Tonight, Red Jacket Mine will have the pleasure of sharing the High Dive’s stage with none other than Oregon’s Americana titans Richmond Fontaine. SW caught up with RJM frontman to discuss his band’s approach for this record and how living in Seattle has kept the Southern U.S. native from singing about fried chicken.
From the first notes of Lovers Lookout, I was struck by the tone and sound of the record. It sounds like it was cut live and recorded on tape. Can you tell me about the recording process?
You nailed it. We bought four reels of two-inch tape – just enough for an album – and cut the record live in one room (Ballard’s Soundhouse Recording) over six days. (We spent a couple of extra days on string and background vocal overdubs later.) Our buddy Ken Stringfellow produced and played keys live with the band. We didn’t have enough tape to keep extra takes, so it simplified our decision-making process immensely. Ken was perfectly attuned to this (somewhat outdated) philosophy, and got the best out of us…we couldn’t have done it without him!
If I’m not mistaken, your band is named after a coal mine explosion that happened in Virginia in the 1800s. How did the name come about? It does have a hell of a poetic ring to it.
Very astute! I originally encountered the name through a song on a Folkways anthology (“The Red Jacket Mine Explosion” by the Phipps Family). I don’t have a personal connection to the place, but I thought the name was incredibly evocative. An iTunes review recently pointed out that ‘our music does not honor the miners or their legacy,’ but I guess you can’t please everyone!
Local violist freak Eyvind Kang has contributed to both Lovers Lookout and your previous record, Hello, Old Cloud. What’s it like, working with someone as insanely gifted as Eyvind?
Eyvind is a true original, and an absolute pleasure to work with. I originally met him through my friends in the Stares, and he’s played on both of our records. He’s so far beyond our level, it’s ridiculous, but he always brings enthusiasm and spontaneous brilliance to the proceedings.
There is a confidence that makes Lovers Lookout explode and shimmer in an organic, un-digitized way. It seems like your band is really working together as a unit now.
Thanks so much – that’s the highest compliment I could ask for. After making Hello, Old Cloud, which was very much a ‘studio’ creation – heavily layered and perhaps a bit too ornate for its own good, I realized that what I really respond to in records is the performance. (I’ll take Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night over Steely Dan’s Aja any day.) I wanted to make a record that reflected the chemistry we’d developed as a live unit, so we did all the work in our rehearsal room, striving to make the live arrangement as complete as possible – little or no overdubbing required. Everyone involved rose to the occasion, and I’m incredibly happy with how it turned out.
Listening to Lovers Lookout, it’s obvious it was made in the Northwest. But I also pick up traces of Southern pop, especially Big Star. Since I know you’re from Tennessee and now live in Seattle, how much effect do you think geography has influenced your music?
I was born in southeast Missouri, but spent some very formative teenage years in northwest Mississippi, near Memphis. I still feel a powerful connection to the place, and some (or most!) of my favorite music – Big Star, Al Green, Stax, back to the Sun stuff and country blues – was created there. Despite the fact that my wife and I have lived in Seattle for five years, I still identify as a Southerner, and I think that sensibility comes through in our music. Fortunately, we’ve got some Northwesterners in the band to keep me from writing exclusively about fried chicken.