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Interview – Paleface

Photo by Sooz White

Photo by Sooz White

In a world where musical authenticity is constantly being called to question, anti-folk icon, Paleface, is as real as they get. After nearly three decades of writing and performing music, Paleface remains true to his craft and continues to create art that is raw, fresh, and inspired.

Paleface’s music career is much like a collection of short stories, woven together with unpredictable highs and lows—each chapter marked with different shades of joy, sorrow, chaos and control. Throughout it all Paleface has managed to come out on the other side with tales to tell.

Paleface got his start playing music at NYC clubs in the late 80s, rubbing shoulders with creative minds like Daniel Johnston and Beck. While being managed by the legendary Danny Fields, Paleface signed a major-label record deal, began putting out albums, and touring with bands like Crash Test Dummies and The Breeders. Everything appeared to be falling into place, but by the late 90s Paleface’s partying lifestyle caught up with him, nearly taking his life and forcing him to reevaluate his direction.

By 2000, a sober Paleface found himself among a new crop of imaginative musicians in NYC, many calling themselves “anti-folk.” Artists like Kimya Dawson, Regina Spektor, and Langhorne Slim shared the stage with Paleface, and he soon became an integral part of the anti-folk scene.

“Anti-folk didn’t stand for anything,” Paleface said. “It was whatever you can do to make art you should share it, get on stage, do it. If people like it, great, if they don’t, that’s OK, too. Nobody was gonna crucify you ‘cause you were bad or not what they wanted. In that anti-folk scene nobody would care ‘cause anything goes.”

It was during this period in his career when Paleface struck up a friendship with Scott and Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers). This instant artistic connection ultimately drew him, and girlfriend/drummer Monica “Mo” Samalot, away from New York in 2008 to start a new life in Concord.

After moving to North Carolina, Paleface and Samalot hit the road, touring as a high-energy folk-rock duo throughout the United States and Europe. Paleface continued to record and release albums like the self-released “A Different Story” as well as “The Show Is On The Road” and “One Big Party” on Ramseur Records. Studio and on-stage collaborations with The Avett Brothers exposed a whole new audience to Paleface’s music and it appeared that his momentum had shifted up again.

However, a health scare and setback in Europe while promoting “One Big Party” forced the pair to take time off to regroup, yet again. Unable to tour, Paleface spent time focusing on getting healthy and painting — a talent he had discovered while living in NYC.

“Painting is very meditative and relaxing in a way that music is not,” Paleface said. “It’s like a puzzle that you figure out as you go which at any moment can change or be wrecked by your next move. Music, if you change something you can immediately go back to how you had it if you don’t like the change.”

Paleface creates bright, bold, music-inspired folk-art. His canvas and drum head paintings often carry uplifting themes, much like his music, and he sells them as special one-of-a-kind merchandise at shows.

“I think of my paintings as rock-n-roll folk art, and my music, too,” Paleface said. “I like the fact that people can get this special thing that’s much better than a CD or T-shirt or even a print … 250 sold paintings later I’m still making them and getting more and more interested in it all the time.”

In reality the paintings help to supplement the often stretched-thin income of a touring independent artist. Life on the road is difficult, but Paleface has managed to stay positive after all of these years.

“[Touring] is harder work than people know,” Paleface said. “It sounds romantic and I wouldn’t trade it, but you can get tired with the miles. Great shows can always help build you up and bad shows remind you nothing is certain, but I love seeing all the friends we’ve made out there on the road and checking on the progress they’ve made in their own lives.”

Paleface has been touring through Greenville for several years, a stop that he may have missed had it not been for his connection with the Avetts.

“The first time we ever came was back in the day playing with the band Oh What a Nightmare, which at the time was The Avett Brothers’ other project, kind of a hard rock trio with Seth on drums and Scott on electric,” Paleface said. “I like Greenville a lot. The Spazzatorium was a great scene and Jeff [Blinder] who used to book there had really good taste so it was always fun to go there and play. After it closed we just kept coming back because we liked playing here.”

While the Avetts may have brought Paleface to Greenville, Samalot keeps the duo coming back. She is the driving force when it comes to the business side of things — mapping out tour routes, booking venues, handling all social media—in addition to rocking the drums and singing harmonies. Paleface and Samalot are partners in every sense of the word. On and off stage their mutual respect and love is unmistakable and they are constantly pushing each other to improve.

“(Samalot) really loves harmony so we’ve been doing a bit of that of late,” Paleface said. “She also remembers songs that I forget and if she likes it enough pushes me to bring it back and make it something. I must confess that I’ve only recorded a fraction of the songs I’ve written so it is good to have someone who remembers them.”

When it comes to songwriting, Paleface’s talent is off the charts. He is a true storyteller, creating a unique auditory experience that reaches all ages. Paleface’s ability to write songs with traditional acoustic instrumentation that ends up feeling charged and electric is unmatched and magical.

“[It’s an] obsession,” Paleface said. “I don’t need to bottle it. It just is an inextinguishable flame that burns inside.”

As he begins another new chapter in his career, Paleface is approaching his newest material from a more informed and introspective place. Though it has been challenging, he is confident that his approach will yield some of his best music to date.

“For a while, because I’ve had a rough time in the music (business), I just wanted to stand on stage and sing happy songs and I didn’t really care if it was cool or not,” Paleface said. “Lately I’ve felt a little restless with that. I’m taking my time with it so I don’t know when it will be finished, hopefully soon.”

Until then, fans can catch Paleface touring across the country. This month, Paleface will once again make a stop in Greenville to close out Spazz Fest VI at Christy’s Europub on March 22 from 7-11 p.m. Fans can expect Paleface to deliver another fun and lively performance, full of some of his best old tunes, a few new ones and plenty of audience interaction.

“I want [the audience] to feel the energy and give it back so we can both bug out to the sound vibrations,” Paleface said.

This piece originally ran in Mixer Magazine.

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Album Reivew – The Avett Brothers’ “Magpie and the Dandelion”

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F*&k yeah, my boys are back.

~Anonymous longtime Avett fan

Sometimes you just have to be blunt about the bands you love. With The Avett Brothers’ eighth studio album out today, Magpie and the Dandelion, brothers Scott and Seth Avett kick the dirt off of their roots and plant a new crop of songs that are fixin’ to take full bloom.

Collectively, Magpie and the Dandelion is a polished throwback that is stripped of cumbersome instrumentation and soundboard tricks, while still maintaining the clean studio sound that comes with a Rick Rubin production–a winning combination. Perhaps Rubin finally decided to step back and let the boys do what they do best–make music.

While this may be the case, it was surprising to learn that Magpie and the Dandelion was recorded around the same time that The Avett Brothers recorded last year’s album, The Carpenter.  Side-by-side these albums feel very different. The Carpenter walks the line between grand themes of life and death, while Magpie and the Dandelion returns to the intimate storytelling that has served the brothers well from their humble beginnings.

“Pack the old love letters up. We will read them when we forget why we left here.

The Avetts aren’t strangers to a brutally honest and moving love letter.  They’ve laid out their fears and feelings for listeners several times before in songs like “November Blue,” “If It’s The Beaches,” “My Last Song to Jenny,” and basically every song in the “Pretty Girl” series.

When these earlier songs were written the boys were bushwhacking their way through the early phases of love, often in an emotionally fervent state. Conversely, the songs on Magpie and the Dandelion reveal that the Avetts have moved on to a new, more complicated chapter of love–one that has been forced to withstand the hardships of life on the road, the struggles of caring for a sick child, and the possibility of growing old alone.

There is an authenticity that comes with bearing one’s soul for the world to see—laying out the mistakes, the doubts, the fears.  This album continues to propel the story of a band of brothers who have been in the game for over a decade.   Now they look back on where they have been, wonder what they may have done differently, and hope to find answers beyond the bright lights of fame.

Put the sketches and the notes in the box labeled ‘Burn With Furniture’

The album opens with “Open Ended Life,” a southern rock barn-burner packed with punchy banjo, electric guitar solos, a feverish fiddle, and the bluesy whine of G. Love’s harmonica.  As if denouncing “If It’s The Beaches,” the boys light fire to their past–love letters and all–watch in the rear-view mirror as it burns to the ground, and speed away in an old beat-up truck.  This track is pure bonfire, beer-drinking, hoot and holler fun, straight from the hills of North Carolina.

It’s alright if you finally stop caring, just don’t go and tell someone that does.

On “Morning Song” the mood becomes more introspective and the instrumentation simplified.  Piano and drums round out the sound as Scott and Seth sing of the reality that accompanies embarking on life’s journeys alone.  The harmonies alone will cut you to the core.  With the song’s closing chorus, the listener is flooded with overwhelming emotion, as the beautiful voices of Avett family members sing, “I have to find that melody alone.” “Morning Song” evokes feelings of hope despite despair, and will surely be added to the canon of outstanding folk-ballads that have come from the minds and hearts of these men.

Whoa oh whoa.

The Avetts are masters of bending and blending genres.  On “Never Been Alive,” Seth manages to layer Pink Floyd’s dreamy “Speak to Me/Breathe” with a Sam Cooke vocal cadence.  This combination yields a deliberately subdued ballad that feels trippy, but sluggish at times.  Though “Never Been Alive” has been road tested for several years, it remains an underdog, perhaps having not yet reached its full potential.

Let me see your skeleton, well before your life is done.

The album’s first single “Another is Waiting” is definitely the most radio friendly folk-pop track of the collection.  Full of rambling banjo runs and tight drum lines, “Another is Waiting” speaks to the dangers of any industry that chews up and spits out protégés with little regard.  This track’s positive message is sure to translate over radio airwaves to young, impressionable listeners worldwide.

Bring your love to me. I will hold it like a dandelion.

During a songwriter’s session at the Newport Folk Festival, Seth was asked how he decides what becomes an Avett Brother song versus a Darling song.  With a thoughtful pause, he replied, “I have to actively answer that question every time an idea comes up.  I can’t say that I always know, because a lot of times I am surprised at what makes sense for us to present together.  But, the Darling songs that end up just becoming Darling songs, they look to me the same way that Scott’s paintings do, as far as this is a singular vision.”

In listening to “Bring Your Love To Me,” it appears that perhaps a Darling song slipped into the pile of 30-plus songs that the band initially brought to Rubin.  Hearing fingertips sliding on tinny strings, Seth’s pleading promise to protect a fragile love, and the warm tones of intermittent hums offers fans a little glimpse into what can be expected on the fourth Darling installment.

I want to be there for you, and when I come home will you still want me to?

Did someone say “Norwegian Wood?” It’s not the first time that Beatles have found their way into an Avett Brothers’ song.  Musical influences unconsciously shape the sound of every band, but what makes “Good To You” unique is that it is a heart-wrenching, honest and emotionally transparent personal account that could have only come from this band.  On this piano lullaby, Scott and bassist Bob Crawford share intentions and fears with their families, in light of the fact that their time away from home may come with sobering consequences.

Part from me, I would not dare take someone in love with me where I’m going.

“Apart From Me” stands alone as the album’s most jaw-dropping ballad.  The songwriting on this track matches that of “Murder in the City,” raw, powerful, and thought-provoking.  Scott’s voice tears through the listener’s soul, as his gritty exterior crumbles under the weight of past decisions.  Looking back on the pursuit of his dreams, Scott seems to question the path he led his family down over the course of his career.  Seth’s delicate finger-picking balances the harsh reality of Scott’s words and the listener is left peering into the wilted spirit of this woeful artist.

How long can you live in shame and drop a lifelong curse on your own last name?

Thematically in line with “Good To You” and “Apart From Me,” “Skin and Bones” picks up the pace as the Avetts weigh the pros and cons of the famed artist’s life on the road.  There is an irony that emerges as lyrics speak of the “beast” that drives the band down the road farther away from home.

This “beast” has reared its ugly head before, particularly when Scott has discussed how he struggles to find balance between his artistic passion and everyday obligations.  At his most recent art talk, Scott explained, “Artists are put on this planet to do…three things.  [Ruskin] says we are here to see, and to feel, and to document.  The artist can try to think, but he’s not here to do that.  He can try to explain and analyze, but he’s not here to do that.  He can go to parties but he’s not here to party.  He can’t.  He really can’t…As soon as he feels something he has to act on it and move on it.”  With lyrics like “It’s the tin and the board that keeps me going home, but it’s who I am that won’t let me alone,” it appears almost impossible to tame the artist’s inner beast, thus the push and pull carries on.

Bring me light from where I thought it was dark. Be the spark that has a chance to light a candle.”

“Souls Like The Wheels” is a welcomed live addition to this studio album.  Originally released as a studio track on The Second Gleam in 2008, this live version of “Souls Like The Wheels” features Seth, his guitar, and an amazed audience at The Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis, MO last year.  Even with the occasional hoot and holler from those fans you’d like to punch for making noise during ballads (in particular the girls who scream “We love you Seth!”…seriously if you are one of those girls, please just stop), this version evokes images of Seth and his HD-35 at the front of the stage in the warm glowing embrace of the spotlight.  These are the moments when fans know they are witnessing greatness.

I’ve got love pouring out of my veins, but it’s all vanity.

No Avett ablum would be complete without one of Seth’s face-melting electric guitar solos.  On “Vanity,” Seth and Scott trade verses, and tackle the ugly truth that underpins our words and actions. Recently, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell joined the band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to put his own rock-god spin on the song, proving that he’s still got the chops that served him so well in the 90s.  “Vanity” stands alone in its rock-ballad style, while still contributing to the album as a whole.

I will seek the approval of no one but you, in love for the changes I take.

Magpie and the Dandelion closes with “The Clearness Is Gone,” a waltz-ballad previously released as a bonus track on The Carpenter.  The Avetts plug in and offer listeners a strong finish to an album that chronicles the band’s journey.  Though the band forges ahead into the bright lights, “The Clearness is Gone” contains muted hints of “Oh What a Nightmare.”  Perhaps this nod to their former-selves serves as a subtle message to their fans that have started to question the band’s direction.  Those fans should trust that deep down inside of these men, there is a screaming Avett just waiting to go berserk, melt into the stage and then dive into a sea of sweaty fans.

We won’t waste a long goodbye on the smoke or foolish lies that finally passed us.

Magpie and the Dandelion just feels like home.  It successfully bridges the gap between the fan who boasts about being among a handful of people at the 2007 Plan 9 Emotionalism record release show and the fan who first experienced the life-altering sound of Avett harmonies on Bonnaroo’s main stage in 2012.  The album features more banjo for the bluegrass-loving fans, top-notch songwriting for the lyric-hungry fans, electric guitar riffs for old Nemo fans, and a thoughtful musical progression and growth for the fans that actually appreciate watching these talented men mature and fight to feel comfortable in their own skin.  Today, a collective exhale and “thank you” can be heard across the spectrum of Avett fans as they sit down and take in the phenomenal work that is Magpie and the Dandelion.

**For fans that can’t get enough of The Avett Brothers, there is a deluxe Target-exclusive version of Magpie and the Dandelion that includes six unreleased demos off of the album**

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Album Review: Bombadil’s “Metrics of Affection”

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If The Beatles and Weezer got together and had a baby, and that baby joined the drama club, that baby would grow up to be Bombadil.

Consisting of multi-instrumentalists Daniel Michalak, Bryan Rahija, Stuart Robinson and James Phillips, Bombadil borrows its name from J.R.R. Tolkein’s character, Tom Bombadil, who is equally as enchanting as the Durham-based quartet. Having just released their self-produced, fourth LP, “Metrics of Affection,” Bombadil proves that authenticity mixed with a dash of merriment and a handful of emotion equals the perfect musical recipe.

Last month, the touring members of Bombadil graced the Tipsy Teapot stage in their idiosyncratic band regalia — collared shirts, ties, and accessorized sports coats — and treated a modest but attentive audience to many of the tracks off of their new album. While the live versions of these songs offered a quirky visual to match the lyrics, the intricacies are best revealed and reveled on the studio version. Sitting down with the liner notes, reading the lyrics and allowing the songs to tell their stories truly takes the listener on a journey through the land of Bombadil.

On “Metrics of Affection,” Bombadil stands proudly at the helm of their ship and assumes complete creative control. With production in-house, the band was able to push the boundaries and experiment more than on any previous albums, resulting in a rich but not overproduced collection of songs. While vocals and traditional instrumentation — piano especially — remain at the forefront of each track, thoughtful use of samples, synths and drum machines advances the overall sound without stripping its playfulness and originality.

Throughout the album, vocals and keys emerge in the spotlight, as hints of acoustic guitar round out the sound. Melodic and often flirty piano accompaniments, paired with witty, relatable lyrics about love, loss, whales and cats certainly draw listeners in for a deeper auditory experience.

The album opener, “Angeline,” offers a catchy beat and lyrics of friendly advice to move on from the past, all made sweeter by the charming harmonies of Christy Jean Smith. “Learning to Let Go” is the album’s clap-stomp sing-a-long track, accompanied by faint horns that lend an imperial air.

The ever-popular banjo makes its first appearance on “Born at 5:00,” though it is not what makes this song one of the album standouts. Here, Bombadil succeeds in packing all of the milestones of one man’s life into a 3:11 minute song — a bold and touching reminder of the fleeting nature of of our time on Earth.

“Isn’t It Funny” features a militant drum line underlying Michalak’s first attempt at rapping. With an Eminem-esque cadence, Michalak’s passion surfaces while recounting an illness that almost ended his music career. The men of Bombadil lay their emotions out for the world to hear on heartfelt ballads like “Boring Country Song” and “Have Me,” and heart-breakers like “What Does It Mean” and “One More Ring.” This sentimental roller coaster ride of love and loss is capped off by “Patience is Expensive,” a hauntingly beautiful piano instrumental that oscillates somewhere between hope and despair.

Quirkiness sets in with “When We Are Both Cats,” which speaks of unrequited love and feline reincarnation — not the typical love song, folks. The animal theme continues on the old-timey, maritime track, “Whaling Vessel,” where Bombadil sings from the point of view of a hunted whale. While these song themes may seem off-putting to some, their unique nature translates magically, further lifting the album’s spirit.

Propelled by a rolling piano melody, the album closer, “Thank you,” is the perfect note on which to end this baker’s dozen of goodness. With lyrics like, “Keep your family close/Because when you get in trouble/They’ll be the last to lose their hope/And say your prayers every night/They don’t have to be to God/It just helps to sort your thoughts/And you never know they might be right,” listeners are called on to be grateful and gracious for all of the small, but meaningful moments in life.

Bombadil’s most recent installation combines all that is currently overdone in folk-pop — stomp, claps, banjo, cellos, unidentifiable accents — and somehow makes it feel renewed. Perhaps it is the persistent piano or the eccentric storytelling. Regardless, “Metrics of Affection” is a triumphant composition that covers the emotional spectrum of life and love, beginning with a journey and ending with gratitude.

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Fortune Favors the Bold – The Avett Brothers @ McKittrick Hotel

Scott Avett sang, “I will rearrange my plans and change for you,” during the song “If It’s the Beaches” on Wednesday night, at the McKittrick Hotel in New York City. However, I was the one who found myself changing my plans on September 25, 2013 in order to attend a private Avett Brothers concert in The Heath room of the fictional hotel and home of the off-Broadway play, Sleep No More. The band played an eighteen-song set that was taped for the PBS program, Front and Center. The concert is to be aired in early 2014 in support of their upcoming album, Magpie and the Dandelion, being released on October 15th.

After reading a tweet from The McKittrick Hotel, a routine weekday morning at work quickly ended when I made the decision to board a train to New York City. The hotel was giving away a handful of tickets to Avett Brothers’ fans for a secret event at 8:00pm. The details were minimal, but I had made it to Penn Station and I was determined to win. Constant refreshing of my twitter news feed and a mild addiction to social media paid off–I was in.

At the entrance doors of a warehouse in Chelsea, a host read my name on the guest list and invited me in. I was escorted to a dark and eerie elevator and taken to the fifth floor where the show was to be held. The home of the play, Sleep No More, is a 100,000 square foot building that is modeled to look like a 1930’s hotel, known as The McKittrick Hotel. This special occasion was a rarity for the band, as well as for the hotel. While a show is held at the hotel every night, this concert was much different than what usually happens at Sleep No More. Typically, guests are given white masks and instructed not to speak. They wander the rooms of the haunted hotel and follow actors.  Guests experience the play, based on the story Macbeth, in a much different way. They are told, “Fortune favors the bold,” and are encouraged to stand out from the crowd or they just may be taken into a hidden room or given privy information. Those who have seen the play, return again and again because it’s a different experience every time.

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The Heath room, was decorated like a haunted hotel bar–dark, cozy, and a little bit spooky. The walls of the small room were lined with booths and the floor was full of tables set for two. Drinks were being poured at the bar and large HD television cameras were resting on their tripods. The stage sat crowded with instruments as guests made their way to their seats. A Sleep No More mask lay at the foot of the drum kit. The room held 200 people, but it was not full. I took my seat in the front row, ordered a drink, and admired the elegant décor while I waited for the show to begin.

The band took the stage at 9:00pm. As he plugged in his Martin D35 guitar, Seth Avett whispered into the microphone, “It’s so quiet,” and let out a laugh. They thanked the audience for attending and kicked off the set with the song “Live and Die,” from their 2012 album, The Carpenter. As I sat in my chair, I fought the urge to get up and dance. I assumed the PBS cameraman behind me would not want me blocking his shot.

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The band played crowd favorites, such as “Murder and the City,” “I and Love and You,” and “Laundry Room.” Among the set were also new songs, “Another is Waiting,” “Vanity,” “Morning Song,” and “Apart from Me,” all to be featured on the new album. Having attended several Avett Brothers concerts, I had been waiting to hear “Morning Song” performed live. Although I have not listened to the new album in its entirety, I can already tell this song will be a favorite of mine. The show was intimate and unlike any other I’ve seen. The band told stories and joked with one another throughout the set. Between songs, Scott reminisced about visiting New York City for the first time at age 26. He said he was intimidated by the fast paced city life, but has since grown a love for the city, and was happy to be back. “This is very exciting for us, to be playing a place like this,” he confessed to the audience. The band had created a setlist prior to taking the stage, but changed a number of songs on it to better suit the mood of the room. Scott and Seth would have short debates on what to play next in between many of the songs.

The final song of the encore was “If It’s the Beaches.” A passionate love song, played quietly to a room of attentive ears. The audience rose to their feet and applauded the band whole-heartedly, exchanging ear to ear smiles with the band. It had been a special experience for all of us. I joked with a friend, telling her my face hurt because of the permanent grin I had worn for two straight hours.

In groups of ten, we boarded the elevator and made our way to the exit. Once outside, we saw the band hustle into a van to be whisked away. Fortune favors the bold and fortune certainly favored me when I made the bold move to leave work early on a Wednesday morning. I’m thankful for this experience and look forward to reliving it through the PBS broadcast of Front and Center early next year.

The Avett Brothers will stay in New York for the next few days. They are scheduled to appear at New York’s Town Hall for Another Day, Another Time on Sunday, September 29th. This concert event is celebrating folk music of the 1960s. Several other musicians will be joining, such as Jack White, Marcus Mumford, Joan Baez, Punch Brothers, Collin Meloy, Milk Carton Kids, Patti Smith, Conor Oberst, and more. On Monday, September 30th, The Avett Brothers will return to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon for a television performance on NBC.

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The Setlist 9/25/13:

Live and Die

Laundry Room

Old Joe Clark

Down With the Shine

Another Is Waiting

Morning Song

Go to Sleep

The Prettiest Thing (David Childers cover)

Life

Ballad of Love and Hate

Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Apart From Me

A Father’s First Spring

Vanity

I and Love and You

Encore

Murder in the City

Shady Grove

If It’s the Beaches

For the first time in Evolution of a Fan history, we welcome our first guest blogger, Karissa Sevensky.  Karissa was fortunate enough to share a very special evening with The Avett Brothers at McKittrick Hotel this past week, and kind enough to share her experience and photos with us!  Thank you Karissa.

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Interview – Dolph Ramseur

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Thirteen years ago, Dolph Ramseur left the tennis court to start his own independent record label, Ramseur Records. He had no real experience in the music industry, but was armed with a deep-seated passion, blue-collar work ethic, and relentless determination–three key ingredients for success in any industry.

Today his roster includes bands like The Avett Brothers, Langhorne Slim and The Law, Bombadil, Paleface, Jim Avett, David Wax Museum, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Samantha Crain. After over a dozen years in the business, Ramseur still maintains a humble demeanor, a sweet southern charm, and a homegrown love for music. Simply put, he is a fan just like the rest of us.

Recently, Evolution of a Fan caught up with Ramseur via phone to learn a bit more about the man behind the music:

EOAF: Good morning Dolph, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Briefly, what is a typical day like for you?
Dolph Ramseur: Well, I get about 250 emails a day, and then on top of that, mix that with phone calls and instant messages. But, it’s really just sort of making the foundation for the artist, building upon that, trying to see what is coming in the future, what’s down the pipeline and plan for that accordingly–whether it’s tour dates or recording.

EOAF: So are you pretty hands on with promotion and booking for some of your lesser known bands?
DR: To a certain extent we are. Some of our acts don’t have booking agents so we have to find shows for them. But then the ones that do [have booking agents] we help out with the promoters, and getting the word out about shows and when do tickets go on sale, and how do we promote these shows, and what kind of Facebook ads are we going to take out, and what should we post on the website. There’s a lot of moving parts.

EOAF: Do you have a fairly large staff to do this or is it still a pretty small operation?
DR: Well, we are still small. I have an employee in Nashville, one in Los Angeles, and then one in the Winston-Salem area, and I am in Concord, NC.

EOAF: So you are still working out of your house?
DR: Yes, we all do that.

EOAF: That’s convenient.
DR: Yeah, we’ll its got its advantages and pitfalls, as anyone who works out of their house will tell you.

EOAF: That type of flexibility sort of allows you to move where you need to go. Do you often get on the road to support your musicians?
DR: Yes, although I can’t do it as much as I used to, just because it’s so busy on all aspects of what we do. But, yes, I get out quite a bit.

EOAF: What would you say over the past year has been one of your highlights of being at a show?
DR: Well the two shows with The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks this past year were great. Seeing The [Avett] Brothers down in Atlanta in front of 12,500 people was pretty special as well, because I was at the first show when the guys played in Atlanta. You know you go from playing to 50 people to 12,500 and you see the growth of the band. It’s pretty amazing.

EOAF: Does that shift ever seem overwhelming? Do you ever ask yourself, “How did we get here?”?
DR: Well, I know kinda how we got there. It was a lot of hard work, and a lot of talent from the band. I feel like we’ve got one of the best fan bases in the world. So, you mix all three of those things together and some special things can happen. But in some ways I’ve lost scope of maybe how big it is, and maybe that’s a good thing. I mean, I saw the guys play to 8 or 9 people in Charlottesville, VA 10 years ago and they put on the same show to those 9 people that they did at their last show in Charlottesville to over 4,000. So, I think we all have blinders on when it comes to that. We are thankful that we have that kind of crowd, but it’s not something that we, I mean, it is what it is.

EOAF: Now some of the bands that I believe you have on your roster now were introduced through your relationship with The Avett Brothers. Do you kind of keep an eye on their opening bands as a way to find new talent?
DR: It just depends. I find them everywhere.

EOAF: Are you actively looking for new talent, or do you feel like you are pretty much at capacity at this point?
DR: Well, we are pretty full, but you never know what you might come across that strikes us. That’s sort of a hard one, you know, because you just kind of get bit by the love bug on it, so I just don’t know.

EOAF: You’ve probably served as a mentor for the musicians that you manage, but do you also serve as a mentor for your staff?
DR: There’s a lot of give and take with my staff. I always had the saying, ‘big team, little me’ so we always learn from one another. I’m learning something everyday at this job. So, we share the knowledge of this, and I think the main thing that we are trying to do is to have fun doing this, because there are so many people working jobs that hate their jobs. My staff and I are really lucky because we are doing something we really love and have fun doing. As far as being a mentor, I’m not sure. I think we are all in this together, so it’s not necessarily that kind of role I’m playing.

EOAF: As a manager, how would you define your job. What are the important qualities that you think have led to your success?
DR: I guess, well, you see in some ways I don’t even feel like we are in the music business. I’m in The Avett Brothers business. I’m in the Carolina Chocolate Drops business. I’m in the Bombadil business, the Langhorne Slim business. I feel like all of these acts we work with are all handmade kind of acts. They are all unique. They are all different from the norm. It’s tough for me to answer. I’ve been at this now for about 13 years and I had no experience of it before getting into it, so maybe I had no bad habits and I didn’t know the pitfalls necessarily. We kind of just went by the seat of our pants. But, you know, I’m from a very blue-collar family, so I’m just a hard worker first and foremost. I show up everyday, and I care. If you show up everyday and you care about what you are doing, it’s almost hard not to have success, because there are so many people not showing up with that passion. I can’t speak for those folks, but we just take a lot of passion and pride in this, and I want everybody on the planet to hear these acts.

EOAF: That passion and that gut feeling you get when you find a new artist, or hear someone like Langhorne or Paleface, does that feed into your decision to bring them on? Would it be difficult for you to represent someone who you didn’t have that feeling about?
DR: Yes, it would be tough. It just wouldn’t be fun.

EOAF: You’ve said in other interviews that you are really just a fan of music, and that is kind of what got you into this. Do you think your musical tastes have evolved since staring Ramseur Records 13 years ago?
DR: Well, I’ve always been left of center when it comes to music, so I like all forms. If anything I get jaded because I hear so much stuff, and it’s hard to digest so much music that’s coming at me sometimes. My father was a big Johnny Cash fan. He was a big Hank Williams Sr. fan. He was a big Roy Orbison fan. He loved The Platters. He was a big Pavarotti fan. My father is about as blue-collar as you are going to find. He didn’t go to college, real hard-working fella. So, he exposed myself and my sister to a lot of different kinds of music. So maybe I get that a little bit naturally. He also had a thing when it came down to gospel music, he would rather have someone who was not a great singer but put a lot of heart and soul into it as opposed to a great singer who was just going through the motions. I learned that early on from him. I don’t know how much my tastes have evolved, because I just like so much stuff.

EOAF: You grew up surrounded by all of that great music. Do you actually play an instrument or sing?
DR: No. I do not. I keep telling people that I am one of the world’s greatest musicians, I just haven’t found what instrument will get it out of me. I do not play, and I think I learned that from tennis. I taught tennis at country clubs and I went to college for tennis and I kind of lost the passion for that because I did it so much. I’m almost glad I don’t play an instrument, because it kind of keeps me from overloading too much.

EOAF: When you started Ramseur Records, did you start it with the intent of putting out albums and being a manager, or did that combination evolve over time?
DR: Yeah, it kind of evolved. Again, I really didn’t know what I was doing at all.

EOAF: And starting the label came out of a relationship with Martin Stephenson?
DR: Yes. Martin had gone through the whole gambit of the industry from being an independent artists who got signed to a major label. Martin, very much like The Avett Brothers, never had radio success, but he was selling thousands of tickets in the UK, and really doing well. He had a very similar story to what The Avett Brothers have going on, where they have kind of danced around mainstream success but sort of still stayed under it. That’s kind of what Martin did. So, I learned quite a bit from Martin and he is very similar to The [Avett] Brothers and he’s got the same gift they’ve got.

EOAF: How did you meet him?
DR: That kind of goes back to me being a music fan. He had left major labels and went through the indie route and was putting out records on his own, and I reached out to him. He noticed I’m from NC and he’s a bit of a fan of music from this state, like Doc Watson and Charlie Poole and the Piedmont blues players from the state. So we just struck up a friendship, and I told him that he should come over to NC and I will introduce you to some pickers. That’s kind of how it all happened. I really didn’t have any real idea of getting into the business. When I met Martin I could see where musicians need help, and they need some support and someone to help and put fuel on the flame.

EOAF: So, a manager is like a Jack-of-all-trades. You have to do everything, wouldn’t you say? You are the sounding board, you book, you promote, you do all of these things.
DR: Yes, definitely.

EOAF: In that light, I saw that The Avett Brothers recently released their first single off of their next album. Are you involved in those types of decisions, like which single will be released, album art, song sequence, etc?
DR: That’s a yes and no type of question. It differs for every act, because some acts will want our input on a certain aspect of the [process]. Like, some may want to know feedback on a single. Some may be dead set on a track listing and some may be dead set on artwork. Some will need help on artwork, and some will need help on the track list. It varies from case to case. We are and we aren’t, just depending on what the project is, where the artist is. Sometimes the artist may change where they need help, because they are so close to the project. They sometimes need help from someone that’s got a little separation from it.

EOAF: In terms of an artist like Langhorne Slim, his last album, to me, was Grammy-worthy. Does it ever surprise you when things don’t get as much attention or the attention you think they deserve?
DR: No, no. We are just thankful for the attention we get and we can’t sit around hoping and wishing and ‘what ifs.’ We have to play the deck of cards we are dealt. You know that album to date has sold 22,000 copies. That is a lot of records for an independent act like Langhorne. I look at all of then albums like babies. You want them to grow up and do well. Sometimes they do and sometimes it doesn’t stick. It’s hard to say what America or the world wants, and the way certain things go. You know, who knows? I have no clue.

EOAF: How do you find a balance between managing all of your acts?
DR: It’s hard for me to know what time is spent on what. With some of my acts, certain employees will spend most of their time with those certain acts. Of course I spend most of my time with The [Avett] Brothers, with The [Carolina Chocolate] Drops. So it’s just kind of hard to say how that time is divided up. I’m so close to it, it’s hard for me to kind of step back and see it.

EOAF: Can you speak about your handshake contracts? Why does this work for you and has it ever backfired?
DR: No, it hasn’t backfired and I don’t know, I just got into this business to have fun. I feel like if so much energy is spent on that kind of stuff it just sort of takes the spirit out of things. That’s not to say that you can’t have great spirit and great goodwill between two people in a contact, but I just kind of like the old thing that you get further with shaking hands than balling up a hand in a fist. Again, I don’t recommend it to other people. I just do my own thing.

EOAF: What kind of advice would you give to a rising musician who is looking to get signed or looking for someone to represent him/her?
DR: I would say more than anything would be to try to master your craft, and also try to realize that no matter how great you are, there’s always ways to improve. I don’t really deal with anyone like this, but I kind of sense that some artists think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. A lot of times that’s sort of when they plateau and never kind of get any further down the road than they already are. I feel like if you are an artist who is always trying to push the boundaries of what you are doing and always trying to improve as a singer, as a songwriter, as a performer, I would say definitely master your craft and a lot of things will fall in place with that. Also, there’s this sort of sense that you’ve got to get this success right now, and I don’t feel that’s the case. A lot of times people who did have success quickly, it would be a rocket ship–as soon as it goes up, it’s coming right back down. You have to think of it more as a balloon ride. Also I always say to steer clear of the American Idol, The Voice, those kind of things. I just kind of feel like that’s all smoke and mirrors in my opinion.

EOAF: Charity appears to be a big part of your business model. Why is that so important to you? Was that something that you thought of from the beginning, or has that just evolved over time?
DR: That might be my family background. I feel like all of my family has sort of had that mindset. We’ve all been pretty fortunate and hardworking. My grandparents where cotton mill workers, and they were real thankful to just have a job, and they were really active in their church and in the community. I remember my grandfather, who was born in 1902–my other grandfather was born in 1900–but my Grandpa Ramseur I remember, as a kid, every Thursday he would dress up in his Sunday best and go to the hospital and just pray for people in the hospital. He’d just go room to room and ask them if it was okay if he could pray for them. He did that for years. So, I guess I get it kind of honestly.

EOAF: Is there anything coming up in the near future, like the My Favorite Gifts Christmas Album, that you have in the works?
DR: There might be some things in regards to St. Jude with Bob’s daughter. Hopefully there will be some things that will come from that. We’ve got a new Cheerwine campaign with The [Avett] Brothers, the second installment of The Legendary Giveback and that’s going to be pretty exciting. We are always looking at things and seeing what might work. There are a lot of things being done that no one even knows about. We are fortunate to be in a position to help.

EOAF: That is awesome, and the fan base definitely takes it to another level as well. They organize their own fundraisers. I’ve seen it in action. It’s pretty amazing and inspiring, and it’s nice to know that you all have a piece in that, and that you’ve inspired other people as well.
DR: I can’t speak any more highly for the fan bases that [our] bands have. We are so fortunate. I feel like all of the acts realize that they wouldn’t have the careers they’ve had without the fans for sure. That’s another thing that I think has benefited me is growing up in the hub of NASCAR. When I was a kid, Richard Petty would sign autographs until nobody wanted one, but he would always thank the fans and let the fans know that without the fans he wouldn’t have the opportunity or then platform to do what he does.

We’d like to thank Dolph Ramseur for his time and contribution to Evolution of a Fan. To learn more about Ramseur Records and the artists, please visit the official website and Facebook page.

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Album Review: The Carpenter

We’ve changed a lot, and no one here can stop that train before it gets to where it’s going

These lyrics resonate with me each time I listen to The Avett Brothers’ new album, The Carpenter. While there are certainly collections of lyrical lessons nestled in all twelve of the album’s new songs, these particular lyrics from I Never Knew You serve as a shot of reality to fans, both old and new. The band, made up of brothers Scott and Seth Avett, bassist Bob Crawford, and touring members cellist Joseph Kwon and drummer Jacob Edwards, is sending a pretty clear message that they are a forward-moving, well-oiled, meticulously crafted machine that shows no sign of pumping the breaks anytime soon–not even for their fans who are waiting at the “I Want More Banjo Station” screaming, “Hey, what about us!?” Didn’t Ill With Want teach you all anything?

Sure, The Carpenter has a more produced sound (um, it’s a studio album), and yes it may teeter on the cusp of mainstream pop music with an Americana twist, but so what!? Music is made to move the listener, to evoke emotion and thought, and that is what The Avett Brothers do best–banjo or no banjo. If the album moves you to tears, laughter, love, goosebumps, or overwhelming joy, well then stay on board and enjoy the ride. If you start to experience motion sickness, please feel free to get off at the next stop and find a different destination, because this Avett train is movin’ on.

For me, listening to The Carpenter is kind of like taking that train ride through the countryside–a thought-provoking experience of varying landscapes for the senses and soul. The brothers Avett, a charming pair of musical vagabonds who never seem quite comfortable sitting still, take listeners on a journey down the path of self-discovery. While they have left deep, muddy bootprints in all corners of the US, their mode of exploration goes well beyond planes, trains, and automobiles, so much so that they spent nearly three years in the trenches mucking through their own very private experiences–both joyous and sobering–in order to put this album together.

The Carpenter certainly maintains a common theme we have seen from the Avetts over the past decade–man searching for meaning through the passing seasons. The opening track, Once and Future Carpenter, stays true to this theme as it portrays the travels of “a poet young and hungry” on the eternal path for purpose. Imagery of spinning slot machines accompanied by lyrics like “sometimes I hit/sometimes it robs me blind” remind listeners that while life’s just one big crap shoot, we have to take risks and make the best of the hand we are dealt.

Although Live and Die is the only banjo-heavy song on the album, I predict some disappointment from fans who covet that gritty punk-bluegrass Avett sound of past albums and live shows. Instead, Live and Die delivers a much more radio-friendly pop sound, and showcases a delicate and happy side of the banjo. This catchy tune is like a big ol’ mason jar full of NC honey, dripping with the sweetness that is Mr. Seth Avett. It doesn’t get any sweeter than this folks. It is a fun and joyful song that I will undoubtedly be singing in and around the house for weeks to come.

Winter in my Heart takes a somber turn as the band openly shares their woes with depression. A poignant admission of falling victim to the black veil of depression, this song will hit home for fans who have experienced their own feelings of hopelessness and despair. The brightest light in this dark song is Kwon’s hauntingly beautiful performance on the cello, which is further elevated by the eery cries of the musical saw (side note: whoever came up with the idea to use the musical saw on an album titled The Carpenter deserves his own Grammy. Seriously, that is genius!). Overall, Kwon adds breathtaking dimension to this already multifaceted cast of characters, and continues to solidify the authenticity and uniqueness of The Avett Brothers.

On a rejuvenated February Seven Avett country charm resurfaces with crisp guitar picking and clean vocals. This song feels like throwback Avett–a simple song with strong and honest lyrics, much like the songs of the musical legends that paved the way for them. Through My Prayers speaks to the heavy regret and sorrow that comes with missing the chance to tell someone you care. Here, Seth shares the story of a painful lesson learned and implores others to show the love in their hearts before it’s too late–no message could be more chilling and appropriate as this on the 11th anniversary of 9-11.

The Avetts take a brief departure from their traditional acoustic sound, and give a slight nod to their Nemo and Oh What a Nightmare roots by bringing out the electric guitar for a few face-melting riffs on songs like Geraldine and Paul Newman vs. The Demons. Paul Newman vs. The Demons offers a new twist on an old theme–not learning from past mistakes (think Distraction #74)–but this time with a very different sound that tends to distract from the album’s cadence. On a positive note, the song does evoke quite vivid Labyrinth-esque images of Seth falling down a dark rabbit hole while being grabbed at by his demons on the way down, only to find Paul Newman there to save him in the end. Seriously, in my mind this has already translated into the most amazing Crackerfarm video. Nevertheless, it will be interesting and exciting to see how this song matures and holds up on stage. Additionally, Pretty Girl from Michigan gets plugged in and ends up as one of the best songs on the album. This song has been a longstanding fan-favorite, so it is nice to see such a smooth transition from the road to the studio.

The infamous banjo returns on Down With The Shine, alongside a horns section that brings in some dirty Bourbon Street undertones. Although this song has been floating around for a few years, it made its first “national” debut on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and has been evolving ever since. More recently the live version has turned into something of a big top waltz with Scott acting as the dramatic ring leader. While this album version is masterfully layered with rich instrumentation, it unfortunately feels bogged down and sluggish in comparison to the live version. Herein lies the magic that is the ever-changing nature of Avett Brothers songs, and also why I don’t put too much stock into the initial “feel” of the album versions of their songs. Inevitably, the live variations of these songs will continue to move audiences and strengthen their already loyal fan base. Fear not weary, doubtful fans, it will be alright.

Deep beneath the mountains of depression, loss, and turbulence that drives the album, emerges a true gem that immediately beams with light. A Father’s First Spring shines brightly in all its glory as Scott shares the overwhelming feelings that accompanied the birth of his first child, Eleanor. To say that this song will move you to tears is an understatement (think Murder in the City, Part 2). Though simple, the lyrics “I was a child before/the day that I met Eleanor” reveal a complex evolution of character. Scott’s mastery of song and story allows him to speak on life’s purest love–that of a parent for his child–and evoke the deepest of emotions, even in listeners who have yet to experience parenthood. This track is a pure nugget of gold–a special gift from a proud daddy to his daughter, all in the name of posterity (of course).

The album closes with Life, which highlights the fragility of our time here on Earth. Themes of faith and love are intricately woven through the song in true Avett fashion. The beauty of this song lies in its simple message to live with intention and keep those you love close, for “we’re not of this world for long”. As the end of the musical journey approaches, Life leaves me with a feeling of hope, promise, and empowerment.

Overall, The Carpenter proves to be a cohesive collection of songs that gives fans a glimpse into the maturing hearts and minds of men who strive to find deeper meaning and purpose in life. The album succeeds in balancing themes of life and death–good and evil–and opens the door to further discovery and evolution. What it may lack in raw energy, it certainly makes up for with raw emotion, like a wound left open for all the world to see. This album bears the souls of a band of brothers who have been up against some very serious life changing events, yet in their transparency fans are afforded the opportunity to listen, relate, heal, and push on to a new day.

The Carpenter, which was officially released today, is available on iTunes and exclusively at Target with bonus tracks* (*Standing With You and Die Then Grow are wonderful additions to the album, and will ease some of the longing for that old Avett sound).

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Langhorne Slim and The Law – The Way We Move

Langhorne Slim and The Law

With the introduction of websites like PledgeMusic, musicians now have a way to help cover the costs of making an album.  The process is easy–fans pledge a certain amount of money to help fund the album in exchange for some type of band memorabilia or experience.  This new music business model  directly incorporates the fan into the album making process, thus spawning a symbiotic relationship between musician and fan.

Last year, Langhorne Slim and The Law decided to turn to their fans for help with their next project.  This move seemed more than appropriate for a band that has been known to break into jam sessions after shows and who’s lead singer often invites fans on stage while he performs.  Slim and The Law have been making direct connections with their fans for years, so when the fans were given the opportunity to pay it back with the PledgeMusic campaign, they didn’t shy away.  Over 450 fan pledges were made and the guys responded kindly with a brilliant new album, The Way We Move, which will be officially released by Ramseur Records on June 5th.  The overwhelming fan response through PledgeMusic exceeded the band’s original goal by over 50%–a striking testament to the quality of their craft and character.

Interestingly, I’ve discovered that Slim’s music doesn’t always ‘hook’ the listener until he/she sees him perform live, which is where he shines the brightest.  Whether on stage solo or with his band, Slim is able to use his powerful bluesy rasp and jovial, heartfelt lyrics to project straight into your soul with ease.   However, on his previous EPs and albums, this quality was somewhat lost in translation.  Fortunately, all 14-tracks on The Way We Move capture Slim and The Law’s live spirit and energy better than any other previous studio recordings.

This is the album you should play for the non-believers who just can’t seem to get on board the Langhorne Slim Express.  The upbeat, joyful title track alone is enough reason to pick up the album in its entirety.  Just try to play that song and sit still.  Impossible.  In between raucous tracks, Slim finds moments on the album to slows things down.   Among the slower tracks, Salvation evokes the fear of moving on with lyrics like I want to hold you but my hands are cold/I meant to catch you but I moved too slow/I hate to leave, but it’s time to go, while Coffee Cups chronicles the emotions that come with life on the road.  Well known as a hopeful romantic, Slim reveals his doubts and desires in love on several tracks including On the Attack and Someday.  Slim’s band–The Law–provides a menagerie of beautiful supporting sounds including banjo/keys (David Moore), drums (Malachi DeLorenzo), and upright bass (Jeff Ratner), as well as back-up vocals/yells on tracks like Found my Heart and Two Crooked Hearts.  The album closes with Past Lives, a crowd favorite at live shows that often involves Slim walking out into the audience to rub sweaty shoulders with his biggest supporters.  Perhaps this was the band’s way of ending the album with a big “Thank You” to all of the folks who helped turn a dream into a reality.  It couldn’t have happened to a nicer band.

Check out the video for their title track, The Way We Move:

Nothing beats a live Langhorne Slim and The Law show, so check out their website for tour dates, and pre-order their new album, too.

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