Mitch Marine (Dwight), Brad Pemberton (Steve), Kelly King (King Leg), Butch Norton (Lucinda)
The summer of 2018 saw one of the most unique and satisfying summer tours in recent musical history. The brain-child of headliner Dwight Yoakam, the “LSD Tour” [L for Lucinda, S for Steve, D for Dwight] treated audiences to an experience that wasn’t really too far off what you might have experienced on the actual substance whose abbreviation was used as the tour moniker.
Throughout this amazing evening, four bands featuring 19 stellar musicians took the stage and presented something completely unique from their colleagues on the tour. Four bands performing under the common bond of the genre now called “Americana,” seemingly the melting pot of country, blues, bluegrass, folk and rock, with an occasional dash of jazz, Cajun or rockabilly, gave us a night to remember. These are definitely American artists with firm roots in the soil of their formative years in Texas, Louisiana and Kentucky, who all enjoy a huge cult following that came out in force for this match of a lifetime tour.
Opening act King Leg (whose debut album on Sire records was produced by Yoakam and Chris Lord-Alge), sets the tone for the evening, with leader Brian Joyce who stirs memories of authentic country crooners and enjoys the flattering description of being a combination of “Roy Orbison-meets-The-Smiths,” and was also listed by Rolling Stone as “One Of The 10 New Country Artists You Need To Know” in December of 2017. Behind him sits self-described “luckiest guy on the tour,” drummer Kelly King, a seasoned pro with international touring and recording experience featured in Drumhead #67, driving his band with no less authority than any of the three heavyweights that follow him on the kit during the night.
Next up–Steve Earle. Earle is Hank Williams-meets-Tom Waits-meets-Waylon Jennings-meets-Johnny Paycheck, and his songs of darkness, addiction, resistance, love, loss and redemption are delivered by The Dukes; (in Earle’s words are, “a really, really, good band”), a superb group of country players, anchored by drummer Brad Pemberton, whose bedrock drum parts are equal parts Charlie Watts and DJ Fontana.
And then Lucinda Williams, who’s autobiographical songs of every imaginable kind of loss and longing feel like they were first the soundtrack for some bayou voodoo ceremony. She is moving, heartbreaking and sometimes frightening, and the depth of her raw sense of isolation and struggle is often too much to take in. Holding her up and flawlessly following her down these twisted shadowy country roads is a trio a virtuosos anchored by master percussionist and drum-set witchdoctor Butch Norton (Drumhead #18), who himself often seems equally possessed by something dark and ancient, somehow weaving twisted percussive sonic landscapes together while also keeping everything bolted to the floor.
Lastly, Dwight Yoakam, who is all about having a good time in the most American of ways, and he and his band do not disappoint. Seated behind him sits slugger Mitch Marine, who seems like he’d be equally at home taking over the drum chair in AC/DC, driving the band like a semi carrying a truck load of beer and cowboy boots. The band rocks with a southern twang but rocks nonetheless, and absolutely no one stays in their seat. It seems Dwight knew we’d gone down some dark roads that day before he arrived; he and his band were out to bring the mood up and help us shake off the demons. Drumhead had the good fortune to sit and talk with the four men that kept the show up and rocking before their performance at The Greek Theater in Los Angeles.
SS: I’m curious what you all think the common thread is between these four artists/bands that makes this a good line-up for a tour?
MITCH MARINE: I would say it’s three songwriters that are also artists that came up around the same time in the early ’80s and a combination of great songs and great artists that people love. What I saw last night that I thought was really interesting was, I heard your show (addressing Kelly), though I didn’t see it, I thought that Steve Earle was a rocking, get-them-excited show, then as Lucinda gets onstage it becomes a little bit more introspective and maybe there’s a little more listening. The lyrics are really important for all of this–people are really tuned in to the lyrics–but when we got on there it was like a dance party all of a sudden. Our music is honky-tonk dance music, Dwight is for sure, coming with a lyrical content, a songwriter. Lucinda, in my perception, is definitely all about the lyrics, but there’s almost kind of a jam-band thing, in a sense; they stretch out.
BUTCH NORTON: Her thing is rock and roll, but she loves elements of jazz; last night there were so many twists and turns that we went through, where we have no idea where we’re going, and we have to be able to turn on a dime. And you’re right, Lucinda comes from 100% poetry, probably because her father was Miller Williams, famous poet laureate, so she grew up with words; that is what it’s about. What she says in her song, “Passionate Kisses” – “I just want a full house and a rock ‘n roll band…” Boom, that’s her. And Steve encompasses all of that, with dance and grit…
BRAD PEMBERTON: Folk music, Irish, there’s a lot of that.
BN: Yes. And then Kelly, that’s the new world, the new generation, with King Leg.
MM: Yeah, it’s a great night, I think it’s awesome. The response from the people has been amazing. And I think there’s a thing of, “I’m here to see Steve, but I want to see everybody else,” “I’m here to see Lucinda, but I want to see everybody else,” “I want to see Dwight, but I want to see everybody else,” and people are starting to understand King Leg, because Dwight produced their record and he’s been very adamant about giving time to them to get out there and be in front of this audience. And our audience has been responding well; they really love the band. Right?
KELLY KING: I think so. What’s really interesting for me to watch is, when we come out, they don’t really know what to think. The artists you guys play with have been around at least two or three decades and the audience is there to see them, they love them, and there’s an interesting mix of people anticipating who they came to see, but still digging us. The emotional arc is not what you expect at the concert, because you expect an opening band that people are sort of paying attention to, and then there’s a headliner, but when we come out I think they are sort of trying to figure us out. Then, as soon as Steve Earl comes out with Brad, it’s sort of a stomp rock ‘n’ roll party, and then Lucinda comes out and gets more introspective, but all the while the emotional arc is rising. You expect that after Steve that it’s got to go up, but it goes down. Then Mitch comes out with Dwight and it’s just pummeling from the very start, and then it ends with all the artists coming out for sort of a hillbilly jam.
BN: Oh, don’t spoil it…
KK: Oh sorry! That doesn’t happen! [all laugh]
SS: This was a pretty great idea for a bill.
KK: It was. It’s like a roller coaster – it’s sort of all over the place and it’s not what you thought it would be.
SS: How so?
KK: Even though the artists might be classified as Country or Americana, there’s a lot of adversity in the evening. The spectrum rangers from more dance-oriented to foot stomping and even hard rock moments…at least what rock was maybe a decade ago or so. The unifying element is that there is an artist who has an identifiable voice and a band who is there to help them achieve that signature sound. To me, the diversity of the drummers is a microcosm of that.
SS: [To Kelly] In a way, you have two artists to please on this bill.
KK: That’s true. We’ve been playing with Dwight for almost two years now as an opener, so, yes, there are two people to please, Bryan [Joyce] and Dwight; but it’s very benevolent, always really positive, and nothing is very criticized without offering it in a way of, “I think we can do it better.” It’s much more like a band and it’s a real treat for me to get that direct feedback from both of them, given how much I respect them both as songwriters. They are two artists in very different places – very new for Brian, and Dwight has a crazy, long history and I get the benefit of the years.
I lived in Dallas for 15 years, so Mitch and I know each other from when Mitch was with Andy Timmons and Brave Combo, and all that. So, I get to see him now in a very different scenario and it’s just great.
SS: You said something earlier that I thought was really interesting and worth talking about–the amount of musical knowledge, the backgrounds and genres, both individually and cumulative; I’d be interested to know, what did you all have to do to come full circle and bring all these elements together, not only to your individual gig, but to this tour as a whole?
BP: Well, I grew up in Nashville, born and raised, and my mom worked for ASCAP for 35 years, so she was always bringing records home. I think because there was so much country music in the house, I went to punk rock–the opposite–and sort of shied away from the country stuff for years, probably until I started playing with Ryan Adams. When I met him I really didn’t know much about him, didn’t know the Whiskeytown stuff, really, and when we got together and started playing, it was like The Replacements or something. Then when he asked me to go on tour with him, I got a copy of Heartbreaker and thought, “I don’t know if I’m the guy for this,” to be honest. But then, because of all the stuff I grew up hearing in the house, it was already there, I just had to change my way of thinking. That made it sort of an easy transition. Modern country, pop country, it’s a different thing, and nothing against the guys that do that, it’s their gig, but I always lean towards the older stuff.
SS: I’ve been obsessing about that since we talked about doing this. A friend of mine always calls modern day country music, “Bon Jovi with cowboy hats.” And in trying to really understand what “Americana” is as a genre, to me it seems to be a blend of old-school country, bluegrass, jazz, rock, blues, everything, really. And it seems that the fact that Dwight thought this would be a good bill, these four acts, for a tour speaks to that melting pot scenario. But from the drummer’s chair, these seem like radically different artists playing under the same banner of “Americana.” How do you all see each other’s gig?
MM: Remember that question, and let’s go back to what you were saying about country music. I spent a lot of time with a band called Brave Combo and we did a lot of studying of all kinds of musical styles and ethnicities and so forth. With all that study that I did, even then I kind of realized, country music is regional music and if you go deep into it, you’ll find, this is not “Nashville music,” because Texas has a specific country music sound, Louisiana has a specific country sound, Kentucky bluegrass has a specific sound, northern New York has a specific sound, the West Coast has it’s own style, so honestly my take on it is that it’s a regional, cultural music that has to do with the people first; similar to ethnic music, it’s just part of your culture that you’re a part of and the instrumentation would be a part of that as well.
You know, drum set didn’t come ’til later, when it all started being a little more dance-hall, when jazz and swing bands started meshing with country music. So, my take, personally, is that Nashville is just a commercialized version of all these different little regions and whatever is popular in the moment. There was a time when Texas artists were popular, there was a time when West Coast artists were popular, there was a time when Louisiana and the Zydeco, Cajun feel would be popular for a second…
BN: Well, in Nashville, there’s the country but then modern rock has come in. Nashville, modern country is almost modern rock.
BP: It’s like, 25 years ago when Garth Brooks came on the scene, compared to today’s country that was straight-up country, but it really was like rock and roll from the old guys, the ’60s and ’70s.
MM: I’d say that for Dwight’s band and Steve Earle’s band for sure, these are rock bands that know how to play country music. Your band [to Butch] is a little more jazzy-rock; because of the improvisation and the textures that you all create and leaving stuff open to go somewhere else. With Dwight, our arrangements are like that [snaps fingers in straight time], and your band [to Brad] is also…
BP: Oh yeah, it’s pretty structured as far as song arrangements, but what we do changes night to night. Steve’s pretty good about letting everybody do their thing; if there’s something he doesn’t like, he’ll let you know, but for the most part [knocks on the table] that hasn’t happened to me yet. [Laughs]
SS: I’m also wondering, because these artists you’re playing for are really known as songwriters, and the lyrics are a very key to their music; do you have to stay aware of never getting in the way, of stepping on a vocal line, more so than you might have to with other artists? I’d imagine you can’t just cut loose when you feel like it, you have to keep it simple.
BP: With Steve, and I’d think with you guys too, it’s, “Stay out of the way, but still put your stamp on it.” Coming out of Nashville, that’s what I learned; they don’t care how much you can play, how fast, whatever, just play two and four, keep time and stay out of the way.
BN: Find your place in the song. And if you’re stepping out of that place for yourself, serve the song, serve the music. Two and four, yeah, that’s for all of us.
MM: I will say again, without a doubt, we’re playing dance music. And again, my history of playing in Brave Combo, which was a dance band–I play this, they dance this way, I play that, they dance that way, and if they’re not dancing a certain way, I’m not doing my job. With that being said, the lyrics are still important with Dwight, hugely important, and there are many songs that when you just read the lyrics alone, they’re just so awesome, they’re so good, but it’s just within the setting and framework of a honky-tonk dance hall. That’s what a lot of that music is.
BN: But this is what our job is, whether it’s dance music or anything else. If I’m not seeing people moving correctly when Lucinda is singing, to what she is singing, if I see people dancing and talking and screaming when she’s singing something serious, what am I doing? I need to lay back; we have to create a musical bed to support the movement or lyric. That’s what we all do here.
KK: I’ll be selfish and say that the biggest part of this tour for me is: these guys all have years of playing venues this size and with artists that are songwriters, and I go out and see at least some of their sets each night, and everybody has a totally different touch, depending on the songs, that works for that artist. That’s very informative for me, playing with a new artist and playing in venues this size, as opposed to what I’m used to; I’m seeing how those decisions they are making about that touch affects how the audience is responding. When you want them to chill and get moody, you do this, and when you want them to really shake their ass, you’re going to approach it another way; and that’s not only in terms of the parts they choose, but very much in the way they hit the drums.
BN: It’s a lesson for me watching all these guys every night. Whenever I watch a drummer, I’m, “Wow, look at what he’s doing! I gotta do that!” Or a sound or something they’re doing, what they’re creating. That’s the beauty of this.
BP: Yeah there’s something every night that makes me smile.
KK: To hear it in this context, where it’s restraint, like we were talking about–playing and not getting in the way, like you said. There’s a real art to that; it is just playing 2 and 4, and it’s not just playing 2 and 4, because I’ll watch Butch play and there’s one hi-hat note that he’ll leave out, and it makes the whole thing breathe a certain way…
BN: Which note was that? [All laugh]
SS: How much input on drum parts do you all get from your employers?
BN: Oh, this is a good question.
MM: I’ll just say that I’ve been with Dwight for 15 years and I’m very fortunate in that he’s asked me to play on five or six records now. I have the combination of playing all the songs, which includes the records and the hits that were around before me, so it’s important to me to stick to the recorded version of the song until he says, “Play something different.”
We’ve been getting some new players in the band, so we’ve been going back to the records, listening to them, and writing out charts and I’m realizing, “Wow, I’m not playing this right!” But then we get on stage and play the song and, “Now I remember why I’m playing it this way; he’s playing electric guitar, not acoustic like on the record, and it’s a different feel and he just wanted it to be different.” With my time span and arc with him, it’s evolved into a thing where, some songs are like the record because it evolved back to that, and some songs are how he’s now wanting to approach it, so I try to stay faithful to the recorded version of it, because I’m a fan, I’m a serious fan of the music–I love the songs and I love the drumming that’s on there, so I want to do it, it’s fun for me, but if he wants to change it to something else, I’m cool, I’m going to do that.
KK: To jump on the back of what Mitch said, because Dwight worked with us on the record, more than anyone I’ve ever worked with before, Dwight knows exactly what he wants; an amp will be turned down to 3.5 as opposed to 4, or my 12-inch tom will be cranked up just a little bit higher, and whether it’s in a rehearsal or the studio, he won’t rest until he gets it right. As a side-man it’s comforting to have the direction and clarification from an artist. He clearly knows what he wants. Bryan is the same way, but Dwight is clearly the master.
BN: I want to hear Brad, about Steve.
BP: I’ve only made one record with Steve, and he’s probably made 17 or 18 with a lot of different drummers, and he told me from day one, and Kelly, the bass player also told me, who’s been there 30 years, “Man, just do your thing. You don’t have to play exactly what’s on the records,” There are certainly things, like the pa-pa-pa-pa-pa [imitates snare fill] in “Copperhead Road,” but as far your interpretation and what you play where, if he doesn’t like it he’ll let you know; so far I haven’t had any issues. The drums for him are a time-keeper; to him it’s about the song and the lyrics, and in his head that’s all he’s thinking about. And that’s true across the board, for the bass, guitar, fiddle, everything–everybody sort of gets to do their thing.
BN: Yeah, dove-tailing off of that, it’s the same kind of thing with Lucinda, but even more so. She doesn’t even know I’m there. [Everyone laughs] I mean, she knows when something is wrong; she can’t verbalize it, but I watch her and you can see by how she’s moving, which is really very important–to watch her. There were never any parts dictated to me; I’ve been here 11 years now, and in this situation, I’ve done the last four or five records, and she fights for us, she wants us there. We were doing the Blessed record four or five years ago and Don Was came in as a co-producer, and Don said, “Hey, yeah your band is great, but you know, I could get the guys in…” you know, “Leland [Sklar] is in town, and Jim’s [Keltner] in…” and Lucinda said, “Yeah, I’ve worked with them and they’re great, but I want my band, my boys.” So, she’s very loyal, very faithful. We come in and she brings her Zoom recorder that she had just sat at the kitchen table with for the last three hours, “Here’s this song,” and we hear it, we hear her strumming and go, “Okay, verse, chorus, solo, second verse.” We’re all in the room, live, and they push record and, two, three, four takes, and she’ll go, “Try this,” or “Try those blue things.” So, “Maybe we’re going towards a brush thing,” “Maybe no snare on this one,” “Okay, she wants more of a Latin feel on this,” and those are the takes on the records.
MM: I think we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t do all the homework that drummers have to do, which is: If you want to be a working drummer and make your living as a drummer, this is my personal feeling, you study the styles, you study the great drummers, you study why a great drummer works in songs. I guess we’ve all come to the point in our careers where we all play with singer songwriters, and that demands its own approach as a drummer.
I did a lot of rock bands, I did a lot of different things, but once you’re into a singer-songwriter thing, at this level, you’ve learned all the “styles,” and the “rules,” that allow you to stay in there and let the singer-songwriter find the song and get the song and–I guess we’ve said this a million times–not step in the way of the song. I just know, I watch Dwight as well, and if he ever looks at me in a weird way, I know I’ve done something that pulled him out of the song. That’s the last thing I want to do. I want to lift him up if possible, not take him out.
BN: We all have eclectic backgrounds as drummers; jazz, punk, ethnic music, rock, blues–really, all the drummers you have in the magazine, if they’ve been around any length of time, they’ve never just done that one thing. Obviously, there’s a couple of cats that, yeah, that’s what they do, that’s what they are known for, but the rest of us working guys, we’ve done millions of styles, and for this world [singer-songwriter], it really helps.
SS: To speak to that, given that you’ve each been on this gig for a number of years, what’s the impact this artist has had on you as a player, and as a professional?
MM: Mine is an interesting story. In 1993 I got bored of playing drums. What I mean by that is that I was bored of practicing paradiddles at 160 and trying to get it to 165, or whatever; that’s probably slow [all laugh]. I was practicing, practicing, practicing and I was just not feeling it. I like to learn, so I started playing bass, and I figured if I was going to learn how to play bass it’d be best to start with stuff that I know in my heart as a drummer–it would come faster and easier. So, I picked The Beatles and I picked Dwight, because I knew that if I picked Dwight, I would be picking songs that would allow me to be a country bass player because, again, those records, they follow the rules. If you’re playing those bass lines for other people in other songs, you’re going to fit in just fine. Doing that helped me with this gig, but now that I’m in it and I’ve got all the drum stuff down, I’ve recently started playing acoustic guitar. I’m going through every single album and writing out Nashville numbered charts so that if, god forbid anything ever happens–which I hope it won’t because I really love this band and I hope no one leaves–we’ll have charts and we’ll be ready. I’m using it as an opportunity to get better on acoustic guitar and to work on my ear training by writing out charts without my guitar. If you go to Nashville, someone plays the song and the guys are just writing it out as they listen, boom-boom-boom, it’s done and they play it perfectly. You’re like, “What the hell just happened?” I’m so envious of that skill.
Long story short, I’m using this gig as a way to also just broaden my ear, my ability to play acoustic guitar, and interestingly enough, it allows me to get closer to what he’s going through when he’s in front of that mic and strumming the chords–I’m understanding much more why things move the way they do. That’s what’s happened for me on this gig; it’s not been strictly about the drumming, as much as it being about understanding music on a deeper level.
BP: Songwriting, too. That craft. I’ve stuck my feet in a little and it’s really baring your soul, especially with these guys. We have probably the hardest job, physically, next to the singer, because not only are they usually playing guitar and singing, but focused on every aspect of what’s going on, so I have a whole new respect for it. It started when I was playing with Ryan [Adams] and I’ve seen how much it takes to really be good at this. It’s a big deal.
SS: I’m reminded of Steve Jordan saying years ago that if you want to be a better drummer, learn how to play bass or guitar or piano.
BP: Yeah, because as a drummer, you start the note but don’t stop the note, but playing bass, you learn the value of a note.
MM: Yeah, it makes a big difference, and I’ll just say, I stopped playing drums for a few years and just played bass with a country singer named Jack Ingram, and I literally made phone calls to bass players I’d worked with to apologize for giving them a hard time when they’d make a mistake. When you’re a drummer, you can get away with going to the chorus by mistake, and the guys on the stage might know, but not many other people are going to catch it. When you play bass, such a naked instrument, and you go to the chorus by mistake, oh man.
BP: Buddy of mine who’s a bass player says, “The only time the bass player gets noticed is when they make a mistake.” [All laugh]
MM: As a bass player, I’d always notice, “You just had to throw that fill you’ve been practicing for weeks in there, didn’t you? I know you’ve been practicing it for weeks and you just had to throw it in.”
KK: Okay, so I am the luckiest guy on this tour, because coming to this gig later in life, not after having played with some respected artist for the last decade or more like these guys, and just kind of slugging it out in the clubs, this has been steady and it’s been a great experience. And, I know I’m doing what the vast majority of drummers do, which is keep looking over my shoulder going, “I hope none of these m*th*rf*ck*rs know I can’t play drums.” And it’s a combination of a few things: the thing I felt I lacked the most was confidence, and for Mitch to call me a couple of years ago and go, “You’re going to get a call, and it’s probably going to be from Dwight Yoakam, so you better answer your phone, because it’s going to be from an unknown caller I.D. Then, to talk with Dwight, go in and do the audition, and have Dwight pull me aside afterwards and go, “I really want you to do this gig,” instantly shot my confidence up. But now, we’re out, and I’m seeing Dwight’s band, which is like a powerhouse machine every night, and we’ve got to be out there before them, and I’m going, “Oh, God, people are going to be comparing us to that, and me to that…”
BN: Just be thankful that you’re not playing after them!
KK: Yeah, for sure. But there was a big mark that happened for me–I was so excited to play the Beacon Theater and we didn’t get a sound check, which kind of bummed me out, but we did the show and coming off the set I saw Butch, and Butch is like the big brother that likes to give you shit and show up for you at the same time; and he was like, “Man the shuffle sounded great,” this and that, and I’m like, “Oh man, thanks,” and then he says, “Even when you dropped the stick.” And I’m like, “F*ck*ng Butch had to see I dropped a stick…” [All laugh] And at that point, I was like, “Well, it doesn’t matter, I’m just going to go and play. I finally realized, “I’m not going to be this guy or that guy, I have to just figure out who I am and what I can do, and I’m just going to try to nail that,” and that’s been amazing. As I result, I’ve seen a difference in my playing–I’m more confident and I’m just going to do what I’m going to do. That’s huge for me. That’s the best thing about this gig.
SS: I always say never compare yourself to anybody else.
BN: Yeah, but you do. And if you’re not, well, there’s a couple of guys I could name right off the top of my head that think they are god’s f*ck*ng gift to the world. The respect and the love I have for drumming, you know, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and to be here with these great guys, and to be playing every night. You know, I know I’m f*ck*ng up all the time, I’m very critical of myself; I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t critical of myself.
SS: But do you feel or see some sense of evolving because of this gig, this music?
BN: From all the artists of different elements – E [the Eels], Rufus Wainwright, Tracy Chapman, and then getting to Lucinda 11 years ago, playing this style of music is not where I started or ever thought I would be. I went back to all the older guys who had played with her and really had to get that flavor and add that. I didn’t have that. I had rock and a little bit of jazz, and disco–I was big on disco in the late ’70s; getting people to move and dance was a big turning point for me. Then, I quit playing drums for about four and a half years and went to art school. I studied at Cal Arts and just went deep into African music. You’d go to African class and I would play the gankogui bell and Alfred Ladzekpo would be there, and you’d be playing the same thing, the same pattern for 40 minutes, [sings bell pattern] and you can’t move. If you swayed from keeping that thing down, a stick would go flying by your head, and you’d hear, [imitates baritone voice], “What are you doing Butch?” And I’d go, “Oh, right!” and get right back to it. Or playing the shekere, [sings shakere pattern] you’d play for two hours straight and you don’t stop, “I just love this, I love locking it in.” All that other bullshit, loving Billy Cobham like I did, which was great, and Tony of course, I get that energy, but when you lock that in, man.
So, coming to Lucinda, who’s played with all the great drummers–I try to take pieces of that, but also try to erase all that and play as simple as possible. And it’s really elevated me, and about five years ago I kind of went, “Wow, now I feel like I might be a drummer.”
MM: To go back to all the comparisons and all those kinds of things, I think it’s impossible not to. At the end of the day, we’re not golfers, who, at the end of the day, the guy with the lowest score is the best golfer. Every step of the way, from my studying and going to school, playing at different levels with different players was always about looking ahead, looking above and going, “Oh, that’s what will help me get to the next level, going up the ladder of success, of professionalism, of abilities, all those things…”
BN: And as a human.
MM: And as a human too, and maybe just understanding myself. Some people I know, to this day, that I look at and think, “They are such a better drummer than I am, and they have all these gigs, and they’re doing all these different things,” and this is not judging one or the other, but maybe, for myself, I just needed a little more family-type life, other kinds of things in my life, not just 110-percent drumming and music all the time. You sacrifice something for something else. It’s just impossible to not look around you and take the good and the bad.
KK: That’s probably a part of why everybody’s on this gig though, right? Because if it was somebody who’s trying to throw all that shit in, like, “Check out this really f*ck*ng cool fill,” he’d be out of here. He wouldn’t fit in at all.
MM: Well, there’s a lot of reasons someone can not be doing a good job, but nonetheless, it just goes back to: I don’t see how you can grow without looking around and analyzing, and being realistic and honest with yourself.BN: Well, I’m adjusting every day. Every day there’s little fine-tune adjustments, which all relate to drumming, or to family, all of it; it’s all part of this and all part of my playing.
BP: I think when you’re starting out, when you’re in your twenties, you’re listening to the people you admire and you cop that lick from this guy, steal that thing from that guy, whatever. Then, finally at some point, you sort of find your own voice, your own style of playing, and you realize, “I’m never going to be Steve Jordan, as much as I love Steve Jordan, I’m not going to be him. I love Charlie Watts, but I’m not going to be Charlie Watts. But, I’m pretty good at Brad Pemberton, so I’m going to do that.” There’s a great cartoon I saw and it was a little two-frame thing, and it had a guy behind the drum set, and there’s notes flying all over the page, and the guy standing next to him goes, “You’re great.” And in the next frame, there’s a guy who’s going, “Boom-chick, boom-chick,” and the guy standing next to him goes, “You’re hired.” [All laugh]. So, once I let go of trying to play like somebody else and started playing like myself, it worked, and it has worked, miraculously, for 30 years.
SS: And within the framework of this gig, do you see some trajectory of evolving as a result of playing this music?
BP: Well, I’ve been with Steve for two-and-a-half years now, so it’s hard to say at this point. We’ve made one record and we’re about to make another after this tour, so I think it’s too soon to tell. It’s funny how you talked about playing bass and listening to Dwight Yoakam records; that was, what, ten years before you got the gig, give or take?
BP: I listened to Steve from the time Guitar Town came out, and I always thought, “That would be a good gig for me. I’ll never get that gig, but it would probably be a good gig for me. It’s right up my alley, I like the songs,” and then 30 years later, I got the gig. It’s funny how life works out sometimes.
SS: Can you guys touch on what you’re getting from each other?
BN: Oh, we can’t talk about that. Not with a lady in the room. [All laugh]
MM: I hadn’t really thought about it but, I met you [Brad] when you were playing with Ryan, maybe five or six years ago….
BP: Well, it’s been almost 10 since I left that gig…
MM: Okay, it was a while ago. So, I haven’t spent much time with Brad, I will just say that I’m so happy he’s in the band. As a fan of Steve Earle and Steve Earle’s music, I’ve seen the band a lot and all I’m going to say is that I couldn’t be happier when I found out he was in this band. I was like, “Yeah, it’s going to kick ass,” and it did, and it does. And I’ve known Kelly for a long time and I’m just happy he is getting what he’s always deserved. He’s a testament of someone who is a drummer, a musician, who just stuck with it and worked hard and just also thought kind of like an entrepreneur; because drumming isn’t always enough to pull in money, and you’ve got to find those other passions and he’s found that writing is another passion for him. When you’ve got multiple passions, it relieves the pressure of having to make money every single time by only playing drums. When you start delving into other things that are important to you, and figure out how to monetize it, that’s pretty great and I think Kelly’s been great at that. And I’ve always wanted to watch Butch do more stuff, because he’s esoteric, he has a lot of sounds, and he brings a lot of things to the drum set that drum-set players don’t do.
KK: Easy for me to answer. Brad is the guy I was most unfamiliar with, and is like, just a f*ck*ng great rock drummer who is on an Americana gig. It’s like Phil Rudd on an Americana gig, which is just the perfect way to do it. I’ve seen Butch play in lots of smaller venues, without ever seeing him play in big venues like this. The range of his touch is amazing to me and he’s the most sonically varied drummer, him and QuestLove, just changing sounds all the time, and when you see the show, you see him do that throughout the show. And for me, Mitch is the heart of Dwight’s band, his energy is just like an explosion that propels that whole band. It’s amazing to see and I’ve seen it for two years straight, and it never wanes, never lessens, every night.
BP: Aside from watching three great drummers every night, I’ve really enjoyed just the camaraderie of hanging out with these guys. I don’t get to hang with other drummers that often out here and it’s been a blast.
BN: What those guys said. [All laugh] Brad, killin’ it. When I first saw you with Ryan, killin’ it, and ditto what Mitch said, I’ve seen Steve a lot, working with Lucinda and before that, and a lot of the other guys were great too, but you are just over-killing it. You’re the perfect fit, it really feels familial and it was that way when you were with Ryan too. Kelly is the surprise for me; I’d never seen Kelly before and he blows me the f*ck away. Seriously, just so f*ck*ng good. And Mitch, Mitch is the master. He covers so many bases. I’ve seen him a number of times, and knowing the student that he is, you see it when he plays, and yeah, he is the heart of that band.
SS: I’m grateful all four of you were able to put the time aside to talk about this tour and your careers. Thanks so much. I’ll cut you loose and I look forward to seeing you play in a few hours!