Alex & Me

Alex Culbreth: Black & Blue (Interview & Gallery)

The Interview

The Interview

I 1st met singer-​songwriter Alex Culbreth in , when he was fea­tured in a Woody Guthrie Folk Festival solo per­for­mance at the Brick Street Café. Although it was his 1st offi­cial show­case at the fes­ti­val, he’d attended the 4 pre­vi­ous years, singing and play­ing around the camp­fires through the wee hours.

A vet­eran of the alt-​country scene, Culbreth has opened for (among oth­ers) Rusted Root and Spirit Family Reunion. No Depression, Common Folk Music, Americana Music Show, and Ninebullets Radio have all fea­tured him. Culbreth dropped in for a drink and a chat about his cur­rent 6-​month solo tour, before play­ing an early set at JJ’s Alley in Oklahoma City. After spend­ing Thanksgiving in Tulsa with some mutual acquain­tances, he played a Black Friday set at the Bluebonnet Bar in Norman; the Bureau was on hand to pho­to­graph his set.

Mercury Photo BureauWelcome to Mercury Photo Bureau. I hear you’ve been on a mini tour?

Alex CulbrethYeah, [I’m] about 2 weeks into a 6-​week tour. I’ve been through D.C., Tennessee, Ohio, and Oklahoma, now.

MPBHow did you become inter­ested in music?

AlexGrowin’ up, my mom played me a lot of Patsy Cline and Louis Prima, so I was always lis­ten­ing to good music […]. I don’t think I started play­ing until I was about 13; I actu­ally wanted to be in a punk band.

MPBI’ve met a lot of singer-​songwriters, espe­cially in the alt-​country and roots scene, who started out in punk bands.

AlexAll through­out mid­dle school and high school, all I lis­tened to was punk. I liked the old L.A. stuff; X and the Dead Kennedys and the Screamers and the Germs , uh, the New York stuff — Richard Hell, Patti Smith, the New York Dolls. It wasn’t until I started lis­ten­ing to Billy Bragg that I got into the whole singer-​songwriter thing. ’cause he kinda found a cool mar­riage between the punk world and the folk world. There are a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties between folk and punk. I think Woody Guthrie’s about as punk as you can get.

MPBWhat was your 1st instru­ment?

AlexGuitar. I picked it up for my 13th birth­day, and I was just gonna try to play punk on an acoustic gui­tar […]. I tried to start a lot of [punk bands], but they never seemed to pan out; [we] never seemed to be able to get together and make it hap­pen. So, all the more rea­son why I started play­ing by myself. It was lis­ten­ing to Billy Bragg, and another guy, Patrick Fitzgerald. He was around in the late ’70s; he opened for the Clash on a cou­ple of tours, just playin’ punk on an acoustic gui­tar. He’d only play those 3 chords; he wasn’t a very good singer; but he wrote great lyrics, and so lis­ten­ing to him and Billy Bragg showed me that I could really do it by myself.

MPBDo you remem­ber how you dis­cov­ered those guys?

AlexI think I kind of worked back­wards. I started lis­ten­ing to ’90s punk bands like Rancid and just found out who they were influ­enced by; started lis­ten­ing to Bad Religion and Minor Threat, ’80s punk, and kind of work­ing back­wards.

MPBI know you’ve been in a cou­ple of bands, as well as per­form­ing solo — the Parlor Soldiers and the Dead Country Stars.

Alex[The Parlor Soldiers] started out as a duo project with me and a girl — Karen Jonas — who lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia. So we were both play­ing music in the same town, and we started writin’ songs together. She had more of a kind of folky, uh, Joni Mitchell influ­ence to her. […] We did 1 album together […]. I met [the future mem­bers of the Dead Country Stars] in Fredericksburg; they were all play­ing in dif­fer­ent bands. I started out play­ing with Eddie Dickerson on fid­dle — he’s now liv­ing in Austin — Ryan Hale on drums, Joanna Smith on upright bass, and Jimbo Carrico on banjo. As far as the name [goes], some of the best coun­try stars are dead.

I was born in the back of a ’57 Chevy
With my daddy doing 90, my mama breath­ing heavy /​ Her water broke at mid­night in the gro­cery store /​ She yelled, Cleanup in aisle 4!

MPBIn your solo act, you play gui­tar and sing, but you also play a kick-​drum, which you play stand­ing in front of with your heels in the ped­als. I’ve only known 1 other drum­mer to do that — Travis Searle of the now defunct Norman band Shi++y Awesome.

AlexFor some rea­son, that always seemed more com­fort­able to me — it seems like it’s eas­ier to keep my bal­ance when I’m on my toes with the kick-​drum and the tam­bourine. I tried hav­ing them both in front before, and I just wasn’t able to keep my bal­ance. There’s a cou­ple of 1-​man bands that I’ve been lis­ten­ing to recently that have made me want to expand what I do, and shows me how much can be done, how much noise can come out of just 1 per­son. They’re both out of Austin: Scott H. Biram and Shakey Graves.

MPBWhat’s 1 song you’re really proud to have writ­ten?

AlexI really like Mercy Me. It’s a song about trav­elin’ and play­ing music and tryin’ not to let your head get too big. That’s 1 of the few songs where I try to fit a whole bunch of words into a small amount of space. Some of my favorite writ­ers are like, Bukowski and Hemingway, you know; those kind of “punchy” writ­ers who say a lot in a small space. They can grab your shirt col­lar with just 1 sen­tence.

MPBYou have 1 album with the Dead Country Stars, Heart in a Mason Jar, on BandCamp — when did that come out?

AlexThat came out in . I’ve got pretty much enough songs for a new album; I’m workin’ on a cou­ple of new songs — [I’ll] see what shakes out. I’m mov­ing right now; in a cou­ple of month I’m mov­ing to Austin. […] I’m mov­ing because of the music scene and because of the food. I love Mexican food. [I plan to] keep on playin’, keep on trav­el­lin’ as much as I can. That’s what I’m doing right now, pretty much; tour­ing full-​time. [I plan to] keep on playin’, keep on trav­el­lin’ as much as I can. That’s what I’m doing right now, pretty much; tour­ing full-​time.

MPBWhat’s on your iPod?

AlexShovels & Rope; they’ve been my favorite band for a cou­ple of years now. The 1st time I saw them was in Charlottesville, Virginia; they opened for Hayes Carll and Jason Isbell from the Drive-​By Truckers and they just blew me away. I men­tioned to you ear­lier that I was lis­ten­ing to Nighthawks at the Diner, the Tom Waits album; so many great, punchy, beau­ti­ful lines; it’s like song­writer porn!

MPBThanks for com­ing.

AlexThanks for hav­ing me!

— Chris J. Zähller

Gallery

Gallery: Black Friday at the Bluebonnet Bar

Enjoy this gallery of pho­tos from Alex Culbreth’s Black Friday per­for­mance at the Bluebonnet Bar in Norman, Oklahoma. Also play­ing that night was local song­writer Brad Fielder, who can be seen in the audi­ence (4th image); we’ll even­tu­ally post pics from his set as well.

About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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