The Spotlight Shines on The Deep Dark Woods
I’ve heard people call you a modern-day version of The Band. Can you comment?
I think a lot of that comes from being huge fans of The Band. None of us try to copy The Band. I think it has to do with the fact that we like the same kind of music that The Band liked. I love everything from Sonny Boy Williamson to John Lee Hooker to Mississippi John Hurt to Dylan to Otis Redding and Percy Sledge. I think that has a lot to do with it. We just play our instruments the way we play it. The reason why we sound like that, is that we listen to all the same music.
The 2011 release The Place I Left Behind seemed to elevate you guys to a new level. Did you feel something special when you recorded it?
Absolutely. It all started with the Winter Hours album. That really got our name out in Canada. And then we put out the next album after that, The Place we Left Behind, and that one really got us known in the States and Europe. It’s pretty amazing. When we recorded it, we were in the studio every day for like two-and-a-half weeks, just constantly listening to it. At first, I was like ‘This is great.’ And by the end of it, I was like ‘Ooh, I don’t know about this record.’ And then I went back and listened to it about three weeks or a month later and thought it was really good. The sound of the album was what I wanted. It definitely caught the attention, especially in the United States.
How has the band changed since the addition of organ player Geoff Hilhorst in 2009?
My playing as well as everybody’s has gotten better since he’s joined the band. It was difficult for me to kind of go anywhere else besides playing rhythm guitar, so once Geoff got in, it just added a whole new rhythm to it. I was able to play less and find cooler things – always strumming and finger pick better and do more solos. He not only helps all of our playing but he he’s added a lot of ideas. He’s an amazing player – we got lucky getting him for sure.
How did you find him?
We actually found him in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. We were doing a festival up there. He was playing in another band and we were on the same bill as him. I saw him playing. I didn’t care much for the band he was in, but I saw him and was like, ‘Wow this guy is really amazing.’ I thought it would be awesome if he could join our band. I think a year or two later he joined us and quit all his other bands because he was in like four or five other bands. My dream was to always have piano and organ, but it’s almost impossible to find someone that can actually play the instrument and not just fiddle around with it. The kind of thing I wanted was that someone who was an organ and piano player, not a guy who plays the guitar better than the organ. Trying to find that is really difficult, especially coming from Saskatoon. Geoff knows how to bring a certain kind of tension to a song.
How have you and Chris developed such perfect harmonies?
We’ve known each other out of high school. Chris and I used to go on big long trips to together to see a bunch of bands like Phish and Neil Young. We love the bluegrass harmonies and we thought it would be neat to try to figure out a way to do that in rock n’ roll music. Chris has got the super-high voice like Ralph Stanley and I’ve got the lower voice. It’s nice to have somebody that can do those super-high harmonies and then Luke comes along and is able to put in the middle range there. I think it comes from knowing each other for a long time.
What have Lucas and Burke brought to the band?
Luke is a simple drummer and that’s exactly what I wanted. He knows how to lay down a beat with a bass player and that’s the hardest thing to do. And Burke, the guy loves Merle Travis and all that kind of stuff. I’m really into English folk rock, so to add that Merle Travis kind of guitar with the folky kind of songs has been a neat little mash-up.
You covered the Grateful Dead on the eve of Jerry Garcia’s 70th Birthday. What influence did he have on your career?
I’m a huge Grateful Dead fan, especially Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty and even Wake of the Flood. I love that record. And even the first album – it was the perfect pop album. That’s the first band that got me into country. I always thought country was George Strait. I remember the day I heard “Dire Wolf,”— I was like, ‘Holy crap.’ The pedal steel came in and I was kind of alarmed, ‘What’s that?’ They got me into country music. We’ve done “Peggy-O,” “Jack-a-Roe,” and “Rosa Lee McFall.” We’re all big fans of the Dead. And then I just love the jamming part of the music, not just the Dead, I love Neil Young jams and Bob Dylan jams. And that’s the thing I don’t understand about the whole jamband thing – isn’t everyone a jamband? Dylan was doing it years ago and Neil Young as well. Why aren’t they considered a jamband like the way the Allman Brothers are?
With so many songs in the Grateful Dead catalog, how did you narrow it down to “We Bid You Goodnight,” for the encore?
It’s the perfect song to close with and it was Jerry Garcia’s birthday. It was the perfect song to do really.
And finally, what are you looking forward to about performing at Austin City Limits?
I’m looking forward to Neil Young. It’s kind of hard to accept that you’re in all these festivals. You can’t really think about it all that much. It’s hard to think about. It was always my dream to play there because I grew up listening and watching the Austin City Limits show and going to Bonnaroo. So now it feels weird, we’re playing these festivals, but it’s pretty cool. I absolutely love the city of Austin. The barbecue is the best barbecue in the world.