In their own way, Run 8 Rider could be considered an outlaw country band. After all, doing a twangy rendition of Devo's early '80s synth-fueled classic "Whip It" doesn't exactly warm themselves to Nashville traditionalists. Run 8 Rider follow their own path, their own set of rules. Nevertheless, their debut album Tenderfoot has already landed on the Americana charts, proving that there is audience for their iconoclastic take on roots rock. This is the first part of a two-part interview with the group as members Joel A. Nielsen (a.k.a. BW Jackson), Billy D., and H. Mark Golden (a.k.a. Hoss) discuss their early beginnings attempting to transform Brit-pop legends Oasis into Southern-fried Americana.
Q: How did Run 8 Rider form?
Billy: Nikky and I had been friends with Zane and BW for a few years. They were visiting us back around April of 2009, and BW and I were playing some tunes in my home studio. BW started playing "Wonderwall," by Oasis, and sang it his own way with an Americana inflection; it was a little funny, as we were used to the English version, and we laughed, but it sounded good.
BWJ: No, I’m pretty sure it was awful, but it did have a hint of promise. That reminds me, I have to have my attorney demand that all of those original demo tracks be destroyed.
Billy: Anyway, we got motivated and started recording. We grabbed Zane, who is a drummer, and who Nikky and I had never played with before. At the time, Zane was eight months pregnant, and she was a lefty drummer sitting on at righty drum set. When she came in on the second chorus, I sure felt it, and I knew we had something. That demo was BW on guitar, myself on bass, and Nikky on the tambo.
BWJ: Yes! Nikky was like a drum machine on the track; on second thought maybe we shouldn’t delete it.
Billy: Agreed, BW! By the way, many of the ideas on the final recording of that song on our new album, Tenderfoot, come from that original notation. That first demo was not perfect, but we knew it had energy. So, we formulated our band pretty quickly after that. Hoss is a long-time college friend, and he and I had talked for years about making an album covering our favorite music. Since the Run 8 Rider effort fell into exactly that kind of behavior, Hoss became a natural choice for the fifth member, bringing with him his deep voice and years of singing experience, rhythm guitar playing skills, and diverse knowledge of country music. The first time all five of us played together things sounded really good, we had great band malarkey and fun, and Hoss's contribution was a perfect fit.
Q: How long did it take for Run 8 Rider to evolve from performing covers to writing original music?
Billy: At the time we thought we had this magic formula of taking rock tunes and arranging them into the country format. It turns out that many great artists had been doing the same thing all along, and example of which would be Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt," by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, a tune that is as hard-hitting as they come, and never fails to affect me in a very powerful and emotional way.
BWJ: Yeah, we thought we were being original, not knowing that Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash had already done it all before - on five separate albums. Better late than never!
Billy: At the same time we were considering covers, I remember having a few compositional ideas that really came rapidly during that time period of writing over the winter 2010. This is especially true for "Lucinda," the melody and concept of which I woke up with intact in my head one cold, snowy February Saturday; that was a special writing experience, as I had that tune essentially written by the end of the day.
Hoss: None of us ever had or have any interest in being a cover band never was our intention. For the covers that we did record, we carefully avoided sounding much like the original. And Billy's been writing a long time; one of the songs on Tenderfoot goes back to our college days at Auburn University.
Billy: I think the idea to include originals came naturally, as BW was working on material as well. So really, as we were picking the covers, the originals popped up pretty quickly, and we decided to have a go at both.
BWJ: The funny thing was that I had the riff and chords worked out for "The Ballad of Marshal Smith," but the lyrics were coming hard. It took the muse of travel and my wife to get some lyrics on paper. One day they just struck like lighting in my head while relaxing at a little hotel on the shore of a famous lake. We were having some great pasta and a couple of bottles of Peroni and bam! Let’s just say there is a reason it might remind you of a spaghetti western.
Q: Initially, did the band intend on turning a fun activity, such as transforming Oasis' Brit-pop classic "Wonderwall" into vintage country, into an album?
Billy: It all happened pretty quickly, really over about a 24-hour period. During the process of recording that original "Wonderwall" demo, we pretty much went crazy, and I remember being very excited about having a band with that vision of "tenderizing" rock tunes, our term for that process.
Hoss: At the time our working band name was Tenderfoot. So Tenderfoot would "tenderize" rock tunes. Ultimately we chose that name for the album rather than the band, but the concept of tenderizing rock music is all over the album.
Billy: Exactly, and in those days when we were formulating the concept, we had this notion of taking all of our favorite tunes, and kicking them over the fence to the country side. It turns out that rearranging a really well written and organized song is fun, because that song will usually stand up to such treatment, but one doesn't really know what all these different sounds of steel guitar, acoustic instruments, and twang will do for a composition. A good example is "Whip It." I had never really listened to the lyrics of that song, but when I finally heard them, they were totally great.
BWJ: [Singing] “Before the cream sits out too long!”
Billy: That being said, the band really did not know what that song was going to sound like in that idiom, but the arrangement speedily fell into place and really took on a life of its own.
Q: The band's debut album, Tenderfoot, runs wild with its choice of stylistic makeovers, not just Oasis but digging into the '80s as well with Devo, George Michael, and even Transvision Vamp. Who decided what tracks to cover?
Billy: That was a fun process. The band developed a really scientific method of picking the songs. We submitted over 100 songs, and we were looking for material that generally had a good story and lyric, which we felt were quintessential characteristics for solid country music. We then rated the tunes from 0 to 10, perfect being a "10." So we had this spreadsheet floating around with all these ratings and comments. In the end we took the six highest scoring songs, and those are the covers on the albums. We considered everything we thought might work, and the list became quite diverse; it included artists like Cat Stevens, Madonna, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Peter Gabriel, Imogene Heap, and Led Zeppelin, to name only a few. It was an interesting exercise in picking what is a really good song. In many cases, a superb tune one thought would be great would not really gel into a country sound, not note-wise really, but because the lyric would be too vague, and not a really good story.
Hoss: It was a very anal-retentive process! Can you tell we have a few scientific types in the band? [Laughs]
BWJ: It was definitely a group effort. Very democratic and decidedly geeky stuff, but it let the cream rise to the top and before you know it we are doing “Whip It” with a steel guitar and a banjo! I’m so glad we did it that way because I got exposed to songs I otherwise might not have gotten to hear, let alone get to cover in a recording.
Official Site: http://www.run8rider.com/about.cfm