If you're from Toledo, you may remember the band Henry and June. Then again, if you're not from there, then you probably just said to yourself, "Who?" Either way, they were a good band, and the remnants of that group went on to form the Soledad Brothers. This project began as a dark blues duo between guitarist/vocalist Johnny Walker and drummer Ben Swank. They've now released their second full-length LP, Steal Your Soul and Dare Your Spirit to Move, on the internationally-distributed Estrus Records. They have also just finished a national tour to support the disc. Since Swank has relocated to Detroit, he recently sat down at his trusty computer to pound out the answers via e-mail to the following questions.
Steve: What was the best, or biggest, item thrown at the band during the tour?
Any panty throwing?
Ben: Somebody threw a live snake at us one show. What was that all about?
Steve: Has the band added the new bassist and keyboard/sax player as full-time
Ben: We don't have a permanent bassist. I don't think we really want one just
yet. There's a few different people we know that sit in with us sometimes
and I kind of like that, just to mix it up sometimes. But, Oliver (sax and
keys) is full-time now, yes.
Steve: What are their names? Oliver Henry is the keyboard/sax player, isn't he?
Ben: He used to play with the Greenhornes. He also has some great solo
recordings that are about to come out.
Steve: How did you and Johnny team up with the new guys? Didn't Johnny go to
school with Oliver in Cincinnati?
Ben: We've known Oliver for a while. They didn't go to school together, but
they both lived in Cinci. I don't know, we just started playing with him,
and it's kind of turned into a permanent thing.
Steve: Did the band tour when you released the first album, and if so, how did
that experience compare to the latest tour for Steal Your Soul...?
Ben: No, we didn't really tour for it. We played around the Midwest a lot but
that was about it. I think it actually was a good thing in the long run
because by the time we were playing other cities we had two records out so
there was more of an interest there. People wondering what we were about
live, which is kind of strange, because we've always considered ourselves
to be more of a live band.
Steve: Where did you receive the best crowd reception, and why?
Ben: That's kind of hard to say. Sometimes it's a small crowd, but they're
really enthusiastic, sometimes it's a big too cool crowd that acts bored. I
like the shows where people act bored at first, but when we start playing
they're kind of forced to enjoy themselves.
Steve: Now, for those who don't know, the label you're on (Estrus Records) is
based out of Bellingham, Wash. I was curious to find out if label
founder Dave Crider [of the Mono-Men] came out to the shows in Seattle at
the Crocodile Café and the in-store at 3V Records?
Ben: No, he never came to Seattle. We played Bellingham a couple of times. He
came to those shows.
Steve: Did he do a lot to not only promote the shows in Washington State, but
across the country for the new release?
Ben: Not really sure how much promo gets done. Probably no more than his other bands. They send out posters and CDs to the show promoters, which helps
a lot, and they send out promos for reviews in magazines.
Steve: Did the group tour by van? I know you were with the Von Bondies. You
weren't all crammed into one tiny space were you?
Ben: We were in my Toyota which I crashed in Portland. So, then we all got in
Steve: Who had the worst funk after a show when you'd pile into the vehicle?
Were there any times when you had to stop and catch your breath from the
Ben: I don't think that ever happened. No.
Steve: What was the group listening to while you were traveling from city to
city, as far as the latest bands, or older groups?
Ben: Outkast, Run DMC, a shitload of Sabbath. The Wizard, you know man.
Steve: What was the strangest experience you had on the latest tour?
Ben: Getting to meet Muscles the donkey.
Steve: Does the band begin the second leg of the Steal Your Soul... tour in
August, and if so, where will that portion of the tour take the group?
Ben: It's kind of all over. We'll do the West Coast, East Coast, south,
Brazil, Japan, Europe, Australia, Canada. We're looking at Red China.
Steve: Did you or Johnny change your approach to the songwriting this time
around? It seems like Steal Your Soul... is harder than the self-titled
Ben: When we did this record we were living about 4 hours apart, so the songs
were more thought out before we recorded them. He had a lot of time to work
on them with Oliver. We wanted to make it have a fuller sound but still
rootsy and raw, there's more instrumentation.
Steve: How do you feel the band's sound has changed since the first release? I
know that you told me a long time ago that you considered the Soledad
Brothers to be a dark blues duo, but now that you've expanded the lineup
obviously the sound has changed slightly as well.
Ben: I think it's just a natural progression. There's a lot we can do with
this music and there's no reason to deliberately limit ourselves. As long
as there's spaces and it doesn't get to hectic there's no reason not to
evolve and experiment with it or play with new people.
Steve: For the latest album, was the band inspired by anything you might have
been listening to when you were developing the new songs?
Ben: We're a heavily influenced band, yeah.
Steve: What led to the decision to include and rework some of the old Henry
and June material?
Ben: Well one was kind of spontaneous (the first track) the old guitarist from
H&J (Dooly Wilson) was already there recording with us so we did it and
added new lyrics. The other (32 blues) we had been doing live, and we wanted
a rocker for the record.
Steve: Did you think the Soledad Brothers would last as long as it has,
considering that the first Soledad Brothers' gig in 1998 began as what was
originally going to be a one-off performance?
Ben: It's a testament to apathy.
Steve: Do you still have a relationship with John Sinclair (manager of the
MC5, who also wrote the liner notes for the first Soledad Brothers' album)?
Ben: Yeah, we see him sometimes. He comes to Detroit a lot.
Steve: As far as the future of the band goes, do you think that you'll
continue adding members, strip it down as it was originally, or keep the
number of members where it's at currently?
Ben: Probally all of those things. The three of us will be the regular
members. Other people will come in sometimes. I'd like to do a really
stripped down dark record too.
Steve: Do you feel that with the current resurgence in the garage-rock scene
that the pressure is on for the band to be heard by a large audience while
the wave of popularity is still at its peak? I mean, Detroit has been
putting out music from The White Stripes and The Sights that really hasn't
been matched in its acceptance from not only an underground, but a
mainstream audience, since the likes of the MC5 and The Stooges. And, not
only in Detroit, but in New York with The Strokes and the Swedish fancy
lads, The Hives, garage rock seems to be a booming business.
Ben: It's a great climate for rock and roll right now, we're really lucky to
be a part of that. I'm happy with what we've done already, this is
something I like to work hard at. Hopefully people will hear us.
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