Thursday, August 13, 2009
Omelettes and Whiskey
All right, you rock'n'roll cats, it's time for another installment in our ongoing Deep Blues Thursdays. If I could only tell you how many great artists we've got lined up with interviews, promos, and general goodness, well...that would be telling. Bate your breath.
Before we hit up today's cover stars, we'd be remiss if we didn't throw out a shout to the mighty Chris Johnson, founder of the Deep Blues Festival, who made all this possible by putting on the best damn festival in the land. He made it possible for us to meet all these cats, and the gift keeps giving.
Today, we've got Boston's finest Deep Punk Blues merchants, The Ten Foot Polecats! Swell mp3's, courtesy of the band, follow the interview.
Guitarist Jim Chilson, besides being a prime ambassador for the Deep Blues movement, and an all-around good guy, was kind enough to answer the interview questions below, and he basically has told you all you need to know about the band and their mission to kick yr sweaty rump out the door and into the street pogo-shimmying the night away. So, I'm just gonna give you a few personal experiences.
I saw the Ten Foot Polecats twice during the Deep Blues Fest, once at the fest and later at an after-show shindig at Palmers, mostly on the recommendation of long-time reader and friend, John From Milwaukee, who joined us at the Fest. Both sets blew our minds. But it was the Palmer's show that really stroked our pole.
Playing the floor, at audience level, in a dank and packed dive bar, the Polecats really showed their swagger. Lead singer Jay Scheffler menaced and prowled the floor, swinging the mic like a wolf (howlin'?), his voice a growl into a wail, all desperation, sex, and booze, chewing of slices of deep south gristle, moaning and cajoling. Jim Chilson attacked his guitar like a man possessed by the spirit of the Delta mud, peeling thick strains of boogie rumble out of his innocent guitar, cranking out a godhead of silt, sand, and salvation. And drummer Dave Darling beat the skins like the ultimate cave man madman, intent on the destruction world through the pounding rhythm of soul. Everything was so in tune with it's surroundings, and the spirit of the moment, that some folks were even moved to hit the floor in abeyance to the power of the gods that moved these three humble men to send grown men to the floor(see the interview below for an "accounting" of the moment, of sorts). Some god moves in mysterious ways and we believe he or she was channeling through The Ten Foot Polecats that night, taking us to a rapture beyond belief.
Oh, and we had the opportunity to hang with the Polecats at various times throughout the weekend, and a nicer bunch of guys you would never hope to meet. That's the sign of great band...they'll give you a sweat-soaked firestorm of a performance, and then they'll have a beer with you afterward. That's what it's all about cats and kittens. That's what it's all about.
Before we hit the interview, we're gonna tell you that our "free" Big Rock Candy Mountain promo for this post will come in a couple of weeks. It's gonna involve their current e.p., Sterno Soup and another special gift for you, the reader. But if you can't wait, and the mp3's aren't enough, contact the band at one of the sites/email addresses listed after the interview and beg them for more. We'll honor your purchase down the line.
A Ten Foot Polecats Interview (In which we discuss omelettes and whiskey)
1.First off, give us your generic origin story. Where do you come from? Why are you? Feel free at this point to give the god's honest truth or create your own mythology.
The Ten Foot Polecats are Jay Scheffler (vox and harp), Jim Chilson (Guitar), Dave Darling (Drums). We are three piece band from the Boston Massachusetts that played together previously in another Boston blues band that played more “standard blues songs”.
Considering the previous band we were in did not seem to progress to the type of blues we really wanted to play, and plus we didn’t want to play classic rock covers that the band now wanted to play, we left the band to pursue a more unique and original blues sound that I think we were always itching to do. Jay and I were actually playing in an acoustic duo that was playing Delta and Hill Country music in a local high end restaurant for about 2 months before we left the previous project. I found it very interesting to play this sometimes cryptic music to people waiting for their Prime Rib or Chocolate Mousse….I found it humorous to sometimes see people finally realize what the lyrics were and look puzzled. Needless to say that didn’t last too long as the restaurant wanted “lighter” material. But after thinking about it we said let’s get Dave to play drums to get a full sound, electrify it, and try this out at venues. After that The Ten Foot Polecats were born.
2. Labels are a pain in the ass, but since we as a society like safe, compartmentalized categories, tell us what kind of music you play. Please feel free to add as many descriptors as you want, or feel free to give us your opinion on musical labels in general.
Basically we play North Mississippi Hill Country Blues (generally) with an aggressive punk attitude. It is interesting you bring up labels because a lot of people who are in this “genre” don’t know what to call it and where it starts and ends. More reasons to why labels on music really blow. I tend to call the style we play, Deep Punk Blues. Why I add in Deep to the title? Mainly because in reference to the style Blues which is more in-line with the original Mississippi & Delta styles rather than Chicago, West Coast, Uptown or whatever blues.
3. You're based out of Boston. Do you find the city receptive to your style, whatever that is? Or do you find a larger fan base outside of the city?
Actually it has really done well in the neighboring city in Massachusetts, Worcester, which seems to have a closer knit music scene. It has done better there than in Boston, but in Boston it has done better than we expected. At first we were doubtful that people in Boston would “get it” as a lot of the blues or blues influenced bands in Boston are of the Chicago Blues, Uptown/Jump Blues, Texas Blues, and Rock Blues. But as it turns out a lot of the real Blues fans have really enjoyed the sound and also we have had more younger fans coming to shows. It seems like we have a cross over audience in the works with the punk-a-billy/psychobilly fans as we have been booked on bills with those type bands, which is really pleasing. We have had more people approach us at shows wondering about the sound and where it comes from, and why we don’t have a bass player and why I play a 5-string guitar, etc……..and we are very happy to tell them all about it.
4. Generic question #2: Who are your influences?
What we like to say is basically anyone that originated from Mississippi. However, to be more specific we are heavily influenced by the North Mississippi Hill Country artists: RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Rober Belfour, Mississippi Fred McDowell, T-Model Ford, along with other artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Blind Willie Johnson, Skip James, Hound Dog Taylor and so many more. I could go on forever on this one.
5. How did you come to be involved with/play at the Deep Blues Fest? What are your best memories of the Fest?
We became involved through the power of myspace unbelievably enough. A former Massachusetts resident named Stacy De Hart saw us online and said we have to come play the club she was booking for in Cottage Grove, Oregon called “The Axe and Fiddle”. After thinking about it we said, yeah why not? Let’s hit the road! So we booked a show and followed suit with lining up other shows in Seattle, and New Mexico and we made a go of it. From there Stacy turned us on to other contacts in this genre such as Chris Johnson, Rick Saunders, DJ Hill Funk, and others. On thing she said we HAD to do was to apply to play The Deep Blues Festival in Minneapolis. After checking it out it was apparent that it was MUST we either play or be there.
Deep Blues Festival 2009 was incredible, as I told organizer Chris Johnson, it was the best musical experience of my life. Chris is an amazing guy, the way he has helped the “misfit punk blues/country community” has been remarkable but what is even more incredible is the way he treated each and every artist that was playing. It felt like a real family and friend atmosphere. It was our first time playing the festival and before we played we heard about how all the artists would do anything for Chris (and his Deep Blues Staff too) and we can see why! It is really a pleasure working with someone like Chris who wants you to succeed as much as you do. I wish there were a lot more Chris Johnson’s out there, in the music scene and in the world…. truly a special man.
Musically speaking, the highlights were way too many to list, BUT the 3 things that stuck out were T-Model Ford impromptu jam at 2am on the back patio of the adjoining bar where he had command of a lucky audience, which including about 20m musicians hanging on every note. The second memorable highlight was Reverend Dead Eye playing “Fuck The Devil” and then having the sun finally peaking through the storm clouds for the first time of the festival. Seemed like God was giving a big thumbs up saying “that’s right son!”. Third, would be how all the bands were willing to contact each other and help each other get gigs in their areas and from there build a following. In fact we talked with Left Lane Cruiser, Gravel Road, Smokestack and The Foothill Fury, Cashman, CW Ayon, Illinois John Fever and some others about possibly getting them up to the Northeast to play…hopefully we can help out and get the bands some shows in our area, and in turn play in their areas as well.
6. Say you're playing an after-show gig at a bar and you've so moved an individual with your music that they are sprawled face down on the floor pounding their fist in...let's call it ecstasy. This leads to the poor individual being kicked out of the club. Is this a moment of aesthetic pride or just par for the course at most of your gigs?
For some reason this sounds very familiar!
I think it is, and will always be, a sense of pride to accomplish that feat. To drive a person to frenzy is always a joy to watch, it adds to the show…..plus we like to be entertained as well by the audience! Anytime we can get someone to act totally ridiculous then we know we were playing pretty good that night! We encourage it.
7. This may be redundant, based on question number 2, but you seem to bring a punk/garage (again with the damn labels) aspect to the Blues. Do you see this as a trend? Do you feel that the future of Blues, in order to bring in younger listeners, is to pull it into a different context, hook 'em, and then send them running back to the source? Example: Uncle Tupelo sending the kids back to the record shop to check out Hank Williams, et. al.
I do see it as a trend. It’s funny you mention this because it bring me to think of a documentary I was watching one time about Punk Rock, can’t think of the movie name, but Henry Rollins was saying that he never understood why kids that loved punk music never latched on to the old Mississippi Blues artists as the content of their music translates well to Punk. Well, I think we are finally seeing that happen. Even at The Deep Blues Festival you would see an aggressive, more Punk like artist like the High Plane Drifters play RL Burnside songs and then before that you would see a one man band, like CW Ayon, play the same song. So that tells me no matter how you are presenting your music the artists are influenced by similar content and presenting it their own way. So, I think this could be a trend that will hopefully grow even larger on the music scene.
8. Is a cold adult beverage necessary to understanding the Blues, or does understanding the Blues lead one to enjoying a cold adult beverage?
Hmmm…actually a warmer adult beverage (preferably made in Tennessee or Kentucky) would be a quicker way to it. But this is totally a “chicken or the egg” topic, however much more fun with whiskey than with an omellete.
9. What's next for the 'Polecats? Record? Live shows? World domination?
We are playing shows throughout Massachusetts including opening up for Scott Biram on August 4th and are waiting to hear on a North East weekend tour with some Pyschobilly/Punk-a-billy bands that a booking agent what us to be a part of. We might also be playing The Boston Blues Society’s 20th Anniversary Party with some National Act. Still waiting confirmation of that as well. But besides that we play almost weekly at this point, sometimes it is one set of music and sometimes it is three sets.
We are also working on our first full length CD, I am thinking it will be out Late Fall 2009 but we have gotten some interested from some record companies so I am not sure if that will speed up the process or slow it down. Whatever the case may be, we have some new songs in the works and about 9 recorded and mixed as we speak.
World Domination! I like it, but lots of hard work. We would need someone devious enough to lead that charge and form the armies......between the crooked political figures in both Boston & Chicago we could assemble a really devastating army for world domination!!!
If you want to contact, or check out, The Ten Foot Polecats on their upcoming shows, upcoming CD release, or anything beer and whiskey related….. here are the ways to do it
Ten Foot Polecats: Chickenhead Man (mp3)
Ten Foot Polecats: Big Road (mp3)
Please support your local, independent, kick-ass band. They're ten times better than any Rotting Stones show yr gonna see.