Your new record Spiritual
Thing is a little less straightforward rock and roll
and more organic than past efforts. What pushed you in
Well, the feeling I got
was that things had changed to the extent that rock wasnt
really working for me. And I had been sort of feeling
pretty good, I guessas opposed to the usual up and
downsand I think it reflects in the songs. I developed
a theory about songwriting that if you write songs that
have bad endings or are full of torment, etc., they tend
to come true, and if you write a positive song it's almost
like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I decided for my own
best interest that maybe I should write some really positive,
spirit-affirming, life-affirming songs for a change. Coupled
with that was the fact that I just felt like rock, for
me anyway, wasnt the direction I wanted to go in
at this point because its kind of been done to death.
I thought, "Lets turn it around 180 degrees and
go with the other side for awhile."
Was Neil Michael
Hagerty in tune with that as well?
Yeah, I think he welcomed
it in a sense. Its hard to read. Under the circumstances
I think it fit in well because we didnt have a lot
of time to record and this kind of music doesnt
sound too bad bare or stripped down. So it fit in with
the context, and as usual he was on task. It worked out
I feel like thats
a general movement in music right now. People are tired
of the massively produced and over the top sound that
seemed to be the theme of recent years.
Yeah, I mean it still is
if you have the money, I guess. I think I know what you
mean. Production has a lot to do with, at least for me,
whether I like a record or not. The record can have good
songs, but if it's overproduced and slick I'm going to
have a harder time getting to like it. Whereas if it has
this kind of nice, clean, not even necessarily big, but
just appropriate production, thats a hard thing
to get sometimes. Yeah, I think its a reaction against
all the kind of production and performance overkill in
the last decade or so, trying to see who can be noisiest,
who can be most abrasive. [I'm just trying] to get back
to what music can do in a healing way.
The two traditional
songs really worked into that theme, you trying to be
a little quieter
Yeah, the spirit of those
songs I think set the tone. The one being "Poor Wayfaring
Where did you
know that song from?
it from a Folkways anthology. The name of the singer was
Almeda Riddle. But it was a Folkways anthology I happened
to get at the library sort of boning up on this stuff,
and this song immediately hit me. Unlike some of the others,
this went right to my brain, and I thought I would like
to sing it because for some reason I can relate to it.
I was feeling alienated in the world, and instead of just
complaining about being alienated in the world it allows
you to say thoughts about going to a better place. It
gives you a good ending. And likewise with "Mole in the
Ground." Like I am just a mole in the ground but Im
going to root this mountain down. That keeps you humble
but it allows for a good resolution of things for you
as a person. I think it played into the other songs I
was writing at the timeyou know, stepping back and
really noticing how beautiful things can be, having the
right attitude, not dwelling on the bad things for once.
I really like
your cover of "Mole in the Ground," one of my favorite
songs on the Harry Smith anthology. It really works the
way youve treated it.
Yeah, I love his version,
the Bascom Lunsford version. It seemed to me its
such an empowering song, why not do a Zeppelin thing on
it, like "When the Levee Breaks"? When we do it live it
gets a little more out of control.
Did you consciously
make "Lord You Are the Wine" sound like T. Rex?
I was actually thinking
more along the lines of [Norman Greenbaum's] "Spirit in
the Sky." They are both from the same period, sort of
pre-glam. It wasnt so much T. Rex, but that combined
with the old kind of sing-along spiritual song. I remember
I originally wanted to do it a cappella but its
a little too long to do that, so it ended up evolving
into this kind of "Spirit in the Sky."
a catchy songlike "Spirit in the Sky" or T. Rex's,
where you just cant get it out of your head.
Yeah, its just a
nice long groove beat, and you can sing along to it. Its
meant to be that way. Its a nice timethat
period of music.
What musical sources
do you draw from? Do you have major influences that affect
what you do?
Yeah, I think so. In a
sense the way I play guitar always goes back to the Velvet
Underground because it is so primitive. I never wanted
to be a really accomplished guitar player. I think it
usually gets in the way of what I like in music, and they
were the ones who really laid it all out there. Those
sounds could have one chord if you want, and you dont
have to even do solos or crazy things. You can just bang
away if it is compelling enough. In a way the more primitive
the better. So thats the foundation there and everything
that came out of that, the Stooges and all that. But then
on the other side I grew up in a household where my older
brother would get Beatles albums when he was growing up,
when they were coming out, and he would be playing the
"White Album" or Revolver and I, as a kid four
or five years old, became convinced that the Beatles were
the only group in the world. I think that set the tone
for the pop end of things because they were the prototypes
for what I considered great pop music. I think it is between
those two, and everything just gets mixed in with a lot
of other peripheral stuff like John Lee Hooker and ethnic
music and jazz. But what it comes down to is somewhere
between those two poles.
The Beatles and
the Velvet Underground were at opposite commercial poles.
Does it ever bother you that you operate on a small, indie
Well, yeah, I would have
liked to have succeeded more, but frankly I am just shocked
that people still put my records out because I have never
sold that many. I'm really thankful there are labels out
there willing to do it, and if it stops I am not going
to kill myself. I think I have put out enough records,
but it's really nice that there are some people out there
who will buy them. Thats enough for me. I guess
the one thing that irks me, not so much Brother JTI
dont expect that to be popularbut with the
Original Sins [Terlesky's first band], I wish that had
had a better chance because that stuff was geared towards
being more popular.
Yeah, is that
stuff available on a label now?
Not really, no. Thats
another thing. I have been thinking about maybe putting
together some kind of anthology and trying to get it out
on some label. You know, there are a lot of groups that
do that these days, and there were ten albums and I think
a lot of the stuff is pretty good. I kind of wish I could
have it today.
with Neil Hagerty on these two Brother JT albums [their
first collaboration was Way To Go]. Do you have
a good working relationship with him?
Well, it seems to work.
If you were there, you wouldnt expect it because
we are two completely different people. But the thing
about it is, Neil will go against my instinct, not intentionally,
but because he thinks differently than I do. And to me,
that's the greatest kind of collaboration because I have
had my way with a lot of records and I think a lot of
times that maybe thats not my strong suit. Maybe
there should be somebody there saying, "No, I want to
do it this way." At the time I might be thinking, "I really
wish we could have done it this way." But then later after
letting it sink in and letting my own perspective go by
the wayside it works in a way that I would have never
done. And if that works with other people then thats
fine. But its a very fast process. We did this in
two daysrecorded and mixed it in two days. I
think for that it came out pretty good.