Posts in Alt Country
Kurt Wagner, Lambchop

Salon magazine recently called Kurt Wagner of Lambchop the "greatest working American songwriter." But Wagner is not only a terrific songwriter, he's also one hell of a painter who has received considerable notice for his talents as a visual artist. In fact, Wagner was a painter before he was ever a songwriter (he has both an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in sculpture). And these two creative endeavors constantly inform the other: not only do their processes overlap, but a visit to an art gallery might inspire Wagner to write a song. In that sense, then, this is not just an interview with songwriter. It's an interview with an artist. 

Read More
Richard Buckner (Part One)

There's something wrong when Ke$ha is filthy rich and Richard Buckner had to drive a forklift to make ends meet.  It's proof that talent isn't a great equalizer.  But herein lies my ethical dilemma: I think I want Buckner to have those crazy jobs (besides driving a forklift, he's held road signs and worked for the U.S. Census), because it's those experiences and the characters he encounters there that make him a storyteller.  You can't be a writer if you don't have authentic experiences. It's why megastars like Ke$ha and Katy Perry are no longer individuals: they've become corporations who are so insulated from people like you and me that all they can do is sing about overwrought and cliched topics.

Buckner lives in Kingston, New York, not far from Woodstock in the Hudson Valley. Our conversation went far longer than I had expected, so I'm posting the first part today and the second part next week. Buckner is a joy to talk to; he's got a wonderful, hearty laugh and an intensity that reflects the dedication to his craft.  It's a cheerful intensity, though; he talks with a smile on his face at a pace that suggests that he has so much to say but only a limited time to get it out.

Read More
Ryan Sollee, The Builders and the Butchers

The Builders and the Butchers' third full-length LP, Dead Reckoning, contains lots of talk of physical calamities and destruction by wind, water, and fire.  There's not much optimism in Ryan Sollee's storytelling as he explores the darker side of human nature.  He explores these themes while he's fishing around the beautiful city of Portland, where he lives.   The solitary act of fishing begs for solemn contemplation (at least it does for me, since I never catch anything).  Sollee doesn't do any writing here; it's where the well of inspiration fills as he sits quietly.  The writing comes later in a process that he calls "subconscious." It's also worth noting that Sollee used to be a biologist, and the creative process often had its genesis during his many walks in the woods.

Read More
Rocky Votolato

It might not be a stretch to say that writing saved the life of singer/songwriter Rocky Votolato.  After the release of his previous album The Brag & Cuss, Votolato suffered bouts of depression and anxiety so severe that he barely left his apartment for a year.  To overcome this, he did two things: he read and he wrote. 

What struck me most, as I talked to Votolato backstage before his show at the Black Cat in DC two weeks ago, was how writing, for him, was an act of survival.  While he wrote his latest album True Devotion (Barsuk Records) to appeal to his fans, of course, he found that he needed the album even more than they did.  Writing became an act of therapy for Votolato, who told me, "I used to see suicide as a viable option for existential suffering.  I used to think it was a fine choice, a justified choice." Votolato no longer feels that way, but those were dark times, made bright by the power of the written word.

Read More