Back from the holiday and a lot of bare-bones days at work that left me with little time to do things here, unfortunately. Here begin the next round of artist interviews courtesy of the Ariel Publicity folks; come the new year, I'll try to get some more Q&As out there based on my own contacts.
Erik Yates provides banjo, guitar, Dobro, ukulele, flute, whistle, clarinet, saxophone, accordion, piano, harmonica and vocals for the "high altitude bluegrass" band Hot Buttered Rum, whom you may have heard before on The Mental Nomad Podcast. And they're likely to show up again when Pod Across America gets to California. (Check out their Facebook site for updates.)
Where are you from? How does living there affect your songwriting? We're from Northern California. Living there marks our songwriting with the usual NorCal traits: a love of the natural world, progressive politics, and a sort of a belief in infinite possibility. Traveling and dealing with the realities of the music biz has affected us, too; there is a kind of a grit that has been seeping into things, a sort of a counterbalance to the optimism that I think is healthy.
Do you focus on any political themes? If so, please tell us in more detail about them. "Guns or Butter," from Well-Oiled Machine, talks about military vs. social program spending. It's spun as a typical liberal gripe, I know, but it's something I think a lot of Americans can agree on if they take a closer look. We're not talking tax-and-spend here, we're talking keep-our-boys-safe-at-home-and-spend.
Why would a president who loves his men and women in uniform put them in harm's way for no good reason? He either doesn't care, or he's an idiot, or both. Friends of mine who've served in Iraq tell me there are a lot more sentiment there to this effect than gets talked about. I mean, how bad do you have to be to have your own soldiers resent you?
Meanwhile, we're spending billions on our military while our kids are going to sub-standard schools. Shouldn't we protect ourselves with an educated workforce? We can blow any place we want to smithereens, but that won't stop other nations from surpassing us economically.
What's the greatest thing that's ever been said about your music? I had a friend tell me that "String's Breath" (Live at the Freight and Salvage) became a touchstone for her community as they mourned the loss of a friend to cancer. That rocked me pretty hard.
What are your main musical influences? As with so many of our generation, we're influenced by, well, everybody. I mean, I'll sit behind the wheel of our bus and meander through just about every station on the Sirius, from punk to country to jazz to comedy.
The musical mind knows few boundaries. It's really a matter these days of paring down all the options and almost consciously closing oneself off to things that are banging at the door.
I think, because of the combination of where we're from and the instrumentation we use (fiddle, string bass, banjo, acoustic and resophonic guitars, drums), we owe a lot to the CSNYs and Creedence Clearwater Revivals and Grateful Deads of the world. West-Coast Americana Rock. We're also bluegrass lovers (Bill Monroe, Hot Rize, Flatt & Scruggs), new acoustic lovers (David Grisman, Bela Fleck, Chris Thile) and rockers (Mother Hips, Led Zeppelin, The Band)
What's the last album you bought that you're enjoying? I've been really into some live recordings of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings lately. In general, I love listening to good live shows in addition to studio stuff. HBR is such a live-based act.
Have you seen any great live shows lately? The Rev. Payton's Big Damn Band.
What was the first album you ever bought? I got a Walkman and 2 cassette tapes for my 12th birthday, Def Leppard's Hysteria and Bon Jovi's New Jersey. Wore 'em out.
What's your favorite artist and album? Can't say, really. Let's put Led Zeppelin I in the hopper with Gillian Welch's Time (the Revelator).
If you could create your own fantasy music festival, who would the top six headliners be? Gillian Welch, Radiohead, Beck, Allison Krauss and Robert Plant, Ben Harper, Phil Lesh and Friends.
What is your favorite physical record store? Down Home Music in El Cerrito, Calif.
David Johansen or Iggy Pop? Iggy.
Keith or Mick? Keith.
The Grateful Dead or Phish? Dead.
You have $5 to spend on dinner. What are you eating? An El Farlito burrito in San Francisco's Mission district.
John Stewart or Stephen Colbert? Stewart.
What do you think is the most alarming media story in the last few months? The $700 billion we gave to Wall Street without much drama while our public schools sit in shambles.
Do you support any specific charities and how do you give back as an artist? We just did a service trip to the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation with a group called the Conscious Alliance. It's run by smart, motivated people with huge hearts. We brought food up there for the kids, performed at one of the schools and at the community center and participated in a documentary that you can check out on our Web site (the "Back to School Snack Tour").
We're also big supporters of Rock the Earth, Equal Exchange and Clif Bar's "Green Notes," all of which are linked from our Web site. (Other resources may be found on the Team Green page as well.)
Have you ever been inspired by an author or a book to write a song? If so, which one? I wrote "Flask, Alas!" after slogging through Moby Dick, and Nat (guitarist and singer Nat Keefe) wrote "Desert Rat" about The Monkey Wrench Gang's Hayduke.
What is the most adventurous food you've ever eaten? Green pine needles. They have a ton of vitamin C, and you can pick them right off as you hike. Kind of a nature-boy thing. I have a friend who's a virtuoso naturalist who hips me to stuff like that.
Do you read any online music magazines? If so, which ones? I don't, honestly. Probably should, but I just don’t like looking at a computer screen. I peruse the print ones, though: No Depression, State of Mind, and some of the bigger ones from time to time.
The music of Hot Buttered Rum may be purchased from their Web site, at Amazon.com and on iTunes.
Hot Buttered Rum - Live In the Northeast
Hot Buttered Rum - Well-Oiled Machine
Hot Buttered Rum - The Olive Sessions, Vol. 1 - EP
Hot Buttered Rum - FestivaLink Presents Hot Buttered Rum At Wintergrass: 2/23/07
Hot Buttered Rum String Band - In These Parts