In preparation for their upcoming LRS LIVE! show, we sat down with Shane Johnson of the Dead Broke Barons and interviewed him about topics including their up-and-coming music, playing the historic Capitol Arts Center, and their history as a band. Here's what he had to say:
I understand you’re going to be premiering brand new music at the next LRS LIVE! What can you tell me about these new songs?
SJ: Indeed! We have about five new tunes we are debuting, and we couldn't be more excited about them. One is titled "Our Own Empire", which is a commentary on the current political climate in our country. Another is "Helping Hand Blues", which paints a picture of low-down people needing a bit of positive reinforcement. Seth has one titled "The Imposter", an observation on the everyday struggles that all those in relationships deal with. Also, there's "Search Engine Moses", which is basically about social media dependency. And finally, there's "Blank Pages", which is basically the first song Seth and I wrote as a true collaborative duo. We've had it on the back-burner for a little over a year, and we're finally officially adding it to the repertoire. I can't wait to see what our long-time listeners think of the new material.
How do you think the songwriting and music has evolved since your first recording?
SJ: Well, we've been a band for a little over three years now, but I truly feel that we are just now finding our sound. Our first batch of tunes was pretty much us feeling out the folk/bluegrass/Americana genres, and adding our own flavor. But our latest material feels like we've discovered what we are supposed to sound like. I think we kind of needed to be told that it was okay to stray from the traditional style and format of acoustic music. And now that we know there is an audience for our weirdness, we are writing with a whole new confidence.
One of the things I appreciate about your music is the depth of the lyrics. How do you guys go about writing songs? Where do the inspirations and ideas for some of the songs come from?
SJ: Basically every song we have begins with either Seth or myself bringing a foundation riff to rehearsals, and then we attack the riff as a group. Hunter has always been really good at helping us decide what direction to take the songs in. As far as our lyrical motivations, I have always used a sort of "stream of consciousness" style, trying hard to not think too hard and just let the ideas flow naturally. But there are exceptions. For example, our very first original tune, "The Dirty 30's" was approached to be a deliberate tale about the Great Depression. So, sometimes there is a subject that pulls our creative strings, but for the most part it's a "whatever pops in our heads" process.
What is the dynamic like for the Dead Broke Barons? You seem like a really tight knit group; how did you meet?
SJ: To me, one of our greatest assets is our comradery as friends and brothers in music. I feel that anyone who sees us perform will instantly see how much we enjoy each other as individuals and bandmates. I met Hunter when I was 13, (he was 11) and we instantly became close friends and aspiring musicians. We started our first band, Flatrock, in 1993, and Hunter has been my musical soulmate ever since. Hunter has known Seth much longer than I, since they are cousins. I met Seth in the early 2000's when I was working for his father. I loved the guy instantly. He's just a genuinely fun person to be around, and maybe one of the funniest guys I've ever met. His excitement about music really reinvigorated my love for it, and I've never had more fun playing music than I do with those 2 guys. Seth calls it the "trifecta."
You guys have a very unique sound, it’s often hard for me to compare your music to other bands or genres because it is so different from most music out there…with that said, who are some of your influences musically? How would you label your own sound, or do you?
SJ: I've always been heavily influenced by 60's/70's rock (Hendrix, Zeppelin, Sabbath, etc.) which translates surprisingly well to acoustic music. Also I remember hearing Buddy Holly for the first time, and being blown away by the vocal melodies and brilliant song structures. His style has always stuck with me, and I attempt to apply his methods to my own songwriting pretty regularly. I'm also a huge fan of 90's rock, mainly the grunge era stuff (Nirvana, Alice in Chains) but I don't know how much that shows in the Barons music haha. Maybe a little. I also remember being really drawn to old country artists, such as Patsy Cline and Hank Williams Sr. That influence may be a little more evident in the Barons music than 90's grunge hahaha. On the subject of how we label our sound, after three years I'm still not 100% sure how to answer that question. We've been asked countless times what we call our music, and I've never been satisfied with the answers we provide. We usually just say folk-funk. But in saying that, to me that's the greatest compliment we ever receive, when listeners struggle to put us in a genre, it makes me feel like we are doing something right.
This is now your second performance in the Capitol Arts Center, what is that building like to play in, what does it mean to you to be able to play there considering it's rich history?
SJ: I remember going to the Capitol on a field trip when I was in elementary school, and I was instantly amazed by the style of the building. I've been back many times to see concerts, the most recent being Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. The sound in that room is simply unmatched, and I've always enjoyed walking in to that place. It's almost like you're transported to the past as soon as you enter, and that's a feeling I can never get enough of. Our first LRS LIVE! at the Capitol was an absolute dream come true, standing on that stage, and performing in a spot that has so much history. It was truly magical. Now that we are getting close to our second time playing that room, I can honestly say I've never been more excited about a show! The first performance there, I was a ball of nerves, and now I feel like this next one will be all pure enjoyment and gratification for the opportunity to stand on that stage again. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it! Simply can't wait!
What's next for the Barons?
SJ: World domination isn't realistic. So instead we are going to focus on getting in the studio and recording our first album. Then promote the hell out of it, play as much as we can play to as many people as we can, and hopefully see a lot of smiling faces and dancing feet in the crowd.
The Dead Broke Barons will return to the Capitol Arts Center in Bowling Green, KY for a live performance on April 20th, 2017. Tickets are available now at theSKyPAC.com.