Hours before their triumphant Bonnaroo main stage set opening for Elton John, The Avett Brothers sat down with American Songwriter to discuss having fun at the festival, going to see live shows, liking modern country music and more.
At this point, do you have more fun playing new songs or old songs?
Scott: There’s an ebb and flow, a constant change, a consistency that we keep, where we try to meter when it’s time for more new or more old. Playing a new song can breathe a lot of energy into our band in a set, which will grow in a tour where we’ll continue that song and it will develop. So sometimes the need for a new song is dire.We recently have been injecting new songs into the setlist. There’s been three that we’ve performed in the last two weeks that we had never done live.
Rodney Crowell returns next week with Tarpaper Sky, his first proper solo release since 2008′sSex And Gasoline. We chat with our former “Lyric Contest Dream Co-Writer” about how he’s grown as a songwriter, the temptation to re-write an old hit, and the influence of Cèzanne on the new album.
Tarpaper Sky features a lot of musicians that played on Diamonds & Dirt. Were you trying to recapture the vibe of that album?
Man, don’t insult me by thinking I’d ever try to recapture something. I’m not that stupid [laughs]. It can’t be done! That’s the reason we threw the headphones out of the studio, and we just set up a circle of electric guitars, basses, drums, and everything, and we just played. It wasn’t to recapture anything, but it was to create with a team I feel very comfortable with.
You chose to include “God I’m Missing You,” which originally appeared on Kin, on the new album. Why’d you pick that one?
When the long tour in support of 2011’s Loverboy wrapped up,Brett Dennen headed home to California. The plan was to relax and regroup. Itching to find some new inspiration, though, Dennen wound up moving into a small cabin up north, not too far away from the northern tip of Yosemite National Park. There, surrounded by trees, mountains and wildlife, he dreamed up a new batch of songs. We talked with the songwriter — who’s currently touring behind a new release, Smoke and Mirrors — about nature, music, and what it means to be a “wild child.”
You wrote these new songs in northern California. Can you tell us about that small town?
Uhhhh… Let’s just say it’s in the mountains. It’s in Tuolumne Country. It’s pretty, and there’s a little more than 100 people in that town. But I don’t want to name the specific town.
You attribute a lot of the outdoorsy vibe of the album to that specific place. What is it about the area that speaks to you?
Black Lips, garage-rock’s most notorious bad boys, will release Underneath The Rainbow on March 18, their first album in nearly three years. Much of the record was produced by Black Key’s Patrick Carney, at his Nashville studio.
“I was thrilled to work with the Black Lips,” Carney said of the experience. “I’ve been a fan for a while and wanted to stay out of the songs as much as possible, but I did want to help streamline the arrangements a little and open up the fidelity. We did eight songs together, and basically with the exception of two almost straight-up punk songs Joe [Bradley] brought in, no two songs have a similar sound. Also, those guys are some of the funniest people I’ve ever met.”
We chatted recently with bassist and singer Jared Swilley about the new record, the band’s life-changing Middle East tour, and the secret to their longevity.
Nashville-based singer-songwriter Korby Lenkerwill release his eponymous sixth album on his own Stuffed Piranha Records on March 25. He’ll also release his first book of short stories on that day. We asked Lenker about his journey as a songwriter, the words he loves and hates and more.
What’s the best song you ever wrote?
That’s hard to say, because I write a lot of different kinds of songs…The one that probably means the most to me is a song I wrote called “Punkin Brown.” It’s a true story about a guy from a snake handling church who got bit handling a snake and died. The year before, the same thing happened to his wife, so when he died, the custody of their children went to the state. There were a lot of news stories about it at the time. You can Google it. I never met Punkin Brown but I spent a good bit of time in the snake handling church in Jolo West Virginia where it went down. I got to know several of the people in that church, and even spent a few nights in one family’s single-wide trailer up in an old holler. We rode home together from the church with a timber rattlesnake rattling away in a wooden box on the back seat.
You won’t see Luke Laird onstage very often… but you will hear his songs there. You’ll also see them on the Billboard charts, where 14 of his country co-writes have climbed all the way #1. We talked with the man behind some of the decade’s biggest tunes, from Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” to Eric Church’s “Drink In My Hand,” about songwriting, John Prine, and why it pays to show up.
How many songs do you write per week?
On average, I usually get three or four new songs a week. Some weeks there’s more; some weeks there’s less.
What percentage of those songs actually see the light of day?
Very low [laughs]. Let me see… I guess the percentage would be a little higher right now, because I had a really great year in 2013. It doesn’t mean that all of them will necessarily get released, but I probably had close to twenty songs recorded.
What do you do with the songs that don’t go anywhere? Do you ever return to them and rewrite them?
“I don’t know what anyone else knows or what they don’t know or what they care about,” says Elvis Costello.“I’m just doing what I’m doing now, and I know what the value of the songs I’ve written is to me. I perceive what certain members of the audience have invested in one or two songs, and that some people know every note you’ve played. I just don’t see myself in those terms, with these sort of adjectives that crop up in reviews, which can be flattering or even ridiculous hyperbole.”
Thirty-five years into a recording career, Costello is well aware of his standing in the pantheon of pop. From writing alongside Paul McCartney to hosting the Spectacle television show, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has long been looking for opportunities to experiment and challenge with his music, to use his accomplishments as a way to boldly go places his peers might be afraid to tread.
On January 28, Legacy Recordings will reissue Uncle Tupelo’s landmark 1990 debut No Depression as a double-disc set, featuring unearthed demos and live material. We caught up with Uncle Tupelo’s Jay Farrar recently to discuss the album’s rich history. Read our feature story on Uncle Tupelo from the January/February Legends issue here.
What was it like in Belleville in the late 1980s?
Belleville’s where we were growing up, getting our start, playing in bars. St. Louis has always represented the gateway to the rest of the world. We were late teens and early twenties around the time these recordings were made. Belleville was a relatively economically depressed area, and it was also a relatively small town. I think its population was around 40,000. There weren’t that many high-profile businesses in Belleville, but there was one, the Stag Beer Factory, which closed down during that time period—or shortly before. I think it was mid ‘80s. It’s interesting to see how pervasive the references to the small-town lifestyle are in these songs.
Mike Heidorn mentioned that he used to drive by the factory on the way to the band’s rehearsal space.
Rod Picottsings thoughtful songs for the working man. His tunes have been recorded by esteemed songwriters like Fred Eaglesmith, Ray Wylie Hubbard and his childhood buddy Slaid Cleaves. We asked Picott about his new album Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail, which, according to his website, offers an “unblinking albeit wry gaze into our common heart and a clenched fist of defiance against the trials that tear at our humanity.” Let’s get this party started.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Mary Gauthier, Tom Waits, Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, John Prine… . there are different people for different elements of the craft… Lennon and McCartney were good. I’m always thrilled by people who can write something amazing with no bells and whistles though. Marvin Gaye wrote stunning songs but he was such an incredible singer that it’s almost hard to tell if you know what I mean. When I hear Prine sing the first verse of “Unwed Fathers” it blows my mind.
How would you describe Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail?
A “Great Big” Smash: How A Great Big World’s “Say Something” Skyrocketed to the Top of the Charts
Just a few short years ago, Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino (better known by their moniker A Great Big World,) were living in New York City dreaming of success in the music industry. Alumni of New York University, Axel and Vaccarino’s dreams came true when their tender ballad “Say Something” was used during this past September’s season finale of the Fox reality competition series “So You Think You Can Dance.” What followed was an e-mail from Christina Aguilera praising the track, and from there the duo’s career’s exploded. Here, the guys talk about their struggles to break big, the origins of “Say Something,” and what it’s like to be an ‘overnight’ success story.
A lot of people think you just started out, but you’ve been kicking around for awhile, right?
IAN: Yeah, we’ve been doing this for 10 years now.
I wanna know the ins and outs of what it was like writing and recording “Say Something.” Because this song is not a very new song, despite it first coming to most people’s attentions a few months ago.