The .357 String Band shoots back with "Fire & Hail"
Milwaukee's The .357 String Band is on the road. I mean really on the road. Check out the band's MySpace page and you'll see them booked to play everywhere from Montana to Massachusetts, Florida to California.
The high-octane folk rock quartet takes gigging seriously. So when it issued its second disc, "Fire & Hail" (the first one, "Ghost Town," came out in 2006), with its 15 slices of raucous roots music, the band started traversing the country preaching to audiences in what seems like every state of the union.
We managed to catch up with singer and guitarist Derek Dunn to ask about the record, the band, the ongoing tour and more.
OMC: Whenever anyone asks me, I tell them them The .357 String Band sounds like a bluegrass band playing The Minutemen or vice versa. How does the band see itself?
Derek Dunn: Basically we just see ourselves as playing folk music in a way that is relevant to us, and that we hope allows it to be relevant to other people, as well. I think all of us just have a tendency to respond to more of the desperate and miserable aspects of Americana, the murder ballads and what not, and if you combine that with all of our musical backgrounds in punk and rock and roll, and throw in the fact that we don't live in the hills somewhere, we live in a city -- that's us. Part of the reason we're hard to pigeonhole is because we're not trying to sound like anything, we just sound the way it comes out once we start playing.
OMC: Are there any fellow travelers in Milwaukee or beyond; any bands that you feel a real kinship with?
DD: More than I could possibly name off the top of my head -- any band that shares the road with us or tours as hard as we do is bound to face the same hardships and the same hardwood floors as we do- - so we've got a kinship with that band automatically, really, even if we haven't met them yet.
As far as a list of bands goes, first and foremost is Those Legendary Shack Shakers -- we actually hired (bassist) Rick (Ness) at a show after opening up for them years ago, and that was basically the start of The .357 String Band as it sounds now.JD from The Shack Shakers has been supporting us ever since, brought us on tour, gave us a guiding hand on our first CD, etc. We just recently had the good fortune of sharing the bill with them and The Hackensaw Boys at a show in Belgium, which was amazing.
In addition, J.B. Beverley and The Wayward Drifters are definately our road dogs, as well as Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies, Hillstomp, Those Poor Bastards -- really the list is too long.
OMC: The new record, "Fire & Hail," is a very accomplished slice of American music and it succeeds at infusing roots music with an almost punk rock spirit. Do you think that helps broaden your appeal to younger and more rock and roll-focused listeners?
DD: Absolutely. I never would have started listening to folk music at all if it weren't for The Pogues -- I needed that punk rock aspect to be able to transition, to help me understand how it could be relevant to me -- and I think we do have that effect on people, which is one of the main reasons why we're still grinding it out, and still doing this; it sure as hell ain't the money. But on the other hand, we played a show in Fort Wayne, Ind., a while back, and this 19-year-old trainhopper kid with a green mohawk came up and told (banjo player) Joe (Huber) that he was the reason he started playing banjo -- so there you go; that is what makes this lifestyle worthwhile. That and having a fairly decent excuse to not get a real job.
OMC: Tell us a bit about how the new record was made. Was it recorded live?
DD: No, it was recorded in a series of 10-16 hour days, for seven days. We went down to Tennessee and stayed with Andy Gibson and Donnie Herron, players for Hank (Williams) III and Bob Dylan, respectively, and basically slept, ate and drank that record for the entire time we were there.
Andy recorded the whole thing, we were lucky enough to get Andy and Donnie to lay some dobro and fiddle down on a few of the tracks, and our good friend Rachel Brooke drove all the way down from Michigan to record a duet with (mandolinist) Jayke (Orvis), which really turned out well. We'd record all day, mix everything down and then drive around in Andy's pickup all night listening for any little mistake we could find The next day we'd fix the problems and start the whole process over again.
OMC: You guys have an interesting and very long tour itinerary for a Milwaukee band. You played a bunch of gigs in North Dakota and Montana, for example. How have you been received outside the city?
DD: It comes, it goes -- when you go to a place you've never been before you've got to break the ice, that's just how it is. We don't have a record label spending thousands of dollars and advancing our shows, we've got people talking to other people -- and that's a long, hard way to grow, but it's the best way -- our fans are literally like our family, because a hell of a lot of them have let us sleep on their floors, fed us BBQ when we're broke on the road, bought us beers when the bars we play are too cheap to do it, all that stuff...
OMC: Is the road a good place for you guys or does it feel mostly like an uphill climb?
DD: The road is good for me, I'll tell you that much. When you go on the road, you get into a certain mode that, at least for me, is therapeutic. The universe kind of shrinks down to something you can handle -- you've got this van and your backpack, and your guitar, and 1,000 miles to go to the next gig. You don't even have to think about it, that's just what your job is. Drive play drive play drive.
At home, when I start having to deal with all the bills and sh*t I put off while I was on the road, dealing with other people again, friends, family, trying to find side work, figuring out how a broke-ass string band is supposed to pay taxes -- that's when it starts getting confusing. If I sit around too long between tours my old lady starts shooing me out the door, like, "you got that look in your eye, you need to get out of here for a while before you go completely nuts."
And as far as the band goes, the road is necessary. If you're in a band, you have to tour -- it's like publish or perish for a tenured college professor -- for us I guess it would be more like tour or die of stagnation, or something. And f*ck yeah it's an uphill climb, but what worthwhile thing isn't?
OMC: When do you return to play here next?
DD: We're not really sure, sometime in fall, hopefully, otherwise it's going to have to be next year, probably. Our tour schedule is pretty damn full up, we're doing the East Coast, the South, Europe again -- to tell the truth I'm not even 100% sure where we're going in the near future, other than all over. But Milwaukee is hands down the greatest crowd we play for, Milwaukee shows are the best.
OMC: What happens after that? Another record? More gigs? Vacation?
DD: There's no such thing as vacation, and there's always more gigs.
Love their music but don't waste your time trying to talk to them. If you aren't one of their buddies they won't give you the time of day. I was trying to buy merchanise this weekend and they wouldn't even look at me!
Great album and a great band. These guys will be big before we all know it. And Jayke is a HELL of a mandolin player.
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