Sunday, May 27, 2018
A Sunday Conversation With Dylan Jarman of Shotgun Sawyer
What have been your musical epiphany moments?
I grew up in a very pop-friendly house. The Beatles reigned supreme, but Elvis Costello and REM lurked around every corner. When I was about 11, I found an old copy of Jimi Hendrix’ Smash Hits, and I was obsessed. I specifically remember listening to Voodoo Child (Slight Return) over and over and over, and thinking “I want to do that!” My life changed that day, but when I found John Lee Hooker, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath later on, they were similarly revelatory. Kyuss too.
Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?
Riffs come first, to be sure. We’ll play around on a riff I discovered during the week together as a band during practice and decide if it’s something we can really sink our teeth into. If we play it, and it seems to really be grooving, we’ll sit down and work out the different parts together. Our songs really are a collaborative effort in that respect. It usually enters our practice rotation, and after a while a vocal melody starts to form (don’t ask me how), and I’ll write words that have been on my mind. The song lyrics end up being a manifestation of the headspace I happen to be in at the time; things I’m feeling, thoughts I’m having. It’s all really personal. I think a lot of the unique space our songs tend to occupy really does come from the fact that they’re all just “jams” turned into songs. If we could, we’d probably play each one of them for 20 minutes… but nobody wants to watch all that!
Who has influenced you the most?
For me, it has to be the blues greats like Elmore James and Howlin’ Wolf. Their style, their attitude, the way they were able to emote through song, to express themselves and comment on their times, the way they played guitar, the way they sang, it all speaks to something inside me that won’t go away. All I’ve ever wanted is to do what they did. But the band’s influences are all over the place; we all listen to a lot of blues rock like the Allman Brothers or ZZ Top and Psychedelia like Hendrix and Cream. I think all those elements show through.
Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?
Musically, all three of us are music junkies. We’re constantly buying new records, showing them to each other, going back further and further to the roots of what we love, and I think every new discovery shows up somewhere or another in our playing. I don’t know that we ever consciously “look for inspiration” so much as we “look for new music” and end up inspired by it. Also, a lot of the inspiration for the lyrics to the songs come from this messed up world we live in right now. People hating each other, killing each other... these are scary, desperate times, and that’s why some of the lyrics to our songs are scary and desperate. Then again, the beauty of the human condition (and this is a major motif of the blues) is the ability to find love and good times despite that darkness, and so some of our songs reflect that side of life as well.
We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?
Holy smokes, this is a great question. Auburn CA is exactly the kind of place you’d expect Shotgun Sawyer to come from. It’s a little town up in the hills, one of the sites where gold was discovered in 1848, and you can feel that history when you walk around there (the good and the bad). It’s the kind of town that has 3 classic rock stations on the radio, and all 3 of them play Creedence Clearwater Revival most of the time. In our music, you can hear us playing guitars down at the river, you can hear the cops coming to break up a backwoods house party we got hired to play, and you can hear trucker hats, oak leaves, and weeds growin’ up to your chest out in the pasture. They’re cow tippin’, moonshine sippin’, road trippin’ songs. We are Auburn.
Where'd the band name come from?
We had a lot of trouble coming up with a name. When you try to make up your own name, there’s way too much temptation to try to be “cool” (and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that trying to be cool is the lamest thing you can do). You end up with names like Lazer Death of the Blood Skull... which sounds pretty rad now that I think about it. But we had a lot of trouble coming up with something until Brett’s brother suggested “Thunderchief.” We called ourselves that for a while until we found out there was a one-man doom band out in the Carolinas calling himself that too. So we asked Brett’s brother if he had any other ideas and Shotgun Sawyer was at the top of his list. It sounded right, so we went with that.
You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?
Django Unchained, all day.
You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?). You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?
One of ours, or any song out there? If I had to choose one of ours, I’d write about Soldier Song from our first record. It’s about PTSD and the experiences of veterans of war. I have a lot of friends who have served, and have expressed how difficult it is to assimilate back into civilian life after experiencing such violence. There isn’t enough awareness or support for them, just a lot of empty talk. If I were to write about any song out there, I would probably write an essay about “Hounddog On My Trail” by Robert Johnson. The song is a metaphor for Johnson’s experience living through the era of the resurgence of the KKK in the 1920s, and uses a lot of really interesting lyrical strategies to describe something he didn’t feel safe expressing openly. It’s about as close to “perfect” as a song gets, between Johnson’s playing, expression, literary devices, themes of fear and hope… I could probably write 2000 words on that.
Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?
Hmm, I think the most Spinal Tap thing I’ve ever done is throw my guitar. It actually happens pretty often too; when I’m on stage, something happens and I lose most of my control and judgement, and if my guitar won’t stay in tune or a string breaks mid-song, I completely lose it. I’ve actually broken 2 or 3 guitars just since we started playing in this band, which means that Brett and I have gotten pretty good at puttin’em together again! Besides that, our amps only go to “10,” I’ve never shoved a cucumber in my leather pants (I don’t wear leather pants), and I’ve thankfully never been accidentally locked inside a translucent egg-sack stage prop.
Playing live is the only reason we play; comparatively, recording is like the homework we need to do in order to justify playing out. I feel safe saying that its the favorite experience of every member of the band. We love dropping into heavy riffs and feeling everyone in the room join us in moving to it almost as much as we enjoy taking off on some speedfreak double-time rampage while folks headbang. I’ve personally felt very blessed because our fans enjoy the music and lyrics enough to learn them (more than I usually remember) and sing them with me (better than I do). We make every show unique, never play the songs the same way twice, and bring as much energy to every performance as is physically possible. It’s equal parts violent and sacred; like being in a fistfight at church, then having sex after... but a little better.
What makes a great song?
I have a pretty strong opinion on what a great song is, and especially what it isn’t. A song isn’t time signature changes, complicated techniques, perfect tones, the “right” instruments, or even verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge. Lots of songs have those things, but that’s not what a song is. A song is connection; a pure expression of the human condition, like all “art.” As such, a great song is one that speaks to me (or you, anyone). It might make you laugh, it might make you cry. It can make you smile, make you feel, make you think, make you reflect, make you change. Catchy songs, innovative songs, and songs which pioneer new styles can still be “bad” songs if they don’t engage with your experience; and because your experience is so unique to you, a song you think is awful, might be great to me. Can I have a 2000 word essay on this topic, too?
Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?
I’m sure the “first song I ever wrote” was some awful, predictable, sappy bullshit about a girl when I was 15, I honestly don’t remember. But, the first song Brett and I ever wrote (a long time before Shotgun Sawyer) was the song “Lawman,” which, after several iterations, ended up on our first record. I remember that I had a heavy riff, and Brett had this excellent acoustic part, and we just looked at eachother like, “well, what if we just decided to throw those together?” It really wasn’t any more complicated than that. We still play it live every now and then.
What piece of your music are particularly proud of?
I think I’m most proud of the song “Son Of The Morning” from the upcoming record. I don’t want to talk too much about what it means specifically because I’d like folks to decide what it means for themselves. But in terms of exposing myself in song and opening up to express some very personal emotions, it’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever let myself be, and that was a real challenge.
Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?
There’s a Portland transplant blues duo that lives in Reno for the moment called “Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil.” Jack writes blues for today, best shit I’ve ever heard or seen. I feel lucky being able to say he’s my friend, or maybe more like my older brother. Now that I think about it, I feel like I’m friends with the best songwriters I know about. Garage-soul band Failure Machine, Stoner-punk trio Joan And The Rivers, Ripple’s own Salem’s Bend and Mothership, Slow Season down in Visalia. Someday documentaries are going to be made about all of these groups, and I’m gonna be able to tell my kids I knew them.
Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?
Gotta be vinyl. It’s the ritual, the reverence, the art, the collecting, the audio, the pops and scratches, everything.
Whiskey or beer? And defend your choice
Whiskey, I’m not in junior high anymore
We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your hometown, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?
See, that’s a complicated question. In Auburn proper, you’ve got Cherry Records. Al (the owner) is a real stickler for quality records only. That’s where I bought my mint, original Song Remains The Same along with many others but, he charges a lot for his quality. Shop at your own risk, and don’t come cryin’ to me when you go broke. A little ways up the hill, you got Clocktower in Grass Valley. They’ve got the best blues section in the area (so that’s where I hang out a lot). We play there for Record Store Day as tradition. You’ve also got Ron’s Real Records, and Ron’s got a lot of the cool stuff. I bought Captain Beyond, Aphrodite’s Child, and Lord Sutch And Heavy Friends up there, and cheap. The condition of Ron’s records can be hit and miss though (but don’t tell him I said that; just make sure you play it there in store before you buy). So I guess it all depends on what you’re lookin’ for.
What's next for the band?
Well, we’ve got a European tour lined up this Summer (2018). We’ll be hanging out in Belgium for a fair piece, but we’ll also be in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Poland, etc. After that, we’ll probably try our first real set of full-blooded American tours and get into the UK eventually. Like I say, we’re just tryin’ to play live, and there’ll probably be another couple records in between all these shows, but all we really care about is hitting a bar we haven’t passed out in yet.
Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?
We’d all just like to say thanks for keeping Rock n’ Roll alive; folks talk about “music back in the day” like it was the only time cool bands were around. Not so! There are great bands everywhere you look, and the Waveriders are the ones keeping them on the road. Keep on keepin’ on, and buy us a drink when we come through!