By Mark Uricheck
[H]e may not have intended it this way, but drummer Ben “Bird Dog” Bussell had much to do with the direction of So Delicious, the upcoming album from Indiana’s own hillbilly-Delta mudstompers, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band.
Bussell, who will make his recorded debut with the band on the new album (Peyton and company’s first with the revived Yazoo/Shanachie imprint), turned out to be essential to the sound of So Delicious.
“There was really a great amount of work done beforehand,” Peyton said. “Really thinking about the percussion, you know, what the drums and the washboard were going to do.”
Along with the newly incorporated performances by Bussell (who filled the seat left vacant by Aaron Persinger), Peyton stressed the importance of the contributions from his wife, Breezy, the band’s resident washboard wizard—which, if you know anything of this band’s dustbowl-punch attack, is indeed a not-so-secret weapon integral to their clack ‘n’ burn sonic palette.
“What we did with a lot of the songs, is, we said, ‘Man, let’s just cut the drums in half. Let’s pull ’em back, then we’ll add more,” Peyton said. “Let’s start with way less and we’ll go from there.”
Of course, in addition to the drums and the washboard, there is also Peyton’s much-heralded guitar playing, of which he said he was “after something a little different” on this new album—his mad scientist’s mix of Nationals and resonators are the stuff of any would-be collector’s dream.
All in all, coming off a career highlight in 2012’s Between the Ditches (the band’s highest charting release), So Delicious is yet another album upon which Peyton can hang his hat.
“I think it worked,” Peyton offered matter-of-factly. “The approach definitely made the songs feel even more developed than they were on Between the Ditches—and I think that Between the Ditches was our best record up until this point.”
“When I was younger, I didn’t think about it much,” Peyton said of his songwriting. “There were so many one-chord songs. The older I get, the more I’m thinking about it, but I try not to overthink it, either. For the most part, what I’m trying to do is please myself. I want a song that I’m proud of, isn’t trying to rip off anybody else, is trying to say what I want it to say—and I also want it to be timeless.”
If tracks like the machine gun rock ‘n’ roll of “Let’s Jump a Train,” or the jubilant campfire tent revival of “Music and Friends” are any indication, Peyton and band can check off that “timeless” box. Cuts like these are simple in their themes of youthful impulse and souls bonding over the good times while they successfully grab that golden heartstring that dangles from each and every one of us and yet can’t always be pulled. Peyton tugs at that string for all it’s worth with a mix of humor, light-touch sentimentality and rugged Americana.
“People get caught up in what’s happening now, or who’s using what type of microphone to get this sound or that sound,” Peyton said of the many artists that worry more about the flavors of the day than capturing what’s essential to their own expression. “I figure out what I think is cool. For the most part right now, that’s using older technology, but thinking about the side of it that people are going to be listening on a wider array of devices than ever before, from hi-fi stereos to vinyl to iPod speakers.”
In addition to its fundamental sound, the drive of the new record owes no small debt to Peyton’s unique style of picking. His unique finger attack is all over songs like the aforementioned “Let’s Jump a Train,” and it’s a style that Peyton’s worked on particularly hard, yet it’s never fully received its recorded due until fairly recently.
“I’ve played like this for years, but I didn’t put it on record, really, until Between the Ditches,” Peyton admitted. “The idea is that it’s straight-up, fingerstyle country-blues in a very strict sense: my thumb is playing the bass, my fingers are picking out melody, and it’s all happening live to tape.”
It’s a style that Peyton had always wanted to hear in the music he loved: “I’ve never really heard anybody play those kinds of leads, maybe something like you’d hear ZZ Top do or something you might expect to hear on a Creedence Clearwater Revival record, and play the bass at the same time. I think I’ve really kind of figured it out now.”
On the lyrical side, So Delicious also features a heavy helping of Peyton’s crisply tongue-in-cheek songwriting and sense of humor; something that he says he’s always wrestled with. Tracks like the Delta-slide barnburner “Raise a Little Hell” are prime examples of how Peyton manages to convey a decidedly intense sound without taking his songwriting too seriously.
“That’s a fine line I walk,” Peyton said. “People will say, ‘Oh, that’s silly,’ when I write a song with kind of a wink to it, because that’s my sense of humor. Sometimes it’s done even in a song that’s very serious. But, you try not to take yourself too seriously. I try to say things in a way that I think, ‘Would my granddad get what I’m saying?’ I don’t’ ever want to get too overly poetic or surreal—I like to say things that my granddad would go, ‘Yeah, that makes perfect sense.’”
Peyton admits that not every listener will appreciate the way he plays with words in his lyrics. He offers up “Raise a Little Hell” as the best example of this on the new record.
“That song is my sense of humor,” he said with a laugh. “It’s not a lot of hell, it’s not raise hell, it’s raise a little hell [laughs]. That comes from a time when we played this folk festival, and from our perspective, it was amazing. We sold out of our CD’s and merch in the tent, the signing line was a mile long—it was just so much fun. After the show, the people that were with the festival came up to us and they were like, ‘Yeah, some of the people at the festival, they weren’t sure about this show.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, it was great!’ They said, ‘Well, they thought you kind of raised too much hell [laughs].’ I said, ‘No, we don’t’ raise hell…well, maybe a little hell—GG Allin raises hell.’”
See below for an exclusive premiere of “Raise a Little Hell,” appearing on So Delicious, due out February 17 (pre-order here)
But beyond its humor, its fingerpicking or its percussion, So Delicious is notable for the stamp that will be placed upon it, that of the legendary Yazoo Records. Founded in the 1960s, the label came to prominence by reissuing the original work of legendary blues artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Rev. Gary Davis, Skip James and more. Because Yazoo had never been in the business of signing contemporary artists, it was a complete surprise to Peyton when the label’s name reared its head as the band searched for a new home prior to the completion of So Delicious.
“I never even necessarily knew that [signing with Yazoo/Shanachie] was an option,” Peyton said. “We were talking to a half-dozen or more labels on who was going to do this next record. Our record deal was up and we just kind of wanted to see what our options were and where the industry was at. We had great offers from some awesome labels, but the folks at Yazoo/Shanachie came to us. We were really blown away by their excitement and their commitment. I have been in love with that label since I was 12 or 13.
“Plus, with the music industry the way it is, everybody’s trying to figure it out…there are a million different ways you can do it now. There are so many big artists going the Kickstarter route; there are still some major label deals—some of those contracts look terrible. And, there are still a lot of great independent labels out there putting out cool stuff. For us, these were just the right people at the right time, and they’ve been nothing but supportive at every step—and that’s important to me. I need to feel like the artistic decisions are going to be supported.”
As much as Peyton has found a fitting home for So Delicious, he fully understands that he’s part of an industry in flux.
“Anybody tells you that they’ve got the music industry figured out right now is lying,” he said. “Nobody knows. The only thing you can do as an artist is try the best you can.”
Peyton’s resolve in the face of the freefall that is today’s music business is that much more admirable when you consider his band’s staunchly independent attitude towards touring, musical direction and all the little idiosyncrasies that come with life as a working musician.
“This life certainly isn’t for everybody,” Peyton said. “The way the business is now, you have to tour heavy, and you have to tour hard. That means a lot of travel, a lot of time on the road away from family. You have to surround yourself with people who understand that, and can handle that. Everybody from our crew on up really gets it now, and for me, that’s been one of the most inspiring things. I’ve been inspired more lately than I probably have ever been in my life—I’m really enjoying making music right now.”
During his performances, Peyton has been known to tell audiences that his band “plays real music, with real instruments, from human hands.” It’s this ethos of honest, roots-oriented craftsmanship that makes Peyton smile at the end of the day, and he hopes that, more than anything else, is what listeners will take away from So Delicious.
“I love it when people say, ‘Man, you’re the real deal,’” Peyton said. “There’s so much in the world that’s contrived and built in a record label laboratory, or trying to be something that it’s not. I just want to make music that’s for real, man. I want to connect with people—the songs are so personal. Someone once wrote that they almost attacked me because my songs are all about me and my family and stuff—they’ve got a point there [laughs]. There are great songwriters that can do this, but I always feel a little phony writing about other people. I don’t know what they’re thinking or going through. I do know how I feel—I pull from that.”
And, with Peyton’s music, you aren’t going to get a part-time feel from a “weekend warrior.” You’re going to get a little slice of his life in every note he plays.
“I devote every second to it—I just live for it,” Peyton said of his music. “I’m not even close to being burned out on it…I’m still in love with it.”