BluesWax Cruisin’ With
By Mark Goodman
In Part One, Victor Wainwright spoke about his musical beginnings and living and play in Memphis. In Part Two he talks about being one third of Southern Hospitality, with Damon Fowler and JP Soars.
Mark Goodman for BluesWax: In some areas you guys are getting the same kind of buzz that Royal Southern Brotherhood is getting. I mean they got old-time names there; Cyril Neville has been around a long time. Allman is a household name. That’s some serious recognition. But your live shows are right up there. I’m hearing a lot of positive talk.
Victor Wainwright: Yeah, I think three guys that are relatively young, none of us are stars, we’re not benefiting or relying on any star power here, you know. We don’t have a Neville or an Allman name, so the music has to rise above and that’s what we’re seeing. Good music rises to the top and for it to start making a buzz is huge. I think that individually we’re also doing that in our own way, which means that if we’re all rising above individually, and then we have this thing called Southern Hospitality; it makes it even more powerful. I think that we each have a pretty good fan base, which is beneficial. What we realize is that I get to play to JP and Damon’s fans, Damon and I get to play to JP’s fans and we’re gonna have a bigger audience to play. We’re each going to bring our own following to each one location which also makes it more exciting for the fans. They’re like, “I get to see my boy JP, but I also get to see these two guys that I’ve never seen and on top of it.” In a small club that’s been sold out, you know, and there’s people waiting to get in; that creates its own kind of buzz. I think it’s a hallmark idea. I think we hooked up with a great team in Reuben Williams [band manager] and Tab Benoit, who is producing the record for Blind Pig.
BW: You can’t go wrong with that combination. That was going to be my next question, you know, rumor has it you’re planning your first record. Want to tell us about the project?
VW: [Laughing] I pretty much just did! We recorded the demo up in Ohio and I think it sounds really great. It looks like it’s going to be mostly original tunes, stuff that we’ve written either by ourselves or together.
BW: Have you written a lot of material together?
VW: We’ve had like four or five days to get together and start doing a little bit of writing. So I’m not sure how much writing will be together and how much will be, um… you know, Damon comes to me and says, ”Hey, I have a song” and I’ll listen to it, then me and JP go, “Oh, that’s cool.” We can do this here or this there, maybe use this word. We’re not going to take anything away from Damon, so I think when you say writing together, it’s not from the very start. I think we’re all participating in…
BW: More collaboration than writing.
VW: The collaboration is the CD and not the songs individually, but you know, it’s gonna be great if it comes out anything like the demo; it’s just going to be great. Just the experience of going and hanging out with Tab [Benoit] and seeing his work method, and [laughing]… his pretty clothes, it should be pretty interesting.
BW: Where are you going to record it?
VW: Tab’s studio.
BW: Tab’s studio? Okay, and for the record that’s right behind his house?
VW: And [laughing] where is Blues Revue?
BW: We shot his cover photo in the studio.
VW: Awesome! Maybe you’ll shoot our cover photo in the studio!
BW: You never know, I just click the shutter. How does being in a band like Southern Hospitality affect your own band and touring schedule?
VW: I think that’s something that time will tell. I’ll have a better idea as this thing progresses, but right now it’s going good. I have plenty of dates with the Wild Roots and they’re getting better and better. We’re getting more and more festivals with my band. Better gigs, better quality gigs. Not as much crazy road work as I had even a year and a half ago. On the return festivals they are giving us better slots.
We’re headlining Springing the Blues [Jacksonville, Florida, April 5-7] this year, which is Saturday night, the prime night.
BW: That’s a good-sized festival.
VW: Yeah, it is. So we’re doing really well, The Wild Roots are doing well. My plan is to open some new doors, get a couple of new T’s, Southern Hospitality, and then all of us benefit with our solo projects. We just keep doing like this, you know. Release a record here, release a record there. It will be a very different, a Southern Hospitality record. We want to sound very different from our individual projects.
BW: Now, here’s something that I’m really interested in. Tell me about the dynamics in the band. You’re a band of band leaders, is it really a democracy?
VW: So far, me, Damon, and JP have worked together flawlessly and the fact that there’s no ego. Well, everyone has some ego…
BW: Well, as an entertainer, you almost have to.
VW: There’s none of that. Everybody values each other’s opinions and it seems like collectively we have the same thoughts. I mean it’s just, like well, let’s go here now or let’s do this…
BW: You know, that’s how it showing in your music, just the way it flows.
VW: It’s just meant to be, man.
BW: You look like you’ve played together for a long time when you’re on stage; you just play off each other with such familiarity.
VW: As far as the decisions, how I run my band is very similar to how those two guys do it, so when it comes to making any sort of real decisions, it’s not hard. We go, “I think this, and you think that, and he thinks this.” Then we go, “Option D.” [laughter] That option is one that’s uh, compromised between all of us and then we’re good. We’ve never had an issue finding that compromise to whatever we’re looking for. It’s never been more than a simple conversation. No one’s ever had an issue. It’s never happened before and I think I’d be shocked if it did.
BW: Well that’s great, I mean, I was always curious about that ‘cause you know bandleaders are… they’re the boss.
VW: I think each of us is kind of a different type of family than most, than most people… [Laughter] … ‘Cause if you look at Damon, how laid back he is. I think with our bands we’re… maybe we have to be… a teacher. We’re constantly teaching and mentoring, for me especially. So it’s like, I think they do a lot of the same. Keeping musicians happy within them but also having to teach them their material and how they want it. But with this band, it’s like that element is removed. You know, I’m not teaching Damon or JP how to do anything.
BW: So a lot of pressure is off you.
VW: So it’s like we’re all part of this really happy place.
BW: You’re working one of the piano bars here on the Blues Cruise. Tell me what that’s like.
VW: This has been a really interesting experience, like the Blues Cruise in general, the stuff like the piano bar wasn’t anything like I expected. It’s definitely been the time of my life. I think it’s been awesome, an incredible experience. Musicians really don’t get to see each other and hang out with each other beyond just a quick pass. Maybe at a hotel, you know, at a festival. You’ve probably driven a long ways to get there, you come out and you’re excited to see some of your friends but then you got to kind of concentrate on your own show. Maybe there’s an after-party, you know, but then half of the time everybody’s gone already.
BW: Yeah, if you’re not too worn out to stick around.
VW: One thing about the cruise that was evident from the very beginning is you have ample time to just sit and talk to other musicians. The friendships and bonds that I forged just being on the boat with other musicians, it’s really astounding. We all are doing the same thing, we just don’t get to hang out with each other very much to talk about it. You have admiration for people doing the same thing you’re trying to do. In the piano bar, what I’ve noticed is… again it’s this jam aspect which I didn’t expect. My shift started at 1:30 a.m. I was like “OK, 1:30 to what?” I looked at the schedule and saw question marks. I was like, “Why is there question marks? Is it gonna get real busy? No, it becomes a jam. The way it works, people come and they want to play with you. Harmonica or I had a cello, um horns of every type.
BW: You had some really special moments with Danielle [Schnebelen] from Trampled Under Foot.
VW: Yeah, she came down the first, one of the first nights I was in the piano bar. We did the Etta James tune ["I'd Rather Go Blind"] and then she invited me to come do the same song with her at the celebrity theater. That’s where ideas are born, and now we’re talking about maybe even laying down a record.
BW: It seems there’s so much energy generated when you guys all get together, it’s like you just never want to quit.
VW: Well, that’s why I went the longest since I’ve been here. We stopped at 7:30 in the morning. So, 1:30 to 7:30 [laughing], I probably would never do that anywhere else. Anywhere else, I would be done within three hours at most.
BW: And then you have to do it night after night.
VW: I mean here though, it doesn’t seem like work. It’s work but here it’s uh… I don’t know… time flies by when you’re playing with your friends. That’s all I know. You’re just playing with your friends.
BW: Are you able to sleep at all?
VW: Very little. Nightly I’ve been going to sleep, or daily I’ve been going to sleep between 8 and 9:30 a.m. So, I’m really not looking forward to this morning at checkout. I just go to the rooms and I’m just used to going to sleep. So checkout really messes me up for the next day of flying, and I have six and a half hours of flying that day. So that just sucks. I would like to change that if this ever makes it to print. But I feel bad for Mitch [Woods]. Mitch has got the late shift. I got the play from 11:00 to 1:30, but I’m just so used to going to bed late that I don’t think I’ll sleep. I woke up at 4:30 today.
I’m not really complaining… It’s so much fun. What it really comes down to is I could go and leave the piano bar and go to sleep. I don’t want to do that. I want to stay up and play with John Nemeth and Ana Popovic, and whoever else walks in. That’s the thing, and also I want to do my show. For the first hour or so I do my thing and that’s been fun to try to rediscover what it is for me to sit without my band, just me and the piano. I don’t do that, ever. I can’t even think of the last time I’ve done a solo piano show except for the Boogie Woogie Festival.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that two things that happened on the boat are well worth repeating: Victor Wainwright performing solo at the piano, and Victor Wainwright and Danielle Schnebelen performing together at the piano!
Mark Goodman is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax.
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