The Gospel According to Bloodkin: An Interview with Danny Hutchens
C: Is there any special significance to the name Bloodkin aside from the family and brotherhood kind of imagery?
D: If there’s any significance, that’s it: family. Eric and I have known each other since we were 8 years old. I’m closer to him than I am to members of my real family in the sense that I’ve spent more time together with him. Really, coming up with a band name, we were writing a bunch of band names down and that one stuck. There wasn’t anything really deep or significant. We just liked the sound of it. At the time we decided upon that name, a lot of people hated it. They thought it sounded like a heavy metal band, and that’s always the case. Picking a band name is one name that describes your music, which cant be done. If you just stick with the name long enough people accept it.
C: Then the music will describe you.
C: Creeperweed, your second album, seems like its a little bit softer, focusing on the acoustic guitars and sounds like that. Did you have any goal in mind going into that and pick your songs accordingly, or did it just fall into place on its own?
D: That was the opposite of the first one, in that the first one was in a studio with a producer, but Creeperweed wasn’t originally intended to be a record. We were just doing demos. Todd Nance was playing drums on it and we went to a friends house, Doug Stanley and set up in his kitchen. He recorded it and it just took off. Even Todd said “That’s the best drum sound I’ve ever gotten.” We had two mics on his drums, and it took on a life of its own. Its really spontaneous and from the heart. Its all acoustic and acoustic-based. We used acoustic guitars, acoustic bass, Dobros, and drums. There isn’t an electric guitar on the whole thing. It was new songs, ones that had just been written at the time, just off the cuff. I kind of have a soft spot for that one. I really love that record. Its different. I think parts of it rock, but its all acoustic instruments, recorded with Doug Stanley. It was mixed by John Keane. He kind of made it “socially-acceptable,” with the mix.
C: You guys have definitely had a lot of guests work with you on all of your albums, Todd Nance just being one example. How does collaboration usually work with you?
D: Its not really too thought out or calculated. Friends of ours who happen to be good musicians will come play a certain show or sit in on the records. It makes it more fun. The more the merrier. Its usually just off the cuff. We don’t have long practices. Those guys you’re talking about that sit in with us are just good musicians. You don’t have to diagram anything. When you give them the basic idea or feel of a song, they’ll just tear it up. It makes it more fun having all those people helping us out.
C: How about projects aside from Bloodkin albums or shows?
D: When I met Jerry Joseph, I went out to Portland, Oregon. We sat down for a week and wrote 8 songs. That could have been a disaster. I had never met him before. That was back in 91. Once again, Capricorn was thinking about signing him, and they had this notion that we could write songs together. I went out there not having heard his music before. He hadn’t heard ours either. They flew me out there and we really hit it off and wrote some really good songs. Several of those have wound up on his records. You can never plan that stuff out. Even if somebody is a great musician, the chemistry might not work out. You never really know until you try.
C: How does it make you feel when you hear another band cover your songs, either Jerry or Widespread?
D: I love it. First of all, I really respect those people. They really do great versions of those songs, but also to me its about getting the songs out to people. It doesn’t have to be me playing the song. The more people that hear the song, the happier I am. Its just getting your ego out of the way, because the main thing I do is write songs. Hopefully after I’m gone, people are still going to be listening to them. However that happens is great with me. I’ve never had the experience of somebody that I really hate covering one of our songs. It can happen, you can cover anybody’s song if you want to.
C: Out of State Plates was a pretty strong album for you. “Never In Vain” really struck me as a powerful song for that album, especially after I read the full lyrics in your liner notes. Does that pretty much sum up your attitude towards live performance these days?
D: It does, because its about rock and roll bands like us playing little bars in different cities. Sometimes you show up and its a great crowd, other times you show up and nobody’s there. Until you hit a certain level of success, its somewhat erratic. To me, its still always an adventure and its always worth doing. You get things from it that are hard to explain. Its not like youre making a million dollars, but there are rewards that are hard for other people to see. Ill have people come up to me sometimes, basically asking me “Aren’t you miserable?” because were not on MTV or not selling a ton of records.
I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I’m happy. If I made a million dollars I would essentially keep doing the same thing I’m doing, it would just be a little easier or more convenient. I wouldn’t change what I do in my life. That’s what that song is kind of about.
C: So its the little things that keep you motivated from night to night?
D: Sure. You know, well play a show somewhere in a little town we’ve never played before and there maybe 50 people or less there. But sometimes that show can be great, because the people that are there are really into it. After the show, one person coming up and making a comment to me will make it worthwhile. Its like passing the torch along, because that’s how I felt when I went to see bands I was really into when I was growing up, going to see the bands I liked to hear. If you can affect one person in a positive way, that’s great.
C: Are there any singer-songwriters or bands who have inspired you when you were growing up?
D: Growing up, the big people for Eric and I were Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. Those were our heroes. When I got a little older, there was a time when I discovered the Replacements and Tom Waits at about the same time. They didn’t change my life, but they confirmed my life. Its like, “There are people out there thinking the same way” [as me]. The Replacements were the rock and roll band that I could most directly relate to. They were having fun, weren’t pretentious, and they were great. Tom Waits was like a poet who just found his way into music. Those are the ones that come to mind in particular.
C: You’ve had some lineup changes through the years and throughout your albums. You have Bill McKay playing on your last album. How do you think that’s shifted your sound in terms of where you were before and where you are now.
D: Well, over the years, it revolved around Eric and our songwriting partnership. We had different people who would play with us live or on the records. Chris Baroneau was the bass player for several years. In the summer of 99 was when we actually got this lineup together. It was Crumpy [Paul Edwards] on bass and Bentley [Rhodes] on drums. That’s when we actually started, in my mind, becoming a working live band. Before that it was almost like Eric and I were hiring people for certain projects. With this, now its like “that’s the band.” Bill McKay or various people sit in with us a lot, but that kind of shifts around from show to show.
C: You knew Crumpy for a while before he played with you, right?
D: Yeah, but he played with us off and on for years, at certain shows. He’s kind of an Athens institution. [laughs] He’s played with everybody. He’s a character and a great musician. But in 99, that’s when he officially joined the band. That’s the band. Its the first time when we’ve really had a situation like that when I feel like we couldn’t replace one of those guys. If somebody left the band at this point, I kind of feel like it would just be over. Wed go off and do something else. That’s Bloodkin, just the four of us.
C: What was your experience with the Phoenix Rising label? I know they had a hand in your last album, All Dolled Up.
D: Well, they have a series called Phoenix Presents. They put out live records of bands around the country that are at our level, more grassroots bands. We sent them a CD of a show we had played here at Smiths Olde Bar. Somebody in the crowd taped it and gave us a copy. It sounded pretty good, so one of our managers sent them that show. On the basis of that, they offered to do this record with us. They have a whole system set-up. There’s a guy named Sam Copper who records the shows. He came to Atlanta and hired a mobile sound truck. They brought that here and recorded a show we played here on September 1st. They do that with every release they do. Its mixed later and you can pick and choose which songs you want to put on there. Its pretty cool. They are doing a good thing.
C: Do you think it put more pressure on you knowing in advance that they were going to record one show for the album instead of picking 4 or 5 shows and choosing the highlights after the fact?
D: Yeah, it did. At the same time, its just like playing a live show. Even if its not being recorded, there is no second take. You only go through it one time. There was a deal with Phoenix, where we had to approve of the record. In other words, if we had hated what we had done that night, we would’ve recorded more shows. That’s just more money that has to be paid back through the sales. We were happy with that night, but you have to put it out of your mind and just play your live show like you would on any other night.
C: Have you spent any time listening to bootleg tapes of your other shows?
D: Sometimes. It depends on how it was recorded. Certain board tapes I just hate. Normally they are mixed for the room and when the same mix goes on the tape, it doesn’t work.
C: Crowd noise adds a little atmosphere, too.
D: It really does. On the live record, that’s a big part of it. A great crowd came out and really came through for us.
C: As you said, 1999 is the year that things really started to come together for you in a lot of ways. Then in April 2000, you had to deal with the tragedy of losing your friend and manager, Zac Weil. At that time, did you take a step back and reevaluate things? Did it affect your music psychologically?
D: It definitely wakes you up. It changes your perspective on everything. 2000 was a tough year overall. Zac died. A few other people we knew really well Allen Woody. The way I think about it is that you cant drop the ball when something like that happens. Zac was SO into Bloodkin, he believed in us so much that I know if we had just quit, he would’ve been pissed off. Its just a matter of being the only thing you can do: keep going. If you’re really into the music that way, its also healing. It gets you through things like that.
C: Lets talk about the new album you are finishing up right now. I hear you’re most satisfied with it.
D: I am personally. Hopefully that’s always the case. Hopefully you’re not going to make an album and feel like its not as good [as older ones.] Obviously I’m biased. I really am proud of it. It was a strange series of circumstances. A lot of the songs on this record are heavy stuff, lyrically. You know our manager Zac died halfway through making the record. The strangest thing about it is there were several songs we were already working on when he died that if you hear them now you would think they were written after he died because they deal with life and death. It sounds pompous, but they really do. Then that happened and some more songs came about. Its a collection of songs that really relate to each other. Its not a random collection of songs from through the years that the band happened to be playing well at the time. It was more like “OK, were doing this group of songs, lets figure out how to make it work. If we record one and it doesn’t quite happen, we do it again.”
C: Are they all newer songs?
D: Yes with the exception of one. There’s a song on there called “Jazz Funeral” that we’ve been playing for a while. Mostly they’re all brand new. There were a few older ones that seemed to fit in the whole feel. Its the second record we’ve done with David Barbe.
C: Was he a friend of the band before you worked with him?
D: Yeah, he’s one of the old school Athens musicians. We’ve known him for ages, but more as casual friends. He used to be in a band called Mercyland in Athens, and then in a band called Sugar with Bob Mold from Husker Du. He gradually got more into the producing side of the music business and was an apprentice to John Keane for years. Three or four years ago, David opened his own studio. We used to play at a little club called the High-Hat in Athens. They were trying to put out a live High-Hat album and David did that stuff. When he recorded us there, we really liked it. He seemed to understand what we were supposed to sound like. From there it just took off and we did the first record. It just kind of clicked. This is the first time we’ve done two records with the same producer. Doing the second one in a row with the same person is like having an extra member of the band.
C: Is it the familiarity?
D: Yes. He understands what microphones to use or how to get the best out of us, I think.
C: Did you have any special guests on this one?
D: We have the usual: William Tonks and John Neff, the Barbara Cue guys. We have Todd Nance doing some percussion. Several other people. David Barbe always plays on a lot of different songs, usually some little thing like backing vocals or percussion. We have Bill McKay on keyboards.
C: Todd’s almost an honorary member of the band at this point, huh?
D: Its like a superstition. He’s been on every album except the live one. He’s gotta be on there. On this one I think he’s just doing a shaker for a little percussion.
C: Do you have any thoughts about the future? Are you beyond the point of having concrete goals and plans? Are you just going with the flow at this point?
D: We always have goals were trying to achieve. For me and Eric, very early on we figured out we were gonna do this, even if we never made a penny. That’s not why we do it. Essentially, I wouldn’t change what I do, writing songs, recording them, and playing them live. If we made a lot of money, it would be easier because we wouldn’t have to hustle up the money and deal with all that. We all have different little ideas bubbling around. European tour is something we have been talking about. We could make that happen in a good way.
C: Tom Waits is pretty big in Europe.
D: A lot of American musicians have gone to Europe and been more successful initially. Some of the old jazz players and even people that I know like Moe Tucker who did a tour in Europe was so respected. Vic Chesnutt and Magnapop was another Athens-based band that got pretty successful in Europe. They are pretty receptive as American music as an art form. At the same time, they are also a little naïve about it. There was a place we played with Moe in Germany called the Jazzhaus. Moe played in Velvet Underground. I was her bass player on [her solo] tour. Anyway, at the Jazzhouse they had a picture of everyone who had played there on the wall. There was a picture of every American legend you could name. I would talk to people and Id talk to some college student after the show. It always amazed me at how knowledgeable they were about American music, everything from Robert Johnson to the New York Dolls. They were things that your average American college student wouldn’t know. Europe is a great place.
C: Do you ever experience writers block? Do you ever have a song halfway, then struggle to get it finished?
D: I’m really obsessive about recording everything. I always have a current work tape and a notebook. I just put everything down — any little piece of music or lyrics. When I have one of those periods when I’m not coming up with anything, that’s when I go back through my tapes and notebooks, sometimes pulling songs out of that. Sometimes a song comes all at once. Other times its in bits and pieces from other songs I was working on at the time. A verse might come from one thing, the chorus from another, the chords from another. That’s the great thing about working with Eric, too. When I feel like I’ve kinda run dry, I go see him. It goes in cycles, of course. Some times you’ve more productive than others.
C: What inspired you to write a song like, say “Privilege?”
D: Its an older one, even before our first record. It came in bits and pieces. The lines and verses had been around for ages. The lines came from a variety of sources. Eric came up with that basic riff to that song, that I still really love. Its one of my favorite guitar licks. We had to find some lyrics to go with this guitar riff. Basically, we had to go back to our notebook and find things that fit. One line came from one place, then another came from another. Its all over the place, putting lines together to fit that musical backdrop.
C: That song seems to have a good bit of Biblical allusion in it, right?
D: A lot of our lyrics do, but to me that’s hard to avoid, really. Even if you’re not conscious of it, its part of the language.
C: Even the first track of your new album has some similar themes
D: That’s called “Bookends.” Like I was saying earlier, if you go through all the lyrics to that song, its very much about life and death, just the idea of trying to wrestle with that concept. That song was happening before Zac died, and is a good example. If you hear it now you’d think, “Oh, that song came about because of that incident,” but it was already there. Things like Biblical references are hard to avoid whether you’re strictly religious or not. Its part of the poetic language. Even if you don’t believe it, its powerful poetry and symbolism. Its hard to avoid in everyday conversion. There are phrases people say everyday that stem from the Bible, if you want to get into that. In this culture that’s my language. I was brought up in that faith, which is like being brought up speaking English. I understand all the subtleties of that faith or that language. As opposed to if I grew up in France which doesn’t mean that the French language is wrong and I’m right. Its just my language and what I hear.