INTERVIEW: Johnny Quaid on the birth of The Ravenna Colt, moving to Boise, ID, and driving 55!

Pictured above: Johnny Quaid strengthens his aura with his mystical shreds.

What started as a songwriting outlet for Johnny Quaid during his six year stint with My Morning Jacket, grew into something much greater. After amicably parting ways with his former band, Quaid put his full attention in The Ravenna Colt, which touches on Americana and folk tropes as filtered through an indie rock perspective. Part of Quaid’s narrative -the stories you read about him online- involves his time spent working as a carpenter and his subsequent move to Idaho. You can hear that in his music, which somehow conveys both an easy, working class vibe and a hushed rural tone all at the same time. There is plenty of dynamic and movement here, but nothing ever feels rushed or tense. You can catch The Ravenna Colt play tonight night at the Haymarket Whiskey with Tender Mercy. And check the bottom of the interview for tour dates and listen to his newest, which you can pick up here or here, Terminal Current below.



Never Nervous: When did you start playing music? Was it always guitar, or did you ever play anything different? What drew you to guitar?

Johnny Quaid: I actually started out on the violin when I was about 6 years old playing Suzuki method, which encourages children to play music by ear. I connected strongly with the instrument, and for a hyperactive kid, it was a way to channel my energy more constructively. As for what drew me to guitar? I picked it up when I was 12, it was really a coming of age, right of passage of a preteen
discovering the power of rock n roll. I would get chills, and still do, from great music. I wanted to create that sensation for myself and for others.

“I would get chills, and still do, from great music. I wanted to create that sensation for myself and for others.”

NN: What was your first band? How do you feel like you’ve progressed as a musician over the years? Do you feel like your evolution as a musician is relative to the band’s you’ve played in?

JQ: We were in eighth grade and could barely play our instruments. We really had no business even attempting to play together, we were so bad, but I think that’s the beauty of punk rock, you don’t have to be great, you don’t have to know what you are doing, you just need determination, you just do it. Yeah, I feel like I’ve matured as a musician, I feel more focused. I lean towards being a bit of a perfectionist, so I always feel things could have been done better, but I think that allows me to challenge myself musically.

NN: How did The Ravenna Colt get its start? How has it evolved over the years?

JQ: The Ravenna Colt is really a vehicle for my songwriting. It’s more of a collective than a traditional band. I like the freedom of working with lots of different musicians.

NN: What is the name The Ravenna Colt about? How did that come about? For that matter, how important is it for the name of the band or any other text (lyrics, etc.) to have an objective meaning?

JQ: I can vividly remember the story. I was traveling throughout the south working with a family from Iceland. We were giving horseback riding lessons and riding clinics. We had 10 horses that we traveled with. We were staying with a family in northern Florida and they had this old equestrian training book from the late 1800’s. I was reading through it, and there was a chapter in the book titled The Ravenna Colt. It was about a wild and untamable young horse from Ravenna, Ohio. There was something about not only the way the name looked written out, but the actual story itself was very fascinating and it stuck with me for years. I knew I had to use that at some point musically. For me it’s very important for my work to have objective meaning, but I like to leave room for interpretation as well.

NN: How would you describe your sound to someone that hasn’t heard you?

JQ: That is always a challenging question for any artist. Hmm … I like to say Outlaw Americana. I feel like I’m drawn and always have connected with the music of Kentucky and the south. While it doesn’t sound like bluegrass or southern rock, I think those elements are there. I try to make honest and soulful music.

“I feel like I’m drawn and always have connected with the music of Kentucky and the south. While it doesn’t sound like bluegrass or southern rock, I think those elements are there. I try to make honest and soulful music.”

NN: What should we expect going forward for The Ravenna Colt? Any new tours or albums?

JQ: Yes, tour dates are posted on the website and socials, more will be added. I’m starting to demo songs for the next album. I’ll keep you posted.

NN: What constitutes a good show and why? What can you tell us about your best show? What about your worst?

JQ: There are lots of moving parts regarding live shows. For myself it takes a series of things to fall into place to constitute a good show. The room, the acoustics, monitors, sound system, amps, guitars, the sound guy, the band, the crowd and most importantly the emotional well being of the band. If all of those things align, it can be magic, when none of those things happen, it can be hell. I have so many wonderful memories of MMJ shows. I don’t know if I could pick one, but it’s spiritual when you have a great show, when you’re performing at your best, and connect with the crowd, it’s amazing. One of the worst shows I’ve ever played, I was playing bass for a band for about a year.
We all knocked off work, drove to Chicago to play a late show in a punk dive bar. We literally performed for the sound guy. Loaded up and made it back home just in time for work the next day, ha.

“It’s spiritual when you have a great show, when you’re performing at your best, and connect with the crowd, it’s amazing.” 

NN: How was your tenure in My Morning Jacket? Do you still keep up with any of those folks? What lead to your departure?

JQ: My Morning Jacket is my family, literally. Jim is my cousin. He’s like a brother. I’ve known Patrick since we were kids, and Tom and I have played in bands together years before MMJ. We go way back. And it was love at first sight with Bo and Carl. They are fantastic musicians and great guys. So yeah, we keep in touch. I will catch up with them on the road and make a cameo from time to time. I just show up with a guitar and some bourbon and it’s like old times. As for my departure:
there’s not really a short answer, but I had just reached a crossroad, and I needed to live or die by my own sword, I needed to follow my own path. I’m not a good team player, I’m more of a drifter, a rebel, a loner Dottie! That was a “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” quote, sorry for that.

NN: I understand that you worked as a carpenter after leaving MMJ. What drew you to that particular profession? Why did you move to California? Is their more carpentry work there, or did you just need a change?

JQ: I still work as a carpenter when I’m not playing music. I have always loved using my hands, and building things. I had done this type of work before the band and even early on during it. It’s very
satisfying to build or create something. I moved to California to get a fresh perspective, start a new chapter, and I might have followed a girl out there as well ;).

NN: Relative to that, did or does carpentry have an impact on you as a musician?

JQ: Yes, it totally does. If I did nothing but music, I would go mad. I feel like doing both music and carpentry creates some kind of balance for me.

NN: Tell us about living in Boise, Idaho. Your bio says that you moved there. What’s that like and why did you move there?

JQ: Boise, Idaho is amazing. Of course Kentucky will always be my home and my entire extended family is there; I’ll always have a special bond with KY. Idaho is really a good fit for me. It’s the most remote major city in the lower 48. Its an outdoor adventure paradise. You can literally walk from the capitol, which is in the heart of downtown and be in absolute wilderness within a short hike.

“Kentucky will always be my home and my entire extended family is there; I’ll always have a special bond with KY.”

NN: Van Halen or Van Hagar? Don’t deny the “Right Now” video. And don’t forget Gary Cherone.

JQ: Great question, except that it’s a trick question. Diamond Dave all the way; he’s the reason for the season, the master of ceremony; he is the ultimate rock god front man. Having said that, there are
some amazing Van Hagar songs, I can’t deny that, I would even go on to say that Sammy’s voice has aged much better than Dave, but still it’s Dave all the way. Gary Cherone, I can honestly say I have never heard a GC VH song, maybe I should keep it that way, you tell me? Regardless of what anyone says or thinks. Van Halen is one of only a couple bands that has been able to successfully survive a new singer. AC/DC being the poster band for this. It says so much that people can have a Van Halen or Van Hagar conversation!

NN: Can you drive 55? Defend your answer.

JQ: I won’t drive 55; I’m more of a drive through the night kind of guy, avoid traffic and rush hour. I like to imagine Sammy as a 90-year-old man, unable to drive 55 when I hear that song.

NN: What non-musical things get your motor running? Have you baked, knitted, drank, or viewed anything awesome lately?

JQ: Don’t bake, don’t knit, too dangerous for me. I’ve been on an old fashioned kick as of late, with Four Roses being my go-to bourbon for this recipe. I just watched the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” and it was great. “Gimmie Shelter” is one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs. Mary Clayton, who sings on the song and was featured in the film, gave me chills. They played back her vocals without the music, and I have never heard anything so intense and passionate!

NN: Last but never least, what have you been listening to and why?

JQ: I’ve rediscovered Big Star for no particular reason. So good!

The Ravenna Colt On Tour:
In-store performances (solo)
7/17: Cincinnati, OH @ Shake-It Records

Venues (full band)
7/17: Cincinnati, OH @ The Drinkery
8/19: Boise, ID @ Alive After Five
8/26: Charlotte, NC @ Evening Muse