Paul: Last time I saw you guys was back in Oct, London 2007. John, you spoke about getting some new music recorded, and in a different vein from the stunning debut World Without End. You had The Gunplay EP out for sale on that tour. That EP
had some live radio recordings, some new tracks and the titles all
suggested the beautiful spectre of death was hanging its freak flag high still in your music. Gary Gilmore, 1977 was a big, funky and full on rockfest that had a Sympathy For The Devil backing vocal line that ran through most of the 5.12 of the track. This track kicked ass for me. It opened out the vibe. The band were gasping for breath and the death verdict.
Bob: Paul, go ahead and tell us what you really think. You don't have to beat around the bush like that.
John: Hell yes! Dig it! I always felt that Gary Gilmore, 1977 was a retardedly under appreciated track. My guitar solo is crazy amazing on that shit. Thanks, Paul. I love you.
Paul: Tell me more about why love & loss feature heavily in the songs of the
Bob: I've been writing these songs about love and longing ever since I can remember. Seems like by now I should have found whatever it was I was longing for... That's the thing about songs like this. They never grow old. They don't have any date on them. When you're in that sweet state of longing for the beloved, there's no such thing as time. So John was in a state of longing for his beloved -- I don't think he thought it was all that sweet though, you'd have to ask him about it -- he was staying over here, him and Evie, his little daughter. She is so cute, I was willing to put up with John just to have her here. So he found these old demos I'd made of these love songs, and it struck a chord in him. He wrote some of his own, and we made this album. It was all his idea.
Paul: That's a lovely tale. And those in the moment feelings of love stay with us...
John: I really think Bob's right. These kinds of songs are utterly timeless and they never grow old. I don't think it's so much the production as it is the nature of the songs themselves that seems to transcend time and leave you only concerned with the emotion. Man, when I first heard those demos at Bob's place I was floored. Completely. I knew why he hadn't recorded them: they sounded like old doo wop and soul tunes and were absolutely stunning in their simplicity and feel. They immediately felt like a lost set of demos for a single record, so we started putting them together with songs I'd written alone and with Brady Potts. I could hear all the horns and the Steve Cropper licks and the watery plate reverb already....
Paul: On face value, you may think that this is the absolute opposite to your first album, World Without End in content and subject matter, but I am not so sure. What do you fellas think?
Bob: Well, it's not the opposite. The opposite would be no CD at all. But it is looking at it from a different perspective. All those characters in the songs on WWE were longing for something too. There wasn't a whole lot of love in those songs, it just didn't seem to appear in stories like that. But the longing was there. The loss. All the painful stuff was there. Or, you could say, all the stuff that was there was painful.
Paul: I agree Bob, you summed up what I was trying to get at, the emotionality...
Bob: It's the same stuff on this new CD, actually. Only it's not all painful, or not as painful. Depends on if you can stand to hear us sing. The thing is, the songs are all different on here. Some of them, the guy is angry, pissed off, ready to kill somebody. Some of them, he's willing to suffer anything, just so she can be happy. Then you got all these states in between. We cover 'em all. Some are painful, some are blissful.
John: This is why I love you, Paul! I think that it is far from the opposite, in terms of subject matter, from WWE. In fact, I think it's just the other side of the same coin. Sigmund Freud's theory focused entirely on love (Eros) and death (Thanatos) and the drive towards both. I think these two albums are similar in that way. When it comes to the visceral in life perhaps all anyone ultimately has for certain are those two things. I'm not sure that hate doesn't crop up in a more immediate way on this album, in some sense.
Paul: Because this is personal and between 2 human beings?
John: I mean, we're talking about the relationship between two people, not between a person and society like on WWE, so the longing that becomes injurious to the ego more quickly and strongly becomes hate. I don't know entirely. So much of this record for me, even the songs Bob wrote - maybe those more so, felt so immediate and personal. Now I'm able to think about it a bit more objectively, partially at least because my wife and I were able to reconcile things. With WWE it wasn't until after the record was done that it truly began to haunt me and to feel personal. That is the only real difference. As people I think we want to believe our emotional lives are unique. They aren't. We love, hopefully we are loved, and we die.
Paul: Now, tell me something about how you two put together these songs?
Bob: Well, it's always a mystery how we do that, Paul. I got no idea.
John: It really began with these cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes Bob had upstairs at his place. Then one morning while I was waking up, Evie, my little girl, was downstairs eating breakfast with Bob. He was so sweet to her while we stayed there. I'd be so depressed, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, and Bob would make breakfast for Evie and play with her everyday she was there. She adores him. Anyway, on this day he was playing songs for her while she ate and he played Selfish Love for her, one of the ones that wasn't on the demos. Man, I coulda burst into tears then and there. We were recording the EP at the time and so I had Tim record a rough of Bob doing that song along. That really crystallized the concept. From there we dug through these demos he'd left sitting for years and some newer stuff and picked what spoke to us. I began writing a lot, felt driven to by the circumstances, and also met up with my friend Brady Potts in LA. Brady and I met in Memphis when we were both young and used to play together in The Dillingers. We wrote a few songs together, too, and some of those appear on here, too. It came together in a really simple way. The songs are so consistent and cohesive yet they span many years and a lot of writing. I don't know, something about this whole thing happened really naturally.
Paul: What's the Brinkley, Ark. refer to in the album title?
Bob: That's Brinkley, Arkansas, a little town in Arkansas west of Memphis on Interstate 40. That's where this first song takes place. It was back in 1968. All these songs are true, Paul.
Paul: I can see they truly are personal...
John: Yep. Brinkley now has the world's largest bridal gown wholesale store and some of the best duck hunting in the world. Weird combination.
Paul: Could you give me a kind of diary style run down to the writing, then
recording and mixing/mastering the album?
Bob: John probably could.
John: The concept for recording this album was quite different than WWE. We did this as a band in the studio. Sean Coleman, Brady Potts, Nate Cavalieri, Tim Mooney, Quinn Miller, and Bob and I holed up at Closer recording for 5 days and got all the basic tracks down. Quinn's brother Drew played drums on a couple of tracks. Later we brought in Mark Cappelle and Tom Griesser who played horns brilliantly, as well as Stephanie Finch for vocals, and went to Tiny Telephone (John Vanderslice's studio) to use an old EMT 140 plate reverb. There were a lot of additional guitar and vocal overdubs, but unlike WWE all the basic tracks were essentially done live after a good bit of experimentation with arrangements. It came together over time and we mixed full on towards the end. We took our time finishing the record because while we were doing it we were still touring for WWE and didn't see any real place in the future for it's release yet, particularly in Europe. Like with WWE, Matt Pence from Centro-Matic mastered this record and did a brilliant job.
Paul: Tim Mooney held the joystick again, how is it working with him?
Bob: Tim is beyond description. You have to see him, watch him play the drums. See how he mixes and edits all those tracks. He has a certain way in the studio, like Jim Dickinson or John Murry, he can get people to relax and play naturally. This is a key to making good recordings.
John: I've gotten so accustomed to working with Tim that I think it'd be difficult to work with anyone else. I don't mean that he's made me complacent; in fact it's the opposite. Tim has allowed me the space to become fully neurotic and I think it's allowed me to do things I wouldn't normally do. He's become a bit of a hero to me. Unlike how we normally lionize people and then become disillusioned as time goes by and the veil is lifted, as time has gone by working with Tim I've grown to respect his ability and, ultimately, his ears more and more.
Paul: Tell me about The Lansky Brothers?
John: Bob's got this one.
Bob: The Lansky Brothers was a clothing store on Beale in Memphis. It might still be there, I don't know. If it is, it's the only thing that's left of Beale Street. The rest of it is all gone, replaced by a Walt Disney version of Beale Street. Back in the day, Elvis bought his clothes at the Lansky Brothers. So did Jim Dickinson and a bunch of other people, white and black. We just used their name because it was a part of the history of Memphis. This whole album has Memphis all through it, it's soaked in Memphis. Musically, as well as lyrically.
Paul: Whats the band/studio/local scene like these days, as the whole World tries to break out from the Depression?
John: The larger San Francisco Bay Area community seems to be benefiting greatly from the influx of real estate speculators once again. The music scene seems as utterly infernal here as it always has seemed to me. I've seen several venues close their doors and I think people are less able to support music and musicians. You know, the studio recently did a record on a bunch of guys from Oslo covering Neil Young. The Norwegian government paid for the whole thing. Now, that was just for a fucking cover band! Where's my goddamn government grant?
Paul: My friend the writer, publisher and poet Charley Plymell mentioned this in a recent interview we did;
"The NEA became safe academic types who are not poets, but they have to con kids into thinking they are so it continues in a vicious scam of departments to keep the fraud and Sallie Mae (student loans) going. I still receive books from poets inscribed to me as their great teacher and they list several grants and it's pretty easy to see who their friends were who gave it to them. I just wanted a fairer system about 30 years ago, but jealous poets, opportunists and arts systems and organizations invaded all federal, state and local programs to the extent it bred more like a pyramid scheme or Scientology, etc. They changed the cultural landscape forever just like everything else in this country" "Elite professions provide little fellowship for mixed blood white trash, daring to call themselves poets. Some bust the game, like a Bukowski or a Jackson Pollock, but for every one of those case studies, there are thousands for the greed, avarice and status quo of the state that it supports. You can see the history of this country in the shit flushing down the toilet. I feel sorry for younger generations yearning to be free"
He has little time or faith in the grant system. Is it getting harder and harder to work as a musician?
Bob: I don't know. I never worked as a musician.
John: Yeah, I'm not sure I've ever really worked at all.....
Paul: Have either of you been working an any side projects during the past
year or so?
Bob: I went backpacking with my son a couple of times. Oh, you mean in music. Well, I'm always writing songs, Paul. It's a bad habit I got. So right now, some guys are setting me up with some gigs in Gnashville, maybe I can pitch some songs back there, you never know. From time to time, I go to folk festivals in Arizona, or the Folk Alliance in Memphis, or to a rock festival somewhere below the Mason-Dixon line, at an undisclosed location. But I got no other projects going on right now besides this one.
John: I've been working on my first John Murry record for some time now. Tim and I are in the final stages with it, but it has a good bit of mixing left to be done. I've left a lot of time for that record, given it a lot of room to breath... I've played and recorded with The Size Queens, a truly strange band, and am producing the next Cory Branan record now. I've also played a good bit of guitar on some other records at the studio. I've really enjoyed working on Michael Mullen's project with him. He is a wildly talented songwriter. I'm also gonna take a stab at some mixing work with M Ward and Carlos Forster and a record they've been working up for about 5 or 6 years. I'm sure Bob and I will keep on making these records until kingdom come. I always get a bit depressed when we don't have anything going on together.
Paul: Will you be out touring this album in the USA, Europe and further
afield? I often thought about how you would go down in Japan or
Bob: I'd go down over there just like I would anywhere, Paul. I love the pretty ladies and I'm bound to have my fun. But as for touring, I got no idea. I can't see past April.
John: Hopefully, in Europe anyway... I hate touring in the US. It blows dogs for quarters. Like WWE, this'll come out over in Europe later so hopefully we'll make it back over the pond soon.
Paul: Do you two like sweet and savory together, or must they remain on
Bob: No, no, Paul. They got to be together. Sweet and sour, sweet and spicy, like that. We don't try to separate them. It's just that this is sweet and sour chicken and that was carnitas with green sauce from Jalisco.
John: I agree. That's how Yankees fuck up barbecue sauce. They always make it either sweet or savory. To be perfect it's gotta be both. The flavors don't negate each other, as is commonly believed. No no..... The palate is a far more complicated beast and can handle the nuances of both simultaneously....
Paul: Gimme a line each on the others eating habits?
Bob: John prefers double bacon cheeseburgers and burritos with everything on 'em.
John: Bob could eat carnitas from here to eternity. Particularly the carnitas from Jalisco, this great little place in Fruitvale here in Oakland. He also likes marijuana. I know that it isn't generally considered a food, but given his intake I have to believe he enjoys the taste.
Paul: Do either of you own a pit bull terrier?
Bob: I don't got no dogs at all right now, Paul. I might like an English bulldog someday... either that or a coonhound.
John: I have a three legged cattle dog. She's old, but she could fuck up a pit bull any day.
Paul: So your own love lives shine or shade the new album's songs
Bob: That's what I was talking about. All these songs are true, they are about our own experiences.
John: That's really all the whole thing is about. Like Bob said, all of these songs are true. It was difficult to do at times for that very reason.
Paul: Having recorded the new album, are either of you any closer to an understanding of what true love is?
Bob: Huh? You gotta listen to the CD. The answer is embedded in the data somewhere, in an undisclosed location.
John: Love is war. Either that or it's chemicals. I'll let you know soon. XOXO.
Brinkley, Ark. and Other Assorted Love Songs will be released on April 3, 2009 by Evangeline Records.
Paul Hawkins has been interested in popular culture and music, protest and survival for as long as we can remember. He began writing about things, making music and other noise at an early age. Paul has interviewed musicians, writers, poets, protestors and artists.
March sees a greatly expanded reissue of Elliott Smith's most critically acclaimed album Either/Or