Sunday, December 4, 2016

Jay Garrigan and Eyebrows Interview

The Eyebrows: The Eyes Have It
by Daniel Coston

For twenty years, Jay Garrigan has been a part of Charlotte’s most popular bands. Violet Strange, Laburnum, Poprocket, Temperance League, Transmission Fields, and Garrigan. After recording two unreleased albums with Garrigan, Jay Garrigan has now returned with the Eyebrows. All of the hallmarks of Garrigan’s songwriting and vocals are on full display with this new band, but with a renewed sense of purpose, and fun.

Jay Garrigan checked in via email to talk about all things new, old, and well, all things Jay and the Eyebrows.

Tangents Magazine: The Eyebrows! Discuss. How did this band come together?

Jay Garrigan: I wanted to do something different, something in the rock genre with a band that had several layers of voices, yet had an immediate and worldly feel that could move people’s feet and make them dance. Also, I’m singing differently - as in singing or just talking in lower registers and as for approach, trying different forms of consciousness and characterizations. I like three piece bands, but I wanted at least another instrument to explore textures and layers. So that was my aim, to find people crazy enough to make this band a priority and put up with me for several years to come.

Shawn Lynch, who will read later about, is the drummist. Yes, he's a drummist and not a drummer.

Jon Lock, also of the magnificent Bleeps, joined Shawn and I in my basement on bass about a year ago. He brings a real worldly feel to things as he’s internationally toured playing in Reggae/Ska punk bands, a type of music I’ve always enjoyed and Jon makes the low end legit. 

Molly Poe was the latest to join. We’ve had a few guitarists and such in the band, who were great, but Molly adds exactly what we need for keys and synth textures. She’s also new to the stage as this is her first band, but she’s not new to music as she’s classically trained and tour managed other bands. I appreciate a new person in the band because she makes us question a lot of the things we assume are universal truths. I always thought the best bands had 1-2 people who were learning and a few others who were experienced. This band fits that mold.

I think the more important thing about The Eyebrows is that we’re all friends. We don’t always see eye to eye, but there’s a mutual respect among us. As long as that exists, I think we will make an excellent rock band.

Tangents: You seem to be having more fun with this band.

Garrigan: I’m trying to focus on writing songs that have an odd retro dance vibe, and I think fun is an essential element of this type of creativity and music. I see bands like B52s, Talking Heads and Pylon having a lot of fun, and I’d like to carry on that sort of thing. 

We do still play some of my singer-songwriter muck, but I think that’s because I have a back catalog of these types of songs, and I still like to write a good mopey downer of a song. But, I’m trying to evolve away from that… habit.

And how can you not have fun playing your own songs? It's a dream come true, and I'm lucky to get to experience just that.

Tangents: Describe the new single that you just recorded, and the forthcoming album.

Garrigan: The other day I was listening to one of my favorite records, “Murmur” by REM, which was recorded by Mitch Easter here in Charlotte at the former Reflection studio, and mastered by Greg Calbi up at Sterling Sound in NYC. It kind of hit me just kind of funny, staring at this marvelous record cover, listening to the tones and thinking that The Eyebrows also worked with both of these legends on the upcoming single. It’s something that I always thought was out of reach, and I kick myself for not doing something like this sooner.

We recorded two songs, “It Comes Down Hard” and “The Sun”. We spent a few days recording with Mitch Easter and assistant John Pfiftner at Fidelatorium, and the 45/7” was mastered by Greg Calbi up at Sterling Sound in NYC. We actually recorded and mixed ten songs, which should all go on our full-length record once we can afford it. But, we gotta work to pay for the mastering and production, and that’s no easy task for a new band that doesn’t believe in crowdsourcing. We believe in working and partnerships with labels.

Tangents: How do you balance this group, and playing with Temperance League.

Garrigan: Personally, I like staying out of balance. It keeps me on my toes. I can find a center, or balance, for a brief period of time, but I always get bored and screw that all up. It’s either a blank canvas or total chaos for me… that’s how I roll. 

Sometimes it’s hard to fit everything in my head when both bands are playing during the week, plus I have a serious day job that leaves most people winded. With Temperance League, I’ve learned how to play a support role rather than a leading front man. It takes a certain comfort in yourself to play a support role, and honestly I struggle with that more than anything between the bands.

I also play in Amigo sometimes (usually studio work - see their latest EP where I play guitar and keys) and there’s a few other bands I side in from time to time. I try to do less one-offs unless it’s Amigo, because I love them so much. 

I’m most proud of The Eyebrows because these are my songs, and I have an awesome group of people who are following what I’m putting out there. There’s no greater honor really than to have pals who are willing to do that. The Eyebrows is something I believe in, even when things are hard or unclear. I’m OK with that too, because the ride along the way is sometimes more interesting than the destination. 

Tangents: Talk about the two albums that you recorded as Garrigan for Spectra Records, and how that project led to the Eyebrows?

Garrigan: I think I have to say something to the effect of, what I’m about to say here are my own opinions. I don’t like saying anything negative about anyone, but signing to a label for three years that never paid me a cent for record sales, streaming or publishing was disappointing. Perhaps I’m most disappointed in myself, because I really believed in what the label told me regarding film and T.V. placement, radio play and retail distribution. I totally believed they were going to deliver what they sold me and what I signed for. I treated it as a professional relationship, and I got thrown one cool live show, but unfortunately this scenario does fall into the songwriter held hostage category. I couldn’t release anything new, and the band didn’t understand why we weren’t making any money.  

The 2nd record with Garrigan, “Kiss This Broken Star”, never got published. The label dangled a carrot, saying they would put this record out if I signed for three more years. The band at that time was also having personnel challenges, and one lineup had such a bad show, it was probably the worst show of my entire career. I told our then bass player, “Just lay on the floor and play dead. It will sound much better.” I decided to take a break from perfomring live, and didn’t play a show for about a year until Temperance League invited me into their fold to play bass guitar. I never stoped writing songs though.

During this time, I was also suffering from chronic, painful corneal erosion, brought on by botched Lasik surgery, and I had an insane neighbor who is the subject of “It Comes Down Hard.” Sometimes The Eyebrows calls it “the angry neighbor song” which in retrospect, is a better title. So anyway, something had to go, as I was doing everything I could to keep my job with failing eyesight and dealing several times a day with a stalking psycho who had nothing better to do than make my life and my wife’s life miserable. 

On one hand, I think the band Garrigan sounded a bit forced (something I agree with Shawn Lynch on). We had a great opportunity and we tried to make the best of it. The songs were overwrought, overthought and perhaps over arranged. But, I’m proud of the work although I don’t play a lot of those songs anymore, and I don’t shed a tear or lose sleep over that batch of lost songs. I’ve moved on.

I started writing a song about you for this batch, that went something like... "Daniel is the man! He takes pictures of my band! And sometimes, he takes ones just of me..." Maybe it's best these songs never saw the light. :)

Tangents: Where do the songs come from? And do they come from different places than they did ten years ago? Twenty years ago?

Garrigan: Writing music is a way I deal with abuse and betrayal, enticement and excitability, mania and depression. It’s just where I always go, and music just happens for me, usually when I’m not in the conscious act of writing it. 

Writing songs helped me figure out my feelings, who I am, and often gave me something to feel good about when I had little to nothing else. I was often called an asshole for being creative and trying express yourself as a child. Maybe that’s why I’m such a dramatic performer, because the child in me is terrified. Maybe that’s also why I often feel confrontational when I’m performing. I’m not smiling because I’m dealing with a lot of conflicting feelings, and reliving those every time I get onstage.

Ten and twenty years ago, I wrote a lot of songs about relationships, which were fuel to my songwriting fires. I had a habit of growing toxic relationships, perhaps conditioned by my upbringing. I guess I had a lot to write about in a confessional type of way.

As for the newest batch of songs, I’ve been lyrically challenging myself to go outside of the relationship paradigm. Often I just make up stupid sounding shit. It’s a lot of fun to sing about Avocados and Cows, because life’s enough… love’s too much… but hell, Avocado is kind of a relationship song too. I guess you could say that I'm open to whatever I feel or hear, and have enough skills to capture what's going on in my head. I don't try to judge it. I just try to ride the wave and see where it goes, as the ride often surprises me.

Tangents: Talk about playing with Shawn Lynch. Going back to Poprocket, you’ve played with him now for over 15 years.

That’s 16 years starting in 2000 with Poprocket. He’s one of my best friends and vital to my musical expression. I get to be in two bands with him now, so I’m just very lucky to have a talented and kind friend like him. 

Although, people confuse us all the time, which perplexes me as we look nothing alike. It’s like when people confused Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear… it’s just weird. They just hang out a lot, like us I suppose.

Tangents: What does writing and playing music mean to you, 20-plus years into your career?

Garrigan: I wish I were better at writing music. I wish I could make a sustainable living with my songs. Throughout my songwriting career, I’ve always gotten one bit of feedback: “Your songs have something fresh and special, but I’m not sure what it is.” Maybe that’s the biggest compliment in itself that I don’t fit in anywhere. 

Also, it’s true what Hunter S. Thompson once said, “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.” Most of the people I’ve met in the music industry are either completely out of it, or are dead at 50/50% ratio. But, there are a few of us who have stuck it out, and they are some of my closest allies and friends. 

I’ve never really understood the business side of music. No one really does. I mean, I know how it works logistically, but I’m just not motivated by sales. Sometimes I think just creating enough songs for a release and having it on my hard drive is enough for me, as I have several of those. With The Eyebrows, I’d like to be a part of making it a minor commercial success. It’s a challenge because sales is something I’m very ill-suited for. And, it seems uncool to publicly say something like this, but it’s an Everest I’d like to climb at last once.

Tangents: You love playing the baritone guitar. What kind of songs work best with that guitar?

Garrigan: I like playing all kinds of different instruments as they get my head out of a traditional mode of expression. I fell in love with the Baritone guitar on first strum - it just had this beautiful tone in a key I have not used before (B for those keeping up). The guitar tends to weird bass players out, but Jon Lock saw it as an opportunity to bring in his homemade 3/4 bass guitar. I think playing different instruments in different ways is key to getting somewhere different, and The Eyebrows tries things like this for the sake of trying them, which makes me very happy.

Tangents: Are the Eyebrows a lover, or a fighter?

Garrigan: I’m not one to agree with black/white statements, but I think we love hard like a Jeff Buckley song, and fight hard like four people trying to figure it out together. And it’s getting better, all the time. We'd all fight to love, but we don't love to fight.

Randy Franklin Interview, Tangents Magazine, December 2016

 Tangents: When did you know that you wanted to be a musician?

Randy Franklin: Like most baby boomers, I was raised on the music of the Beatles and the music of the 1960’s. For Christmas of 1966, my brother Tommy got drums and I got a guitar. We wanted to be the next Beatles, or at least the Monkees. It was on from there.

Tangents: Describe your first concert(s), and your first band.

Franklin: My first gig ever was a duo performance with Ed Leitch, who I still perform with four decades later. We were 13 years old and played a local teen coffee house located in the basement of Myers Park Presbyterian Church, called “Maxwell’s Coffee House”. We played about a 20 minute set and it was a total thrill when the audience applauded. I was hooked on live performances from that point. It wasn’t until high school when I played in my first full rock band, The Providence Drive Band.

Tangents: How did Crisis originally come together?

Franklin: I played in a variety of bands until my first child was born in 1984. After that, I took 10 years off from the music scene to raise my two children. Although I was still writing and recording, I did not play out live at all during this time. When my kids were more of a self-sufficient age, I got the urge to start playing again. I was at a New Year’s Eve party around this time where a teen band was playing. When they took a break, I, Ed Leitch, and my brother Tommy jumped on their instruments and banged out a 30 minute set of classic rock. It was a big hit. We called ourselves “Midlife Crisis” as a joke, we didn’t think this would really last.  But we just kept playing, dropping the “Midlife”.

Tangents: How has Crisis changed over the past 20 years?

Franklin: Not much, really. We are the same nucleus; I am the primary songwriter, Ed “Wolf” Leitch on lead guitar, and my brother Tommy Franklin on drums. We have had three bass players over the past 20 years, Bobby Hodges (who got transferred out of state with his job) Henry Pharr (again, job responsibilities) and currently Mike Clark. All terrific musicians.

Tangents: You also now play with Randy Franklin and the Sardines. How did that come together, and how does that vary from Crisis?

Franklin: About three years ago my brother Tommy was promoted in his day job and needed to slow down the activities of Crisis. We had been hitting it pretty hard up to that point, touring and recording 6 albums over a 20 year span. I decided to use this break to record my first solo album. I had written a lot of songs that didn’t quite fit the Crisis sound. They represented a lot of genres, country, jazz, folk, and rock. I recorded the album “Bloodlines” with producers Jamie Hoover & Eric Lovell.

I needed a band to perform these songs live, so I recruited many old friends whom I had known for years. Rob Thorne (Spongetones) on drums, Paul Noble (Halifax) on lead guitar, Bobby Little (Marimoon) on bass, Pat Walters (Spongetones) on keys, and my musical partner Ed “Wolf” Leitch from Crisis on second lead guitar.
We started playing all the tracks from my album live, and then started adding deeper classic rock cuts that you don’t hear other bands perform.  With two lead guitar players, it was fun to select songs with dual harmony leads such as Allman Brothers or Eagles tunes. We have a lot of fun as a band and love to get the crowds up and dancing.
Crisis is primarily an “all originals” band, with fewer covers. The Sardines love 1970s classic rock!

Tangents: Describe your new song about the Double Door Inn.

Back in July I was scheduled to play at a benefit for local musician Jake Berger at the Double Door. I had just learned of the upcoming closing and was heartbroken. I knew I had to write something to perform at that show, so I just sat down with my acoustic and put my feelings down about how much I would miss it. When I played it live, the crowd went wild. I decided to record it right away and booked Boo English’s Knot Hole Studios. Crisis backed me on the recording and we brought Lenny Federal in for additional vocals and guitar. A real thrill for me, I’ve been a big fan of his for decades.

Tangents: Thoughts about the Double Door Inn. Not so much about the closing, but what the place has meant to you.

Franklin: I’ve always thought of the Double Door as Charlotte’s own Ryman Auditorium of Nashville fame. As a musician it was a place that you had to earn an invitation and the privilege to play there.  As a fan, I learned so much about stage presence and professionalism, as I watched my musical heroes over the years such as The Federal Bureau of Rock & Roll, The Spongetones, Cruis-O-Matic, Don Dixon, Joyous Perrin, Donna Duncan, and so many more. And the staff, they are like family to me. Playing that stage is like no other. I call it my “home field” and it is so true. It’s the most comfortable place in the world to me.

Tangents: What’s next for you?

Franklin: I’m five songs in to the follow up to “Bloodlines”. Once again it will be a multi-produced album, utilizing the studios of Boo English, Jamie Hoover and Eric Lovell. It will follow the same casserole style of multiple genres and influences.  I will continue to perform a lot of shows with The Sardines, and a few shows with Crisis when schedules permit.  I also will continue my charity work; I have a passion for helping others through music.

Tangents:  How often do you write songs? Quickly, slowly, or not fast enough?

Franklin: Most of my writing is not a sit down and write something process. Usually a phrase someone speaks, a story I’ve read, a melody in my head, these are things that start the process. I have found that my best songs usually come quick. The ones that I agonize over and constantly make changes usually don’t turn out as well. I’ve learned to trust my instincts; the first draft is usually the best one.

Tangents: Coolest gig you have ever done. Describe.

Franklin: Wow that’s a hard one, there have been so many. Playing alongside Don Dixon and Mitch Easter at the Spongetones tribute show would be a highlight. I would have to say I am most proud of my annual tribute shows for Crisis Assistance Ministry. For almost 10 years now (first Saturday of August) I have gathered bands to perform at the Evening Muse as we pay tribute to different iconic recording artists. We have raised a lot of money and awareness to help prevent homelessness in or community. It’s an issue I’m very passionate about.  

Tangents:  Finish this sentence. Randy Franklin is…

Franklin: A man who puts family first, while maintaining a passion for songwriting, music, and serving others in need. Not the coolest description, ha ha, but pretty much me in a nutshell.

Lee McCorkle Interview, Tangents Magazine, December 2016

Tangents: What made you want to be a musician?

Lee McCorkle: My father gave me an acoustic guitar when I was 5. My mom and I used to listen to beach music and 50's music in the car all the time the I was young. We were pretty poor in the early days, but we always had a record player and albums, so I spent a lot of time listening to music and thinking about the songwriting. Around the time of Billy Joel's SNL appearance for It's Still Rock and Roll to me....I knew I was in all the way and never going back. I played guitar and Ukulele early on, but i wasn't very good. It wasn't until I picked up the bass that I started singing. No one really was a singer in my younger days. I started working on songwriting. I would spend hours in my room listening to music that I liked (WDAV on Sundays comes to mind), and I couldn't really learn the songs so I would start to write my own tunes. I am really a product of the late 70's an dearly 80's New Wave. My music today has that influence. I love British music, especially from Manchester, and of course The Beatles. After reflecting on it a bit, New York and London had a cool vibe that I tapped into to early on in my life. Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, a little Jackson Brown, a little Cure and Smiths and The Cars.

Tangents: Describe the Charlotte music scene that you first came into, and the local scene now.

McCorkle: The music scene here has kinda come full circle. I was coming into the scene here around the Ronald Reagan days, when we all went to the Milestone and whatever club popped up at the time and would allow alternative music to flourish. Everyone was kinda finding their way, and corporate America didn't really give a shit about our generation. They were all about the money, we were all about the passion and experiences. I can't say Charlotte has ever really had a sound. Could be one of the reasons this town never really blew up like an Athens or Seattle. People here are kinda into sounding their own way. Now The Milestone and Snug are where underground music goes to flourish. We have the Double Door (which will be closing), and we have places like the Visulite Theatre which bring fantastic touring bands to town. I think we have grown as a city. We still don't have the numbers like we did in the late 80's and 90/s for original music. Local bands could draw hundreds and hundreds of people here back in the late 80's an d90's. I think we lost a lot of people to rave and electronic music. The Dj's were and are still musicians to me playing clubs, but the crowds changed quite a bit. I think now we have a lot of strong personalities in the music scene here. We are not as "chip on our shoulder" about the Triangle. Chuck and MoRisen and Penny Craver had a lot to do with that early on. This isn't really a music business city, but we have some great musicians and artists in this town. So, now that we have the election over with and we have a new President elect, it reminds me a lot of those early Reagan years. I can almost guarantee that the music and art in this town will be amazing during this ride.

                    Tangents: Tell me about the new album.

McCorkle: This is the first album by the full "classic" lineup (myself, Big Mike Mitschele, Grainger Gilbert, Gary Guthrie, and Justin Faircloth will be playing piano and synths) since 1999's "American Ghetto Pop Machine" album. We have played together in various forms over the years since, but mainly I have toured as Leisure either solo, or other incarnations. We were asked to get together to play Sir Edmond Halley's 20th anniversary party back in the summer since we had our first record release there in '97 for Nappy Superstar by owner Svend Deal. It was basically our HQ back in the day. We had a lot of fun practicing and playing the show, so I asked Big Mike if he would be interested in producing another LM band album. Everyone was into it right away. The name of the album is "5000 Light Years Beyond the Speed of Sound." There will be ten new songs. We went for a more emotive British pop feel this time around. Tracking drums and acoustic pianos and mixing at Old House with Chris Garges, and everything else is being done at Big Mike's Echo Hills studio. I will also be putting this album out on my new non-profit experimental label "NappyStar Chocolates."
I kinda sped things up a bit when I saw a chance to play one of the final shows at the Double Door. We are releasing the new album at that show 12/30/16, and everyone that buys a ticket will get a free copy of the album. I am also working with various people on cool packaging. Vinyl will be released in the spring, and there will be a few special releases to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the band in 2017. We will also be recording the Double Door show live with audio and video (the Johnson bros are handling the video) and we hope to release a live DVD in 2017 of that final show with interviews and extras.

Tangents: What else are you working on?

I am also currently working on this album, the new label, a new electronic project called "The Electronic Park" with Whitney Bridges (who played piano and vocals with the Leisure band circa American Ghetto). On this new album Mike Mitschele and I worked together a great deal as a team to write together for this album. We both have our own strong identities, and it just made sense to create the strongest songs and album we could this time. The production of the album will be wrapped in November.

I plan to re-release Nappy Superstar for the 20th anniversary in gold sparkle this time, release the DVD from Double Door, and release a "b-side" album of Leisure tunes with some extras.

Tangents: Contrast being a teacher with being a rock star.

McCorkle: I am an anthropologist. I didn't know all those years ago I would end up going to school and becoming a scholar/teacher/researcher but that is the way it played out. Really I was involved in anthropology from an early age by playing in bands. I was watching the people around me every time I went out. At first I tried to keep my academic life operate from my musical career. Then one day I just woke up and decided that they were basically who I am as a person. The great thing about having two careers or interests is that I can put one down when I get burned out. So, lately I have picked music up again full force. I can always do both. Both are anthropology (or perhaps ethnomusicology, ha). Belfast where I earned my PhD had an amazing ethnomusicology program.

Tangents: Tell me about your non-profit label.

McCorkle: I have been thinning about the present state of music an the future. I am currently working on an electronic project which I hope to introduce out into the world in 2017. We are not going to follow any of the corporate/commercial pathways if we can. We are going to think about songs differently than I have ever done before. I thought about people like Prince and Steve Jobs and Richard Branson and like minded futurists. What will music look like in the future? Is rock and roll dead as an art form? 

My new non-profit label will be called "NappyStar Chocolates.," and my entire vision is to transform music form commodity to experience. I realize that there will still be musical artists that want to win Grammys and be superstars etc., but this label will concentrate on bending genres, categories of what popular music can be moving forward. I am starting with my own new release, but I plan to try an help bands that don't really fit into mainstream models. I hope to approach it like someone who is promoting culture rather than a product. The high arts are able to earn grants and a lot of funding from external sources. I am hopeful that I will be able to apply for grants to push music that isn't considered "high art" in mainstream society. And not just musical artists, but also visual and spoke word artists. I am still really searching for a vocabulary for what I am trying to do, because I don't want to use corporate music's categories and narratives. I really want original music to thrive. I know first hand how difficult it is to be a musician trying to eek out a living in the modern world.

Amigo Interview, Tangents Magazine, December 2016

Tangents: You’ve got a new single out, on vinyl. How and where did you record it?

Slade Baird: We recorded with Mitch Easter at his Fidelitrium. It was our first time there. We went to him because Temperance League has been doing so much with him, so we thought, “Let’s go check this place out". We recorded on two-inch tape at the studio, and then mixed to tape, and then mastered it on analog to send to the lacquer pressing plant. We hadn’t planned on doing that, it just happened that day. These songs havrn’t touched digitial yet, why stop now? It was recorded practically live, with a few overdubs. It’s like you’re in the room with us.

As for the songs, it’s where we think we’re at with recording, and reflecting what we sound like now. We brought some friends to also play on the record. John Teer, Jay Garrigan. That’s kind in the spirit of the band, too. Along with the three of us, to also have other people on the album and make it a Rock & Roll record as much as possible.

Tangents: What’s the current plans for the new album? 

Baird: We did again with Mitch at the Fidelitorium. with Mitch behind the controls. We’ll mix it before Christmas, and have a release sometime in the new year. We just need to get the details worked out. 

Tangents: How would you describe the sound of Amigo?

Adam Phillips: There’s no agenda with us. There’s nobody saying, “Oh, we have to sound like this.” 

Baird: The way we play usually informs the songs as their being written. We bring our own set of influences, and that makes it sound the way it does. But its just Rock & Roll music, with a little bit of country music, and a little bit of punk rock. We listen to everything. 

Adam: That’s a good description of us, but for some people, that’s a completely unacceptable answer for people that want to classify something. I’ve had conversations with people where they try to describe how they think we sound. I think that we wear influences very plainly on our sleeve, but people want to describe it as something more than Rock & Roll.

Tangents: Do you hope that audiences also don’t separate out your songs as Rock songs, or Country songs, and just say, “That’s a Amigo song”?

Phillips: Yes. The goal is that they would leave a show with a song stuck in their head, and not this larger conversation about what song is what. How can you enjoy music, or anything, if you did that? 

Baird: I would rather that people like us as a band, rather than they think that we’re a sellable brand. We’re playing this for the love of music, rather than trying to anticipate what’s going to be pop music next.

Tangents: Was it a conscious decision to play as a three-piece when Amigo started, or was that just how it evolved?

Baird: How it evolved. It is way easier to get three people prctices scheduled, than it is a larger group. The sound of our records is more relfective of what we would like to do live, but logistically, we haven’t been able to do it.  We always wanted to be a touring band. We wanted to be an Independent American Rock & Roll msuic. We wanted the romance of every punk band since the 1980s. We’re going to go out and play every shitty club, all over the country, and play them all. How are you going to find a bigger audience? You have to go to them. Meet other bands, and play everywhere. 

Tangents: In some ways, is that mindset somewhat liberating? To find to way to fly at a certain level, and find a way to create the music that you want?

Phillips: Yes. Playing out of town and touring has always been our goal. It’s a bucket list item. Make a record, go on tour. 

Tangents: What recording do you think captures your live sound the band, so far?

Baird: I think that the single we just recorded at Mitch Easter’s is pretty close. The three of us was been playing together for two years. Lots of touring, and lots of times on the road together. And that tightnes, musically and otherwise, comes across on that single. I’m still like a kid in a candy store, in the studio. I’m still like, “Whoa!” But I’ve gotten better at vocalising what I think we should do. 

Tangents: What comes first? The music, or the lyrics?

Baird: It can go either way. A phrase can kind of kickstart it, but most of the time, it’s some chords, and you start humming a melody. It’s not always as easy as that, being a three-piece. Because we have less members, it’s like we have to work twice as hard to make it sound good. The life that the songs takes on is a result or working them out, and making sure that we can do everything we need to do. If we have a fully written song, it still takes a good amount of time to make it worthy of sharing with somebody. 

Tangents: When you come up with lyrics, do you already sound of the song in your head? Or does it just come out?

Baird: It really just comes out. Most of the time, if it isn't going to work out, it just gets cast aside. The songs are a reflection of who we are, and how we play. 

Tangents: Wildest, or weirdest Amigo gigs so far.

Baird: I wouldn’t say wildest gigs, but I would say that I really look forward to playing at the Thirsty Beaver. The place has a vibe about it that tells everyone that comes through the door, “Just be your ideal self at all times, and go nuts.” It’s like that you’re walking into a wild family reunion. 

Phillips: I would be remiss to not mention our CD release party at Snug Harbor. We had a sax player, a keyboard player, and a guitar player, and the place was packed. In terms of weird gigs, Anniston, Alabama was pretty weird. 

Baird: There were people at that show that were kind o fbounding off the walls, but conherent. It was also our last gig on the way home from SXSW, afer two weeks on the road. There was nobody there, and they made us play all three hours. 

Tangents: Hypothetical question: You walk into a bar, and you witness a sing-off between Gram Parsons and Jonathan Richman. Who wins, and who is going to win all of the girls that night?

Phillips: Having seen Jonathan Richman live now, I’m going to say that he wins the sing-off, and gets all the girls. 

Baird: It depends on the venue. If it’s on a college campus, than yeah, Jojo is gonna win. If it’s LA circa 1968, it’s Gram Parsons. He’s gets all of the women, the drugs, and everybody’s money.

Toleman Randall Interview, Tangents Magazine, December 2016

Tangents: What drew you into music?

Grant Funderburk:  I was around 12 or 13 when i got my first guitar,it was a Fender
Squire and ever since then i haven't been able to put it down for
long. There is just something about the instrument that draws me to
it. Its an obsession really. So i guess you could say the guitar
really drew me into music. But also from an early age i was exposed to
music by my parents and played trumpet in the band up though jr high.
I started a little band with my bud who lived down the street. We
practiced and jammed and really just made a lot of noise but you gotta
start somewhere. I also would say in high school at West Charlotte
there was an excellent jazz program  under the direction of MR.
Davenport who was the head band director there at that time  and I
learned a great deal about music from him and being in his class.

Tangents:  Describe the Charlotte music scene that you came into in the 90s, and the music scene now.

Funderburk: Charlotte’s music scene has grown and changed a lot over the years.
When we first started playing out places back in the late 90,s the
scene wasn't as big as it is now. There just wasn't that many places
to play. Venues come and go thats for sure, but also i think
Charlottes music scene is a little more diverse now and with social
media i think people can stay more connected and immersed in the local
music scene.

Tangents:  How did Toleman Randall come together?

Funderburk: Charlie Heard (drums) and I met and played in Raised by Wolves which
was a Charlotte band around 2006-2011. We became friends and when I
was looking to start a new project, I hit 'em up. At first we just kinda
experimented with some tunes i had written for about a year. We were
looking for a bass player and my friend John Licare  wasn't doing much
at the time so i grabbed him up. Kyle, our keyboardist also played in
RBW and we played together with Jon Lindsay, so i asked her to join us
and thats pretty much how we came together.

Tangents:  Do you write the songs, and present them to the band? Or does the band come up with the songs together?

Funderburk: I write the songs but the band helps to mold them and shape them. I
write a lot on the acoustic guitar so when i present a new song there
is always the skeleton of the song. The main melody will be there and
chord progression perhaps but i leave a lot of room for experimenting
with the band at practice. They play a big part in the finished
product for sure.

Tangents:  How would you describe the music of Toleman Randall?

Funderburk: I would describe our music as smooth. Like water skiing on a really
calm crisp morning.

Tangents:  How did the band’s debut come together?

Funderburk: Our EP came together about a year ago. It’s 5 songs, which had taken
shape over the past couple of years was a learning experience for
sure, the process from writing to recording.  We recorded it at Souix
Souix studios here in Charlotte and we are excited about getting back
in the studio very soon.

Tangents:  What are you working on now?

Funderburk:  We are looking to get in the studio this winter. We have new songs
that we have been playing live and also some that we haven't. I have
been writing a lot lately and we are looking forward to recording some
new material.

Tangents:  Do you see Toleman Randall as s band, or an outlet for the music that you’re writing?

Funderburk: Like I said, I do the primary song writing but the band definitely
has their creative influence on our songs. TR is also an outlet for
me personally, as well.

Tangents:  Favorite places in town to play. Describe.

9.We like playing at The Double Door. We also like playing Petras a
lot.  We have a show coming up on December 2nd at Hattie’s, we are
looking forward to. We like playing everywhere in Charlotte. We
don't ever play out of town.

Tangents:  Finish this sentence. Toleman Randall is…...

Funderburk: Toleman Randall is a band that will be around for a good long while.

Double Door Inn Article, Tangents Magazine, December 2016 Issue

An old house sits at 218 Charlottetowne Avenue, just across from Central Piedmont Community College. When the building that has housed the Double Door Inn was first built in 1911, those that built the house could not have imagined the life that the place would have. Originally built as a residence on a dirt road, several blocks from the hospital that dwarfed the neighborhood in those early days, the house went through many changes. As did the city that it looked out over. In time, it would be a home, a business, a clothing store. Its neighbors would first include Central High, then Charlotte College (now UNC-Charlotte), and later, Central Piedmont Community College. 

By 1973, the area around the home was changing. A series of small shops littered around the CPCC area. They included Cronosynclasticinfindibulum, one of Charlotte’s first headshops, which sat next to the house on what is now 218 Charlottetowne. After being a clothing store for some time, the house sat empty for some time, until two brothers saw it as a place to attract locals and college students.

Nick Karres and Matthew Karres opened the Double Door Inn on December 22nd, 1973. They had been looking to open a bar for some time. Their father was not thrilled with their sons’ idea, but he supported them financially, and took some of the first ever photos of the Double Door’s interior. The brothers named the venue for its double doored entrance, not realizing that a music venue in Chicago had the exact name. But music was not in the brothers’ plan in those early days. “The college bar you’ve been waiting for”, proclaimed their hand-drawn early ads. They hoped to draw college students, and folks from the nearby Stanleyville (now part of Elizabeth) neighborhood.

In the early 1970s, music venues in Charlotte were at a low ebb. Larger venues such as Phantasmagoria had been driven out of business, and only a few bars provided live music. Slowly, musicians came into the Double Door, asking for a place to play. Originally, Nick and Matthew set acoustic musicians in the game room area of the club. Over time, musicians help Nick and Matthew build a stage near the front of the venue. Just in time for the Dixie Dregs to show up, and throw the venue’s focus into another place.

According to who tells the story, a couple of regulars at the Double Door happen to offer a ride to two long-haired men that were hitchhiking from the airport. It turned out to be Steve Morse, and one other member of the Rock band Dixie Dregs, who were on their way to Reliable Music. When the musicians inquired as to where they should play in Charlotte, they replied, “The Double Door Inn.” The band promptly booked two nights at the Double Door, and to their credit, the Karres brothers pulled off a show on aa scale that they had never attempted before. At the end of the second night, Moore gave Nick Karres a list of 12 bands that he said needed a place to play between Washington and Atlanta. And until January 3rd of 2017, the Double Door Inn has never stopped.

The Double Door soon established itself as one of the few places for blues music, and music of many genres to play in the Southeast. Along with the national touring acts that were filling their calendar, the Karres brothers never forgot that they were a Charlotte music venue. When the Spongetones began to coalesce in 1980, they immediately made the Double Door their primary home. That would be same for the Belmont Playboys, Extraordinaires, Lou Ford, and a host of local bands through the 1980s and 1990s. 

The Double Door Inn also established itself as what Nick referred to as a “Turnkey venue”. A venue that acts could build up a fanbase, and come back to Charlotte in larger venues. When Stevie Ray Vaughn first played the venue in 1979, the venue was mostly empty. When we returned for his third snd final show there in 1982, the line was out the door. 

And oh yes, another artist showed up at the Double Door Inn that same year. Here is that often-told story, in a nutshell. Harmonica player Jerry Portnoy was friends with Eric Clapton. Portnoy and the Legendary Blues Band, made up of former members of Muddy Waters’ band, had done some recording with Clapton. Portnoy and Clapton agreed that in return for recording, Clapton would guest one night with the band, so that the band could use it in their promotion. 

Clapton was basing his summer US tour out of Charlotte in 1982. The Legendary Blues Band set up a show at the Double Door Inn. Everything was set, and Clapton did not show. Plans were then tentatively made to have Clapton guest with the band in Memphis that Thursday. Soon after, the venue in Memphis closed, and the band needed another venue on that night. They called Nick Karres. Nick agreed to have a local band that was booked for that night, featuring Bill Noonan and Dillard Richardson, play a first set, and then have the Legendary Blues Band play the second set, unannounced. Clapton showed up with his whole band in tow, and after watching the band play for some time, took to the stage for five songs, and an encore. How many people were actually there that night? It’s hard to say. Maybe we all were there, at least emotionally. 

Through 43 years, the Double Door has seen a lot of changes. When Nick Karres took over sole ownership in 1984. Through the changing music scene, and changing musicians. Over time, the venue became the second oldest blues music venue in the United States, and oldest on this side of the Mississippi River. The only one that is older is Antone’s, in Austin, TX, which has been renovated a number of times. About the only physical things that have changed over those 43 years is the removal of the old clothing store display on the second floor, and the bathrooms that were added in the ealy 1990s. But the peope, the music, the Dirty Floor- as it was sometimes known- remained.

I first went to the Double Door Inn in 1994. It was part of a Sunday night meeting of a local video and film group. I soon left the video group, but I started going regularly to the venue over the next two years. By the late 1990s, the Double Door started hosting an Americana Night on Tuesday nights, for the regional and national acts that were playing country, rock and folk music durign that time. THere was no other series like that in Charlotte back then. How many bands that I still listen to, work with, am friends with, still connected to, that I saw in that series? Thankfully, too many to count. A Tuesday night there also led you to shows on Friday and Saturday night. To the All-Stars on Monday night. One great show and night led to the next.

The shows I saw there? Levon Helm with the Barn Burners. Alejandro Escovedo with a string section. Leon Russell, with a set-up that was bigger than the Double Door stage. More Lou Ford shows that many of us can remember, for different reasons. David Childers, with a young Concord band called the Avett Brothers opening? Pinetop Perkins. Nappy Brown. Hubert Sumlin. Thankfully, my camera was with me for all these adventures. I never thought that I would be looking at these photos, and thinking, “I’m glad that I documented this while they, and the building was there.” It was life. My life, my friends’ lives. The Double Door was part of our collective life adventure.

Nick Karres introduced me to Debby Wallace, which whom I co-wrote the first edition of the Double Door book. She needed a photographer for an interview she was doing with Nick, and Nick called me from his office. Somehow, I happened to be home when Nick called, and then drove to the Double Door. Later that day, Debby said that she always wanted to write a book on the history of the Double Door, and I immediately told her that she should, and that I would help her. I wanted to see that story told, and in print. The fact that I was the one involved with the book was almost happenstance. I wanted to see happen, so I helped to bring it to fruition. When Debby passed away a month about publication, I became the person that carried the book’s story on. Through a second edition in 2014, and a third and final edition next year. Because the story deserves to be told, and I still believe in it. Whether the building is standing, or not. And regardless of my involvement with the book, I am like many that hold the venue in a special place in my heart. The story of the Double Door is story of many of us, all in love with the dream that the venue allowed us to have.

It is sad to see the Double Door go. There is no easier way to say it. It’s loss has been one of the few things over my 33 years in Charlotte that made me question why I am still living here. And when it goes, an era of Charlotte will go. Once again, this city talks abou preserving what little history we have left, and then we don’t. That being said, Nick Karres and the Double Door staff, many of whom have been with the venue for over 30 to 40 years, have given us the chance to go out with grace, and the chance to come to terms with the loss.

The documentation of life is often the attempt to capture, or speak to the experiences that we are having. With a pen, with a camera. With a thought, or a scribble on the upstairs green room wall. When it all is said and done, I’m glad that I was there, and I’m glad that so many of you were also there. And for those that never walked through the Double Door Inn, I will always say, I wish you had been.

Thank you, Nick, Thank you, Matt. Thank you, everyone.

Long live the Double Door Inn.

Black Lillies Photos, Charlotte, NC, December 1, 2016

Black Lillies
Visulite Theater
Charlotte, NC
December 4, 2016
All photos 2016 Daniel Coston

December 4, 2016