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INTERVIEW: Boo Ray

Hi Boo, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Howdy, good thanks. Rehearsing a new record with my band before touring is a favorite part of it all for me. The records are their own creations and we use ’em kind of like blueprints when we’re arranging the new songs and placing them in the set for our live show. I try to pick guitar for an hour before rehearsal, have a three hour rehearsal, handle a few hours worth of record business duties and then pick again from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. working on new twin-guitar sections, additional instrumental movements within songs or fixing whatever rough spots rehearsal revealed that day. We rehearse in a shed out in White’s Creek a few days a week for a few weeks, take the new material for a test drive at a local joint and hit the road. Working with Kindercore Vinyl has been a big inspiration in making records spontaneously as their own creative statements, approaching them as an experimental process and allowing the process to alter the songs. Including Tennessee Alabama Fireworks we’ve released 2 full-length LPs and 3 vinyl singles in the last 2 years.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Gone Back Down to Georgia”?

I’ve been going to and leaving Georgia since I was a teenager. There’s an indigenous and regional sound of players and songwriters in Georgia and that music just got all the way to me, hit me right in the middle. I went down to Georgia to get off the damned mountain when I was a teenager, went out to California to get out of the south, got home sick for sweet tea and grits and now I’m in Nashville… So yeah, maybe this song’s kinda of in the spirit of that particular Georgia singer songwriter, writing device of being the most vulnerable, wounded part of yourself, offering it up in sacrifice and in celebration for anyone to identify with.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

There’s no way around the fact that the entertainment business can take a heavy toll on romantic relationships. The abnormal sleep cycles, the financial insecurity, the almost unshakeable myth that the road is some kind of ongoing hedonistic liaison, the high degree of difficulty of being emotionally healthy in the current sociopolitical environment, all of it combined was more difficult than I could solve at the time and it cost me a relationship that meant the world to me.  You ever see somebody ask somebody else who’s elbow deep in old fryer grease or waist high in a blackberry bush, “Hey, how ya doin’?” and the other person says “Livin’ the dream”… Haha! No need to construct irony, you know, at least not if you’ve got any skin in the game.

How was the process of shooting the video? Who all was involved?

Oh that was a damned blast! Price Harrison shot the video with famous mastering engineer turned Panavision prodigy Jim DeMain. Tala Chaiyavong shot stills. Mississippi’s own ray of light Avery Tucker played “Mallory” the femme fatale lead and my great buddy Chef Sean Brock played “Skillet” the short order cook. We thought we might get a shot of Sean cutting and onion in half and flipping a burger, but once he got behind the grill there was no stopping him. Sean made Cheese Burgers for the whole joint. It was so much fun. Other than that, Steve Poulton who runs Betty’s Bar & Grill and I hollered a few friends to join us at Betty’s for the shoot and that was casting. My buddy Matty Meyer from Pokey Lafarge and Marty Stuart sat in on drums. Other than the song, the only rhyme or reason to any of it, was that “Mallory” the female lead, collects a series of envelopes illustrated with different words, “Wallop”, “Twang”, “Kick”, “Smack”, “Bite” and “Pain” from some interesting looking characters. At the end of the video she hands the stack of collected envelopes to the male lead, me, let’s call me “Mickey” in exchange for an envelope marked “‘Preciate Ya!”.  Like Mickey & Mallory from Natural Born Killers. Once we had the absence of any plot written, Price and I talked about David Lynch darkly-lit kind of stuff and Quentin Tarantino-looking, Natural Born Killers type stuff. Price shot photography and art-directed the album also. We’ve been working together since 2012 when he shot the “Boots & Blue Jeans” video at Johnny’s Tavern and released Six Weeks In A Motel on his garage-rock label Ferelette that year.

The single comes off your new album Tennessee Alabama Fireworks – what’s the story behind the title?

Tennessee Alabama Fireworks is a fireworks superstore between Chattanooga and Nashville and until 8 or 10 months ago had a huge sign on I-24 West that stood like a southern gothic effigy carved in the mountain side. I’ve gone barreling by that sign more times than I could possibly count since 2007 when I was regularly going back and forth from Athens, Georgia to Nashville for five days of songwriting appointments at a time. I was darned near homeless when I was making those trips so getting put up in a hotel, fed and put to work writing was incredible. I had great big ideas in my mind and maybe a few pretty good songs in the works as I passed by that sign on any of those dozens of trips made back then. One of the times I went by that sign I was on my way to Nashville to write “Bad News Travels Fast” with Colin Linden and another time I was on my way to play my first full-band show in Nashville on The Billy Block Show. I moved to Nashville with a wonderful girl so she could join the roller derby team; the team fell apart and she went back down to Georgia right as things started to work for me in Nashville. So again I spent a couple of years making dozens of trips between Nashville and Athens and when things were most difficult that Tennessee Alabama Fireworks sign stood as some kind of hopeful and darkly comic landmark, welcoming me back to the refuge of my work and being immersed in the process of releasing five different pieces on vinyl in the last two years.

How was the recording and writing process?

We recorded thirteen songs live to tape in five days at Welcome To 1979 Studio in Nashville with producer Noah Shain, my band and a couple of  auxiliary players. That studio’s got a vibe that can’t help but tickle the thunder clouds and it’s set up to capture lightning at a whim. I wrote “A Tune You Can Whistle” at the studio one evening and we recorded it the next day. The rest of the songs I’d written, collected and culled on the coast to coast tours I’d just come off of. So our band was dialed in after playing a bunch of dates and we were operating in a real intuitive and creative way the whole time in the studio, down and dirty full-band takes or bust, you know.

What was it like to work with Noah Shain and how did that relationship develop?

Noah Shain first recorded two songs with me in Los Angeles in 2008, “Allez Allez” & “Constantina”. I traded Noah a Mesa Boogie guitar amp and a Roger Mayer Octavia Pedal for the sessions which were both released on my 2010 album Bad News Travels Fast. Then in 2015, Noah reached out to me right as I signed a good publishing deal and said “Let’s do a record, I’ve got the Ampex Tape Machine that recorded Dylan’s Nashville Skyline“. I doubled down and put my publishing check into making the record and that was “Sea Of Lights” which we recorded with Steve Ferrone and Paul Ill at Noah’s studio in downtown Los Angeles. Right after recording that album with those guys Noah told me go put your band together and make the playing that you’re doing with them so important that I’ve got to record your guys -vs- a batch of songs and a studio band. So, after coast to coast tours we landed back in Nashville and recorded the new album Tennessee Alabama Fireworks.

How much did he get to influence the album?

A bunch. Noah was constantly turning the gain down on our guitar amps and trying to keep us from being a bunch of juvenile guitar geeks. Which I’m eternally grateful for because it really accentuated the Jerry Reed type of things that we do. Noah’s also the one who said we needed a song responding to the current sociopolitical environment. He said “What’s the problem, what’s all the chaos about? What all the talentless celebrity worship about? Is there community level solution to any of this madness? What’s your take on it?” I spent the next twelve hours or so, “in my prayer closet” if you happen to be country as hell, and I wrote “A Tune You Can Whistle”. Noah’s an old-school producer who’ll go the long way to get the real thing. He’ll ask why you’re doing something, what’s the point of the song, what do you mean by that lyric, why don’t you like that phrasing? So any kind of throwaway, place holding, inferior type of lyric or melody writing gets exposed by that process. Also Noah studied my main influences in-depth; he picked his favorite productions out of the stuff I was listening to, landed on some Jerry Reed recordings, Lowell George, a ’70s Waylon record or two and Robert Palmer’s Sneaking Through The Alley With Sally. We A-B’d bunches of recordings and delved deep into the Georgia/Tom Dowd sound, a bunch of Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter records and a bunch of Muscle Shoals records.

How did you go on blending the modern with the classic?

There’s the part that starts with the songs and the instruments and intention of the band. We knew we didn’t want to do nail-on-the-head retro production. Though there are some sounds in that world that’re real attractive to us, we feel like tape recording technology got pretty great in the mid-late ’70s and the SVT bass rig did something we really like. It’s funny how many different genres have used the some drum and bass sounds in the midst of a fad. I’ll be damned if those Waylon records that I love the production on so much don’t have the same bottom end bass and drum tones as some sho’nuff disco music, and some New York Dolls, when you A-B them and adjust volume. Anyway, we get down into it and do technical analysis but it’s not at all for the purpose of imitating.

What role does Nashville play in your music?

Nashville’s the first time in my life I’ve ever been in the right place at the right time. You know with the Americana music movement, what I do just happens to be a little bit in-style right now. I think it was Guthrie Trapp and I were talking about how Nashville right now might be one of the greatest convergences of musical talent the world’s ever seen. Coming to Nashville as a guitar player is a particularly humbling experience, but you adjust to the new reality, dig in and grow as a player, and find a little purchase on the fretboard that allows you to be a useful working Nashville band.

Everybody knows Nashville’s divided by the Cumberland river–Eastside independent VS Westside corporate Nashville’s the last place in the music business where the original foundation is still up and running. No doubt that the machine’s broken as hell, all the advertising money gone out of radio, songwriters taking an epic financial beating, and so on, but there’s a wealth of 1st hand personal experience in the old school players, songwriters, engineers, producers and Nashville personalities like Bill Cody at WSM, Alamo Jones at SiriusXM Outlaw Country, John Hiatt, Billy Swan, Marshall Chapman, Dave Roe from Cash’s band, and steel guitarist Bruce Bouton. These guys all personally knew, worked with and had longtime friendships with my main list of heros. Across the board the personal accounts from people who know Jerry Reed and the stories about Jerry are everything you’d ever hoped they’d be.

Then there’s technical advantage to being in “Guitar Town”, where very single aspect of the instrument is carried out at the highest level by some of the worlds most talented technicians, luthiers, builders and players. The guitar knob in Nashville in on eleven, 24/7. It’s wonderful.

Any plans to hit the road?

You bet, we’ll be touring the rest of the year. Check us out at BooRayMusic.com for schedule and maybe follow my instagram for last minute pop up stuff, giveaways, behind the scenes and that kind of stuff.

What else is happening next in Boo Ray’s world?

I’m completely tickled about the H Bar C Ranchwear collaboration. They designed some shirts based off of the vintage western shirts that my Granddad gave me.

Watch here

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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