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Locals Memphis 59 will be celebrating the release of their new album, Ragged But Right, this Friday, December 4th, at Jammin Java in Vienna, VA. Straying toward the rockier side of alt-country, their melodic sound is influenced by the likes of Petty and The Replacements. I caught up with lead vocalist Scott Kurt below via email to discuss the recording of the album, as well as drink recommendations for the band.
Did you have certain themes you were looking to get across with the recording of Ragged But Right?
I think there are certain themes that run through the album, (love, break ups, hook-ups, relationships, etc.) but we didn’t set out with these ideas when we decided to make the record. Some songs didn’t make the cut and some did. We just tried to choose the best songs to get the Memphis 59 sound across to the listener.
And I believe you were pretty psyched to work with Grammy-winners John Jennings (producer), Bob Dawson (sound engineer) and Jon Carroll (keys) in the studio?
Yes we were all excited to be working with such talent. We could have gone to any studio, plopped down a bag of money and made the record. But we wanted to work with people who have both experience and the hardware to back it up, and nothing says that like a Grammy. I did some research and decided to reach out to John Jennings to see if he would be interested in producing our record. He said he would have to come hear us play first and decide from there. So he came over to our practice space, we played a few tunes and he really liked what he heard. Through John Jennings we met Bob Dawson, Jon Carroll, and then the album really started to take shape.
I know picking favorite songs can be like choosing a favorite child, but were you particularly pleased with how certain tracks turned out?
No doubt. I would love for every song to turn out exactly how I want, but that is just not reality. When you have bandmates, a producer etc. everyone has their own vision of what they think the song should be. There is no right or wrong, just opinions and there has to be give & take. Some songs I gave more and some I took more, but in the end we are really happy with the album and very proud. It was a long journey but along the way I think we all learned a thing or two. My favorites are probably “Girl at the End of the Bar”, “Black & White TV” and “Way With Words”.
With all the over-produced pop out there on the radio, what, or who, inspires you these days?
My goal in writing is just to have the song be good. That’s it. I just want to write a good song. Something that when it’s over, the listener misses the song and looks forward to hearing it again. Inspiration to me has always come from guys like Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg, Ryan Adams etc. They really seem to put the song first, no matter what’s going on with the world, politics, music business etc. It’s all about the song first.
Do you prefer to base your songs on things going on around you, or do you like to live vicariously through your songwriting?
Both. Sometimes I take a story that happened to me and write the song around that experience. Sometimes it comes from a friend or I just make up the characters and write about things that happen in life. It all depends on the inspiration and the theme. I try to make it interesting to the listener, or at least something that they can relate to.
Describe the Memphis 59 sound in three words or less, using no verbs.
I skipped a lot of classes in school so I hope I don’t blow this one. I would say “honest, rootsy” and that way I have one word to spare down the road.
Do you find the DC area to be a supportive one when it comes to music?
Supportive is a strange word. Some venues can be, but they also have to look out for their best interests. Their goal is mainly to pack their room and sell drinks etc. A lot of bars/clubs in the area do that by booking cover bands. Nothing wrong with that, but it does not really help out with “the scene” as far as original local music in the DC area. There are some rooms that put more focus on the music like Jammin Java, IOTA, etc. but sometimes you will see a great band and the room will only be half full, and that’s not good for business, so it’s really tricky. As far as other bands supporting each other, no I don’t see a lot of that. I try my best to check out a lot of bands in the area. Sometimes I like them, sometimes I don’t, but you have to at least get out there and get a feel for the pulse. It’s funny to me when certain bands/artists complain that not enough people come out to see them play, but when they are not playing they are sitting at home instead of lending their support to other bands. A lot of the cities that we play are like DC, but some of them like Pittsburgh are great when it comes to bands supporting other bands.
Which drink do you think will best accompany the Memphis 59 CD release show this Friday at Jammin Java? Expresso? Gin and tonic? Or something else?
We are all fans of bourbon so anything with whiskey/bourbon will do just fine.