The Ready Room in The Grove celebrated St. Louis’ fiftieth year of Archdom with Vintage Trouble last night.
Tom “Papa” Ray was spinning cratefuls of local soul selections, including the classic 45 “St. Louis Breakdown” by Oliver Sain, which was recorded on nearby Natural Bridge Road. Papa Ray’s set was basically the goings-on of what happens live on his radio show for KDHX; sticky grooves with old-style MC commentary.
Los Angeles soul-rock outfit Vintage Trouble dressed their Sunday best and performed ballads, rockers, and groovers to a packed house of TroubleMakers.
The first thing you should know about Vintage Trouble is that it’s a live band, with a very hard extra italics emphasis on the adjective. Lead singer Ty Taylor has been in the spotlight all his life; it’s his oxygen, and he seems unfazed by the entertainment machine. He was even a contestant on the reality TV show Rock Star: INXS. But his best performances are more than shows. He’s a commanding, strutting but also vulnerable dervish on stage, and his three-piece band plays revivalist soul, blues and rock & roll as if every note was a necessary reminder of how good it feels to be alive. Formed just five years ago in Los Angeles, Vintage Trouble does around 260 dates a year and has opened for everyone from AC/DC to the Who to Paloma Faith and Willie Nelson. So, yeah, the dudes are pretty versatile as well.
This year Vintage Trouble released 1 Hopeful Rd., a sophomore album that not only captures some of what it can do on stage but also points to a deepening confidence with the art of rock and blues songwriting. The band makes its way back to St. Louis for a headlining show at the Ready Room on Wednesday, October 28. After a sound check in Carrboro, North Carolina, Taylor spoke to the RFT about where the band has been and where it yet hopes to go.
Roy Kasten: I’m looking forward to chatting about the new album, but I’d like to circle back to the start for a minute. When did idea of being a musician and performer really take hold for you?
Ty Taylor: I started when I was five years old, singing in St. Paul Baptist Church in Mount Clair, New Jersey. The first thing I sang was “Kumbaya;” my solo was “Can you hear me Lord?” The church started crying. At five years old you don’t understand the power of doing something that causes tears that’s not for stealing someone’s toys. From that time, seeing people cry when I sang, it just caught my soul. I was the crazy kid, the one running around, jumping off buildings, that kind of stuff. I knew how to use my performing abilities to get out of trouble in school. I understood the importance of performance.
Did performing in the church continue through your childhood?
I had already been performing. I did my first commercial on national television when I was fourteen months old, which was a Pampers commercial. My ass was the first thing seen on national television. I did commercials up to the time I went to college and after. I did my first Broadway show when I was eight. As soon as I went to college, I got an acoustic guitar. A friend challenged me to learn to play and I started writing songs. That was a different soul recognition. I knew I wanted to sing music I had written, not just any music. I began thinking about music as a gift, rather than just an attribute. It was powerful to see people connecting to what you were singing that was different from what other people were singing.
Do you ever think how different your life would be if you had won that INXS contest?
I don’t really think about what ifs. When I try and think about it, well, the whole idea of that didn’t really work out. I think it would have hurt me is the truth. It was exciting, but it was more exciting just to be on national television two nights a week. If I had gotten that gig, I would have been singing Michael Hutchence songs, in Michael Hutchence keys, in front of Michael Hutchence fans. Maybe it would have been exciting to go around the world, but I’ve gotten to do that anyway. I don’t like to lose. I guess I would not have felt like a loser for that month (laughs). I might have gotten some media coverage sooner, but that happened anyway. I’m still friends with everyone from the show, and I get to hang out with them on the road.
Most bands start out naively, even romantically. They don’t have a lot of experience in the industry. But you already that experience. How did that shape things? Did it put undue pressure on the band?
I think it took pressure off. Dealing with business decisions, coming to crossroads where most people stress out, I have the experience of not needing to vacillate. I have a lot of experience to help me when others might wonder what to do. I’m not afraid to lose. I like gambling with what I think could lead to a big picture success. I’ve learned that it’s more powerful to take your time and gather fans over a long time because those people will stay with you. I don’t want to be here today and gone tomorrow.
Your first album was called Bomb Shelter Sessions. The new album is called 1 Hopeful Rd. Did you ever think, “Maybe we should have found a halfway house along the way?”
(Laughs). Well, we had the Swing House Sessions EP in between. That’s kind of like a halfway house!
Did your recording philosophy for this album change?
The first album had no philosophy. We’d only been together three months before we recorded it, and we recorded it in three days. They were demos really that stayed around for years. With 1 Hopeful Rd., we had been on the road for three or four years, and the idea of it feeling a little more spiritual, that’s because we’ve been a band longer. There was more to draw on. It’s really about how the road is going to be treacherous; it’s going to be winding and bumpy, but if you have hope you can get through it. We’re four guys. We’re not young guys. We told ourselves that we have no choice but to do this. When other friends maybe stopped and did something else, we’ve kept making music.
Was there still that desire to capture what you can do live or was it to show what you can do as artists on an album?
We do record live. We do takes, and we choose the best takes, just the way bands did in the ’60s and ’70s. For our next record we might have more thought about it being more of a record rather than a live document. Maybe there are some things we haven’t thought about yet. Maybe you think more about the record and less about doing something live. You don’t get to record everyday. We worked with Don Was. He’s one of the smartest producers; he taught us so much. We’re four headstrong men, and we pushed back as hard as he pushed us. But even since the record has been pressed, we’ve learned so much.
The album ends with the song “Soul Serenity,” which is probably your most power gospel moment. Tell me about the genesis of that song.
For a year that song was called “Nashville.” We came up with it at a sound check. We didn’t know what to do with it. It was electric, more hard-hitting. We just couldn’t quite get it together. I went to Thailand last year for Christmas, and I was on the beach, talking to my mom or dad, because I talk to them when I’m in church or on the beach, because neither one is here on the walking earth anymore. I connect with them on the beach. I wanted to be serene. I wanted to find peace in Thailand. For some reason the melody kept coming around, and I just started singing the words “serenity” and then “soul serenity.” Then I took a canoe ride through the really hard part of Thailand, very third world, where people are throwing bread crumbs in the water and trying to catch fish with their hands. All the words started flooding to me. It was about wanting to understand a serene life. When I want to feel grounded I go to Otis Redding, Carole King, the Staple Singers. When people tell me it’s a song they go to, it just blows my mind.
Nalle Colt, guitarist for the red-hot blues-rock band Vintage Trouble, left his homeland of Sweden to pursue his musical dreams in America when he was 21. In fact, he was so sure of his convictions that he even bought himself a one-way ticket to Los Angeles. “That’s how badly I wanted to be part of the American scene,” he says. “I couldn’t get anything going in Sweden, but when I came to Los Angeles I discovered all of these people who were just like me. They wanted to be in a band and make something happen. I loved it.”
Growing up in Sweden, Colt found himself virtually alone in his love for the blues. There was one local guitarist, however, Jan-Eric ‘Fjellis’ Fjellstrom, who took the budding young axeman under his wing. “Fjellis was an amazing guitar player,” Colt raves. “I would go see him play and I couldn’t believe how good he was. He gave me a copy of Texas Flood and really helped expose me to a lot of great music. More than anybody, he inspired me to pursue the guitar.”
In compiling his choices for five essential guitar albums, Colt realized that they all share certain criteria, like great songs (“It can’t just be virtuoso guitar playing without the songs”), but also a level of communication through sound. “What I also look for is somebody who can use the tone of the guitar and turn it into something unique and personal,” he explains. “If you can show me a side to your personality through your sound, that’s key. It’s about conveying a feeling through your instrument, much like a singer does with his voice. Great guitarists know what that’s about.”
Colt also notes that the guitarists on his list, for the most part, speak a sophisticated language through an approach that is deceptively simple. “I love guitar players who can say more with less, which is harder than it seems,” he says. “The guitarists I tend to gravitate toward use their limitations to their advantage. I found out pretty early that I was never going to be a super-technical kind of player, but I decided that I was going use a couple of notes to get my point across.
“I listen to Hendrix and Page and Stevie Ray, and they could say everything they wanted with just one guitar part. It’s about purity in the message. You don’t need 20 overdubs and all kinds of crazy things; if you have one guitar saying what you want it to say, that’s enough. Find your weirdness and your joy and use it.”
Vintage Trouble’s new album, 1 Hopeful Rd., is available now.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced (1967)
“This is the album that made me want to play the guitar. I was 11 years old when I heard it, and it gave me the most insane goosebumps. I had to get a guitar. I had to try to do what Jimi was doing. There was no question about it – this record pointed the way.
“There was something about the way the guitar sounded in songs like Hey Joe and The Wind Cries Mary – it spoke to me in a way that I immediately understood. Hendrix could sound so cosmic but yet so earthy. It’s like he took the blues and send it into outer space. How somebody could play with such fire but then turn around and sound so beautiful? It just blew my mind.
“I sat for days and weeks near my turntable trying to learn the licks on this record. It became a constant pattern – on-off, flip the record over, start again. I was driving my mother crazy. I learned all the riffs. One thing that really struck me was how Jimi could play little melodies within guitar chords. Figuring that out was worth a year of guitar lessons. I use that type of technique today.”
“Growing up in Sweden, it was hard for me to find cool music. One day a friend came over with a record, and he said, ‘You’ve got to hear this.’ It was Texas Flood. We put it, and I just looked at him like, ‘What the fuck? This guy is incredible!’ That kind of thing doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it’s something special.
“It brought home everything I loved about Jimi Hendrix. Suddenly there was this young guy doing what Hendrix did and taking it one step beyond. After hearing Texas Flood, I nosedived into the world of Stevie Ray Vaughan. I bought every album and studied him completely. I wish I could have seen him live, although I have watched all the DVDs. His appearance on Austin City Limits was magical. Our band got to do the show a couple of weeks ago, and all I could think was, ‘Stevie was here.’”
“Now that I was such a Stevie Ray Vaughan fan, I read all of his interviews. He kept talking about his hero Albert King, so that made me go out and investigate him myself. I picked up King of the Blues Guitar and was knocked out. The attitude in the playing just came roaring out at me. It was totally out of control.
“I realized where Stevie Ray got everything from; he seemed to be a mix of Albert King and Jimi Hendrix. Once I got into Albert King, I started really putting it all together. The music was bold and raunchy. It came through with such confidence, and that made it so expressive. Nothing was held back – there was no filter between Albert and his pure, gutsy delivery.
“It’s always interesting when you hear the pioneers – you can’t spot their influences. They just seem to come at you with this ‘Fuck you. This is what I’m doing’ kind of attitude. If anybody wants to hear raw and original blues guitar, the guy who schooled so many greats, check out King of the Blues Guitar. It’s a trip.”
“I love Physical Graffiti and Led Zeppelin II and all of their albums, but there’s something special about hearing Zeppelin live. They had a force all their own. They didn’t just perform; they exploded. To me, this was Jimmy Page at his best.
“What he could do with a Les Paul going into a Marshall. What tone! The Rain Song, Stairway to Heaven, Since I’ve Been Loving You – my God, talk about beautiful guitar playing. I love that it’s a little raunchy in places – you know, it’s live. So many bands can make good records, but they can’t cut it on stage. Zeppelin made incredible albums, but they could always bring it in concert.
“What I love is the spirit that comes through in Page’s playing. People talk about him being a little sloppy, and who cares, you know? I’m a little sloppy myself. I don’t need to hear perfection. I want to hear attitude and emotion, and that’s what I get from Page, especially live. Jimmy has become a big influence on me, more so now than ever before.”
“I love the blues and rock‘n’roll, but this album speaks to me in a whole different way. When I was a kid, a friend gave me a copy of it, and it dazzled me immediately. It’s not the kind of guitar playing that I do, but I could appreciate each guy’s complete mastery of the instrument.
“Flamenco music has always intrigued me, and the fire and passion these guys bring to it is very inspiring. Their technique is out of control, but what I really love about it is the way they communicate with one another. They aren’t playing licks or doing tricks; they’re speaking to each other and to the audience.
“If you’re an electric guitar player, you might want to check out what these three guys can do on acoustics. Your jaw just might drop to the floor, as mine did. I’m still in awe of it. There’s music on here I still don’t really understand, but I feel it, and that’s what counts.”