Country Lips – an eight-piece from Seattle – are shaking up the country scene with their unique take on the genre, mixing in fresh elements like Mexican norteño and Cajun alongside classic Cash and Haggard influences.
They tell us about their new album ‘Till The Daylight Comes’, learning from Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello, working like a socialist parliament, and being Nashville outsiders.
How do you feel ‘Till the Daylight Comes’ compares with your previous work?
This is our first record recorded in a professional studio (Avast!) with an outside producer (Randall Dunn), so sonically it has a bit more of a complete and broad spectrum to it. Musically our previous record, ‘Nothing To My Name’, really highlighted our Mexican norteño influences of the time. Those are still present in ‘Till The Daylight Comes”, but we’ve explored different and more diverse areas of what country is (and could be) to us – Cajun, Bakersfield, Mosey, Trailer Sludge, etc. This exploration deeper into the recesses of country music’s side-genres was a very natural progression for us, as for me at least country music is a journey as much backward and sideways as it is forward.
Getting two people to make a decision can be difficult enough. How do you manage with eight?
We are all great friends first and foremost. Arranging songs for eight takes a lot of discipline and humility and vigilance, but we are all committed to the cause (the song) and to becoming the best musicians we can be, understanding that means keeping the egos in check. As for any disagreements musically, we just try it a couple of different ways and almost always one way is unanimously preferred. Our political structure would be closest to a socialist parliament.
Were there always eight members or did you grow organically from a smaller group?
We formed from a music scene in the University District in Seattle in 2009 or 2010, coming from a few different bands to drink and jam on some country songs. We all liked country for varied reasons, and then Austin got us a gig at a house party and people seemed really into what we were doing, just rowdy outlaw honky tonk covers at that time. So we started writing and playing more and it was way too much fun. So here we are seven years later, a few albums, a few tours later still having fun. We’ve always been a big band, some lineup changes but usually we were six to nine people.
What do country legends like George Jones, Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard mean to you as a band?
We each have personal histories of how we got into country music, and each of those legends I’m sure is represented in multiple Lips members’ path to country. As a band we have covered, and actively cover a number of all their songs. Merle has been my favourite, in terms of singer/songwriter. I’d guess you could toss in Willie for Hamilton, and Waylon for Austin, Roger Miller for Alex, maybe Hank or Lefty for Gus.
What non-country musicians have inspired you – and how?
Good question. We all seem to have gotten really into Mexican norteño, but that’s basically just Bakersfield on speed. And we are all major Beatles fans, but again they did have some country influence. Outside of country music our respective tastes are really diverse, so I’ll just answer for myself. First and foremost, just in terms of influencing what I strive for in songwriting and cadence would be Allen Toussaint. He was a master of laying syllables over the beat in a funky, propelling way. I also think Elvis Costello is a brilliant hook writer. All his songs you can sing along to. I actually got to see the two of them perform together. One of the best shows I have seen.
There’s a real joy to your music and how it’s performed – is this intentional or just how things come out when the eight of you get together?
I’d say it’s both. We started out having so much fun playing these old party country songs that we all knew could rock, but it was just so exciting to actually make it happen and to share the stage early on. To this day though we really do experience a deep natural joy when we are playing at our best, so that is certainly something we strive for.
On a related note, is it tricky to recreate the energy of your live on-stage performances when you’re in a studio? Does it take a lot of work to sound as effortless and energised as you do?
We did record a lot of the tracks on the album live, trying to overdub as little as possible. We came well prepared so that was able to be effective. It helps too when we work quickly, which we did this last recording session, getting all the recording done in under a week. And finding the sweet spot of mixing in a little partying among takes.
Do you think not being from Nashville has played to your advantage, or does the “country music establishment” regard you with some suspicion?
I don’t know! It’s such a different machine down there. I don’t know that we’d get over on the fans of the Luke Bryan’s and FGLs, but I’d like to think those guys, meaning the modern country artists down there, would at least appreciate what we are doing. We have embraced our west coast sound and west coast roots. Nashville has shown respect for this sound in the past, but I think “with some suspicion” has some truth to it.
What one song best sums up what Country Lips are all about?
Off of our latest record I would say Laundromat. It’s bouncy, got some close harmony, some twang, and some fun, heartfelt lyrics.