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Fair-Weather Kings – Weathering Bowling Green’s Rolling Musical Seas

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (8/22/13)—Hearing it from the proverbial “horse’s mouth” makes it official: “energetic” ranks highest among the descriptors fans use to define the sound and feel of Bowling Green, KY’s beloved five-piece band, the Fair-Weather Kings. And it’s a fact that is duly justifiable. Comparison-wise, many say the quintet’s unique style is akin to the vibrant, nationally-acclaimed indie sounds of The Strokes and The Arctic Monkeys.

Yet, once you start trying to dial in their insightful works any further—to do their sound justice through words, so to speak—the process of classification becomes much deeper and, perhaps, more metaphysical. That being said, here’s my personal take: the Fair-Weather Kings strike hard on the head of modernity’s pop-rock stake, while remaining punctual, compositionally edgy, fun, and experimental in a not-too-abstract way. Their lyrical originality, atmospheric grooves, and consistently frantic, multi-layered live performances—which come courtesy of vocalist/guitarist Wesley Stone, guitarist Zach Barton, bassist Jason Williams, keyboard/synth player Craig Brown, and drummer Marcus Long— mix together well, producing a seemingly perfect storm amidst an electric and inspirational musical climate.

While the Fair-Weather Kings have yet to gain a large-scale, national following, they have received a wealth of veneration from all corners of our region and beyond. In fact, the respect the Fair-Weather Kings have deservedly garnered from their peers since forming just under two years ago is evidenced by the fact that they have remained afloat, relevant, and well-loved in the virtual sea of talent found in Bowling Green.

So how do the Fair-Weather Kings maintain their prowess in such a saturated musical market? What’s their origin story and creative process? And what is their ultimate goal with music? To find out the answers to these questions and much more, I recently got the chance to speak with FWK frontman and guitarist, Wesley Stone, who informed me that weathering west Kentucky’s blooming and inspirational entertainment scene isn’t always an easy task to master.

Who are the members of the Fair-Weather Kings, where is each member from, what are your ages, and what instrument(s) do each of you play?

I’m Wesley Stone and I’m on lead vocals and guitar. Zach Barton plays guitar, Jason Williams is our bassist, Craig Brown plays keys/synth, and Marcus Long is our drummer. Zach, Marcus and I grew up in Hopkins County, KY. Craig and Jason grew up in Bowling Green. We all currently live in Bowling Green. We are all in our late 20’s, with the exception of Marcus, who is in his early 30’s.

How and when did the band first form?

We first formed in October of 2011 with Zach and I just sort of jamming around on occasion and presenting songs to each other. After a bit, we tracked down a drummer and bass player to sort of feel out the whole band thing. After a couple months, we had worked out a few songs, but our drummer and bass player at the time weren’t really a good fit with the type of music we were writing, so that’s when Marcus joined, along with another friend of ours, Will Kronenberger, who played bass. Shortly after they joined, we picked up Rory Willis to play keys, who was Will’s roommate at the time and the owner and operator of Greyskull Recordings. We all wrote and worked on the songs that would end up on our debut, self-titled EP and played our first show in January of 2012.

Where did the name of the band originate and how does it fit with the music or “feel” of the band?

The name sort of became a formality at a certain point. We knew we had to call ourselves something, so we just started throwing out a bunch of ideas over the course of a week or so. Ultimately, “The Fair-Weather Kings” came about when we combined two of our favorite names that we had come up with. I can’t really remember what those were, though. Fair-Weather….something and something…Kings. There isn’t really any intended significance as far as the name representing our music or style. I’m sure I could dig up some philosophical meaning to it, but, really, it was just the first name that we all agreed upon that remotely sounded cool.

What influences do you all draw inspiration from both musically and in life?

We have a wide variety of musical influences—too many to even begin listing them—but we all draw from some variety of rock or pop music, and we all have our own favorite singer-songwriters. We also get inspiration from the many great bands we hang out with and play with around Bowling Green. Mainly, our songs are inspired by love, life, and the universe, and revolve around observations within each.

How has the band changed over time?

The biggest change that has occurred for us has been losing and gaining members. Will and Rory got busy with their jobs and other projects, and that is when Jason and Craig stepped in. They both came in with completely different styles than Will and Rory, which ultimately changed our sound. But it was for the better. Each previously written song has since evolved into something that is, in many ways, completely different from what you hear in our recordings, which were all done with Will and Rory. Again, this evolution has been for the better. The songs have gotten tighter and even experimental at times, which make them fun and different every time we play them live. You will very rarely hear the exact same version of a song from show to show.

How do you all define the sound of the Fair-Weather Kings?

That’s always a hard question to answer, and I usually just refer to what others have compared it to or said. The most common word used to describe our music is “energetic,” and we have been compared to The Strokes and The Artic Monkeys.

Like you just said, a good deal of the Fair-Weather Kings’ music is highly energetic and, at times, feverishly frantic, which comes across well during your live shows. By the same token, you all seem to be very tightly-knit as a multi-piece band. That being said, how do you approach the creative process? Do songs come together spontaneously or is it more of an intensive, day-by-day process?

The majority of our songs were songs that I had already written or were nearly complete ideas that I then presented to the entire band. From there, everyone just sort of filled in the gaps with each of us giving the others input and experimenting with various ways to approach them. However, we have also written several songs that blossomed out of a jam session during practice.

While the band’s sound is ultimately rooted in rock, you all also incorporate a variety of electronic, synthesized sounds in your music through guitar effects and keys/synthesized sounds. Do you think it’s important to remain open to different sonic avenues in the modern age for the sake of creativity?

We keep ourselves open to various sounds and even various styles for the sake of creativity. I think if we confined ourselves to a specific sound, or tried to write songs that adhere to a specific style or sound, it would hinder us creatively. We are constantly picking up things from other bands and each other, which steers each new song or idea in a slightly different direction.

You guys hail from one of the region’s most vibrant music scenes—Bowling Green, KY. How much of an effect has that environment had on the band’s approach and creative evolution?

It has its positives and negatives. On one hand, all the bands are learning, supporting, and challenging each other to become better. On the other hand, it’s a constant struggle to keep from getting lost in the mix of all these great bands and musicians in the area. Either way, we are proud to call Bowling Green home and love being associated with its rising music scene.

You all played at the inaugural Mad Flavor Arts & Music Festival in Madisonville this past June. Why did you all decide to play the festival and what was your overall take on the event?

It sounded like a fun time. Again, Zach, Marcus, and I grew up in the area and still have friends and family there, so it seemed like a great opportunity to not only play our music to some different faces, but to also visit with some familiar ones. We had a great time and got some great feedback on our set.

If I’m not mistaken, your self-titled EP and single, “Satellite Galaxies”, were both recorded at Greyskull Recordings in Bowling Green. Tell me a little bit about what it’s like recording there.

During those recording sessions, Rory Willis was still our keyboard player. We recorded all the tracks on the EP in a “live” fashion where everyone was being recorded at the same time, minus the vocals, so, really, it was just like a more structured and professional practice—except we played every song a dozen times. We did “tracking” for Satellite Galaxies, meaning we each recorded our parts individually. That process is slightly boring, but produces a much higher quality end product. It also allows for changes, and gave Rory the ability to piece together the best parts of each take.

Are you guys working on any new music at the moment?

Yes. We have two new songs that we have been playing live for a while that haven’t been recorded, and we are currently working through some ideas for at least three more. We are taking our time with the new material—screening it so to speak. The first album was composed of literally every song that was presented. This time around, we are being a bit pickier and are presenting lots of ideas that will be narrowed down to a few songs at a time.

From your perspective, why is it important for area citizens to get out and support local musicians and artists?

Because most of those local musicians and artists want to be national musicians and artists, and the road to that outcome is paved by every single person’s support.

Over the years, what’s been one of the band’s favorite shows and/or biggest accomplishments?

One of our best shows was a house-show at a place dubbed The Manor. It is right next to Greyskull—which is where we rehearsed at the time—in the basement of this old Civil War hospital that is now a private residence. There were a ton of people all giving us as much energy as we were giving them. Those are the best types of crowds. I’ll take a crowd of 20 people that are all getting into the music over 2,000 motionless bodies any day, and that’s when we put on the best show, too. It’s a give and take relationship when it comes to our performances, and we were getting and giving quite a bit at The Manor that night.

What is the end goal for the Fair-Weather Kings?

Ultimately, we want to reach as many people as possible with our music. So, short answer: major label support.

Where and how can people check you out and purchase your music?

We have a ReverbNation profile, as well as a Bandcamp profile. We don’t really charge for digital downloads, and both places have all of our recorded material for free. We have physical copies of our debut EP, which we have re-released with “Satellite Galaxies” for sale on our Bandcamp page. We have stickers and t-shirts for sale there as well. Of course, you can pick up any of those things at our shows, too.

In closing, feel free to give any shout-outs you want.

All of our fellow BG Sceners…
Canago, Buffalo Rodeo, Morning Teleportation, Schools, Chris Rutledge, Sleeper/Agent, Cage the Elephant, Opossum Holler, The Reneaus, The Beech Benders, Plastic Visions, The Black Shades, Lost River Cavemen, Fat Box, The Hungry Ears, Technology vs Horse, and others…

Also…
D93 WDNS, Revolution 91.7 WWHR, Spencer’s Coffee House, and Greyskull Recordings.


____________________________________________________________________

Want to hear the Fair-Weather Kings right now? Check out the ReverbNation player attached below this article. Want to support the band by downloading some Fair-Weather Kings tracks or purchasing some merchandise? Visit the official FWK BandCamp page by clicking here.

For more information on the Fair-Weather Kings, such as upcoming shows and updated news, visit their official Facebook page by clicking here.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Luke Short
Photos by Jessi Smith

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West KY Native Drops Debut Hip Hop Album, 'Rhyme and Reason'

ATLANTA, GA (8/5/13)—Atlanta based hip hop artist Macho Mic’s official debut album, Rhyme and Reason, has been long overdue. Writing and producing his own music since his teens, this Kentucky native has poured his heart and soul into this 16-track, full-length album.

Packed with complex lyricism and wit, each track on the album allows this up-and-coming artist’s true skill to shine. This skill allows him to take full advantage of every beat on the album, all but two produced by the artist himself. His intricate rhyming structure and use of wordplay are evident in each of his tracks, from the hard-hitting ‘All You’ to the booty-centric ‘Widallat.’ Two singles have been released from the album: "Resurrection of Real," which he performed at Harlem Nights with Coast 2 Coast Live, and the uplifting and honest "Never Ever."

Macho Mic is already working on his next album, which may be dropping later this year. Three new songs can be heard on his website www.MachoMic.com. He has also just finished his mixtape, Unbridled Spirit, which is expected to be released on August 10th, 2013. Compiled of past and present songs, Unbridled Spirit allows Macho to give his own perspective on tracks by artists that he respects. It also shows his variety of subject matter and displays his versatility as an artist.

If you’re in the area, you can catch him performing at Smith’s Olde Bar, August 29th. He’ll be competing for the top spot in the 2Racks Rap Contest, so come show some support for Macho Mic and many other hip hop artists.

For additional information on Macho Mic or to set up an interview, please contact Michael Camacho at (270) 836-4921 or via email at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To learn more about Macho Mic, click the following the links:

http://machomic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MachoMic
https://soundcloud.com/machomic
https://twitter.com/machomic

Sugg Street Post
Information and photos provided by Macho Mic 

 

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Local Emcee Marack Debuts 'Wake Up,' Recounts Inspiration for Album

MADISONVILLE, KY (6/23/13)—Music defies language barriers, yet its essence—a rhythmic beat—is inherent to all forms of speech. From the patterns found in Shakespeare’s iconic, centuries-old catalog of poetic sonnets, to the pauses found in daily interactions with others, music is both a beloved and intrinsic part of human life. And we may theorize, perhaps, that this is why music has stood as the one common denominator of all races and creeds since the dawn of civilization.

Conjecture aside, it’s a fact that music can incite a range of emotion in a listener. Love, anger, sadness, pain, happiness, triumph, confusion—music can provoke these feelings and more. In many instances, music can spark and epitomize social upheaval; it can define a country and its people; it can ignite passion and empathy; it can educate and enlighten; and, yes, it can even save a life. And it’s the latter that local hip-hop emcee, L’Mer “Marack” Owens, understands much better than most.

A native of Louisville, KY and a longtime Madisonville resident, Marack is an amiable father and local volunteer with the Light of Chance, Inc., as well as a truly gifted hip-hop emcee and a modern day wordsmith, who is inspired by a pure, universal muse: waking up to life.

After being beaten to death at a club and reawakening into a coma on June 20th, 1999, it seemed that Marack’s life would be coming to a swift and abrupt end. In addition to the severe injuries he had sustained, doctors explained that Marack’s life support would have to be terminated on his 19th birthday—June 23rd, 1999—if proper funds couldn’t be secured by his family beforehand. Unfortunately, the charity his family received over a three-day period simply didn’t cover the hospital’s requirements.

Yet, as the hour of his passing swiftly approached, something truly remarkable took place: Marack’s eyes opened and he soon found himself conscious with the sounds of The Roots’ “Concerto of the Desperado” reverberating throughout his hospital room. In a word, what had happened to Marack was miraculous—a term that would later instigate his full-length emcee moniker, Marackue’luz.

As one can imagine, it was after waking up and hearing the familiar beat that Marack’s longtime love for hip-hop was reignited. And as his faculties returned, he began to create a flurry of poetry and songs that would eventually serve to inspire an aptly titled debut album: Wake Up.

With a Wake Up inspired mixtape set for digital release on June 23rd, as well as a full album (both digital and hard copy) release set for July 6th, the Sugg Street Post sat down with the down-to-earth artist and discussed his connection to Madisonville, KY, his inspirations for the album, his brush with death, the differences between hip-hop and corporate rap, and much more.

Who is Marack? Read on.

Luke Short: For starters, tell me a little bit about yourself—your name, hometown, etcetera.

Marack: Well, my name is L’mer Owens and I was born in Conner Homes up in Louisville, KY in 1980. My mom’s name is Lucretia Owens and my father’s name was William Level. I moved to Village West after living in Conner Homes, which is also in Louisville. At the time, I guess things weren’t looking too good for my mom up in Louisville, so she moved down here with my great grandmother in Madisonville. Though I still have some memory issues, I’ve been told that my mom came down here and started raising me when I was six-years-old. My great grandmother was why we came here. She’s still alive today at 93-years-old. Her name’s Ellen Owens—walkin’, talkin’, and kickin’. You know, you expect your great grandparents to be in the nursing home. I wish we would put her in a nursing home; she’d kill us. [laughs] She still gets out and tries to cut the grass. She took care of me and my mom for a long time, so that was really when my life began.

LS: When did music become a part of your life?

Marack: Music has been the backdrop of my entire life.

LS: At what point did you realize the power music holds?

Marack: It was very early on. It may sound crazy, but patterns have always been something that have been attractive to me. Specifically, I pick up on speaking patterns. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve really tuned in to someone’s voice pattern. As I’m talking to you right now, I’ll say something and then I’ll pause. Everyone has a voice pattern. I used to pay attention to that a lot. I didn’t even realize I was doing that.

Before 1999, which was when I got hurt, I would listen to Heltah Skeltah, The Roots, Outkast, and Slum Village—that was it for me. You could not bring anything else to me. It wasn’t going to be played. Gangster rap wasn’t my forte. I guess I’ve always been attracted to intelligence. So, that’s exactly what I liked. You know, when I heard Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, and Heltah Skeltah, it changed my life. Period. To hear Ruck [Sean Price] and Rock’s [Jahmal Bush] relationship on a Heltah Skeltah track was phenomenal. With The Roots, you can listen to the synchronization and duality of Malik B. and Black Thought, and how they can interchange voices and rhymes, and it works. I was stuck. Before that, I was all about track and field. Anyone that knows me knows that I ran. That’s what I did. And I would smoke you; I was fast.

LS: What school were you at when you were into track and field?

Marack: I went to high school at [Hopkins County] Central and, after my freshman year, I went to North [Hopkins]. I ran, man. I fell in love with running until June 20th, 1999. That’s when everything changed.

LS: Tell me about everything that happened. What’s the story?

Marack: Me and my guys went out to celebrate and have a good time. I was in a junior fraternity called the Kappa League. Basically, we were like the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi—you know, the pretty boys at home on the yard wearing their red, white, and black. Everyone calls them the pretty boys, and that’s what me and my guys were. We were clean cut. It was me, A.J. Mitchell, Brandon Hightower, Eric Logan, Quincy Hall, Silas Matchem, and a bunch of other guys. This was at North [Hopkins] too. The college fraternities were the ones that built us up. It was a program they did through high school.

So, we went out to have a good time and all I remember is that a fight broke out.

LS: Where were you guys when this happened?

Marack: We were at a club called The Raz [in Evansville, IN] and this fight broke out. I was talking to a female in the corner and something came up, people started getting hype, and I guess things took a turn for the worse. All I remember was fighting one guy in the beginning, but that one guy turned to two, and I wasn’t seeing double—this guy had help. And then two turned to four; four turned to eight; eight turned to sixteen. All I could do after that was take cover.

When it was all over with and I had woken up after everything was done, I read the police statement and it said that I had been attacked by at least 45 men. They beat me. They took stones and threw them in my face. I couldn’t even defend myself; I was tired and beaten. I couldn’t do anything else. Somehow, they had gotten a loose railroad tie and cracked me open with it. I felt my skull split. I couldn’t move anymore. I felt like something was wrong—and I was already bleeding from my ears, my nose, and my mouth—because it felt like someone was really close to me. They were standing over me, talking to me. It was Buck Brown, a guy I had just got to fighting with the day before. He was that guy standing over me making sure no one touched me. He’s a very noble guy. I remember people screaming and one of the guys said, “That guy is dead.”

I remember getting lifted—I guess I was on a stretcher—and feeling cold. Then I remember feeling heat. I had died. That was the first time I died. They brought me back and were talking to me. Then, I slept again. I felt cold again. It was a cold that you can’t fight. You see people in movies trying to fight death, and that’s really what it looks and feels like. You’re shaking because you’re extremely cold and you’re trying to fight this cold. You ask yourself why you’re feeling so cold. I lost again. I died a second time. But they brought me back and I was in a coma.

The doctor told my family that there wasn’t enough money to keep me on. He told them that they’d have to pull my life support and everything else in three days, which was June 23rd. From there, my family prayed and they went out in the community and did everything they could to raise money. There were signs all over town and I was all over the news, but there wasn’t any real money actually coming in to keep my life support on.

Well, June 23rd rolls around, and at 11:59pm they were going to have to pull my life support machines. They were going to have to take me out. Back then, they still could’ve done that; you can’t now. So, it was June 23rd, and my family was there. They knew I liked music, so they had a boom box in my room with a CD that had Heltah Skeltah, The Roots, Outkast, and Blackstar, which is made up of Mos Def and Talib Kweli. So, this CD is playing—and everyone knows I’m huge fan of J. Dilla and The Roots—and The Roots’ “Concerto of the Desperado” comes on. Black Thought’s second verse is playing and I open my eyes. Right then, I woke up out of my coma. I woke up on June 23rd at 4:47pm. I woke up to “Concerto of the Desperado” on June 23rd, the day that they were supposed to pull the plug. But June 23rd is also special to me for another reason: it’s my birthday. So, I woke up out of my coma on my birthday listening to The Roots.

LS: That’s really incredible. It’s almost like you were reborn.

Marack: I really was. I woke up a new person. I woke up and fell in love with hip-hop all over again. It wasn’t long before I realized that music was going to be what I did for the rest of my life. It was like I knew nothing about running; it was all music.

LS: Do you remember what your very first thought was when you woke up?

Marack: I do. Crazy enough, my very first thought was, “I gotta get to the track meet.” I don’t know why I thought that, but I felt like I had to get to a track meet. I don’t know why. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t read, and I couldn’t write. My family came in and I didn’t even know them. It was like I was a three-year-old kid all over again. Music is what brought me back, though. If I had the chance, I would love to look right at Black Thought and tell him “Thank you.” This is what I woke up to. [L’Mer plays “Concerto of the Desperado] I play this before any show, because this is me waking up. This is what the new world was to me. I heard this and it was like it was all I knew. I listen to it and I think, “God, you’re funny.” It was like he was setting the tone to my new life.

So, after all this, I wound up writing music. I’m able to do things with music, as well as a person’s heart and mind, that an average rapper just can’t do. No, I’m not Superman; I’m cool being Clark Kent. But when a beat comes on, my alter ego comes out. I always tell people that my alter ego is [Dragon Ball Z’s] Fajita. Fajita took many beatings and it made him stronger. He’s a super saiyan, you know? I think he took the beatings purposefully sometimes, because when he would come back he knew that he could hand out the “business.” [laughs] That’s kind of what I believe in now. I took a beating and now, lyrically, you get this business.

LS: So you took something from your experience and learned from it?

Marack: I definitely learned from it. Like, the guys who beat me, I don’t know why they did and I don’t care, but I thank God it happened. I didn’t care about my life before. I was reckless. I did a lot of things as a young man that most men won’t do in their entire life. Now, I can sit up and I can say, “I did all that. Now I’m grown.” As my granddad, rest in peace, used to say, “I done did everything and I got two t-shirts from it.” Now, it’s about music. My thing is, if I can get you to sit down for three or four minutes and concentrate on what I’m saying, and then you apply it to your life in some type of way, I’ve done my job. If you hear me on a track bragging, talking about how dope I am, maybe that will inspire you to feel the same way about yourself. If you hear one of my songs where I’m talking about the pain and struggle that I’ve gone through, maybe you can identify with that and, instead of giving in out or tapping out, you can go left, so to speak. You can hear how I’ve overcome it and made good.

You know, music is so systematic sometimes. If you talk about the cars, the women, and all the luxuriousness, you can get the money, but you lose your soul. I’m keeping my soul. I’ve got to. If I lose my soul in this, then what did I do it for? My family and my listeners lose in that scenario. The people who created hip-hop are broke. Why? Because they put their heart into it; they didn’t sell themselves short. It’s an art form. To this day, people call me and say I’m a dope rapper. But I’m not a rapper; I’ve never been a rapper. I’m an emcee. An emcee or a lyricist is a representative of hip-hop culture. A rapper is a representative of corporate interest. I really can’t do that. We all do everything we can to make sure the art form is seen in a positive light. That’s why I teach music with the Light of Chance’s “Breathe” program down at the Rosenwald-Smith Multicultural Center in Madisonville. Those kids down there are dope. My students are phenomenal down there. [Marack plays two tracks, one of which is called “I’m Too Young for the Club” that features several “Breathe” students, as well as two of L’mer’s own children]

LS: Going back, how long was it after you woke up that you were able to start writing again?

Marack: It took nine months before I could actually walk. All together, physical therapy took two years. Remember, I was 19 at the time, but my mind was that of a three-year-old. So, you know, that was extremely hard to accept. Then, the emotional stress that I went through was painful. I’d cry every night, because I was scared to go to sleep. I was scared of taking that beating. To this day, I take that beating every night. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] is not cool. It’s not anything to play with. People who’ve faced hardships in the military, those who’ve seen the frontlines, have gone through things most people could never fathom. They need time to themselves, you know? When someone says they have PTSD, they’re basically saying that they’re carrying something inside. It’s something they can’t erase from their mind. For as long as they’re alive on Earth, they will be carrying that weight on their shoulders. You know, a woman who’s been beaten in the past will always be on her guard. Making a quick movement, raising your voice, or pulling her arm the wrong can set off a lot of emotions and may have a bad effect, and it’s that way with me, too.

It took me a lot of time to bounce back, just to walk. But, the entire time I was going through recovery, I was writing. I didn’t know what I was writing. I didn’t know what it was about. I didn’t know what I was doing; I was just writing. The first song I wrote was a letter to God saying that I was tired. It was this. [Marack plays a track called “So Much Pain”] This track’s about three different emotions that you feel on a day-to-day basis. As men, we have to tell the truth sometimes, and there’s no one else who speak for us, so why not just say it? I’m talking about the pain I’ve been through and the depression I was feeling when I was alone and helpless. Those are the kind of things that you have to get off your chest or you go to some dark places. It’s a waking up process.

LS: So, after you had been writing for a while after waking up, how did you start making music? What got that going?

Marack: When I came out of my coma and had some writing down, I linked up with Q The Gamer, who is from here in Hopkins County. We linked up and started talking, and we established a musical relationship, which is a must. We kicked it when we could and he started listening to a lot of the stuff that I liked to get a feel for what I was into. He’s down in Tennessee now and that’s the land of big, heavy-hitting drums down there, but he knows I’m hip-hop. And it’s funny, I don’t feel anybody else’s beat but his. I can listen to his or J. Dilla’s. [laughs] I haven’t said too much about Dilla, but Dilla is my “everything.” Black Thought, Andre 3000, and J. Dilla—I’m the biggest campaign for them. But Q and I hooked up, and I told him that I wanted to make an album. He said okay and asked me what I was going to call it. I had to sit on it for years. Then, three years ago, I told him I was ready. He said, “Are you sure you’re ready?” I told him I was and that I wanted to call it Wake Up. He asked, “Wake up?” I told him yeah, and he said he thought he knew where I was headed with it but wanted me to tell him anyway. So, that’s what I did. I told him that we would document the process of me waking up from my coma to life, as well as how I was awoken musically. He said, “Dat on that.” Apparently, that means "cool" down in Tennessee. [laughs] So, we started working on the Wake Up project. My best friend and my manager is Brandon Hightower. We were sitting up one day and me and Brandon were watching the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which is actually a Kentucky movie. It’s part of our history. Well, anyway, I realized that I really, really liked the movie. I heard and saw something in it, you know? I called Q around three in the morning and I said, “Find this sample, [referring to “Go To Sleep Little Baby” sang by the sirens] because it’s going to start the album.” From there, it starts the album. I’m not going to say I’m a genius, but I’m definitely eccentric. The things that I come up with are hard to understand until you hear them finished. [Marack begins to freestyle over the sample, referencing the alien sensation of waking up from a coma and not fully understanding his weakened condition]

LS: So, this new album, Wake Up, is based around your journey from waking up until today?

Marack: Definitely. It’s an interesting journey. Who wouldn’t want to know what it was like? I love lyricism and that’s what I’m using to explain my journey. I want this to be the biggest hip-hop album to come out of west Kentucky, or maybe even the entire state. Hip-hop is a competitive sport and I’m bringing the business, you know? There’s going to be 19 tracks on the album, because I was 19-years-old when I woke up, and I bet you that you’re not going to skip more than three times on my album unless you need to hear something right then because you need to relate. I’m trying to make my album skip free. It’s unlikely, but that should be an emcee’s main goal. I want your skip button to have dust on it and your rewind button to feel brand new all over again.

LS: So how can people check out Wake Up?

Marack: The mixtape is being released to the public on Sunday, June 23rd, which is both the day I woke up and my birthday. Then, the full album is coming out on July 6th in digital format and hard copy. If people want to check it out, they can visit my ReverbNation page or they can message me on my Facebook page.

LS: Taking a step back, how do you think our local music scene could be improved upon?

Marack: People need to quit being lazy and show their support. This city is reluctant to spend money, but it’s up to the people in the end. Simply support your local artist. If they have a show—or even if they have a party at their house—get behind them. If you get behind something that you really like, there’s so many places and people that might see what you’re doing. Let’s say you get a photo of an unknown artist, they come out with a song or an album, and it all meshes together. Then, there’s people watching what you’re doing and the artist’s name gets out there. By supporting local artists, you have given them a helping hand, even if just for a second, and that’s what it’s all about.

________________________________________________________

Want to purchase Marack's mixtape and full album, Wake Up? If so, contact Marack via Facebook or ReverbNation.

To check out some of Marack's music right now, click the ReverbNation player attached under this article. 

Sugg Street Post
Writing/Interview by Luke Short
Photos provided by Jeff Harp and L’Mer “Marack” Owens

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  • Published in Music

Harper Guitars: One-of-a-Kind Music in the Making

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (6/13/13)—Good music, like artwork, transcends the boundaries of time. Be it Bach or the Beatles, there’s no denying the virtually indefinable sense of universality and timelessness that flows through a powerful song or performance. It’s, in a word, electric. And while the innate “magic” of a truly talented artist, as well as their approach and technique, may ultimately define the sounds they create, it’s easy to wonder if the enduring music we enjoy on a daily basis would have ever became a reality without the aid of a skilled craftsman’s vision: an instrument.

While modernity yields an exceedingly accessible music market flooded with affordable, yet oftentimes machine-made and outsourced instruments—many of which are actually well-made, high-end productions—the mystique of an instrument constructed and customized by the hands of a true artisan remains unmistakable. In fact, it’s the touch of man that has become a sought-after commodity in an instrument-making age full of exact replicas and “perfect” tolerances.

Need evidence? Simply take a look at the current value of many vintage guitars. Though today’s vintage guitar market has shared in the nation’s overall economic downturn, a well-preserved 1959 Gibson Les Paul may still fetch well over half-a-million dollars in an auction-type setting. Why, you ask? To sum it up generally, it was produced at the pinnacle of an era that valued close attention to details and fine, hands-on craftsmanship.

Fortunately, however, there are still craftsmen out there practicing an old-world approach to the process with striking results. One of these artisans is Jacob Harper of Harper (JIH) Guitars.

A native of western Kentucky and a current resident of Boonville, IN, Jacob Harper displays a proficiency for producing some of the most beautiful, playable, and uniquely custom guitars in the region and, as some would argue, possibly the country. From his remarkable, signature solid body and hollow body designs, to his rather unorthodox creations like the “Hellhound” double-neck guitar/bass, Jacob’s particularly functional pieces of creative art work are known for instigating a drop or two of drool from the mouths of regional musicians. What’s more, accomplished performers like west Kentucky bluesman and thumbpicker extraordinaire, Alonzo Pennington, as well as Uncle Kracker’s touring guitarist, Kevin McCreery, have turned to Harper Guitars for their custom instrument needs both in the past and present.

Yet, for all the praise and trial-and-error know-how Jacob has accrued since he first started building guitars in 2007, he remains a humble, down-to-earth musician, architect, and family man that simply enjoys his time spent in the workshop.

In looking at his early inspirations, though, it’s really not that much of a surprise that he’s such an unassuming, albeit talented, human being.

In addition to a love for playing and listening to a diversity of musical styles, Jacob’s family has always been involved with architecture or construction in some manner. In fact, his childhood home in Cadiz, KY—a log cabin style residence—was constructed entirely by the sweat of his father and uncles’ brows. Undoubtedly, it was this continuous exposure to design and architecture that would eventually lead Jacob down a fulfilling path of architectural education and employment that bleeds into his custom guitar work today. Viewing these facts from an outside perspective, it seems that Jacob was simply destined to effectively combine the two facets—music and architectural design—at some point.

But how did he learn the "ins and outs" of being a luthier? What’s the actual process of making a guitar like? What keeps him inspired to create such intensive works of functional art? And what does Jacob have in mind for Harper Guitars in the future?

To find out the answers to these questions and more, myself, as well as Sugg Street Post writer Jessica Dockrey and photographer Jessi Smith, recently paid a visit to Jacob inside his two-level workshop and studio space in Boonville. The results of the intriguing encounter are as follows.

Luke Short: Tell me a little bit about yourself. How old are you and where are you originally from?

Jacob Harper: I’m 37, I believe. [laughs] I was born in Cadiz, KY. I was raised there and that’s where I grew up.

LS: What was your childhood like there? What were you into as a kid?

JH: We all grew up on, well, it wasn’t really farm, but it was a good-sized piece of land down by Lake Barkley. There wasn’t much to do other than to create your own fun. It was basically like you’d leave in the morning and wouldn’t come back until night. We’d just be out running around all day. It was a lot of fun.

LS: Is your family originally from this area?

JH: No. My grandmother is actually from India. She’s British. My granddad was from the states. He was in the Navy when he met my grandmother. Then they settled down outside of Christian County and they ended up moving to Rockcastle, which is near Eddyville, KY.

LS: Did you make it through school alright?

JH: I made it the whole way through Trigg County High School [in Cadiz, KY] and then I went to Murray State University for five years.

LS: What did you study at Murray?

JH: I studied Industrial Technology Design, which is focused on drafting, design, and architecture. My dad is a contractor, and when I was a kid, he was always building houses. I helped build them, became interested in that process, and I started drawing plans for him when I was 17. I just decided to do that in school and I’ve worked for architectural firms and civil engineers even since.

LS: What are some of the places you’ve worked for?

JH: Right out of school, I worked for a civil engineer based out of Benton, KY. From there, I went to work for Murray State in their Capital Construction Program. After that, I went to work for a place based out of Lexington, KY. We all worked in a satellite office in Paducah. I did that for probably five or six years. I moved there for that job. I met Andrea, my wife, during that time. She worked at Enterprise [Rent-A-Car]. Well, she ended up getting a promotion to the position of district manager in this area [Boonville, IN], so I said, “OK, you’re making more money than me, so I’m moving with you.” [laughs] We moved up here and she wasn’t happy with Enterprise, so she went to work for Alcon Pharmaceutical Sales. As for me, I work for Hafer Associates here in Boonville. They’re an architecture firm. I’m a project manager there.

LS: That sounds like a higher-level job.

JH: It can get pretty hectic trying to find personal time. It’s an eight-to-five job, but I often find myself working overtime. Plus, it’s pretty intense work, but I find time to be a dad and eat supper. I’m usually out here in the workshop most nights. I wake up extra early in the morning to come out here, too.

LS: At what point in your life did you get into music?

JH: I’ve always been into music. My mom’s a country singer and my grandmother was a piano player. She played in church for years. My dad has eight brothers and only two or three of them don’t play music. Some of them are professional studio musicians and others are weekend warriors, so I was always around that. They were always playing music, so it was just a part of my life even at a young age.

LS: Was there a point where you really started gravitating toward a certain genre and developed your own musical identity, so to speak?

JH: It’s kind of weird. I was always turned off by country music growing up, because my mom was a country singer. I guess I just thought it wasn’t “cool enough,” you know? It’s like you’re trained to be that way. On the flip side, the people who really started buying my guitars were country musicians. As I got older, I didn’t mind listening to country, and I actually appreciate pickers like [Brad] Paisley and [Ricky] Skaggs and all those other guys. But when I was younger and in high school, I dropped out of band because it wasn’t “cool.” I started playing in a rock band instead. We played heavy metal and rock, and it was a blast. I was probably way too young to be playing in bars, though. [laughs] That’s what I went more towards, as well as blues. The blues were what a lot of my uncles played.

Jessica Dockrey: What instrument did you play in band?

JH: I actually played saxophone.

LS: I played saxophone in band, too, but I was like you and quit because I didn’t think it was “cool enough” for me.

JH: There’s a low retention of saxophone players out there I guess. [laughs]

LS: I really kick myself sometimes now, though. If I could still play sax, I’d be doing Pink Floyd covers all day.

JH: [laughs] I still want to go get a sax every once in a while.

LS: I took piano lessons, too. I took them for about three years and then did the same thing—I quit because it wasn’t “cool”—and now I kick myself for that, too.

JH: As my son grows up, he will learn to play piano, because that’s the gateway to all other instruments. [laughs] I kick myself, too, because my grandmother had free lessons waiting for me if I wanted them, and she was an amazing piano player. I tried it out for maybe six months and just gave it up. That was so stupid of me. [laughs]

LS: So, at what point did you really get into playing guitar?

JH: I was probably 15-years-old and my dad had an acoustic, all my uncles played music, and I’d see and hear them playing all the time, so I wanted to do that too. So, I got my dad’s acoustic and I went through an entire guitar lesson book in about three days. It came pretty easy to me, but it hurt [my fingers]. You’ve learned guitar too, so you know what I’m talking about. I would play for six hours every day. I would just play, play, and play. That’s how I got into it.

LS: When did you say to yourself, “Hey, I’m going to build a guitar”?

JH: I was in Paducah in 2004 or so, and I just had an itch to build some furniture. I maxed out credit cards and bought a lot of tools during the process. I wasn’t married yet, so it was easy to do that. Building furniture was fun for a while. I had a friend there that I played music with at the time, and he was also a woodshop student from Murray State who was working for a guitar builder out of Mayfield [Kentucky]. I went over there with him and watched what he was doing one time, and the guitars the guy was making were amazing. I believe the guy’s name was Brad Smith. Afterwards, I said to myself, “I’ve got the tools to do that, and I’ve been playing for 20 years, so maybe I should try it out.” That’s how it all got started. It was kind of rough in the beginning, though. [laughs] I didn’t go to luthier school, so I had to make all my own mistakes. I’ve probably learned a lot more making those mistakes, though.

LS: On that subject, tell me a little bit about the first guitar you ever made, which, as I believe, was a Gibson Les Paul-style solid body.

JH: With basically any guitar, the math is the same, which is something that I should have paid more attention to when I first started. I should’ve looked at the details closer. That’s what I’ve learned: it’s all about the details and precision. You know, you measure things a hundred times and cut once. My first guitar was really rough; it felt like a baseball bat. [laughs] It was far too heavy.

LS: To you, what is the hardest or most frustrating part of building a guitar?

JH: Setting up the fretboard and getting the frets right is the hardest part, because there are so many things that you have to make just right all at once. A lot of companies have machines that they throw the guitar in and they bend the neck and shave things off, but I still do all of that by hand, and I’m sure other guitar builders still do it by hand, too. But that’s definitely the hardest part; that’s where you really have to slow down and take your time.

LS: Is that mainly because of the spacing between frets, fret height, fretboard radius, etcetera?

JH: I could start to tell you, but there are so many little critical dimensions to consider—the curve of the neck, the angle of the neck to the body, and on and on.

LS: What’s the story behind your workshop? When did you move to Boonville, IN and when did you get all your equipment set up?

JH: Well, we’ve been here six years now. When we moved up to Evansville, I had already been building guitars. I think that “number eight”—that hollow-body over there [points to a black guitar in the studio area]—was probably the last one done during the transition. We moved up to Evansville, I lived with my brother for a while, then we lived in an apartment, and I would travel back home to my dad’s place on the weekends and work in his barn. I had to relocate my entire shop from Paducah to my dad’s barn so I could keep on building. Then we moved up here [to Boonville, IN] and lived in an apartment for a little while, but it wasn’t long before we said, “This is ridiculous. We’ve lived in and owned a house before.” I hated living in an apartment. So we started looking for places, and I think this [the Harper’s current home] was the first place I went and looked at. I like it because of all the potential it had for housing a proper shop in the garage area. It’s a really old house. It was built in the 1800s and it has some issues. I love fixing stuff up, though, but it takes me away from building guitars.

LS: Is woodworking something that you’ve always had an interest in or was it something that just developed out of the blue?

JH: Well, my mom’s dad was a fine woodworker. He built furniture. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a machinist in the military, and he was kind of a “fix anything” type of handyman. Then, my dad’s brothers, as well as my dad, were all woodworkers, contractors, fine furniture builders, and finish carpenters. My dad and all his brothers actually built the log cabin we all grew up in. It was just always something I was around. With what I’m doing now, I already knew how to use the tools, so it was simply getting them.

LS: The tools are definitely expensive. So, tell me a little bit about the layout of the shop?

JH: To put it simply, it’s one part dirty and one part clean. You kind of have to keep the two parts separated. The downstairs portion is the woodshop. I do all the work I can in there up to the point of finishing, and then I bring it upstairs to actually apply the finish. I’m using all the space I can downstairs. I can’t buy anymore tools, because I don’t have room for them unless my wife decides to let me use the garage part. Maybe this interview will help with that. [laughs] As far as a layout goes, though, I’m always working on how things are set up. I’ve amassed so many tools, and they’re all specialty tools, so figuring out places for all of those where I can actually find them when I need them has been fun. I play music and I wanted a practice space, so I built this studio and an isolation booth up here on the second floor. Well, a paint booth was a necessity, so I eventually made the isolation booth my paint booth.

LS: I know there are a variety of tools used to create a guitar by hand, but what are some of the main tools that you use during the process and what is their function?

JH: Oh, that’s a hard one. [laughs] They’re all equally important. You know, there’s a lot of roughing out—because I get rough pieces of wood from sawmills, some of which still have bark on them believe it or not—and you’ve got all your heavy machinery like the table saw and the band saw that help to take the original piece from a rough form to a dimensional piece of lumber. Then, you go into all the carving stuff—hand carving tools, planes, and spokeshaves, all the way down to needle files and beyond. I mean, the whole finishing process is intense. I could seriously spend an entire day telling you all the things I’ve learned about finishing.

LS: You mentioned that you get some of your wood from local sawmills. Is that where you get all of your lumber?

JH: There’s a mill north of here. I get a lot of my ‘big stock’ stuff from there, like mahogany and maple. I usually find all my really highly figured stuff on eBay. I find it one piece at a time that way. I have to see detailed pictures of it before I buy it, though. I’ve paid $350 for a relatively smaller, highly figured piece of wood before.

LS: Did you acquire all your equipment at once or did you acquire it over time?

JH: It’s been a process of maxing out credit cards to get my bigger stuff in the beginning. Then I got married and we agreed that I needed to stop doing that. [laughs] But, at the very least, it’s set me up. I always argue that it’s an investment, which rarely works with her. [laughs] Since I started selling guitars, I haven’t made any profit. It all goes back into tools. At times, when I need something like a new jig or something like that, I’ll just make one myself instead of going out and buying one for $400 right off the bat. Then, I’ll buy a new one when I can, when I have the money. Right now, though, I’ve been able to cover most of my costs from selling guitars and we’re all happy.

LS: As far as smaller stuff goes, do you turn to places like Stewart-MacDonald?

JH: Yeah, Stewart-MacDonald is a big company for me right now. If I ever stepped up production, I’d really have to look at that, though. Stewart-MacDonald is great, but it’s a little expensive.

LS: What are the most common types of woods that you use? Also, what are some of the more exotic woods you’ve used?

JH: Maple and mahogany. Those are the most common. I’ve also used Korina, sapele, Honduran mahogany, African mahogany, highly figured maple, plain maple, rock maple, sugar maple, soft maple, purpleheart, ebonies, zebra woods, rosewood, and some others. I’m not big enough yet for them to bring the Lacey Act down on me, though. I’m not traveling to South America to get my lumber or anything if that’s what you’re getting at. [laughs]

LS: What happened with the Lacey Act and the Gibson Guitar Company is insane. It’s interesting that they were the only company to come under fire, because every other big guitar manufacturer—as far as I understand it at least—was using and importing the exact same woods.

JH: What kills me is that Gibson is probably a steward of forestry in those countries where the forests are pretty much raped on a daily basis. Gibson comes in and says, “No, we want to have wood to use in the future. Let us show you how to do this the right way.” Still, though, they came after them. I think it was all political. I guess everyone at Gibson was republican or something. [laughs]

LS: You mentioned that getting the frets correct is one of the hardest or most frustrating parts of building one of your guitars. What’s the easiest or most enjoyable thing about a build to you?

JH: I really enjoy the carving process, especially when I make hollow body and carved top guitars. I still do all of that by hand. I use the “old school” method where I’ll just lay out a kind of topography with the wood and sit there and work that down with a router. Then I’ll get a handplane and knock off all the edges, and I’ll handplane everything else down smooth. That part is tedious and your hands have blisters all over them at the end, but it pays off when you get some finish on it or see someone playing it on stage.

Jessica Dockrey: That makes me think of Alonzo Pennington’s guitar, “Goldie." That guitar is so beautiful. I love it.

JH: Yeah, that one came about when I had a little extra money and I was in between builds. When that happens, I just build my own guitar out-of-pocket. With the one Alonzo now has, I was actually sitting out here one night thinking to myself, “If I’m going to build a guitar, what am I going to do with it?” Well, I got to looking at my goldtop Gibson Les Paul in the studio, and I thought, “I’m going to see if I can beat Les Paul.” [laughs] Evidently, Alonzo thinks it does.

LS: I would have to agree with that, too. A handmade guitar that is well-build will beat a mass-produced instrument—like a Les Paul for example—the majority of the time.

JH: You know, there’s a really fine line that you have to cross. You can have a really, really expensive piece of trash. I definitely know what I’m doing, but I don’t always know everything about the wood I get from mills. I don’t know how much they’ve dried it and I don’t have the big, costly equipment you need to test a piece of wood’s moisture content. Keeping that in mind, I try to buy wood well in advance of a build so it can acclimate. If I worked with fiberglass or graphite, it might be easier, but that’s not what I want to do.

LS: A lot of people that aren’t that into the technical aspect of guitars don’t realize how much changes in temperature and humidity can severely alter, or even permanently damage, tonewoods. You really have to take care of a good instrument for it to retain its value and tone.

JH: When you tell a guitar store that you’re having problems with the neck or fretboard, they sometimes heat the neck until it pops off. If you leave a guitar in a car, it can do the same thing. It’s like putting your guitar in an oven basically.

LS: How many guitars have you made since you started building in 2007?

JH: I’m on my 35th guitar right now. I’ve built more and more each year. I’ve probably made four this year so far.

LS: How long does an “average” build typically take to complete?

JH: My standard solid body flattop guitars usually take around two months to make. If I get more weekends at home, it may take a week less. The killer part about guitars is that you get everything to the finishing stage, you put the finish on, and you have to wait. Then you put more finish on and you have to wait more.

LS: Is that just part of the drying process when you use nitrocellulose?

JH: Yeah. In about a week-and-a-half, I can have a guitar ready for finishes, but then it takes a month or a month-and-a-half for the finish to cure.

LS: Wow, I had no idea that it took that long.

JH: A lot of the bigger companies use different finishes. For example, PRS [Paul Reed Smith Guitars] use acrylic-based urethanes that dry super quick and become really stable. They look really good and they probably have their own mixture, but all the “gear heads” love the nitrocellulose finish. They say nitro is the best and that’s what I use. I think there are ovens and drying rooms that you can set up that make the process go faster, but I don’t really have room for that at the moment.

LS: I actually think it’s cool that you let it dry and cure naturally, so to speak. You’re not rushing it and it seems like a much more organic process in that sense. So, who are some of the guitarists you’ve worked with? I know Alonzo Pennington is a well-known customer, but who are some of the others?

JH: Yeah, Alonzo is definitely a more well-known customer. One of my buddies from college, Bryan Fox, has actually bought four from me. He’s buying his fifth from me right now. He collects guitars and I guess he believes in me. [laughs] The first guitar I made for him was inspired by Waylon Jennings’ famous black and white, leather-bound [Fender] Telecaster. He’s like, “I want that,” and I was like, “I don’t work with leather!” [laughs] He said he just wanted my take on it. So, I hand carved a rose and all the vines on top of a really nice piece of figured, black-dyed maple. It turned out great. He just shoots me new ideas and we go with it. After I finish up with the two I’m working on now, I’ll start in on his next one.

LS: Yeah, tell me about the two you're working on now—the paisley bass and the Gretsch-inspired white hollow body.

JH: Yeah, I’m building those for two other guys that have been good to me. They’re friends of Bryan [Fox] up in Louisville, KY. One is for Chip Adams, who is the director of the Louisville School of Rock. He’s a great guy. He said to make him a bass and it’s turning out well. The other guy, Kevin McCreery, who’s friends with both Chip and Bryan, used to play with Tantric. I guess I got with Kevin right as he was starting to work and tour with Uncle Kracker, which is what he’s doing now. He’s a touring guitarist. Bryan was like, “Get Kevin a guitar right now!” I was like, “Well, I’m finishing a guitar right now, so take it!” [laughs] I gave it to him and he ended up really liking it. After that, I got with him about making another one, because guys like him get endorsed by the bigger companies, like G&L and Gibson, and they send guitars for them play. There was a point where I didn’t see him playing my guitar all the time and I was like, “No. I can’t deal with this.” So, I stayed on him about building another one. He said that he had always liked Gretsch White Falcons, so I told him I’d do my take on it. I’m hoping they don’t have a patent on white paint and gold sparkle binding. [laughs] Other guys that play my guitars are Drew Lambert from Sam Hunter & The Two Tones and Ronnie Paul Kingery of the Glen Templeton Band. They were actually both in the Glen Templeton Band. Ronnie wanted a guitar and Drew saw the whole process, became interested in my stuff, and had me build a bass guitar. Drew’s was the five-string black and green bass I made. It turned out really well.

LS: That reminds of me of something I wanted to ask you. What’s been one of your favorite guitars to build so far?

JH: “Goldie” was my old standby. I played it out a lot. That’s really hard question, though. In truth, my favorite is always the last one I’m finishing.

LS: Is there anything that you get “third-party” help on during a build?

JH: Up until about two guitars back, I did every single detail myself. Now, though, I’ve got a good friend, Tony Dorris—who has his own amp company called Volition Amps—helping me out with installing and wiring the electronics. He makes his own effects pedals and amps. They’re all boutique. Tony’s kind of like a mad scientist, too. Of course, he’s a down-to-earth, awesome guy, but he has this mad scientist thing where when he talks to me I’m like, “I can tell you how I want this to sound, but I have no idea what you’re talking about right now.” [laughs] He’s done the wiring in the past three guitars. If it’s artwork outside that I do, he’s doing artwork on the inside. Now you can take off my [electronics] covers and it’s like human anatomy in there. Everything’s laid out perfect. Before, I’d just wire everything myself and it wasn’t perfect, to say the least. I got pretty good at soldering, and I can read a schematic just fine, but I didn’t know the real technical theory behind what I was hooking up. So, Tony is my go-to guy for all the electronics. It’s pretty cool too, because we bounce ideas off each other and come up with new wiring possibilities.

LS: So, is your son, Ian, who is two-years-old, rocking out on the guitar yet?

JH: If he could pick up a guitar, it would be smashed. [laughs] I call him Sid Vicious.

LS: Where did the idea come from for your signature “Harper scroll” cutaway on your guitars?

JH: There are actually two different things that are kind of like my signatures: the scroll on the bout of the body and the headstock scroll. The headstock scroll is kind of 3-D. On some of my earlier designs, I was drawing inspiration from the blueprint of an old F5 mandolin I had. I liked how they did the scroll and I tried to incorporate that scroll in those designs, but I actually made a mistake by cutting it at the wrong angle. That’s really how that came about and you can see how the design has changed over time in my guitars. Some of it comes from a need for simplicity too, especially when it comes to putting the binding on.

LS: I was actually thinking that applying the binding, especially when it comes to the "f-holes” on one of your hollow bodies, might have been another one of the most difficult or frustrating parts of a build too.

JH: Oh man, it really is sometimes. I think of it as the game of Operation where it buzzes when you touch the sides. That’s just how frustrating it can become. [laughs]

LS: With so many guitar companies making instruments on a mass-produced scale, what makes a handmade, custom guitar special now?

JH: You can really argue for both sides of the market. If I ever expanded and had to step up production, I would probably add a CNC [Computer Numerical Control] machine to my equipment just to cut the rough outs, because you can lose a finger working with your hands. I’d rather have a machine doing that part for me. There’s something to say about people who mass produce guitars, too, because they have specific tolerances they work with. You can pick up one guitar and then another down the road and they’ll feel the same. There’s consistency there. When you do it by hand, you really have to take your time. You get a guitar, take all the critical dimensions from it, write it all down in a notebook, and you say, “That’s going to be my next guitar.” Then, you have to look back at it and figure out everything you did, and you’ll sit there with a micrometer and measure it all out. It’s a slower process, but you can feel a real difference in the end product. There are always going to be these little imperfections that remind you it was handmade. They’re not bad imperfections. With wood grain, the bigger companies will trash a body blank with a small imperfection because they can, whereas I’ll work that imperfection into the guitar as a focal point. It’s just a lot of work doing it by hand and getting all the tolerances the same. Now, you can pick up one of my guitars and say, “That’s a good feeling neck,” and you can pick up another one and it will feel the same. It’s taken me a while to get to that point.

LS: I think those little imperfections are things that people should still value about anything handmade. You know, making instruments by hand is how it all started, and you’re carrying that tradition into the modern world.

JH: For sure. There’s definitely something to say about the way I make them, too. You know, the guy who’s playing one of my guitars knows that it was made it a shop and knows all the specific components it was made with—the woods, the design, and all the electronics. I also send my customers pictures of the process so they can see exactly what’s happening and where I’m at with it, which is something I think is pretty cool. I’ll give them a CD of all the pictures I took, too; they go all the way from the chunk of wood I got at the mill to the finished product. I don’t really know if there’s an argument about which way is better—handmade or mass-produced—but it’s kind of like, “Why do you buy the Rolls-Royce instead of the Ford?” I’m not saying my guitars are a Rolls-Royce, but it’s the same concept.

LS: Specifically, what are some of the customization options that you offer? Is it pretty much wide open to the customer?

JH: I love that each guitar is different. People call and they’re like, “I have this idea and I hope I can make it happen.” And really, the sky is the limit, but I’m learning something new every time. I like to stay with my shape just to keep my name and signature out there. Fortunately, unique finishes are really a popular thing, so I don’t have to change the body shapes too much. With finishes, I’ll try anything pretty much. I’ve been successful with all of them so far. The last one that I did, a flat black eight string guitar, was difficult. That was the first time I’d done a flat finish on a guitar. It’s nothing like going to Lowe’s and picking out flat paint. It truly is a pain. On that guitar, I had it all completed, everything on it, and all the electronics had been tested, but all of a sudden the paint started cracking on the back. There were big red cracks. It was basically some kind of chemical reaction between the lacquer I used and the paint that caused it to happen. So I had to strip everything off. I had big chemical gloves on and got some heavy grit steel wool and just worked all of it off. I try to be as clean as I can with filters, but with satin finishes you get it all glassy, put it in the paint booth, spray it, and you hope that one little piece of dust doesn’t land on it. But it’s all whatever the customer wants. I can get different woods, electronics, tuners, bridges, and I can make the finishes happen.

LS: I know that you won’t build an exact clone of a well-know style of guitar. For people who ask you why you won’t make one, what do you say?

JH: I won’t, because it’s just a waste of time. You know, for the guy who decides to call Stewart-MacDonald, orders a Les Paul guitar kit, and puts it all together, that’s fine. But if you’re calling yourself a builder and you’re using a kit, you’re really not a guitar builder. There’s so much knowledge to gain when it comes to really building a guitar, from tools to wood to processes. I actually want to make a name for myself and the company. I want this company to last into the future, and I think having a signature shape on a quality guitar is the key. It’s what keeps me up at night. I’ll send a guitar out and I’ll just worry about it making to the customer safely, and I really hope the customer loves it. I’ve had guitars go out and the customer will call and say there’s something wrong. I’ll pay to have it sent back and I’ll fix whatever is wrong on my own dime. I don’t think I’ll ever turn a customer away after they've paid when something’s wrong or if there’s something they don’t like. Everyone is genuine about any issues they have, too, so I’m always going to make it right. I think that’s the only way to be.

LS: What you do really is an art form. There aren’t that many people that are true luthiers, but it’s a centuries-old craft. With that in mind, what keeps you inspired and moving forward?

JH: Getting custom build orders and having people call and say that they have a new idea is really what gets me inspired to do this. I could build a copy of one I’ve made before and be just as happy, though. I really enjoy doing it. If I did any more volume that what I do now, I could see certain parts of it becoming kind of monotonous, but I just really love doing all of it. You know, there’s the kid in school who has to explain what their dad does for a career and some say an accountant while others say a firefighter. Of course, the kids are going to think the firefighter is awesome.

LS: So, basically, you want to be the dad who builds rock n’ roll guitars. [laughs] That’s a pretty cool profession to pursue. Why do you think music and art forms like guitar building are still relevant and important for people to hold on to, to respect?

JH: It’s a release. It’s a universal way to communicate with people. Anybody could talk about music and art and find common ground. Or, at the very least, it can start a discussion. Plus, I think it makes the world a little bit smaller. It brings everything together. You can learn more about other cultures through music. It may sound lofty, but it’s true. As far as what I listen to, it really depends on my mood. I’ll listen to just about anything other than hardcore rap, but I’m a Beastie Boys fan from way back believe it or not.

LS: At the end of the day, why would you ultimately tell someone to check out Harper Guitars?

JH: You’re getting something boutique. A lot of people will argue that something boutique just costs more, but that’s not the issue. There are regular guys and girls out there making things with their hands and I think that’s worth the extra money to get that. You know, it’s like the “Walmart versus Ma & Pa stores” argument. Walmart makes it easier to get everything in one place, but when you spend a little extra time searching things out you can get something better usually. When people get my guitars, they know that every little piece of it has been looked over and all the details have been paid close attention to. Plus, I’m a musician. I’m not going to give someone something that I don’t enjoy playing. I put a lot of care and time into it because it’s something I really enjoy.

_______________________________________________

Want to find more on Harper (JIH) Guitars, such as additional photos, how to order a custom creation, artist testimonials, and more? Visit the official Harper (JIH) Guitars website at this link: http://www.jihguitars.com/. You can also interact with Jacob Harper or peruse additional photos of his works by visiting the “JIH – Custom & Handmade Guitars” Facebook page.

To read a “Gear Guide” on Alonzo Pennington’s custom “Goldie” guitar, which was made by Harper (JIH) Guitars, click here. A full interview with Alonzo Pennington can be found here.

Sugg Street Post
Writing/Interview by Luke Short
Photos by Jessi Smith

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  • Published in Music

Chasing the White Buffalo with 'Home Videos'

BOWLING GREEN, KY (2/24/13)—Intense, yet spacious vocals, snappy and often times energetically raw guitar work, a striking wall of synthesized sounds, thick bass lines, and a varied mix of splashing cymbal and sharp drum work define much of the musical catalogue created by Bowling Green-based band, Buffalo Rodeo.

From the juxtaposition of chaotic breaks and joyously insightful lyrics found in “A. Hook” on the band’s 2012 sophomore album, Common Cults, to the ethereally impassioned feel of their latest single, “Cargo,” Buffalo Rodeo’s music is fresh, inspiring, and, in a sense, spiritual. And with a new EP, Home Videos, set for release in March, there’s no doubt that the unique musical atmosphere they have created will expand. 

Never heard of this progressive band of musical gypsies?

Even if you haven’t, the Sugg Street Post recently got the chance to interview the up-and-coming five-piece to find out what the story is behind their name, their influences, plans they have for the future, and much more. And, like their sweeping, experimental compositions, the individual and collectively-voiced answers they offered us are perhaps some of the most original responses we’ve received so far—and that’s a really great thing.

Luke Short: Who are the members of Buffalo Rodeo and where are you all from?

Buffalo Rodeo: Buffalo Rodeo is comprised of Zach Preston on vocals, Ryan Gilbert on drums, Nathaniel Davis on guitars, Jordan Reynolds on keys and vocals, and Patrick Duncan on bass. We all reside in Bowling Green.

LS: How and when did you all meet up and start jamming?

BR: There was an earthquake and we met under a rainbow of glorious salvation and love; forever.

LS: What is the meaning behind your name, and how does it fit with your music?

BR: We have a neighbor who is really into Native American culture and he also used to be a bull rider. However, one night while he was meditating and smoking the medicinal and spiritual holy plant, God came down to him from high and said, “Two Rivers”—which was his name—“your destiny is to ride the great white buffalo,” and when he told us about this, we knew that our calling had come. We named ourselves thusly: Buffalo Rodeo. Amen.

LS: Do you define your music by a certain genre?

BR: Progressive indie experimental alternative rock.

LS: What are all the albums you’ve released since forming?

BR: We released Wanderers in 2011, Common Cults in 2012, and are in the process of finishing our latest EP, Home Videos, which is due for release in March.

LS: So, what's the story behind the new release? Where are you recording it? 

BR: We're recording Home Videos at Greyskull Recording Studios here in Bowling Green. We're really excited to release this EP because the music is a lot different than any of the other stuff we've previously recorded. It's also going to be the first recordings we have with Jordan and Patrick on them.

LS: Who are some of your major influences musically?

BR: Portugal. The Man, Local Natives, Manchester Orchestra, Arcade Fire, and Band of Horses.

LS: Who are some of your major influences outside of music?

BR: Family, God, and friends.

LS: With a lot of your music, there is this sense of spaciousness and freedom, as well as some powerful emotional chaos. Is that something intentional or does it all come out spontaneously when you’re jamming and recording together?

BR: A lot of our music has evolved from spontaneous jamming; however, we also spend a lot of time deliberately and meticulously sifting through each part to make sure that everything sounds as it should. So, in essence, our music is the product of spontaneity and careful decision.

LS: What kind of instruments do you use?

BR: Bass - Fender P. Bass and Warwick Powerbass; Drums - Ludwig Vistalites; Keys - Nord Electro 2 and Roland Juno-Stage; Vocals - baller-ass chops; Nate - an excessive amount of rare, vintage, badass gear that only a gearhead would be able to identify properly.

LS: What are some of the most memorable places playing music has taken you?

BR: [Bowling Green’s] Starry Nights Festival and Movers and Shakers in Chicago.


LS: Who are some of BR’s favorite local bands?

BR: Cage the Elephant, Sleeper Agent, Morning Teleportation, Mahtulu, The Black Shades, The Fair-Weather Kings, Canago, Heavy Chase, and Schools.

LS: You guys are based out of Bowling Green, KY, and there’s a very strong music and arts scene there—and has been for a long time now. What are some the components of BG that keep the scene alive and strong in your opinion?

BR: Honestly, one big component in the BG scene is the fact that there’s not that much to do in Bowling Green…besides play music. The things that people do on the weekends mostly consists of going to a show. There’s constantly music being played or watched. There’s also a big respect for music that goes on. We have a lot of inspiration from our peers—people like Cage and Sleeper Agent and other bands that have gone out and tried to make a name for themselves.

LS: For a community like Madisonville and Hopkins County that is just starting to really grow artistically, is there any advice you can offer to improve upon the scene here?

BR: Start more bands, play more music. It always helps to have a good venue in the area, so out of town bands can come in and play as well. Get a decent sized bar to invest in a good sound system and start having shows.

LS: What is BR’s ultimate goal with music?

BR: We’d like to do this, for real. We want to tour and play music for our lives and not have to have other jobs. Music is what we love, and we want to do it always.

LS: What kind of plans do you have for the future?

BR: In the short future, we’re just going to tour as much as possible and get our name out there to people in other places. We just got a van, so we’re really excited to get out on the road. After that, we’d love to get picked up by a record label of some type and release a full record. That would be tight.



LS: Where can people check you out?

BR: You can check us out at www.facebook.com/buffalorodeo, buffalorodeo.bandcamp.com, and on Twitter @buffalorodeo.

LS: In closing, feel free to give some shout-outs.

BR: We want to give a shout-out to Jordan’s dad for being a cool guy, to Greyskull recordings for recording our EP, and to Richard, our neighbor, for painting that cow skull in our living room.

Want to check out Buffalo Rodeo’s music right now? Simply click on the the ReverbNation player attached below this article, visit their official Facebook page, or check out some of the links mentioned above.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Luke Short
Photos provided by Sean Marshall Studios/Buffalo Rodeo

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Gear Guide—JT Oglesby’s Historic 'Playtime'

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (2/19/13)—The intrigue and beauty of many instruments—especially those vintage gems that have gained a seasoned character both in sound and appearance—often times lies in the story behind them. Of course, decades-old, top-quality woods and old-world USA craftsmanship are paramount to collectors—and are all but impossible to duplicate in a modern, mass-production facility—but it’s often the blemishes, the idiosyncrasies, and the tale a dated instrument can tell that becomes just as, if not more, important. Once uncovered, its tale becomes priceless, intangible mojo and—if you’re listen hard enough—the odyssey it has undergone comes through in the vibration of each note.

While previous installments of the “Gear Guide” have been partially focused on the technical specs of a certain guitar, bass, or drum kit, we’d like to bring you something a little different for this go around. We’d like to present you with J.T. Oglesby’s historic “Playtime” archtop guitar. No, it’s not a collectible Gibson or an early Fender, it’s by no means a perfect “player,” and we don’t know what it’s made of, but its warm tone and captivating story precedes the materials from which it is constructed.

How did we come to find out about this strikingly curvaceous piece of history? During a recent interview with revered, longtime area guitarist and musician, J.T. Oglesby, at Madisonville's own Glema Mahr Center for the Arts, we had the chance to not only document the instrument in photos—thanks to local photographer Jessi Smith—but were also able to find out the story behind the piece soon after.

A lover of music and guitars, as well as history and art in general, J.T. has played his fair share of both new and vintage instruments over the years, and while his main guitar is a 1994, custom-built Langejans acoustic/electric, he says the Playtime archtop holds a very special place in his personal guitar archives.

So, what makes this guitar so significant on both a historic and personal level for J.T.?

As he explains, “This Playtime archtop was bought by Harry Marsh—a man I knew personally who still has relatives in Nortonville, Kentucky. According to a hand-written note that’s glued inside the guitar’s body, which is visible through the bass side f-hole, Harry bought it at five o’clock on July 7th, 1944 at the Nortonville Variety Store. I obtained the guitar from my wife’s [Savannah Oglesby’s] grandmother, Jane Smith. There’s actually a family picture of her playing it back in the 1950’s.”

But how is an archtop differentiated from other guitars? In short, archtop style guitars were produced as far back as the turn of 20th Century and still remain a popular choice for jazz, blues, and indie guitarists today. In fact, one of the first electric guitars ever produced was an archtop. Generally speaking, most archtop guitars are defined by having a fully hollow body and a distinctive arched or bowed top (usually with f-holes in the top similar to that of a violin).

Though J.T. has an affinity for archtop guitars, and has owned several over the years, he explains that the Playtime is special on several different levels.

“This one is special for several reasons,” says J.T. of the decades-old guitar. “It was my wife’s grandmother’s for one. I learned to play guitar at her grandmother’s music barn when I was a kid. They named her place Jim’s Opry after her husband, Jim. The other reason is the historical value. I had never even heard of the Nortonville Variety Store and it was in my hometown. To me, the guitar is really a piece of history and a work of art. When I play it, it’s like reading a local history book and my mind goes wild with stories and questions. I am a huge local history fan, so this guitar is really like a step back in time for me.”

Regarding the guitar’s specs, J.T. explains that, “As far as the wood and any technical specifications go, I really don’t know anything. I know it does not have a truss rod, but other than that I’m clueless. When I first got it, there was dust all over it and it only had two strings. I took it apart and cleaned it up. Then I strung it up with Martin brand, light-gauge ‘silk and steel’ strings. There is no pickup on the guitar or anything, so it’s purely acoustic.”

However, while J.T. has a special attachment for the guitar and its full, yet simultaneously jangly and warm tone, he says he has no plans on playing it on-stage unless it’s a special occasion.

“I may record some songs on it in the studio just so we can have them to put up as a family keepsake, but I would never play it live unless the situation was right,” says JT. “I play far too aggressively and don’t want to risk damaging it. However, I’m working on a project at the moment that will feature Colonel JD Wilkes from the Legendary Shack Shakers on harmonica, Greg Martin from the Kentucky Headhunters, and several guys from Bawn in the Mash, and there’s a good chance I’ll use the Playtime on some of those recordings. It has a great swing and gypsy type sound that I think will be great for a few rhythm tracks. But again, I would never play it live unless it was something like a solo gig at a fine arts type venue.”

For now, the historical guitar’s journey carries on thanks to a musician respectful of both art and his musical roots. And, who knows, its history may just now be getting started.

To check out previous Gear Guide articles via the Sugg Street Post’s “The Lounge” and “Blogs” sections, click here.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Luke Short
Photo by Jessi Smith

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