Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Righteous Brisket Interview

This interview is week 18 of Sean Claes' 52 Weeks of Austin Music Interviews.

A Cut Above Most
Talking with Austin's  Righteous Brisket

By Sean Claes
Righteous Brisket is a local band made up of four individuals who are veterans of the Austin Music Scene. Members Tim Brown, John Duer, Jake Spelman, and Aaron Seymour have probably been in about 25-30 bands between them, but it seems like this time they've found the key to being happy.

Gone are the days of reaching for the brass ring of fame, and now these four friends are taking the time to simply rock their outlaw-country-meets-rock sounds for crowds of friends and...well.. future friends.

Last year, the band went through a big change when Aaron Seymour, the lead vocalist had the opportunity to move to Sydney, Australia. The remaining three members forged on and the fruits of their labor is going to be on full display at the Red Eyed Fly this Saturday, May 19. This will be their first gig as a three-piece... and likely their last... as Seymour recently moved back to Austin (and surprised his band at practice a few weeks ago).

I had a chance to talk with all 4 members of Righteous Brisket recently. Below was my interview with them. No animals were BBQ's during the writing of this story.

Credit: Photography By Maurice

Sean Claes: Righteous Brisket is a great name. How did it come about?
Jake Spelman: In my high school health/PE class there was this guy (imagine a ‘Joe Dirt-meets-Beavis’ type of character) who was always trying to get the teacher/coach to party with him and his friends. 

One Friday he said, “Coach, man, you GOTTA come out to the lake with us this weekend. We’re gonna be out there all day—just hangin’ out with some cold ‘drinks’—it’s gonna be awesome. There’s gonna be ALL KINDS of people out there and…and we’re gonna cook a RIGHTEOUS BRISKET—I think you’d LAHK it, Coach.” 

Claes: How did the members of the band meet?
Tim Brown: I’ve actually known Jake the longest. A while back one of his old bands was recording at the studio that my roommate operated in our garage. We recruited him to do a solo on a recording we were doing and were so blown away that when my roommate and I were starting a band called The Men from Nantucket, we asked Jake to join and he said yes. 

I met Aaron thanks to the Austin Indie Alliance (RIP) when his band BySaturday would play with my old band Nooner all the time. 

I didn’t know John well at all before starting RB but had we also met through the AIA. He and Aaron even played together briefly in a band for a while.

Claes: The music you guys play is a cross between outlaw country and old-school rock. You tout it as “Trailer Trash Rock.” How did you arrive at the sound?

Aaron Seymour: My roots are the Texas Hill Country. Born and raised about 90 miles south of Austin. I fought that sound most of my life but ultimately I gave in and realized it’s what I am….and honestly it’s a damn fine sound we make. For me it really wasn’t a choice to play that style, it’s really being true to myself to play it. I’ll be the first to admit that what we are doing isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but what we are doing is taking four of those wheels, slapping them on 1977 Trans Am and hauling ass!

John Duer: Our sound comes from the blending of our individual tastes in music. We all agree on some things, and disagree on others. The final product is a combination of the sounds upon which we agree.

Claes: The entire band comes from numerous past projects. Tell me a little about the bands everyone has played with.
Brown: I moved to Austin back in the fall of 1998 and much to my parents’ chagrin I auditioned for a band and got the gig even before I got a job. 

That band was El Kabong (me on drums) and then I went on to play drums in The Men From Nantucket (with Jake on lead guitar), Rex Banner (bass), Speedo Envy (bass), Nooner (bass), She Craves (bass) and of course now Righteous Brisket (drums). 

I did a stint on bass with an 80’s cover band called The Stummies and actually met my wife backstage before a show. There were a few other dalliances along the way but these are the ones that actually saw the light of day with any regularity.

Seymour: As far as “real” bands go I was in a band called BySaturday in the early 2000s. Fun band and we did well. Then Tim and Ben Mills recruited me into Nooner. That was a wild ride. Nonstop gigs and touring. We even sold over 32000 copies of our 2nd album through independent national distribution and had label interest. Long story short, band turmoil shot that all to shit.

Spelman: I was in Uncle Pete’s Forgiveness when Tim was in El Kabong in the 90’s. Our bands met when we played at the Black Cat on the same night. Uncle Pete’s wanted to start recording, and Jeff Maher (front man for El Kabong) ran a studio out of his house called Garage Mahal. 

By the time we finished our album, El Kabong had dissolved. Jeff & Tim started The Men From Nantucket and asked me to join, which was great. At the same time, I briefly played with Yashi Vaughan in a quasi-jazz outfit called Yashi and Them. 

After a few years, Nooner was between guitar players and I got to know Aaron when I was a stand-in guitarist for Nooner for about a month. And we all did a stretch last year as Shelli Coe’s backing band.

Duer: I’ve played bass for Shelli Coe for the last several years. I’ve also been a “hired gun” for several Texas country artists. In the distant past, I’ve played the blues, country, classic rock, Dixieland jazz. I’ve also played with Shand Walton and the All Amigos Club and Marshall Jones and the Frontier Phrenologists, both of which acts are (or, in the case of the Phrenologists, were) based here in Austin.

Claes: You guys seem to be less about reaching for the brass ring and more about the fun of playing as a unit. Is that kind of a statement of where each of you are in life with your music?
Brown: ABSOLUTELY! We’ve all had our different career paths in terms of music. 

When I decided to leave She Craves that was one of the hardest life decisions I’ve ever made because I loved the band and the people in it. We were so driven and so focused on the success of the band that many other important aspects of my life were suffering as a result and I wasn’t happy any more. After I left the band I didn’t touch my bass guitar or drums for 6 months even once. 

After I got over that mourning and readjustment period, Aaron and I decided to put RB together and I’ve never had more fun playing or felt so musically and artistically fulfilled in my life.

Seymour: A little bit I guess. To me it’s more about been there, done that. In Nooner we did the touring and constant gigs. Loved every minute of it but it was grueling. Honestly all of us have gone down that path with other bands. Now we choose to keep our business close to home now but we still take it just as serious. Ultimately we look at it like we’ll work our asses off to be home town heroes....and being that in Austin is a damn fine thing!

Spelman: Yeah, I agree with Tim—reaching for the brass ring ended up tarnishing everything else. And touring is fine if you’re going to play somewhere with a better music scene than where you live, but living in Austin makes playing local shows on a whenever-it-feels-right basis a better brass ring.

Duer: Yep. We play what we want, when we want, and where we want. We play because we love it, and we enjoy doing it together. If it isn’t fun, there’s no reason to do it. If it isn’t fun, it’s more like work. And we all hate work.

Claes: Your debut album, Butchers Brew was recorded in Aaron’s home and released in 2010 on John’s label, Big Beard Records. How many pigs were destroyed in the making of the album?
Seymour: We recorded an album? I thought we had a 3 day BBQ and rid the world of a couple cases of beer (root beer on John’s part) to better humanity. Apparently an album came about at the same time.

Duer: We kind of stayed away from pork products during the recording of Butcher’s Brew. Pork has a tendency to impair Jake’s hearing, so we thought it would be best to limit our intake to massive amounts of beer and beef.

Claes: One of my favorite tracks is the “Redneck SOB.” So, is this track autobiographical?
Seymour: That’s just ridiculous to say. I’ve never been on welfare.
Duer: I think it is…
By: Kristin Farwell

Claes: There’s also a great cover of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.” How did that make it to the album?
Brown: One of the hurdles that most new bands face is coming up with material to play just as they’re getting things up and running. We found ourselves in that same boat and since I’ve always loved “Surrender” and always have wanted to play it, I suggested we try to come up with our own version. It went over well with the crowd when we played it live and since we had so much fun playing it, we figured we should put it on our record and share it with the world. As a matter of fact, we’ve got a kickass new and top-secret cover song to unleash on the world during our show on 5/19 at the Red Eyed Fly!

Duer: Our fans seemed to enjoy it when we played it live, so I guess we were giving them something on the record that would remind them of the live show. I really have no idea…
By: Lisa Allison

Claes: You've got a 6-track EP entitled Late For The Last Supper I've yet to hear, but see online. Have you had a release?
Brown: We’ve announced it on-line and have sold a few copies digitally but our official coming out party for that recording will be at our show on May 19th at the Red Eyed Fly. This will be the first time we’ve played since Aaron moved to Australia last fall so we haven’t had a chance to do it sooner.

Claes: Tell me about “Next Song That I Write.”
Duer: This song is the product of my amusement at – and sometimes frustration with – the ongoing debate about the nature of “real” country music, and the state of country music radio today. As I was preparing myself for several Texas country music shows with different artists, it seemed like every “country” song on the radio was some guy singing about some friend of his who is also a songwriter, or just dropping big names for no apparent reason, other than to make themselves seem cool. And some of those guys are named in the lyrics of "The Next Song That I Write."

Claes: Continuing the obscure cover song choices to close your albums, how did you end up recording the Jerry Reed’s “√častbound and Down?”
Seymour: How could we not play that? It was a moral obligation.
Spelman: I was really excited when Aaron brought the idea. “Smokey and the Bandit” was one of the first movies I ever saw on cable as a kid (at a friend’s house), and is probably a big reason that my favorite major American beer is long-neck “yella bellies.”

Claes: About 6 months ago, lead vocalist, Aaron Seymour, moved to Australia. How did you make the decision to move on as a three-piece?
Brown: Necessity. Logistical and emotional necessity. Jake, John and I were having too much fun and loved the band so much that we didn’t want to let it die after Aaron left.

Our first option was to try and recruit friends to take over Aaron’s place but nobody was brave enough to try to fill his shoes. Then we put an ad on Craigslist but nobody that responded was good enough or worthy of filling his shoes. At that point we made our first attempt at playing as a trio with John singing lead on most songs, Jake on a few and then adding me on backing vocals.

I think it was me that first flipped the panic switch on this arrangement because it just didn’t feel right. It felt like a watered down version of the RB that we all loved so much. At that point we contacted our friend Jeff Thomas to see if he’d be interested in joining as a guitar player while John sang lead.

We rehearsed with him for a few months but eventually we all came to the conclusion that it was just a square peg/round hole situation. We parted ways with Jeff on great terms and wish him nothing but the best and we’re thankful for the time and effort he put into trying to make it work.

When we split with Jeff in early 2012, the three of us found ourselves in a pretty bad funk in terms of our outlook for RB. We didn’t want to force things and keep RB alive for our own vanity but it wasn’t lost on us that the three of us were the core of a pretty kickass band and weren’t ready to let RB die without one last fight.

At that point, giving the trio option another try was our last resort. This time when the three of us got into the rehearsal room, it was like we had a renewed sense of purpose and mission that fueled our playing and on top of that, John had become more comfortable singing lead and Jake had a better grasp of what he wanted to do guitar-wise to fill in the holes left by Aaron. This time around, it worked and we were beyond relieved. It was like we were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We knew RB was going to live to see the light of day again!
By: Sean Claes

Claes: What kinds of arrangements were made (vocals/guitar/song structure) to make a 3-piece work?
Duer: The biggest thing for me was learning all the lyrics to the songs. I had been used to singing the harmonies, but I’d never taken time to learn the words all the way through. Then, I had to learn to sing the lyrics while playing the bass. It’s easier to play interesting bass lines when you’re not having to concentrate on the net line you’re going to sing. 
Brown: John has done an amazing job stepping up in terms of singing lead on almost everything now. Jake has been experimenting with his guitar and pedal set up and has his rig sounding top notch. One thing that we always did very well was sing three part harmonies back when Aaron was in the band and that was an aspect of our sound that we didn’t want to lose. 

The guys finally relented and gave me a mic so now I’m singing back up and I hope to not make the guys regret that decision. In addition to those tangible changes, it seems to me like we’re all fired up more and playing with a bit more piss and vinegar in our veins. 

We came to the brink of seeing Righteous Brisket cease to exist so now that we’re back on track, we’re fired up and ready to grab the world by the hair and say, “We’re back!”

Claes: Now, to add to the above, Aaron is now back in Austin, having moved back a few weeks ago and wandered into practice on May 3 unannounced (surprising John and Jake. Tim knew). Tell me about that.
Spelman: Tim kept looking at the door as we were setting up, and I thought you were going to walk through it, Sean. But when Aaron entered, that was one of the biggest and best surprises I’d had in a LONG time (thanks Tim!). I quickly supplied Aaron with a cold “yella belly” to welcome him back to the States.

Duer: Quite a welcome surprise! I had a feeling (from Facebook posts) that something was in the works, but I didn’t know it was happening so quickly.

Claes: I mentioned earlier that John has his own record label, Big Beard Records. How did that come about and who’s on the label?
Duer: It’s a vanity thing, really. It sounds cool to talk about “my label.” (lol) The name came from the fact that I have a big beard, and the acts on the label, with one exception (Thunderosa), are acts that I have been involved with, either as a bass player, producer, or both: Forty Years Later (a now-defunct Kingston Trio tribute band); Shelli Coe; and Righteous Brisket.

Claes: You’ve got a re-launch show for the 3-piece band on May 19 at the Red Eyed Fly. What can we expect?
Brown: First and foremost, as with all Righteous Brisket shows, you can expect to have a really good time. Aaron understands how hard we worked to get ourselves to the point where we were ready to play as a trio and he wants us to have our moment of glory to show our fans that we can do it, so we’re going to play most of the show in that configuration. 

Aaron will be there to celebrate with us though and don’t be surprised if we pull him up on stage to help us out for a song. Also, we’re excited to be playing some new music. One is an original that is the most collaboratively written of all of our songs. Aaron sent us an mp3 of an idea he had for a song so John and I took that and wrote the rest of the song around it. 

Jake took what we did, rearranged a few things and added some parts and then John and I co-wrote the lyrics. It’s a tune called “Drive-By Lover” and we can’t wait to debut you it on the 19th.

Claes: With Aaron back, is it wrong to assume Righteous Brisket will be brought back up to the original 4-piece?
Brown: Absolutely not! We might make him audition to be back in the band or maybe just carry our gear for a while though. Kidding aside, when Aaron left, it took a surprising emotional toll on us both individually and collectively as we figured out how we were going to move forward with rebuilding the band. 

The chemistry we have in this band is unlike any I’ve ever been in. In a lot of bands I’ve been in, we’ve all gotten along but there’s always been one person that would either be flakey and skip rehearsals, or not do whatever tasks they were asked to help out with or act like they’re too important to help carry gear etc. We don’t have any of that. We all look forward to going to rehearsals because we get to hang out with guys we like, play music we like…and of course drink beer.

Call it fate, call it God, or call it whatever you want, but I refuse to believe that it’s purely a coincidence that after all the struggles and trials we went through to figure out how to move forward with Righteous Brisket, we decided to become a trio and unknowingly put ourselves in a position where Aaron would return unexpectedly and he could come right back into the fold, picking up where we left off, as if he never left. I’m not trying to sound sappy but I truly believe it was meant to be.

Duer: If he passes the audition!
By: Sean Claes

Claes: Being so entrenched in the Austin music scene for the last few decades, you’ve seen a lot of changes. What are your thoughts on the current scene?
Brown: I love Austin on a lot of levels and there’s no other city I’d rather be playing music in. 

A few months back I was going to a show at Emo’s and after I parked, I walked by Mohawk, Stubb’s, Club Deville and The Red Eyed Fly and all of them had bands playing to great crowds. Within a handful of blocks on one street, that was literally a few thousand people supporting live music and this was on a Thursday night! I’ve played in a lot of cities around the U.S. and I’ve never experienced a scene like that any place else.

I know people that complain about how nobody goes out to see bands any more, but that’s just not true. I don’t think it’s fair to just expect that there is going to be a crowd at your shows if nobody has heard of your band; you have to earn that crowd. You start by turning your friends into actual fans of your band and then turn fans into disciples willing to tell everybody they know about your band.

Seymour: After moving to Sydney and seeing what they had to offer I’d say bands moaning about the scene here are completely taking for granted what they have. Sydney had virtually no original music scene. It was 99% cover and tribute bands. The majority of those were a couple of guys and backing tracks. The scene in Austin is amazing compared to there. The sheer number of music venues alone is a beautiful thing. I hear a lot of people bitching about too many crap bands and shady venues. My advice to them would be to get your ass in gear and be a great band that promotes so you stand out. In a sea of garbage a great band will shine and stand out….be that band! Or keep being a crappy one so the good ones stand out. There is every opportunity to do great things here for the bands that want it. Don’t take that for granted! 

Spelman: It does suck for new bands that there don’t seem to be as many places to play as there used to be, but I’m hopeful that this fact has raised the bar so that Austin can get even closer to becoming the Great Music Capital of the World.

As far as downtown condo’s and such: I’m all for limiting Urban Sprawl, but if you’re moving in to the heart of the Live Music Capital of the World, you BETTER be ready to be surrounded by live music. If you don’t like it, move to another part of town and let APD’s finest focus on evil-doers instead of decibels. (Who put that soap box in here?)

Duer: The scene really hasn’t changed much in recent years. If you want to talk about the old days, and how it’s changed since then, we’ll need a whole ‘nother interview.
By: Kristin Farwell

Claes: What’s next for Righteous Brisket?
Brown: Some last minute rehearsing for the 5/19 show is first up but after that dust has settled, I think the most important item of business is to schedule a band trip out to the Salt Lick!
Seymour: Keepin’ that ’77 Trans Am hauling ass down the Texas highways!
Spelman: Despite what I said earlier, I wouldn’t mind a doing a tour of the Greater Lockhart and Luling area. And if we got to play a show or two while we’re there, even better!
Duer: Another record, I hope. And a sold-out show on May 19th at the Red Eyed Fly!

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here -

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