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Tuesday, 21 June 2016 19:41

This must be the place

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art theplaceIt’s a rabbit hole.

When one dives into a band, performer or genre, you find yourself swimming in the depths of an ocean of sound and tone, where the possibilities are as endless as the number of albums and acts out there, all ready to surprise you at a moment’s notice.

As the guitarist/keyboardist for acclaimed hard rock act The Drive-By Truckers, Jay Gonzalez is well aware of just how far down the rabbit hole goes. For a musician who performs throughout the world in one of the loudest and wildest rock groups in the industry, Gonzalez might raise a few eyebrows from the band’s passionate fans when he speaks of the charm of AM pop radio from the 1960s and 1970s. 

But, you see, that’s the thing. It makes perfect sense he, and probably the rest of the Truckers, would point to those early AM gold sounds as an influence to their creations. Heck, besides the fact the Truckers grew up in that era, with many of those melodies shaping their childhoods, if one digs below the surface of those songs, you see just how intricate and vital those tunes are. It’s like they say in bluegrass, “the most talented pickers are those that make it look easy, which is the hardest part.” 

And yet, the same can be said about ‘60s/‘70s pop arrangements, where to wrangle an entire idea and sonic ability into a three-minute song can prove difficult, especially when you take into account how well those songs have stood the test of time. 

It’s all part of the grand scheme of things, musically and creatively, that Gonzalez applies to his solo band, which will be swinging through The Grey Eagle in Asheville on June 29.

Garret K. Woodward: With your solo project, it harkens back to those catchy pop/rock melodies of the 1960s and AM radio gold. You’ve mentioned before your deep love of that sound. What specifically in those melodies, in their structure and tone, appeals to you?

Jay Gonzalez: Broadly speaking, there’s a wistfulness that lies in the combination of the chords, melodies and the arrangements of so many hit songs from that era. I think there was an adventurous quality to them as well, maybe because of the psychedelic influence? You still had string or orchestral arrangements happening, but mixed with a rock and roll rhythm section. Songs had interesting chord progressions and bold melodies. I feel that things are more rhythmically driven these days in modern pop, more three or four chord loops as opposed to an extended progression of chords. Something like “Can We Still Be Friends?” by Todd Rundgren is a good example, sophisticated chords, catchy melody, thoughtful lyrics and interesting arrangement — all those voices in the bridge, I’m still not sure how anyone could’ve come up with that. And it was a Top 40 hit to boot.

GKW: And with those AM radio gold type songs, how has learning them, playing them, and also writing in that structure, taught you about the songs? And also, how has it affected how you approach your work, onstage and in the studio, with the Truckers?

JG: Well, I’m in the middle of a residency on the rooftop bar of the Georgia Theatre in Athens, and all I’m playing is stuff from that era. It has been a blast picking out songs, getting into a YouTube wormhole, finding a song I hadn’t heard since I was a tiny kid, then figuring out the chords and seeing if I could pull it off in a sort of piano bar way. I used to do a similar thing at a bowling alley years ago, and there are several songs on my first album that have strangely similar chord sequences to, say, “Lotta Love” and “Mr. Bojangles.” I certainly take that sensibility into the Truckers sessions, but not so much consciously as just trying to find the perfect part for whatever song we’re doing at the time. I try to make it as simple as possible and memorable as well. We’ve all got a bit of common ground musically, especially in that ‘70s AM radio territory, so it tends to work out well.

GKW: What are you seeing out there these days when you take a gander at the landscape of the music industry? Everything is changing so rapidly, for good or ill. Where are we at, and where are we going?

JG: I honestly have no idea where it’s all headed. Though I was just a counselor at a great rock camp here in Athens — Camp Amped — and we were discussing this topic. Our head counselor brought out the digital royalty stats and I think it blew the kids’ minds. But, though we were imploring them to be smart about the business side, we really wanted them to remember that the music making part will always be the same and to focus on that.

GKW: When you’re out there onstage, and the band is firing on all cylinders, where do you go in your head? 

JG: I get pretty excited, of course. You know it’s going great when you stop thinking about all the other stuff involved with touring — when all the white noise subsides and it’s all in sound that’s happening at the moment. 

 

See the show

Drive-By Truckers guitarist/keyboardist Jay Gonzalez will perform on Wednesday, June 29, at The Grey Eagle in Asheville. Gonzalez will open, with Brett Harris to follow, and The Explorers Club to close the evening. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. www.thegreyeagle.com or www.jaygonzalez.com

 

Hot picks

1 Americana acts The Maggie Valley Band and The Colby Deitz Band will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 25, at The Strand at 38 Main in Waynesville.

2 A street dance will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 24, in front of the Historic Haywood County Courthouse in downtown Waynesville.

3 Renowned bluegrass band Mountain Faith will perform from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 25, at the Bloemsma Barn in Franklin.

4 The comedy production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. June 24-25, 30 and July 1-2, and also at 2 p.m. June 26 and July 3 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville. 

5 The “Groovin’ on the Green” concert series will host Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’Blues (rock/blues) at 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 24, at The Village Green in Cashiers.

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