Originally posted on Swizzle-Stick.com
With Those Bastard Souls, Grifters frontman Daivd Shouse is able to twist the cap off the emotions that he has been bottling up over the years and express himself as he has never been able to do before. The songs on Those Bastard Souls second full-length album (and first for V2 Records) Debt & Departure represent a time of deep introspection for both Shouse and the members that make up the band (Joan Wasser, Kevin March, Matt Fields, Michael Tighe).
Swizzlestick recently had the great honor to speak with Shouse about the various influences in his life that led to the creation of one of the most heartfelt releases of 1999.
I’m pretty sure I saw the Grifters play live in Columbus, Ohio. Is it possible I may have seen you with Guided By Voices?
Oh yeah. I think that was the first time we ever met Guided By Voices. We thought they were the roadies for the real band. That was back in the day that they had the bass player that wore the Alabama Crimson Tide baseball hat. They just looked like totally collegiate frat guys. But meeting Bob (Pollard, GBV singer) was fun. Bob and I are born like a week apart. We had a lot to talk about. We talked about old Roxy Music stories and prog rock and Bud versus any other beer.
When I think of Memphis, the two things that come to mind are Beale Street and Graceland. Do you think those are two good representations of Memphis?
That’s what the Chamber of Commerce wants you to see. I don’t know. Graceland is kind of a caricature of itself. They just overhype it to death. Beale Street never looked like that. In the old photos there were pool halls, and prostitution, and it was a total red light joint. Now it’s like Disney. But, every town has those kinds of things I guess.
The real Memphis takes a little longer to figure out. It stumps a lot of people because it’s such a queer place, wrongheaded. It’s a huge small town. Memphis had some kind of mosquito-borne or rat-carried virus at the turn of the century or maybe late nineteenth century. Whites were stricken with it in many more cases than blacks. So a lot of the money, cotton people who could afford to get out, got out. It lasted long enough so they just stayed out and never came back. It gave the rural population an excuse, “Hey, a city opportunity, let’s go.” We’re still kind of dealing with the repercussions from that as far as the way things happen here. Memphis has the good luck of a sharecropper sometimes. It just has that mentality that is really strange. But then again it produces some great characters like Jerry Lee Lewis and Jim Dickens and people like that.
So were you born and raised in Memphis?
No, I was born in Virginia. I came here to go to college and I just stayed. But that eons again. I came to school here in 1976, back at the end of the Neolithic era.
Other than what you mentioned about Beale Street being “Disneyfied,” is the city pretty much the same city that you moved to back in ‘76?
Yeah, a lot of it hasn’t changed, like a lot of places. It is sprawling and going into suburbs and that kind of stuff. I think in some ways it’s taking care of itself pretty well. It’s getting things done, albeit more slowly than a lot of other cities that are going through downtown improvements and riverfront improvement. In some cases they do it right, like Beale Street is kind of a mixed blessing.
I think this city has done okay. In the arts, the situation fluctuates like any other place. The weather sucks, but everything else is good. There are a lot of trees. Columbus has a lot of trees though too, right?
Yeah. But in Columbus, if you stand in the direct center of downtown, you can be pretty much assured that if you go 25 miles in any direction, you’ll be standing in farm country.
I remember when the Grifters were travelling years ago from Athens over to Columbus, we stopped and got some barbecue. Actually, we were leaving Columbus and going to Athens and immediately we were in cornfields. We stopped and got some “barbecue.” It was the most bizarre food I’ve ever seen. It was like orange mush. My first encounter with rural Ohio was like, “Whoa!”
Do you think you could have written the same songs that you’ve written throughout your life if you hadn’t lived in Memphis?
No way. It has a lot to do with the people that, to some extent, shepherd me along here. A couple of guys that work at Easley’s Studio and just being in the Grifters are good experiences. So, no, I can’t imagine what I would have done. It’s kind of frightening. I feel pretty comfortable right now so the alternative seems pretty weird.
Would you say there is a fraternity or brotherhood among certain Southern bands? I talked to Mark from Sparklehorse a few months ago and he said he recorded some stuff in Memphis.
I’m not sure if Mark came in here or not. He should if he hasn’t. That would make a lot of sense. That could very well be. I don’t keep always keep up with exactly who is here, particularly if he was just here for a brief period of time because I’m gone so much. It would make sense. Easley’s is the kind of place where they are really mellow and laid back. It would be perfect.
I don’t know about the connection between the bands. I just got off tour with a band from San Diego that could have been a Southern band. They were mellow, really sweet guys without any attitude. They are called the Black Heart Procession. They are good guys, one of the more deliberate bands. They are deliberate the way Codeine was deliberate except Black Heart is about 10 RPMs faster.
I also talked to Scott from Verbena last week and he mentioned that he bumps into you on occasion.
They blew my mind the last time we played with them in Atlanta. This was like a year ago. I was like, “Whoa! This is a great rock band!” I wonder how they are doing now. They signed a big deal.
I’m a little disappointed in the reviews that I’ve been reading because people are comparing them to Nirvana a lot, because Dave Grohl produced them, but I don’t think that is a strong influence.
They go back further then that. I heard the Stones when I first heard them. They are real crotchety, they have a great swagger about them. It’s very sexual too, which is good. We like that down here.
I haven’t heard the first Those Bastard Souls CD, but I was turned on to the band when I picked up a cassette sampler of three new songs at a record store. There was a little description on the back on the cover that described the sound and the two words that stick out to me are “romantic” and “dark.” Do you think those are good words to describe your music?
I think people recognize there is a darkness to it because there is a certain melancholia. But the romantic thing, that’s something we all sort of gravitated to, I say “we,” this is like the fourth incarnation of the band. The three people that have been in the band since the beginning and I wanted to bring that out more in the music. So, yeah, I’ll run with those words.
Are there are other artists, whether they be filmmakers or musicians or authors, that you think share similar visions to you, maybe in a different form?
Sometimes I’ll see a movie that I wish that I could have . . . that the style somehow captures your metabolism. Henry’s Fool was an interesting movie. I get absorbed in that movie. There was like a row of six of us, and everybody had their own opinion and I was the most intent about digging it. Sometimes you see movies like that that connect with you.
Do you consider Debt & Departure as a whole entity or as eleven separate pieces?
There are songs that connect, for sure. There are four songs that we redid from the first record, so those have a certain kinship, which is obvious. The record is kind of an anthology as a whole because it represents the songs that we played over the three years as this band being a side project for us. So, there are songs that are connected by the time they came up. “Blow Your Mind,” “Telegram,” “Spaced Out,” and “The Wake of Your Flood” came up at about the same time on the same tour. And then the new stuff, like “Up to You,” sort of stands by itself because it was new and different. I think the period they came up brought them together and that had to do with the ways the lyrics were written too. Those four are kind of a package almost.
I get this picture when I listen to the album. I envision old graveyards, and churches, and train tracks. There is just something about the music that captures this picture in my head.
The worst thing is if someone listens to it and doesn’t think something, and doesn’t get something, then you just don’t connect. That’s a great thing about any kind of art form. You should be able to sit back and you get something personal from it as you would a religion because you should get something from a religion, something spiritual. So, that’s cool.
What would you say are the general themes of the new songs?
This record is, and may be, closer to my heart. It may be the strongest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know if I would say thematically, that sounds kind of grandiose. It’s just a real personal record for myself and a lot of people in the band because we’ve gone through some crazy shit over the last couple of years. We’ve all seen the projects that allowed us to do this band disappear. The Dambuilders broke up. The Grifters are kind of on hiatus right now. And above all, Jeff Buckley’s death.
In ’96 and ’97, I was working with the Grifters and I got to a place where I was having a hard time singing some of my songs because I thought the lyrics were bullshit. And I would get off the stage . . . the Grifters were all about having fun and just winging stuff . . . but the lyrics just started to eat at me. I was like, “I really can’t do anything about these songs that I’ve written and am playing. I just have to find a way to get inside of it.” So this stuff, I’ve got to be happy with the lyrics, they have to do something for me.
And, coincidentally, I was also going through a personal part of my life, getting closer to my wife and understanding why she was here with me and then dealing with Jeff’s death. That’s what I was saying about those four songs I mentioned earlier, those in particular, I felt good after I finished the lyrics to those songs. I finally said something that was me, that’s good. I haven’t always done that not just in music (but in life as well). I was just bottled up all the way around. It’s cool. It’s a more personal record and I think that’s why there is a little bit of melancholy involved in a lot of this songs. I think if you look at it, with the lyrics, it’s not about the person who is just throwing his hands up in the air and giving up. It’s about the person who is throwing his hands up in the air and basically going, “I’ve been through this, but I’ll get through it. And I want to find a way up and out.” So it was a good record to make for that reason, to get those feelings down and go, “Yeah, I know.”
What fresh ideas did Those Bastard Souls offer that the Grifters did not? Was it the chance to work with different artists or was it the chance to maybe open up your songwriting and write from a different perspective or for a different audience?
The beginning of the Souls was pretty innocent. This guy just gave me a couple of DAT tapes and said “If you make music and want to put a solo record out, I’ll put it out for you.” And I started writing it about the same time that I was writing the Grifters Ain’t My Lookout record which was our first for SubPop. And that was a great time because that was a good record for the Grifters to make and I was having fun making my solo record. I just didn’t think about it. That was more like a concussion period, a beautiful concussion as if you just get smacked in the head and have all these ideas and stuff. I think coming down from that, those songs came out of me for that solo record because they needed to. It was something that I felt really good parts of myself musically that I hadn’t touched base with in ten or fifteen years.
It became more difficult for me comprehend some songs with the Grifters. There were other songs that were fine. But some of the older things, and more frivolous tunes, I thought I really did a haphazard job with that. At the same time, songwriting with the Grifters, bringing in a finished song was sometimes song because I thought, “Well maybe this is a Bastards Souls song, maybe I should just bring ideas to the Grifters because the Grifters work better when we assimilate.” It was a little cathartic at times trying to decide what I was doing writing and who I was writing for and where this was all going.
Was it difficult to find people who shared the same ideas of where this was all going when you were trying to assemble a band?
Not at all. It was unbelievably dreamlike. Matt Fields, who still plays bass, helped me put it together. He grabbed a drummer that was working for a booking agent in Chicago. I said I want to work with Joan (Wasser, violinist from the Dambuilders) and I want to work with Steven Drozd who is the drummer for the Flaming Lips. He’s an amazing musician—keyboardist and guitarist. I called them both up and they said “Sure.” It was great. Like I said, with different incarnations of the band, each time we’d ask someone to come through and do a tour, you learn from them and experience their take on the music. It’s actually been kind of a neat little three-year ride with this band, which is the most comfortable and the happiest together.
So do you think this will be a permanent line-up, at least for a little while?
Well, I hope so. We’ve got some touring to do. Everybody seems to be into it. We’ve got some new stuff we’re working on and it involves more people writing than just me, which is good.
Do you have any idea who you’d like to tour with if the opportunity presented itself?
Well, it’s a really short list because we’re idealists. We’d like to go out with Nick Cave, but that’s not going to happen. There is not a firm enough offer right now, there are things floating around. Nothing that I can . . . it would just be speculation. So, we can actually say that we’ll be touring with the reformed Beatles, with Sean on guitar. We’ll get that out and running.
Has anybody ever covered one of your songs?
Oh my god, we had a band in Florida cover a Grifters song off the Eureka EP that was, just, kind of bad. It was so bad it was funny. They connected with it in a way they didn’t want to.
Who would you give a blessing to to cover one of your songs?
Oh shit, I don’t know.
I can see Chris Isaak doing “Has Anybody Seen Her” or Roy Orbison performing “Debt & Departure.”
That’s funny because we have a new song that we are working on that the beginning sounds a lot like a Roy Orbison song.
I think it would be cool to see Johnny Cash do one of your songs.
Yeah, have Johnny Cash do “Debt & Departure” and Chris Isaak do “The Wake of Your Flood” or “Up to You” would be good.
I had him pegged as doing “Has Anybody Seen Her.”
Oh yeah. I don’t know. I’d like to hear Bryan Ferry cover something. Or Nina Simone, that would be great. I don’t know who else.
When you go out on tour, are you going to be pulling any covers out of the bag?
I think when we go out this next time, we’re going to be doing a song of Big Star’s 3rd and an old John Cale tune. There’s a scene from Jackie Brown where Robert Forester goes to the CD store and buys either a tape, or CD, or 8-track, or something, and pops it in his car and is driving around. I can’t remember the name of the band, it’s a Detroit band. We’re going to do a cover song by that band. I know that Matt said, “We’ve got to do this song.”
Wasn’t it the Del-Fonics or something like that?
The Del-Fonics, that’s it. Thank you. I wish I could remember the song not. They are not from Detroit, they are from Philly. Matt put the CD on before our show in Philly. The sound guy, who was in his 40s, was the only guy to come up and say “Hey, the Del-Fonics.” No one in the whole place knew who the band was or that they were from Philly. It was kind of sad.
Were you pretty close with Jeff Buckley?
Jeff and I were pretty good friends. We started spending more and more time together the Spring that he was here trying to get that last record worked out. I met him back in ’94. Between then and the winter of ’96 we hung out. He invited the Grifters to tour with him in Australia in February of ’96. That was good.
We never really talked much about music. We were both having our problems with respective record labels. We commiserated with each other about that kind of stuff. Jeff was a great guy. He was a messenger for a lot of people. He caused a lot of people to pick up a paint brush again, or start writing poetry again, or start playing music again. Those people don’t come along too often.
As a friend and as a fan, what did you think of the posthumous release of the Jeff Buckley double album?
We all had mixed feelings about that. Jeff wasn’t around to decide what people should really hear. I was just thinking today that I needed to get that record back out and listen to it again. It was hard to play his stuff for a long time. I do know that he wasn’t totally stoked about that stuff seeing the light of day. But then again, I know a lot of people who are really happy to hear it. That’s who the music is for now.
When I first heard “The Last Thing I Ever Wanted Was to Show Up and Blow Your Mind,” when you start singing the “Hallelujah” part I get shivers up my spine.
That was one of those things, when I wrote it and had that line there, my wife was like “Uhhhh.” This was before death. She was like, “That sure sounds like that song on Grace.” It’s the same word, but I sung this word in church hymns for years in the choir. It’s a rejoiceful word. When we started playing it was the band, everybody dug it so it stuck. Now I’m kind of glad it stuck. It gives us a chance, and anybody else who is connected to that, to realize that we are rejoicing, as it relates to the lyrics and the story of the song and also remembering somebody that has had a profound influence on all of our lives, not just musically.
What is the strangest, or perhaps the most inappropriate, occasion when an idea for a song popped into your head?
The most unusual experience I’ve ever had that spawned a song was in Bosman, Montana when we came to play this roadhouse that was initially kind of frightening. We didn’t know the clientele. At four or five in the afternoon, the locals are there, guys in their 60s with gray stubble beards, and the overalls and caps. And they don’t like anybody who has hair longer than theirs, or clothes different then theirs, or who drink an uppity beer. This is the impression we were getting. They happen to be the nicest men on the face of the planet, but we didn’t know that yet. It almost felt like southern Georgia. I walked into the men’s bathroom to take piss and I just happened to look over at the railing, or the top of the stall that divided me from the next one, and right there it said “Get Outta That Spaceship and Fight Like A Man.” And I was like “Oh my God!” And that, of course, became a Grifters song. I remember going back in there. It was written in pencil and someone had really ground it into this wood stall. So we came back in with a Sharpe and carefully, almost respectfully, went over this thing. We thought it just had to last. It was like the most cosmic, redneck thing I’ve ever read. That immediately went into the book.
I hate asking this question because I’m sure you’ve been asked it a million times: Where did the name Those Bastard Souls come from?
It was actually a name I came up with when the Grifters were looking for a name. We were about to change our name to the Grifters. Then I hung on to it because one of the things I wanted to do outside of the Grifters, if I had a chance, was to do a side project that involved a revolving door of people. I even talked to Wayne from the Flaming Lips about it. I remember mentioning it to Bob Pollard and Howie Gelb from Giant Said and Richard Buckner. All sort of people I bumped into. I told them that I really wanted to write some music and go out into different formations and stuff. These would be the bastard children of other bands. Plus, I always liked the band These Immortal Souls. It was the kind of revolving door, bastard child thing. And it actually turned out to be that way, the first three years of the band until it settled down.