Here is t he interview we did for the Spanish rock magazine "Ruta 66"
I’m Manuel. I already have the questions.
We know you because we have a permanent correspondent in New York (Julio Valdeon, he has written a book about the recording of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” titled “American Madness”. Best-seller in Spain ). He told us about Shift Seven and we hear you on myspace. Now we have the record.
I am making a social study about new southern-rock/roots/blues music scene. I want to know the existent differences between 70’s scene and today. I have chosen you because I like (a fan) Shift Seven (the other bands that I have interviewed for the article are Wasteland Kings, GravelRoad, Delta Moon, Delta Highway and Falling Martins). Unfortunately you are not well known in Europe . This is the mission of the specialized musical press, our mission: to expand the music.
1) Why a roots band in Pennsylvania? We don’t associate this state with roots scene. Are you alone or is there a scene important?
KEITH: The general thought is that we are pretty much alone. There is really no scene around us in the fact that most every club enlists cover bands. We have to work really hard and open their minds to the music. Once they hear us, usually we can get in to play for a full night.
TERRY: There is a traditional blues scene in the area but it think we would not be welcome due to the way we twist the traditional form.
RICK: We're in a conservative area, not open to new music, just what they've heard on the radio, day after day.
2) Do you see music as something that transmits true feelings, as a refuge against lie? A Springsteen song said what “we learned more from a three-minute song that all we ever learned in school”. Do you also think the same
KEITH: Songs are a way to come out of your own shell and project things that you might not ever say to someone else. A song can tell someone to fuck off, and they would never even know it was directed towards them. Think of it as a refuge against life as well.
TERRY: That's truly deep Keith... I was just going to say the words are just stuff I have to do between lead licks... if they make sense it's even better.
RICK: I write lyrics about my feelings, things I see, or sometimes fantasy. The instrumental part comes out later. Different people interpret the finshed song differently.
3) There was a moment when playing the kind of music you play wasn’t fashionable. And now it’s again unfashionable. But your style lied in playing the music you wanted were fashionable or not. Even more, if it wasn’t fashionable, it was better.
KEITH:Fashion and popularity are cyclical. Here today gone tomorrow. The importance of the music to us is quality. Quality to us is feel and longevity. There is a vast difference between fashion and style.
TERRY: Not one thought goes through my head about what other people will think about a song we write. Whether it is fashionable or not, our different degrees of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) let us know what works or doesn't.... only to us that is.
RICK: I never thought about being fashionable, just having fun while I'm playing.
4) There was a rock and roll epic that said that, when you listened to the old band, you felt you were facing the truth, something that didn’t cheat you. What do you think about this way of being connected with music? Do you think that it still keeps on working today? Do you hope that the audience see you as a real somebody?
KEITH: The audience is always going to take away differing opinions. New rock bands tend to be a bit cheesy with their presentations. Cliche after cliche about sex, drugs and how they are living the life that not many people will ever live. You might not be able to relate to everything that we are saying, but it is closer to real life for the average person.
TERRY: The 70's bands I love took the original blues forms and other influences and assembled something new using the simple guitar, bass, drums, vocals lineup and they would fill the stage and create guitar driven songs that you could not get out of your head. I look to those bands for my influence as they looked to the original blues guys. Two degrees of separation.
RICK What we play is not like the music I listen to at home. We've been compared to various bands from the past and the present.
5) Popular music had something to do with telling the desires, worries, aspirations and beliefs of common people, people you could meet in the street. But this kind of vision it’s disappearing. I guess it’s something very negative...
KEITH: It seems that somewhere along the line people wanted to forget who they are and possibly the shitty existence that they lead. Maybe for ten minutes while they are in their car and screaming at the top of their lungs how they are a pimp, diva or rock star helps them take a vacation from their lives for a bit. There is nothing wrong with that. That is the freedom that music can make you feel. It gets people high. All music can have that effect, we are just more in a fantasy phase lyrically right now.
TERRY: I never actively listened to "popular music". I was always album oriented and looking for the 'B'-side stuff. "Popular music" is just the stuff the industry wants you to buy... and they are very good at making you think you want it.
RICK: Throughout the years, before modern music,a lot of music speaks subliminally about sex. Rappers started being less sublime about sex, using the 'F' word in their lyrics. Now it seems rock music is doing it too. No wonder kids are growing up so fast these days. Sex is all over the radio today, not just TV.
6) In the lyrics of a lot of contemporary bands, there are references to the past, to how were past times and how times are now. And it seems, for this bands, they are worst now. Even in the rock music, the past was better. Do you agree with this vision?
KEITH: The listener is the one who customizes the plot and the settings. We shot a video for one of our singles "Love in a Bottle". It has a retro yet contemporary feel. The song however is about the ageless quarrel with oneself and relationships with alcohol involved. When we get feedback about the video it is always a different story from one viewer to another.
TERRY: I do not think the past was any better for music and musicians. In infinite ways, this era is a goldmine for musicians... not in a cash/money way... but like the explosion of technology that allows anyone to record with studio quality and do things in their basement that would make a studio engineer of the 70's cream their jeans. Also, the Internet really loosens the grip the record companies had on a musicians career.
7) In a lot of contemporary songs there is the feeling that, for most of people, the things have gone wrong, that everything turned wrong at some time, that we were expecting for something different and better that what happened later. It’s a sad feeling. What is the difference between contemporary sadness and the classic one? Are the modern characters more gloomy and the ones from before, more tragic?
KEITH: With the progression of society there have always been certain elements that are just plain fucking sad. Death, love lost and betrayal have all been standard stuff from cave drawings until now. Right now it seems that a lot of the sad stuff that is being written is about things that are more self induced. Everyone has clinical depression and is taking Zoloft. This is reflected in the music. It seems that everyone is in their own private hell because the local store ran out of your brand of cigarettes. Now I have to go home and contemplate either cutting myself or possibly hang myself from the rafters, no wait, I can write a song. "Thanks for coming out tonight... this one is called " They were out of Marlboro Reds"... hope you like it..." There are some really talented people out there that make you want to cry in your beer immediately. Chris Smithers is like that.
TERRY: Sadness is a great muse for songwriters... and it always has been. We are talking about blues based music... you don't get more "things gone wrong" than the old blues stuff. The modern age bombards us with stimuli to the point we don't have time to clear our minds and really see what we have in front of us. Myself, I have the Monty Python view... " always look on the bright side of life"
RICK: There will always be good times, and bad times. It just depends what time you're in at that moment. With the current recession, there are more people in bad times today, but times change.
8) Where do your songs come from? Are you inspired by your daily life, by a melody or a riff you have heard or does it just come up while you are rehearsing?
KEITH: It's actually a combination of all of those factors. Usually its the riffs first, that kinda tells us what kinda lyrics we need or want. Riffs can pop into your head at any time, remembering them is the important thing.
TERRY: Our songwriting has gotten much easier since Rick joined the band, He came to us with volumes of lyrics he has written over the years... our own little Bernie Taupin. We now basically grab an interesting page and forge a song on the spot. Usually not what Rick had in mind but something that is alive and fun to play. The fun part is very, very important to us.
RICK: Sometimes when I write lyrics. I have a melody or a rhythm in my head. Other times, I take the lyric sheets to practice. Terry and/or Keith then come up with a riff,rhythm, and/or melody.
9) Do you consider yourselves as a musical heirs of somebody? Do you recognize yourselves in musicians that preceded you?
KEITH: We are the bastard children of a lot of different performers and bands. Probably the most prevalent era that I love is is from 67-75. So many different sounds and influences. Funk,soul, rock, country
TERRY: The Beatles... without the screaming girls... or gobs of money and fame.. or British accent... and with one less guitar player... or not... well, how about the 70's power trios in the vein of Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Grand Funk, Trapeze, UFO, Tommy Bolin, Hendrix, etc...
RICK: Besides my youngest sister, I don't know of any musicians in my family that stayed in music. My sister only stuck with music a few years in elementary school. I watched a lot of variety shows while growing up. After high school, I strayed away from music til my sons were teenagers. My drums were in my parents attic for many years, but it was as easy as riding bike to pick it back up.
10) Is it possible to take a musical style from the past and make it advance? Do you think that you are doin’ something in this line?
KEITH: Yeah, that is exactly what we are doing. The sound that we convey is a live one. If we can't do it live and pull it off as a three piece, there is no use in recording it. It is such a challenge to make things sound bigger than what they are. Energy is key. When you look at bands like Grand Funk, Cream, Jimi's Experience... that is a ton of energy generated by 3 people. That is what we want to convey. How the hell did those guys just play that song and make it sound like that live?
TERRY: Yes, we think so. We do a very unusual thing for a rock trio... Keith and I share the bass, guitar and lead vocal duties from song to song. I would say this helps keep our parade of tunes more interesting and eclectic. Kind of like four bands in one.
RICK: My parents wanted me to play swing music, but I liked rock and roll. I even went through drum corps. I guess thats where I got my style.
11) Musical forms are sons of their time. Country-rock or southern rock it’s very rooted to the social and generational conditions of that environment; the same way, psychedelic rock came out in a very specific moment. In which way are you influenced by the environment you’re living in? Does it determine your music? In which way?
KEITH: You are always a product of your environment. No matter how you think that you might separate yourself, it is a part of you. For us it is more like the icing on the cake. Little things appear that fill in the blanks by default. This occurs more so with the lyrics.
TERRY: I guess you could say the area does influence us because we don't hear anyone doing the type of stuff we do. We just need more venues that appreciate original music. Most are looking for a "jukebox band"
RICK: I think its a combination of environment plus who you are actually playing with.
12) Where do you come from? Are you from the middle-class, working-class...? To which extent has this social origin influenced your music?
KEITH:Working class for sure. Always grimy and full of piss and vinegar. Not afraid of getting dirty.
TERRY: I grew up in Kentucky , home of Billy Ray Cyrus and the Judds and country music was everywhere. But when I first heard Led Zepplin II, it changed my world. I became a rocker from that day on. Back then, school dances always had live music and gigs were everywhere for a young rock band. We giged alot even before we could drive.
RICK: Definitely working class. Music is a way to relieve stress and have fun.
13) There are some rock musicians that all they want is to entertain the audience: they play and people dance. In other moments, the rock musician was kind of an imaginary mirror, someone to copy or to identify with. Or, in other time, rock was a expression from the heart, three chords and the truth. Where do you put yourselves?
KEITH: the music has to feel good to us. It is for you what you take from it as the audience.
TERRY: We play music for the pure joy of it. We find that most people will enjoy the skill or energy we put into a song , even if they don't like the song itself. I'm constantly amazed that people will give us money to do this stuff.
RICK: Applause makes us feel like we're doing something right. Applause is better than any drug or alcohol. Hopefully the lyrics relate to someone elses life and makes them feel good, or helps them get over bad times, or remember good times.
14) Are you interested, as a raw material, in your working conditions? How do you earn your living now? Do you have any day job?
KEITH: I own a business in contracting and occasionally bartend. I get some great references from some patrons.
TERRY: I work on 'helicopter simulators' for the National Guard. I even get to play music with the guys I work with for company cookouts. The money we make as a band goes into studio time, cd production, video producton, etc...
RICK: I'm a union stagehand. I set up concerts and theater shows. I work for a production company, also, but it is slow, so I'm starting a remodeling business to fill in between stage work and band gigs.
15) What do you think about the economic determinations that musicians suffer? There’s less and less musicians than can earn their living by music. This is unfair, isn’t it?
KEITH: Strongest are going to survive. Life isn't fair. We could tour anywhere in the world. Probably Europe first. Its building blocks year by year until you are ready.
TERRY: Even as far back as high school, I knew that i didn't want to play full time. It has always been a bitch trying to make it a s a musician. It's a much slower road when you choose to do it part time, but I don't have to eat beans for a month.
RICK: In reality, many times its who you know, not what you know and the talent you have. Its tough out there, but I have nothing better to do that is as much fun as creating new music.
16) You are a clear roots band but you introduce in your music other forms. Americana as a genre seems to be worn out. Do you think that the solution for avoiding that the same thing happens to roots, blues or southern music is to mix other genres (like North Mississippi Allstars or you)? What does contribute to the genre this fusion?
KEITH: All music all over the world is now thrown in the mix.
TERRY: Back in the day before the internet and incredible technical advances, I could not listen to everything like you can now. Radio stations were very narrow and we were very album oriented. Anyones playlist today could include, Billie Holiday, Fallout Boy, Rage Against the Machine...on and on...
RICK: I recently worked a Kid Rock show. He samples a lot of 60's and 70's into his music. The only two differences between him and Shift Seven is that we don't sample anything, and we don't do any Hip-Hop.
18) What bands have influenced you the most?
KEITH: Led Zeppelin, JImi Hendrix, Stones, The Who, Joe Walsh, Robin Trower, CCR, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bad Company, Skynyrd, My Mother and Grandfather
TERRY: Tommy Bolin's guitar and songwriting has always struck a chord with me. Over the years I have been addicted to many bands from time to time: Little Feat, Dixie Dregs, Weather Report, earl Genesis, Van Halen, The Tubes, Golden Earring, Grand Funk... and the list goes on...
RICK: Buddy Rich, Led Zep, Grand Funk R.R., Deep Purple, Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, Boston , Alice Cooper, Eagles, James Gang
19) Contrary to the widespread view, did the southern rock represent a major departure from southern cultural traditions?
KEITH: Even though I don't live in the South, I like to think that they have a very laid back approach to a lot of things. Music isn't one of them. They have carried over the rebel approach to music. They are very proud and serious about their heritage and it reflects in song. And its better than good.
TERRY: I think Souther Rock had an effect on the whole country and the world. You can still play gigs from Maine to Washington State and someone will always yell out "play Freebird"
RICK: I think southern rock was country music that was about happy things, rather than depressing things. Also with regular vocals instead of the whining drawl that I associate with country music of the past.
Thanks for the interview.
Regards, riffs & (cold) beers.
Ruta 66 Magazine