Bloodkin [Interview]

Bloodkin are Athens, Georgia legends, in a town known for an overwhelming scene that has given R.E.M., B-52’s, Drive-By Truckers and Widespread Panic to the world. The latter recorded several of Bloodkin’s records, including mammoth hits like “Can’t Get High.” Bloodkin’s highs and lows have been well documented; struggles with loss and addiction have made their survival difficult, but Danny Hutchens and Eric Carter are still together after “The Long Hustle.”

Hutchens spoke to Weld about his relationship with Widespread Panic, overcoming those hurdles life has thrown and Athens.

Weld: Widespread Panic has a lot of your songs in their catalog (“Can’t Get High,” “Makes Sense to Me,” “Henry Parsons Died”). Has that been beneficial to your career or do you feel like their listeners are unaware of the song origins when they play them?

Danny Hutchens: I think it’s the whole spectrum. Some people research that or they know a lot about the cover songs that Panic does, but then some people have no idea. That’s fine. People know what they know. The important thing to me – one of the cool things about Panic is that they always did cover songwriters that they just personally liked. Some of those were more well-known, and some of those were completely obscure. They were the first band that covered Vic Chesnutt, before anybody else was covering him. They did our songs. They did Jerry Joseph songs. I think we all got a fair amount of exposure from that. But the cool thing to me is that I respect those guys as musicians and I like how they did the songs. Wherever the chips fall from that, that’s fine. But it’s always been a cool thing to me.

Weld: How important was Last Night Out to Bloodkin’s well-being and the survival of the band?

DH: It was very important. It gave us a project. It gave us something to do. It was at a time when our lives were in disarray. Eric [Carter, guitarist] and I, for separate reasons – it was a pretty rough time in our lives. And it also, coincidentally, was when that version of Bloodkin had basically broken up – before that record. We were kind of without a project. David Barbe was the guy who kickstarted that. He said, “Look, let’s just make a record.” And I said, “Well, we really don’t have a band.” And he said, “I’ll find you guys a rhythm section.” [Laughs] He did. And that rhythm section was Kyle Spence and Jon Mills, and Jon Mills still plays bass with us today. This rhythm section went on to record other records; other people hired them on the strength of Last Night Out. It’s always good to do something productive. And for me personally, that’s my favorite productive thing to do – making records. It was a big deal for me at the time.

Weld: Is it merely coincidence that most bands that fall into that “No Depression” genre have two main cogs?

DH: I think it’s just a matter of numbers. By definition, bands are a collective, a group of people. There are a few bands that come out of the gates more fully formed. They’ll have four or five or six guys, and that band stays together for a long period of time. But that’s mathematically more difficult. A lot people have said bands are like marriages, but with four or five people in the marriage. And it’s true in a way. It’s much more statistically probable that two guys are going to stick together and be able to work together for a number of years than four or five or six. But the bands that come out of the gate that way, that stick with that through the years, I think they’re really lucky. That’s fantastic. Eric and I spent a lot of years looking for that, looking for band members. It’s just way more difficult than people realize. The easiest part of it is finding someone who can play. I’m not saying that’s easy, but compared to being able to sit in a van with somebody eight hours a day, 200 days a year – not everybody can do that. And if you have four or five people in that group, there’s usually going to be some dissension. There usually going to be at least two guys that don’t get along. Or just people that have other things going on in their lives. In the space of a year, somebody’s going to get a job, get married, move to another state…something. Life gets in the way when you’re trying to put a band together. But Eric and I have known each other since we were little kids. I do a lot of other projects outside of Bloodkin, but it’s kind of ridiculous to think we’d break up – what’s the point? We’ve known each other so long. It’s not like we’re on the road all time. We do things when we mutually want to do it. So it works out.

Weld: How did you select the material for The Long Hustle and how much did you leave on the table that we don’t even know about?

DH: That was, basically, over a seven year period. When I had time, I took everything I could get a hold of into the studio and dumped it all into Pro Tools, whether it was originally on reel-to-reel or ADATs or a cassette tape – whatever the source was – dumped everything into Pro Tools. In the process of that, I listened to it. I cataloged it. There would be several versions of a particular song, and I would try to take the best one. It was really a matter of sifting through it and listening to it again. There was always some kind of vague plan. I always kept all of the music. I was pretty meticulous about that. I kept a decent catalog of it. I knew which sessions were which, which songs were on which sessions. But some of it, I hadn’t heard for many years. I hadn’t actually sat down and listened to it in a long time. It was a matter of getting reacquainted with it – what was the best stuff, what was the best take – that kind of thing. There is a bunch that’s left. Not everything went on there. For one reason, we decided to try to make it play like five records. Like each disc, we looked at like, “This is going to play like a record.” In other words, we didn’t really make it totally a document of everything that we’ve recorded. We tried to leave out stuff that sounded too similar to other songs – that kind of thing. There’s also a whole bunch of live stuff. There’s all kinds of solo stuff that I’ve done. Demos. We’re still talking about a whole different project for some of this or some kind of online outlet for it. We’d like to put it all out there. To me, it’s a body of work and ultimately the idea is having it all available so that people can hear the songs. That’s the reason we write them and that’s what I’m trying to do. But there’s a lot of stuff. [Laughs] There’s too much, really. I probably need some help. It’s tough to get through it all. It’s there. There’s a lot of it.

Weld: Are we anywhere near new Bloodkin material?

DH: I made a “solo” record that is coming later this year, hopefully. We’re still hashing out details of when it’s going to be released, who’s releasing it. But it’s done. It was produced by Dave Schools {Widespread Panic] and he and Duane Trucks play on it. It’s called The Beautiful Vicious Cycle of Life. I’m starting to play some shows. I’ll be doing a show in Nashville with David Barbe and Brad Morgan [Drive-By Truckers] and Frank McDonald. That’s on July 8 – we’ll play the record. We’re doing preorders and that kind of thing and kind of amping up for the release. That’s the next thing. I want to do the next Bloodkin record, but we haven’t really started it, so I don’t have specifics about it at this point.

Weld: There was a period in the 90s when it was very difficult to find what you guys were doing – what Truckers were doing, what Uncle Tupelo was doing, what Whiskeytown was doing. What changed it from the way things were? It seems like those bands that had a hard time finding an audience have a very loyal one now.

DH: Things go in cycles. Styles of music come and go in popularity. But I also think it was always there, but at a certain time it wasn’t the biggest fad or live draw. There was a time when the jam band scene was exploding. That time was pre-internet. I think that’s made it more accessible for people to find the style of music that they are interested in. Even if it’s not the flash in the pan or the most popular thing at the moment, it’s still out there. And I think the technology makes it easier for people to find specific genres, the kind of music they want to see or hear.

Weld: Who or what is the most vital player in sustaining the Athens scene?

DH: There are a lot of people. I always say David Barbe. He’s so active in everything. He’s a producer. He’s produced a lot of great stuff. It’s remarkable. He’s the head of the University of Georgia Music Business program. He’s a teacher to a lot of young musicians and the Music Business students in Athens. He’s got his hands in all the different things. He’s the guy to me. But there are a lot of people. It comes and goes. But he’s the guy to me that seems to be always present when there’s something going on here. So many different roles, and certainly for us, he’s always been the guy. A lot of people come through Athens and there’s always new faces. I call him “The Commissioner.”

Weld: There are a lot of answers to this and I don’t think any of them are wrong. Who is your favorite Athens band of all time?

DH: There are a lot of bands at different times of my life that have been my favorite or influential. I really love Dashboard Saviors. In the early 90s, those guys were – they were friends of mine, but they were the first band I saw before and after they started touring and I saw what that did to them, you know? Musically. “Oh, ok. That’s what it is.” It sharpens you. Once you’ve seen that, you understand, if for no other reason, that’s why you go on the road and do it every night, because it makes you better. I truly love those guys. I think they’re still one of the best rock and roll bands to ever come through town. I loved Vic Chesnutt as a songwriter. He’s one of my favorites. And I love Panic and I love Drive-By Truckers. Those guys are obviously much more well-known, but they’re still two of the best live rock and roll shows I’ve ever seen. Those are some people that come to mind.

Weld: Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?

DH: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The Band. Velvet Underground was such a big influence on everybody, and even people that don’t realize they were. Big Star. And The Replacements, my all time favorite rock and roll band. They were the band I’d go see in clubs when I was at the right age. They made an impression on me. That’s my five, but I’m sure I’ll think of five others later. [Laughs]

Bloodkin is at Avondale’s Trunkstock on Saturday. Their set is at 9 p.m. They share the bill with New Orleans Suspects, who will close the evening and openers Rick Carter Trio, The Hurlers and Federal Expression. Music starts at 2 p.m. VIP tickets are $40, advance general admission is $14 and day of show tickets are $21.

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