INTERVIEW WITH WES TUCKER
Wes Tucker & the Skillets are one of the finer area roots-folk-rock bands. Whether you see Wes Tucker solo on acoustic guitar, or the full band with their rich Americana arrangements, you will sure to be moved. The band is playing at the Iota this Saturday night, Novermber 17th in celebration of the release of his latest record, "Afterlens". I was happy to talk with Wes Tucker as he prepares for this show.
We began by chatting about my recovering cat, Tam Lin, whose hospital stay forced us to reschedule this interview and do this shorter version via phone in the afternoon of November 12th.
David Hintz - First of all, you have a big show coming up to celebrate your latest CD release
Wes Tucker - It is this Saturday, November 17th, at Iota (in Clarendon).
DH - Yes, I've seen you play at Iota before, so you must enjoy playing at that club?
WT - Yeah, it is great. They have been good to us over the years. It is a good vibe in there and good sound usually.
DH - I enjoy it there, although I don't go enough, because I'm lazy and tend to go more to the clubs I can walk to.
WT - Yeah, I hear you.
DH - So have you always been in this area or did you grow up elsewhere?
WT - I grew up in North Carolina. I have been here in DC for nine years now... Alexandria.
DH - Did you get started musically in North Carolina?
WT - Yeah, I started playing open mics and stuff right out of college in Raleigh and put together my first band and we had time to play one show and I moved up here. (laughs)
DH - And did any of the band join you up there or did it just break up?
WT - No, the guys here are all local to DC.
DH - What got you started musically as a kid? What really inspired you?
WT - I was fortunate enough to have parents that decent enough taste in music and they exposed me to a lot Motown early on and even Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, and Bob Dylan, and stuff like that. I was introduced to that early on which was helpful. Then I guess I picked up a guitar around 16 or so and was more about making up songs than learning a lot of covers.
DH - Ah, that is a question I always ask as I'm curious how that works, as you became a songwriter early on.
WT - Yeah, just kind of making things up--maybe too lazy to learn the covers (laughter)
DH - Could be a little of both. Good, now you will play solo or with a band, about what percentage and how does that work in getting shows?
WT- Yeah, it goes back and forth. Here lately, it has been about 50/50. The guys in the band may be too busy or have other stuff going on, so I'll pick up a lot of solo shows then.
DH - Is there anything in the songs you write where you'll say that this will only work in a band or solo?
WT - There is, although hopefully they will stand up either way. But there are some songs that are the more rocking ones that will definitely work better with the band.
DH - Let me ask you about a pet peeve of mine, and although you might not want to complain too much about your audience, is it tough when you play solo at the more 'rock' clubs when the crowd noise is high?... since it is tough for me as a listener.
WT - Yeah it can be. That's often a problem, but here lately as (chuckles) I've gotten much older or less patient, I played an Iota show a couple months ago and actually stopped mid-song and asked everyone to be quiet and they actually did- be quiet. (laughter). I didn't expect that response, but it was the right sized audience. So that was nice, as I never really had the confidence to ask before.
DH - That's good. I remember once someone did that from the stage and he was trying to be overly polite about it, so I just turned around and yelled 'shut up' which others echoed.
WT - It's always, you know... people are excited, they get in there and are with their friends, so they just start talking, you know...
DH - Yeah, I try to bite my tongue some times, especially if I'm standing at the back or bar, because you can't expect everybody to be at rapt attention.
WT - Right, right. And I watched all my heroes do that before. I mean, Jeff Tweedy will stop mid-song and tell people to shut up, so I guess it's ok.
DH - I remember Teddy Thompson (at the Iota) becoming visibly upset and I wish he would have said more than he did, as people would have listened.
WT - And when people are quiet, it's great. When they focus on one thing, it is communal. That is one of the things that draws me to see live shows. When it works, it is beautiful.
DH - And it does happen, it is just hard to predict sometimes. You are right in that the live experience can be magic. In fact, how do you work in the studio? Is it more difficult to get that same level of enthusiasm that you would have at a good live show?
WT - Yes, this record is really important to me. The last one, before the live CD, we did that one piece by piece which is rather standard as we were all dispersed, you know, building the song that way. But I just feel like our live show with everyone going at the same time, there is a real energy that is tough to duplicate in the studio. So this time, we recorded at Cue Recordings in Falls Church and we tracked everything live. So we would do a couple takes, and we got every song in three or four takes. But we thought it was important to all do this together and go back and fix whatever we need to, later. It turned out pretty good.
DH - I like that approach and since it is a full working studio, I assume you had good separation and things like that.
WT - Yeah, Cue Recordings had like this little vault of a vocal booth so I was kind of looking down on the band, but it worked.
DH - Great, now have you done over 300 shows is it?
WT - Yeah, we've been going on, doing mostly local shows or in the Mid-Atlantic area. But we've been playing together since 2004 or 2005 or so. So we've racked up some shows over the years.
DH - Right, and has it been mostly weekend jaunts or has there been any full tours?
WT - No, we have not made the leap to full tours yet, as everybody has got day gigs, careers and stuff. We try to get out town when we can. We've been to Charlotte, North Carolina, and New York a couple of times, but usually brief jaunts. I think I may start playing some more solo shows out of town, as there is more flexibility.
DH - Yes, that would be great if you can get around, and partner with the some bands, acts, clubs, etc. And is it pretty much the same Skillets you have played with in recent years?
WT - Yeah, it is has been pretty much same guys through the whole run. Had I known we would still be together after all this time, I might have picked a different name, but it kinda stuck.
DH - (laughter) Yeah, that's funny how that kind of thing works. That even happened to the band Jethro Tull who has probably released 40 albums or more.
WT - Did they?
DH - Yeah, they changed them name every few shows, to get more gigs, and their manager came in and stuck them with the name they had last used and it wasn't really their favorite choice, but it was too late.
WT - Right, right.
DH - Things happen. Any other area plans after the upcoming Iota show?
WT - Well, that's the big one for right now, but I'll try to do some solo shows coming up. There's December 5th at Vermilion in Old Town.
DH - Great, keep me posted (breaking for the usual chatter about me being busy, money,etc.). So do your band members bring different style elements--rock, folk, etc. to the table?
WT - Yeah, we all kind of listen to different stuff. Our guitar player, Arch, plays like... he kind of came up in the 80's so he plays all kinds of stuff, rocking stuff, Crowded House band. He can quote you any Van Halen lick (laughs). And then Dave our drummer is a big fan of the Police. Brian listens to a lot of bluegrass and some jam bands as well. And then Mark is a big alt-country guy, like the Jayhawks. We kind of touch on everybody's genre.
DH - And it is fun for me the listener to try to put it all together, especially with your band, who shows signs that you have all played together for quite a while and have YOUR sound together.
WT - Cool.
WT - Oh, that's a great question...
DH - You can think about it a bit, it tends to be a little tricky off the top of your head.
WT - Ok, I'm a big film fan... Filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Tarantino, you know, the usual.
DH - Yes, the same good films I see.
WT - Yeah, the Coen Brothers...
DH - Oh, they are at the top of my list for the modern filmmakers. Have you ever tried composing a soundtrack?
WT - No I haven't. We have had a couple songs that have been used in trailers here and there. I love soundtracks and the marriage of music and film. For this one, so people can use the songs, we mastered instrumentals as well as the ones with vocals off this latest CD, so people can use the music with out any of the words getting in the way. That's the first time we've done that, so we'll see how it goes.
DH - Oh, interesting. Now you are releasing this album yourself?
WT - Yeah.
DH - What are the challenges of releasing music yourself, even with the positive of retaining control?
WT - Yeah, the positive is that it is easy to throw it up on the web making it available at Bandcamp or your own website, Itunes and all that. With the ease of that, though, it is a lot more crowded out there--even compared to when I was just starting out a couple years ago. You have to break through with so many choices of stuff to listen to.
DH - I do know.
WT (laughs) Yeah. You just try to make something that resonates with people so they will come back to you.
DH - And you have the merch table?
WT - Yeah, people will take CDs home. A few people still like physical records.
DH - Yes, even the small shows get a few people over there and even a few dollars helps with gas money and such.
WT - Yeah, and it is really the best way to do it. It is basically going door to door as a musician. I love playing for people, I mean you can post things to Facebook walls or harass people listen to it on the internet, but to get your guitar and get in front of people and play is something that resonates with folks.
DH - And your show at the Iota is with Drew Gibson who I know and enjoy very much.
WT - Yeah, I've known Drew for a long time. And also playing are the Reserves who have been around and playing locally for a while. They are good friends.
DH - Let's see if there is anything else...
WT - You have me thinking of where I find inspiration outside of music, and aside from film, I love stand-up comedy--any comedy, really. And I love documentaries with people talking about their craft, whatever it may be. Rory Scovel is my favorite and he is featured in a documentary episode of a series of films by Scot Moran. I'll send the link.
DH - Thank you, Wes, and good luck with the show. And here is episode five of a nine-part documentary series on stand-up comedians...