Rebecca FrameHow did Esquela come together?

John ‘Chico’ Finn and Keith Christopher have a long history together. And so, when John wanted to start his own band, it only made sense for Keith to be his partner in crime. While recording Esquela’s first album, “The Owl Has Landed”, I was invited to do some backing vocals. Soon thereafter, Chico asked me to take over lead vocals. Todd Russell, a friend of Chico’s from high school, was a perfect fit on drums for the evolving band. Chico asked me if I would be interested in playing mandolin, which would have tricky since I have never played this instrument.  But, my friend Matt had.  So, enter Matt Woodin. At some point it was evident that we would need a fill in guitar player, since Keith was busy with other projects. Enter Ira McIntosh and Brian Shafer. Early on we had some other players from the city, who were great guys, but it just worked out better for it to be upstaters.

How does the song writing process work for you guys? 

Chico gets inspired by either a funny story from a friend, an article he’s read, or a documentary he has seen, and of course life experience and puts a pen to paper. Sometimes, with the help of Keith, he records a rough draft and sends it my way. I usually stick to the melody he had in mind, but I get to play around with it a little. Later the band gets together and fleshes it out.


Esquela has a late 60’s vibe, what’s Esquela about to you?

Does it have a 60’s vibe? That’s cool. Esquela is about getting together and being free to create in whatever way we see fit for each song, and have a good time doing it. Maybe that’s how they did it in the 60’s too.

Do you have a philosophy when it comes to singing and what do you hope to put across personally?

I guess I just want to do justice to the songs. And try to convey the feel as best I can.  I wouldn’t say I have a philosophy, I just love to sing.

Esquela_cover (2)Where can producer Eric Ambel’s influence be heard most on Are We Rolling? versus the debut, The Owl Has Landed?

I can’t really say anything about the Owl. I just showed up at the studio in Oneonta and laid down the vocals and the rest was up to the fellas.  But with are we rolling it was awesome to work with Eric in a more intimate way. He took more of a directive role. He’s smart and kind of sneaky. hahaha. example: Eric knows that I like to belt out songs, which can be a good thing, but sometimes it’s a little much. so for take one he would tell me to give it all I got (just like I like to). then for take two he would ask me to take it easier and softer, which was a little challenging for me because that’s not how I usually “attack” a song. I think we ended up using more of the second takes. They sounded better. He was right. But, he was cool about being right. It was a good learning experience for me. Also, we have a lot of guitar players in the band. Brian, Ira, sometimes Matt… I think Eric helped sort out the chaos of who would do what when. Honestly, while they were doing their thing I was bullshitting with Chico and Todd, so who knows what REALLY went down.

What was the first record you ever bought and what’s your favorite thing about it today?

The first album I bought was the Body Guard Soundtrack. I mean, Whitney? come on! she is (was) incredible.  her voice can move you in a way that no one else’s can. simply beautiful and strong.

Who are your musical heroes?

Chico. he just goes for it. I wish I has his courage when it comes to sharing his work.  you want a famous hero? too bad. I stick with my decision.

When did you realize you could actually sing?

Hmmm…when I was in grade school, my friend had a recorder and we sat on my living room floor and sang “This Used To Be My Playground” by Madonna, which is funny because we were soooo young but we were sooo dramatic about it. then we started our make believe band and would use picnic tables as our stage. I guess the dream was there early. but I guess high school was when I found that I actually had some talent for real.

Was there someone early in your life that encouraged you?

I don’t know if encouraged is the right word. influenced works better for me. My father played the piano every night while I was falling asleep, all the women in my family sing, my sister showed me the awesomeness that is classic rock, and also looked the other way when I stole her SWV and En Vogue tapes. My mom would tolerate me playing her Beatles albums over and over…and over again. I had a wonderful teacher in high school who called me ‘songbird’. that’s encouraging….

It’s said singers get better with time; how do you separate the best from the rest? 

I’m not sure if i agree with that totally. i mean, refining your skills, takes work and time, and yes, you get better at it the more comfortable you are with what you are doing. but, when you are starting your musical journey there is so much enthusiasm, and hope, and drive, and passion. and those things can kind of fade. i think what separates the”best” from the rest, are those who can hold onto the passion that they had at the beginning.


1.0 – How do you think your new record Poor Mans Poem will be received by your fans? 

I think Americana fans appreciate and respect all kinds of roots music – blues, folk, honky tonk, bluegrass, outlaw country – So, although Poor Man’s Poem is much different than the last couple of records I expect folks to give it an honest listen.  That’s really all I can ask.  I’m very proud of it and I hope folks like it as much as we do.

2.0 – What is your favorite song on it?

It’s always hard to choose a favorite song.  This morning, I can narrow it down to three:  Virginia Rail, Poor Man’s Poem, and Evil Men.  Virginia Rail is about the financial and emotional struggles of someone very close to me and it was the first song I wrote for the record; it’ll always mean a lot to me.  Poor Man’s Poem is about the Pullman rail strike.  I’m a union steward and I’m deeply concerned about the state of unions in this country – that song’s about as close as an example of my fears as I could get.  And finally, Evil Men because that’s the last song I wrote for the record and it’s the one in which the little man finally gets to exact a little revenge on those who wield the power.

3.0 – Are they all new songs?

Yes, these are all new songs. Poor Man’s Poem is a song-cycle set in the 1800s.  The record filters modern day economic and social issues that I’m concerned about through a landscape populated by striking rail workers, sinking gold ships, murdering outlaws, lost and broken gold miners, and drug addled civil war soldiers.

4.0 – How does it differ from your last release, Honky Tonk & Vine?

With Honky Tonk & Vine I really was taking my best shot at a California honky tonk record.  It was an rocking, electric record, and it included songs that hinted at other genres like soul and pop.  Also, most of the songs were written starting with a title from which I generated an idea and then the song.  Poor Man’s Poem is an acoustic folk record.  There’s just a little electric bass guitar on it.  And every song was written starting with a specific idea or emotion.  I figured out generally the type of story I wanted to tell and wrote a line.  By the time I got to the chorus I still had no idea what I was actually going to say there or how it would sound.  That’s about a hundred and eighty degrees different than Honky Tonk & Vine.

5.0 – You have a history of changing gears within roots music, is this part of a larger philosophy?

Being a self-funded artist has it’s downside but it definitely has an upside, too.  Downside: Nobody gives you money to help you do anything; writing, recording, producing, rehearsing bands, touring – you’re all on your own.  Upside: Nobody tells you what to do.  I’m completely free to do whatever I feel like doing.  My prior two records were electric honky tonk.  I had some issues I wanted to write about on Poor Man’s Poem that I didn’t think I could address with straight honky tonk.  I’m inspired by a challenge and I’m inspired by change.  Also, I think stagnation really is death for any writer.

6.0 – Your sense of humor is a big part of your music, is it a challenge to remain uplifting in such a poor economy? 

I appreciate that you hear the humor in my prior records.  Poor Man’s Poem is a pretty dark and serious record and honestly, I had a hard time finding any humor in the people I was singing about or the stories I was telling.  Maybe it’s just easier to find the humor hidden behind a broken heart than it is to find the humor behind a broken man or a broken family.  If there’s anything uplifting about the record it’s that nobody quits.  Every character battles his ass off until the very end, and I do believe there is something noble and uplifting in that fight.

7.0 – Do you feel that is part of your role as an entertainer?

I think finding the humor in a situation is certainly one of my roles as an entertainer, but I think exploring areas that are completely void of humor is just as important and satisfying – and possibly more challenging.  Most folks are happy to smile or laugh but asking them to walk down a dark and desolate road with you…not everyone is going to want to go.

8.0 – What are your favorite songs to ‘cover’ live with your band, The Dirt Poor Folklore?

The Dirt Poor Folklore was put together to play Poor Man’s Poem.  Because it’s a song-cycle, the ten tunes on the record are the only songs we’re playing.  It might eventually evolve into a band that plays some covers, but right now I’m limiting it to the record.  It almost feels like a book to me and playing cover tunes (or songs off my prior records) in this set would be like sticking chapters from different books into the middle of Poor Man’s Poem.  Right now, that just doesn’t make sense to me.

9.0 – How would you describe the California roots music scene today?

I think the California roots scene is on the verge of a real upswing.  In the last several years a lot of great singers, songwriters and performers have left town.  But the folks who’ve hung around have continued to improve and grow, and new bands are cropping up every day.  The influences range from straight up honky tonk and hard country, to power pop, psychedelic, R&B, Southern rock, Tex Mex and singer/songwriter folk.  It’s cliché but it’s true:  Los Angeles is a melting pot and you can do anything out here.  Bands like Old Californio, Grant Langston and The Supermodels, The Far West, a couple of bands I play bass in (West of Texas and Haymaker), Shooter Jennings’ bass player Ted Russell Kamp, the legendary Rick Shea, Patty Booker, The Groovy Rednecks, Tremalocos, Dale Peterson, Dan Janisch, Skip Heller, a great songwriter named Bob Woodruff, The Psychedelic Cowboy – I could list dozens more – they’re playing shows like The Grand Ole Echo, Ronnie Mack’s Barn Dance, The Messaround, and Melody in The Round.  And the fans (by fans I really mean friends) out here are the best.  It’s a tight knit community that really supports great people and great music.

10.0 ~ Is ‘honky tonk’ a permanent condition?

I have a feeling a lot of folks hear the term honky tonk and they think of electric hillbilly or hard country music being played in bars and roadhouses.  Chicken wire, cigarette smoke, broken beer bottles, clumsy lovers scooting around crowded dance floors.  And they’d be right.  And they’d probably listen to Poor Man’s Poem and say, “That ain’t honky tonk.”  But honky tonk is also music that is both for and about the working man.  And that’s Poor Man’s Poem in a peanut shell (that’s been smashed on Johnny Horton’s Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor).  Honky tonk music addresses the working man’s struggle to find, provide for, and hold onto his family and loved ones; that’s the fight that inspired this record.  I haven’t been able to escape it, so, yes I do think honk tonk is a permanent condition.


1.0  How was it recording with Eric “Roscoe” Ambel? Recording with Roscoe was a great learning experience. As a producer Roscoe demands a lot, but his results speak for themselves. It was a real challenge to step up to his expectations, and that caused a lot of growing pains. But it was for the best. I’d wanted to work with Roscoe for years, and since I moved to New York in 2001 I slowly got to know him; hanging out at his bar, the Lakeside Lounge, and going to hear him play. He’s one of those guys with the Midas Touch. Whether it’s his work playing guitar with Joan Jett or Steve Earle, his playing in bands like Del Lords, the Yayhoos and his own group The Roscoe Trio, or bands he produced like the Blood Oranges, the Backsliders and the Bottle Rockets; everything Roscoe touches turns to gold.  Roscoe sees projects on a macro and micro level. On the micro level, he’s got a great sense of what sounds need to be where; what parts of songs need guitar licks, what tracks need an overdubbed acoustic guitar with Nashville tuning, where a harmonica break fits, etc.. On a macro level, he’s always got his eye on the big picture like how to make the best use of studio time, the order that songs should go in, how to tell players to prepare and a whole lot more. My background is in writing for newspapers. I liken Roscoe to an excellent editor.

2.0  How does the new CD “Hello Disaster” differ from your debut “Heathens Like Me”? First and foremost, Hello Disaster was produced, unlike Heathens Like Me. It took four fun days to make the first record. It took three hard years to make the second. The first record is the sound of a band coming together, going into the studio and just bashing out the songs. The second record, to me, is the sound of a band busting apart. But the sound of the shattering is pretty glorious.

3.0  What’s up with the New Heathens? I don’t want to air dirty laundry, but some of those growing pains I mentioned led to us stopping performing out as a band midway through making Hello Disaster. We had been going pretty strong there for a couple years, hauling up and down the eastern seaboard in a big, purple van, but we hit the rocks in the studio. It was painful. It wasn’t how I envisioned it – and believe me, I had meticulously planned this project for years and worked my ass off – but I came to a fork in the road during the recording process where I could salvage one of two things: the band or the record. I chose the record. Note that the record starts out with five people wailing together in a room, and ends quietly with me by myself. That’s a good metaphor for how the recording process went. I find myself in the curious position now of trying to promote a good record by a band that isn’t really around anymore. I’ve been playing plenty of solo acoustic shows, difficulties of promoting a full-band record as a solo acoustic artist be damned. Don’t be surprised to see some “Nate Schweber and the New Heathens” shows soon.

4.0  What sort of music did your family listen to growing up? My mom is the partially-reformed pseudo-hippie of the family and she’s a huge music lover. Growing up she I remember her playing the Beatles and Emmylou Harris, who looks like her sister. She was the one who turned me on to the Rolling Stones and Steve Earle. My dad, a self-proclaimed “bean-counter,” actually has great taste in music, though I didn’t realize it when I was younger. I learned about Warren Zevon from my dad.

5.0  What was the first album you ever purchased? Aerosmith’s Pump. Power ballads be damned, if anybody’s recorded a cooler song than F.I.N.E. in the past 20 years, I ain’t heard it.

6.0  Does being from Montana originally have any impact on your style? I’m sure it does. Montana has wide open vistas and not a lot of people, so growing up I had wild, fanciful notions of what I wanted to do with my life and not a lot of people to tell me I couldn’t. I noticed a definite change in my mindset when I got to New York and found myself hemmed down at the bottom of concrete canyons all day (lo and behold some of those “fanciful notions” didn’t quite work out). Montana also affected my taste in music. The Pacific Northwest has a psychic connection with the south, I imagine because they are both big, rural areas where agriculture dominates. So things like country music and southern rock resonate up there. Growing up a weirdo, I figured out fast that a lot of the chaw-dipping, wrangler-wearing guys who cranked modern country in their pickups wanted to kick the shit out of me, so in high school I hated country music. It wasn’t until I got to college that I luckily fell in with a hip, bar-band scene who turned me on to country that was Stonesy, relevant, smart and cool, like Steve Earle, the Bottle Rockets, Todd Snider, Doug Sahm and the Supersuckers.

7.0  Did you have a band in high school/college? what did you call yourselves? what did you play? I sang in rock bands all through high school and college. Some names I remember include, “Blue Monday and the Cockroaches,” “The Spice Boys,” “Aces & Eights,” and “Moxie.”I played tuba in school band from fifth grade through when I graduated college. To this day the longest lasting and most popular band I was ever in was a German polka band that spanned elementary school through college called “The Hungry Five.”

8.0  Why did you move to NYC? I tell people that having grown up in Montana, I wanted to find out what life in a big city was like, and boy have I found out. The catalyst was I got an internship at Rolling Stone magazine in 2001. I came to New York to see what I could do in journalism and rock ‘n’ roll.

9.0  How do you approach song writing? That’s a tough one. A lot of my favorite songs are what I like to think of as “smart.” Like “Lawyers, Guns & Money” by my man Warren Zevon, it’s a wild concept for a song, totally original hook, fantastic riff and it’s funny. Zevon is a master at that. Same with Brian Hennemann of the Bottle Rockets, particularly when he co-writes with Scott Taylor. Their songs “$1,000 Car;” “Welfare Music,” “Zoysia” and a slew of others are new, smart, descriptive ways of looking at common things. So that’s always my goal when I try to write a song. I usually fall far, far short.

10.0  What do you prefer – writing, recording, or playing live?  It used to be playing live, because that’s all I did. As I get more experienced at writing and recording, I’m enjoying them more and more.