Talk Thursday to Me – Kevin Blackwell

We’ve had internet issues of late, and so here’s but one of many posts that should have gone up earlier in the week – better late than never.

Today we talk with Kevin Blackwell from Sassparilla about the evolution of the band’s sound and finding the balance between sweaty throwdowns and artistic maturity.

Postcard Editor: So we’ll get into talking about the album in a second, but first we have to catch up.  It’s been about a year since we drank some beers and watched a female fronted Led Zeppelin cover band together.  What’s been shaking since then?

Kevin Blackwell:  It’s been a year! Terrible. I know you have family now. So do I! Twin boys. Emmett and Grady. They are almost 10 months old. It’s a different life. How is your chitlin? The farm??

PE:  No chitlin on this end, although we may have talked about our pitbull as though he was our kid.  The farm has been sold off to a nice hippie massage therapist lady.  It was too hard to keep a handle on it while living two hours away.  But back to you – how is new fatherhood treating you?

KB:  Its good man. Better now that they are a bit older and can interact more. At first it was tough cause’ you don’t get much back. You kind of have to make up what they are thinking in your head so you don’t feel crazy. I like it though. Its gonna be more fun each day.

PE:  So does this explain the heavy Yo Gabba Gabba influence on the new record?

KB:  Yo Gabba Gabba?

PE:  Ah, I guess they might not be old enough yet.  Either that or you’re being all hippie about things and not raising them in front of the TV.  It’s this crazy children’s show.

KB:  Ah. Well, they love True Blood and Sons of Anarchy.

PE:  Oh, ok.  So Uncle Dagger’s (Ross “Dagger” Macdonald – Sassparilla’s harmonica player) been babysitting is what you’re saying?

KB:  Ha! If that were the case they would be watching black and white. Or Benny Hill

PE:  Ha. Fair enough.  So onto the new record seriously – it’s kind of a departure for you guys.  It’s a quiet brooding little collection.  What was the impetus for writing in this new direction?

KB:  To be honest, I never took this very seriously. It was a way to have some fun, meet some people, travel a bit and make some chump change. I think there are professions out there that most people will always believe are out of reach for them. Whether it’s because they don’t believe in themselves, they think it’s too much work, or that it’s for other people. I think music fits in there. With astronauts, firemen and circus performers. I always thought that it was out of reach, or for other people.

At some point I decided that it will be out of reach if I put it on that shelf. On this record I wanted to try my hand at actually writing/composing a “song” rather than a replication of a live experience. Our past songs and recordings have been made with that live show in mind. What will work for a crowd. What will get them moving…cause them to drink more and hook up. I don’t think this profession is necessarily out of reach anymore. I’m taking it more seriously.

PE:  Well I think you’re selling your previous work a little short.  Even though they are more raucous foot stompers they were still great songs.  Just of a different variety.  I wonder how much of this change of attitude comes from the fact that Sassparilla is kind of “your band” now, as opposed to before Dan (Frantz – original bassist and co-lead singer) left, when it was more of a shared vision of the two of you.

KB: The last record, “Ramshackle” still had that footstomp to it. Maybe even more than “Rumpus.” Rumpus had its tender moments. I think if anything, this would be the record Dan would have made. He is the more soulful and thoughtful of the two of us. I am the more raucous. I think I pushed him in that direction. He is Anita Baker, I am Johnny Rotten. Mind you, Dan loved the raucous too. He is will always lean toward the more melodic and tender. “Whiskers” is a good example of our two styles. Beautiful lyrics and melody, but I pushed him to sing it like a pirate. I like beautiful things that have an edge too.

I think that I wrote this record with Dan in mind though. There are several people who I think to myself while writing….”will they like this, will they appreciate this.” Dan is certainly one of those people. I respect him very much. He will be singing with me on the new record we are going to record next month.

PE:  Awesome.  So how have these newer songs been working for you live?  You’re a band that’s near legendary in the northwest for a high-energy party of a show.  Have these kind of slinky, sexy numbers been working on the crowds, or do they just want you to get rowdy again?

KB:  Ah. You nailed it. We have created a monster. At first people were confused…now that the record has been out and they have it in their car, they get it. We will throw one in every four songs or so. Or start the night out with a slow one. When we play “My First Lover” we pick up the pace enough that it sits right. When we play “Fumes” live we start slow like the record and then pick up an anthemic pace by the second chorus. So, we are performing hybrid versions o the songs. I like it when bands perform their recordings in a slightly different way. It makes it interesting.

PE:  Yeah, definitely – it can be kind of boring to hear a replication of the album.  It’s great that you’re finding that balance of bringing the new material to the sweat drenched mobs in a fashion that will work for them.

So on the live front, I know that with families and other obligations you guys can’t really get out of the Northwest very often, but any plans for next year to hit some festivals and come to Indiana and play my backyard?

KB:  Yes. There are plans for touring this summer. We changed booking agents and our management is pushing for a wider circle. Not to mention the label. Which is good! Everyone needs a good push from the nest. We are developing a strategy now. It’s going east or going to Europe. One this summer and the next in the winter. I would love to come to Indiana. Maybe we can hook our wagons with the Reverend Peyton.

PE:  The Rev and Breezy eat at the same Indian restaurant that I do.  I’ll try to work out a deal over some Aloo Palak asap.

Europe seems like a great fit.  I bit they would dig the hell out of you guys.  But just in general I’m excited to hear that plans are in the works to bring the Sass to rest of the world.

KB:  Me too! It’s time. Before the NW gets bored of us!

PE:  Well, I didn’t want to come right out and say that but……yeah.  Just kidding.  Ok so tour plans are in effect, tell me about this new album and what it’s feeling like.  I know you said Dan is going to sing on it too, does this mean we’ll hear a cover of “Sweet Love?”

KB:  Maybe we can work on quoting that somewhere! Well, I am writing the songs as well speak. I started last week and have until December 5. You know, it’s hard! I want to do something different on this one too. We are using the same producer as the last. Chet Lyster from the Eels and a veteran of Lucinda Williams. He is the man who holds all the keys, he can deliver your first born, sheet rock your house, neuter your puppy and save a marriage all at the same time. I trust him. Most hyper talented people make me nervous, he just makes me a better song writer and musician. He is in L.A right now working on a new Eels record but we talk on the phone about direction.

We are gonna go a little more poppy this time. I want to marry the old Sassparilla with the new vibe. Have a little of both but still make the record cohesive. I agree with you that Rumpus was a good record chock full of good songs, but it didn’t flow. It felt like three different records to me. On this new one, I want to be able to do the raucous, do the “Sweet Love” and make it a full meal. One that you can digest without too much trouble.

PE:  That sounds like a perfect plan to me.  Thanks for hanging out today and talking shop.  We need to do it more often.  As always we end the interviews by asking this: What are three things that are currently rocking your world?  Can be anything at all.

KB:  Thank you man!!! I would love to see you soon. Please come visit!

PE:  Likewise buddy – the door is always open here for you and the fam.

KB:  Three things that rock my world right now…..The New Tom Waits record, Apple T.V and being a father of twins.

Kevin Blackwell plays guitar and sings for Sassparilla, one of the best live bands this old grizzled music enthusiast has ever seen.  You can check out what we’re talking about at one of their upcoming shows listed below, or get a taste of how great they are by going here.

Sat Nov 12 9:00 pm Knife Shop @ Kelly’s Olympian Knife Shop @ Kelly’s Olympian, Portland, OR more info
Fri Nov 18 6:00 pm Laurelthirst (Happy Hour, 6-8pm) Laurelthirst (Happy Hour 6-8pm), Portland, OR more info
Tue Nov 22 9:00 pm Doug Fir Lounge w/ Larry & HIs Flask Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR more info
Sat Dec 03 6:00 pm Oregon State University w/ Larry & His Flask Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR more info
Fri Dec 16 6:00 pm Laurelthirst (Happy Hour, 6-8pm) Laurelthirst, Portland, OR more info
Fri Jan 06 2012 8:00 pm Everybody’s Brewing Everybody’s Brewing, White Salmon, WA more info

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