The Americans – Interview

We recently had the opportunity to have a chat with The Americans ahead of their upcoming UK tour, which includes a date in at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds next month.

By Jane Howkins

You’re about to go on a UK tour are you excited for that? Do you still get nervous about performing?

We’ve played some of our favorite shows in the UK, so it’s always exciting to have those dates to look forward to.

We noticed you played some festivals last year with a show at the Black Deer Festival and another one supporting Eric Clapton at British Summer Time. How do you find festival dates differ from normal gigs, and which do you prefer?

A great part of festivals is getting to see other acts we respect. This tour we got to squeeze into the balcony at a theater in Stockholm after our set to see John Moreland play. As for performing, festivals present an interesting challenge. You and other acts are sort of like movie trailers before the feature: “People who liked this may also like this.” It’s different from playing to a crowd who knows the music ahead of time, but it can be exciting for that reason.

Are there any other acts you managed to catch at those festivals? Playing with Clapton must be particularly exciting – how did that happen?

Needless to say, we were thrilled about that. It’s great that the timing worked out.

You released your debut album I’ll Be Yours last year. Were you happy with the reception to it? Do you have any plans for a new album, or is it too soon? If so, what can you tell us about it?

We’re writing the next one now. It’s about mining away at the familiar places the last songs came from, as well as some new ones. New songs are always interesting to play in their raw, unpolished forms. We’ve recently been working a new one into the set.

You’re appearing in the PBS show American Epic. How did that come about? What can you tell us about the show?

American Epic is a television series about the history of pre-war American country and blues, specifically how it came to be recorded and why. We perform in the film, and I also spent a year on board as associate producer, which involved a lot of primary source research into those fields. I’m really happy with how the film came out. During the sessions we got to work alongside a number of great artists—Nas, Jack White, Ashley Monroe, Alabama Shakes, etc.

We’ve also heard that you performed at Reese Witherspoon’s wedding and played the song for the first date. How did that happen? We’re assuming she’s quite a big fan of your music – did you know the actress before you she asked you or did it come out of the blue?

Those sort of events have a lot of privacy concerns. We didn’t know whose wedding it was until we arrived. Back in those days we were playing a lot of old blues and country and rockabilly, which landed us gigs as a party band. By that point we had built a reputation around Los Angeles. Reese and Jim were great to us.

You also recently presented a series of lectures on American Music at the Liverpool and Edinburgh universities. What made you want to do that and what are some of the things you talked about? How did you find delivering the lectures, and do you think you had an impact on the attendees?

It’s something we’ve been doing for a number of years now. It’s a lecture performance, meaning I talk at length about the history of American music, and we perform examples of all the various styles along the way. It’s a subject we’re all fascinated with, so I really enjoy the lectures.

Who do you think are the best American musicians of all time and who/what has influenced you to make music? What have you been listening to recently – anything you can recommend to our readers?

Patrick: Leadbelly. Howlin’ Wolf. Bob Dylan. Tom Waits. Currently listening to J.I.D.

Zac: Of all time? Stephen Foster, Jelly Roll Morton, Earl Scruggs, James Jamerson. I was pretty inspired to play music by my dad and some of the musicians he used to play gigs with, a fiddler named Brantley Kearns, and a singer named Jim Silvers.

Jake: Blind Willie McTell. As to what I’m listening to, Texas Gladden’s Devil’s Nine Questions and Laura Jean Anderson’s new single, Love You Most have been on repeat this week.

Why do you think people should come and see you perform live, and what can people expect from one of your gigs?

So much of making our album was about capturing the chemistry of a live performance. We recorded nearly everything together live, with limited multi-tracking. We get to revisit those songs on stage, sometimes playing them louder and more aggressively, or changing arrangements. It’s really the way our songs are heard best.

Any last words for the fans?

We’ll see you in Leeds!