JD and The Straight Shot - Interview
published: 23 / 8 / 2016
John Clarkson talks to lead vocalist Jim Dolan and guitarist Marc Copely from Americana outfit JD and the Straight Shot about touring with the Eagles' Don Henley and their fifth acoustic album, 'Ballyhoo!'
As excellent as their all acoustic fifth and latest album ‘Ballyhoo!’ is, one feels watching Americana band JD & The Straight Shot on stage that their greatest strength lies in their live work. They are an astonishingly gripping live band. Erin Slaver is a tour-de-force on violin and backing vocals. There is lush and lively playing and harmonies from the other members of the band, Adam Dolan (guitar, mandolin), Bryan House (upright bass) and Marc Copely (guitar, percussion, backing vocals), and in the genial, humorous Jim Dolan, his voice drifting from a soft croon to an impassioned roar, they have a particularly charismatic front man. In a forty minute slot at the Hydro in Glasgow in support of the Eagles’ Don Henley, JD & The Straight Shot’s set incorporates old-time gospel numbers, blues anthems, elegiac ballads and breezing country rock numbers. Violet’, with its weeping guitar line, and the stark, harmonic ‘Perdition’ are both soundtrack songs, the first the closing number in the Meryl Streep 2013 film ‘August Osage County’, about an estranged Oklahama family reunited for the first time in years by the patriarch’s suicide, the latter from the recent Natalie Portman Western 'Jane Got A Gun' in which Dolan laughs, “Someone dies horribly about every two seconds in it.” Amongst songs from ‘Ballyhoo!’, there is recent single and rousing country barnstorming number ‘Better Find a Church’. The title track is about the freak show circuses that a hundred years ago would arrive overnight on the edge of town, and finds Dolan in an old-fashioned top hat at the front of the stage taking on the role of one of is barkers, who has come into town, to entice people out to it. “Please take your seats/It’s time we bring out the freaks,” he leers. The set is then closed with a stunning version of Spirit’s 60’s classic, ‘Nature’s Way’. A few days after the Glasgow show Pennyblackmusic spoke to Jim Dolan and Marc Copely as they travelled to a show in Belfast, again in support of Don Henley, about their band and ‘Ballyhoo!’. PB: Jim, you’re also the head of several telecommunication networks. All the members of the band are in different bands as well. How do you manage to find the time to tour and record with each other? JD: All the members of the band have played with other bands, but right now they are just playing with this band. Some of our members have been with us for quite a long time, so it is not like they have ever taken time out from something else to do this. It has always been more the other way around. I have also sold one of my biggest companies, so now I have quite a bit more time than I did. I have always made it a priority for myself to do this, and I am as serious as ever on both my own and the rest of the band’s behalf. PB: Half of the band is based in Nashville while the other half is in NYC. Does that make things difficult? JD: Not really. It is not that hard. We are on the road quite a bit and we plan things so that we don’t do many one-off shows. We go out and do a long stretch at a time and so are together regularly. When we record we go to Nashville because the best studios are down there. PB: One of the things that shines through in your live show is the band’s sense of camaraderie. JD: We are together an awful lot, but making music is that something that draws people together and that makes them friends. I think that is a good part of our chemistry. PB: You have written songs for films such as ‘August Osage County’, ‘Jane Got a Gun’ and ‘St Vincent’. Does writing for film work in a different way to recording albums? JD: The film work is basically cash candy. You do it because it is great exposure for the group, but our albums are really our main focus and we incorporate what we do in the film work into the albums. The albums are really the driving medium for us. PB: Do you write in a different way for films in comparison to when you are writing regular songs? JD: Films do affect the writing but I think we always try and get underneath what is going on rather than write about the surface of the film. So, for instance, in the ‘August Osage County’ song ‘Violet’, we tried to capture the character of Violet and what she was thinking. Rather than write something which is almost directly derived from the movie, we were trying to write more about how we felt about that character. PB:‘Ballyhoo’ is your first entirely acoustic album. Is it true that you got the idea of making an acoustic album after finding it a lot of fun playing tiny radio shows in which you just had to strip down? JD: That is exactly how it happened. PB: What do you feel have been the main benefits of going acoustic for this album? MC: There is less gear to carry around on tour (Laughs). Beyond that though, it definitely puts more emphasis on both the musical and the lyrical quality of the songs. With the acoustic there is nothing to hide behind and you are able to play a lot more dynamically. PB: ‘Under the Hood’ from ‘Ballyhoo’ was inspired by a murder in Florida in which the assailant got off without punishment because of a law called Stand Your Ground. Could you say more about that? JD: That whole incident was a tragedy that captured the whole country’s attention, not just because the guy who pulled the trigger got off but because the kid who was murdered, Trayvon Martin, didn’t have a gun on him. A lot of assumptions were being made about kids in that neighbourhood, and the guy who shot him, who was a member of the community watch, shot Trayvon, who was black, because he was wearing a hoodie and he thought he was behaving suspiciously. We just thought that it was such a tragedy that the song just came out of it. PB: You say that you are not a political band but you also chose to cover Spirit’s ‘Nature’s Way’ on the album. Did you do that just because you were fans of Spirit or because its environmental message is still topical? JD: No, we just really loved the song, I played the song to Marc and the band and we really thought that it fitted our style a lot. MC: The song is from 1969. A lot of us weren’t born yet when it came out. I didn’t really know the song which I was pretty surprised about. We all came together with our own thing and harmony vocals and it just really fitted us. We loved it. PB: The title song on ‘Ballyhoo’ seems to imply that we are all in our own ways freaks. Do you see the song as a cry for tolerance both then and now? JD: Yes, ‘Ballyhoo’ does suggest we are all peculiar in one way or another. It suggests as well that we all have our own carnival going on, and the song explores both of those ideas. PB: Last couple of questions. You have toured with bands like the Eagles and the Allman Brothers who you cite as influences. What do you think the main things are that you have learnt from them as well as being fans of those bands? JD: For me it is the work ethic. All of those really great groups that we have played with all work very hard. They rehearse hard. They have a very high standard which they hold themselves to and they meet it. That for me is the thing that has most comes out from being with them and hopefully we apply the same work ethic. PB: This is Don Henley’s first tour since Glenn Frey’s death earlier this year. You were also a close friend of Glenn’s. He described it as a “tough year” on stage at the Glasgow date.. How has that affected the tour? JD: I am not feeling that it has had an effect. A lot of those musicians who play with Don also play with the Eagles. The reality is that it feels not unlike an Eagles tour. PB: You are going back to the States to do a month long tour. What are your plans after that? JD: We have some more shows that we will be doing in September over there and then we will be coming back here in October, but the dates aren’t set yet. PB: Thank you.
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