Interview by Harry Kaplan
I was incredibly fortunate to score an interview with the two founding members of the Blackfoot Gypsies, Matthew Paige (guitar and vocals) and Zach Murphy (drums). The name of their new album is To The Top and that is where these guys are headed. Their material and live performances are so good that their trajectory is only moving in one direction. In addition to incredible talent, all of the band members are incredibly humble, genuinely nice guys. It is easy to root for people like that. They talk about the new album, playing live, and many other interesting topics.
TL = TwangriLa MP = Matthew Paige ZM = Zach Murphy
TL: Congratulations on the new album, To The Top. It is fantastic.
MP & ZM: Thank you.
TL: So is the album title foreshadowing? Is that where you are headed?
MP: No. Yes and no, yes and no, but yes (laughter).
ZM: Yes in the long run, maybe not just yet. Eventually, we will get there.
TL: I think so. So this release is 15 songs. If this were the days of vinyl, that would be a double album. That is almost unheard of today.
MP: I guess so. We would have gone more, but we had to stop somewhere.
TL: Well that’s good, there is material for another album.
MP & ZM: Oh yeah, definitely! There is plenty more.
TL: So in four years, you went from a duo to a four piece band. You sound is very full for a four piece, how do you make such beautiful noise?
MP: We started off as a two piece so we were the only two making noise. So we were it for the sound, we played it all. Zach was essentially the bass player, he had all the low stuff. I had two amplifiers with some fuzz pedals to make it sound huge. So instead of pretending to fill the void, we went and filled the void. I guess we had to wait for the right people to come along and that didn’t happen for three years, but we learned a lot. We learned how to play together. Then we learned how to play less. There is just a different way.
ZM: It was almost hard to fill up the space, it got to be a little laborious.
MP: It’s like you are beating yourself.
ZM: The parts you would normally play in a band like we are now, you can’t play because you have to fill up the void.
MP: So all that cool, fun, middle stuff you don’t even get to do. But on the record you do. So instead of trying and failing at making the record, we just got closer to what we should sound like anyway.
TL: Well your album has the feel of a live album.
MP: Well we decided not to go for the totally live feel on purpose. We consciously decided to make it a studio album and take each song as a different piece of artwork.
TL: Let me clarify, it is clear it is a studio album. But there are not a lot of overdubs. It seems that you just played it through and that was the track. Which worked really well.
MP: We like to move fast and try not to overthink it. We just know we are doing our best.
ZM: Usually, the first take or two is the best anyway. When you get to take 21, I wouldn’t even know what sounds best anymore.
MP: I like the takes with some character and some mess ups. As opposed to the ones where you beat it to death and it is perfect. I am glad some people do that, but I like hearing stuff that is a little more real.
TL: I like a little sloppiness, for lack of a better term, with my music. I like to hear a few missteps every once in a while. We are human and not infallible.
MP: It’s not even that I like to hear mistakes, I just hate to hear perfect. It’s just boring shit.
TL: It doesn’t bother me if someone misses a note every once in a while. That’s relatable because we all make mistakes.
MP: In Charley Watts’ interviews he gets asked how did you come up with those fills and he says they were mistakes, I forgot the part (laughter).
ZM: That’s why I love drumming. Somehow I keep it together while he is fucking up (loud laughter).
TL: Take the Grateful Dead for instance. They used to miss the words to songs a lot or played a ton of bad notes.
ZM: They were an amoeba. They became one living, breathing entity. So there performance wasn’t about perfection and I liked that.
TL: Just seeing a band that plays the same rehearsed set night after night isn’t really fun for me.
MP & ZM: It is so boring.
MP: We already heard the record. Great job, now do something else (laughter).
TL: A live performance should be live, it should be spontaneous. It should have character, it should have energy.
MP: I don’t know if it should, or not, but I sure like it when it does.
TL: That leads really well into my next question, how would you describe the energy of the band?
MP: I think we are getting in a really good groove for marathon style. We are able to pull the trigger on a cosmic, sonic thing. We are really tuned it right now, collectively. We can feel it. During the European tour, that just made something else happen. We never had a chance to play five weeks in a row, every day, the same handful of songs. That was like dojo and ninja training. It was good before, but that just put it over the edge. People told us the change was like before and after. We didn’t notice it that much.
ZM: You never really notice yourself growing and learning.
MP: The energy right now is like this roll. It is pulsating and it is going.
TL: So you know when it is good? I am sure you can tell when you get off stage and you have a really good performance.
ZM: Oh yeah, we can tell when it is really good.
MP: And you can’t beat yourself up either if it was not great. Every day cannot be a good hair day. You just have to keep going. That’s one of the cool things about seeing live shows, sometimes it won’t be the best performance. Usually, your fans have an understanding, Maybe they think, OK, you are not feeling very good today (laughter). But you still try to give it 100% all the time.
TL: I have seen the Drive By Truckers numerous times and they play a loose, spontaneous show. Sometimes, the show is amazing and some nights, they miss the mark a little bit.
ZM: But they are going for it. They are giving their all every night. Like we are.
TL: They are taking risks. And sometimes when you take risks, you don’t achieve, but you will never reach that higher plane without taking some calculated risks.
MP: Jonathan Levine has a great story about the Grateful Dead and Phil Lesh saying we plugged in every night.
ZM: We never plugged in. Any night we never plugged in. What do you mean? Your amps were plugged in. We didn’t plug into the amp, we plugged into that cosmic web just above the stage. We plugged in together and lifted off. Sometimes we fell flat on our faces and sometimes we soared. The nights we soared, it was worth it for the nights we failed.
I like the adage either you win or you learn.
TL: I think you have to be open to that and really trust the other guys in the band. Also, if someone does something that you don’t particularly like or agree with musically, you have to let it roll.
MP: Yes, there is a lot of rolling involved (uproarious laughter).
TL: When I listen to your music, I hear blues, swamp rock, country, old time rock and roll. How do you describe your music?
ZM: All of that sounds right
TL: I think you are creating something new and unique when you put it all together.
MP: When you do anything, anytime you do something, it is new. And you can’t really reproduce something. You just be yourself as you are doing something that you like or love.
TL: Let’s talk about musical influences.
MP: The blues guys, the rock and roll guys like the Rolling Stones. The fucking Mothership. I have that guy tattooed in my mind.
ZM: Yeah, Mothership is great.
TL: I am not familiar with The Mothership.
ZM: They are from Dallas, Texas. They have their own thing going, like a heavier ZZ Top. It’s somewhere between Sabbath and Motorhead.
TL: I hear some Dylan in your work.
MP: We like Dylan a lot.
TL: The song Woman Woman on your album sounds like something from Dylan and The Band.
MP: Yeah Dylan (Whitlow) wrote that. (Mathew Paige points to Dylan Whitlow, the bass player)
TL: So is songwriting a collaborative effort?
MP: Most of them are me. Dylan wrote two songs I’m So Blue and Woman Woman.
TL: And that guy over there plays a mean harmonica (pointing to Ollie Dogg).
MP: Well, he is from Mississippi so it is kinda cheating.
TL: Where do you find all of that great vintage clothing you wear?
MP: Thrift stores, Goodwill mostly. I like the outlets where you can get clothing by the pound, 99 cents a pound. New stores are expensive and boring. You can’t get a crazy sweater vest that your fifth grade teacher threw out at Dillard’s.
TL: So what is that design on the drum kit. That leaf like structure?
ZM: They are maple leafs. We are big hockey fans. Go Preds! The Predators are still in it (laughter).
TL: It looks like The Capitals are about to get eliminated.
MP: That’s why I like playing games where there are no winners or losers. In music, you just keep going. Unless you think that Music Row saying no to you is losing, which is a lot of people in Nashville.
TL: Well as you know, the people on Music Row don’t always know what people want. Look at Margo Price. She was rejected numerous times by Nashville record labels and now she is getting the last laugh. Well you guys know the story. I think she might even have sung on one of your songs (Potatoes And Whiskey), if I am not mistaken.
MP: Yeah, I called her when we were recording. We were sharing each other’s songs that week and I thought of her to sing it with me. Less than a month after we recorded Potatoes And Whiskey, she announces that she signed with Third Man and it was crazy timing.
TL: She is the real deal and Nashville didn’t even pick up on it. They would rather record songs about drinking beer in the back of a pickup truck. That pop country doesn’t move me at all.
ZM: That’s because it has no soul.
TL: I respect people that write their own music. So Potatoes And Whiskey is an awesome song. Did you release that as a single? How does that even work now?
MP: You get a website like NPR, Esquire, or Paste to debut your song. Ours debuted on Rolling Stone Country which was really good.
TL: You guys are in Nashville and there is so much great music in Nashville, just under the surface.
MP: It is crazy how much good music there is in Nashville. Even in the kid’s DIY punk scene, there is so much going on.
TL: Did you all start out of the punk scene?
MP: Not really, but we adopt a lot of the same ideas that are held by punk. The whole DIY thing. Just play out and do it. We definitely adhere to that philosophy.
TL: I think a lot of the energy of punk and country is the same. There are a lot of similarities.
ZM: Yeah all these folks got older and realized they didn’t have the energy to perform like they used to.
TL: There is so much great country music out there today, it is just that the delivery systems changed and are controlled by a couple of corporations that try to control what we listen to.
MP: Thanks to the modern day, you don’t need the same routes as you did years ago. You can get support and make a life in music and tour without depending on the big labels.
TL: That is true, but I don’t think you can sell music anymore. I think you have to tour to make a living.
MP: If you want to stay at home, write a fucking book, but if you are going to play music go play it live. AND THAT’S WHAT I THINK!
ZM: It will come back around and they will figure out a way. Now, it is easier to connect with your fan base than ever before and you can sell directly to them without a major label.
TL: So another song off the album I absolutely love is Going To New Orleans. Matt, you wrote that one. How did you get that authentic New Orleans sound? You nailed it.
MP: My mom’s whole side of the family is from New Orleans so I picked it up. Zydecho and music like that is their version of country music. I really like it and it feels good to play. We got a whole bunch of drummers and horn players on that song.
TL: So what is next for The Blackfoot Gypsies, touring wise?
MP: We will be going back to Europe early next year. We just got a new booking agent so there is some transition from the old booking agent to the new. Nothing like five weeks of gigs every night in the US yet. It will happen, just not yet.
TL: You guys have already opened for some big acts. I guess you are ready to be the headliner.
ZM: It’s a mixture. If we could get on a tour where it makes sense to open, we will do that. If it makes sense for us to be a headliner, we will do that also. It is whatever gets us out there.
MP: I think the good gigs are going to start happening soon. Our new booking agent (Paradigm Talent Agency) has a really good track record.
TL: So where can people find your stuff and find out about happenings and tours?
TL: Thank you for your time and graciousness. I wish you guys much success in the future.