Des Moines, IA (July 17, 2016)
Nathan Emerson here, I’ve been absent from Live Gig Shots while working on my film, “That Thing | THAT SOUND Steel Guitar Documentary”. Last year I got some studio time and sessions in for a few artists albums and I am looking forward to completing a few more in the works. I have also been involved in some other projects that I am excited to shed some light on!
Matthew James and The Rust Belt Union is a group of guys I have been privileged to make music with. We got together in late January 2016 and pounded out several songs, six of which we recorded in our rehearsal loft two and a half months into meeting up! You can find it here warts and all https://sumppumprecords.bandcamp.com/album/live-from-the-loft . It’s a true live experience meant as a pizza party for our friends. We had a blast and drank a bunch of cheap beer. I would love to hear your thoughts on this project because it is an eclectic amalgamation of Americana, from bluegrass to soul and jazz. We call our blend Midwest Junk Soul, but honestly it’s more than that. Matthew James is one of the most talented songwriters and storytellers I am blessed call a friend. His voice melts my soul when he sings, and his growl gives me chills. Since it’s constantly brought up I have to make note that on stage and in our pictures it doesn’t look like our gang would been seen together in the same room yet alone a stage. I play pedal steel done up like a cartoon cowboy who listens to cosmic country and jam bands like Widespread Panic. Towering over me playing bass and head banging to our bluegrass tune is Bourdeaux, rocking a blacked out denim vest adorned with giant Molly Hatchet back patch. On electric guitar, Brad looks like he just skateboarded in from the arcade before jumping on stage and plugging into his boutique stoner doom amp. Wrex on drums, I can’t explain this kid –but you gotta love him! Like atoms in quantum mechanics, as the influences appear and jump realities they circle with a constant force. The force is Wrex’s beat that encompasses Matthew’s songwriting. So quantum physics is the only way to describe how the band works in theory –other than art and talent of course. We have worked up a few more tunes that we break out live and are finding proper dynamics in the six songs that will be recorded this winter. I highly recommend experiencing a live show this summer as we will be hibernating, woodshedding, and recording this winter. Grab the album while you can, we are tired of hand making them and ready for a proper full length! I can’t stress it enough for you. Hit up a live show! I have heard reviews for the album –either they love it or hate it, BUT the perception changes after they witness the performance. Practicing and structuring with these guys has been scary easy as the talent just flows out of them. Every song has been cracking open their personalities, hearts, and souls. It’s so raw I was told, “I wanted to boogie, but I had to take it all in. I was so captivated, I couldn’t even boogie.” Please, come to our show and rage. We want to see you boogie!
TWINS, is a group of guys who are all pretty much related and will boogie on stage more than you can even try. I challenge you to have more fun in the crowd than they do on stage. It’s ridic. I recorded on their new album, Square America, then to only practice with them once before stepping on stage that same day. I have never experienced such a cool vibe! They embrace taking risks on record and unabashedly own the stage. There is nothing more rock and roll than the attitude they deliver live. These dudes rock throwback 70’s power pop with each song sounding different, yet their own. The harmonies are incredibly sweet and often mixed with silly lyrics. When they approached me to play pedal steel on the album I was willing to take on the challenge but wasn’t sure if they wanted a country flavor or something new. Evidently, my experimental swells worked, because I was told the same people who said pedal steel in their music would be “a mistake | stupidest thing they could do | would ruin the album,” all dissipated. Those same cats now look at the instrument differently. I can’t thank them enough for showcasing my instrument, let alone trusting me to arrange my parts in about 10 days. I played very “in your face” on a punk song called, “Lovesick Romeo”, laid down some atmospheric swells on a track called, “Changin”, just tried to catch the vibe on a number called “Everything’s Blue” and we recorded a cover of “I Knew The Bride (when she used to rocknroll),” that is available digitally when you order the vinyl. I love these dudes. I highly recommend all these guys’ stuff. The live show is unforgettably fun, and they keep pushing me to learn more of their songs! I jumped on stage and showcased these songs along with another one during the Cedar Basin Jazz Festival. I also jumped on stage for their album release show in Iowa City –again during a jazz festival. Maybe we should make some jazz? Twins will be playing 80/35 Festival this year at the main stage and I am excited to join them! Square America is making waves and will end up a permanent album in your car and the first to grab for a vinyl party! Grab the vinyl at http://maximumames.com/product/twins-square-america-lp/
As I mentioned, I am working on a film about the instrument that has consumed my life and soul. The pedal steel guitar is the most rewarding thing that still leaves me yearning for more. I will never be half as good as the masters but each new phrase or lick I learn over a periods of weeks leaves me feeling like I conquered a demon in my head. The challenge is the addiction that has healed self-confidence, built a sense of pride, and inspires to conquer new grounds in both music and life. My mentor Roger Miller pushed me hard, often the next day he would call to check in –making sure I wouldn’t give up. I often left his house hostile and confused only to arrive at the next lesson refreshed that he believed in me. I would love to have the patience he possesses to teach and pass on the gift of music. My way of giving back to the instrument has been through getting the instrument known and inspiring others to dedicate their lives to this addictive, hypnotizing, and blessed curse of music addiction.
Another student of Roger’s was Kelsey Hammer-Parks. We continually challenged and push each other while giving hints and tips. Our styles have been completely different and remains the same now that we have begun working on our film together. Our differences in perspective make us a great team as our best ideas happen when we accidently mind map and realize our initial vision. This process seems to flow yet cement like spiritual metaphysics. However, there is nothing I have been more proud of than how much we have hustled to make the film a reality. The hustle and not fearing rejection, I learned from working initially with Live Gig Shots and original sister site Iamnotjerry.com
Kelsey is an amazing cinematographer and award winning film editor. As I envision a story or concept, she surprises me every time. The film continually becomes better than dreamed, and I only get more excited when thinking of the future. This film is bigger than us. It is about the steel guitar and asks the question, “Does the steel guitar have a future?” Spoiler alert, it does! But more people have to know about it, so we are showing our favorite players of today.
The project started when I did a pre-interview with Buddy Cage over the phone. It was a pre-interview simply because he called me unexpectedly and we “nerded out” about steel for a couple hours. One of the nicest guys I have ever talked to, we later hung out in Chicago and St. Louis. That is when the reality of making the film sunk in. Kelsey and I talked about a film a year prior but it was just over coffee and was never spoke of again. In a matter of a month I started lining up interviews and creating axioms for the questions. We have worked with several of my idols and a select few still contact me on a regular basis to “nerd out” about steel. This project’s continual support adds energy to the drive.