Thursday, March 12, 2015

Interview: Tough Old Bird - The Barn Sessions

Tough Old Bird, is a folk and blues duo formed in the small community of Fillmore, New York by songwriting brothers Matt and Nathan Corrigan their latest release, The Barn Sessions is a follow-up to their 2014 debut, Never To Return, and it was recorded live over the course of one afternoon in December 2014 in a barn in the small town of Hume NY
Authentic folk and blues is the game here and the brothers sound of old souls incarnate bring fresh ears and interpretation to our American musical heritage.
I had an awesome chat with these amazing young talents, Listen and or Download (free) while you read along below
From its formation in early 2013, Tough Old Bird rose quickly from open mic nights and campfire circles to opening and headlining gigs at bars, festivals and music clubs across New York State and beyond. Tough Old Bird’s debut album, entitled Never to Return, was released on April 29th 2014, and there may be more than a touch of irony to the record’s title – Tough Old Bird is here to stay.

The core of Tough Old Bird’s sound comes from Matt Corrigan’s intricate acoustic guitar work, and from the voice and nimble harmonica playing of Nathan Corrigan, who holds a degree in literature and brings a poetic sensibility to the duo’s lyrics. Accents of accordion and waves of electric guitar give Tough Old Bird a sound that is at once modern and ancient.

NC for (Nathan Corrigan) and MC for (Matt Corrigan)

Popa: Name of the band and how’d you came up with it?

NC: That’s something our dad used to say about our grandma - “She’s a tough old bird.” We always liked that phrase.

Popa: Who’s in the band?

MC: I’m Matt Corrigan. I play the guitar, sing some of our songs and dabble in accordion.

NC: Nathan Corrigan, I sing, play harmonica and pick up a guitar when Matt’s not looking.

Popa: What advantages/disadvantages of being siblings working together have?

NC: We pretty much know all each others tricks. Not sure if that’s an advantage or a disadvantage.

Popa: Where do you live and what’s great about it?

NC: We’re from Fillmore, a little town in Allegany County in western New York. It’s really in the middle of nowhere. There’s lots of room to run around, so you can pretty much walk off into the woods or go jump in the river whenever you want. Allegany County has some pretty dark, weird little corners too, so a lot of that atmosphere ends up in our songs.

MC: It's refreshing to be able to step out the back door into solitude from time to time.

Popa: Tell us about your latest release?

NC: We just released an EP called “The Barn Sessions,” which we recorded live this past winter and decided to give away for free to anybody that wants it. It’s got some new original songs on it, plus a couple of old traditional songs we’ve been playing live for a long time and really love, “I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground” and “St. James Infirmary.”

Popa: How did this project/release come about?

NC: We’ve been working on a lot of songs for our next full-length album, but we wanted to have something that people could listen to in the meantime, so we picked out a few songs that felt like they fit together and basically just hammered them out live one afternoon. Some friends of ours own Sea Leg Studios, which is this really cool little studio set up in a barn down near where we grew up, so they let us come in and helped us record it.

MC: It made sense to record it live because we are so comfortable in that dynamic. We both play better when we can see the other sitting across from us. I think all but one of the tracks on the EP were first takes.

Popa: What's one thing about you/band that very few people know?

NC: That we exist.

MC: We’re working on filling more people in on that one.

Popa: When did you start making music?

NC: Around five years ago, something like that. We started out playing open mics and that kind of thing. Actually we still play open mics. Open mics are great.

Popa: Who are some that have/had an influence on you?

NC: Oh man, lots of things. A lot of the old folk and blues singers like Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willie McTell, Doc Watson. We really love a lot of the newer artists that are in that same kind of tradition too like Gillian Welch, the Felice Brothers, Justin Townes Earle.

MC: There's an honesty and simplicity in older music that is something I strive for. I think the way that the tradition of folk and blues music fits in with American culture, history, and mythology is fascinating. I try to draw from that and combine it with personal, modern experience as much as possible.

Popa: What are some of the challenges, obstacles you've dealt with?

NC: Well, getting people interested and invested in your band and your music, that’s a tough thing when you’re starting out no matter what kind of band you are. It’s really gratifying to be able to see that start to happen though, even on a very small level. When we play a show and have even a single person come up to us afterward and tell us they really enjoyed it, that makes the whole thing worthwhile.

Popa: What was the first record you bought?

NC: This is a little embarrassing, but I was really into country music when I was a kid, so it was probably Clint Black or something like that. It was also definitely on cassette.

MC: I remember getting George Strait's "Carrying Your Love With Me" for my birthday when I was really little. I played it to death.

Popa: What was the last record you bought?

NC: “Josephine” by the Magnolia Electric Company. I just recently discovered Jason Molina’s music and I’ve just been devouring all of it I can get my hands on.

MC: We saw Jeremy Quentin of Small Houses live a couple weeks ago and I picked up his great new record "Still Talk; Second City." Before that I found Odetta's "Live At The Gate of Horn" at a local record shop.

Popa: If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?

NC: Tom Waits, and I don’t even know how to describe why. There's nothing I don't like about that guy.

MC: If Tom Waits wasn't available I'd settle for Dave Rawlings, he blows my mind on a daily basis.

Popa: Who are you listening to lately?

NC: James McMurtry just put out a new album that I’m really getting into. He’s got such a great way of creating characters and telling stories, it just pulls you right into their world.

MC: I've been listening to Iron & Wine's new collection of home recordings from the time of his first album. Also, I've been getting into a lot of Alan Lomax field recordings of prison work songs, gospel, and field hollers. Bessie Jones, The Georgia Sea Island Singers, people like that. There's an almost otherworldy power in some of that music that doesn't exist anywhere else.

Popa: Vinyl, CD or digital?

NC: I love vinyl, but I get that MP3s are convenient. They also make it a lot easier to get your music out to people, and I like that. As far as CDs go, I think we’ve gotten to a point where they're pretty pointless.

MC: I buy everything pretty exclusively on vinyl, though I'm still hoping for a comeback for Wax Cylinders. I also have a thing for spending hours at antique shops looking through stacks of 78s.

Popa: What films have had a lasting impact on you?

NC: Jurassic Park blew my tiny little mind when I was 5 years old. Shawshank Redemption is great every time I watch it. Also Disney’s Robin Hood, you know the one where Robin Hood is a fox and Roger Miller does the voice of the rooster who narrates it? It's so good. There are some great songs in that movie too.

MC: Lonesome Dove is probably the greatest thing ever put to film.

Popa: Purple or red?

NC: I can’t honestly say I have strong feelings for either.

MC: Brown.

Popa: Plaid or Stripes?

NC: I don’t think either of us  own a single shirt that isn’t plaid.

Popa: Whiskey or Beer?

NC: Beer.

MC: Whiskey.

Popa: Favorite road food?

NC: Breakfast at a diner the morning after a show is about as good as it gets. Diner breakfasts will be the death of me.

Popa: What's next on the horizon?

NC: We’ve got lots of shows coming up this summer. We’re playing in NYC for the first time, plus lots of other places in our native upstate New York. We’re heading out to Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia this summer too, none of which we’ve ever played before, so that’s exciting.

MC: We're both writing all the time, and I think we're writing the best stuff that we ever have. I'm excited for people to hear it.

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