The Wear n’ Tear of Tishamingo
In just a few years the Athens, Georgia-based Tishamingo have gone from being a totally unknown band to becoming recognized as being one of the promising "new" Southern rock bands. They original began playing in Florida before changing base to Athens, Georgia. Despite having released only two albums they show much promise and are rapidly developing into a top-class band.
Ironically, they took their name from the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou" There’s a scene where the three main characters meet up with a black musicians and he asks them if they are going to Tishomingo where people get paid to play music. They end up going and become a band and make a hit. With a slight change in the spelling these guys have formed a band and the momentum is building. The band is developing its own sound even as it encompasses the spirit of the Allman Brothers Band, Widespread Panic, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gov’t Mule and more. The band has just released its second album Wear n’ Tear that is even more polished and diverse than their first. There are 11 new originals and a spirited cover of Skynyrd’s "Poison Whiskey." The album was produced by David Barbe and mixed by John Keane. What follows is an interview with Jesse Franklin, one of the band’s two guitar players.
M.S. How long has Tishamingo been together?
J.F. Not quite four years. August of this year will be the fourth year. The bass player (Stephen Spivey) and I had played together for a long time. Cameron (Williams), the other guitar player/singer and Richard (Proctor) the drummer have been playing together in numerous bands. We all came from the same area in the south and we kind of knew who each other was. We had played together a little bit here and there but nothing serious. It was like a gathering of friends from a long time.
M.S. Since you have some measure of experience and exposure was it relatively easy getting gigs when you first started?
J.F. Oh no, not at first, it was tough when we first started. We threw together a couple of gigs and it was a little novelty because we had all played in different bands. When we first started we played two or three shows without a name or anything. What we decided to do when we decided we were going to be a band, the first August that we were together there were five Fridays in the month. What we did was we learned five different albums because we didn’t have much original material. In those five Fridays we learned and performed The Allman Brothers first record, Jimi Hendrix’s Axis Bold as Love, Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Derek and the Domininos. That drew a lot of press and it gave us a bank of 40 to 50 songs to get going with. We did have a few originals form the other bands we had been in. It kind of made an automatic band pretty quick as we were spending six to ten hours a day rehearsing for like 34 days.
It was pretty nuts. At the end of that month we had worked it so that we could all move to our farmhouse here in Athens, Georgia. We didn’t have a whole lot of gigs the first fall but we were working really hard doing two a day practices. Even after that we practiced a lot. We wrote most of that first album during this time. We channeled each other trying to make songs and that’s kind of how it started. At the end of that fall we were starting to getting some shows together, after that we began touring pretty hard and still are (around 200 shows a year).
M.S. How did you hook up with producer John Keane?
J.F. Well, John lives in Athens and we had some of his stuff that he recorded before like Widespread Panic, the Indigo Girls and REM. His reputation was pretty big here, so we just looked his number up in book and called him. He came out and listened to us play and then we went over and talked to him about things and it was a good math, so we ended up recording the first album with him. He also mixed the new one. But that’s how it happened. We had nothing to lose. We loved his really rootsy, natural sound that he got. A lot of producers have a sound. John kind of has a sound, but what we like about John was that everything he recorded even if was dance stuff that we don’t even enjoy, you could hear every instrument. You could always here everything that was going on. The thing we liked more than he sound was that he made people sound as good as they could.
M.S. How do approach recording in the studio, do you do the basics live and a few overdubs or is it all layered?
J.F. It’s kind of odd because for the first album we tried laying everything down live but it was just too raw for John’s taste and for our taste. So for the first album we did a lot more overdubbing than we did on the second album. This new album may sound touch more raw on the production end than our first album, because we are a little older band, our writing is better and our playing is better together this album is not that it’s more polished but it’s a strange mix. It might sound a little out of order to some people.
This time we tracked a lot of the stuff live as far as drums, bass and rhythm guitar tracks live whereas on the first album none of it was live. We got a good drum track and then we’d redo the guitars and then the bass on so on. We definitely wanted a finished product that sounded like it went down live.
M.S. How different would you say your live show is from the albums?
J.F. It’s a lot different from our first record but it is a lot closer to our second one. I enjoy music so much that making records is my favorite part. But for Cameron, the other guitar player the live show is his favorite part of making music. The live show is my second favorite thing and making records is Cameron’s second favorite thing. It’s not that we are on two different planes; it’s just a minute difference. Our first record was pretty different from the live show from the get go so that is why we tried to make a record this time that was a little closer to what we sound like live, meaning guitar tone wise. On the first record we used mostly John’s equipment, guitars, amps, drums but on this record we used all our own equipment.
M.S. Did you road test the material for the new album?
J.F. Kind of our way to do it is to write some songs, get out there and do it for a year and then there’s a couple that come in just before we go into the studio which are a little more fresh. Our tried and true way is write some songs and put them on the road and let grow and go through arrangement changes before we record them. Everyone in the band writes, which is nice. Everything we do is arranged by the band but some of the songs are co-written all together and Richard and Cameron have been a song writing partnership for a long time. I wrote songs on the first album on my own but on this one I co-wrote one with Richard so we are kind of starting to mix it up. The initial ideas are usually written by one or two people and then brought to the band for changes with arrangements.
M.S. What are your personal influences in regards to songwriting?
J.F. Personally, wow I don’t know. I’m scared to say. I have listened to such a broad range, from my classical and jazz training when I was growing up. Trying to narrow it down is tough. I try and not let anything stick out by itself if you know what I mean. Right now I’m listening to MOFRO, if that’s what I’m listening to I’ll make sure that what I’m writing doesn’t sound like that, but of course those things will seep into my writing, but I won’t write a song in that style. I try and keep it different.
M.S. You mentioned early that the band did those five different albums, are those indicative of your influences?
J.F. Absolutely, and the Eagles maybe, those first five bands as a whole.
M.S. Do you still do covers in your live shows?
J.F. We do, but we don’t do as many. It depends on the night. Some nights we’ll do 40% covers and some nights we’ll one cover in three shows. It depends on the night and it depends on the crowd and where we are. If we are going some place that doesn’t know much of our original music we’ll try hammer out the songs they may have heard and then do covers. The one thing we do with covers is that we do different ones, say if we are going to cover Hendrix which is a good example we wouldn’t do "Purple Haze," we’ll do "Castles Made of Sand." Any time we cover a band we try and do something that most people in the room wouldn’t even know was a cover. The older we get the bigger our own song list gets. When we go out on a three or four night run we try to repeat as few songs as possible. We need to keep it fresh with the audience so we do some covers because our original song list isn’t up to 200 yet.
M.S. Who would you say your major influences are as guitar players?
J.F. I would say, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Duane Allman, that’s probably the biggest two, then Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes of course. My first to guys were Vaughan and Hendrix then Duane Allman.
M.S. Have you been playing music for a long time?
J.F. Personally, I have. I started playing fiddle when I was two and a half. My father was a pianist, so he put me on piano and violin before I was three. I studied violin pretty intensely until I was about 9 and then I put it down studied piano. In fact, I still play a pretty good bit of piano. I played piano on this album although I didn’t play any on the first one. I played piano and organ on three cuts. I studied piano until I was about 13 or 14 and I picked up guitar. I just fell in love with it. I had never played rock and roll music before.
M.S. Does the band do any acoustic stuff?
J.F. We do, man. A few times a year we do either a gospel acoustic thing or a bluegrass thing. We have some pretty strong country and bluegrass roots. They may not come out in our studio music that much.
M.S. I can hear some of it on the first album.
J.F. Just a touch, and on this new record you might catch a little bit of it on "The legend of George Nelson." There is that side to us. I play lap steel and mandolin. We love acoustic music, but we are kind of trying to keep it separate, but it will probably be incorporated into our live show.
M.S. I used to like it when a band opened with an acoustic set and built to climax with the electric set. Crosby, Stills Nash and Young did that great as their album Four Way Street highlights.
J.F. Right, that’s a good idea. We may go that route. There are lots of ways to do live albums. We haven’t really decided how we are going to do it, but we are multi-tracking a lot of our live shows. It may be a compilation live thing or just all from one night.