What got you hooked on rock & roll? I would have to say my dad and mom were really influential on me musically starting from a really young age. My parents had an awesome record collection and there was always music in the house. Besides the stand-bys of Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, The Eagles, Jimi Hendrix, etc. I really loved listening to The Stray Cats. Brian Setzer is definitely one of the reasons I was drawn to play guitar (even though I play nothing like him!) At a young age, my parents would also take me to see shows. My dad took me to New Orleans Jazz Fest when I was 10 and I got to see Counting Crows who were one of my favorite bands at the time. My aunt Jenna (Mammina) also was hugely influential. She’s a very accomplished jazz singer and always was playing with great guitarists beyond the music my parents were listening to and the shows we went to, my dad also played guitar and got me started with that from a young age, I think he got me my first guitar when I was 7 or 8. From there, I was exposed to a lot of different styles of music and bands by my guitar teacher who I started taking lessons from around age 10.
Do you recall what bands you were you listening to at 16 when you first got your driver’s license? My favorite band at 16 was definitely Brand New and they’re still my favorite band to this day. About that time was when my favorite album of theirs came out and I literally listened to it non-stop. It was on when I was driving, sleeping, eating, doing homework… I also listened to a ton of Modest Mouse, Manchester Orchestra, and Minus the Bear which I still listen to often. At that age I was going to a bunch of metal shows and listened to quite a bit of that; my favorite metal bands at the time were probably Mastodon and Between The Buried And Me, they still get a bit of rotation too.
How did Slim Gypsy Baggage come together? I first met Morgan (our singer) when I was around 16. Her Fiancé (now husband) Dirk and I became really close friends and hung out all the time at his tattoo shop so I met her through him. She was playing out a bit at that point and sometimes would play with our bass player Matt. I ended up meeting Matt when I was 18. Dirk was officiating his wedding and Morgan was one of his wife’s bridesmaids. They wanted someone to play some light music before the wedding and Dirk and Morgan recommended me to them. After the reception the three of us (Matt, Morgan, and myself) sat around and played Grateful Dead tunes. A couple of years later I saw Morgan and Matt playing at a bar in town and we started playing together shortly after that. After going through a couple of drummers, I met Scott (our drummer) through surfing on Lake Michigan. He quickly became one of our best friends and started playing with us.
How do you guys approach songwriting? We take a pretty collaborative approach to writing. Normally it starts with a riff or chord progression I’m messing around with and then between Scott, Matt and I we flesh out an entire song. Then Morgan normally starts working on a vocal melody. Sometimes Morgan will come to us with a skeleton of a song with all the lyrics done and we’ll work out the music from there. Recently, we’ve been writing out all the vocal parts together as well as the music with some great results. We’ve been really excited about the songs we’ve been coming out with.
What is your go-to onstage guitar and what amps are you playing live? My primary stage guitars are a Collings 360 LT-M, a 1961 Fender Jazzmaster that’s been re-finished in a kind of ugly Daphne Blue, and a National Resolectric. The Jazzmaster was my main guitar for the last few years and then I played the Collings and had to buy it. Recently, the Jazzmaster has taken a bit of a back seat to the Collings but it still gets taken out from time to time. The Resonator is used on a handful of songs, normally the ones with a bit more of a country or deep bluesy vibe. For a couple of years it was the only guitar I’d play live but the lack of a tremolo makes it a bit less appealing. I’m pretty effect-driven in some of the songs we play and I love playing with pedals (possibly more than playing guitar). My pedal set-up has been:
Guitar > ABC Switcher (for ease of changing guitars)>Moog Ring Modulator>Matchless Hot box Preamp/Vibrato> Clean boost> Overdrive> a tube overdrive that my friend made>Wah>Fuzz> Stereo harmonizer> Stereo Delay> another Stereo Delay> reverb> amps. My amps have changed around a bit for the last few years but I pretty much always have an Orange Rockerverb 50 on one side with a rotating cast of amps on the other. Recently, it’s been either a Matchless DC30 or a Vox AC15 HW but I’ve used a couple different Fenders there as well. As long as my amp has two channels and preferably a reverb, I’m pretty happy.
Does SGB spend any time crafting a live show as such or do you guys prefer to change it up night to night? We try to pick our sets based on the type of crowd we’re going to play for as well as the length of our show. We play a wide range of venues and try to stay busy playing as much as possible so sometimes we’re not going to play for crowds that know our music well. In those instances, we try to do a slightly mellower set and maybe throw in some covers to keep everyone happy and interested. In a perfect world, we’d be playing for hundreds of screaming fans every night and be able to play whatever but we try to be conscientious of who’s in our crowd and make sure they’re having a good time and liking what they’re hearing. We’ve been known to do totally stripped down acoustic shows to fit the venue or be super loud and raw… Just whatever makes sense that day.
Do you, or the band, have a routine pre-show to help get in the right head space for the gig? I can’t say we have any specific pre-show ritual but we normally all get a drink and walk through the crowd if we’re not playing first. It’s cool to see how an audience is at a show and you never know who you’ll meet or run in to.
What was it like to jam on stage with blues legend Buddy Guy? Playing with Buddy was a crazy experience. We had Just played the BBQ, Blues, And Bluegrass festival in our hometown and Buddy Guy was set to headline the event. After we got done playing, we were all hanging out backstage having a couple drinks and watching the band that was after us. I ended up getting invited in to Buddy’s trailer and met him and then he offered me to possibly play. I kind of freaked out at that point. It’s not something I had really ever thought of to do and I was really intimidated by the whole thing but I was down to do it. So I watch him play for an hour or so and he calls me up and I am literally shaking. There’s about 10,000 people in the crowd with another 10-15,000 sitting on top of the bluff in St. Joseph, MI watching. I just kind of zoned out the whole time and tried to not mess up. Afterwards, I listened to a recording of it and I played pretty well through the whole thing although I don’t really remember it, it was just that huge of an adrenalin rush. It’s a pretty cool experience and the fact that I got to have that happen in front of my friends, family, and band was so amazing.
If you we’re to do a 5-song-EP that was in essence a ‘best of’ of your first two discs, DiveBomb and UnderCurrents, what cuts would be on it and what’s the track order? Interestingly enough, we actually have two more discs we recorded during each of those sessions that we haven’t released; there’s a bunch of songs on those that I really like. Also, we haven’t gotten into the studio this year so there’s quite a couple new songs that I would put in our “best of” over some of these. but If I had to do it based on what we have out and as a concise 5 song that follows a certain feel, I think it would go: “Underwater”, “Wheels”, “Rewind”, “Break Through It” & “Witch Pill”
It’s crazy how much those songs have changed over time, a lot of the songs on both of those CD’s rarely get played live anymore and the ones that are have so many things changed. Hopefully we’ll be getting back in the studio soon to record some of our newer stuff and we’ll probably be releasing one of the other records that we’ve been holding back sometime soon.
What advice would you give to a kid just picking up the guitar? Keep practicing and try not to get frustrated! It can be difficult at times starting out but just keep at it. Practice your scales religiously to get your dexterity up and try to get some basic understanding of music theory. It will definitely help you out in the long run and make you a better player. Most importantly though, have fun! —- visit SlimGypsyBaggage.com