Photo by Mark Newsome Kartarik.
The album has such great arrangements. Did you write the parts, or was it more of a collective thing between you and your bandmates?
For many of the parts, I came up with the arrangements, although things of course changed organically in the studio as we were recording. For example, “Bridgebuilder” has this cool drum part that I’d had in my head for a long time. Making this record was kind of weird in that I didn’t share the music with anyone until we were in the studio—not even Mark heard any of it in advance. That was a tough sell.
Why didn’t you share the music in advance?
I was holding it close to my chest because I didn’t feel comfortable sharing music that was probably completely different from what my bandmates expected. The songs are pretty out there compared to the first record. The good part was that my band is so great. Those guys can pretty much nail whatever you ask them to do. They have such an organic approach and they really gave the songs the kind of urgency that they called for. And it made the music sound fresh to work up the songs in the studio, and then learn them to play live.
How’d you get that unusual sound on the intro to “Bossy,” almost like a mbira or thumb piano?
I played Mark’s 1960s Gibson B-25—it sounded like a million bucks—and a 1960s Gibson nylon-string as well. That intro is a composite of a few acoustic parts. We got every element down to tape, and then re-amped it all through the Magnatone.
“It Shook Me Up” has a great baritone solo.
That’s actually Mark Neill on his Danelectro 6-string electric bass. He’s not just an amazing producer but also an incredible player, and I really wanted to find a spotlight for him on the record.
“Mother of Lies” also has an excellent guitar solo, presumably yours. What’s your approach to soloing?
When recording a solo, I usually take a few passes. We recorded “Mother” live and the band kept playing until we found a groove. I got an idea, started the solo and kept building on it. On the record you can hear that there’s a bit of a slowdown after the solo. That wasn’t intentional, but since it was the best portion of the solo it made it to the record.
YouTube ItWatch JD McPherson and his band at an in-studio performance at Seattle’s KEXP.
How do you find your own voice in channeling 1950s rock?
First and foremost, writing songs is the most important thing I do. I learned pretty early on that there might be some really cool stuff happening on a record, but if the songs don’t resonate on some level, then it doesn’t work. Being that my preference is for music from that time period, my songs are of course going to be evocative of that era. I love rock ’n’ roll so much—I’ve loved it for half of my life—and so it completely informs what I do.