A Sunday Conversation with Sweet Kiss Momma

Sitting on the Ripple couch with Jeff, from hard-ass Southern Rockers, Sweet Kiss Momma

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

 The first time I can really remember being awed was seeing the movie “Back to The Future” as a kid. I grew up with classic country in the house, and gospel and spirituals at church, so in the movie when Michael J. Fox’s character did that crazy solo during “Johnny B. Goode”, I had the same reaction that the folks in the dance scene did, it was so foreign to me. It’s funny how Chuck Berry was such an influence for the bands that I really love, and I got my “Chuck Berry moment” second hand.

Another big one came a few years later, when a drum set was set up in the sanctuary of our church. Now, keep in mind that up until then there was an organ, a piano, and a stand up bass, THAT’S IT. I remember the uproar, it was so outlandish to bring in one of  “the Devil’s instruments”. I just HAD to play those things, and eventually worked my way up to being the every-week drummer before moving on to guitar.

For what I’m sure is probably a pretty common story, my biggest musical “epiphany” came in my early teens when I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on our local Top-40 station. It was so weird to me that this incredible band came from a place I knew, and sounded so different from anything else I had been exposed to. I am sure I still have a tape recording somewhere of a 101.5 fm “Hot 7 at 7” where “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is played along side MC Hammer, Crash Test Dummies, and TLC. My Mom actually confiscated my copy of Nevermind because she couldn’t understand what was being sung, and concluded that it “must be satanic”.

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?

 I don’t know that there is an exact formula for us. A riff, a melody, or a set of lyrics have all been the springboard for SweetKiss Momma songs.

 The music side of SKM’s songs start with either Aaron or I. The real riff-heavy tracks that you hear from us, probably started with Aaron. He grew up a metal kid, and later supplemented that with a heavy dose of SRV love, and I think that you are getting a great mix of both through his ridiculously fast fingers. I only wish that my riffs and runs were as cool as his.

When it comes to handling the lyrical and melodic side, I really like having music first, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Like most writers, I have notebooks full of mostly crap, but I think it’s worth all of the wasted ink when something finally comes out that I really like.

For most styles of music, melody is what draws me. I can listen to Classical, or Qawwali, or Sigur Ros for that matter, and while I may not be enticed by the instrumentation, or understand the lyrical subject matter, I can still appreciate the story melodically. I think that of any part of a song, the melody is what most people take with them. You can’t hum rhythm, and you may not always remember lyrics, and when you talk about a song getting “stuck in your head”, it’s the melody that you’re referring to. I don’t want to say that there is a “most important part” to any song, but for me to consider our music a success, I want folks to have that connection.

Who has influenced you the most?

Probably my Grandfather (on my Father’s side), though he died while I was still fairly young, so my recollection is probably a bit skewed. He was a Big Band director (as well as a semi-professional wrestler, body builder, and race car driver in his younger years). I have memories of going to see his band play. There were people dancing, and laughing, and just generally having a good time. I look at what SweetKiss Momma is doing (or attempting to do…) and I think that for me, I am making a conscious effort to find those same reactions with my own music. Obviously, we are talking about different styles, but it is definitely a choice to write and perform with an overall tone that lends itself to having a good time.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

I love being around people, hearing their stories, and seeing how they act and react. For me, friends, family, acquaintances, ect. are an unending fountain of subject matter and inspiration. It’s funny, because for Aaron, it’s the exact opposite. He takes more of a Zen-like approach; sitting in absolute silence, clearing his mind, seeing what comes to him from the cosmos…

Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?

We aim for; raw, honest, and organic. While those adjectives aren’t necessarily descriptive of a particular sound, they are certainly at the heart of what we aspire to be. We’ve been referred to as “good times” and “beer drinking, booty shaking, hell raising” music, either of which is fine with us.

What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

We hope our music motivates people, and by motivate I don’t mean in a Tony Robbins sense, but more of just reminder that it’s alright to let go of things for a bit, cut loose, and have a good time. The idea of just being background music is foreign to us (though we’ve heard it said that “Revival Rock” is a great album for road-trips). We grew up in an environment (the church) where the music was meant to cause you to react, whether that be physically or to inspire contemplation, and I think that the desire to cause, or provide a catalyst for, a reaction has just engrained itself in to our musical DNA

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

 We went down to play SXSW earlier this year (the first time for any of us traveling to Texas), and ended up staying a little south of Austin, in a little touristy part of New Brunfels. We were walking around town one afternoon and noticed a really quaint little barn looking building that had a sign advertising cold beer and live music. So we go in for a beer, and while standing at the bar, I mention to the bartender why we’re in town, and that we would love to play for them if they had an opening. He looks at me, kind of takes a step back to size me up, and suggests that I walk over to the back wall and take a look at the pictures of the “regulars” who play there: Willy Nelson, Hank III,  Merle Haggard, Levon Helm, Lyle Lovett…. Unknown to me at the time, The Gruene Music Hall is a renowned music venue, on par with the likes of The Fillmore, Troubadour, and Apollo Theater, and is actually referred to as Texas’ version of The Grand Old Opry (so, are you saying that this group of clowns out of rural WA State won’t be sullying your stage any time soon???). Incredibly cool place though. A couple of days later The Drive-By Truckers had a sold out show there. We didn’t have tickets, so we just stood outside the building and listened to the show through the chicken wire windows at the side of the stage.

Fairly early on in our career as a band, we did a show that was billed as a benefit for the Jimmy Hendrix Foundation. As thanks to the promoter for our inclusion on the bill, we were encouraged by him to participate in the “opportunity” to sell special passes to our people, that would allow them to hang out in a private area with all of the “celebrities” that would be there. Now, this promoter we had worked with before, and should have known what we were getting in to. He is exactly what you would expect when requesting a “Music Industry Type” from central casting; a virtual cartoon, greasy ponytail, fat faced, uncanny ability to not have all of the money at the end of the night… you never knew if you were going to play a show, or buy a used car from him. Cue night of show: first of all, we have trouble finding the venue that this “event” is located at, mainly due to the fact that this suburb of Seattle is only found on maps handed out by Heroin dealers and parole officers. When we finally arrive, after having driven past the location a dozen times because the sign adorning the venue is not only rusted through, but also promotes it’s service as a combination Laundromat/pizza parlor, we are forced to wade our way through the congregation of derelicts waiting for the shelter next door to open. As we haul or gear up to the door, we see a small sign posted that informs us that “due to unforeseen circumstances” the Jimmi Hendrix Foundation would not be attending the event, and that “all related parties” would also not be in attendance. It may as well have read: “SweetKiss Momma, thanks for pre-selling all of those tickets for us at 4 times the regular asking price, at least you will have someone to play in front of…”. I still have the laminate from the show. I keep it to remind me to pay closer attention when a promoter wants to “do me a favor”.

What makes a great song?

I wish I knew the secret formula. For me, I want to say that it’s a combination of lyrics, melody, and musicianship, but I can think of examples where just one, or none of these are the reason I like a particular song. I think that it’s a great thing that musical preference is so subjective, and not just from person to person, but even based on our own moods. I am one of those people that digests music. When I find something I really like, I tend to listen to it almost exclusively until I’ve either driven my wife completely crazy or found something else.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

You don’t really want to know that, do you??? Ugh.. I must have been about 7 or 8. It was called “Rock and Roll Baby”. I know, right??? Prepare yourself for the lyrical sophistication:

    Rock and Roll Baby
    Rock and Roll Babe
    Don’t you just love her
    Rock and Roll Babe.

Some would say that my songwriting has gone downhill from there.

What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

I think our song “Son of the Mountain” is a great example of who we all are as musicians and as a band. Heavy rhythm section, incredible guitar work, and lyrically, it’s a nod to where we come from (The “mountain” being Mt. Rainier). I also feel really good about how “To Help a Man” came out on the album. It was one of the first songs we wrote when we first started playing together, and the only one to carry over from our EP to the full-length, and the bridge is probably my favorite combination of 4 lines I’ve written.

Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?

Maybe I’m overly nostalgic, or maybe I just don’t look hard enough, but it seems to me that “things just ain’t what they used to be” with regard to great songwriting. If I’m having to pick current bands; I love the Black Keys, so the list starts there. There is a rawness to what they are doing that just speaks to me. Kings of Leon have the same effect, just not as pronounced. And, though I think he is at times incredibly portentous, Jack White seems to nail it in every band incarnation he comes up with. I love that bands in the recent past like Jet, The Darkness, and Wolfmother, who have really gone after that heavily 70’s influenced sound. Locally, we have a couple of guys that you are familiar with in Stone Axe and Astrovan, and a couple that folks should get to know in Big Wheel Stunt Show (great heavy-groove oriented power trio) and The Lonely H (who at times sound just like the Eagles).

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

We actually recorded and sequenced “Revival Rock” with the idea that we would hopefully be able to eventually release a vinyl copy. For me, there is just something great about vinyl. I love the whole process of opening the sleeve, pulling out the disc, dropping the needle, being ever so careful to not bump or scratch the disc… almost like completing a part of a liturgy. I’m not by any means anti-technology. I buy digital and CD copies of stuff as well. Though, I bought a record player a year or so ago that allows me to transfer my vinyl to CD, so I can then upload it into iTunes. I can’t be the only one that does that.

Whiskey or beer?  And defend your choice

Though it would be a tough decision, if given the choice between a high quality Bourbon and a great beer, I would probably get more enjoyment from the beer. I used to work for a beverage distributor a few years back, and at the time the NW was the unofficial microbrew capitol of the world. For those familiar with Pyramid, Redhook (pre Anheuser-Busch), Full Sail (pre Miller Brewing Co.), Pike Brewing Co, Thomas Kemper, Anchor Steam, or Sierra Nevada, I spent a lot of time with these and countless imports, and grew to love and appreciate quality beer. Consequently, I’m not much of a Budwiser fan.

We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?

Rocket Records in Tacoma. Steve has been around forever, and has deep roots in the NW music scene. If you are looking for what’s good, past or present, in NW music, he’s a walking encyclopedia.

Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?

Just that we are grateful for the opportunity that you, and they, collectively provide. We appreciate the fact that there are thousands of bands out there vying for your ears, hearts, and dollars, and if you spend any of your hard-earn