Thirsty interviews Legendary Shack Shakers front man Colonel JD Wilkes

By Sarah L. Myers

December 1, 2007

Stay Thirsty Media, Inc. - Current News


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Stay Thirsty: How is this new album, Swampblood, different than Pandelerium or Cockadoodledon’t?

Colonel JD Wilkes: It’s swampier, and bloodier. And we’ve got a couple more covers on there , and it’s … whereas I think Pandelerium had like 80 different ideas all crammed into one song the songs on this record are each like one idea. It’s like Eddie Angel of Los Straightjackets told me something that kind of stuck with me - it’s like, you know, back in the day a song was like one good idea, and you just played it. And that was that song. Whatever happened to that? Why does everything have to be this opus! Like there’s just, you know, catchy hook, good time signature and rhythm kind of groove thing and on to the next one, you know. It’s a simple record. I think it’s more palatable and accessible in a mainstream way. I don’t know if the mainstream’s ever gonna hear it, but it’s more of a classic rock n’ roll bluesy sound, it’s more accessible in sort of a jukebox way, you know.

Juxtapoz magazine features you in its December issue. How did that come about?

JD: There’s a fan at Thrasher magazine, we had this kind of feature in Thrasher, the skateboarding magazine, come out. It just so happens that Thrasher and Juxtapoz are kind of the same outfit from I think San Francisco or something. It just seemed to make sense. I was doing all the art work, and getting to be known as like a banner sideshow artist, which fits into the underground pop art thing that Juxtapoz covers, and, you know, he was a fan. So it’s all networking. It’s all who you know and who you blow, and money. And this was sort of a thing solidified through our publicist and through a fan who works at both of the magazines. All it is is getting in with the right folks that take a liking to you, for whatever reason. We stick out like a sore thumb and we either really alienate people or really turn them on. There’s no middle ground. The ones that really like us want to help promote us.

It’s almost like we save money in publicity just by the nature of the show being so over the top in itself, the word spreads naturally, without having to spend a dime. So if you do have some extra money to help publicize the band, that helps even more. That’s something I’m learning more and more. Like what if we had $10,000 to help publicize Swampblood, you know, get the front page of Myspace. I don’t really know what good that would do us. We don’t really fit easily into the emo thing, or the … I don’t know. We don’t really fit into any category. That’s why the audience was so eclectic tonight. They like David Lee’s tattoos, or they like Mark’s shithouse bass, or they like a certain song or the harmonica, or other aspects of the band someone might come out to see. We’re all over the map with who we are and what we do.

Do you feel like you are becoming more popular in the mainstream media?

JD: Yeah, I feel like we’re sort of maintaining. We’re sort of a staple on the scene that people can rely on. You know we never got a major label deal, so we couldn’t really coast on that momentum. We had to build our own momentum by creating the legend that’s in our name. We have to toot out own horn more. We have to work harder, tour harder, scream louder because we don’t have big bucks behind us. We just have a lot of road miles and blood and guts and sweat invested in this , that’s what drives us. That’s what makes us more authentic . That’s what gives us more credibility than some flash in the pan, you know, emo band that here today gone tomorrow . We plan to age with this thing as we go and it will morph into who knows what the next record, cause it’s a living, breathing thing, like the Constitution of the United States. It’s a living document. It’s alive!

Tell us about your movie, “Seven Signs”. It’s all done now?

JD: It’s done! We’re tweaking it. Post production begins, I think, this week, essentially. Music is being mastered. I really would like to do a soundtrack akin to like the Harry Smith anthology, because I think what we made is akin to, like, a John Coen movie or record or like a compilation of field recordings of not only old timers on dobroes and fiddles but young, new bands that are carrying on that authenticity apart from any fame or fortune that are doing it for the same reason the old timer does it in obscurity, you know. I think that spirit has been captured in the movie and I think it’d be great to have a soundtrack to go along with it. Not just to make money off of it because really we’ve spent more money.

That’s the thing. It was a labor of love from the get go and people, you know, it’s getting fewer and further between to find people who are into their heritage and are into their grandparents music and are into anything that predates Britney Spears or the last Happy Meal they had so that’s just the way the organism of the world or Earth is evolving or devolving. It’s a shame. But we’re in the last throes of that retrospective, compilation mode, that anthological mode. It’s like anthropology in a way. Before the world goes to hell completely we’re putting the camera on the last throes of authenticity before the mega churches, strip malls, the rest of all hell breaks loose and ruins everything and paves over everything. There’s a philosophy professor that does commentary throughout the movie, and is very learned and articulate about it and points out that there is a backlash to this devolution of culture that’s carried on by Scott Biram, the Pine Hill Haints, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, a lot of bands that you might know that carry that, not just that old timey torch, it doesn’t have to be old timey, it just has to be authentic and true and honest, and you can find that in other genres of music.

You know, as long as it holds true to something that’s timeless and honest. That backlash, hopefully, is comprised of people who are sorry to see the communal spirit go. But even among the backlash, I’m starting to notice, and I hate to say it, there’s a sort of elitism but in any kind of a cool club that’s looking for street cred, or in this case, “hillbilly cred,” they’re gonna divide amongst themselves in little cliques and outdo one another by being more old timey than the other person. It can’t be authentic unless the human being that’s creating it is coming from a pure place in his or her heart, and that’s getting harder and harder to find, I think. A good man is hard to find, as Flannery O’Connor said. It’s harder to find through the generations. It’s like the baby boom. Sociologists have described the baby boom as like a snake that ate an elephant. And so this huge mass of people who entered into this narrow system and is creating destruction from end to end as it passes through life. It’s not only destroying, and I hate to put it all on the baby boomers but the hippie mentality of a sort of hedonism begets hedonism begets nihilism begets consumerism, more and more ‘me me me’, self-centeredness, and it’s just snowballing, and snowballing, and snowballing. So really the people that care about things larger than themselves - a higher power, a higher sovereignty, gospel soul spirit, and the music that reflects that are pushed to the edges and are marginalized more and more. I think we’re putting the camera on that movement, and draw your own conclusions. I happen to be a pessimist about it. But we let the viewer decide for themselves what to make of this phenomenon.

It’s a dirty South. It’s a monstrous South. But I like to say the dirty South we focus on isn’t the Jerry Springer South. It’s not that dysfunctional South. It’s that dirty rice and Cajun cooking. It’s got stank on it. That’s what we’re looking at. It’s individuality. It’s personality. Even if it’s a little skewed, it’s better than being a mall rat, or being a brat, or being an emo kid who got all his marching orders and dress code right off MTV. You’re seeing all these clones just stamped out. We’re making the movie. It’s a valentine to individuality, a valentine to authenticity. It just happens to be set in the South, where the best music and art is made, in my opinion.



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