Interview: Kurt Marschke of Deadstring Brothers on "Cannery Row"

In the spring of 2012, two years since his move to Nashville from Detroit, Kurt Marschke connected with another Motor City transplant, JD Mack (formerly of Whitey Morgan & the 78s). After searching for new musical blood to make a new record with, Kurt and JD partnered up with Brad Pemberton (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals), Mike Webb (Poco), Pete Finney (Dixie Chicks, Hank Jr.), Kim Collins (Smoking Flowers), and Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson's harp player). The result of their labors is Cannery Row, a revelatory new chapter of the band's story. The newly re-imagined Deadstring Brothers have delivered their most varied, and rewarding album to date via the Bloodshot label. Don't get me wrong, DB's earlier, more rockin' albums ooze some pretty sweet Exile-era Stones goodness, but Cannery Row shows Marschke and his crew offering tunes that span the spectrum between strum-driven Americana, to an ample dose of classic rock hooks, to tried and true singer-songwriter woven narratives.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Kurt about the making of Cannery Row. Here's how it all went down.

Can you describe why you were compelled to move from Detroit to Nashville?

Kurt: The idea of moving to Nashville was to throw myself into the deep end of the music whirlpool. It also made a lot of sense in 2010 to move somewhere in the middle of the country for touring reasons and Nashville just seemed like the right place at that time to relocate to.

How has living in Nashville inspired you musically and personally?

Kurt: Just being in an environment where music is the center of the economy changes your perspective on how you do what you do. It has made me take my music more seriously.

How and when did you connect with JD Mack (of Whitey Morgan & the 78's)? Can you discuss your musical kinship and how that led to you guys wanting to get a band together and make a record?

Kurt: In about the mid-2000's JD and I started discussing how to make the scene in Detroit a better place for bands that were playing our style of music. And so along the way we discovered that we shared the same values in what it takes to make a band successful, like record-making, touring, merchandising, the whole business of music, and how to present it. That, and we trust each other.

Can you describe how you began working with Brad Pemberton, Mike Webb, Pete Finney, Kim Collins, and Mickey Raphael for the project?

Kurt: I met Mickey back in 2006 when Deadstring Brothers played in Nashville. Someone had given Mickey a copy of our record and he got word to me that he liked it and gave his number.  He then sat in with us at The Basement that night and we've been friends from that point on.

Brad, Mike and I met when I sang for Bobby Keys and we discovered that we had all this other music that we loved and wanted to do and kept those doors open. We played gigs together over the years, and so it seemed natural to have them involved. I was introduced to Kim by Chark Kinsolving because Chark felt that she would be a great fit for Deadstring Brothers and her and I have been friends ever since.  I was introduced to Pete through Chark as well.

Musically, everyone is so talented and dialed in, they were what we needed because we had very little time to make this record. We were blessed by their instincts and skill and it is really the only way the record could have happened in the 5 days we had to assemble and make Cannery Row.

In a lot of ways, this lineup is Deadstring Brothers re-imagined. How do you see the new band in comparison to the former lineup?

Kurt: Being that this was an all-Nashville lineup, really there aren't any comparisons, it is a whole different thing. They are all full time musicians that view things in a different way.  They've all been supporting themselves that way for a long long time.

Probably just the speed in which they were all able to work. Every one of those guys were so easy going in the session that it just made the whole session very relaxed even though the work load was so intense.  It made for an easy going environment.

Did you have a pre-conceived direction, vision, and or feel for the new record you wanted to make?

Kurt: I definitely knew that the record was going to be based more around acoustic instruments because that's what I was playing. I was writing on my National Resonator and my old Martin flattop.  I really was interested in slowing the pace of the record, and I didn't feel a need to make a rock and roll record. I was just focused on making songs.

When you began working up the material, how did you initially want this album to connect to and/ or distinguish itself from your previous DB albums?

Kurt: I kinda wanted it to be more of a songwriting record and not so much of a rock n roll record. I wanted it to be more intimate and to tell stories about this loft that I had been living in for a few years, and the neighborhood around Cannery Row.

I kinda wanted it to be more of a songwriting record and not so much of a rock n roll record. I wanted it to be more intimate and to tell stories about this loft that I had been living in for a few years, and the neighborhood around Cannery Row.

How collaborative was the process?

Kurt: It was such fast process. We didn't spend much time thinking about that stuff, everyone just did what was natural. The players didn't need much direction, they were all so in tune with the kind of music we were creating. It's a very natural record.

"Like A California Wildfire" and "Its Morning Irene" were the ones that set the pace for the record. Just that slower pace made it so I wasn't afraid to go entirely into that direction.

Can you describe the recording process of the album?

Kurt: Making records is difficult and it is hard to commit songs to tape, and doing it in 5 days. All of the things you could have done aren't possible, so it is a process that's full of regret because you never get to explore where a song needs to go.

What have you been listening to lately?

Kurt: I've been listening to the new Willie Nelson record, Dawes, and Shovels and Rope. A lot of music from people on the road too.

What's coming up next for you?

Kurt: We're touring nationally now, and have been since the end of January. We will be on road all year. Up next is another record.

Chris Mateer is a freelance music writer living in Portland, OR. He is the founder and writer of the Uprooted Music Revue, posts on The Bluegrass Situation, and is a featured contributor to No Depression. In addition to music writing, Chris teaches visual art and plays the mandolin, banjo, and drums.

As a player and music writer, Chris is always excited to share and learn more. He believes a community thrives on participation and enthusiasm, and he's thrilled to contribute.

You can read his posts here on No Depression and on Uprooted Music Revue at http://www.uprootedmusicrevue.com/. To follow Chris and UMR more closely, sign up on UMR's Facebook page and subscribe to UMR's twitter feed.

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Tags: 78's, Bloodshot, Brad, Brothers, Chris, Collins, Deadstring, Finney, Interviews, JD, More…Kim, Mack, Mateer, Mickey, Mike, Morgan, Music, Pemberton, Pete, Raphael, Records, Revue, Uprooted, Webb, Whitey, and, the

Comment by Alan Harrison on May 24, 2013 at 9:27am

Excellent 10/10

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.