Hot Damn! The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band plays PACS3 on Saturday
Special to The Aspen Times
In years past, Josh Peyton and the studio have never been best buddies.
Sure, the man who leads the rootsy rock trio The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band had made albums — five full-lengths and two EPs, in fact. But the studio never felt like home.
“I don’t want to say I dreaded it so much. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that,” Peyton said in a phone interview. “But I’m definitely nervous in the studio. I’m not nervous on stage. I’m nervous in the studio, just like, ‘Oh man, we’ve got to get this right.’ It’s just kind of a nerve-racking experience.”
But doing his recently released sixth CD, “Between the Ditches,” has Peyton singing a very different tune about the album-making experience.
“I said to Breezy (Peyton’s wife and washboard player in the Big Damn Band), ‘If making a record is going to be this fun, I think I want to make more records,’” Petyon recalled. “I’ve never really felt that way before. In a way, records were a love-hate thing. I’ve always enjoyed having a recorded product, new songs on a record, but I never really loved the process.”
So what changed? In a sense, Peyton finally allowed himself to make an actual album rather than just a mere recording.
As he explained, the earlier albums were always just documents of performances. He, Breezy and drummer Aaron Persinger would simply set up in the studio the way the group does live, hit “record” and play the song just as it would be performed on stage. That would be it, the finished take.
And on his previous CD, “Peyton on Patton,” things were even simpler.
Featuring Peyton’s versions of songs by blues pioneer Charlie Patton, that album was recorded with one guitar and one microphone over just four hours on a Sunday.
“In a lot of ways, our records have almost been like field recordings,” Peyton said. “‘Peyton on Patton’ is an extreme example. But even our previous records, they’ve kind of in a way been like field recordings in a lot of ways. This one’s not. This one is more than just a recording. It’s a record.”
But fans won’t have to worry that The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band went crazy in the studio, piling on overdubs, programmed beats and synthesizers and auto-tuning Peyton’s blustery vocals.
In fact, he said aside from adding a mandolin on one song and some harmonica parts, no overdubs were added and each song still features just one guitar, washboard and percussion.
What was different was the manner in which the group went about choosing how songs would sound and in being willing to take the time and put in the effort to rework songs that weren’t initially passing muster.
“With each song it was like, ‘OK, which guitar and which guitar-amp setup really sounds good with this song?’” Peyton said. “‘Let’s just try to figure out what’s perfect.’ Like the snare drum, I was like, ‘If it isn’t what I’m looking for, let’s keep doing it until we get this sound exactly right.’”
Peyton pointed to the song “The Money Goes” as a track that was drastically transformed during the recording sessions.
“Originally ‘The Money Goes,’ the way I wrote it, it was with a bunch of background vocals,” he said. “It was going to be almost like a choir of background vocals singing it back and harmony parts. And I just wasn’t feeling it. And right before I decided to scratch the whole song, I said, ‘Man, what if the harmonica sang it back?’ To me that really just amped up the song and put it where I wanted it to be, how I wanted it to feel. And you know, we had all of these people that came in to sing on that song and just had to erase it and start over without. That was an example, in my opinion, of being way more open in the studio.”
The added care and time that went into the recording sessions — they lasted a full three weeks — made things feel less pressurized and had Peyton feeling better about the studio experience.
“I think it was actually the comfort of being able to say, ‘OK, we’ve got the time. Let’s do this one right,’” he said. “‘Let’s just go through it piece by piece, and if it’s not right, let’s just do it again until it is. And if it’s not working, we’ll start over.’ That sort of gave me a comfort zone.”
It seems like Peyton waited more than long enough to start making slightly more extensive use of the recording studio on the Big Damn Band albums — considering he is anything but a newcomer to recording.
He formed the group with Breezy and his younger brother, Jayme, around 2003. The group released two CDs and two EPs before signing with SideOne Dummy Records. That indie label has released the 2008 CD “The Whole Fam Damnily,” 2010’s “The Wages,” “Peyton on Patton” and now “Between the Ditches.” Along the way, Jayme Patton retired from the group in 2009, with Persinger taking over.
Those albums have garnered the group an enthusiastic — albeit a much smaller than arena-filling — audience. While rooted in country blues, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band has always added a jolt of energy — be it with electric guitar or a big or fast beat — that has made its seemingly old-time music appealing to an alt-rock-friendly crowd.
The music on “Between the Ditches” falls well within the traditions of the previous albums, as the band unreels some snaky blues on “Devils Look Like Angels,” stomps its way through “Something for Nothing” and “The Money Goes,” and rocks things up on “Big Blue Chevy ’72.” A few songs are slower (“Move Along Mister”) or have an acoustic sound (“Brown County Bound”), but the new CD has no shortage of energy and verve.
What’s ironic about having taken a more meticulous approach to recording on “Between the Ditches” is that Peyton thinks this CD comes closer than any other Big Damn Band album to capturing the sound and spirit of the group’s live shows.
“In the past, some of our records, I think, have been a little bit too, I don’t know, a little bit too beholden to like some era kind of thing,” he said. “I think our records never were quite as rock ’n’ roll as we were live. That was something that for me personally was the goal. I kind of went into the studio and said, ‘Look, we’re going to do it this way. We’re going to get in here, and we’re not coming out until it’s right.’ And one of the things I wanted to do was, it’s like look, this is a guitar record as much as anything. This is a rock ’n’ roll record as much as it is a roots record. I want that to come across, the way it does live. The fans that have seen us live, they get that. They understand where we’re coming from. But I think our recordings, in a way, have not quite reflected that as much as I’ve wanted them to.”
Alan Sculley writes for Last Word Features. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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