Deadstring Brothers: Interview
No Alt in this Country
Music and Detroit have, historically, rarely been synonymous. Instead the city
is famous for Motown, Garage Rock, Techno and films about peroxide rappers
struggling to make it on the underground hip-hop scene. Enter the Deadstring
Brothers, a Detroit 6 piece who play harmony laden country rock songs with a
subtly modern bent.
Tiny Mix Tapes caught up with the band at the tail end of their recent UK tour in London to
discuss their dislike of the term Americana, why Radiohead will have an effect
on you if you listen to them 1000 times, and the US
release of Starving Winter Report, their upcoming Bloodshot records
So let's start from the very beginning. When exactly did the band start?
Kurt Marshke: About 2002
That was in Detroit?
K: Yeah, I was just playing a lot of solo gigs. We started playing gigs in late
2002 as a band.
You were originally a two piece?
K: Yeah, and I was just doing gigs by myself, and then the two piece and then
the whole band just started falling together.
Masha Marjieh: We're working up to a 30 piece band.
You plan on bringing an orchestra on tour?
K: We're not doing that. We're a six piece band.
How has touring the UK been?
K: Its been great.
Do you find British audiences respond differently then American audiences?
K: It's about the same. We have toured here more.
Do you find it easier to connect with UK crowds? A number of American bands have
historically come to the UK before attempting to crack the states. The British
seem to be more readily acceptive of different musical styles. Do you find that
has helped in creating an audience here?
K: No, not really. It's just that we have worked here more and so we have more
relationships. We have been through a lot of these towns more then once. Where
as in the states we haven't really worked that much. The first record didn't
have distribution in the United States. Now with Bloodshot over there, we will
have distribution. So we will tour a lot more. I would expect it to go kind of
similar to over here. It's just that the land mass is so much bigger. Takes a
lot longer to get around.
Do you find performing an essentially American sound has made it easier to stand
out in the UK?
K: I don't know yet, because we haven't had much exposure in the US. But there
seems to be a market for what we are doing here. I guess in any market you are
either going to stand out or your not.
How did you get involved with Bloodshot?
K: Rob Miller saw us at a couple of shows, and he liked the band, and asked us
to be on their ten year anniversary comp. From there it led to us working on a
record with them.
How does it
feel to be involved with a label that is renown for being famously connected to
alt country and country? Is that an exciting new step for the band?
K: Until the record comes out, it hasn't felt much different. It's good to have
a base in Chicago. I think that will be our place to work out of. They seem
really established there. It will be kind of like our American headquarters.
Bloodshot is frequently associated with “alt-country”. Are you guys comfortable
with the possibility of being labelled with that term?
K: We just call it country rock
Listening to the album, it doesn't have an alternative “thing” to it.
K: Year more of a rock and roll, country rock thing. And even Bloodshot acts, a
lot of them aren't really alternative either.
When did you record the new album?
K: The new album was recorded in the winter months of this year.
Did you do it in Detroit?
Was it a long process?
K: We did it over a period of time. We didn't do it all in one session. We did
it at this place called the White Room studios which is in down town Detroit and
then we over dubbed at a little studio I have at my house.
Do you write the songs in the studio or do you write them on the road while
K: Oh yeah, most of them are done in rehearsals. Gigs too, we played a lot of
these songs on the road last year; to debug them.
Being originally a solo act and then a two piece, how did the current band form?
K: It was kind of happenstance, everyone was local musicians in Detroit, and it
just sort of came together, we all kind of knew each other.
Are you all old friends?
K: Yeah, kind of, we all associated via the music scene in Detroit. Some people
in Detroit like country music and want to be a part of a country band and some
they mixed rock and roll and country it just seemed, I don't know, it just
seemed to be magical or something."
Detroit has over the past couple years been
associated with garage rock. You've been asked about it here in the UK. Do you
ever get frustrated being asked about that scene when you don't perform that
signature sound? Do you even feel a part of that scene?
K: We are definitely not a part of the scene. We have played a lot of those same
places as those bands but we aren't part of that scene.
Do you ever get any cross over from those bands?
K: A little bit. Phil, our bass player, is in a band called the Witches. Which
they call a garage rock band, which is just another rock band. A great band, but
they are associated heavily with that scene. There is kind of that little weird
residual window of stuff where a lot of our friends are in those bands and kind
of have a lot of similar stuff going around.
Let's talk about the new album. Specifically the last track “Lonely Days,” I am
not normally a country fan, but that song drew me in with its rich harmonies. It
has a strong storyteller vein with a soul edge to it as well. Is that
intentional and is that important to you?
K: I think that last track is kind of Motown, R&B and Soul inspired. But not on
a conscious level. We didn't say lets do something with a Motown feel.
You didn't want to sound like Marvin Gaye?
K: Yeah, but it's a song that you, know, on a story level, isn't unlike the
other songs. It's just that it ended up coming out that [Motown] way via
rehearsals. We kind of figured it was the best way. Even though we have limited
times, we don't have unlimited time to work on these songs and these records.
There are a lot of time restrictions. So you kind of do what you can with the
time you have. I would like to be able to approach these songs from every
different angle. Unfortunately we don't have the time. Fortunately for us, the
players are sensitive to what we are doing and I think that helps a lot with not
having the amount of time that we would like to spend on a record. So yeah, if
we had more time it would be cool to be able to experiment more with different
ways of approaching stuff. It was just by chance that song came off that way.
The lyrics seem very optimistic, but the kind of defiant optimism that has dealt
and coped with troubles in the past.
K: You are listening to it too much, you are gonna ask these questions that I
would hate to answer, (laughs). I am glad that you listened to them like that.
It's just that it gets a little personal. But you are probably really on the
mark with that. I think at the end of the day it's all optimistic. Obviously
life throws you a lot of weird stuff.
Is that important to you when you write? It all seems very personal but
accessible. You seem to instil your own experience into the song. Is that
important to what you do?
K: I think it might happen that way, and if it does that would be great. And if
people interpret it that way then that is great. I take it as a compliment. If
it transcends, I think that would be the whole trick to what we are trying to
Let's talk about the vocals. Masha, you joined the band recently?
M: Maybe about a year ago, officially.
K: Masha sang on the first record, and did all the touring for the first record.
When we did the artwork for the first record, she wasn't a part of the band, and
we didn't know that she would be touring with us, and we had no idea it would
work out the way it did. Otherwise she would have been listed as a proper
member. Right when the record came out we started touring, and she was able to
come along and that developed into how the second record sounds, which is a lot
more a part of it.
The rich harmonies between the two of you really stand out on the album. Is that
where you want your sound to develop?
K: We started developing that on the first record. You can see the origin of
that on there. It's really thick on the first record too. I was trying to just
make a great record. I didn't think, “Oh how could we do this live” and then we
were just fortunate enough that she was able to tour with us.
M: And I was fortunate enough that they asked me.
K: So it worked out really well, and hence, you don't have to be afraid of
adding it to the second record. Because you know that she is with us, that she
will be touring with us.
hard for Radiohead not to have an effect on you if you listen to OK Computer
1000 times. You know what I mean? How can that not have an effect on your psyche
On a slightly more childish vein, why play this
style of music?
K: Certainly not the money (laughs). This is the music that makes sense for the
band and the people who are in it. I mean, if you look at all the members,
everyone has done different things. This music makes so much sense to us. When
we started it Phil and I would talk when we were recording the first record. He
would be sitting there working on stuff, Phil would say, “No one cares about
this stuff anymore right?” We had no idea that we would even be able to tour
period, making this kind of music. We just figured, “well this is a project and
we are going to see it through.” We have been fortunate enough to tour and start
to build a fan base. Which we had no expectation of doing. We just thought we
can make these records cause we can, since I had my own little studio. It was
more for the sake of doing it as opposed to… This is the music that if I could
make as the ultimate music, it's the music I would make. And if we were able to
tour on it, and make it a living on it…this is just the stuff that I think of as
the ultimate project.
K: And for fun's sake, too. The whole country thing and the ‘60s rock country
cross over thing I always felt really strong about…
K: I don't know. It was an interesting dynamic that took place. When country met
rock and roll. Really really interesting stuff. Because you know, everything was
kind of merging at that point and all rock was kind of new, and when they mixed
rock and roll and country it just seemed, I don't know, it just seemed to be
magical or something.
Like it made sense?
K: Really really cool stuff, how they collided and a lot of great stuff came out
of it musically. But then it went away pretty quick in the ‘70s cause the ‘70s
switched so much. But I thought they didn't really explore that. They didn't
have that many years of really working on it. So maybe we are trying to just
figure out if they have missed anything that we can pick up. I am just picking
up little pieces of stuff trying to build something out of it. The country rock
thing, I don't know, Graham Parsons got into the steel guitar. But not many of
those other guys did. They didn't put a steel guitar with rock and roll a whole
On that same point, you get compared a lot to Graham Parsons and Exile on
Main Street era Stones. Do you find those comparisons daunting?
K: I don't think it's daunting. If people came and saw us, and thought oh,
that's just a terrible rip off and a parody, I hope that they wouldn't. Because
it's not exactly what we are doing. But I like the fact that people are writing
that, because it strongly influenced what we do but there is a lot of other
stuff they don't write about which influences what we do to.
What else influences you?
K: Even more modern stuff. You just can't just say I stop listening to records
K: Yeah, “I don't listen to any records after that”, I mean, we grew up
listening to lots of different music. All through our childhood and stuff. I
listened to lots of that [country] stuff as a kid too. But you grow up with lots
of other bands who were famous. It's hard for Radiohead not to have an effect on
you if you listen to OK Computer 1000 times. You know what I mean? How
can that not have an effect on your psyche somehow? I felt that was a passionate
record and I spent a lot of time listening to that and even the
You know, a ton of different artists, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, all those
records, how could they not have an effect on you? So I would be crazy if I said
that those [country rock bands] were our only influences. You listen to all
those records so much, that they had to figure in there somewhere.
Do you feel an affinity with more modern alt-country bands and artists like Neko
Case and Ryan Adams?
K: I like both those artists a lot, and what they do. I think if people thought
we were in the same genre as them that would be great. I don't know if we are.
That's all American country and Americana influenced but we're not...yeah I
mean...gosh, I am trying to think…I guess that it's the same genre right?
Yeah, I guess it has that same alt tag.
K: Which will change in a few years… we will all still be making records but it
will be called something else. With the same artists doing the same stuff
played in the South?
K: We have played South by Southwest a few times. Our touring hasn't really
brought us to the South yet. The Bloodshot thing should change that.
Do you find the idea of playing your style of music in the South daunting?
K: No not at all. We could take this line-up anywhere in the South and we would
feel really comfortable doing what we are doing. I think a lot of people there
would be happy to hear what we are doing. There is no place in America where I
wouldn't want to play. I'd like to take this band all over that country.
Are you comfortable with the term Americana?
K: It seems like in England, Americana is not rock and roll at all. We are way
more of a rock and roll band. So with Americana you get that label…Americana in
England at least, as far as we can tell, is singer songwriter based, and quiet
and more intimate. I mean we are a bar band. A loud bar band. The term Americana
does not work at all for us.
M: It's a restriction on the kind of people who come to the shows.
It boxes you in? They like to do that here in the UK.
K: I understand that but even alt-country, if you have to use a term, would fit
better. We've toured the Americana circuit here and it's mostly singer
songwriter, and we have played them and it doesn't work for us, it doesn't seem
like our crowd, although they have been great, and we love that people come out
and they seem reasonably entertained but I don't know if they are expecting
quieter. It's mostly singer songwriters, a lot quieter and in seated venues.
Finally, is there one question you wish the press would actually ask you?
K: I guess if they asked me…
M: A ton of money. “I have a million dollars in my pocket. Would you like it?”
Yes. (laughs) Not going to ask that question are you? (laughs)
M: This interview is over! (laughs)