JD McPherson

Manic Productions and GO KAT GO! Presents:

JD McPherson

Girls Guns & Glory

Thu, March 9, 2017

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

The Ballroom at The Outer Space

Hamden, CT

$20.00

Tickets Available at the Door

This event is 18 and over

JD McPherson
JD McPherson
Let the Good Times Roll

You could mistake JD McPherson for a revivalist, given how few other contemporary artists are likely to assert, as he boldly does, that “’Keep a Knockin’ by Little Richard is the best record ever made. It’s so insanely visceral, you feel like it’s going to explode your speakers. If I’m listening to that in the car, I find myself having to brake suddenly. I can listen to that and it makes me feel like I’m 20 feet tall. And the feeling of joy I get from that record is always going to be the real push behind trying to make music.”

But in a very real sense, McPherson is much more a pioneer than roots resuscitator. He’s knocking at the door of something that arguably hasn’t yet been accomplished—a spirited, almost spiritual hybrid that brings the forgotten lessons from the earliest days of rock & roll into a future that has room for the modernities of studio technique and 21st century singer/songwriter idiosyncrasies that Richard Penniman would not recognize. Let the Good Times Roll, his second album, is a stranger, and more personal affair than its Fats Domino-redolent title might at first suggest, but the name isn’t exactly ironic, either. If you, too, brake for pleasure, you’ll screech to a halt at the enrapturing sound of these Good Times.

His first album, 2012’s Signs & Signifiers, was hailed as “an utterly irresistible, slicked-back triumph” by Mojo and “a rockin’, bluesy, forward-thinking gold mine that subtly breaks the conventions of most vintage rock projects” by All Music Guide. The Washington Post wrote that, “he and his bandmates are great musicians taking ownership of a sound, not just mimicking one.” That same review remarked upon how, “the album sounds as if the band is in the same room with the listener.” But for the follow-up, McPherson wanted to maintain that raw power while also capturing the more mysterious side of the records he loves. To that slightly spookier end, he enlisted as a collaborator Mark Neill, known for his work as a producer and engineer with versed-in-the-past acts going back to the Paladins in the 1980s, but, most recently, for recording The Black Keys and Dan Auerbach—a friend of McPherson’s who co-wrote the new album’s “Bridge Builder.”

Talking up one of the freshly minted tunes, “Bridge Builder,” McPherson describes it as being “the psychedelic Coasters.” That no such thing really existed prior to this album doesn’t deter him. “This is something I actually talked about with Mark at the beginning of the record: ‘I want to make a ‘50s psychedelic record!’”

Neill was up to meeting that seemingly oxymoronic challenge. “It’s still a rock & roll record, but the borders are expanding a little bit,” McPherson explains. “With some of the writing that came out this time, it became apparent the songs weren’t going to lend themselves well to our usual process. So as we sought out a producer, we took aim for a slightly wider—I guess hi-fi is the word—sound, and got more experimental. Mark Neill certainly has all the tools in his hardware shop with which to produce any range of sounds from vintage Capitol Records stuff on up to…gosh, we listened to so much David Bowie making this record. We’d play Primal Scream’s Screamadelica to listen to how they suddenly started making dance records, and then Mark would play us Marilyn McCoo singing ‘Marry Me, Bill’ over and over again, I guess trying to re-wire our brains.”

Amid this flurry of possible influences, a few production approaches stuck. “I find that the records that I like to listen to over and over again are the ones that have those strange engineering choices, or weird sounds. I was very attracted to the idea of using plate reverb. So whereas the first record was really informed by New Orleans rhythm and blues, where everything was very dry and up-front, I really was listening more this time to a ton of Link Wray, and the Allen Toussaint-produced Irma Thomas stuff, and all the early ‘60s rock & roll that is saturated in plate reverb.”

McPherson certainly doesn’t begrudge the attention that Signs & Signifiers unexpectedly brought him. “If it hadn’t been for the ‘North Side Gal’ video, this probably never would have caught on,” he says, recalling the fame he found on YouTube even before Rounder picked up his indie release. “That’s how we found our label and found our management. I was still teaching school, and here I am with got this video that’s like a million hits. I’m like, what? I had no plans to quit my job. Luckily, I lost it.” A middle school art department’s loss was Rounder’s and the rock world’s gain.

It’d been a while in coming. “I started getting obsessed with this stuff when I was in high school,” McPherson says. “There wasn’t much to do where I grew up in rural southeast Oklahoma, where I lived on a 160-acre cattle ranch.” When he discovered early rock & roll and R&B, “it was like finding a treasure no one else knew about. Nobody around me had any interest whatsoever in Little Richard except for me and my friend. Once we started listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, and to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, which was the best thing you could ever find, everything started to change. I’ve got a videotape of us playing at a pool hall in the early ‘90s in Talihina, Oklahoma, and it’s cowboys and criminals and people that are cooking meth up in the hills standing around playing pool, and here we are with our greaser uniforms on, playing Buddy Holly’s ‘Rockin’ Around with Ollie Vee’ followed by ‘Clampdown’ by the Clash, and all these people are really confused. Those were happy times.”

The covers and the grease got dropped along the way to adulthood, of course, even though he knows what he does now is likely to wind up with some inaccurate revival tags. “There’s never going to be a point where I’m not going to hear the word ‘rockabilly’,” he says with a laugh and a sigh, “even though it’s not anthropologically correct, because it’s separate from rhythm & blues and rock & roll. Not being able to be perceived as how you sort of define what you’re doing is frustrating, but you just have to understand that not everybody is a nerd about this stuff. What it comes down to is that you can’t expect for people to listen if you’re not doing something personal. I mean, you can’t just do covers of Johnny Burnette Trio songs, because that idea has already been expressed, and it was actually moved past pretty quickly. Rock & roll music changed really quickly when it started becoming ubiquitous youth music and the President’s sister started doing the Twist. Yet there’s something intrinsically valuable about a lot of those ideas that haven’t fully been explored yet. And you take everything you love about it and write personal music and hope it translates into its own thing. I always hear ‘Man, bringing this stuff back is really important,’ but I have goal to bring rock & roll back in some reactionary way to battle something else. I want it to just kind of nudge it into its own little place alongside what’s happening now.”

Since the debut album came out, McPherson has played for a lot of those aforementioned genre nerds who pick up on every single influence. But he and his band have also opened for acts ranging from Bob Seger (getting a standing ovation at an arena in Detroit, the headliner’s hometown) to the Dave Matthews Band to Nick Lowe to Eric Church (who sought him out to write some songs together). For a Halloween night 2014 show at the Forum in L.A., super-fan Josh Homme, one of McPherson’s biggest supporters, handpicked him to open for Queens of the Stone Age. These may not all seem like natural pairings, but the music is primal and melodic enough that, after a few minutes, it never fails to make sense even to audiences with the least of expectations and musical educations.

“Man, people may not even know it, but they all like that stuff,” McPherson declares. “I’ve seen it happen over and over again. You’re in a record store where they’re playing some weird underground amorphous electronic record that has no configurable beat per minute, and then they put on a Sam Cooke record, and everybody is just like ‘Ohhh’— like a weight lifted. All kinds of music are interesting, but man, there’s something about the 1/4/5, 12-bar blues form that’s just hard-wired into American brains. And I shouldn’t say just American brains, because this stuff is still really huge in Europe, too. Everybody likes rock & roll. They just either won’t admit it or don’t know it yet,” he laughs, unshakable in his faith that the whole world is or will be on a roll.
Girls Guns & Glory
Love and Protest: two concepts that seldom go hand in hand. Until you think about it a while.

That’s what singer, guitarist and songwriter Ward Hayden did as he began mapping out plans for Girls Guns & Glory’s next album, which happens to be called Love and Protest.

“That title sums up this album and it sums me up very well too,” he says. “We’ve done 10 years of touring, living, learning and growing, maturing and developing a broader world view, a view outside of the small town where I grew up.”

That decade began with Hayden and several like-minded musicians getting together. Their love for early rock ’n’ roll, true country, raw blues and pretty much any kind of authentic American music branded them quickly as anomalous — and electrifying. Since that time they’ve barnstormed far beyond their Boston hometown, playing honky-tonks, beer joints and more recently concert venues throughout the U.S. They’ve amassed a loyal legion of fans along the way. The media have noticed too, including Rolling Stone, which heralds them as a “modern-day Buddy Holly plus Dwight Yoakam divided by the Mavericks.”

Now, in this milestone year, with Girls Guns & Glory recording for the first time on its own label, the group has channeled all it’s experienced into its most personal and, paradoxically, hardest-rocking release to date.

“Love and Protest is the name of the album because its songs explore the emotion of love,” Hayden explains. “And when love is faced with opposition, it’s the protest of that emotion. It’s alpha and omega — love and protest. There’s a lot of ground to cover between those two extremes.”

They begin with the album’s first single and opening track. “Rock ’n’ Roll.” With bassist Paul Dilley and drummer Josh Kiggans laying down a no-nonsense, backbeat-driven groove, lead vocalist and guitarist Hayden sings, “I’m a hunter, a collector of things. I keep holding onto bad memories.” And yet, when the chorus hits, he proclaims that he’s “ready to rock ’n’ roll.”

Like much of Hayden’s work, these lyrics run deeper than they seem at first listen, with a sub current of heartbreak and obsession. “I don’t just collect physical trinkets,” Hayden notes. “This song is more about experiences and memories, the things you can’t see but they stay with you in your head and your heart.”

Similar spirits haunt the bitterly self-destructive “Wine Went Bad,” the loneliness of “Reno, Nevada” (“I might as well be a world away”), the exquisitely pure honky-tonk lament “Empty Bottles,” the painful introspection of “Memories Don’t Die” and “Stare at the Darkness,” and “Diamondillium,” a dystopian meditation shaded by noir guitar and incongruously inspired by an episode of Futurama — really, everything on the album, including its one cover, a resurrection of Gram Parsons’ “Hot Burrito No. 1.”

“The growth and maturity of Girls Guns & Glory as a band is what led us to take on this song,” Hayden says. “Lyrically, I think it’s a song that would make Hank Williams proud. Love was, and is, there in the person telling the story, but his love interest has taken the things she’s learned from their relationship and moved on to someone else. The storyteller is left to pine over it. It’s love and protest exemplified.”

To complement the immediacy of Hayden’s words, Girls Guns & Glory elected to cut Love and Protest entirely in analog, with Drew Townson, an acknowledged master of that format, recruited to produce with the band.

“There’s a nostalgia to working with analog,” Hayden says. “There are also limitations — no editing, making sure you don’t run out of tape. But those limitations force you to let things go, let things happen. The anxiety begets beauty and makes the band do its best every take, firing on all cylinders and working together as a cohesive unit.

“It’s as stripped-down as we’ve ever been. Even going into it, I didn’t imagine it would turn out as pure as it did.”

Going back to analog parallels the band’s return to its earliest days as an independent act, in control of its career. “This is the first album in eight years where we did everything ourselves,” Hayden says. “It’s the first album we’ve co-produced. We don’t worry about appeasing a label anymore. We’re creating music only for ourselves and our fans.”

To illustrate, he points to one track, “Man Wasn’t Made,” an affirmation that “man wasn’t made to just lie down and die,” set to a rollicking rockabilly beat and ignited by sparks of steel guitar. “When we were working with a label, they kept telling me that protest songs don’t sell so they didn’t want to put this kind of cut on a record. Well,” he says, smiling, “now we can sneak in a couple of actual protest songs, in a not-so-sly way.”

“With this record, we feel almost like a brand new band,” he continues. “We take things in a different direction. A lot of that is because a shift has occurred on our tours. We’re getting out of the bars and playing more in theaters and listening rooms. Instead of just trying to keep people on the dance floor for three hours, we’re crafting songs for people who really like to listen. That’s allowed us to dig deeper lyrically, to make more mature music with a higher level of musicianship. We’re making the music we want to make. We’re not limiting it to any genre in particular. We’re willing to do whatever feels right.”

“You could say,” Hayden concludes, “we’re a bigger part of the music itself than we’ve ever been.”

Nothing could be better news for those who have loved Girls Guns & Glory. Nothing can give more hope to all still waiting for their faith in real, honest-to-God American music to be restored.
Venue Information:
The Ballroom at The Outer Space
295 Treadwell Street
Building G
Hamden, CT, 06514