It’s like looking at old pictures of your college roommates and then looking at the people that are sitting around your living room now, says Jason Isbell of the songs he wrote during his days with the Drive-By Truckers that remain part of his live set with his current band, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit. The latter’s new release, Live From Alabama, includes a handful of Isbell-penned Truckers tunes, like Outfit, Decoration Day, and Danko/Manuel, along with songs from the three studio albums he’s cut since splitting from the Truckers in 2007.
I haven’t listened to those old arrangements of those [Truckers] songs for so long, says Isbell, compared to how many times I’ve heard this band play them, that I really don’t remember exactly what they sounded like [originally]. The songs still conjure up the same images for me, and I still think about the same things that inspired me to write the songs in the first place, but I guess it’s just different because I’m up there with different people.
While Isbell harbors no ill will towards his old bandmates, he’s definitively living a separate life from them these days. I don’t really have a relationship with ˜em, he says. We get along when we see each other, I talk to Patterson [Hood, DBT frontman] every once in a while. I saw him a couple of months ago in Nashville at the Americana Awards. We get along fine, but I don’t think there’s any need to have a working relationship at this point. They’re all busy, and Lord knows I am.
Listening to Live From Alabama makes it clear just how busy native Alabaman Isbell and his current accomplices have been. Over the last five years they’ve built up a worthy repertoire, a loyal audience, and a sound that has some relation to that of Isbell’s former band but bears its own identity. Both bands blend influences from alt rock and Americana to classic soul, but The 400 Unit shaves off some of the Neil Young & Crazy Horse fuzztone frenzy of the Truckers in favor of a more singer/songwriter-oriented approach to framing the tunes.
That doesn’t make them any less of a cohesive unit, though. Their all-for-one aesthetic is even apparent in Isbell’s account of the band name’s provenance. It was a mental treatment facility in Florence Alabama, he explains, it was the crazy house. I’ve had lots of family members in there over the years. I think we were downtown and saw the van get out one day with the folks that were day patients, they would give them 10 or 15 bucks and put a name tag on ˜em and let ˜em got to Subway or something. It occurred to me that it looked just like a band on the road for six or eight weeks trying to get out and find some food in a small town. Isbell reiterates that he often feels that way when he’s on the road with The 400 Unit, observing, I can tell we’re causing discomfort in the locals sometimes when we stop and get out.”
Explaining the thinking behind releasing a live recording now, Isbell says, I wanted to document the band like it is at this point in time. I think we’re connecting really well musically, we’re playing really well, we’re all having a good time. I wanted to capture that before it changed into something else, as it always does. And from a practical viewpoint, a lot of those songs that I did with the Truckers, people come up now who’ve never heard the Truckers records and say, ˜Where do I find this, how do I get this song?’ Personally, I’d rather sell ˜em something myself than steer ˜em to a record that [DBT’s label] New West put out.
Some think of Isbell as sort of the Bruce Springsteen of the South, in terms of his knack for chronicling the tragedies and triumphs of the region’s working-class denizens, but there’s little of the E Street Band-style onstage pageantry in The 400 Unit’s onstage m.o. Whether they’re tackling a Truckers tune like Outfit, in which Isbell receives some sardonic advice from his father, or a newer song like Tour of Duty, chronicling a soldier’s return home, the band squanders nary a note.
There are different kinds of energy that an audience can give you, says Isbell of his stage experience. You can usually tell if it’s gonna be a rowdy crowd, or if it’s gonna be a listening crowd, or if it’s just gonna be a crowd that’s not paying any attention to you whatsoever. I handle rowdy crowds and attentive crowds very differently but I feel like they’re pretty equal in value from a performer’s perspective. I love playing for people who are having a good time and I equally love playing for people who are studying everything you say and really paying attention. As long as they’re with me, as long as they’re in the room for a reason, doing something different than they would be doing at a bar next door, it’s always positive for me. The shows go better when people are with you, when they’re participating.
Turning philosophical about the prospect of live performance, Isbell calls up an unexpected analogy. I remember going to see Radiohead a long time ago, he says, when I was probably 21, 22 years old, and thinking, ˜Man I’m surrounded by a huge group of people who are very similar to me right now — all about my same age, and they all seem to be the nerdy kids from high school.’ And that felt really good to me. I think if you make yourself part of the experience, there’s still reasons go to see live music.
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In a Set It Off song, you’re as likely to find strings and woodwinds as crunching guitars and sugary pop harmonies. The band’s members have been perfecting their unique blend of orchestral pop-punk since 2008 and are about to embark on their biggest adventure yet: a European tour with Yellowcard this spring. We chatted with vocalist Cody Carson about his classical background, love of ’90s R&B, and what advice he would give to up-and-coming acts looking to make their mark.
OS: You guys recently donated over $5000 to the VH1 Save The Music Foundation and you mention the influence of music programs on the band when you were young. What music programs were you involved in when you were in school?
Cody Carson: I went to Tarpon Springs High School in Tarpon Springs, Florida. In second grade, I picked up a clarinet, and I kept playing and I got very heavily involved in classical music. The only reason I went to Tarpon Springs High School was because of their music program; it was incredible. It taught you a great deal of work ethic, and there was also a leadership program that was called Tarpon Springs High School Music and Leadership Conservatory. I learned a lot of valuable life lessons there. I played clarinet and was involved in marching band and wind ensemble and jazz band. Because of the leadership program there, at the end of every year there was always a political campaign and I would run for clarinet section leader and woodwind captain, and those were two positions I held. I met Dan Clermont, our guitarist, there. He was the trumpet player there and he was also trumpet section leader and field commander and stuff like that. The program was incredible to us. (more…)
Clinton Sparks is blowing up. From producing Lady Gaga, Pitbull, and so many more, to being lowered via helicopter into his own Awesome Party at The Palms in Las Vegas (and pretty much everything in between), the man has arrived. He’s a 360 degree personality, making it happen for other artists and for himself, starting in earnest with his September 2012 single Watch You.
Now he’s got a new video and a third edition of his My Awesome Mixtape, and dozens of new projects on the horizon. He came into our studio last week to talk about how he got to where he is, how music became his life, what’s next for him, and what advice he has for aspiring artists. Here is part one of our two-part interview “ look for part two on Monday. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for a chance to win a copy of My Awesome Mixtape 3.
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Rise Records has carved a unique niche in the modern alternative world as the go-to label for all things heavy. Their entire roster reads like a who’s who of breakdown bands, and we could not be most excited to present an exclusive Q&A with one of their biggest acts, The Plot In You.
Having just released a new album in January of this year, we had plenty to talk about with the members of The Plot In You. Click below to find out the story behind their album titles, their plans for 2013, and much more. (more…)
Australia’s Gold Fields are in for quite a year. After being named one of 2013’s bands to watch by MTV alongside up-and-coming heavyweights like Macklemore, the band is ready to take their insanely catchy blend of synthpop and indie rock to the international masses. They’ve already toured the states with the likes of St. Lucia and Diamond Rings, and are gearing up for another US jaunt this February. We caught up with frontman Mark Fuller to chat about the triple recording of the band’s upcoming album Black Sun, their remix process, and the effect of their massive burgeoning buzz.
OS: You guys just wrapped up a US tour with St. Lucia a little while ago. What was that like?
Mark Fuller: It was awesome. We were already fans of St. Lucia before we heard we were doing the tour and how it actually happened was that they asked us to support them. It was a pretty short tour, I think it only was six or eight shows, but getting to watch them every night was awesome. And when you tour with great bands like that you learn a lot, especially from their live shows; theirs is very tight, and they’re almost perfect live. Even though they’re a young band like us, they’ve got their live thing down pat. Touring with a band like that lets you learn a lot, but at the same time it’s fun because we love their music. The shows themselves were in front of crowds that reminded us of crowds that we play in front of back home, and they were probably bigger. The show in New York was amazing. It was to a packed ballroom; Bowery Ballroom maybe? It was just packed and awesome. One of our favorite shows.
OS: You’ve been named a band to watch in 2013 by multiple big sources: MTV, MySpace, and more. What’s your relationship like with that buzz? Do you try to ignore it? Embrace it?
MF: We don’t really feel it at all. I know that reading stuff like that “ like MTV coming out and calling us a band to watch for the year “ is really weird for us, because MTV to us is like this massive American thing. It seems almost like it’s not real for something like that to happen, for them to talk about our band. Obviously we’re thankful that they’ve done that, and we feel very lucky that they’ve come across us and are thankful they’ve included us. At the same time, anything like that isn’t going to change what we’re doing. Since we’ve started, we’ve always tried to do what’s best for us and make sure we’re having fun and get other people to enjoy it as well. Any sort of things like that “ the buzz “ you have to take it in your stride, but it doesn’t change anything really. We’re still doing exactly what we were going to do all along.