Front Page Reviews & AIR
Feature Interview - Dave Gutter of Rustic Overtones
1) I was hung-over
2) Dave, Lindsay, and Mary were hung-over
3) I’d spent the morning driving back to Boston from Portland, Maine, and listening to Rustic Overtones
4) Dave had spent the morning driving through Northern Maine and listening to his iPod on shuffle
Brian Sousa, Mule Editor
Dave Gutter, Front-man of Rustic Overtones and Paranoid Social Club
Lindsay, Dave’s girlfriend
Mary, friend of Lindsay
Being in Two Bands
Starting a cult
Andrew Bird’s New Album Break It Yourself
Faux Soul (AKA Low Soul)
“I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry
“Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon
“Letter to the President” by Rustic Overtones
“Common Cold” by Rustic Overtones
“Sector Z” by Rustic Overtones
“C’mon” by Rustic Overtones
“In My Projects” by Coo Coo Cow
# of Calls Dropped:
# of Times I Swore When the Call Dropped
Number of Emails Sent to Set-Up Interview:
Number of Emails Sent to Piece Together Interview:
DG: You’re playing on the car stereo right now.
Q: Oh, sweet. How are you?
DG: Great…how are you?
Q: Good. A little hung-over.
DG: We are too!
(Though I was totally confused for almost the entire time about who was in the car due to the poor reception, the “we” turned out to be Dave’s girlfriend Lindsay and her friend Mary, who provided some great perspective. When I’m not sure who was speaking, I will use the title “Backseat” if that is OK with you.)
Q: How was the gig last night?
DG: Static…“Awesome. It felt really good—”
Lindsay: “Some girl dropped her bra on stage…”
DG: “Yeah, I believe there was a…Static… thrown on stage at one time.”
Q: “There was a what thrown on stage?”
DG: “Fur coat!”
DG: I’m driving through Northern Maine, so if it breaks up or we lose you, I’ll just call you back. So, is this a magazine, or a blog, or are we on the radio?
Q: What? Oh! We’re a music and culture website, Mule Variations. You are our Artist-In-Residence for April, actually.
DG: That’s great! Yay!
Backseat: When do we move in?
Q: What’s that?
DG: When do we move in.
DG: You said residence; that usually implies some sort of housing involved…
Q: You can come stay at my apartment in Boston if you want, I think that’s all we can offer at this point.
DG: Oh cool, we’re playing at Church coming up.
Q: Yeah, I’ll be there with my girlfriend.
DG: Awesome. So, is this for Rustic Overtones or Paranoid Social Club?
Q: We’re featuring Rustic, yeah, but last night was Paranoid Social Club, right?
His response? “Bring It On.”
I sent him four pages.
What follows is the first ever game (and, greatest game ever) of RSML…if you haven’t been following, that is Rock Star*Mad Libs. The underlined words are what Dave filled in…
DG: Yeah, and tonight, and then for Rustic, we’ll be, over the next couple of weeks, finishing up our record and playing out live.
Q: So, this month our theme is WORDS, or LYRICS, and I heard an interview recently where you said that the lyrics of
DG: Rustic is more this Rock & Roll gospel, themes of hope and revolution, with a lot of anthems, and also punk rock, but we don’t get quite as loud as Paranoid does…there’s sarcasm in Paranoid, and there’s honesty in Rustic.
Q: Then you have songs like “Letter to the President” and other more political references—is that still something you want to continue to do? Or was that spur of the moment?
DG: Rustic still has stuff that is literal, but the Paranoid stuff tends to be about girls and drugs, taboo stuff, and Rustic can be about things like life, love, and war.
Q: I almost feel like some of the Rustic songs are short stories, going back to earlier albums. They’re not super confessional, it’s not like a love story in the first person. I’m thinking of “Heist” and “Gas on Skin.”
DG: I try to write from the perspective of We instead of I. “I” is all about yourself, and “You” can sound preachy, but “We” is a way to make the listener feel more involved.
Q: What’s the process of writing lyrics like? All over the place? Do you write lyrics first? Music first?
DG: I come up with a concept about some feeling I want to convey, or a story—for example if I want to get across a story about bubble gum, I try to convey it as best I possibly can. If I want to convey what it’s like to chew bubble gum, then I try to describe my experience. I think it’s important to differentiate the two.
Q: What if it’s something you’re not familiar with, like robbing a bank? Unless, you’ve robbed a bank…
DG: I try to imagine it. Obviously I’ve never been to war, or robbed a bank, but I like imagining what it might be like. It’s always a giant metaphor for something I'm familiar with. I don’t want it to be just me, just writing about myself. So I try to live vicariously and write about other people.
Q: And then the listener and audience gets to do that. What is your description of Rustic’s music? I know it’s changed, but how would you characterize it?
DG: I don’t know…it’s like amped up soul music. Definitely a soul vibe to it. But I don’t sing like that, I kinda have a rough, Clash, or punk rock voice, so it’s kinda like Faux Soul.
It’s important to mention that I thought Dave was saying “Low Soul” throughout the interview, and even repeated it back to him. I don’t know if this shows that I am not too quick on the uptake, or how bad the service was.
Q: Low soul! Nice. My girlfriend’s been a Rustic fan for a long time and she noticed that songs like “Sugarcoat”—you’ll slow it way down now, or play a different version or arrangement live—
DG: That’s cause we’re old. We can’t play as fast as when we were younger.
Q: Laughs. But is that to make it—as an artist—different for you? Or the audience?
DG: A lot of times, we write the songs as we go, stream-of-consciousness, and then after we record it, we don’t even know how to play it because we’ve played it so many different ways, so we end up playing it differently than the album, we can still play the song’s essence, we go a different route with it, we still get the vibe of it, but it doesn’t have to be exactly how it is on the record.
Q: You have an EP coming out now, right?
DG: Right, but it’s growing. Light At the End, when we first came back, was supposed to be an EP, too, but it grew. That’s what is happening. We’re going to the studio this week, and we’re gonna be tracking more songs, and once we get 7-8 songs, I don’t know if it’s an EP anymore. It’s a concept album, called Let’s Start a Cult.
Q: Nice! A concept album…stories about the idea of a cult?
DG: Yeah, it’s about a guy who started a cult, and gets power hungry, and it all goes awry; jealousy and the general downfalls of leadership. It’s still very fun. It’s almost a little like Paranoid, but it has a positive message, even though it sounds dark.
Q: A positive partying cult…
DG: Yeah, like going around getting people to come to your shows, it’s…Static
Q: What was that?
DG: A rock star is a cult leader. People listen to what they say.
Q: And the bigger you get, the more people listen…Do you think about that? Do you think about the idea that you have this collective audience who are thinking about what you mean, and reinterpreting what you say? Do you think about that when you write?
DG: I think about that every day. I have my finger on that pulse as hard as I possibly can. And I try to relate to people with my lyrics. A lot of the music that’s out there—older stuff—Dylan, Leonard Cohen, it was about telling a story. It’s not like that anymore. It’s weird. Like “Sex on Fire,” Kings of Leon? I tried to figure it out, it sounds like it’s about an
They don't know what the song is about, either. Especially the guy front-left.
Q: That’s interesting. I think about that when I listen to your stuff. We were just in the car listening to New Way Out, then we threw in Ryan Adams. Such a difference between…old Ryan Adams albums and the stuff that he’s writing about, and the stuff that Rustic is getting across. I think it’s cool, and it sets you apart.
DG: Songwriting is not dead. There are still a lot of people out there that are writing amazing stuff. We had Andrew Bird on shuffle yesterday and his lyrics are great.
Q: His new album is really cool.
DG: I gotta check it out. My girlfriend doesn’t like it, though.
Lindsay: It’s not as good as his older albums…
DG: Who am I gonna trust? You or her?
Q: I’d say her.
DG: I’m just gonna trust myself, man.
Andrew Bird approves.
DG: I’d rather listen to a song like “I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It” than some shit that I don’t understand.
Q: So stuff that’s too abstract…like Bon Iver, something you can’t understand. You want clarity. You want stuff to be direct.
DG: Right, yeah.
Lindsay: You like Bon Iver.
DG: I do like Bon Iver. But I like stuff that’s visual. Our first video—I was like what am I supposed to do? It was for “C’mon.” And that’s a perfect example—it’s my song—but what really is he talking about? It’s a vague revolution. But I had no idea what to do in the video. So now I try to make these songs more visual so you can understand what I was talking about.
Lindsay: I feel like in the past you didn’t really do that.
DG: I didn’t—
Lindsay: I feel like the songs have become more literal, and people can understand them. Before, in the past, it wasn’t as much about the songwriting.
DG: You’re gonna paraphrase Lindsay in the interview, right?
Q: Static scrapes my ear. I’m sorry. You’re breaking up.
FIRST DROPPED CALL (though I don’t realize it for several minutes)…
Q: Hello? Shit. Shit. Hello?
Hello? Hello? Beep. FUCK.
2:47pm: CALL TWO
DG: Sorry man, driving through a bad area.
Q: No worries. I can hear you much better now than before. But I missed what…what was…your girlfriend, is that your girlfriend?… Saying?
DG: Yeah, Lindsay and her friend Mary. (I don’t make this out, not even close, until the third time I listen to the recording, but I just try to play along. I’m sick of saying ‘what.’)
Q: I missed what she was saying.
DG: She said she thought the songs were more literal as I get older and it’s kinda true.
Girlfriend: Older songs, like “Simple Song,” the songs were—Static
DG: The songs were about something that—Static
DG: Yeah, and “Check”…it sounds like it’s just a microphone check, but it’s really about a bad soundman that would blast us with feedback.
Q: I can’t hear anything.
Lindsay: You can call back from my phone?
DG: Let’s reconvene in 15 minutes.
2:59: CALL THREE
DG: Anyway, It’s gotten easier to write songs, at least a little bit.
Q: Great, it’s clearer now. So we were talking about songwriting. What about writing for the two different bands. Do you feel like that helps? Focus and divide? Or can it make things more difficult?
DG: I think it helps. It keeps the message behind the two projects consistent.
Q: I was just thinking, since you brought up “C’mon,” I’m thinking of the line dealing with revolutionaries, and “Boys and Girls,” the whole line about “Weapons of War”—how literal is that? It’s political…right? What do those lines mean?
DG: It’s just encouraging, about motivation, and self-confidence. That song is about getting back up when you’re down.
Q: You guys self-produced the last two albums, right?
DG: Well, the last one we did. Light at the End was produced half by John Wyman and half by Tony Visconti (Bowie’s producer).
END OF Rock Star*Mad Libs. Hope you enjoyed the ride of this inaugural session.
Q: Does it feel like a new band? Does it feel fresh?
DG: It’s ever-changing, from record to record, it’s always changing. Long Division is very much a punk record, and then Rooms by the Hour is rock music with a lot of gospel to it, and Viva Nueva was somewhat electronic, had all the guests and all that, Light at the End was a lot of cuts from Viva Nueva that we liked, that the record company didn’t…
Q: Was the David Bowie thing dictated by you guys, the label, or what? How did that come about?
DG: That was the producer, Tony Visconti, he produced Hunky Dory…David Bowie plays saxophone, a lot of people don’t know that, he played on “Walk on the Wild Side,” and he played sax on other songs…the producer thought that he would improve our sound, so he called him up, and it was all fun and games until Bowie walked in, I think one of us was eating a pulled pork sandwich….
DG: Are you there, Brian?
Q: I’m sorry, you’re breaking up a ton man. I don’t know what your schedule is but…I don’t have to get this today. I know you have a gig tonight.
DG: I have a shitty phone. Let me call you back from my girl’s phone.
Q: OK, and—
3:06pm: CALL FOUR
Q: Hello? (I have no idea why I answer the phone this way when I know who it is).
DG: A bonjour Brian! It’s Dave.
Q: Say something so I can see if this works.
DG: Can. You. Hear. Me. Now.
Q: This is way better.
DG: You say that every time.
Q: I know, but it fades…I was with you until David Bowie and one of you eating a pulled pork sandwich, and he walked in…
DG: Yeah, it was not on the dot. It wasn’t like: David Bowie is here. He just walked in. And it was so shocking.
Q: And the thing that he does on the record is so funny, so cool. The spoken part….
DG: Yeah, we gave him “Sector Z,” because it’s about space, it’s about aliens picking up Rock & Roll on some sort of frequency and they’re asking what it is and you’re telling them that it isn’t hostile, that this is what it is, here on earth, and we thought Bowiewould be perfect for that. We gave him a demo of rough mixes from the studio, and when he came into record that song, he asked us if he could sit in on “Man Without a Mouth” and it was really cool that he’d been listening to the songs.
Q: So cool. It’s like “Life on Mars” or something, right up his alley. What about Funkmaster Flex?
DG: Yeah, we put Funkmaster Flex on this song with an opera singer, and it’s in this weird time, 6/8 time, and Funkmaster Flex was with this giant guy, the body guard, who is even bigger than Funkmaster Flex, and we said, this song is in 6/8 time, and the guy came over to me and just said ‘Flex only counts to four, man’ and I was like alright, well, cool. Just…do whatever you want. Laughs.
Q: Would you ever want to do something like Blakroc?
DG: We’ve done a lot of stuff like that behind the scenes. We’ve done remixes for artists on Tommy Boy, a guy named Coo Coo Cow, who had a hit with “In my Projects,” we did a remix for him, then Pete Rock, Tony Touch, Naughty By Nature, and during that time we kept on ending up on these hip-hop labels, after Tommy Boy and we’d be headed out on the road opening for De La Soul, and Foxy Brown, we were on the road with Run
Q: It’s interesting to think of audience. In some ways, lately you’ve been lumped into the jamband scene. I don’t see you in that, I think you have something unique, but—
DG: That’s been a thorn in our side our whole career. We don’t fit in any category with other bands. They put us with ska bands, hippie bands, punk bands. The ska people don’t think we’re ska enough, the hippie people don’t think we’re hippy enough, and so on and so on…
Q: Could be a good thing, though, right?
DG: Right. That’s why we’re starting a cult. We’ll start our own thing, our own genre.
Q: Low Soul! (I’m an idiot) Is that album the same lineup as now?
DG: We have a different drummer. Gary Gemitti is on drums, he’s a great jazz player, he’s from a band called the Royal Hammer, and also our keyboard player, Mike Taylor, he’s also from the Royal Hammer—we stole those guys because they’re one of our favorite bands. Mike Taylor is the lead singer from RH, he’s got a great voice, and it’s really fun singing with him; I think our voices blend really well.
Q: Six albums, and I’m sure you look back and say you could do some things differently, but which one sounds the way you feel it should in your head? And what about the new one? What’s the sound?
DG: It’s shagadelic. 60s pop. Campy vocals. A lot of spots where there are people singing at once. It gets more psychedelic as we go. Every record is different as far as production goes, it depends what I’m in the mood for, but I do think the production on Viva Nueva, I feel like it is a sound that wasn’t done a lot before….Like now you listen to bands, the band that does the song about A.D.D.—
Lindsay: Yeah, Awolnation (She was referring to their song “Sail”)
DG: It’s electronic and rock, and that wasn’t done a lot before 1999, when we were making that record, so I’m proud of the production on that album.
Q: Cool. Yeah, driving back from Portlandthis morning, we listened to all of your albums, and I can feel the progression there, and that’s why I was curious of the new sound.
DG: You’re in Portland now?
Q: Nah, Boston.
DG: Oh, if you were coming through we could meet for a beer.
Q: That’s what I was thinking. Totally different question. You’re putting a tour together right now, and you can pick bands from any time to play with, who would they be?
DG: (With very little hesitation). The Clash, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix.
Q: What are you listening to now?
DG: I just had my iPod on shuffle. I was just listening to Broken Social Scene. I like Nas a lot, I like his lyrics. I wanted to see him at SXSW, but I missed him. I’ve been listening to a lot of Kris Kristofferson. His first album, called Kristofferson, 1970, is some of the most amazing songwriting ever.
Q: With the new album, a concept album, is that reflective at all of society now? Are there political reaches? We’re pretty divided as a country…
Laughter from back of car…
DG: A lot of people think that the stuff I write is political, but it’s not. It’s sociological, but I’m the person who knows the least about politics in the world. I’m a big fan of human interaction, and peoples’ reactions to things, and how things affect people, but it’s definitely not political.
Q: But “Letter to the President” seems directly political, or is it just a technique or an idea?
DG: The funny thing about that song is that I was on the road, on tour, and I was homesick, and I was playing in a pub with nobody there, and I have a daughter at home, and I was just like—what am I doing here? Am I doing the right thing? Should I be at home? And I equated that to a soldier in war, who is away from his family, murdering people, and I tried to imagine what that was like, to take it to the extreme of questioning what you’re doing. That’s one of the jobs that must have the most self-doubt. So it wasn’t political, it was about missing family…People die, and its inherently sad, but it’s not an anti-war song.
Q: Things fall apart and they die, like that [Rustic] lyric…What about “Common Cold” what’s the concept behind that? Shit. Shit. SHIT.
Q: I got one more, (Bold Lie) and then I’ll end this endless back and forth. What’s “Common Cold” [off of New Way Out] about?
DG: It’s about people who give the cold shoulder, or people, like New Yorkers for example, who might be cold or unapproachable. People that get caught up in this whole “I’m busy and I don’t have time for pleasure” thing. It sounds like it’s about having a cold but it’s actually about being stuffed up like your nose is in the air.
Backseat of the car: indistinguishable murmuring.
Q: Did…someone…say something?
DG: [Mary] was like she always thought that song was about having a cold. If it was a Paranoid song, it’d be about having a cold. Since it’s a Rustic song, it’s about the deeper meaning behind the metaphor. Which gets back to the difference that we were talking about before.
Q: The songs are a little deeper, a little more nuanced, whereas
The Club of the Paranoid yet Social
Q: Do the lyrics take longer to write, for Rustic?
DG: Yeah, they take longer. I put more thought into the message. The guys in
Q: Like “Two Girls,” right? Hey, anyway, pleasure talking to both of you.
DG: But…there are three of us.
DG: Dave. Lindsay. And Mary.
Q: I…missed that in the shuffle. All three of you, pleasure.
DG: It was a pleasure, Brian.
Q: Have a good show tonight.
DG: And I’ll see you at Church.