How's life as a musician treating you today?
I can’t complain! I’ve been very busy these days, tour solo and touring with John Fogerty. The new “Mojo Deluxe” record has been getting lots of press and airplay. I miss my wife and my cats an awful lot, but in 6 weeks, I’ll be done with the road for the rest of the year!
When did you start playing the keyboards and what was the spark that led you to play?
At 9 I started taking classical piano lessons. Nothing much happened for the first year, but all at once, something happened, and I became a little virtuoso, almost all at once. After that, they couldn’t tear me away. Around 15 I was corrupted by rock & roll, followed quickly by an introduction to the New Orleans piano professors, and the rest, as they say, is history.
How did you discover your singing voice, has it improved with age?
I started singing because I wanted to write songs and communicate with people that way. I never had the greatest voice, but I always felt it was the best one to tell my story with. And it has most assuredly improved with age!
What is your favorite story from life on the road?
There are way too many to tell! But there was that one time when I took a 6-seat mail plane to this town in the Australian outback and couldn’t get out for 3 days after the gig because the whole town got sick...
What was the first record you brought that you were most proud of and where did you buy it?
The first record I ever bought with my own money was a recording of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. I bought it at the supermarket - they were selling the “Great Composers Series” 0 one a month, for a buck or something like that. I was probably 10 or 11 years old and I still have that record!
You have played with many famous musicians what one piece of advice would you give to a new band or artist starting out today?
Do it for love, and do it to elevate the music, not yourself. Otherwise, no about if success, large or small, will make you happy.
Where is your most favorite place in the world?
How have your keyboards changed over the years and what was the best one?
For piano, I like real pianos, and that’s what I play whenever I can get one. I’ve done shows and recordings on battered old uprights and 9-foot concert grands and they all have a personality and a story to tell. Digital pianos are convenient, of course, but they don’t excite me much, although there are some pretty good ones out these days. I recently did a series of demo videos for the Kurzweil Forte, that’s a nice one. beyond that, all of my favorite keyboards are straight up vintage 70s. Wurlitzer, Hammond B-3, Clavinet, Rhodes. I missed that era as a player, so it’s been great to be able to finally have access to the old stuff these last few years and get to play them live on a regular basis. When touring with Fogerty I play a 60’s era Hammond B-3 through a Leslie, and a red-top Wurlitzer electric piano. And I have another Wurli that I tour with solo (although sadly I won’t be able to get it on the plane to the UK!).
Music for free? Streaming? downloads? Is it just the road where a musician can earn a crust these days?
For those of us who haven’t had hit records, the road has always been the place to make most of a living. So in a way, it hasn’t changed all that much for me. Although, yes, streaming has taken a big bite out of my sales income. I also do a lot of recording session and arranging (horns, strings, musical theater scores) back in LA, so that’s a good source of income as well. And I get royalty checks for TV music I’ve done. Multiple income streams, and all that. It’s all moving and changing so fast I can’t say how it’s going to end up.
You played Glastonbury in 2013. How was that experience?
It was really wonderful - I hope to be back one day! Although after the show I ventured out of the backstage area to wander the grounds and nearly got trampled by about 50,000 people on their way from one stage to another. That may have been a mistake :-)
Friday 16h October - The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
Saturday 17th October - The Retreat, Braintree, Essex
Monday 18th October - Hope Tavern, West Lindsey
Tuesday 20th October - Blues Cafe, Harrogate
Wednesday 21st October - Railway Venue, Bromley Cross
Thursday 22nd October - The Jam House, Birmingham
Friday 23rd October - Keighley Blues Club, West Yorkshire
Saturday 24th October - Peterlee Catholic Club, Peterlee
Monday 26th October - The Bullingdon (Haven Club), Oxford
Tuesday 27th October - The 100 Club, Oxford Street, London
Wednesday 28th October - The Jazz Cafe, Cardiff
We last had a chat in October 2013, what have you been up to musically since?
We put out our new album Loved Wild Lost in the United States and have been busy touring it all over the country.
What's the feeling now the new album is done and dusted, are you pleased with the end product?
We are all very pleased with the way the album turned out. It was great working with producer Brian Deck. He brought a leanness to the music I'm not sure we could have achieved without him.
'Loved Wild Lost', the new album is out on 9th October, where did that title come from?
It was pulled from the song on the album Love Your Loved Ones.
Where there any changes in the studio when recording the new album this time around?
Aside from having an outside producer we recorded in a studio we've never used before. It was wonderful to record in such a lovely environment so surrounded by nature. We were nestled in the mountains above Stinson Beach, California. It was a perfect setting to be creative.
Is it practical to make a living as a musician these days or does your music have to be subsidised by other careers?
It all depends on what you are willing to sacrifice. Anything is possible if you want it badly enough.
Now that Apple Music has been with us of a couple of months, how do you think it and other steaming options will influence life as an artist?
I don't think streaming necessary influences life as an artist but there are certainly pros and cons to these services for an artist. Call me old fashioned but I'm still an album centric person when I listen to records and I enjoy making full-length albums. I think a lot of our fans are still of that mindset as well. Streaming seems to cater to a lot of people who like to skip around and listen to a lot of individual songs and not necessary focus on albums. In general we really just want our music to be heard and if people want to stream it then I guess that is fine with me. When you go into the studio and create an album you put so much emotion, thought, money and time into it that I can't help to still feel it cheapens it a little bit. But the cat's out of the bag. And I hear even more so in Europe.
You are coming back to the UK for dates in January, what are you most looking forward to?
I love being abroad. It's always exciting to be in other countries and cultures. I love hearing different accents, eating local food and just walking the streets. I'm looking forward to experiencing the UK in the winter. It will be my first visit during that time of year.
Are there any other bands in your neighbourhood that we should be paying attention to?
I think you're probably already familiar with Natalie Prass. She put out a beautiful album this year. I've really enjoyed listening to it.
Split 7" singles are quite trendy these days, who would you like to be on the flip side of your 7" single and why?
We recently did a tour with Andrew Combs and his fabulous band. It'd be really fun to do a split 7" with those guys. We all had so much fun together!
Are there any stories from the songs on the new record that you would like to share?
Sometimes during the writing process I'll write a song about someone else; a friend, a stranger, a phantom. My friend sent me a picture of a Rodeo Queen from a rodeo she was at in California. The image really struck me. I started to write about her and ended up with my song Queen of the Rodeo. After finishing the song, recording and performing it live I began to realise that the song wasn't about the girl in the photo. It was about me. Funny how those things work out sometimes.
Keep an eye out for Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers tour dates. The band are due in the UK in January 2016.
The band was formed in 2012, how did you all meet & start playing together?
I sat in Berlin, smoking a lot for a few months. Then my wife left for Israel and I didn't join her because I was terrified of flying at the time. That's when most of the first LP's songs came out, and that's when I sent them to Dan and Yuval in Israel. We started practicing when I came back from Germany in 2012.
What were your ambitions for the band in 2012 and where do you think you have reached with the evolution of the band in 2015?
I think it took about two years for us to understand who our friends are in the USA, and we have been working with them since. Burger Records, Austin Psych Fest, Windish Booking, have all but super important to our first steps. Israel isn't a very well-known country in the sense of exporting international indie acts, so it has been steady and slow. We record new music all the time and create video content we love. We tour in the US and now have plans in the UK. We are cool with working hard and with things being slow. As long as the partnerships are natural and real, it's cool and we enjoy it.
New Album, 'Sinking the Stone' is due for release in the UK on 25th September, what are the main differences to 2012's 'The World is Well'?
Sound wise we learned a bit better how to record ourselves. We do all the technical recording of the albums at home. Other than that, this new album is more lyrically direct. The first one had a more generic, sci-fi way about it. I think its part of process I'm going through of being more and more able to simply capture what I am feeling, rather than going a long way to explain it.
You sing your lyrics in Hebrew. Lots of bands choose to sing in English to make their music more widely accessible, why did you feel it was important to stick to your native tongue?
Self preservation, in the sense of me, remaining close to myself.
What music were you influenced by when progressing through college and do you still play the same albums today?
I loved music where I felt a regional feeling about it. Feelies felt mid-western in a wonderful way. Velvet Underground were very NYC. I like how northern music from the UK sounds northern, foggy, cold. When I approach making music it's always while thinking of history, geography, images.
Please explain the band's name?
Kind of a double meaning: It means both a committee in charge of dealing with irregular cases in any institution, and at the same time it means "group of misfits".
Is music your 24/7 career or do you all have other jobs as well?
Oh no. I'm (Juval) a publicist. Dan works in industry. Yuval is a video editor.
The new record is part on a trilogy, what comes next and when?
Berlin. Probably a record about Berlin, leaving Israel, going to Berlin.
You have a UK tour booked for next month. Is this the first time you have been over to the UK on tour and what are you most looking forward to?
Marks and Spencer's sandwiches on the highway. Indian food. Driving on the left. hard to choose from so many fun things.
Are there any other bands from Israel that we should be paying attention to?
Well, sure. Listen to Ryskinder, and REO.
If you could tour with any other current band, who would it be and why?
We love YUCK and are friends with them since we opened for them in Tel Aviv, so with them!
The band will be playing their first ever UK shows on the dates in October;
21 Birmingham Sunflower Lounge
22 Manchester The Old Pint Pot
23 Leeds Venue tbc
24 London Shacklewell Arms
25 Brighton Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar
How long have you been playing and performing and what was the spark that sent you down this musical career path?
I took piano lessons and was attempting to write original songs when I was very young, but I quit when I was 10-11 and became an athlete. I dabbled in singing in rock bands and attending open-mic nights when I was a teenager. My father died when I was 19 and for a brief period I wasn’t afraid to try a number of new things, so I moved from Eastern Canada to Austin Texas in 1999.
It was in Austin where I was inspired to sing and teach myself how to play acoustic guitar. A series of strange encounters between Austin and Germany really sparked my desire to try writing my own songs and singing in rock bands. I got the itch to be on stage and perform pretty quickly in my late teens and early twenties and found myself singing with The Young Heart Attack at SXSW in 2001, soon after I was booted out of that band, but found myself opening for Wilco with my own songs days before releasing my first solo album ‘Pretty Things’ in 2002.
From that point on I wasn’t really sure I could do music professionally, but in 2007 I was back in Nova Scotia and there was a lot of support for emerging musicians, so I was able to dig in and make some shit happen with my second album Two Hearts. Since 2008 I’ve been completely obsessed and committed to trying to make a sustainable career for myself in the music business.
You music has just touched our radar. Tell us how you would describe your music for people that have not heard you before?
I would describe my music as Pop/Rock with Americana influences. My musical influences are pretty broad but what turned me on growing up was what was popular on MTV or the radio. I don’t listen to any current pop or rock, but I remember being mesmerized by Eurythmics, Tom Petty, Tina Turner and during my time in Texas I was introduced to Americana artists like Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt. Basically I’m a fan of music that makes me feel something, anything, whether it be the lyrics, the music, or both.
I’ll Be Alright’ released this year is your fifth album. How has the recording processed changed from Album No.1 to No. 5?
I’ve learned that I don’t really enjoy the actual recording process, when it comes to tracking. I’m happy to be involved in the later stage of the mixing process, and everything leading up to tracking. I used to enjoy tracking vocals, but now I find that painfully tedious. However I enjoy singing live more than ever now and want to be a better entertainer.
I love writing songs by myself, and collaborating with other musicians and my producer before actually tracking the songs. I was pretty timid starting out in the studio. With experience and a lot of mistakes, I’ve learned to trust my gut and not be afraid to ask for things. I think I went into the studio more prepared and I took time with each song to really try and create individually strong pieces, and worked closely with Dale Murray and other great musicians to have an overall piece that sounds and feels like an album, that makes the listener feel something.
Are there any particular stories that you would like to share from any on the songs on the new album with us?
Some of what I feel comfortable talking about was expressed in two interview sessions, so people can see some behind the scenes footage of me rehearsing with the musicians who played on the album, recording the album live off the floor, and I reveal some bits about the inspiration behind the songs:
Ironically the recording of the music ran pretty smooth for this album. That was the easy part. There were a number of other struggles, which were not captured on video that really challenged me personally and professionally this past year. I learned that you have to be very careful with who you trust with your business and your money. And for some reason I stopped trusting my gut for awhile… that was unfortunate.
You seem to be on the road a fair bit. Do you enjoy touring and what are main differences being on a UK tour & Canadian tour?
If I’m in one place for too long I start to get really anxious. I’m always working on getting back on the road. It gives me a sense of purpose and I like to keep moving. It’s also easy to feel like a failure when you are not out playing music, I don’t know why, but for me if my calendar is empty I start to feel like I’m not doing my job, or I’m a total failure.
The main difference between touring in UK vs Canada is that in Canada each province is about the size of a European country. You can drive between 8-10 hours to get from a gig in one province to another city if you are doing a National tour. In Canada we don’t have the population you do in the UK, but we have thousands of musicians wanting to perform. It gets a bit tricky planning tours in Canada.
But there are more similarities between touring in UK & Canada. I noticed in UK you can get healthy food at some of your BP gas stations that partner with Marks & Spencer. That comes in pretty handy when you are trying to stay healthy on the road and don’t know the area. But you can find great food and friendly people all over, and you can also find terrible food and assholes without trying too hard. It’s always an adventure!
Spilt 7” singles are popular these days, who would you like to share a single with?
I would love to share a single with Daft Punk. I would probably be a stretch for them, but I’ve always dreamed of singing on dance and funk music.
Now that Apple Music has been with us of a few weeks, how do you think it and other steaming options will influence life as an artist?
It’s too soon for me to say whether Apple Music and other streaming options will make my life more difficult or increase my audience and therefore my ability to sustain myself as an independent artist. I would prefer for people to purchase my full album via iTunes, in record stores, or online direct from my website, because I see a greater benefit and it is easier for me to monitor. I don’t feel that I am paid a fair price for my music being streamed, but I hope that that will change with future policy changes and advocating for bigger percentages of membership fees paid for streaming services going to the owners of the masters of sound recordings.
Tell us about your current band and who are you bringing to the UK next year for your tour?
I’ve been friends and family with most of the people I recorded with on this album. Brian Murray plays drums and is my brother-in-law. He has a great feel for playing Rock, Alt-Country, Americana and other styles… and although he is extremely forgetful, it’s really fun having him in the studio and on the road. We have been working together since 2007.
Jason Vautour has been playing bass on my albums and in my band since about that same time. He is 100% pro, super gentlemen, bringing his broad influences from metal, funk, rock and pop with him to sessions. He is also a lot of fun to watch perform live, and a great overall human being to have around.
Dale Murray is my guitar player, backing vocals, and also has been producing my music since 2007. I’m pretty biased since we are inseparable, but he’s the most tasteful guitar player, and our voices over the years have started to blend really well. Our guitar tones compliment each other, I’m just starting to get my tone now with a vintage Princeton and Duesenberg electric guitar, but Dale is definitely my partner in crime and has been with me through thick and thin.
We had the band touring with us on our last UK tour, but come March 2016 it will be Dale and myself touring as an electric/acoustic Duo. Times are a bit tight and costs double for me to bring the band from Canada to tour in UK. I need to work smarter and sell more albums before I can bring the band back, and that’s a completely different show. I have fans that prefer the stripped down intimate shows and other fans prefer the band performances, but then some people like both. It breaks my heart not to bring my band to every show, but that is something that I can always work towards doing in the future when I can afford it.
What was the first record you ever brought and your last?
First album I ever bought – Don McLean’s Greatest Hits… I bought it because it had a song called ‘Vincent’ on it, and I didn’t know who Don McLean was, but I fell in love with that song on the radio when I was 7 or 8.
Last record – Daft Punk- Random Access Memories – Because it makes me dance!
How do you approach songwriting? .. When the spark strikes? On tour?
Right now I’m not writing anything, I’m just too overwhelmed with ‘the business’ of keeping my touring and everything else going. Eventually I’ll get back into writing in the mornings, but it’s not always about songwriting, usually just journaling. My journal entries are extremely boring.
If I can simplify my day-to-day then I will probably get back to writing when a spark strikes. But sparks don’t normally strike me unless something out-of-the-norm is happening in my own life or around me. I typically will write in my home office, or while I’m in transit on a plane, train or by myself (which isn’t often anymore).
Words and music often come simultaneously, although not always the case. There is no strict rhythm to my songwriting. Sometimes there are stretches where I just don’t write, and not much is going on in my life. During the times I’m not writing music, I’ll try to take guitar or piano lessons to keep my fingers moving and my brain active.
I'm backstage at The Leadmill in Sheffield with White Reaper, who are Tony Esposito (Guitars, Lead vocals), Ryan Hater (Keys), and twin brothers Nick (Drums) and Sam Wilkerson(Bass) to have a chat before tonight's show.
This year you've released your debut album (which people should be buying) 'White Reaper Does It Again', which I bought after hearing a track on NPR's All Songs Considered podcast.
We really appreciate that , and hope you enjoy the show. It blows my mind that people this far away have even heard our music.
I hear on the album some Ramones, early Strokes, New York Dolls, Nirvana, was that the stuff you were listening to growing up in Louisville?
Yeah, basically all those bands you just mentioned. plus some punk shit. Everybody loves Nirvana, Nevermind, is one of the first CD's your friends show you. We didn't consciously try to make album that sounded like that but it's going to happen.
Looking at your logo and the character on your band merchandise (who's the spitting image of Eddie), were you Iron Maiden fans as well?
It's a direct rip off. We liked the Iron Maiden merch, their look and Eddie so much we decided to rip it off. It's a tribute. Nobody does that stuff anymore, everyone wants to get all artsy it's a straight metal ass T-shirt. If I went to a show and saw one of those T-shirts I'd want to buy it.
Does your guy have a name?
We call him Deadie, (laughter in the room) we've never properly called him that but that's our joke.
Tell us something about the music scene in Louisville?
It's cyclical over a decade, you'll look up and there'll be 20 new bands appeared, which is kind of where we are now, but it can also die. We were born out of a lull there wasn't too much going on, there was a really big all ages scene we were part of, basically a punk scene. There was a venue called Skull Alley which was the one all ages venue in town got shut down and we were what are gonna do now? But it's back now and it's pretty good, but a lot of people move away they'll do high school band then leave, most kids want to go to a big city.
East Coast, West Coast?
More like Chicago, it's closer and cheaper than New York. I'm not knocking that, it's kind of how the scene works, everyone wants to go to a big city.
I know My Morning Jacket are from Louisville. Are they still based there?
Yeah, they're the big band from the area. The guy that recorded us Kevin Ratterman, he has parties every now and then and everyone from My Morning Jacket are at his parties, they're just guys who hang out. They played Forecastle (a Louisville festival) with us.
Tony, you're the songwriter in the band. The last track on is album is B.T.K I've read through the lyrics and can't work out a reference to B.T.K.
Have you seen the movie Scream, at the end of the movie it's revealed that Billy's the Killer, so BTK.
And the track Wolf Trap Hotel ?
It's a real hotel. We stayed there in Virginia and it's definitely haunted. It looks like it hasn't been touched since the seventies, its old school. We turned on the TV and it was just fuzz, definitely more than one murder has happened there.
I noticed the tour has a couple of days off. Are you planning to do anything?
We're still trying to work it but. if we have to play a basement show for free we'll do that, we just want to play. We hate having days off, we like to play all the time. Days off are just so slow. I think we're all going to get tattoos this weekend. We love getting tattoos on tour. Ryan - I think I'm going to get 'Free bird' ( the Lynyrd Skynyrd track) across my arm, they're my favourite band .
You played SXSW in Austin this year. Tell us about that.
We only played three shows, which is ridiculously low for a band playing. But it ended up being really fun for us we had a free place to stay; they gave us the keys to their house. There were so many bands we wanted to see that were playing. Not to mention you get to meet a lot of people. We played our label showcase and met a lot of people we've never met before; we met Alvvays (who White Reaper are supporting on this tour).
Are there any US based bands that people should check out?
Broncho who are from Oklahoma they're super poppy, rock and roll kind of like us. Twin Peaks who are probably the most accurate modern interpretation of The Rolling Stones, like if the Stones broke into hardcore punk every once in a while. Jawws, who are from Nashville who are one of the best bands I've seen. They're so young, so cool. We really listen to mainly old stuff. It's really hard for me to like a band until I see them live, I very rarely fall in love with a band until I've seen their live show.
For a young band like yourselves, is the prevalence of downloading and streaming a benefit?
On the one hand I love it that,... I think it's beautiful that so many young and un-noticed people can come up through the internet, but on the other hand I want to hear bands that record and tour a lot, they're really serious about being in a band. So many people come up to us, and tell us on the way to the show we listened to you on Spotify and really got excited about it and that's great , but I'd much rather you just listen to our record, the whole thing.
I think it's a great compliment, somebody told us you could illegally download our album , like wow are you serious . That means far more to me that somebody's made it available for others to listen to. To answer your question the Internet makes it easier to listen to our music, but you should definitely see us live.
Finally. You've got the rest of the UK tour with Alvvays, then what's next for you guys?
We do Canada with Alvvays, then we do the US. We going to try and record a few splits (Split 7” single) with bands we like and try to put out some new music really soon. Ideally we'll be recording some new songs back in Louisville in December or January in the same studio cos he did such a great job on the album.
The UK tour with Alvvays continues until the 11th September. Their debut album White Reaper 'Does it Again' is out now.