and do it again. I don’t even like playing songs from old records live anymore. You just kind of move on.

TrunkSpace: You guys got a lot of praise over the years, both critical and from the casual listener. Does that put pressure on you as a songwriter and as a band to deliver each time out?
Cook: Yeah, I would say so. I think that any artist who tells you that they don’t crave validation is a fucking liar. I mean, it matters. You can’t think about it too much during the process, but one always hopes that people will accept it with an open mind and enjoy it. I wouldn’t say it’s so much a part of the writing process, but definitely it’s part of sweating through your mattress at night while you’re waiting for it to come out.

TrunkSpace: You have done a slew of interviews since The Yawpers came together. What’s something you wish you were asked over that time, or an area of yourself or the band that you’d like to share that people don’t normally ask?
Cook: Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that question. We’ve been asked pretty much every question that there is under the sun, and I always do my best to answer them honestly. I feel like whatever people want to know they can know, but I don’t have anything specifically that I’ve been itching to share.

TrunkSpace: Do you wish people would focus on a particular area of the band more?
Cook: I think people have focused a lot on my writing, which is what I’m most proud of. I feel like that’s already kind of happened for us, so I’m pretty happy with where and how the attention’s been spent on us.

TrunkSpace: Tommy Stinson of The Replacements contributed to “Boy in a Well” on the production side of things. What was that experience like?
Cook: Tommy’s a cool guy. We actually got to go on tour with him after the album as well. He’s a great dude. Obviously I’ve been a Replacements fan since I could listen to music. Working with someone like that, just the league and… he was fucking awesome and really into the project. Yeah, I couldn’t have been happier with it, to be honest.

TrunkSpace: Did he offer any advice or did you absorb anything via osmosis in terms of career longevity?
Cook: I wish I could say we had the prescience to ask any of those questions, but we didn’t. I would say that just, osmosis is probably a good word for it, there’s kind of a collected-ness to an artist that’s been doing it that long that rubs off. I hope that we’ve somehow managed to glean some of that knowledge.

TrunkSpace: Everybody has bad days. As much as you love music, writing and recording is still work. When you’re having those bad days, is it easier to get over it when you’re like, “Tommy Stinson’s in the room!”?
Cook: Yeah. If Tommy Stinson and a bottle of whiskey are in the room, it’s usually gonna be okay.

TrunkSpace: Do you see yourself on a similar path as Tommy in terms of having a career as long and as fruitful he has had?
Cook: I would like to think so, as long as I don’t drink myself to death.

“Boy in a Well” is available August 18 on Bloodshot Records.

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