Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tales from Gothic America, The Victor Mourning talk.

With a sound deeply rooted in southern Nowhere, USA, The Victor Mourning manages to capture both the simplicity of Yesteryear and the haunting past of our ancestors. At live shows, folks can't help but  stop and listen, for the music slips into the ears and calls deep to the bones. The Victor Mourning evokes the ghostly voices of the unrestful dead along with murmurings of family secrets, like a whiskey bottle in the back of a pantry. Things aren't always what they seem. Everything has a reason. Love flows in dark, mystical veins.

Gothic Americana, Americana, Folk; call it what you want, but you won't call it ordinary. For a taste, see the video after the interview for "Whiskey Bad".

(Left to right:) Stefan, Stephen, Lynne
Thanks for joining me on the blog, Stephen. Can you give us a little background on yourself?

     I was born in Indiana during a hot, sweltering summer, to a family from Arkansas who had migrated there for the factory jobs. I was back in Arkansas at 10 days old and spent much of my life shuttling between the two states. I was obsessed with music from an early age, and three days before I turned 7 my parents told me that I was going to start taking guitar lessons. They told me they chose the guitar for me because the guitarist was always the star and often the leader of the band. They had a vision for me. As I grew into my teens I got pulled into the late 70s punk scene, my first attempts at playing in front of an audience date from that era. In the mid-80s I co-founded and fronted an Indianapolis-based New York Dolls style glam band. By the early 90s I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, where I formed The Nazarenes, probably best described as a hillbilly flavored 60s garage band. I later moved to North Carolina for a short time and played around there a bit under my own name, which is where I first performed my acoustic material on stage. I moved to Austin, Texas, in 1997, and ironically (given Austin’s reputation) went into a bit of a musical slump there until I formed The Victor Mourning over a decade later.

How did the The Victor Mourning come to be?

    Even though I say that arriving in Austin coincided with my becoming less active in music, I was actually writing songs pretty heavily during my first few years there. I had already formed the basic idea for The Victor Mourning by the time I moved there.

I had experienced a lot of false starts with the idea of the band simply because in Austin, at least in the roots scene, it’s tough to find talented people who aren’t already involved in several other musical projects. I tend to prefer to work with people who are at least somewhat excited about the project we’re working on and I just wasn’t finding that mix. By 2008 I told myself that I was finally going to make this band a reality come Hell or high water, even if I had to do so with hired sidemen. So, during SXSW of that year I was talking up the idea to anyone who would listen. My friend Will Branch and I had gone over to Jovita’s to catch a set by our friend Otis Gibbs, and afterwards decided to head over to Yard Dog Gallery to see if we could catch the tail end of The Builders and the Butchers’ set there. By the time we arrived the band had already packed up and gone, but Will introduced me to Lynne Adele who worked at the gallery.

 Lynne and I got to talking about my band idea and she mentioned that she was a musician, and was looking for a project to get involved in. We started playing together with Lynne on guitjo (six-string banjo) and harmonies, and by that fall had booked a string of gigs for which we needed a fiddle player. I contacted Stefan Keydel who I had done a couple of one-off shows with a few years before, and he agreed to sit in with us for those shows. By Christmas he told us he wanted to continue on. I had my band.

In 2009 we released an EP and toured a bit on that in the Midwest and Southeast. In 2010 we recorded our first full-length album (with a little help from guests Tim Kerr and Jad Fair), and then later that same year Lynne and I were married. In early 2012 Lynne and I moved the band’s base of operations to East Tennessee. Stefan still flies in from Texas from time to time for recording and shows—he’ll always be a part of the band.

at the Yard Dog, Austin, Texas

Do you write most of the music and lyrics or is it a collaborative effort between band members? 

    I write all the songs but the entire band definitely contributes to the arrangements, which is a big part of how they ultimately sound.

There seems to be a real interest in Americana folk again, why do you think that is? There are so many television shows that your music would be a perfect soundtrack to. 

     I think in any generation you can find a segment of the population who prefers what you might call “traditional” music. I think a lot of people connect with the relative simplicity of the genre. In the current era most Americana/folk artists still play relatively small venues, so it’s often easy to meet your heroes. I’ve also noticed that as music fans age, their tastes often turn towards Americana. Older people are definitely much bigger music consumers than they were a generation or two ago, and they have more money to spend on it.

What instruments do you play? 

    I play guitar and banjo; Lynne plays guitjo and guitar; Stefan plays fiddle, viola, and is also a guitarist.

Do you have a band that really inspired you as a kid, made you say “Wow, I want to do that”? One that you still listen to today?   

    Johnny Cash’s TV show (1969-71) was a huge influence on me. It corresponded with my beginning guitar lessons and from a musical point of view Johnny was just simply who I wanted to be. A very different but just as influential experience was hearing Black Sabbath’s Paranoid album at my cousin’s house just after it came out. As I stared at the disc spinning on the turntable I realized that music could make you see monsters. I can’t say that I actively listen to Johnny Cash or Black Sabbath anymore, but if I hear them by chance, they still evoke warm memories.

What book really inspired you as a child that still makes an impression on you today?  

    I should have an answer for this one as I’ve always been a voracious reader, but I can’t say that any one book from my childhood has really stuck with me. I was introduced to J.R.R.Tolkien in junior high (this was before there were any cartoon or film versions of his work) and his stuff was very inspiring at the time. I still appreciate his work, but I can’t say it informs much of who I am today. In later years I became obsessed with the British travel writer Bruce Chatwin, and for several years hosted the only website on the ‘net dedicated to his work. I think if there’s a constant to what sort of book inspires me it’s one in which someone picks a blank spot on a map and heads off into it. I guess the Tolkien stories fit that model as well.

A few of my all time favorite books: Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness; Graham Greene, Travels With My Aunt; Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines.

Lightning Round-

Horror movies or Comedies?
     Horror, but only films where mystery and atmosphere are the primary source of the horror. Classic tales of ghosts and hauntings are favorites. The current trends in horror, films about zombies, vampires, serial killers, etc., don’t appeal at all.

Favorite male fronted band? Favorite female Fronted band?  
    I’m going to collapse these two questions into one since most of our current favorite bands consist of both men and women. Here are a few contemporary artists who tend to get heavy turntable time at The Victor Mourning House: Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Chris Knight, The Everybodyfields, The Handsome Family.

Favorite Guitarist?
    Even though there are plenty of guitarists whom I greatly respect, I really don’t have any guitar heroes, which I know is odd for a guitarist. I think it has to do with the way I listen to music. I listen to the whole song, probably with heavier emphasis on the vocals, than on any one musical instrument.

Favorite Vocalist?
    There are several people who could easily vie for this slot but the first one that springs to mind is Ralph Stanley. His accent and delivery just feel like home to me.

What CD you are listening to now?  
    Coming off the holidays we’ve been listening to a lot of Christmas music, mostly Renaissance and medieval. Other than that we’ve been spinning the entire Everybodyfields catalog a lot and just recently picked up Chris Knight’s and Bob Dylan’s new ones.

Vodka or Whiskey?
    Neither. Lynne and I don’t drink alcohol.

Pepsi or Coke? 
    Neither. Lynne and I don’t drink soft drinks. I grew up in a Pepsi drinking family, though. But if we had to choose between Pepsi or Coke, we’d choose coffee.

Where can we find The Victor Mourning’s music? 
    We sell albums at shows, from our website, downloading via iTunes or Amazon, and A Handful of Locusts also streams on Spotify.

What’s next for The Victor Mourning?   
    We’re actively planning our next album, which we hope to begin recording this spring, with a release date later in the year. If all goes as planned it will also be released in a limited edition vinyl version by an up and coming label in the UK. We plan to play more shows in 2013, especially in the southeastern US. Besides the new album, our biggest goal at the moment is to get over to Europe to do a few shows and to meet all the folks on that side of the Atlantic who have been so supportive and enthusiastic about what we’re doing.

A Handful of Locusts available:

on iTunes

on Amazon
direct sales (physical CD)