Keep your eyes on the underground: a conversation with Jahshie P.
We’ve all been there. It usually happens on one of those days when your alarm clock radio wakes you up with Lady Antebellum after which you turn on the TV to find CNN using Nickelback as bumper music. Following this, you click on a Rage Against the Machine video your friend posted on Facebook, only to find that when you get to YouTube they are advertising the premiere of the new Chris Brown video on the side of the screen. Seeking an escape from all the bullshit that constitutes modern music you maniacally type two words into Google, only to find that Fat Possum has devolved into a hipster rock label.
That’s when the idea begins forming. You think to yourself, “I’ll start my own label. None of this commercialism, no slick pop productions, no sellout Auto-Tuned, talentless hacks. Just great music, pure and simple.”
Most of us never go through with it. We find that antidote we’re looking for in one of the many great releases put out every year by the labels who are still doing it right and by artists who have the guts and the courage to release it themselves. My friend Jahshie P. is an exception. Already the host of the best underground country program on the web and the leader of hardcore/bluegrass band Last False Hope, he had the idea of starting his own record label. And just last week, Ol’ Red Shed’s debut album Country Fury became the first album released on Solitary Records (review is forthcoming).
I recently talked to Jahshie about his new label, his band, and his role in the underground country/XXX scene.
What is Solitary Records?
Solitary Records is a very independent record label that I started to put out my band’s music, as well as other bands that I have confidence in!
What made you want to start a record label, especially in today’s economy?
Well, it has been a dream for me for a few years now, and I decided to put aside a few dollars each week, and eventually, I had enough to start up the label and afford to put out the first release. The record industry is on it’s way out, and the economy is fucked, but I think this style of music has some very loyal followers that would rather support music than download it for free.
Your first release is the debut album from Ol’ Red Shed who I first heard on your Outlaw Radio compilation. Why did you choose this album as your first release and what else can we expect from the label going forward?
I have respected Ol’ Red Shed since they sent me a few songs years ago to be played on Outlaw Radio. They have amazing songwriting skills and musicianship. I requested a song for the compiltaion and it was top notch. I knew they had an album recorded already and were looking for someone to put it out. Seeing that Solitary is new and doesn’t have the biggest budget, it kind of made sense to put out an album that was already recorded, mixed and mastered. It just needed that final step.
As of now, we are taking releases one by one. We can’t afford to sign numerous artists and put out records every month, so we are seeing what this release will do and go from there. We do have projects lined up, but we just need to take a step back and watch for a bit and see what happens before we rush into more releases.
Ol’ Red Shed comes from Illinois, which is your home turf as well. Will this label primarily focus on the music coming from your state or do you plan to eventually expand it to include other overlooked talent from around the country?
That is pure coincidence. I honestly didn’t even know they were from Illinois until after they gave me the track for the Outlaw Radio Compilation. A great talent is a great talent, no matter where they are from. If I believe in an artist, I will do my best to move forward with them.
As a lot of people know, you are very active in the underground country/XXX community and your own band plays their own unique brand of bluegrass, but your background is in punk and hardcore. Can we expect some of that from Solitary Records as well as country and roots music releases?
If a decent, fresh punk rock or hardcore band is out there, I would die to hear what they got. They may be out there, but honestly, I haven’t heard them yet. I would love to put out a great street punk or hardcore album, absolutely. That is what I grew up on and will always hold close to my heart, it has just been years since decent music in that genre has been made.
Earlier this year, your band Last False Hope released The Shape of Bluegrass to Come, which is a sort of 21st century bluegrass with a lot of hardcore and metal influences. Do you feel that you accomplished what you wanted to with that EP?
Not really. We have yet to really make an impact as of yet and those four songs do not really portray the depths of the band. We are about half way through the writing of a full length, and I think that will be more of an accurate portrayal of this project. I am by no way saying that the EP isnt good, because we are very proud of it, but, we have grown and come into our own since that release and the new material is coming along so well. We should be ready to release the full length in December or so. By all means, the EP is a great introduction to the band, but we are moving forward at a fast pace and the future holds a lot for us.
Both the title and cover art of your EP was a homage to Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come. Can you explain that album’s influence on your band’s music and why you chose to pay tribute to it?
Good question. A few of us are big Refused fans, and what they did with that album was phenomonal. They basically took punk rock and mixed hardcore, metal and electronica with their basic backbone. The album was flawless and we respect them very much. We were more of trying to make an impact than anything else. I’d like to think that we use bluegrass elements and throw in the obvious punk and hardcore influences.
We were honestly at a loss for idea’s of a title and cover art, and I just said at rehearsal one day, “what about The Shape of Bluegrass to Come“? They liked it, and we went with it. Than Meghan Larcher came up with the album art, and it was a feeling of “wow, we are doing this, huh?” and we did it. Why not? We wanted to make an impact and what better way than to pay homage to an extraordinary album?
Last False Hope is currently working on a couple of other projects and I’ve had the chance to listen to a version of the song “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.” You told me later that you weren’t really satisfied with the version I heard, but based on that song alone, it seems like you are staying true to your roots while stretching your boundaries on both sides, both further into bluegrass territory and punk territory. Is that analysis correct and can you talk a little bit about the other projects Last False Hope has up their sleeves?
That was actually a rough mix. We have since decided to re-record the fiddle and vocals. That song was basically written and learned in one day. Shawn (one of our guitar players) wrote the music and lyrics. I read the lyrics for the first time about five minutes before we hit the record button. We have been bringing that song up more at rehearsals and deciding on what we are gonna do with it, and we actually decided that once the song is re-recorded, that it will be on the upcoming XXX compilation!
Currently, we are focusing on writing for the full length. We are about six songs deep in it. Other than that, we are going to be releasing a versus split with Nellie Wilson and the Hellbound Honey’s out of Madison. That will be fun, because our songs and lyrics are complete opposites. We will be making hardcore versions of their songs and they will be making country versions of our songs. Plus, there will be one new, unreleased original song from each band on that split. It will be interesting to say the least. Look for that to be released in September, along with a weekend with Nellie and the Honey’s to promote it Sept 16-17.
For those who may not know, can you briefly explain what Outlaw Radio Chicago is and what people can expect if they tune in?
They can expect anything. I have been on air for three years, and each show is different. Some nights I am sober alone, and other nights I have five drunk guys here trying to do a show. Lately, I have been concentrating on getting artists to perform live in my living room for the show which has been going over great. I recently had Viva Le Vox, Cletus got Shot, and Rachel Brooke and Lonesome Wyatt live in my living room. I mean, who else can offer that in the internet radio world?
You’ve released an Outlaw Radio Compilation featuring exclusive tracks from a lot of great underground country artists and, in general, this is a good overview of the type of thing you play on your show every week. How did you go about putting the compilation together and are there plans for a second volume?
Basically, I just called all the artists I had in mind, and to my surprise, they all said yes. It was a surreal experience to receive all these unheard and unreleased songs just for my compilation. The lineup is incredible and the songs are all superb. Many bands even recorded a song specifically for the compilation. It was a great experience, and I still encourage people to get their hands on this one of a kind compilation.
There were plans for a second one, but, at this point, I do not believe I can match the artists I had on the first release. All the songs were unreleased and from up and coming artists. Now, a lot of these artists have broke out a bit, and have made a name for themselves. I can never explain how proud I am of that group of artists on that compilation.
What are your thoughts on XXX and what it’s accomplished thus far in the underground country arena?
I think it is a great thing. I mean, what is wrong with giving artists exposure? I never understood the negative complaints that XXX has received, and I will continue to back it and be a part of it. I believe that there is a great future for XXX and it it far from reaching it’s potential. I am excited to see what the future holds!
In every project you’re involved in, whether Outlaw Radio, Last False Hope, or Solitary Records you seem to have your finger on the pulse of the new generation of country fans, many of whom came to this music from punk or metal. And with your band and others melding these genres, with guys like Bob Wayne releasing straight-up hillbilly records on metal labels, and with the two “leaders,” so to speak, of the underground country movement- Shooter Jennings and Hank III- unafraid to release rock albums, do you see these two audiences coming together more and more in the coming years?
That may be the most complicated question I have yet to receive! Right now, I believe this whole scene is really coming together. All these acts seem to have open range on what they want to do. The listeners come from such a diverse background, that no matter how obscure these artists want to get, people respect it. But, as with every type of music, people love it or hate it. Last False hope recently had a review that ripped the shit out of us, and can we argue? Hell no. This music is not for everyone. But for those who enjoy it, you are in for one hell of a run!
Thanks for talking to me. Anything else you want to say?
If you want to hear original, independent, and incredible music be sure to check out Outlaw Radio, Saving Country Music, and XXX. Thanks for the support.