What's left when the show is over..

Nashville based The Greencards come home to Austin for SxSW

Prologue: Saved by iPhone

Most of the time when I'm shooting a band, there's a generally short exchange of emails with the artist's publicist confirming dates and times. Not so with anything associated with SxSW. I'd booked an interview and photo shoot for Miranda Lee Richards, and due to the chaos that was this year's SxSW, dates and venues were a moving target. As a result I'd had a fairly lengthy set of back and forths with MSO about Miranda's schedule.

In the middle of that stream, I got a question from Angela over at MSO: "I'm not sure if your schedule is booked solid, but if you have a chance to check out The Greencards, they're great!". I was unfamiliar with them, but after a quick troll of their Myspace page, they certainly looked intriguing. Here was a pair of Aussies and a Brit doing a sort of modernized bluegrass based thing. The chops were both well played, and incredibly American sounding.

I emailed back that I'd love to check them out, and we scheduled an interview and photo shoot for their showcase, to be on 3/19 at 12:00AM. So on Wednesday, after a full day of following Miranda around for her showcases, two other photo shoots, and a dinner interview with another artist, I trudged over to the venue (St. Davids on 7th in Austin). What I heard was most certainly not even remotely close to bluegrass.

Now to me, (and I think most people), that 12AM on 3/19 would translate to 12AM after the night of 3/18. That is, unless you're SxSW, who took this bass ackwards peculiar notion that it was really 3/20 at 12AM. This wasn't the only thing SxSW hosed up, but I digress. Unfortunately I had to be back in Dallas for previously booked stuff on 3/20, so that meant I wasn't going to be able to catch the Greencards set. A few emails and phone calls later, we were able to rebook the interview for Friday.

So on Friday, I drove down to Austin again (for the 3rd time so far that week). On the way out, I stopped by a couple local record stores to try to pick up any of The Greencard's work, to no avail. They didn't have Viridian (The Greencards last release), and Fascination (the current release) wasn't in stores yet. Great. There's nothing worse than doing a interview with an band who's poured their whole lives into their work and you (the interviewer) have no clue about what they do.

Screw that. That's just tacky, and rude. All hail the mighty iPhone. I went off to the iTunes store, and found they had Viridian, so I bought it on the phone (compressed audio quality and all) and spent half the drive between Dallas and Waco waiting for it to download on the slow assed edge network. Even so, it's still an amazing technological feat to be able to buy an album while driving. Once downloaded, I plugged in my AKG K-240's (I hate ear buds, they're positively dreadful) and spent the next 48 or so minutes being throughly blown away by what this trio was capable of, to the extent that I got almost through a second spin on the way into Austin. This was going to be serious fun.

I sat down with The Greencards' Carol Young (vocals/bass) and Eamon McLoughlin (vocals/mandolin/bouzouki) at the famous Scholz Beer Gardens.

Starting out, and playing bluegrass as foriegners

ML: The first thing that occured to me when listening to Viridian, is that several tracks (like Shining in the Dark), come off as utterly American traditional bluegrass, yet none of you are American.

Carol: That freaks everyone out (laughs).

ML: It's got to be interesting at shows the first time you talk between songs.

Eamon: I think it shocks people. They hear us singing, and they expect our mouths to sound like something different when we start talking, like a drawl.

Carol: Frankly, the music has never been anything different for us. From day one, this has been the music we've been into. It's not like we discovered it in our late teens or something. I don't remember when I first started hearing this type of music. That's not normal, you know?

ML: I can't imagine this is something that was culturally popular there in Australia & the UK.

Carol: No, we were very uncool at school (laughs). It's not on the radio in Australia at all, and I guess not in England either.

Eamon: No, very little.

Carol: It's an underground following.

ML: Even in the states it's a niche thing.

Carol: You have radio stations here. You can at least find it. In Australia it's this little underground cult following. You have to import all those American records, but it's just not a large population. It's like that in England as well.

ML: So you've been playing together for 7 years, and how long were you playing the genre before you got together?

Eamon: We've all been listening and playing it since an early age. Maybe not this distinct form of music, but definitely American.

Carol: Country music, and then I got into a bluegrass phase when I hit my late teens. I just went crazy over bluegrass, and my friends were like what are you doing? They were listening to Cultures and Metallica and Kiss. To me it was all about Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt, and it was a great foundation for our music.

ML: Robert Plant said that when he started working with Alison Krauss he felt like he had to go get schooled on it.

Carol: He's very fascinated by it. It's a very disciplined music.

ML: It's a massive learning curve that most musicians don't have the discipline to do.

Eamon: He made a statement on TV, I think it was that Charlie Rhodes interview, where he said he had a very sort of typically British and very blind appreciation for American music. He said that it's only now that he realizes that white American music is cool too.

ML: The thing I noticed on Who Knows is that while it starts out with a very traditional bluegrass sort of arrangement, and then it breaks out into a very non-traditional kind of jam towards the end. Unlike Union Station or a Yonder Mountain, you go outside the traditional form.

Carol: We've talked about this, and I think we get away with it a little more than others can because we weren't born here (in the states). We still have those other influences. We have our rock and roll influences, and Kym, (our mandolin player) had this full on metal period in his life. He loved metal bands and just loved the whole shred thing. Then he got into reggae, because Sam Bush was into reggae, and it has got to come out somewhere. I think as the albums have progressed, especially on this latest one, we feel a bit more confident in bringing that out.

ML: When you started playing out, was it overseas, or did you form here?

Eamon: The band formed here, in Austin, about seven years ago. I met Kym in a recording studio, and then later met Carol. Austin is such an incredible place for live music, and that energy of just go out there and do it and play. So we put the band together and started performing in Austin.

ML: And how long after you stared playing out did you find people who were getting it?

Eamon: It was very quick, people reacted very quickly. Austin is such an encouraging and welcoming town.

Gigging, the road, improvising, and train wrecks

ML: Instrumentation wise, what do you do live as a three piece?

Carol: Well we're four piece live now, we added a guitar player, a young guy from Atlanta Georgia. He's 18 and just so talented. He plays guitar.

Eamon: Live I play fiddle and viola.

Carol: Kym plays mandolin and ukulele and I play bass and we all sing, but we don't have the American guy sing (laughs).

Eamon: People wouldn't understand him if he started talking.

Carol: The accent might blow it for us.

ML: Are you playing local gigs in Nashville as well?

Eamon: We kind of treat Nashville like any other place, in that we only play there about two or three times a year.

ML: For most of your shows, what kind of venues are you in?

Carol: It varies. We're doing a lot of festivals this year because it's an album release year. We enjoy playing theaters, because they have a really pristine sound, we do a few clubs. And we do some summer concert series, which I think are great, because you get crowds that aren't necessarily fans of the genre, but you get families that go out, or it's like the hang out every wednesday and its the thing to do, and we pick up a lot of new fans that way. It's a great thing, and I really enjoy that in the summer. I kind of wonder with this new economy if it's still going to exist.

ML: Have you noticed any impacts from that?

Eamon: It affects people's mentalities, and attitudes. Of course everyone is mindful, and watching what they're spending. I think it effects people's approach to having fun and letting go. That being said, there's still great shows, and great attendance's.

Carol: We've spoken to a couple of festival people, like promoters, who've said that ticket sales were actually up from previous years. People are just like hang it, I've got my last few bucks, and it's going here. I think that's a great spirit to have.

ML: So when you're playing live, do you find yourselves doing alternate arrangements of what you've done in the studio?

Carol: Yeah, in the sense that sometimes what works in the studio with the arrangements is not going to work on the road due to the excitement factor. On a record there's a flow, and live the tempos change, so that changes the feel of the song a little bit, and then the adrenaline kicks in. At some festivals, you want that little bit of extra. There's certain songs off the records that when we play them live, we keep them the same, it works and it's evident that that's the way it needs to go.

But then there are some that we just feel like all right, lets go. And that's the best part, you know? We've only just started playing the new songs live, so we're starting to find out what works, and what doesn't work. But we cut this album with that in mind, that we have to pull this off live. And so this one (Fascination) is way more what we do live anyway. I think with each album we've moved further in that direction. As they've evolved, we're getting to a stage where we know that this goes well live. And we're really a live band, we tour about 150 dates a year.

ML: That's a lot of Motel Sixes.

Carol: (Laughs) Yeah, we've evolved from that. We've found priceline, and we refuse to do the Motel Six thing anymore, no offense to Motel Six, but Priceline is great.

Eamon: But if we had an endorsement from Motel Six, you never know...

Carol: (Laughs)

ML: Musician's endorsements. Elixir (the string manufacturer) must just love Keller William's solo shows, where he has the stage set up like an old 70's era retail store, and there's this whole section of the wall with their strings on display. With everybody else you have no idea who's brand is on the instruments.

Carol: That's why they need the musicians to fall in love with the products, so they'll talk about them. There's a lot of musicians who love Elixir.

Eamon: We've got some. Gallien-Krueger.

Carol: We've got an artist endorsement for Neumann microphones.

Eamon: I play a viola made by a company in Maryland, called Eastman, they've given me some great violas, this is third one they've given me, which is really really nice.

Carol: Kym has an Elixir endorsement, and Collings, here in Austin, with Mandolins, and they look after our guitar player as well. They've been very good to us. Musicians love free stuff.

Eamon: When it's GOOD and free, that's the ultimate.

ML: I cover NAMM periodically, and I know lots of musicians that go just to shop endorsement deals.

Carol: That's a great thing, NAMM is so much fun, we went out to NAMM two or three years ago, and played at it for Collings. I had no idea it was so big.

ML: Years ago I mixed 10,000 Maniacs live. One of the things I always loved about their arrangements, and any "clean" band is that there is all this space around the instruments.

Carol: It's a beautiful thing having the space. And as a singer, it's great to have that space when you sing. It's great when you can hear someone taking a breath between lines. I just love that. Now there is one difference between the record and the live show. In the studio we did use a percussionist, and we don't use that live. I think that it really helps these songs on record having that. It was the producers call on that one, and it was a good call.

ML: So do you work with your arrangements of the tracks live to create the implied sense of the percussion?

Carol: We've sort of decided that we're taking some of the tracks and sampling some of the percussion sounds we used. For things like festival shows it gives us something to ramp up to, and then we'll strip it right back down to just a guitar, fiddle and vocals or something. So it's a nice dynamic in a set. And it's just a kick drum or something like that. I think also with the instrumentation we're using, if you have your normal snare drum going, and it's cracking over the top end too loud, or cymbals, it just crowds the instruments register. Whereas with a kickdrum (starts hitting the table like a kick), it just gives you that heartbeat, that I really love.

ML: And the rest of the instruments don't fall into that frequency range so you've got room in the mix to play with.

Carol: Yeah, there's nothing worse I think then going to see a great acoustic band, and they've got a drummer going off with all these cymbals right in that frequency range, it's like I just want to hear that mandolin ring out, and you can't hear it. So with the kick, I really enjoy that. It's just got the heartbeat. I think you can listen to the record, but you get the real idea of the band when you see them live. That's the true part of it.

ML: Absolutely. Even with the show tapers, it's not the same. Granted they have much better gear than in the days where they were lugging around Nagras and stacks of car batteries with inverters, but even today the mics are 50-100' back, and even with really good condensers, being that far back you don't get the same transients on the low end that you do in person. So you really HAVE to be there to really experience it.

Carol: Definitely. I agree.

ML: Another thing that's great about live music when you see a band several times, is you get to see them evolve musically.

Carol: Oh, and the mess-ups are the best part (laughs).

ML: My brother and I go back and forth on that all the time. He sees them (live improvisations bits that don't work out well) as mistakes or excessive noodling, and I view them as having the band having the balls to take a risk with doing something live that they don't know if it's going to work or not.

Eamon: And the ironic thing is, the people that come see us, and who have seen us a few times and will say "great show", and we'll have done a song, with something you think is this monumental screw up, which fortunately doesn't happen to us that often, but occasionally you'll mess something up.

Carol: Like a train wrecking..

Eamon: Yeah, it's glaringly obvious to everyone on stage, and sometimes even to everyone in the audience. You know, and as a performer, you can get off the stage and think God, what a massive mistake, and then someone will come up, and say, that was such a great show, that was such an insight into the character of the band. That mistake, it kind of lets the audience in, in a way that you're not aware of as a performer.

Carol: I think the best one was at the album release for our last album, and you hit that clanger in Nashville, remember the Nashville show?

Eamon: That's right..

Carol: And we were just all laughing, as we're walking off the stage, and even people in the audience noticed that one.

Eamon: Yeah, that was pretty bad.

Carol: And you got a text about it after the show (laughs).

Eamon: Right, this friend of mine is a producer who was at the show. I was quite depressed about it afterwards, knowing I'd done it, and I'd played it with quite a lot of authority as well. So it was him texting me on the phone, and it was "Nice Clang Dude!" (Laughs).

ML: So do you do improvisational stuff and branch out with the arrangements live?

Eamon: There's parts, for sure, in intros and themes.

Carol: We've got to have a couple of those in a set, you know? I find that that's when we really settle as a band. Once we can get to that stage, we settle. You know that may be the thing that becomes a train wreck, but it's also the thing that settles us too. There are certain songs that due to the arrangement has to be done that way, but then I think our shining moments are when we sort of go out there.

ML: So how do you communicate those changes on stage?

Eamon: I think you try not to change the overall structure too much, because for us that would almost be too much. You might say right, you're going to take three rounds, and we will usually stick to that, but within that you can change out the dynamics, and that is kind of a visual musical thing. I'll bring it down here, where I don't normally do that, but everyone is kind of watching and listening, so you can go with it.

Carol: And then by the same token, when someone is really going for it, you let them go. Even if they're past their three rounds, and still going. Or when they've just fallen over, I'll take over, or one of the guys will jump in and take over.

ML: I love the shows where stuff clicks, and the band is just totally on top of it.

Carol: Those are the one in ten, or something. We live for those.

Eamon: Absolutely. But you can't search for it. You can't just walk out and say, right, I'm going to have that kind of night tonight.

Carol: You can wish for it though (laughs).

Eamon: If you look for it, you won't find it. It just happens unbeknownst to yourself.

ML: Do you notice with your fans over the years that they're evolving?

Carol: Yeah, I think the crowd has evolved over the years, but we still have every now and then people who were there in the beginning. We've got one guy, who lives in illinois who will turn up at shows in Nevada, and then North Carolina the next week. He flies out to the shows. If we're on tour for a week, he'll come out and follow us for a week. We have quite a few regulars. And we've tried, as our albums have evolved, to not lose the crowd that's come with us over the years. I think we try to maintain that while bringing new followers all the time. With festivals, we get to meet up with a lot of those crowds each year that you know are going to be say, at Telluride. That crowd goes to Telluride every year, so you see them every year.

ML: What festivals do you typically play?

Carol: This year we're doing Telluride, Austin City Limits, Lollapaloza.

Eamon: We did Bonnaroo last year.

Carol: We do a lot of boutique little acoustic festivals, like with 5-7,000 people, one stage, people who just love this genre of music. We love those shows, and we feel pretty lucky, because they're such a great crowd.

Making records, working with producers, and arranging things

ML: On Viridian, you have lots of string work, and lots of very detailed arrangements. On Fascination did you find yourself gearing it towards playing it out live or do you treat the studio and live versions separately?

Eamon: It's a bit of both I think. When you present a song, the first goal is being able to have an arrangement that works live. But then, when you go into the studio, you just have to take advantage of the situation. You can go in and add a couple of little things here and there, but the trick is to knowing when to stop. It's saying we want this to be more of like the live situation. You can go either way, and overdub until the end of time. It's a choice you make in the beginning, you say what kind of record are we going to make? And then you stop when you think it's suitable.

ML: Your vocal arrangements are incredibly dense, which is kind of a rare thing outside of the genre. The harmonies are amazingly traditional, and it's obvious you've studied traditional bluegrass to an incredible depth.

Carol: We have. The trick is also for us is because we are foreigners we can't pretend to be from the North Carolina mountains. So we still have to have our twist and our take on it, and I think it's only now after how many years the band's been together, that we even feel confident putting that on the record. Before we felt like we had to do it with traditional style, and as the years have gone on, it's turning into our sound. With the harmonies, we listen to The Beatles, and we can't help that it comes out in our music. The Beatles harmonies, country harmonies, bluegrass harmonies, all that. I think on this record we went a bit more towards the southern traditional style.

ML: So what was different about Fascination vs. your previous studio efforts?

Carol: The big difference on this record is it was the first time we've handed over the producing job. In the past we've either produced, or co-produced our records, and this is the first time we totally handed it over. We used Jay Joyce.

EDITOR NOTE: Jay Joyce has produced a variety of artists, including John Hiatt, The Derek Trucks Band, Emmy Lou Harris, The Dixie Chicks, The Duhks, and Patty Griffin. As a studio musician, he has played on records for Iggy Pop, The Wallflowers, Macy Gray, K. T. Olson, LeAnn Rimes, Faith Hill, and my personal favorite Heather Nova's Truth and Bone. Additionally he's produced numerous soundtracks including Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and the Chronicles of Narnia. He won a grammy in 2006 for his work on Audio Adrenaline's "Until My Heart Caves In".

ML: Was that a recommendation from the label, or did you search him out on your own?

Carol: We got recommendations from the label, and other musicians. But you have to hear them yourself, and fall in love with their work and get it, you know? We hadn't met him before, but we loved what he'd done with Patty Griffin and John Hiatt, and The Duhks. And so we set up a meeting and went and hung out with him, and just hit it off. We had a listen to what he was cutting at that time, in his own studio. He has this great studio with such a great vibe, and one of the best things was that we're in Nashville, and he's in Nashville, so we got to hang out leading up to it and work out arrangements, which you normally don't get to do when he produces.

ML: There has to be the whole trust factor there, because you're turning over your baby...

Carol: I was surprised how easy it was. It was a welcome thing.

ML: Did you find him making suggestions you wouldn't have thought about?

Eamon: For sure, yeah. That was part of the attraction, is that you want someone that's going to come out of left field. But they have to be good ideas. Like if someone comes up with three ideas you wouldn't have thought of, but you don't ever want to hear again, then you don't trust them any more. But when it's like "hey, try this" and you go, ok, yeah, that's a good idea, then after a few times you build up this sense that it's working.

ML: And since you had an opportunity to start working with Jay before you hit the studio, was that sense already happening?

Carol: Yeah. And when you think about it, with us, there's the three of us, not just one person doing the writing, so we all have to have the trust thing happening, and the whole three of us just got totally into it. This is the first time we've found someone where like, I get where where you're going with this, I trust you, let's go for it. There wasn't a moment for me there where I thought "I don't like it", so it was one of those magic moments.

ML: The comfort factor. Bryan Farmer (Warren Haynes guitar tech) once told me, this isn't so much about having fresh strings on and having the guitar in tune, so much as it is ensuring that when Warren walks out on stage, he's as comfortable with his surroundings as possible, because the performance is entirely related to the comfort factor.

Carol: Exactly. It's all about the performance in that moment.

ML: When I used to work with bands in the studio, we'd try to spend the first half of the first day getting to where the band was relaxed enough and trusted us enough to be able to play their best, rather than thinking in the back of their minds "is this going to end up as a total disaster?", because if even a hint of that thought is there, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

Carol: Yeah, and then the second day is even worse, because you've gone home and thought about how disastrous the first day was, and it's just a downhill spiral from there (laughs).

Eamon: That's really bad.

Carol: Another big difference between Viridian and Fascination is it's not as layered. We deliberately went for that. We wanted to shape the sound so when people come to see us at the gig they get what we're doing. It's a bit more honest.

ML: How much time did you spend in the studio for Fascination?

Carol: We did a track a day. If we went into the studio at 10 in the morning, we'd listen to the mixes from the day before, and then we'd start and cut a track. Honestly it'd be normally the second or third take. He (Jay) was pretty good about capturing the moment when we play it live, and then we'd go in do a few vocal comps and that sort of thing, and we would not start on another track that day. We did a track a day, and come back in the next morning to listen to it.

ML: So you cut it in two weeks?

Eamon: We had maybe two days off.

Carol: We went and did a festival in Colorado, so we had a couple days off.

ML: That's amazingly quick compared to other genres.

Eamon: His approach was stay in that mindset for the whole day, and then once you're done with that song, then you're done with it, and you move on to something different. It worked, because it frees you up, and so you can say, well I'm really going to just throw myself at this song for this day, and then that's it. It was the first time we'd ever done it that way.

Carol: And now, it'd be hard to go back, like it would be hard to do it any other way once you've done it like that.

ML: So it was different when you did Viridian?

Carol: Oh yeah, it was totally different.

Eamon: Yeah, we did probably about 3 songs a day, but you would sort of knock out a large chunk of a song, and it was still mostly live, but you would get a couple of fixes in, like let's redo that flubbed intro, or just fix that bit, and you'd basically have 85% of it maybe.

ML: Did you do all your own string work on them or were you working with session players?

Eamon: On Viridian, there was a guy who helped us, Chris Carmichael, who did string arrangements on two songs, he's from Nashville.

Carol: He was cool, in that Eamon played the parts with him, that was a cool thing, normally these guys are really funny about "well I wrote the part, so I'm going to play the part", but he was really cool, and gave Eamon the sheet music, and said "right, I'll play this bit, and you can play that bit, let's go", and he was really cool about it.

SxSW: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

ML: So since I'm here covering SxSW, I have to ask the same question I'm asking everybody: What does a band get from doing SxSW?

Eamon; Good question. Good question.

Carol: It's a love/hate thing for me. That's an honest thing. You get all worked up, and spend all this money, and place all this importance on a set, like it's a make or break thing, and then you've got an hour's slot, including setup time, you don't get any control over PA, or your environment, your crowd. You can have those magic moments, you know the magic moment where you're a standout, and you've got the buzz from everyone. And then you can have those moments where you go back and re-assess your whole life and career. I've talked to so many bands, and it's the same. Only a few bands are going to come away from this as being like we had then. Like Norah Jones had that moment years ago. For us though, it's coming home to Austin.

ML: This is home turf.

Carol: Yeah, it's the love thing with the crowd, they're like "OK we're going to support The Greencards, and be there for them", when there's like Devo down the road, and they still come out and support us. But imagine coming from say, Argentina, where it's cost you how much to get here?

ML: The band that played after Miranda Lee Richards' first set on Wednesday had come in from Dublin. This was thier only showcase, and they were so pumped up for it. And they played to the bar staff, myself, Miranda and Rick and some guy in off the street eating lunch.

Eamon: Oh god.

Carol: And they were great, right?

ML: Oh yeah. They were totally out of hand. And so I'm thinking that we've got what, 1100 bands this week? So right now, as we're sitting here talking, there's got to be at least 20-30 amazing bands, playing to empty rooms.

Carol: Right. you can't judge your music, or your direction or anything, on the basis of a SxSW set. You've just got to hope that you're one of those bands that you get a decent PA, and a decent crowd, and you come away feeling good about it. But it can be hard to. And it costs quite a bit of money to do SxSW.

ML: I shot a set Wednesday night, it's this guy and his sister, they're just kids in high school, but they're doing really well in terms of critical acclaim, they've got something like half a million plays on their myspace page...

Carol: Oh Jesus! And so how many people did they have at the show?

ML: Their parents. And the friends of the bands that played before and after them.

Carol: See?

Eamon: Wow.

ML: Yeah. It just was surreal. They'd hired a backing band, and he'd sent out the charts like a month in advance, and they got a whole hour of rehearsal time. During the set, the guitar player didn't know the chord changes, and Travis was having to yell the chord changes to him, and this guy didn't know the difference between a major and minor 7th. The PA was this dreadful crap made by a company that went out of business when I was in high school in the 80s.

Eamon: Oh no.

Carol: Oh god, I feel for them. And you know, the Wednesday showcases, I think that everyone's really pumped up, and on Thursday, people still have some energy, and by Friday/Saturday/Sunday, like my ears are worn out. So I don't think you should judge a whole lot on a SxSW showcase.

ML: So in your case, you've been on major labels, you're established and whatnot. What do you think the appeal is for a smaller band, someone completely unheard of outside of their home town?

Carol: To do a SxSW showcase? It's that "one chance".

ML: But isn't it a huge crapshoot?

Carol: Yeah, but everyone else is doing it.

Eamon: That's part of the reason. It's well, everyone else is doing it, so if we're not there, people will think we're not shooting high enough, that we're not serious about it. It's that sense. One of the big things you can get out of SxSW as a band, is it allows you a chance to get all of your team together, in one room. So for example, you might have an agent in Nashville, management that's in Austin, publicity that's in New York, or whatever. You may have all these people all at once in Austin for SxSW. So as a band it gives you a chance to say, right, we're all meeting, we're all getting together and hanging out and having a drink at our show. And this allows you to form up a bond.

ML: So you can cement the relationships between the various folks who handle different aspects of what you do?

Eamon: Yeah. SxSW is like the only time in the year they're all going to be in the same town at the same time. I think that's a big thing as a band.

ML: But your smaller bands don't have that team.

Eamon: No, the smaller bands don't. It's tough for smaller bands starting out. You may be able to get certain people there aren't normally in town. You may have one contact in New York, who will make it to the show, and that counts for something. Part of it is you kind of have to be there, because everyone THINKS you should be there. It's part of it. Maybe that's real. Maybe it's not. Who am I to say. Maybe it counts for something.

ML: It's like the trade show circuit if you're an instrument manufacturer. If you aren't at NAMM, then everyone will think you're going out of business.

Eamon: And maybe that's it as a band as well. It's that you have to start thinking in those terms, of shooting high.

ML: So do you guys do SxSW every year?

Eamon: We have done it a lot of years.

Carol: We skipped the last two though, didn't we?

Eamon: Right.

ML: But you have a little bit of a home court advantage when you did your first one?

Carol: Oh yeah, a little bit. Free accommodations for one (laughs).

ML: Did you have a local draw for that?

Carol: Yes. And we had a lot of support. And we still get a lot of support for the great radio stations like KTSR (College Station, TX) and KUT (Austin) and so that really helps too. We were lucky to do the Four Seasons at 7AM on Wednesday morning. I don't know if lucky is the word (laughs) but when we come to town those guys are pretty good to us.

ML: That's cool. Austin is a little bit rare in that.

Carol: It is. Austin has some of the last good ones though.

The business of the business

ML: Do you get a lot of coverage from local radio elsewhere?

Eamon: Yeah, a fair amount. When we release a record, we'll go and do radio spots all around, in various different stations. Public stations and commercial stations.

ML: What kind of coverage do you get from commercial stations, outside of the clear channel stations?

Carol: We get a little bit of AAA, it depends on the album, it does. You can't say, well we got played last time, so this time they'll just play it. It depends on if a track takes off. And satellite radio is changing it, because you can actually SEE the name of the artist, it's a great thing. Once again, with this one, it won't release to radio until the end of March, so we'll see how it goes, but I feel pretty good about it. We wrote an album, not with radio in mind, but we knew live what worked, and it seems to translate on radio, and it's got a bit of a commercial edge so, we'll see.

ML: You're in an interesting environment, where I would guess a lot of your album sales are based off the live performances?

Carol: Absolutely

ML: Unlike the old days where you'd count on the radio play to drive the album sales, which drove the ticket attendance. Hasn't that died off for the most part outside of the manufactured and heavily hyped acts?

Carol: It has. The other thing that's taken over is film and television though.

ML: Do you do any licensing work?

Carol: We try. Everyone tries (laughs). It's so swamped at the moment, like everyone wants that. So they've got some great, really big bands on offer, but once again, it comes back to the song, which is a great thing I think, because it's still all about the song. They know it's going to click with their audience. And I think that's taken over a little bit instead of worrying about radio, now you have all these people writing songs specifically for films and TV. It's amazing how quickly things have changed.

ML: Miranda (Lee Richards) had told me that she's been able to keep going mostly based off her licensing.

Carol: It's been a great thing for musicians. And now it's like, right, we'll put you on this commercial, and while you won't get the big dollars that we used to give you, but we will put your name on the bottom of the screen. So you're sitting there with your laptop watching TV, and you're going to do it, you're going to type it in and check it out. And that's a great thing for music, discovering artists you've never heard of.

ML: To what extent does the web stuff help you out?

Carol: That's the way it's going. Blogging, and the music sites, that's the way it is. It's a big deal. It's one of the most important parts of music now.

ML: Well, I'm glad I'm doing something useful.

Carol: (Laughs). Absolutely, I think it's all changed. Blogging, reviews and the like. I think you must notice it from publicists, how important they feel it is.

ML: It's been interesting.

Carol: You never used to right?

ML: Yeah, it's just been in the last couple of years. I think the industry is starting to figure out that these kinds of sites are the places people who are really into music tend to go. There's a level of communication there that didn't exist 5 to 10 years ago.

Carol: I was saying to Eamon that I was very impressed you'll give an album 3, 4, 5 listens before reviewing it. Most people won't have enough time to just skip through it. I really appreciate that.

ML: Oh right, the play 5 seconds, skip to next track, play 5 seconds, rinse and repeat.

Eamon: That's all you need, 5 seconds (laughs).

ML: Well you really can't get the flavor of it that way. It takes successive listens to really get it. On a first pass you won't catch, or get a chance to appreciate the little details like when the engineer takes the time on a fade out, rather than just doing a global fade, to run up the automation so the elements of the song deconstruct during the fade. As an ex studio guy, I really love that level of craftsmanship in the engineering.

So this is your first Album on Sugar Hill?

Carol: Yeah, and before that Dualtone.

ML: Now you've been at this a while, this is what, the 4th album? How has label support changed over the years?

Carol: Oh boy (laughs). Pause.

ML: I am aware I'm asking a loaded dice question..

Eamon: (Laughs). That's a tough question... Hm. Let's just say that the record label you're with at the time.. Is um.. The best label..

ML: In the world.

Eamon: Yeah. In the world.

ML: I know that's a hard one to answer. Back in the 80's, the labels would commit to a given amount of PR work, helping to push the rack jobbers, the retail buyers, getting commitments to a certain amount of shelf space, and that sort of thing.

Eamon: Dualtone were great for us. The let us do what we wanted every time, and they helped us, they did videos, it was a great label.

Carol: We had a great experience with them.

Eamon: I think they really changed direction as a company, and they changed owners, and then a good friend of ours, Gary, is now head of A&R at Sugar Hill. And so it was a really natural move to want to work with him, and we knew a lot of people at the label. It felt very familiar and very good to us to move there, to get a chance to work at Sugar Hill is kind of a dream for everyone. I think we've all propped up that label by buying a lot of their releases over the years.

ML: They've got a lot of my cash.

Eamon: It's true. So it's a great thrill to be there.

ML: So how is it dealing with a publicity house, instead of the traditional bit of the label doing the PR work?

Carol: The outfit that we're dealing with at the moment (MSOPR), they're so professional, they've been around the block. Once again, it's great to be able to hand it over, to people when you know they know what they're doing, and that you trust. You just can't do that one on your own, in any aspect. We can play the music, but you need a great team around you, and with MSO we trust them hands down, they have great contacts, and they're out there doing their thing. I really like handing it over. I like not having to worry about that stuff. It's a team effort. And Angela (at MSO), she's amazing. When you email them, they get back to you straight away. It's just unreal having support like that, and they're on a different time zone, but you still get these near instant responses. And we're just a little bitty band, compared to some of the artists in their catalog, and you wouldn't even know it. They really look after you. But they get this stuff. I think Mitch (Schneider, founder of MSO) is a pedal steel player or something? They're all really into music, and I love that.

ML: I think you have to have that..

Eamon: Otherwise it's just business.

ML: So when you relocated your base from Austin to Nashville, how did that jump go?

Carol: Some found it easier than others (laughs). I'm still struggling a little bit with it, because I fell in love with Austin, and my heart's still there. I think for the guys it's been so good because the caliber of musicians that are in town, it pushes you, and it's inspiring to be around. But for me, my heart's still in Texas.

Eamon: There's great musicians in Texas and in Austin, for sure, but in Nashville, it's different. It's a music town, but it's also an industry. So it's a different mentality, it was a tough adjustment for everyone.

ML: It's more of a working environment.

Eamon: Yeah, you drive down music row, and you see all these publishing houses that have banners that state "congratulations so and so on your number one hit".

Carol: And I'm like, "who is that? I don't even know who that is"

Eamon: And that would never happen here (Austin) for a number of reasons. So it's different, but you can't argue with the work ethic that people have there, that sense of motivation, and this directness that people have.

ML: It's like the Lloyd Maines approach to session work.

Carol: Now he's a pro, that guy. We love him. He's so talented.

ML: I was highly impressed that the girls (The Dixie Chicks) took the risk politically, being in that environment (taking Bush to task as country musicians).

Eamon: And they stood behind it all the way, they completely stood behind their principles.

ML: So do you do your own bookings?

Carol: We've had a guy for about three or four years, that handles everything. Jay Williams at William Morris, they've been great to us. They've looked after us, and nurtured us. They weird thing is, we moved to Nashville with another agency, and within a couple months we picked up a six week Bob Dylan / Willy Nelson tour, and Jay Williams came to one of our shows in Nashville when we opened for Bob, and the rest is history and we've been with him ever since.