Brotherly Love & Harmony: An Interview with The Meadows Brothers
If you have visited the Red Line site in the last month or so you probably already have a general idea of who The Meadows Brothers are. Their new record is featured on the side bar of each feature posted, I have been running a radio campaign for them, and I love plain love these guys. Dustin and Ian initially blew me away with their beautiful harmonies, bluegrass infused folk songs, and witty back and forth banter on stage. As I got to know them more, however, the depth of these two gents really got to me. Their music extends far more into the experimental realm than I initially gave credit to, rock n’ roll, early roots, blues, and indie rock as of late. Even more importantly, I found not just a new artist that I love to listen to, but I made lifelong friends in the brothers. Their music is excellent, the latest record is a great collection of pensive and wonderful songs, and if you ever have the chance to see these boys live…strike that, SEE THESE GUYS LIVE no matter what. They are something special. I caught up with Dustin and Ian to talk about the record, talk about the dynamic of being a sibling duo, and just music, man. Just music.
RLR: You guys are a very “must see live” kind of an act. The harmonies, the banter back and forth on stage between you two, the improvisational aspects that happen on the fly. I think you really were able to capture a live performance here extremely well on the new album. How do you think you were able to do that so well? Were you guys shooting for that feel when you started out recording this project?
Ian: We were sure that we wanted this album to be very stripped down, and to kind be a summary of what we have spent the last three years working on. A good portion of that time was spent sitting in our bedroom playing music late into the night, with just our guitars and voices. When we went into the studio it was clear we wanted to recreate that intimate, raw vibe. It was sort of a no-brainer once we got in the studio to just set some microphones up and play the songs like we’ve been playing them live.
RLR: Well, how about you talk a little in regards to your earliest influences in music. Listening to your playing styles and the harmonies, I am guilty of comparing you guys to Gill and Dave, Milk Carton Kids…blah blah. But bluegrass inspired folk and playing is just scratching the surface of what you guys encompass as a sound. There is certainly tinges of blues in there with Dustin’s harp playing and some of those gritty howls you get into when singing. What were some of the earlier artists and albums that made you guys want to make music?
Dustin: We’ve both been around the genre block. It usually starts off with Ian digging something new. I never like it at first, and within two weeks they’re my favorite band of all time. My earliest phase was metal. I remember bringing Metallica “Kill ‘em all” into 2nd grade show and tell. From there it went all over the place; punk, rock n’ roll, blues, Country, you name it. I’ve had so many huge influences it would be tough to narrow that down. I think seeing the Black Crowes was confirming for Ian and I, as well as life changing. Nowadays, the Dawes records have had a huge impact on my life and inspire me like no other music.
Ian: We grew up in a house with a lot of music happening… Everything from classic and progressive rock from the 60s and 70s (Fun fact: I was named after Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull) from my dad; and from my mom a huge mix of music from folk/rock singer songwriters like James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, CSN, etc; to funk, soul, and gospel music, to hip hop, to classical. So Dus and I are big fans of a lot of music. Like Dustin said, we’ve gone through a lot of different musical phases, and listening to so much music has most definitely influenced where we’re at right now. It continues to evolve! We got into roots music through a fascination with a lot of the history of all the early American music styles, and it just grew from there. Gillian and Dave are certainly huge influences, but so are countless other artists from many different genres.
RLR: Something I ask everyone I talk to through this “Red Line” guise, is about community. So who are some of your favorite local based acts/songwriters?
Ian: There are so many good acts around here. I think our (correct me if I’m wrong Dus) number one favorite is Ian Fitzgerald. When I was living in Nashville Dustin sent me a copy of “No Time to Be Tender”, and its been one of my favorite records ever since. Wise Old Moon is a killer band from Connecticut that I dig big time, I think Connor Millican’s songwriting stands right up there with a lot of my favorite writers. Super catchy, relatable songs, and the guys he has playing with him now are top notch musicians who put on an excellent live show. I’ve been listening to a lot of The Ebin-Rose Trio from here in CT as well. It’s kind of a departure from what I normally listen too… It’s very ethereal folk music, and there’s just a lot of cool imagery in both the words and music that I love. The Wiles are another excellent group of musicians and people I have been really digging lately. Man, I could go on… Morris and the East Coast, a great rocknroll band from Massachusetts… Eric Lichter, who’s music has definitely made a big impact on us from the time we were young’ns (Go get Chorduroy and Owl, great records)…. Brian Carroll, this guy who runs a music blog and happens to write excellent Americana music… Haunt the House, I don’t think I need to say much more about that…. The Silks, the most rocknroll band in all of New England… I could go on. So much good music!
RLR: What is your songwriting process? Are you Melody first or lyrics first? Scrap papers in a pocket or sit down and write a tune in one sitting types? Do you write together or separate or both?
Ian: We don’t really have a set writing process. For a while, Dus didn’t get involved in the writing at all, but he has an awesome ear for arranging music, and a sense for harmony that is much better than mine. So I was writing all the tunes and he’d help arrange them, but as time goes on we’ve been writing a lot more of our songs together.
Even then, there is no process. Sometimes we’ll get our start from a lyric, a chord progression, or even just a feel we’re trying to convey. Oh, and we rarely write songs about ourselves, but try to write about feelings and situations that everyone can relate too. I’ve always found that to be part of the beauty of writing.
RLR: Duos are my favorite way not just to perform myself, but also to see music. How has that dynamic shaped the music you guys have created in the past and see into the future? Have you tried a fuller band or have any plans to in the future? Basically, I am just asking, how can I become a Meadows brother…kidding, but talk duos and dynamics for me!
Ian: Well we really started playing as a duo because it was convenient. We had been playing music in bands for a few years, and since we lived together it just became a lot easier to practice and write and work on new stuff with just the two of us. I sort of became fascinated by the sound two people can make. I got really into the early Monroe Brothers recordings, when Bill Monroe was just playing with his brother Charlie. Its just awesome, awesome music, and it proves that you don’t need a lot of people and a lot of instrumentation to make an impact. As kind of the more recent answer to the Monroe Brothers, the Tony Rice/Norman Blake albums, along with the album Tony Rice did with Ricky Scaggs were both huge influences when we were first starting out as The Meadows Brothers. We are not a bluegrass band at all, but these records just made an impact in the sense that it was an engaging, powerful sound with some acoustic instruments and voices, just two people. Towards the beginning of this endeavor, we had a backing band play with us, 4 other people; and while it was a lot of fun, we sort of realized that we prefer making music when its just the two of us. We love to collaborate, and who knows what the future will hold, but for now we are just trying to keep it to the two of us.
RLR: (to Dustin) So much of ‘harmonica in folk music’ is aimless blowing and lacks a bit of finesse…Dylan syndrome, if you will. You have proven yourself as not just a great singer but a really talented harp player. Was that by design of the duo or did it come later? Any specific recordings that gave you an edge and you went to for inspiration?
Dustin: It was a bit of both. I started playing because I wanted to contribute something besides guitar. It came pretty quick to me and it ended up always being in my pocket. My biggest inspiration was actually a family friend. He would come to all the family parties and play blues harp the whole time. I would just sit and listen, and that was the start to my fascination.
RLR: Likewise for Ian. I envy your lead guitar playing. Any specific recordings or players that got you started down the path as far as a style is concerned?
Ian: I got into the flatpicking stuff I do through my love of bluegrass music…. As I said before, I’m a huge fan of Tony Rice and Norman Blake, also Bryan Sutton, Michael Daves, and Doc Watson (of course), but I can’t play anything like that. When I was younger I learned a lot of those licks and made my way through quite a few bluegrass guitar books, and never really got the hang of it. So I always say my guitar style is kind of a failed attempt at flatpicking bluegrass, mixed with the dissonance and feel of someone like David Rawlings. With Rawlings playing, it’s about the FEEL and letting each note mean something, so I try and take that mentality mixed in with my bluegrass influence, then mixed with all the other guitar players of many styles who have influenced me. That was a lot, I’m sorry. I get into this stuff.
RLR: So how much of that on stage banter/ ‘almost’ fights are real? Haha, for real though, is all that just natural to you guys?
Dustin: Every part of it. We’ve never planned out banter. I’m always blown away that people get a kick out of it. We’re both pretty awkward guys and it shows when we’re on stage. As far as the ‘almost’ fights go, I’d like to think it never gets too out of hand because we want to stay professional. But we’re brothers, so that sort of thing happens every once and a while.
RLR: What’s next for the Meadows in 2015?
Dustin: Just keep doing what we’re doing man. We’re venturing into a new sound, and it’s really creating a whole new dynamic for us. I’m really happy with what’s happening but we just have to keep putting in the work.