INTERVIEW: Bryce Gill of The Tunesmiths on live jams, classic rock, & Buttermilk Jackson!

The Tunesmiths make no bones about their love of good, old fashioned rock and roll, at least from a certain perspective. The band channel the music of Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and AC/DC, guitar gods of the kind that you can’t picture without their legs on the monitor, a nice breeze flowing through that dope ass mane ever so gently while they solo away. You can listen to them below, and catch them live tomorrow night at Headliners where they’re recording a live album. That’s right: you can be one of the folks in the crowd cheering them on and it’ll be captured for all eternity on tape (or digitally). We caught up with them to ask about their live sets, putting a fresh take on classic rock, and the origin of Buttermilk Jackson!

Never Nervous: What made you decide to record a live album at Headliners? How did this event come to fruition?

Bryce Gill: We’ve always wanted to make a live record, but up until this point, recording our own material in the studio has been most important. Plus there’s always been a part of me that wanted to band to continue growing not only as musicians, but as performers, before we did something like this. After nearly 7 years together, a handful of records, close to 200 performances at 80+ venues, nearly 300 rehearsals, and a few lineup changes, I felt like the band was more than ready for it. As for choosing Headliners, that was a no-brainer. When we first got together in 2010 in a small garage in La Grange KY, our #1 goal and head-in-the-clouds dream was to perform there. Thanks to WFPK, that dream came quicker than we ever would have thought. The next year we performed there 4 times! Since then it’s been one of our favorite venues. We perform there now 2-3 times a year. The production team there is top notch, and we just love the experience of performing there.

NN: Will you be performing all new songs, older songs, or a blend of old and new?

BG: We’re going to feature songs from all of our records, as well as several new songs that haven’t been released.

NN: Do you have anything special planned for your live recording? Is there anything hiding up your sleeve?

“We’ve decided to strip things down and record the show with only our 4 piece band. It’s a decision we made to challenge ourselves to be the best we can be with only 4 guys up there. What may be surprising to the audience is how much we’ve improved as a band, and how much time we’ve spent on this set.”

BG: In recent years, we’ve gotten as creative as possible with our live shows. We’ve invited over a dozen different local musicians of all genres to join us for a few songs or even for an entire set. It seems like nowadays, if you don’t have anything spectacular planned for your shows, people won’t stay interested. We’ve always tried to mix up our venues and audience to reach different parts of town, and keep our regular fans guessing about what’s next. With all that being said, we’ve decided to strip things down and record the show with only our 4 piece band. It’s a decision we made to challenge ourselves to be the best we can be with only 4 guys up there. What may be surprising to the audience is how much we’ve improved as a band, and how much time we’ve spent on this set.

NN: Ultimately, what do you hope to capture with this live recording?

BG: The band is better than we’ve ever been. The main purpose of this record is to capture us at our peak performance. We had a line up change with our drummer a few years back, and then again more recently with our bassist. There wasn’t much drama involved with those changes, and we’re all still a big happy family with past and current members. That did mean that it would take some time to catch everyone up and craft a new, better set. Because of that, we’ve decided to record our best set to date, and then spend a lot of time writing the next full length studio record. This live record comes at a perfect time when we need to release some music for our fans(and ourselves), and allow us some down time afterwards to write.

NN: What’s different between your live and studio performances?

BG: After recording at tons of local studios, your ears get better and you want more production on your records. We really strive to have great studio tracks that still feel like a live song, but are mixed and produced to the highest quality. Most new bands spend more time recording their tracks in the studio than actually mixing them afterwards. We want to make sure our recordings are good, but we also have seen how much extra mixing time and post-production can elevate those sounds.

Our live shows are crafted to be a musical performance for a live audience. I’ve always been a big fan of Zeppelin and their long sets with improvised parts, small snippets of cover songs, and cool segues. They would frequently change the beginning, middle and/or end of songs depending on the tour. It kept the band feeling creative, and would make for a unique live performance for the fans. Recently I fell in love with a 1972 recording of a local band called Buster Brown at Brown Theatre. They were a simple 4 piece rock band that sounded like a mix of Zeppelin and Free, and they also used a lot of segues and creative segments that would focus on both their individuals talents as well as their dynamics between each other. That record spoke to me immediately, and really motivated me to try to make The Tunesmiths “Live at Headliners” happen. I’ve never heard an album that reminded me so much of my band and where I wanted to be as a band. They were probably exactly how The Tunesmiths would’ve turned out, if we had been around during those times. With that being said, our performance will include cool segues and bits of Big Trouble In Little China , “Rice Pudding” by Jeff Beck, “The Ocean” by Led Zeppelin , and lyrics by local friend 1200.

NN: The music The Tunesmiths makes seems to be heavily inspired by classic rock and roll. How do you bring fresh life to a classic genre?

BG: Shew, great question. It seems like today’s audience is tired of those sounds. The number of strait-forward rock n’ roll bands has dropped to an all time low recently. I’m talking about true rock bands; Not heavy metal, not punk rock, not pop rock, not indie rock….. true rock n’ roll. When we first got together the scene was full of bands like Broken Spurs, The Bad Reeds, and Cougar Express. At this point I think maybe we’re at an advantage because there are not many similar acts around, but it’s still sad to see. Regardless, if you try to play the same music and write the same music as rock bands from the 70’s, you’ll be playing for an audience that is weirded out when they hear new, original rock music. When people ask about our influences or try to compare us to those bands, I always say the same thing…. “We’re not trying to be Led Zeppelin, we’re trying to be Led Zeppelin if they were born when we were born, and there was already a Zeppelin, and already thousands of other bands who already tried to be them.” You have to constantly challenge yourself to be original. Our line up has 4 very different guys with different influences and talents. Our original music is not meant to bring out our individual influences, it’s meant to show how we’ve learned from them all and what we can do with it.

“If you try to play the same music and write the same music as rock bands from the 70’s, you’ll be playing for an audience that is weirded out when they hear new, original rock music.”

NN: What’s next after the Headliners show? Any plans for touring or more albums?

BG: We rehearse at Tim Faulkner Gallery every Wednesday, and we’re closing rehearsals for a while to focus on a newly crafted set and a new full length album. We won’t have any new shows booked for a month or so. Touring is not really part of The Tunesmith’s plan, ever. We all have full time jobs and some of us have side projects as well. Nobody has ever presented us with a tour format that seemed worth it. Even bands that have “successful” tours still come home with no earnings in hand, and signs of a lot of rough times on the road. We take pride in our connection with the local music community, and we love performing around town. There are so many dang venues to play at, you can create your own tour and never stop! That’s why we always joke that the band is on the Relentless Local Tour. Even if that means we’ll only ever be “regionally almost-famous”, that’s totally okay with us.

NN: I have to ask: How did Buttermilk Jackson get his nickname? There has to be a fascinating origin story.

BG: I wish that were the case. I’ve told him time and time again that he needs to make up a story for that name. Feel free to make one up for yourself. I like to think that he was given that name by a church lady who heard him sing “smooth as buttermilk”.

NN: What music has been especially turning you on lately? What’s so good about it?

BG: I mostly listen to local music. Sturgill Simpson, John Clay and Tyler Lance Walker Gill have all been in my cd player non-stop for the past 4-5 months. I’ve really been digging into country music lately, and they have impressed me the most. Sturgill and John are both from Eastern Kentucky, and both of them absolutely floor me with their vocals and songwriting. Tyler Gill is a new find for me, and I just can’t get enough of his “Drinkin’ Songs For Drunks” record. It’s has all the classic elements of country, but with his fun attitude, deep thinking, and versatile songwriting capabilities all thrown in. Some of my favorite bands have albums coming out this year that I’m really anxious to hear, like 1200, Jack Holiday & The Westerners, Otis, Juke Joint Revival and Small Time Napoleon.

Outside of the local stuff, lately I’ve been listening to every Free bootleg available. I LOVE the new Jeff Beck record. He’s doing what I wish Jimmy Page was doing. Childish Gambino’s new album was a fantastic surprise too.

If you had your pick, what would be your dream lineup for a show featuring four Louisville bands, past and/or present?

I have thought about this tons of times!! The ultimate line up for me would be the impossible gathering of My Morning Jacket (present), Roostars (mid 90s), Buster Brown (early 70s), The Tunesmiths (present), with Denny Lile (early 70s) & The Everly Brothers (early 60s) opening.