In the conversation, Slow Train Carter feigns ignorance of the Go-Bots, Pretty Fingers reveals why he stopped playing covers, Peck tells us where to get a Reuben, and Shoney Lamar discusses how haunted houses increase his mojo and helped record their new EP, Revenge of the Narrator, and much more:
QRO: Once upon a time Shoney Lamar & The Equal Rights was Shoney Lamar & Slow Train Carter – what happened?
Shoney Lamar: I can’t remember.
Slow Train Carter: For a while it was just Shoney Lamar. I joined in to help fill out the sound live seeing as the albums had full band arrangements. The idea was that one day there would be a band but until we could find the right people we would do the two-piece thing. That was in 2006. Pretty Fingers came around in spring of 2008 as an everyman that could play whatever the song needed live. He quickly became the guitar/tambourine player since it was unrealistic to lug all kinds of instruments around. Bryan Murphy from the Shills filled in as our drummer for a bit, and for a while Peck played New York shows and Bryan played Boston shows. Peck became the full time drummer in summer of 2008 and now here we are.
SL: Christopher Stelling was our drummer for a show as well. The only practice we had was him tapping on a chair with brushes right before the show. He used a suitcase as a kick drum. Pretty priceless. Big up to Christopher too, y’all dig it up: freedumbmusesick on MySpace!
QRO: Is there any luggage currently in the percussion rotation? If so, is it that wheely-type or the old-school, shoulder-destruction variety?
Peck: Yes, the shoulder-destroying kind. I bring an old Ludwig snare drum from, seriously, like, the 50’s. It’s the snare from the drummer in one of my first bands in middle school. I think it was his gay uncle’s drum set that was handed down to him in seventh grade and somehow I ended up with just the snare.
QRO: So the band started going through more changes than a 12-year old hermaphrodite. How did all the pieces come together?
P: Ooh, this is a long one. I was going to school at Emerson, studying poetry and music production and working at WERS as the Live Mix Director. I was running these workshops at the WERS studio to teach the young, aspiring engineers the basics of music recording, both for live on-air performances as well as traditional recording session-type scenarios. I was in a poetry class with Shoney’s girlfriend, who I became friends with, and when I told her about this idea to bring in a singer/songwriter to simulate a live-on-air situation for the station’s folk program, she said her boyfriend was, in fact, a singer/songwriter and would probably be happy to do it. When I called Shoney for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that on the other end of the line was one of the nicest southern gentlemen I’d ever spoken to. It was really quite a moment. He agreed to do the on-air performance, and in return I bought the first round of beers at the Intermission Tavern afterwards.
QRO: I hear that place has a great Reuben.
P: And potato chips! Anyway, I told him that if he ever wanted to do some recording, I would love to work on it at WERS. He was all like, “Yeah- when can we start?” So over the next few months we produced the album Real Folk Blues on which I was the drummer and Shoney played most of all the other instruments. Slow Train was brought in during the recording process to play bass on a couple songs, which is when I met Slow Train. Someone else played piano too. End of story…
QRO: Pretty Fingers?
Pretty Fingers: Well, Shoney and I were already working together, waiting tables, drinking after work. Shoney got me to come out and perform some songs at All Asia on one of the Wednesday Night Open Mics. Not too long after, down the road, Shoney and I sat down over some Avocado Club Egg Rolls and he looked deep into my eyes and said, “How would you feel about playing with Slow Train and me?” I thought it would be rude not too. He’s got style so I said yes.
QRO: Wow, yeah. So in the end, a solo act became a four man band?
There were more instruments in Shoney’s head than he and Slow Train had appendages to play so, as a band, we are really just appendages and whatnot: Slow Train is the right arm, Lance is the left arm, Peck is the feet, Shoney is the penis.
SL: Aren’t you sweet. Isn’t he sweet?
QRO: That kind of makes my heart skip a beat in a romantic way. So with four people, are you all on the same page musically? Who are your musical heroes and villains?
SL: Gangsta rap and the Pixies. And Tom Waits. I’m completely uninterested in The Beatles. Can we talk about something else?
ST: Spoon (QRO live review), the Strokes are good. I don’t dig pop or predictable, boring music.
P: Remember the old saying in elementary school: “No stupid questions, just stupid answers?” Shoney doesn’t just listen to gangsta rap. Is Jay-Z really gangsta rap? I thought he was all grown up? I still gotta get Shoney onto Reflection Eternal. What a great rap album. And unlike the other band weirdoes, I’ve always loved The Beatles. I grew up with that shit almost exclusively and have never turned my back on them.
P: Never. On this, me and Shoney agree to disagree…except, of course, when the Pixies cover a Beatles song, then somehow we are together on this.
PF: I usually hate pop music, but sometimes it finds its way in. Leonard Cohen, Marc Bolan, they’re cool. Also Spoon, Of Montreal (QRO live review), and I can’t lie: Sara Bareilles. I think it’s just a crush though. Villains? Nickelback, Creed, anything with that T-Pain thing going on, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Basically, music for dummies.
QRO: So you guys have got a lot of influences between you, and a pretty healthy discography to match. Historically, Shoney Lamar & Slow Train Carter have been a pretty prolific outfit. I mean, you have a ways to go to catch up to The Beatles catalog, but you never seem to leave fans waiting years on end for a new album. Is there any special musical philosophy or ethos that contributes to this productivity?
SL: Beatles! [slams table with fist, breathes deeply] I mention this only for fun, but I have in fact made more albums than them. Twenty-something. I write all the time and usually in the album format. Sometimes I take a break after recording one, but I just kind of never stop writing. There’s no philosophy. I work all the time because I don’t like having fun. I’m kind of a Darwinian failure on a lot of levels, but I can write a damn song. So I get to work.
QRO: Ok, so Shoney was gigging with The Beatles before the band came together. What were the rest of you guys up to?
P: I’ve been in different variations of the same band since sixth grade. I started out playing the bass, then switched to drums at 17. The band has most recently been called One Last Shot, but we’re considering changing the name again. Any ideas? Also, shout out to Joshua Gabriel who Shoney and I played and recorded with before he moved out to San Francisco with my sister.
PF: I’ve always been a writer myself. My sister hated hearing me play covers so I started writing. This August I’ll be releasing my first polished work with my band Baby Made Rebel, with more on the way behind it. It’s an EP called Serenity’s a Wreck. You’ll find it between the milk and bread. Or on MySpace.
QRO: Speaking of MySpace: Transformers or Go-Bots?
SL: I don’t care. Somebody pick for me.
ST: What are Go-Bots?
P: Ok fine, there are stupid questions.
PF: Too much corporate BJ action.
QRO: Whoa! Pretty harsh on the mechanized crime fighters! Let’s get back to the music. Tell me about your new EP Revenge of the Narrator: from what I’ve heard so far, its sort of blues “gone off the reservation.” Fair assessment?
SL: It’s not blues. I’m through with the blues. I’m all better now.
P: Not accurate. Where’s did the blues go? It’s still there- it’s just that Shoney stopped literally copying the blues and instead began writing new and original songs with the blues incorporated into them. The weird undertow has also always been there. I mean, this is Shoney we’re talking about, right?
ST: I don’t think the vibe has gotten stranger or weirder. Kind of like what Peck is saying. We’ve grown as a band. This is where we are now.
One part has to do with Shoney’s vision. I think we are closer than before. The second has to do with our playing and being able to pull it off better now. The vision, that is.
QRO: Sounds like things really came together for this EP. Was Revenge of the Narrator a good recording experience?
SL: Shit was magic. Peck lives in Brooklyn and came out to Boston, so we only had two days to set up and record the drums. My man Natan hooked us up with his basement at the real house of ultimate destiny in Jamaica Plain. This place is incredible: dank basement with spider webs everywhere. The kind of place spiders eat spiders. And it’s right next to that huge cemetery out there.
QRO: Two days in a haunted house is a pretty tough recording schedule…
SL: It didn’t look like we could do it at first, but we worked it out. We grabbed some mic stands and drum set pieces from All Asia, set up a great room, and got that awesome drum sound. Just me and Peck down there at this point- and I was joking with him that I was gonna get my guitar shit done too. He thought I was playing. I didn’t have an amp or a guitar or anything. So when he finishes up early on the second day, I walk upstairs and it’s one of these transient houses, people in and out all the time. There’s like six or seven people living there officially, and four couches, so I’m walking around like, “There has got to be an amp around here.” This girl who had literally just showed up and was hanging out was like, “Got one in my trunk.” The thing was the size of a lunchbox.
QRO: The amp or the trunk?
SL: The amp. So, sure enough, I walked up to Natan’s room and grabbed his guitar. It only had five strings on it, but I only really need 5 anyway. That top “E” is just for show really. Got that dirty guitar tone and I knocked it all out in two hours flat.
QRO: So the drum and guitar parts for all 6 songs off the EP were recorded in two days?
SL: We actually recorded 12 songs and cut it down to 6. This all went extremely fast. The next day we’re listening to it at me and Slow Train’s place, and we got an hour to kill before the show, so my man banged out the bass on all 12 songs in literally one hour. Most of it recorded and done right there, in three days altogether. A bit later we went to Brooklyn and recorded the vocals and Pretty Fingers’ guitar lines. I did all my vocals in one day, same with Pretty Fingers. And that was a wrap.
QRO: Sounds like a pretty smooth operation.
SL: I’ve never had a better recording experience.
QRO: What about the title? Who is this ‘Narrator’? Why does he need revenge? Why can’t he sublimate his anger into socially acceptable forms?
ST: Hold on, let me put on my detective hat.
SL: I don’t know. I drink too much. No man is a couch.
P: You think these things get thought out and talked about? They do not. We are both random and absurd.
PF: Peck, you took the words out of my mouth. Maybe it’s revenge on all that is tasteless and what is trying to be too tasty.
QRO: Vengeance against the tasteless and the too tasty. Words to live by.