Genre trends always infiltrate the radio, but the bands who stand the test of time are the ones who make the music they want to hear. Knoxville’s Dirty Guv’nahs blend Americana with good ole fashioned rock ‘n’ roll a la the Band, Black Crowes and Allman Brothers, drenched in gospel keyboards and harmonies as well as utterly catchy and upbeat guitar riffs. Their new record, Hearts on Fire, dropped on March 11th and they will bring their unforgettable live show to Workplay on Saturday, March 29th.
Chris K. Davidson for You Hear This?: If you could, talk about the new album.
James Trimble: It’s called Hearts on Fire. Back in January 2013, we started writing and recording some demos. We worked with some folks in Nashville and worked with some friends in New York. With their suggestion, we decided that we needed to make an album ourselves this time around and we needed to take a lot of time working on the songs and not do the traditional book two weeks in a studio and get everything recorded. We needed to really learn songwriting within our band, so we really worked on this album over a full year’s period. We tour about 100 days a year. All year long, we’re writing, recording demos on the road and listening to those demos in the band. Communicating with each other to try and figure out what the best parts are.
At the end of the year, we felt like we were really close. We decided to do a Kickstarter campaign to help be able to record them in a higher caliber setting. We rented out a studio, did some work in a rented studio and did most of the work ourselves. The story behind this album and how it came together is that we wanted to create an album in our hometown and not travel. That meant it was going to take a little longer to do because we were going to do it ourselves. We think it paid off.
YHT?: I’ve always read that about bands. They’ll either travel to record and then after a long period of that, they’ll come home to make a record. What are the benefits and challenges for recording in your hometown?
JT: The benefit is that you get to take a lot longer because you’re not getting charged an hourly rate; you can get a lot of kinks worked out. I would say the challenge is that an artist is always his or her worst critic. You get so bogged down by the details that you don’t have this outside opinion when it comes to a producer. When you’re doing all of the producing yourself, it gets really hard. We have a lot of people in our band (there’s six of us), so we have a lot of different opinions, which is good, but it gets really hard to determine what is great after you’ve spent so much time on it. That’s where a producer comes in. For future records, we do want to work with a producer, but we felt at this time in our career, it was good for us as songwriters and as a band to take a long time [on the record] and do it ourselves. I think it paid off. We really it’s our best album, by far.
YHT?: I always ask this question for a new record. Every song obviously has significance and its place, but were there any particular songs that jumpstarted the creative process?
JT: The single “Morning Light” was one that we knew was going to be something. We loved initially and we knew it would hit home with our current fan base. Between that song and the more emotional balance of “Dear Jamie”, songs we knew early on that were setting the pace for two polar ends of the album. We knew that we wanted the rest of the album to fit between those two poles, if that makes sense. As we continued to write, we kept asking ourselves how each song would fit between these two works.
YHT?: Even with an album like Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Jeff Tweedy had a beginning, middle and end and wrote around that. I would imagine that would keep a writer from getting distracted.
JT: That album marked a very certain shift in Wilco’s career as far as their sound and songwriting. That’s something we certainly aspire to. Not saying that we accomplished that much with this album, but it’s definitely something we aspire to.
YHT?: Obviously Kickstarter is one of the most direct ways of communication you can have with fans when it comes to raising funds for a record. How did that experience affect the band?
JT: It was really great. We had done it one time before, but we didn’t raise as much money the first time as we did the second time. You learn a lot of lessons when you try something new like that such as what type of rewards your fans want and what type of things they don’t care about. To us, when you do a Kickstarter campaign, you get this very unique opportunity to find out who your biggest fans are. What we try to do is make sure everybody gets a reward in that Kickstarter program that they cannot get anywhere else. That way when you see a person with a specific reward, you know that they helped with the Kickstarter campaign. That’s just a big deal because it creates a special fan interaction that really is the reason why we do this. We do this to encourage young people and to encourage the music lovers. It’s really cool to find out there are 800 people out there who have been touched in a deep way by what we do.
The Dirty Guv’nahs will play Workplay Theatre on Saturday, March 29th with Cereus Bright. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door with the all-ages show kicking off at 8 p.m.