ACL Interview: JD McPherson
6pm, Zilker Tent stage
"We wanted to make an album that sounded exactly as if it had been recorded at [New Orleans legend Cosimo Matassa's studio] J&M or Chess Records or someplace."
So explains JD McPherson of Broken Arrow, Okla., about how a former punk rocker made a period-perfect 1956 R&B disc, Signs and Signifiers. The album was reissued by roots powerhouse Rounder Records last year after its initial indie release on McPherson bassist/producer Jimmy Sutton's Hi-Style Records. It peaked at No. 47 on Billboard's Rock Albums chart and spawned a Little Richard-esque single, "North Side Gal," with a video that's generated 1,371,892 YouTube plays as of this writing. This extraordinary music has taken McPherson on a three-year journey from being a grade school art teacher, playing the rockabilly circuit on the side, to a hard-touring act selling enough albums to precede the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at ACL.
"That record was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of ode to era-specific production accuracy," he says. "We were making that record for ourselves and for a certain scene. There are a lot of bands and a lot of musicians we know who are sorta fetishizing that music and making music on old equipment and stuff.
"We wanted to push the writing and the packaging and the concept a little further."
Toward that end, he drew inspiration from some odd sources as he sought to re-create the sound of a Leonard Chess production. His version of Tiny Kennedy's "Country Boy" found McPherson asking his band, "'Hey, what if we just kinda performed loops?'
"The guitar plays the same thing, the piano plays the same thing, over a big drum beat!"
Said source? An "out-of-tune piano loop" on a Raekwon track from an old Wu-Tang Clan record.
Check out part two of our JD McPherson interview.