The Gospel According to Bloodkin: An Interview with Danny Hutchens
Danny Hutchens and Eric Carter have seen many roads since they left their home state of West Virginia and traveled south to fulfill their ultimate destiny as musicians and songwriting partners. More popularly known as Bloodkin, the two have written many hundreds of songs both for their own band and for their musical friends and acquaintances. They have been together since their youth, sticking to what they do best and shying away from anything short of earnest self-expression. Most recently things have started to come together for them and their most recent band configuration. Both Carter and Hutchens seem to have just as much creativity and spirit in 2001 as they did fifteen years ago when they settled in Athens, Georgia.
The casual music fan is probably aware of Bloodkin through the songs they’ve loaned to Widespread Panic. The proverbial blood brothers of Hutchens and Carter have recorded several Bloodkin songs such as “Makes Sense To Me” and “Henry Parsons Died” and perform several more live in concert. Those who know Bloodkin only through the interpretations of another band are missing out on some of the more deeply poetic and symbolic songs they have in their notebook. Its hard to typify a single Bloodkin song, but most tend to paint pictures of modern gothic, mixing virtue and vice to weave realistic tales tinged with a sense of ironic humor.
The band has endured a few lineup changes, worked with some of the most esteemed names in the music production business, and battled through personal adversity to arrive at where they are today. With four albums under their belt, Bloodkin is poised to release their fifth in the upcoming months. Tentatively titled, The Bloodkin Community Gospel Rehab, the album promises to build on the power of their previous work and present a serious of interrelated tunes that share a common theme. I had the chance to sit down with Danny Hutchens on two occasions and talk to him about some of the roots of his music, as well as the present work and future plans of Bloodkin. Excerpts from that interview follow.
C: Tell me a little bit about growing up with Eric Carter on Skull Run Road.
D: Well, Eric and I met each other when we were about 8 years old, living in West Virginia. Actually, Skull Run Road came a little later, in high school. That’s where he and his family lived, in Ravenswood. I lived 12 miles away in this other little town. That’s the place where we rehearsed. He had a neighbor who was in a band, a drummer. He had a little practice space in this garage-type building that he would let us use. That’s where we actually did our first “garage-band” practicing. We wrote a lot of songs there and it was the first place we actually played rock and roll together and made a lot of noise electric guitars and pounding on drums.
C: Do you think growing up in West Virginia influenced the sound of your music any, with the hill country and environment around there?
D: I’m sure it did in some way. I don’t know if I am even aware of exactly how. There’s certain music that’s like old-time music and Appalachian arts and crafts that you see there, that you don’t see a lot of other places. But that’s not exactly the kind of music I play, or we play. But I’m sure it seeped in some way. West Virginia is a weird place. Its sort of like a third-world country. Everywhere I go I meet people from West Virginia, because for so long its been economically messed-up. Like any professional person, you have to leave to get a job or you’ll get better pay somewhere else. That’s why we left. When we lived there, there was literally nowhere to play music – original music. If you were some cheesy, big-hair, heavy-metal cover band, you could get a gig. There was no place to play original music, so we had to leave.
C: When it comes to original music, I understand that you’ve written a grand total of 400 or 500 songs. Within the 4 albums you’ve recorded, you’ve covered maybe 40 or 50 of them. How about the other 350, where do they reside?
D: A lot of them are recorded, but just haven’t been released yet. That’s kind of how we started out. Eric and I have always called ourselves Bloodkin, meaning any music project that we do. For a long time, we didn’t play live that much. We weren’t on tour, we were just song-writing partners. We would record these songs at home or in a studio, so we have a lot of songs recorded that haven’t been released yet. The first thing that anybody heard from us was this thing called “Start From Scratch.” It was kind of a little homemade tape we did. A lot of the songs from that ended up on our first CD. “Cant Get High” and “Quarter Tank of Gasoline,” “Leave It Alone,” “Privilege,” and a lot of other songs that didn’t end up on any CDs. For such a long time it was the song-writing partnership, without any kind of notion of being a working band or career or anything like that.
C: For the ones when you’ve decided “yeah, this one will go good on the album,” what have been your criteria for picking one over another? Even in a live setting, playing some songs that aren’t on an album, do you have any rule of thumb you use when picking songs?
D: No specific rules, for us its always kind of come and go. We get in moods. For a while a song will just really be happening. Well play it live and then it gets tired and well have to give it a rest. As far as going on the records, it just depends on the specific records. On the first one we did with Johnny Sandlin, he pretty much picked the songs. That was like our first real studio experience. It was like going to school as Johnny Sandlins version of Bloodkin. He picked the songs that he liked. Some of them were older and some of them were newer. Then Creeperweed, [their 2nd album] for example, was all stuff that was new at the time. It had just been written that month. There’s no specific rule as to how that works.
C: How did you meet up with Johnny Sandlin?
D: We met up with him through the Panic guys, really. They were doing their first Capricorn record, “Moms Kitchen,” or whatever its called. He produced that. They recorded one of our songs on that album, “Makes Sense To Me.” He heard that and he liked it and got in touch with us. We developed a relationship and eventually wound up going into his studio and doing some demos. There were a few different projects. I did a thing there with Jerry Joseph because Capricorn at the time was thinking about signing him. We wrote a song together, and eventually wound up doing a record with Johnny. It all kind of came about through Capricorn initially. Then we never officially did anything with Capricorn. Through them and through Panic is how we met Johnny.
C: Were there any things you worked on in the studio, any techniques or lasting marks that you took with you that are still in effect today?
D: A lot of things. Like I said, that was truly like going to school. You cant buy that kind of education. He was making records back before there were overdubs. He was putting the singer in front and the loudest instrument in back and putting it all on one track of the tape. It was all about when the singer got the take, that was it. If the bass player fucked up, too bad. He’s been around forever. He’s great, really. I don’t know if its about techniques so much as it is about state of mind in the studio. Being honest, not being pretentious or thinking too much about what’s commercial. That’s what I got from him, essentially.
C: What was the very first song that you wrote?
D: “Wet Trombone Blues” is the first one in our catalog. It didn’t actually get on a record until the third one. Its the first one that Eric and I wrote. We had written a bunch before that, but they sucked. That is the first on that we still play. That was the first really good song that we wrote, so it stuck.
C: How did your travels take you all the way down to Athens, GA? I know you had a few stops on the way.
D: It was random. Eric and I were traveling around, playing music, looking for a place to settle in and put a band together. We didn’t plan on Athens, but we showed up there and just haven’t left in over 10 years. [laughs] Its just a really good place to play music and start a band in a lot of ways. Its a really supportive music community. There’s not a lot of backstabbing. Its a pretty cheap place to live, so you don’t have to have a lot of money.
C: Was it about that time that you were thinking you wanted to get out and play in front of people more?
D: It took us a while. It was actually 86 when we first wound up in Athens. That was the same year Panic started, technically. We were all friends. That was the first time we called ourselves Bloodkin. We played occasionally, but it was more like throwing a party. Mostly, we just worked on songs and recorded at home, passing the tapes around to our friends. It took a while after that before we started playing out consistently. 94 was our first CD, the one with Johnny Sandlin. We didn’t think about it in the terms of being a live band. We came more from the angle of being songwriters.