Sid Griffin takes the time to answer Louder Than War’s questions ahead of the release of the Long Ryders ‘ first album in thirty years. “Psychedelic Country Soul” is out on February the 15th on Cherry Red Records.
Hi Sid, thanks for taking the time to answer questions from LTW. We left the Long Ryders on a high two years ago with the success of The Final Wild Songs box and a successful European tour. What happened in the aftermath that led the band to record this new album ?
SID – As you might have heard we had no plans to make a new album. Certainly Stephen McCarthy was the first to say he was tired of playing the old songs live. Then Greg Sowders, our drummer, said the same thing. I was the third to crack when on the 2016 dates I realized I was soooooooo very tired of playing Run Dusty Run and Ivory Tower it wasn’t funny. I know those are some people’s favourite songs, Spotify plays show this, but I simply cannot keep on playing them till I die. I was not built that way. So we obviously needed new songs.
I got a call in April 2017 from Larry Chatman in L.A. Larry played bass for George Clinton in Funkadelic and was a roadie for the Long Ryders as well as our final bass player. Yet for the last twenty years he has worked for Dr. Dre and done really well for himself. He and Dr. Dre are very, very close buddies now. So Larry calls me up and says, “I know how to pay you guys back for hiring me and giving me work in the days when no one cared about me”. I said, great, thinking he was going to get me a guitar or buy me a big fat lunch or something like that. Larry stunned me by saying, “Dre doesn’t always use the big room at the studio where we are and I could get you guys a week’s free studio time. Just pay for the engineer and the food you eat.”
Man! I could not believe my ears. But Larry was as good as his word. He actually gave us eight days free studio time at Dr. Dre’s studio in Los Angeles. So we had our old producer Ed Stasium (The Smithereens, The Ramones, Jeff Healey Band) work with us and that was our biggest expense, paying Ed. But we recorded the album in the eight days and then Greg and Ed did some percussive overdubs at Ed’s home near San Diego and Stephen did some overdubs in Virginia. Which was weird for me but whatever. Then it was all mixed by Ed at his house and by March we had a finished album which sound really well recorded. Which it was!
The Long Ryders now leave in four different cities over two continents. The logistics of getting together must be problematic. How hard is it to fit everything around everyone’s schedules ? Would you say that you’re the instigator for this more permanent reunion ?
SID – It is very, very difficult. I am probably the most difficult in a way as I am so far away, living in Europe, and with a young family. No one else has a young family so they are a bit more mobile than myself. Greg Sowders is a big cheese at Warner-Chappell in Los Angeles too so that is a problem. I mean he has a quite serious day job and cannot get away to tour as much as we would like. Sad to say, to accurately promote this new album, Psychedelic Country Soul, we are going to be on the road longer than Greg can take off work so at some point we have to have a substitute drummer. This is a shame but we cannot adequately promote the album without doing so. We have waited a long time for people to be so very excited about seeing us!
As to the second part of your question I can only say I like being away from home and on the road more than the others. It is very noticeable. I would like to perform even more than the Long Ryders are now and one reason I disbanded my bluegrass band the Coal Porters was it was so very obviously I was the one still really into playing shows and the others were no longer so keen to keep playing. I love playing live. I even don’t mind the travel. I feel alive when I am on the road and at home I always feel a bit like life is dull. So that is the best way I can answer the second question above.
Were the songs written specifically for this project or did each member choose from his song pile for songs best suited to a Long Ryders LP ? Could you share the inspiration behind your tracks ? Have you got a favourite track on the LP?
SID – The songs on Psychedelic Country Soul were all specifically written for the album, for the new recording project. None of the songs were old songs someone brought out of the closet which they had written years or even months earlier. I guess this helps give the album its freshness. Certainly I feel that it does.
My songs? Molly Somebody came about via a conversation with Steve Barton of Translator, a fine band we enjoy playing concerts with. They had a hit with Everywhere That I’m Not about 1983 and that is a bigger song than we ever enjoyed. We were talking about people who get lost in the shuffle of life and kinda left behind somehow. Now I think it is kinda a Paul Westerberg song. All Aboard was slated to be the first song on the album and written to be so. It was inspired by a tune our ace face of bass, Tom Stevens, had which I liked. A pretty good collaboration if you ask me!
If You Want To See Me Cry is exactly what it says on the tin. I am very proud of the song but we were in such a hurry in the studio we raced through it pretty quickly. It still came out fine and dandy but the acoustic guitar ending I fingerpick is actually from a totally different Sid Griffin song! Everyone kept telling me to try and get it in one or two takes and I was in such a rush I put the wrong ending on the song. What The Eagle Sees is Tom Stevens and I collaborating again, a song about the ruination of the planet we are all participating in. But I thought if it is written from a human perspective then so what? So I had a think and realized if it was written from an animal’s perspective it would be a whole new thing.
The Sound was the song I was most proud of originally. However I moved house just before I flew to L.A. to record so I was very stressed. I forgot to take the chords to the song with me…actually it was a riff played over and over like Row Row Row Your Boat…and when I got to L.A. I forgot how the song went. I mean forgot completely how the melodic structure was. So, under intense pressure, Ed Stasium played the demo I make with my pal Kevin Stokes back at a rehearsal in L.A. and wrote down what he reckoned the chords to be. Which they were not but we got a different song out of it and there you are. I cannot complain.
For people who follow your work, it might be easy to link the demise of the Coal Porters as a necessary evil for this renewed activity on The Long Ryders. Is this the case or was it just that the band had gone as far as it could ?
SID – The Coal Porters went on for seventeen years. It was a gas for most of that time. It was amazing to blow people away with beauty instead of beat. It was so incredible to get a raucous, loud as Hell encore for acoustic music. I had never experienced this. But the last two years were tough. I could tell the gang was not into it like they had been before, I could tell the band had run its course. When I told them we were going to disband this was proven to me as not one Coal Porter tried to talk me out of splitting up and not one Coal Porter said it was a pity to disband. They all simply went, “yeah, okay…we are no more”. The only good side to it is it did free me to do a lot of Long Ryders work this year. But the Coal Porters were dying whether or not the Long Ryders ever reunited. And I am very happy playing solo shows now. I am doing eight UK gigs with Peter Case in May and I look forward to that a great deal.
The Long Ryders never achieved the mainstream success that they deserved but are now finally getting some recognition and are playing some of their biggest shows. Is it bittersweet for you or are you just glad the band still have a dedicated audience ?
SID – It is a bit bittersweet, a bit odd, true, but I feel I can speak for all the band when I say we are all aware of and grateful for this second chance. I only wish this current re-evaluation of the Long Ryders legacy and music had occurred a few years earlier. Yes, we have a larger than ever audience looking forward to our records and our tours now but it was a long wait. It did take people a fair bit of time to really figure out we were worth investigating and once they did that so many have figured out we are worth cherishing. And that is, as you can imagine, a wonderful feeling but yes, had it happened a few years earlier would have been even better, even sweeter. But such is Life.
The release of the new album comes on the back of two 3CD reissues of “State Of Our Union” and “Two Fisted Tales” overseen by Long Ryders bass player Tom Stevens. Should we expect the first album to receive a similar treatment ?
SID – Yes, at some point in about three years I would expect Native Sons to get the 3CD treatment. The box sets of State Of Our Union and Two Fisted Tales were a lot of work but after the original 4CD overview box set from 2016, Final Wild Songs, Tom and I and the gang at Cherry Red kinda got the hang of how to do this reissue business and so you bet we hope to do at least one more with Native Sons. It is most folks’ favourite Long Ryders album but mine is Two Fisted Tales.
On another note, you are also working on a third book on Bob Dylan for Jawbone ? Are you allowed to share details ?
SID – I am not sure what in the heck I am doing as a writer right now. I did an outline and then a rough draft for a third Dylan album but I am not sure I want to go through with it now. I have a chapter in John Doe of X’s new book on the history of L.A. music and the book is called More Fun In The New World: The Unmaking And Legacy Of L.A. Punk. It is out this summer on Da Capo Books. John Doe, Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Gos, Dave Alvin of the Blasters and all sorts of SoCal characters have a chapter in it. My chapter, duh, discusses the origins of the Long Ryders and how we accidentally started Alt-Country…not that we were the only act helping to do this but we were damn early with an important contribution.