interview: ben hackett of new madrid

cory branan @ cat's cradle backroom

I interviewed Ben Hackett of Athens, GA, mood-rockers New Madrid back in March at Kings. New Madrid plays Local 506 tonight with locals the Affectionates. Doors 8pm, show 9pm, tix day of $9.

BNKO: Start with who you are, and what you play.

Ben Hackett: I play bass and sing backup vocals.

BNKO: Tell me a little about the band. This is your second record, right?

BH: Right. Graham and I grew up together, he’s the guitar player with the ‘fro — he and I went to high school with Phil, we all played music in high school. Not together. I went to Nashville for college, met Alex, the drummer, we started playing in a band. Phil went down to UGa and kept playing music. Phil and Graham got together one summer and Graham called me, you’ve got to come play with us, this is sweet. Then I called Alex. We all played together, and the next time we got together, we recorded an EP. We were like, we gotta record something and play shows.

We were all — Phil was living Athens, Graham was living in Chattanooga, and Alex and I were living in Athens for a good year and a half of the band’s beginning.

BNKO: Are you all in the same place now?

BH: Now we all live in Athens … we actually all live in the same house, now. In this barn.

BNKO: If you all live together, what’s the worst habit of anybody, that you’ll go on record with? Who doesn’t do the dishes?

BH: That’s so hard. How am I supposed to answer that?

BNKO: Who leaves their socks in the living?

BH: Everybody. Like, everybody.

BNKO: Do you do a lot of — some of the stuff at the back end of [Sunswimmmer] is so big. Epic.

BH: Expansive.

BNKO: Does that come from living together and just putting it together on the fly?

BH: Yeah, pretty much. We live out about a mile past the Loop, which is the highway that surrounds Athens. We’re pretty close to downtown, but it’s far enough out that we’ve never gotten a noise complaint, we play until like 6 in the morning and it doesn’t matter. So we’ll go to shows, and if the stuff’s all set up, it’s like, let’s just play. We’re all jacked up on seeing music, let’s just do it. And so we wrote this new record, the first time we were able to write like that. Because the first record we were all living in different spots, so we would get together for a weekend and play a show, and then practice, and write and record demos all at the same time, and then go back to our houses and our schools and whatever.

But now that we all live together, we just sort of — jam whenever we want.

BNKO: You can hear it in the sound of the record. For as short as it is, it’s a really big record. In Athens — do you guys play with people? Give me two or three bands out of Georgia that I should be paying attention to right now, besides you guys.

BH: We just played with this band in Atlanta called Twin Studies, that totally blew my mind. They were awesome. They were great. This band, Co Co Ri Co, share members with Reptar and Giant Giants and Wild Night — all those dudes play in a lot of bands and they’re all awesome. Awesome dudes in awesome bands.

BNKO: David Barbe produced this record. How was it to work with him?

BH: It was really, really cool. We did Yard Boat with him, too. We worked pretty closely with David and the relationship started there with some good luck on our part. He was looking for a band to record because he teaches the music business class — he’s head of the music business program at UGa — and it used to be a certificate program, and now it’s a full fledged major degree. He was looking for a band to record before we did Yard Boat, before we all lived together, so you submit a demo and the class votes on who they want to record. We got lucky and got voted on to do it. It was in the middle of the week so Alex and I had to drive down and miss school and Phil was like, Dudes, it’s totally going to be worth it. I swear, it’s going to be awesome. This guy is really, really cool.

So we went down and he was into it and we were into it, and we started talking about how we were going to record, and where we were going to do it. It just worked out to where we could record with him — we had some free time, and he had some free time. Yard Boat was really great but we did it really fast, like three days.

BNKO: Three days. No shit.

BH: Well, the instruments were three days. Phil lived there, so he could go in whenever there was some free time and do vocals here and there, and we came down for a couple of weekends and mixed it with David, too. This time, we had just signed with Normaltown before we went in, and had been talking to them for a while about that. Because we were doing it with a label, we had enough time that we were in the studio for a lot longer, three weeks or something, we could really finish writing the album in the studio. We went in with way more songs than actually ended up on it. David helped us sort of create a more streamlined vision for the album.

BNKO: It feels like one piece. Even though you have some longer songs in the beginning, and those two really punchy ones right in the middle, and then the big soundscape of the last two tracks. It all definitely really fits together, and I was impressed by that. I am notably a vocal anti-proponent of all songs over four minutes, so for me to be like — really vocal about loving these twelve minute tracks at the end of a record, that’s a really big deal for me as a music fan.

BH: That’s the whole second side of the album.

BNKO: You can hear the flip in it. Even listening digitally, you can hear the flip in it, and that’s impressive. Can you tell me something about the album that people buying it might not know but should know?

BH: It’s really — just from the name alone, it’s a pretty watery wet kind of record, and I think part of what influenced that is that — we recorded it in July, and it was the wettest July I’ve ever experienced. And it rained more when we were in the studio, in those three weeks, than it had the whole previous year. The first night we were in the studio, Graham was talking about how it was flooding in Chattanooga, because it had been raining for a couple of days.

BNKO: It’s in a dip, right? Kind of in a valley?

BH: Yeah, surrounded by mountains. He was saying, it’s flooding in Chattanooga right now, we were all like sitting on couches in the lounge area, and David’s sitting across from me, and he goes, yeah, it’s flooding under your feet, too. And we look down, and there’s water coming out from under the couch. We had to get shopvacs and brooms and all that, the Drive-By Truckers’ rehearsal space is next door, and we had to go over there and borrow a shopvac to get all the water out so it wouldn’t reach the control room.

BNKO: If you had a time machine, and you could go back in time and see one show — it can also be a band on a particular tour, or an artist in a particular era — what would you go see?

BH: After my experience with this, David played in Sugar. And he toured with Sonic Youth before, and I love Sonic Youth, and it would be so awesome to see Sugar and Sonic Youth play together in, like, Japan or something. That would be so cool.

record store day: rye & lauren st jane

record store day: lauren st jane

record store day: rye

I was down in Atlanta for Record Store Day over the weekend, and Trav had to work, so I hied myself over to Mojo Vinyl in Roswell — a great store, and I had a lovely conversation with folks there about the Thrill, and I bought an old RSD Whiskeytown 7″ that I didn’t already own — and hung out with 2/5ths of Trav’s band, frontwoman Lauren St Jane and their guitarist Wes, while Trav was occupied with continuing to be employed. It was a chilly but excellent afternoon; Lauren traded off sets with ATL band Rye, and I loved hanging out with musicians who weren’t my usual suspects in the NC. (Not that I don’t love my usual suspects; I do. It’s just nice to shoot new faces every once in a while.)

Good folks. More photos of Lauren here.

concerts: bobby bare jr & cory branan



Wednesday night at the Cradle was a Bloodshot double shot, just like I like it — Bobby Bare, Jr, out in support of his fabulous Undefeated, and Cory Branan supporting, touring behind last year’s Mutt and next year’s new record? Regardless, a great night. Cory took requests and charmed everyone (although to be fair most of us were previously charmed, it was a crowd full of people who already loved Cory), and then Bobby came out and just blew me out of the water. Loud and fierce and wild and just absolutely compelling. I’m totally sold.

More photos will be up on Flickr when I get home on Monday, and I’ll share them then.

brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis (MELODIME)

brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis of MELODIME

I recorded today’s two interviews with 75% of Northern Virginia rockers MELODIME back in March, at the Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain, NC; one with brothers Sammy and Tyler Duis as part of my Brothers In Arms series, below, and solo interview with lead singer Brad Rhodes about their latest record. Read ’em both.

BNKO: Give me a rundown on the family composition. Is it just the two of you?

Tyler Duis: We have an older sister, and an older brother, and then Sam, and then me.

BNKO: So you’re the baby.

TD: Yep.

BNKO: Did you all play music when you were kids? Is your family musical?

Sammy Duis: Some of them claim to be … but not too much. Our older brother is a great classical guitarist.

BNKO: Wow, is that what he does for a living, too?

SD: No, he got a scholarship to do it in college, but he had to kind of move away from it.

brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis of MELODIME

BNKO: Brad told me … I was asking him about the charity stuff that you are doing with this record, and he told me that it was your family; there was a story with your family that inspired you guys. Tell me a little about that.

SD: It was our great-grandfather — he was one of five brothers, and their parents had come over from Ireland and were pretty poor. I think they first came to Virginia and then moved out to the Midwest. But it started with, they didn’t really play music until they had an anonymous donation. Somebody dropped off five instruments for the five boys on their front porch and each of the boys chose one and started playing. They got pretty good, good enough to start playing around town and make a little bit more money for the family.

BNKO: Do you know what instruments they all played?

SD: I don’t know what all of them played, but I know our great-grandfather played the fiddle. So our aunt still has the fiddle, which we’d like to get ahold of at some point.

BNKO: I can imagine. That’s a great story. You’ve been playing together, MELODIME, for eight years. Have you ever had separate bands?

SD: We randomly play with different people … we all play in churches and stuff, so on Sundays we’re all in different churches playing with different people. But we’ve never pursued anything.

BNKO: No high school bands?

TD: This is the high school band.

brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis of MELODIME

BNKO: What do your parents think about it?

TD: They’re actually pretty supportive, more than you’d imagine. Our dad probably just likes the music in general, but I think he’s just all for it. And now that we didn’t go to college, he’s like, you better do this. You better stick to it now.

BNKO: Do you think — would you ever consider not playing together? You’re a rhythm section together. Do you have a better connection on stage, because you’re siblings?

TD: It’s just easy to know what we’re thinking. Because before MELODIME we played in church probably for five years before that. We know each other’s styles pretty well.

BNKO: You guys sounded great in there [soundcheck]. When it comes to band stuff, do you side with each other? Do you fight with each other? Do you get tired of being in the van together?

TD: When we’re back home, we hardly ever see each other, so that helps.

BNKO: You are the third set of siblings to tell me that! When you’re not on tour, you hardly see each other. Do you live in the same area? Northern Virginia, right?

TD: Leesburg, Ashburn area.

SD: I think it’s somewhat an advantage to be in a band together because we kind of know each other’s boundaries, and we know that when we’re at home, we want space, and when we’re on the road — we usually room together if we have hotels, too, just because we know what buttons not to push, so it’s almost easier than someone you didn’t grow up with, and share a room with growing up.

brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis of MELODIME

BNKO: In terms of button pushing — what’s the other person’s worst habit?

TD: Mine is probably grinding my teeth, and his is probably snoring.

BNKO: Not related to your family, or your being brothers, but — if you had a time machine, and could back in time and see one show … what would it be?

SD: I definitely want to see Zeppelin all together.

TD: That was my thought.

SD: And the Beatles all together.

TD: Those were my two.

brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis of MELODIME

BNKO: I’ve never had anybody tell me Zeppelin before! That’s who Brad said, too. I went to one punk festival and everyone told me the Clash. I always finish with this question, though — who’s your mom love best?

SD: Not me. Our sister.

interview: brad rhodes of MELODIME

portraits: brad rhodes of MELODIME

I recorded today’s two interviews with 75% of Northern Virginia rockers MELODIME back in March, at the Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain, NC; one with brothers Sammy and Tyler Duis as part of my Brothers In Arms series, and solo interview with lead singer Brad Rhodes below about their latest record. Read ’em both.

BNKO: Is this thing on … this thing is on. Excellent.

Brad Rhodes: Sweet.

BNKO: Okay! Tell me a little about the new record.

BR: Well, the new record came out October 15, so it’s been a few months since we released it. First we recorded it in Atlanta, Georgia, with this producer [Rick Biazzo], he’s done Needtobreathe, Shinedown, Charlie Mars — a lot of records that we like, which is kind of why we sought him out. And it’s — we’re proud of it. It’s kind of more a rock feel, a straight up rock feel, we kind of did away with more of the mandolins and banjos that we had, just for this particular record, because I think the songs needed that to happen. But yeah, it’s called Where The Sinners and Saints Collide, and that’s all I can think about it.

BNKO: You’re doing something with the proceeds from it …

BR: Yes!

BNKO: Tell me about that.

BR: We started a charity called Now I Play Along Too, and 100% profits from that album go into the charity, which in turn puts instruments and music education into the hands of underprivileged kids. We’ve just kind of gotten that off the ground, and we have a lot of things in the works, where we have a lot of opportunities — whether it’s one offs, or in June we’re going  to Haiti to an orphanage, the Source of Light orphanage, and delivering quite a few instruments to that orphanage, and sticking around teaching lessons and stuff.

BNKO: So it’s not just — y’all are from Virginia, right?

BR: Northern Virginia, yeah.

BNKO: So it’s not just local, you’re not confining it to local schools. You’re looking more international.

BR: We’re not looking past the local needs, we still want to have a part in those in the greater DC area, but we want to go international as well. Kind of wherever there’s opportunities.

BNKO: What prompted it?

BR: Well, there’s a story — we decided a while back that we wanted to do something different with the album, something more charitable, different than what other bands have done, and then after we had that idea, we heard this story about and Sam and Tyg [Sammy and Tyler Duis], our piano player and drummer’s great grandfather. He grew up in a very poor family and he had four brothers and one day somebody dropped off all these instruments on their front porch, anonymously, and they each chose one and learned how to play it and became the town musicians and were able to support their family through that. So the story goes that’s sort of how music was passed down in their family, and we wanted to continue that story, I guess.

BNKO: What’s your musical background? How long have you been writing songs, how long have you been playing together?

BR: I’ve been writing probably since I was — I don’t know, 9 years old, terrible songs, and I’ll be 26 here in a couple of weeks. So I was writing a lot before I met Sam and Tyg, but we met fairly young, we were seniors in high school, and we’re coming on eight years now, as a band.

BNKO: That’s some time. Did any of you go music school or the college right, or did you just go out on the road after you graduated?

BR: We just added our new guitar player, John, in September, and he went to music school. As for the rest of us, Tyg and I spent one semester in college, that was right after the band started, and we decided to come home and take a go at this over school, which we think was the right decision, but we’re still … we’re still kicking it as hard as we can.

BNKO: How much time do you spend on the road every year?

BR: Now? Oh, man, lots. Here in the new future it’s picking up even more, but, I don’t know, I’d say we play 150 shows a year right now? But that’s probably going to be picking up. So that’s quite a bit.

BNKO: Did you get any — did your parents hand you down the music? Do you come from a musical family, too?

BR: Somewhat. My mom plays piano, and we all grew up in church, which is how we were all introduced to music, so we — I sang in choirs, I played in church bands from when I was 13, 14 years old, and I think that kind of shows, genre-wise, even if what we do isn’t Christian music … it has those undertones in it. It shows that we grew up in the worship background.

BNKO: I wouldn’t have noticed it if you hadn’t told me, but I can see it now that you’ve told me. What were some of the records from your parents’ collection that were really influential when you were a kid?

BR: I think … pretty much, every Led Zeppelin record. That’s what my dad was obsessed with, and made us be obsessed with as well. Pretty much every Elton John, every Billy Joel record — that was more of my mom’s taste, which I think has definitely influenced us. And I think that’s still what I listen to, that kind of stuff, so they did well with raising us with good classic vinyl around.

BNKO: If you had a time machine, and you could use it to go back and see any one show — either one you went to, you want to relive, one you missed, one you weren’t born for — what would it be?

BR: Oh my gosh, that is a great question.

BNKO: It’s my favorite interview question.

BR: Probably … damn. I’m trying to think of, like — I don’t want to be broad, and say, like, any of these shows. I want to say a single show. I’m thinking of personal shows, too, that went terribly, that I’d want to redo, but I don’t think I’d want to do that. I think those happen and they build character. I would love to see Led Zeppelin. I have the live DVD, the Song Remains The Same DVD, and I would love to see any show on that tour, I think. I’ve already seen a lot of shit on that tour just through the DVD, so I’d probably like to see a different one, but those shows look phenomenal.

BNKO: That’s a good one. Nobody’s ever told me Zeppelin before. I’ve gotten all kinds of answers.

BR: What are the best ones that you’ve gotten?

BNKO: Somebody told me — I can’t remember his name now, and I can’t remember his band, I’m so embarrassed, I feel bad because — the best answer I’ve ever gotten, I ran around a local punk festival, asking anybody who would stand still what their answer was, and somebody told me they wanted to go to the release show for Rush’s 2112.

BR: That’s a good answer. That’d probably be Tyg’s answer, too.

BNKO: I’ll ask, though I usually close my siblings interviews by asking who Mom loves best.

BR: I could probably give you that answer.