Hi Slaid, you are inevitably going to be compared with other singer songwriters, specifically Steve Earle, and I saw someone say Ryan Adams, which seemed a bit bizarre to me. Would you like to be considered more of a bad boy, rather than your image?
(Laughs) No, not a bad boy at all.
I noticed that you are forty in June, …
That is correct
…is that likely to be much of a milestone do you think? Will you do anything different?
No, I hated turning thirty, it really depressed me, but I don’t care now. I used to get depressed about those milestones, because I’d think cause when I was thirty I didn’t have much going. My career wasn’t going anywhere, and I thought y’know, Hank Williams had written all his songs, and died, by the time that he was twenty-nine, and here I am thirty and I haven’t done anything. But now, maybe because I had some success, and actually supporting myself by music, rather than doing it as a hobby, that maybe I don’t care how old I am now.
I was a great fan of “Broke Down” I thought it was a fabulous album.
Broke Down and Horseshoe Lounge are great songs, and I’ve also always been very intrigued by “One Good Year”. It seemed like, from reading about your background, a real cri de coeur, as if it was totally autobiographical, is that reading too much into it?
I started writing it about a friend, and then it was kinda clichéd, and not quite together, so I brought it to a songwriter friend of mine, Steve Brooks. He injected some other ideas into it, and then I took it in a different direction and then, yeah, I ended up drawing a lot on my frustration that I just mentioned. The fact that I couldn’t make a living at music, it was really failing for a long time, and not getting an audience. And I really thought with the record “Broke Down” that this is, sort of, my last stand, and a lot of that frustration got into that song.
At the time of “Broke Down”, in an interview, one of the things that you’d said was the quote, “You know, I don’t have any new songs in me.” When did that change?
I felt that way for a while, and I made a few failed attempts to write during the “Broke Down” tour, when I’d come home for a few weeks, but it just didn’t work, so I decided I needed to take a big chunk of time off, and just sort of not play. I hadn’t done that in twelve, thirteen years, so I took three months off, read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies, and then when I started playing again I played a really light schedule, and took trips out into the country to write. And lo and behold, when I put all the ingredients together, I started writing again and… for a few years, I just wasn’t doing any of the things you need to do to write.
Is there anybody you’d really like to write with, that you haven’t written with?
No, the people I write with are trusted friends I’ve known for a long time, and sort of grew up in the scene together, so lately my co-writing has been more like editing. I’ll have a song either finished, or almost finished, and can’t figure out if it’s finished. Maybe it’s not good enough, or, if it’s not finished, I just can’t figure out what to do next and complete it, and I’ll bring those songs to friends, and typically they’ll inject a bunch of new ideas, of which I’ll throw out half of them, and use half of them. And the new ideas will show me the direction to go, and I’ll bring it home and finish it up myself, so you need to know people really well, I think, to be able to use them in that way, collaborate with them in that way.
So when you’re on tour at the moment, you would write, but the co-writing would be that you would go back, and maybe speak to somebody later on with what you’ve done, is that how that works?
Yeah, it’s like running things by a trusted advisor, or an editor, or a friend, y’know, and “Does this work or not?” or “It seems like it needs something stronger, can you help me come up with some stronger ideas?” And they normally do, y’know, I’ve a small core of old friends that I’ve played with, and written with, for a long time. I draw on those people to help me out.
Probably one of the banes of people’s lives is the internet, because just looking at different interviews with you, I’d found one which was saying “I’m not a rock and roller at all, I’m just really a folksy guy”, but about four years ago you were saying “I’ve never considered myself a folkie”(Both laugh) I was just wondering which one you felt you were at the moment?
Yeah well, by folkie, I meant sort of …y’know I never listened to Joan Baez and the Kingston Trio and James Taylor and all that. I wasn’t really exposed to that. I was exposed to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and The Beatles and Hank Williams, and you don’t think of that as the folk scene, but that’s my base, my foundation. And then, when I was in rock bands, all through high school and college, and after college, and when I moved to Texas, I was alone, and just me and my guitar. So by default became a folkie, and for the first time was exposed to that folk world, some of which I liked and some of which I didn’t, but as soon as I could afford a band I got one, but I find that I don’t know if it’s my old age, or what, that I don’t…I just don’t have enough bad boy in me to be a rocker I don’t think, maybe I am a folkie after all.
I read somewhere that you were quite keen on the term “Americana”. Is that still the case? Do you think it’s descriptive enough, or do you think it’s being abused at all?
Well I thought it was a great idea when they came up with it, but ultimately it’s failed because, if someone asks what your music is, and you say Americana, they say, “What’s that?” So you start from square one, “Well it’s a mix of country and folk and some other influences.” So I’m sad to see that it has failed.
I still think of it as a descriptive term, I think it’s right, a combination of folk and blues and rock.
Yeah, it works in the scene for the initiated, but it kind of preaches to the converted. The outside world is never going to embrace Americana. It’s kind of a thing that you’re always going to have to sort of fly under the radar with it.
Does that bother you? Is the level of success that you are experiencing enough for you, or would you be looking for more widespread, mainstream success?
I’ve been looking for more lately, I got such a big boost out of “Broke Down” it made me really comfortable for a while, but I started adding members to my band, and hanging more, and staying in hotels instead of flopping on floors, and now it occurs to me that now I need a couple of hundred people at the gig to pay my expenses. I need a little bit bigger audience, and it is frustrating that Americana music gets so little attention in the mainstream, or press, or media of any kind, and I had another point here…oh, like, it gets so little respect, even folk music gets so little respect. I was… there were two instances, one was registering my songs with BMI, the publishing, and what was the other one? There was another thing where I had to register my music, and pick a category, and the categories were y’know rock, urban, classical, jazz and country and that was it. There was no folk, there was no other, no Americana, like we don’t even have the respect of our industry, it’s such a tiny slice, and it baffles me because people are so into it.
Yeah, passionate about it.
Yeah they’re passionate.
It’s probably because most of the people record and distribute on labels which aren’t major, and the publishing industry is probably driven by the major labels, at the moment. Hopefully it will change at some point, I don’t know whether it will or not.
Yeah, it’s hard to tell.
The Americana chart, for the last some weeks, you’ve been number one, firmly ensconced there. How much of an effect does that have? Do those radio programme plays, which are substantial, do they end up in royalties for you?
No, unfortunately the American system of collecting radio royalties is, I wouldn’t say corrupt, but it’s a really bad system that favours only the people that are getting thousands of plays every day. Pop and country hits that are on thousands of radio stations every day. I mean, I would love to bring that chart into BMI, and say, “You owe me for seven hundred spins for each of these weeks y’know.” And that’s not going to happen. They do a sample. I’m pretty sure that the BBC, you get paid for whatever song is played, but in the States they sample each radio station for one week out of the year, so if they happen to sample all those stations in January, when I wasn’t getting played, then I’m not going to get paid for anything, so…
So you just wait and see really?
Yeah, just wait nine months and see. It’s the luck of the draw sometimes. I’ve been paid for songs that were on my indie records, that I knew only got played on two or three stations, more than the song “Broke Down”, which I know was getting played on a hundred stations.
That’s a shame because it’s a big achievement. That chart tends to have the cream of the crop of what Americana is, so if it doesn’t reflect in money back to you then that’s a real shame.
Well yeah, but it’s not really, because it’s seven hundred spins, but the vast majority of those spins are on little tiny AM stations out in the woods, out in the country somewhere, or in the cities, or it’s a station that only play Americana a couple of hours a week, y’know, so it’s just one spin a week, and it’s hard to get any momentum that way. There are a handful of big stations that’ll actually play your song a couple of times a day, and that’s what makes the big difference. In the “Broke Down” years that’s what brought things from total obscurity to relative obscurity (both laugh).
“Wishbones” is lot raunchier, when you’re over here now are you performing with a band?
Yeah, I’ve got a band, and it’s a little different. The “Broke Down” band was usually me and an upright bass player and a guy who either played guitar or accordion, or fiddle or dobro, or something like that, or sometimes me and accordion and dobro, or fiddle and dobro, or mandolin and fiddle, whatever. The new record has more of a rock tone to it, so I’m touring with bass and drums and guitar, kind of a standard rock outfit, although we switch between acoustic and electric, based on the venues.
You’ve obviously got a storytelling talent, and you’ve got a good literary education as well, you seem like a prime candidate for writing a book, is that something that would enter into your thoughts?
Yeah, I’ve thought about it, I’ve always… sort of daunted by the idea of a novel. It’s just so huge, and I like the idea of just writing songs, and songs is hard enough, but at least there is some limit to it, it’s a handleable size, a manageable size. I have thought about taking some of the short stories on my website (www.slaid.com), and adding to them so that I have enough for a book, and just in the interest of something else I could sell at the gig. That’s what it’s all about these days, I’m a travelling salesman and need product to sell at the gigs, or I won’t make any money on the road.
I think it’s a shame that you have to go through all of these processes in order to try and make a living out of it, it seems like sometimes a bit too much effort?
It’s not a shame, it’s lucky. I love the writing process, I love the recording process and touring, so it’s all good.
One of the big differences between Americana acts and what I’d call Nashville acts, is that the Nashville acts don’t often come over to Europe, because they have no need to, whereas the Americana acts tend to, so more success, to some extent, would be disappointing for us over here. We certainly love to see you come over.
Well what actually kinda happened with me is that when “Broke Down” came out I wasn’t making much money anywhere, and after a year or two, I started making money in certain places in the States and that’s one of the reasons that I didn’t come back to England, because I could never make any money over here, just kinda break even, so I just had to let it go for a couple of years while I made some money in the States. It’s so expensive over here, just getting here, hotels are so much more and gas is so much more, petrol, it’s tough.
What are you listening to at the moment? What do you use for inspiration?
The bad thing is that I don’t listen to a hell of a lot, I’ve been so busy lately. But the things that have affected me in the last year or so almost always turn out to be my colleagues, people that I hang with and play with, like I love Eliza Gilkyson’s last couple of records, Mary Gauthier. A guy named Adam Carroll, he’s younger and not playing out of Texas very much, but is just a fantastic writer, Ray Wylie Hubbard, that and Tom Waits, I listen to Tom Waits all the time.
Which of his albums would you have as his best?
Well I have them all, and I love them all, I really do, but I think if I had to pick a couple, I’d pick the “Franks Wild Years” trilogy, “Swordfishtrombones”, “Franks Wild Years” and “Raindogs”, those three are my top three.
Yeah, “Raindogs” for me is probably the one, but “Swordfishtrombones” has got some wonderful stuff on it as well.
It’s so rich. My God, the idea that those records are so deep, and rich. The only equivalent for me is classical music, because you can just listen to it a hundred times, and not get bored with it.
Sorry, it’s no good speaking to you, and then talking about Tom Waits.
I’ve been into Tom for a long time. I used to…when I was a busker in Cork twenty years ago I did a whole bunch of Tom Waits songs.
That’s great. Anyway I appreciate you giving us the time.
Oh no problem.
It’s nice to talk to you Slaid.
Cheers, Thank you.