Monday Morning Video: The Mastersons (plus live Q&A and performance!)

The MastersonsBrooklyn by way of Texas duo The Mastersons will unleash Birds Fly South, their debut release on Tuesday.

To celebrate the release, The Mastersons will be visting Twangville for a live online Q&A and performance tomorrow. Visit Twangville tomorrow at 2:30pm et for this exclusive event.

And you can get in on the action! Have a question for the band? Post it as a comment and we’ll pose it to the band on Tuesday!

To get you in the mood, here are two special videos. The first is the Mastersons, backed by Steve Earle and the Dukes & Duchesses, performing the song “Crash Test” from the new release. The second is a video chronicling the recording of Birds Fly South.

The Train Wrecks/Saddle Up

Savannah Georgia’s The Train Wrecks’ recently released sophomore disc entitled Saddle Up is an alt-country effort that hits all the right spots. Opening with the Cash-inspired “Tennessee Mare” and featuring one of the tightest rhythm sections this side of the Mason-Dixon line in Markus Kuhlmann and Eric Dunn, along with singer Jason Bible’s rusty vocals and Stuart Harmening’s blistering dobro, fans of Uncle Tupelo, Old 97’s, and Steve Earle will not be disappointed.

The album has a bit for everyone in the slow country balladry of “Show Me Your Silence” and some nice Southern Rock cowbell and guitar riffage on “Struggle.” Thematically the album focuses on the wild west mixed with a band of troubadours trying to make a living playing music.

RIYL: whiskey (not whiskey sours), leather, beat up old guitars

I caught up with lead singer Jason Bible to discuss the new record:

Where, when, and with whom was the new album recorded?

We cut all the tracks at Elevated Basement Studios in Savannah, GA in 2010. Miles Hendrix and Kevin Rose produced, recorded and mixed the album with us co-producing. Terry Manning masterfully mastered the album.

How do you go about writing songs for a new album? Also, there seems to be a couple of themes running through the album. Can you explain?

When we finished “Whiskey and War” I began looking for songs and really wanted the second album to be a concept thing with themes that evoke images of the wild west and the south. A cowboy type thing with a modern twist on the things that make me want to write. Tennessee Mare was intentionally a spin off of the Tennessee Stud. I wanted a Johnny Cash type murder song and we got the story to go over Stu’s dobro line.

I write some with Dave Williams and some with Stu Harmening. The Train Wrecks work out arrangements and we usually try them all live. Eric Dunn worte the bass line for Southern Skies years ago and we all added our parts and I wrote some words about Hawaii and put the vocal over it. I look for concepts and subjects to write about and usually they come quickly and I bounce demos on piano or acoustic and finalize them with Dave and or the band. My buddy Whiley Workman IV had these words for Hang Me High and I wanted it to sound like it come out of Sun Studios. We added and changed a few words and there it was.

Fortune and Fame developed over a year of having the verse chords and words for the chorus. I finally got the verses together and it took shape. Markus really kicked ass on the drums and his input on all the songs was vital. The percussion end and the vocals he added were great. It is wild to hear the first demos of alot of the songs and then to hear them on the record is pretty amazing to see how they turned out. We worked really hard on this record and are really proud to be The Train Wrecks!
The themes are there. I know the main two are freedom and stopping at nothing to do what you love. It’s really about the struggle of life and the pursuit of being a songsmith……I don’t know shit! I am just really happy to play with the best musicians and writers and studio folks that I have found!

What are The Train Wrecks’ plans for the rest of 2011?

God has been good to me and the boys! We are all gonna keep playing shows and get more tours happening in 2011! Making our way to New Orleans in the summer! Really want to stop and play some shows for people hit by the oil spill along the way.

An Interview With Joe Pug

A couple of months ago, I was driving somewhere with my twin brother.  He’s yammering on and on about this new songwriter that I have to listen to.  Now my brother has pretty good taste and has introduced me to many if not most of my favorite artists, but he’s still my brother–so I mostly ignored him.

As the summer weeks passed on, that CD never made it out of my car.  I  became entranced by it, often spending my lunch breaks with the air condition blasting and that CD spinning.  The CD was Joe Pug’s debut EP Nation of Heat, plus a motley collection of live bootlegged songs (which I hope will appear on his forthcoming LP).  When I saw Pug’s name appear on the line-up for this year’s Newport Folk Festival, I knew I would have to catch his set (even if it was stacked against Guy Clark’s).  Sometimes a new, young artist can be disappointing in a live setting–after all, they don’t have the years of experience, the well-worn stage persona, or the crowd-pleasing back catalog that an older artist would.

Photograph by Todd Roeth

Pug was staggeringly good.  Performing with an intensity that was broken only once (by a nearby kayaker’s air horn), he pounded his guitar, wailed on the harmonica, and blew away the crowd, one poetic line at a time.  With a line-up full of legends, contemporary stars, and killer songwriters, Pug stood head and shoulders above anyone else I saw that weekend, and was one of those shows that makes you remember why you fell in love with music in the first place.  I met with Joe afterwards (as did much of his audience) and asked about interviewing him.  The result is before you.  It was conducted while Pug was on break from his marathon summer tour, resting back home in Chicago.

So how have you been enjoying your break?

Well, you have to get use to just going to the grocery store and making dinner, but it’s nice.

So you were at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill studying to be a playwright and then you moved out to Chicago…..what happened?

Yea for 3 years and the more I learned about how to write plays, the worse the plays got in my estimation.  So, I was really kind of finished with it.  So, I just left there, not with a plan to go out and write songs, just with a plan to get away from that.  And I sort of fell into writing songs a couple of months later.

Why Chicago?

Well, I visited a friend out there and he had just moved out there.  So before I left, I went to see him.  And really, it’s just a great city.  I fell in love with it and made plans to get out there as soon as possible.

As I understand it, the Nation of Heat EP was recorded kind of low budget sneaking in between other artists recording sessions and filling in for cancelations.  Was there any sort of theme to the record or was it more of a let’s just get these songs down kind of thing?

No, it was a lot more….a lot less calculated than it might have seemed.  It was just 3 or 4 sessions spread out over 5 or 6 months.  I was just going in and recording songs I had written.  There was no real attempt to make like one cohesive thing.

It just worked out well I guess.

I recorded a ton of songs up there for the record and I just ended up choosing the ones l liked the most.

Do you have any favorites among the seven?  I tried to make a list myself and couldn’t do it.

Thank You.  That’s sort of like a parent choosing a favorite child, you could definitely do it, but it would lead to problems.

You’ve got a ton of new songs you’ve been playing in concert (I listed off a half dozen before asking this question) are those all going to be on the new album?

They will, yeah.  They’re all recorded and done.  Now I’m just trying to figure out how we’re going to release those.

So you don’t have release date set up or a label or anything?

No we don’t.  As of now if we were going to release the record tomorrow, we would do it ourselves.  But, I’m not sure what’s going to happen.  We were going to release it this fall, but then I got invited to go out with Steve Earle in Europe for a month and a half.  We couldn’t be in the states to support the release, so we pushed it back.

You excited about Europe?

Yeah man.  I’ve never been.

Pretty cool and with Steve Earle nonetheless.

It’s a hell of way to go for the first time, I’ll say that.

I saw those Steve Earle dates.  You’ve also toured with M. Ward, Robert Randolph, Josh Ritter, how cool is it tour with those people?

It’s really cool.  Especially with guys….I mean Steve is the guy I’ve went out with most.  I’ve learned a lot from him, watching him from night to night.  But all those guys, you know there all a little bit older than me and I get to look at them and just learn, soak it all in, see the way they do things.

So like you know, I saw the Newport show this year, which was stunning, and I know you played Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and other summer music festivals.  Have you been noticing a big push from those sort of things or has been more gradual?

Yeah.  I mean when you’re doing things in a grass roots sort of way there’s no one thing that opens the floodgates and a ton of people come out, like a hit single on the radio or something.  What’s really encouraging about it is that it’s more people every time and it’s always trending in a positive direction.  And it can be very incremental.  Sometimes, it’s doesn’t move forward as fast as you’d want it to, but as long as it’s inching forward.

Seems like you’ve gotten a lot of buzz on the internet recently, how long have you been headlining shows and touring nationally?

I’ve been touring nationally for about a year now.  A couple of months after Nation of Heat was released, we got picked up by a booking agent that has done great by us.  I sort of hit the road hard about a year ago.  I had only played in Chicago and regionally before that, so it was a big lifestyle adjustment.

I understand you have a band in Chicago.  Do you have any plans to take them on the road?

Yeah.  Since I’ve funding everything myself, I’ve got to do it very wisely and very slowly.  So I can take them to places that are strongholds for me, where I know I will do really well, make a buck, and be able to pay the guys well.  It’s a little bit different being a songwriter with a band as opposed to a band.  When you are part of a band everyone can sort of work for not that much pay, because everyone stand to cash in on the gamble.  But me, because I am hiring guys to come out with me, I have to make sure they are well taken care of just right now in the interim.  I think we will start seeing the band moving farther and farther out as time goes on.

Are they playing on the new record or is it more staying with the acoustic harmonica set up?

The new record is about half and half, but all the parts that there is a band on they play those parts and they sound great.

A lot of reviews compare you to an early Dylan type thing with the harmonica and everything.  How do you feel about that?  Complimentary or missing the point?

You know I understand that.  A lot of people of people do that. They are trying to describe what they are hearing and with that first record it might be pretty accurate, but I think with the new record people might think something different.

Lyrically you seem to cover different ground from Dylan, at least early topical Dylan.  Your songs seem to be more speaking more about life and your place in it.  Do you feel like that’s a big deviation point for you?  Or do you know what you’re going to write about when you a write a song?

I’ve always found that it’s best to just get in there and write the song and try not to make it anything.  Decide afterwards if it’s about anything or decide afterwards if it’s even worth playing for other people.  I think once you, if you sit down with a pen and a page and you sort of have an agenda of what you’d like to get down or where you would like to go that’s the surest way to make sure nothing happens.

Would you point to Dylan as an influence or would you point more to other people?  I’ve noticed you’ve covered Gram Parsons and Tom Waits.  What would you say your main influences are?

Well definitely those two guys you just mentioned, but also other guys John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, Lucinda Williams, but the list goes on and on if you know what I mean.

At Newport you gave away, I think, every CD you had on you.  On the website, you have kind of this tell us how many CD’s you want to give away and well send them to you.  You have a new EP available for free download.  Was this kind of your idea initially, let’s get as many people taking about it as possible, or was it someone else’s idea like hey you should do this?

Well I think, I came up with that….well I certainly can lay claim to being the first person that came up with that idea, I think it was like a year ago that Radiohead did their big pay what you want thing.  Um, I think things were heading in this direction for awhile, but for emerging artists like me I think it’s just best to get it out there and see if people dig it or not.  And to bring those people who dig it along as fans, right now at least.  If no one knows me from Adam, they are going be reluctant to plunk down some money to hear it, so let them hear it for free at first.

Do you think that it has given you a bigger push then normal or how do you feel about the success of it?

Well I don’t know how it compares to other forms of marketing, because this is the only one I’ve ever  used.  But I have been very happy with it so far.  It’s comparatively cheap to other forms of marketing, and it I think it has been very effective.

It probably gets the point across a lot better too.

I think so.  I think just the spirit behind, I really like.  It sets a nice tone with the fan base that I am trying to build.

I kind of asked you before, but do you think the new record will come out on a label or self released?

Still not sure, we’ve certainly had interest from a couple of labels, but nothing that’s really struck our fancy yet.  Like I told you, if we were going to release it tomorrow we’d do it ourselves.  But ask again in a couple of months.

Is that something you think you would like to see happen or would you like to keep hoeing your own road here?

I can’t tell.  It is just such a trade off.  Right now it’s just so much work.  Like when you called me right now, I am upstairs trying to get better at using excel.  And learning how to budget things and pay people and myself and all that. So, that time could be spent with a guitar or piano. So you might say I’d like a label, so I don’t have to do all this work.  But at the same time, it is really nice having complete control of everything.  And I think it would be very hard, if I began working with someone to give up that control.

So are you still working another job when your home or are you making it work with the music thing, it sounds like your trying to make it work anyway?

Well, I’m kind of making it work right now.  I haven’t had to swing a hammer in about a year now.  And as much as I like carpentry, I’d like to keep it that way.  It’s really given me a better chance to get better aligned and get my voice a lot better and get my writing chops up to speed.  I mean if you want to do this professionally and you want people to come out and plunk some money down to see you play, you have to be playing at a pretty high level.  There are a lot of good people doing it and there are a lot of very good people doing it.  I just don’t see how you could play at that level if you working forty hours a week doing something else.

Pug’s probably playing a town near you soon, check for tour dates here and here

and download this for free in the meantime….

Joe Pug- I Do My Father’s Drugs

Eddie Floyd, Soul’s Alive (interview)

Recently I was lucky enough to score an interview with the great Eddie Floyd. As a major Soul fan interviewing Eddie Floyd is a big deal. Though when mentioning mister Floyd to friends I got a shocking amount of raised eye brows from people in their thirties, Floyd was at the cradle of what we see today as classic Soul music. Though his star never has been as big as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles or Otis Redding, you can argue that his influence comes close to matching those legendary performers. Even today, Knock on Wood and Raise Your Hand are standards any bar band worth its salt should know by heart. Even though not everybody remembers him as sharply, Eddie wrote and first popularized those tunes, they are a big part of our collective musical memory through later versions by the Blues Brothers, David Bowie, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen. So picking up the phone to talk to Eddie, I suddenly felt my palms go sweaty and my hands shaking. I was nervous, I was going to talk to a hero of mine.

Eddie Floyd’s story is particularly interesting to tell, not just because he wrote some of those big hits, but because he was there from the beginning. Even though his recent performance on BBC’s Jools Holland shows a vital man seemingly in the prime of his life, make no mistake, Eddie is 71 years old, he’s been around long enough to tell us a story or two.

Floyd’s story seems to revolve around music, he lives and breathes it. Over the course of the interview his answers on the business or political side of things would be short, to Eddie they seem to be secondary to the process of making music. When I’d ask mister Floyd about that process his voice seemed to warm up through the crackling phone line, the chuckles and his voice would break in enthusiasm. His taste for music was spoon fed. “My momma would take me out to see everybody that had a record out,” mister Floyd remembers, “Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, I saw them when I was just a little kid and I sung all that!” His early musical influences didn’t stop at Jazz, “there was Country and Western as well, I hadn’t heard of Muddy Waters at the time, but Hank Williams was a local I guess. Franky Lymon and the teenagers was the first group I saw that I knew I wanted to be in a group.” Eddie picks Hank Ballard and the Midnighters as one of the biggest influences on the Falcons at the time, “we loved Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, they were the rough and tough sounding group!” Eddie Floyd incidentally is one of the many artists who mentions the Midnighters as an influence, a list that goes all the way up to James Brown. “They did the Twist,” Eddie adds exited, “everybody is giving it to Chubby Checker, but the Hank Ballard was the Twist ya’ll!!”

By 1956, when Franky Lymon hit big with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” Floyd had already formed his first incarnation of the Falcons. Eddie had moved from his native Montgomery Alabama to Detroit with his uncle Robert West. Ahead of his time the first Falcons were an integrated group, half the group, Bob Monardo and Tom Shelter, was white at the time. “The original Falcons only lasted long enough to take a photo,” Eddie laughs today, “no recording was ever made because Bob and Tom were drafted.” From there on the group would quickly take on the shape that would make the Falcons legendary later. Sir Mack Rice and Joe Stubbs (brother to recently deceased Levi Stubbs from Four Tops fame) were added to the group. With the hit single “You’re so Fine” shooting up the Billboard charts in 1959, landing a whopping #17 in the pop charts, the Falcons were flying. Joe Stubbs soon left for the Contours, who were signed with Motown, and was replaced by the exiting Wilson Picket. The sound of the Falcons had begun to shift Floyd recalls today, “we saw a shift from the Detroit sound to the Memphis sound,” something Floyd credits sir Mac Rice for.

With Picket on board, the Falcons would score their last big R&B hit, 1962’s “I Found a Love” with the Wicked Picket on the scorching and wailing lead vocals. Though the song saw little action on the pop charts, peaking at #75, today it is considered as one of those tracks that is the watershed between R&B and Soul. Picket’s ambitions however would prevent the group from cashing in on the success of the single, soon after “I Found a Love” hit, Wilson went solo. Today mister Floyd looks back on the Flacons as the place where he could hone his skills, “the Falcons paid off eventually when we all could go solo,” he explains. It wouldn’t take long for Eddie Floyd to test his skills. Soon after the Falcons fell apart, he struck up acquaintance with future Stax president All Bell, who was a DJ in Washington at the time. “At the time I met All, [Stax recording artist] Carla Thomas was going to university in Washington. Al and I got together and wrote a few songs for her.” Those songs were the deep soul classic “Stop! Look What You’re Doing To Me” and “Comfort Me.” Those compositions would give Floyd a foot in the door at Sax when All Bell was landed at Stax in a promotion position. “I more or less just came along,” he laughs at it today.

At first Floyd would be hired at Stax as a songwriter, coming in every month or so for some writing sessions. He fondly remembers those early Stax days, “everybody was having a ball, creating new songs daily.” Explaining further “most of those hit songs were accidents. We’d just go with the flow, we’d write a song but didn’t have tape recorders yet to put the idea down and go back to it.” As a result the recording process would often be a team effort, a more natural process. Stax studios at the time was equipped with a simple 4 track recorder, “we had to just pray it came together that particular instant.” The songs were often created on the spot, Floyd remembers, “everybody put a little bit in those songs, there was a great sense of togetherness.” Everybody would bring their own thing to the floor Floyd explains, “Steve Cropper would create all the Rhythm, he was great on playing those intros, when you hear his lick, you know what song it is. Booker T was great at absolutely everything” he recounts with still that sense of marvel in his voice.

Some of the biggest hits Floyd did for Stax were accidents, with a laugh Floyd entrusts how Knock on Wood is still a demo today. “When we’d go into the studio to record a demo, we’d play it together at that moment. No matter what the song was, it’s finished by the time you listen at it. Recording is much more technical today,” Floyd reflects. The songs signature lyrics came to Floyd when he was writing with Steve Cropper in the very Motel where Martin Luther King would be assassinated a few years down the line, a moment that would change Stax forever. Floyd and Cropper had hit writers block when a thunder storm hit, “It’s like thunder, lightings, the way you love me is frightening,” Floyd sings in the phone, still amused at how it all still clicked at that very moment. The song fleshed out further when “Al Jackson threw in that drum fill on the studio floor. It sounded funny at the time, we were enjoying what we were hearing, so it must have been right,” he laughs.

Springsteen’s signature encore song, Raise Your Hand, was written in much the same way during those sessions. In Floyd’s mind however, “We didn’t finish it, but when we came to London [for the Stax-Volt Tour] we heard both songs on the radio.” Mister Floyd is still thankful to Springsteen and others who helped his songs further along and collects all different versions today. “There’s so many artists that have done my songs. Eric Clapton is my favorite one [doing Knock on Wood],” adding with some amusement, “there was even one that was Disco, believe me, I wasn’t even thinking Disco!”

April 29th 1976 The E-Street Band featuring Eddie Floyd

During the Born to Run tour Springsteen introduced himself to Floyd when the tour hit Memphis. “Him and Southside Johnny were just regular guys I hadn’t met before and I basically hadn’t heard of him back then. When [Springsteen] called there were people in the studio who did realize who was calling, I just said,” chuckling “do you know him? One of the cats was actually a big fan and went down with me, I guess he’ll never forget that, he was still talking about it years later!” Floyd was pleasantly surprised by the Boss. “I play a lot of your songs Springsteen said. The ones were Knock on Wood and Raise Your Hand, plus two or three others I had never played before live.” Floyd still laughs at Springsteen’s reaction when he exclaimed, “You don’t do those songs!” Floyd had shrugged and admitted, “No, I just play the hits.” Later that night, Floyd joined the young upcoming star on stage to play a few of those.

The memories of Stax are fond and many, Floyd jumps through them throughout the interview. He still seems in awe about hitting Europe and being on the same stage as Sam and Dave or his good friend Otis Redding, “I was working with so many heavies, I mean being on the same stage, WOW!!” he exclaims, “We didn’t expect to be so big, we just went to play music,” he adds humbly. A few years after the Stax-Volt had hit Europe, Floyd was back in London when tragedy struck, Otis passed. Floyd had to hear the news from a reporter. The plane Floyd tried to take home to attend the funeral couldn’t take off because it mall functioned. Floyd´s homage to Redding was born out of that experience when he mumbled “get on up Big Bird” under his breath out of frustration.

Soon after that Martin Luther King passed as well, an event that changed the face of Black music. All Bell, who had introduced Floyd at Stax, would go on to transform the company, as vice-president, to a mixture between a record label and a socially conscious movement, working closely together with various civil rights movements and releasing increasingly assertive music. Though Floyd admits, “it was great to be part of the times, it changed overnight everywhere, it didn’t stop [with King’s passing], we had to move on,” Floyd’s interest isn’t really in politics. His main motivation is Soul music and how that brings people together. “Soul music gotta be in there somewhere, it’s the main ingredient, it is the people putting it all together,” he elaborates, “Everybody’s got to be on that same number.” That is what politics and brotherhood seems to be to Floyd, regardless of race, creed or colour, Soul music unifies.

In recent years, Floyd is enjoying a something of a renaissance in his career. The Soul sound he helped create is everywhere again in the sound of new and upcoming talents such as Amy Winehouse, Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed and Duffy. Floyd himself is still finding new avenues for his Soul sound, working with Latin legend Poncho Sanchez, amongst others. “Poncho told me he used to do Raise Your Hand as a kid in school. The funny thing is Steve [Cropper] originally had a little Spanish type feeling to the beginning of the song that you don’t here on the record no more, but it was on the original one, so we always felt that it had a Spanish flavour to it. So now Poncho comes up, many, many years later, playing it how we used to do it.” So Floyd decided to re-cut the song with Poncho with the help of his old buddies Steve Cropper and Booker T Jones. “We sung it live!” Floyd proudly relates, “all my songs have always been one or two cuts, not ten or fifteen!”

These days Floyd is a semi-regular with Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings live band, but he still cuts records on his own. His most recent, Eddie Loves You So, revisits that classic Stax sounds and found its release on the recently rejuvenated label. Floyd’s voice sounds surprisingly young and hungry for a man in his seventies. “A band from Boston put the backing tracks together,” Floyd relates, “They did a great job sounding just like those Stax records. That’s just my state of mind, my mind is still there in ’67.” The recording process was swiftly Floyd admits, “I sang them out, bang, bang, bang! They had me scheduled for two days, I was probably up there for two hours,” he laughs, “I wouldn’t know how to sing them any other way than I did. It just fell into place, kind of amazing really, at least the MGs would hear me sing them, but these guys didn’t, but they just kind of locked in and kept it together. I was able to sing everything and feel comfortable.” What helped the process of course was how producer Mike Dinallo went back through Floyd’s song book, spot lighting some rarities to re-record. “Since You’ve Been Gone was a song he didn’t think I’d remember.” Floyd elaborates, “It was one of the first songs I did with the Falcons, I hadn’t heard it since. Mike send me a tape, I heard it once and it just kind of locked in my head, they all came back.” Eddie Loves You So came out as a great album, a Soul legend going full cycle.

Since You’ve Been Gone

This interview has been published over at Boss Tracks as well.

Find out more on the Falcons here
A big thanks to In the Basement Magazine for help on getting this together.