V-Roys – Half a boy and half a man
Candy is dandy
but liquor is quicker
— Ogden Nash
There stands the glass. Half full or half empty, doesn’t matter so long as there’s enough folding money in the pocket to remedy the situation. Not quite a drunkard’s prayer, this, but a matter of some interest and extended contemplation for the V-Roys, whose second album was finally released in early October.
Ah, just leave the bottle; this is drinkin’ music, and a long story.
Begin with this: Some nights lost is the best place to be found, swaying in the dim light of a close room, locked into some kinda sound and holding onto some vestige of truth in the singer’s voice. Being a bar band’s a bad thing in some circles, but it didn’t hurt the art of Ernest Tubb, Buck Owens, or Merle Haggard. (Mind you, it also destroyed a whole bunch of singers we never heard of, and some that we have.)
Well. Just Add Ice (1996) marked the Knoxville-based V-Roys as a formidable bar band — two singers, two songwriters, a solid rhythm section, handsome gents in black suits, jaunty songs about failed love and the next morning. All About Town suggests songwriters Scott Miller and Mike Harrison (he’s spelling his first name “Mic” on the new album) may be capable of leaving a more permanent and sophisticated record.
Not just a snapshot of the young band at work, All About Town is a more patient, studied, consciously crafted work. The music is more layered (read: overdubs), and the musical textures are more elaborate. Ah, but it still rocks, they still hang out in bars, they still dress nicely onstage.
But getting back on tour meant waiting for the folks who wear suits during the daytime. After finishing All About Town, the V-Roys spent eight months waiting, wondering and scratching up rent while E-Squared and Warner Bros. negotiated. “The record was like a damn carrot,” Miller said in late September, his voice betraying resignation, not rancor. “First it was supposed to come out in March, then it was June, then it was August. And then it was canceled again. And now it’s now.”
Back in March the V-Roys were in line to become the first E-Squared signing (not counting the boss) to move up to Warner Bros. And then, “we didn’t sense the same enthusiasm from them [Warner Bros.] that we ourselves had for the record,” says Jack Emerson, Steve Earle’s partner in E-Squared.
Come summer, E-Squared and Warner Bros. were busy re-examining their business relationship. “I don’t think the V-Roys are the crux of the dissolution of the Warner/E-Squared situation. They’re a byproduct of it,” says Warner Bros. spokesperson Bob Merlis. As to the label’s support of the record, “Some of us did and some of us didn’t, I suppose,” he says. “It wasn’t a function of their musical worth, it was a function of, ‘Is this deal working for both parties?'”
In the end, the two labels managed what is described as an amicable divorce. Warner Bros. retains the rights to its three Steve Earle titles; the rest of the E-Squared catalog remains on that label, and will continue to be distributed through ADA.
“When we started, everything seemed to be falling into place,” Miller says wryly. “I’m of such a pessimistic nature I always wait for some other shoe to drop. It turned out to be a bunch of giant boots.”
And in the meantime, “Damn,” Miller says wryly. “I don’t remember much, so it’s pretty much gettin’ drunk, sittin’ around waiting….[Bassist] Paxton [Sellers] got a landscaping job, Mike and I have been…we’ve all been getting drunk pretty much. We needed something to focus on. Human beings are not meant to sit idle.” Questioned further, Miller is also able to remember writing a pile of new songs (“I’m hitting a real good creative spurt right now”), starring in a local production of the Hume Cronyn play Foxfire, writing the script for a movie based on some old songs, playing solo dates, and rehearsing with his band.
The glass emptied more easily late last March. Miller and Harrison settled into a Nashville bar full of hope and pride, knowing they had done good work and confident they would do more. Ready to drink life up.
Their first album, Just Add Ice, was a quick sketch of the V-Roys-as-bar-band. The production is simple enough, doesn’t add any frills they couldn’t manage on-stage, just catches the songs and sets them loose. “I hadn’t even played live with you guys but a handful of times before that record came out,” Harrison says. This time Steve Earle (who produces with Ray Kennedy as The Twangtrust) took a far more active hand as mentor to the two songwriters. And this time Miller and Harrison more readily conceived themselves to be songwriters.
“We learned a lot on this last one,” Harrison says. “He gave us some fuel.”
“He pulled no punches,” Miller nods. “We’re better writers for it. I like songs that are from point A to point B, with a very strong emotion. It’s got a twist on it, you can understand and you can follow. There’s certain ways you can tweak that. If you’re trying to communicate something, this is pop music. That’s called memory. And he knows you can tweak the structure of a song, tremendously.
“The structure of a song is so subtle, but when it’s done right you don’t even realize it. Starting a song off with your lead lick or something like that, or…there’s so many different songs, and so many different ways to do it. Like he’d say, ‘There are no rules, but y’all might do it that way.'” Miller and Harrison laugh.
“There’s a fine line in writing,” finishes Miller. “But it is a craft, and you do put your heart and soul into it. To put those together is the hard thing.”
“The main thing I learned was to communicate a little bit better,” Harrison says. “Maybe this line means something to me, but it might not mean shit to anybody else. I learned two big lessons on this record, I don’t remember what the other one was.” He stops, sips, puffs at a cigarette, chuckles. “Oh, I remember what it was: Don’t bring in a half-assed song, or it won’t be on the CD.”