Phoenix based group The Senators are a true gift to all indie folk/americana music lovers out there, touching hearts with their well crafted, engaging melodies and wonderful story telling. Their sound carries great elements of a traditional folk and acoustic blues featuring a mixture of instruments like harmonica, banjo or trumpet.
The Senators master folk music with a real sense of tradition, musicianship and family connection but most of all, one that brings us a great pleasure while listening.
Jesse Teer (vocals, guitars) introduces the band to the UK and tells us about making of the band’s amazing debut album Harsher Than Whiskey/Sweeter Than Wine, plus stories behind their favourite tracks, songwriting, Phoenix music scene and more.
How would you introduce yourselves and your sound to the UK audience?
We’re a five-piece from the desert of Phoenix, Arizona. All of us grew up in AZ and we really think of it as home. Lots more than just coyotes and cacti, there’s actually a pretty good music scene in bloom here, and we’re excited to be on the forefront of that. The Senators are Jesse Teer (vocals, guitars), ‘Rooster’ Teer (bass, harmonica), Joe Bitz (trumpet, keys, guitars… all the instruments), Bryan James (banjo, lead guitar) & Jason Yee (drums).
We’re really drawn to that gritty old Americana sound, the stuff that was coming out of Memphis and Sun Records, old American acoustic blues and traditional folk. You can definitely hear these elements as a foundation of what we’re doing. But we don’t try to rehash… I think we’re writing music that’s pushing the genre. It’s very exciting to have interested listeners in the UK… we know the folk scene is booming out there.
It’s been over a year, since the release of your debut album Harsher Than Whiskey/Sweeter Than Wine. How would you sum up the past 12 months?
This year has been a lot about learning as we grow, and it has gone by in a blur. As a completely independent/DIY group we’ve recorded the majority of our second album, started touring regionally in the Southwest, played some great shows, met some fantastic bands and have made some great fans.
As much fun as we’ve had, there have been the obligatory growing pains. The way we’ve responded has made us even closer and better as a group – I think you can hear that in our music and see it in our live show. We’ve realized that what we do is about family, and that’s what keeps us going.
Is there a certain track on this record, you’d class as your favourite or one that has a special meaning or story behind it?
Two of them really stick out to us, but we’re pretty biased! We’d love to hear what you think after listening.
‘The Sea and Its Floor’ was one of the first song concepts I had with the project. I spent a lot of time drifting around before settling back down in Phoenix and beginning the project. This song means a lot to me personally. It’s almost a homecoming song, about making amends and realizing the value of home and family. I like being able to talk about something very personal like this using some very traditional imagery that’s universal and approachable to all our listeners.
‘The London Bridge’ is another one that sticks out. The old London Bridge (which was replaced by the London Tower Bridge) was actually purchased and transported to Lake Havasu City in Arizona. It is a very odd thing to have sitting in the middle of a desert. I was driving from Los Angeles back to Phoenix and saw signs for the bridge, so I had to check it out.
I was working on a song dealing with distance at the time, and the idea of this old bridge sitting so far away from its original purpose.
We made a trip up to the bridge to shoot the music video for it; it’ll be out in the next month and we’re excited to share it with our fans.
What was the recording journey of the album like?
We tracked the entire album ourselves and it was an adventure. We have a great on-location setup, so we recorded in a good variety of places. We learned pretty quickly what worked and what didn’t. The freedom involved in the process really gives the album character.
It was a departure from the normal recording process, and getting the album together brought us together as a group. The songs were originally all co-writes between my brother Rooster and myself while he was out in Memphis. We set out to work with some great musicians to fill out the concepts as we began to record ‘Harsher/Sweeter’, and we ended up finding our sound with them.
How do you normally work at your songs and how do you share the responsibilities for songwriting amongst you?
I write the lyrics and concept with an acoustic guitar. I usually record the basics right away, so we have this library of newly written acoustic versions of a lot of our songs. Sometimes I’ll chip away at an idea until its right, but often songs will sort of just present themselves in a finalized sort of fashion. Those are always the best ones. As a writer, it feels like I’m tapping into something either deep within or outside of myself when it just flows like that, it’s an eerily addictive sort of experience. Then I’ll give the songs to the guys, and grow them from those acoustic concepts into a Senators song. I love watching that process as it unfolds.
Who’s the first person you think of, that influenced you to make music?
We all have our own separate musical heroes, but Johnny Cash is the epitome that we all share. We really respect what he did for music; he did it his way and had a legendary career. That resonates with us… we love the music and don’t mind if it doesn’t fit into one single box.
Our (Jesse & Rooster’s) father kept us really active with music. Some of the first songs I remember singing along to around the house were hits from Zeppelin, Clapton, the Stones … great stuff from his youth. I guess this really planted some seeds.
What do you love the most about performing live?
Being on stage and playing in the moment is the best of times for us. We’re not just connecting and creating on stage, but we always try to make that same connection with our fans. That’s what we aim to do, to make each person in the room a part of that moment which we can share. It’s a moment that can’t be replicated and it belongs to everyone. We think that’s pretty special.
What is the music scene in Phoenix like at the moment?
We get most of the national/international circuit bands here in Phoenix, and at that level Phoenix is a solid music scene. For Indie or local music, the scene is definitely growing and it’s exciting to be a part of it. Crescent Ballroom (Stateside Presents) is one of the meccas of the local music scene and one of our favourite spots to play in town; Frank Turner played at Crescent when he was in Phoenix. We take the stage there regularly and always have a great time. There’s a great fan base here that supports a very ‘revivalist’ genre: we have a few groups coming up in town that are really tapped into more vintage sounding blues, rock, folk, etc.
What’s your view on today’s music industry in general?
We like where things are going. The industry is in a new place – it’s never been easier to get music out to listeners, and independent artists have a stronger voice than ever.
Are you working on some new material and planning some more releases?
Right now we are going back to re-track and re-master our first album. We plan for the re-release of the album in October of 2013; we will offer the entire album (with a new track or two included) free to the world to download and share. The more folks that are listening together, the better.
We have our second album (Battle Hymns) in final stages of recording while we are getting ready for the re-release of our debut album ‘Harsher Than Whiskey/Sweeter Than Wine’. It’s tough to sit on new songs and ideas, we are secretly dying to share them with everyone. Aside from music, we’ll have some new videos out soon, stay tuned!
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