I've definitely become more confident as a songwriter, and I think we're beginning to realise our potential as a band. When we write songs, we try to write actual pieces of music, if you know what I mean. Just like the people who have influenced us, do.
There's definitely a strong country rock influence in your music, a lot of The Band, The Byrds, CSNY and so on, and your music sounds like it should have been made in 1970 and not in 2010. How do you step out from the shadows of the bands that have influenced you, while still letting yourself be inspired by these?
If you listen to any of our albums, you can hear that we aren't influenced by what the industry is doing right now. We're walking in the opposite direction, and I guess it's as if we're forgetting about the past twenty years. We write the music that we love, the music that stays in our collection and always inspires us to write. Not that we don't want to break mould, but it seems like the trend right now is that people try so hard to be different from everybody else that they forget what they're actually supposed to be doing in the first place – writing something that lasts more than ten minutes.
Do you ever feel it might be dangerous to "flaunt" your inspirations to such a degree?
Well, I think when you aspire to do that, you automatically open yourself to criticism for sounding like something or revoking the same sounds as somebody else. But that doesn't really matter to us, because our agenda is to write songs that will last more than just a few minutes.
… and besides, people have been doing this ever since the damn of music, haven't they?
Exactly, and if you have the audacity to write a song that perhaps sounds a little bit more country and a song that sounds a bit more psychedelic and another song that sounds like a Springsteen song or a Tom Petty song, some people will say that your band hasn't really found its sound yet. I would just like to ask those people "would you say that to the Rolling Stones?". Because they did it far more than anyone else. They would have a disco song, a country song, a straight up rock song and a ballad, all on one album! These days people want everything packaged and labelled, and to me that's what's killing the whole rock n'roll industry.
Here's a question that might be difficult to answer, but do you think the best songs have already been written some 30 or 40 years ago? Will we ever be able to make music as good as that made in the 60' and 70's?
That's a great question. I think the 60's and 70's saw the pinnacle of creativity. Songs from the 90's are not considdered classics, but songs from the 70's were considdered classics in the 80's. They had already defined the sound of North America and the rest of the world. I wouldn't say that the best songs have already been written, but what they did with music and aspired to do, was the best time in rock n'roll, I think. People today are so afraid of mimicking someone like the Stones or the Beatles to the point where they just don't do it. I know, because I went through that spell when I was a kid, but what you end up with is just contrived stuff. Everybody's inspired by something and that's what you should live after. Elvis was inspired by the blues and so was Hank Williams, and that's how we ended up with that great sound. If you don't try it, if you keep all the fears in front of you, that's what you end up with – contrived music. Not that I don't like some of it, there's just so much of it out there.
Compared to the Byrds-ear country rock of Sweet As The Grain, this album has more of a John Mellencamp/Tom Petty heartland rock sound to it, doesn't it?
There were two songs on Sweet As The Grain, Truth Be Told and Lost In The Canyon, that define what I wanted to do on White Linen. Ultimately, as a songwriter you want to write songs that you yourself can put on and listen to. That's the ultimate goal, because most of the time you can't do that, not a lot of songwriters can. So the more I listened, the more I realised that it didn't bother me when I heard these songs playing. I actually enjoyed them. That also means that I could pick songs out of the sky instead of trying to push them out of me. They were already in my mind, and that stuff happens to have that Crazy Horse/The Pretenders/Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers sound. It was those three bands that inspired my songwriting for this album. And lots of Springsteen too.
How does inspiration work with you? Do you listen to loads of music and try to navigate through what might inspire you and what won't?
It's actually the opposite. I stop listening to music completely for three months when I'm writing songs. The reason is, I don't want to be inspired to not do something. You become consumed with not plagiarising something. I just sit around and wait for the songs to pop into my head, and they always do. I never force songwriting.
You recorded Sweet As The Grain as if it was a vinyl record, with two sides. Tell me about that please.
We do that with every record, even though it doesn't come out on the vinyl. We always construct our albums to be like albums. Nowadays they're constructed to keep the listener listening to the cd, but we really do things for our selves and to our fans. Our core audience are people with huge record collections, so we put things together for them. Records are the best way to listen to music, and we do intend to release this record on vinyl too. Again, we're keeping it like the old days.
A lot of vinyl fans say that they simply just prefer listening to a vinyl record, despite the fact that you can't play it in your car or stick it on an iPod. Why do you think that is?
It's really simple stuff, even down to the listener's participation. They have to get up and turn the record over. Listening to one side of an album is not as daunting as having to listen to an entire cd. Most of the time you can't have an album that's longer than forty minutes, and sometimes listening to one side is all you need. I've always appreciated it that way. Take the Grateful Dead's American Beauty. Whenever I listen to it on cd, I don't enjoy it, but when I flip side two on and it starts with Brokedown Palace, I'm a lot happier.
Do you think the cd will dissapear completely?
I think the cd will always be there as a media format, especially for radio. I don't think radio will ever go back to playing vinyl, because a cd is just so much easier. Unfortunately, we still sell more cd's than we sell vinyl, but I think in seven or ten years, you'll see all the music fans gather up on the internet and demand that the music industry also caters to their needs, demanding everything on vinyl. What's happening right now is that the industry is weeding out the actual music lovers, but the internet is slowly getting these people together. I think we'll see more stores that just cater to them. There are some now, but they are few and far between. But I don't think the cd will ever die, because the major labels still need a cheap format.
Here's the big question – does a vinyl record sound better than a cd?
Yeah I do. I wouldn't begin to explain the audio differences, but something happens when I throw the needle on. Maybe it's nostalgia or something. The sound on a cd is probably truer, but that doesn't mean it's the best. When I hear drums recorded to tape versus drums recorded to Pro Tools, I just like the sound of drums on tape better. People can argue with me til the sun comes down, but it doesn't change the fact that I just like the sound of a vinyl record better.
The John Henry's White Linen is out now on Nine Pound Records. To find out more, go to Myspace.com/thejohnhenrys