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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jason & the Scorchers continue to blaze a trail




By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Before the term alternative country became an industry buzz word, Jason & the
Scorchers was blazing a trail with its hard-fisted blend of country and punk.

The band this year released its first CD since 1996, "Halcyon Times," and will
perform Oct. 13 at the Double Door, 1573 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. The show
starts at 8 p.m. and tickets range from $15 to $25, available at
www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to frontman Jason Ringenberg (who is an Illinois
native) and guitarist Warner Hodges about where the band has been and where it
is going.



Q - How has the tour been going?

Jason - Well, we've done a lot of European dates so far. We've had an excellent
time.

Q - How are the European audiences different from American audiences? I
understand that European audiences can sometimes be more grateful to see you.

Jason - That might be partially true. But I would never say they are better. I
think in general, Europeans have a little more support of music and the arts. So
I think the numbers are always a bit bigger for anybody. Any artist does bigger
numbers in Europe.

Warner - The thing with the Scorchers is that it had been a long time since we
toured any real amount of dates. The European fans were just genuinely happy
that we were back out there playing shows, I think. The same thing happens in
America.

Q - Does it feel like old times, then?

Warner - Yeah, it's kind of a weird thing. The two new guys (bassist Al Collins
and drummer Pontus Snibb), brought a lot of new life blood to the band. It
revitalized Jason quite a bit and revitalized the band.

Q - You guys performed for the first time in a decade at the Americana Music
Conference in 2008, when you received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Did things
start coming together at that time?

Jason - That was sort of the impetus to think about recording again. And then we
used the new guys in the band, and that's when things started to jell as far as
doing this.

Q - And I understand Warner was really getting on you about wanting to do a new
album.

Jason - Yeah, he was sort of the driving force behind it. He really believed we
should do it.

Q - He thought the band had a lot of life left in it.

Jason - That's pretty much what he thought. Obviously, he was right.

Warner - I think he finally just agreed to do it to shut me up. I had been
telling him for years that we weren't done, we were just on this weird permanent
hiatus.

Q - Does it seem like a new band now?

Warner - Almost. It's actually really weird. The two new guys, every now and
then, one of them will correct mine or Jason's parts. It's like, you weren't in
the band. How do you know this? They both are fantastic musicians.

It's got the chemistry and feel of the old band, but the musicianship is even
better.

Q - What was it like to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award?

Jason - We were the first band to get it. People like Emmylou Harris had
received it. It was quite an honor for us, there's no doubt about that.

Warner - It's a weird thing. In one aspect, it's a real honor. I went to the
awards show this year, and Wanda Jackson got that award. How in the world we
deserved the award before she did, I don't know.

On the other side, it's like, well, maybe we've been around so long, they had to
give us something. It was a big honor to us.

Q - You guys formed in 1981, long before the term alternative country became an
industry buzz word. Do you think you guys kind of blazed the trail for bands
like Son Volt and Wilco?

Jason - Maybe, but I think those bands probably could have done fine on their
own without us. I think we were among a group of people in the early '80s that
presented the idea that country music could be cool.

Warner - I guess so, but in my head, I just wanted to be in a rock 'n' roll
band. There was no preconceived way we played in the band. We were rock guys
that lived in Nashville, Tennessee. It was kind of the way the rock 'n' roll
came out.

We liked Hank Williams Sr. and we also like the Sex Pistols and The Ramones, and
it was just kind of the way it came out.

Q - What was the idea for the band in the first place?

Jason - The idea when I came to Nashville was to do a real supercharged roots
rock band. There was some real firepower in that band way beyond my
expectations.

Q - You guys were labeled a "cowpunk" band.

Jason - I really hated that term. It sounds so cheap. But that's what people
called us. I just thought we were a good rock 'n' roll band, honestly.

Warner - It's not something that I dig, but if there is such a term, I guess we
started it. That's a very limiting term. There's all kinds of different levels
of musicianship and music going on inside of a band. In my head, we've strived
to always try to expand that envelope.

Q - What were your ideas when you sat down to record "Halcyon Times?"

Jason - It was just sort of an explosion of creativity. I don't think we had a
defined idea going in as to what we were going to do.

There was a real team of people, and it just explosively happened. But if I did
have one idea personally, I wanted it to really be a rock 'n' roll record, not
an alternative country record. That was very important to me. I've done that for
10 years as a solo artist, and I was sort of over it.

Q - I understand that the band wanted to take a step forward with "Halcyon
Times."

Warner - For me and Jason, for the last eight or nine years, everything we have
done has been a nostalgia trip, basically, here's a bunch of the old tunes,
hope you guys enjoy them.

Mentally, I think the band needed the new blood and we needed to feel creatively
that we looking forward, not looking back at our past. Everybody involved with
the record understood that we really wanted to take the band into the future and
not look back to our past, to try to do another retro record. It was very
important to us to try to step forward and not look back.

Q - The band's third album, "Thunder and Fire," didn't sell too well. You guys
were trying to go for a harder rock sound. Was that a mistake?

Jason - We were too rock. On any level, it wasn't as strong as our other
records. In the end, the album didn't move people the way "Halcyon Times" does,
or the way "Lost and Found," "Fervor" or "Clear Impetuous Morning" did. Those I
think are our best records.

Q - You've always been a good word-of-mouth band. People talk about your shows,
and they tell other people.

Jason - It's always been a word-of-mouth marketing thing, since the mid-'80s. We
had corporate power behind us then, but since then, there's been none of that
sort of thing happening with the band. So yeah, it's always been word of mouth.

Q - "Halcyon Times" was recorded live, right?

Jason - Well, that's an interesting turn of phrase. What we did was that we
recorded as a band live, all of us, and we had Dan Baird playing rhythm guitar
too.

Normally after that, you would take and redo most of the stuff. We didn't redo
anything. We took all the tracks that were recorded live, and we used all of
them.

We also wanted to do some cool overdubbing, so we sort of had the best of both
worlds. We went back and did the ear candy and all the cool stuff to make it
into a record. It's not just a live record. It's a cool way of recording. I
think it was very effective on this record.

Q - Did you want to capture the band's energy on this record?

Jason - We especially wanted to capture the interplay of the vocals with a band. I think
that was really important for this record.

Q - Are you still going to be making children's music as Farmer Jason? How did
you get into that?

Jason - You can't stop that. I have little kids myself, and thought it would be
fun to make a little record for them. It just organically grew from that.

Q - Do you think the band's future is pretty bright? Do you plan to make more
records and tour?

Jason - I don't think we will be a regularly touring band. When we came back in
the '90s, we went after it pretty hard. We were constantly touring and making
records. But I think there will always be a Jason & the Scorchers going out
and showing what we are capable of, aging gracefully.
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