Photos by William Michael Smith
Just prior to Fred Eaglesmith’s sold out show at Mucky Duck Tuesday night, his young bassist Luke Stackhouse tapped on the window of the van.
“Hey, Joey just called from the Ray Lamontagne show in Toronto and said they’re playing Tinderbox as the pre-show music.”
“Wow, cool,” says Eaglesmith. “These young guys with me, they’re all into Ray,” he explains.
So what was Eaglesmith thinking when he put together Tinderbox, with its clanging poor-man’s gospel vibe?
“I’ve been playing Americana stuff since I was a kid of seven,” Eaglesmith says, “and I’ve been smelling the death of the whole Americana thing for little while now. Too many people are in it, and everybody’s heard one too many pensive songs and out-of-tune steel guitars,” he says flatly, like your accountant telling you there’s going to be a penalty.
“And the Americana thing has become this religion of sorts now, so much so it’s getting exclusive instead of inclusive.”
Certainly identified with Americana and alternative country himself, Eaglesmith has been consciously trying to distance himself from that label like John McCain distancing himself from George Bush.
“We made a little different kind of record this time and suddenly everything feels very alive again," he says. "Now we’re out here playing it, I realize I’ve always had the most fun when I’m on the fringe musically.”
Eaglesmith sees the Americana thing as overdone.
“I also have this theory things change about every decade, like the rise of Kurt Cobain signaling the death of metal. I was just thinking if Americana is running out of gas, where else is there to go with music and gospel is one obvious choice,” he explains in a very un-Joel Osteen manner. “Of course, what‘s really going to make a comeback I think is rock and roll. Lots of the young indie bands are going to bend back towards rock and roll, and it‘s going to be great.”
Eaglesmith sees himself as part of that movement: "We’re a rock and roll band every night now,”
The burly Canadian sees his venue preferences changing with the new times.
“I don’t know how I ever got into bigger concert venues," he says. "I’m not a classical musician, I’m a guy who does his best work in a bar. We played this place the other night where we were just shoved back in a corner and that magic happened, the stuff you do this night after night for.”
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Who might Eaglesmith’s audience have been when he and producer Scott Merritt took the gospel template to heart in constructing Tinderbox?
“I was making this record for the still dysfunctional who have nowhere else to go, no other music to go to. I made it for the hairdresser with a pack of smokes in her purse and booze on her breath who’s on her way to church.”
An album of what his drummer calls “alt-gospel” has brought unexpected reactions.
“I thought maybe the fundamentalists would come unglued, but there hasn’t been a peep. On the other hand, some secular people have complained that I made a little pussy gospel record. I guess they didn‘t get it.” - William Michael Smith