Interview: Josh Fleming of Vandoliers

Photo by Anthony Nguyen
From Left to Right: Dustin “Midnight” Fleming, Travis “Mcfiddlesticks” Curry, Guyton “Dixieland” Sanders, Joshua “Fireball” Fleming, Mark “Crossroads” Moncrieff, Corey “Round Up” Graves     Photo by Anthony Nguyen
I’ll write it again, the best interviews are the ones that are more like conversation, dialogue back and forth. That is exactly the way the interview went with Josh Fleming of Vandoliers. Josh explains that that the name Vandoliers is a made up word. It was a made up word. Now it is a real word describing a dynamic band of great musicians. We talk about Vandolier’s new album, Forever, and even touch on depression and anxiety. It is a great read!
JF: Josh Fleming                                                          TL: TwangriLa

TL: I’m here with Josh Fleming of Vandoliers, not the Vandoliers. It’s Vandoliers; right?
JF: It all means the same thing.
TL: You guys have been together since 2015. You’ve been quite busy. You’ve got three albums in a four-year span. That’s pretty good output.
JF: It’s been really great. We’re very lucky. The first record allowed us to make another one and then the next one allowed us to make another one. It’s been a really cool experience.
TL: The domino effect. It’s a good thing.
JF: That it’s something I’m not used to. Usually it’s like biting tooth and nail to make a record, or it was before Vandoliers for me. It’s been really great. When I make a record and people like it, they want me to make another one. That’s cool.
TL: All of them are really good. I was just listening to “Forever” today on Bloodshot in preparation for the interview. You guys cover a lot of musical ground on this album.
JF: I feel like our first two records are definitely experimenting with where we could do and what we can do, being more inspired than inspiring. Whereas this time, we have the songs and we knew what we sounded like, that we had a sound so we just played with our strength on that realm this time around. It was—we just picked out the ones that sounded like Vandolier songs.
TL: I hear a little glam pop. Am I right about that or am I wrong?
JF: I’m a huge T. Rex fan if that’s what you’re talking about.
TL: I was thinking T. Rex actually.
JF: It’s in there. Lyrically and musically on our last record, “The Native,” “Juke Joint Lover,” is definitely my style of song. It’s a bluesy-ish type thing and kind of spit-fire weird lyrics.
TL: I can see that. Where did you record “Forever?”
JF: We recorded it in Memphis actually. I had never really travelled to go make a record or anything like that. The producer that we picked was Adam Hill. He’s made some records for Deer Tick and Low Cut Connie who we’re very good fans of.
TL: Both have great albums. They put out great albums in the last couple of years.
JF: Absolutely. Adam Hill was kind of a no-brainer and then he was in Memphis. We were like, “We can go to Memphis and make a good experience out of it.” We only wanted to record for seven days anywhere we were going to go. Might as well pick a place you would like being at. It was really fun to hang out with we kind of fell in love with that town. Great place.
TL: I was in Memphis last year. It’s a cool city.
JF: Yeah, it’s interesting. There are a lot of ghosts. There are things a hundred years old and all the families that have been here for a hundred years. It’s a really cool place. It’s the first place of rock and roll. It’s also a really interesting place to be. People are really sweet and the food’s amazing.
TL: The food is really good. Did you get to go to Gus’s Fried Chicken?
JF: We have Gus’s in Texas, so I kind of dodged chains and all that stuff.
TL: Gus’s is a chain? I didn’t know that.
JF: Yeah, in fact Gus’s is in Arkansas, we have a Gus’s in Fort Worth over here.
TL: Okay, I don’t blame you. If I had known—well, it’s not a chain for me, but I hear what you’re saying.
JF: One of my favorite places is a place called “Alex’s” bar. It’s a little tiny dive bar with a couple of jukeboxes in it, a pool table, and maybe a pinball machine. It’s owned by the Memphis Police. It’s open at four in the morning, and it’s B-Y-O-B. Man, the food there is so great. The chicken wings are amazing.
That’s a really cool place and there were a bunch of little dives that we found out because we made friends in the area. It’s really cool to go poke around and find those little lesser-known places.
TL: That’s what it’s all about.
On this album, do you have any favorite songs? They’re all pretty fresh and you feel really good about them all; right? (laughter). They’re all great.
JF: Thank you. I think the songs that really stick out to me, “Miles and Miles,” and “Troublemaker,” and “Cigarettes in the Rain”. They’re really strong songs and I think that they define the three places we can be, which is up tempo, mid tempo, and a slow ballad-style song. If I had to pick my favorite song to play and sing, I would say, “Fallen Again”.
“Sixteen Years” is kind of an anthem-style song, but it really hits about where I’ve been. I’ve been playing music for a long time and I’m only at this level, but I’m not really stopping at all. It’s kind of a battle cry for me and I love singing it. “Fallen Again” is a song that I had the chance to work with Rhett Miller on and I really love singing that song. It’s about mental health and the struggle I have with my anxiety and depression at times. It’s one of the things where I love the meaning of it and how it came out. All around, it’s just one of my favorite songs.
TL: I’ve struggled with that as well, depression and anxiety.
JF: Well, you’re in the art community, buddy (laughter). I don’t know if you can be in the artistic community at all and not have those symptoms.
TL: I think you’re right.
JF: Does it fuel you or does it hinder you? I don’t know. Most of the time no, but mental health is really complicated.
TL: It is, but it’s so important. I think finally as a society we’re starting to put a little more importance on it that we did even like 10 or 20 years ago.
JF: Even five years ago.
TL: Yes, five. You’re right actually.
JF: It’s good to talk and really open up about it.
TL: I think you’re right. The more we talk about it, the less stigma there is and there shouldn’t be a stigma to it.
JF: It takes the power away from it too when you’re not constantly trying to hide it, trying to smile when you can’t smile. It’s been really great to work through that even just on a song.
TL: I really like “Cigarettes in the Rain” and “Tumbleweed.” I like them all, but those are the ones that I gravitated to.
JF: And you have to go all the way through the album to get to those (laugh).
TL: I listened to the whole thing twice.
JF: Thank you.
TL: It’s good, just a good album.
JF: “Tumbleweed” is a letter to my dad, or a letter from my dad to me. I really love that song too.
TL: Everything has a meaning. Every song you did has a pretty strong meaning for you.
JF: I wrote so many songs for this record that it had to come down to which ones are really important or what I love singing.
TL: That’s great. I see you mentioned Rhett Miller and I read that Rhett Miller is one of your mentors. I can’t think of a better mentor to have.
JF: Yes, he’s incredible.
TL: I was on one of The Outlaw Country Cruised and The Oldl 97’s were on that year and it was awesome.
JF: They’re incredible. They’re a good band. They’re really great people and they’re from our neighborhood, same culture, same influences and all that stuff, same friends type thing. It’s really great to have your influences before you. It’s been really cool.
TL: That’s good. That is fortunate.
You play over 100 shows a year and record an album almost every year. When do you find time for anything else?
JF: I guess in the 200 and some odd days that I’m off, I try to write every day. A lot of my stuff will never be heard or seen again after I decide I don’t want to show anybody. It takes the pressure off of writing, not constantly trying to write some radio hit because it doesn’t matter. Radio barely exists anyway. College radio is like the death rattle of radio. The pressure to write a hit isn’t there. That’s good because that allows art for the sake of art
I think with “Forever” I just had been writing since “The Native” came out. I had a lot of ideas and my trumpet player, Cory, had a lot of ideas and the band in general had been traveling and playing so much that, again, we knew who we were at this point. We weren’t experimenting with what exactly we were and what we sound like. I believe we found that sweet spot of who we are. That will grow and change over time, but for right now that’s the snapshot of what we sound like.
TL: You found your identity.
JF: Definitely. I don’t want to be strapped to it. Who knows what the next record will sound like.
TL: Right. It’s a moving target. Anyone that’s a successful musician with longevity—you have to experiment. You have to push the envelope, so it’s always going to be—you don’t want one album to sound just like the last album. That’s no fun.
JF: We had a lot of fun making it and had a lot of fun writing it. I had days when I didn’t know if we were going to make a record because we were between logos and images and agents and all that boring bit. There’s an element of doubt that I had to get past. A lot of these songs are talking about stuff like that and stories of the road, “Shoshone Rose” and “Miles and Miles” and stuff like that. It’s been a blessing to find out I have an audience of people that like the music that I like and that I write. I can’t really complain (laugh). Hopefully people will ask me to make another record and then I get the chance to make another record.
TL: I think so after this one. This is a good one.
JF: Thank you.
TL: You’re welcome. I see you guys are teaming up with Lucero for a bunch of shows. I couldn’t think of a better pairing actually.
JF: Yeah, it’s really great. They’re taking us out in October and doing the west coast and we get to go back to Montana. I love Montana.
TL: Yeah, beautiful. I’ve seen Lucero a bunch of times. They play for over two hours or longer. They put everything up on stage.
JF: I met Ben a long time ago when my punk band opened for Lucero on the spur of the moment. A show in San Angelo, Texas. I don’t know if he. remember, but he was really nice to me then and he didn’t have to be because I was really young. I think I just turned 21. But we talked about riding motorcycles and drank whiskey all night and I had a great time. Ever since then, I’ve been a really big fan of the band. I’m grateful that I have this to do now.
TL: They’re a great band and great guys too.
JF: Yeah, they are. I’m excited.
TL: I saw them one night in Baltimore and a fight broke out in the audience and Ben actually got everybody to calm down from the stage. Nobody got tossed out or anything. He was able to broker a peace deal. I thought that was pretty neat.
JF: Crowd control at it’s finest right there.
TL: Yeah, he said, “Come guys.” He reasoned with them. “You don’t want to do this.” And it worked.
JF: That’s awesome. Baltimore’s a tough town.
TL: You’re telling me.
JF: It’s a town of tough people is a better way of saying it.
TL: When I go to public places out of town, people say, “Be careful. It’s dangerous.” I’m like, “I live in Baltimore.”
JF: Right. It will be okay (laugh).
TL: In most cases, yes.  I read that you guys revitalized cowpunk. I didn’t know it went anywhere. I guess people don’t know cowpunk is what they call you because it’s kind of punk, kind of country.
JF: It has to be; doesn’t it?
TL: It sounds like rock and roll to me. It’s good rock and roll.
JF: It encompasses everything now. I don’t know. Whatever people need to call it to figure it out, why not do that? The main thing that I would love to do is just be a band that really 100 percent themselves, so I don’t feel like we’re stuck in a box. You read these things, but everybody calls us something different. People have put us with Collect a Tone, [inaudible 17:48], and all kinds of weird shit. Whatever people need to do to find the pattern that they need to understand what we’re doing, by god, we are that. I don’t mind the title of cowpunk. I don’t know if we’ve revitalized anything. To me it always looked like the retirement plan of being a punk rocker was to start a country band.
TL: It seems like that’s the natural progression.
JF: Just getting old and your body stops moving. A little more calm and the pogo turns into a square dance (laugh) and then you can play rock and roll for the rest of your life and no one says that you’re too good for it.
TL: Exactly.
JF: I love country music. I’m from Texas. I grew up listening to country music. I am a fan of the tradition.
TL: That’s great. You’re carrying the torch, so that’s good.
JF: I grew up playing punk music and I can’t really deny that. I thought half the fun of country music was being overly honest even to the point of making people uncomfortable. That’s kind of the part that I love and I love that they’re both rebellious styles of music. I’m very attuned to it. If we revitalized cowpunk, then right on (laugh). I just think we play really bad sometimes.
TL: We are all our own worst critics.
There are so many great bands from Texas from all kinds of genres. I think it’s probably the best music in the world.
JF: Yeah. I think it’s a place where a lot of cultures interact with each other, so it’s really hard to be pure bred anything; you know what I mean?
TL: Right. Too many influences.
JF: We have a lot of music here and there’s a lot of different cultures here. It all kind of mutates and amalgamates to the same force. It really has a sound of its own. That’s essentially why we sound the way that we sound. We’re just a product of our environment.
TL: What’s next for Vandoliers?
JF: To work as much as possible, write every day, maybe come up with some cool songs people will want us to play more. We’ll keep playing. People want us to make another record, we’ll make another record. Our destiny is great. I see everything going up right now.
TL: Definitely up.
JF: The self-deprecating nature in me wants to not adhere to that or not really make note of it, but really is incredible that people love our music. I’m grateful for it.
TL: Awesome and well-deserved. You guys really do make fantastic music and all your albums that I’ve heard are really good.
JF: Thank you so much.
TL: Where can people buy your music and your swag and find out where you’re going to be?
JF: Bloodshot Records. All over. Thankfully, we’re distributed everywhere. Even if you’re on the website for Target, I think you can buy a record, which is weird. We’re on Spotify. If you spell the band name correctly, you can pretty much find us anywhere. We made up a word. It’s been really great. Hopefully, your record store. If it’s not at your record store, ask for it. Come out to a show. I’d love to see you.
TL: Come out east, I’ll look for you for sure and I’ll make sure that I promote it so that people know where you’re going to be and it’s well supported.
JF: We’re going to be out there in August. We’ll be there really soon.
TL: I’ll be looking for you and I’m sure your fans will turn out.
JF: Absolutely. Thanks for being interested enough to call me.
TL: Best of luck to you and the entire Vandolier family.
JF: Thank you so much.
Listen to  Forever
Buy Forever

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