It’s time for another installment in the Laconic Writer Central (LWC) sporadic interview series, this time with Brady Burkett of the Stark Folk Band. Stark Folk’s second album Well Oiled came out this month, following the self-title debut from 2008. Both are available on cd and vinyl from Old3C Records and digitally on iTunes. The band is a collaboration between Burkett and Ryan Shaffer, plus other musicians to fill out the sound.
LWC: Let’s start with some history. When did you and Ryan start working together?
BB: Ryan is from the same hometown as I am. Brookville, Ohio. We vaguely knew each other, like people do in small towns, but we didn’t really connect until I was riding in the back seat of his black, tinted-window Z-24, talking about getting a band together as well as the debauchery we were looking forward to getting into that night. At the time I wasn’t even living in Columbus. I think Ryan was on break from his freshman year at Ohio State.
Also, I didn’t own a guitar or any other instrument. But, I knew I wanted to be in a band, make music, and create something, anything. I figured Ryan did too because he seemed really into the idea of creating art and all that. We were young and full of energy around it, so when I moved to Columbus during the late summer of ’96 it was on!
LWC: Stark Folk grew out these collaborations. What were the early incarnations like?
BB: Yeah, Stark Folk grew out of the A Landscape Yesterday project, starting from the first moment I picked up a guitar, learned a few chords, tried writing songs and recording. We had an actual four-piece band at one point, but it never really came together.
We got together in 2000–2001 to mix several tapes of recordings, the first one dating back actually to 1995 before I lived in Columbus. We used the fancy equipment in the basement of the Ohio Capital Building (Ryan had an internship there) to expedite the long process of getting the recordings CD-ready. They eventually became the A Landscape Yesterday: For Seasons 1996-2001 collection, which is available upon request. There are about 40 or so songs there.
There were also various other projects that we both were involved with from time to time in Columbus. Ryan once banged around in a band called The Dirty Tricks and I played animal drums in a wild upbeat three-piece called Liu Mang. All of it has informed where we are now, which for once really makes sense to me.
LWC: And now Stark Folk. What does Stark Folk mean?
BB: Stark Folk has a couple of different meanings, and I’m sure more could be interpreted. I got the idea after reading in MOJO magazine where a young Bob Dylan had approached some legendary jazz cat, I don’t know Cannonball Adderly or someone like that, and Dylan asked him to come over to the club and check out his set. The elder jazz legend asked Dylan, “What kind of music is it?” and Dylan replied excitedly, you know because he’s young and cocky like young Dylan’s are supposed to be, and he said, “I play folk music,” which prompted the jazz man to reply “Son, we all play folk music.”
I thought about that exchange for a minute and agreed with the jazz great. I thought some more about it and came up with Stark Folk as a way to define what it is I’m trying to do, which is write songs in an honest and no-nonsense way that hopefully people will either get, piss them off, laugh, move them, or not get at all. I’m not real concerned with that really though as much as I am being Stark Folk, meaning putting it out there as direct as I can to people because we all play folk music son!
LWC: You’ve been studio-only up to this point. Are you planning to put a band together to play the songs live?
BB: We have been a major studio act for some time with the occasional secret performance. I once played a couple of early works-in-progress Stark Folk tunes at Used Kids Records in Columbus after a ridiculous set of dance trance, new wave, spoken word nonsense. My set of four songs did not translate well. It was quite the fiasco really, croaked my way through it, but now we are in the process of getting a band together, which excites me because I’m ready to claim a corner. It’s time for some new action!
LWC: I can hear a range of influences; they’re more identifiable in the debut, some Neil Young, Dream Syndicate, Bob Dylan. Well Oiled feels more like you’ve reached a Stark Folk sound. It has something of a ’60s garage rock feel, and a very real sense of urgency. What are some other influences, and how do you integrate them without mimicry?
BB: It’s about the energy of what others are doing. I listen to all kinds of music. I’m not inclined to isolate myself in one genre chamber and declare everything else as secondary. It’s about energy and how that comes through in the sound, lyrics, and vocals. We love classic rock and all that because it’s in our blood, we grew up with it. But, we also branch out into the more adventurous terrain as well. During Well Oiled I had been listening to a lot of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators stuff. Love. Tom Lucas’s Red Letter Day, Mike Rep and his work is always an inspiration, Robert Pollard, Neil Young, Lennon, the lists go on and on.
In writing a song I try not to ape anyone or any style because I know how that makes me feel when I hear it. It is a process akin to the individual. Some bands don’t mind riding the flavor of the month trip. Sometimes, I think we are trying to be unhip, but I don’t put a great deal of energy there.
LWC: You mention Robert Pollard. Having grown up in the Dayton are—what kind of impact did Guided By Voices have on you?
BB: Yeah, Pollard has been an influence. The last time I lived at my parents house I was working a crappy job at the Marriot in downtown Dayton. I had to be there at 5:00AM, which meant I had to leave the house by 4:30. I was driving an old Subaru, dead of winter, and of course the heat didn’t work. I played a taped copy of GBV’s Vampire on Titus every morning as I froze my ass off driving to work. There was only one speaker, in the dash, and I worked that thing over. It became the soundtrack to that maddening time, but it also made me believe it was possible to make music without a record label, contract, or any of that other manufactured nonsense. Plus, Pollard and co. were doing it right down the road. They became our Beatles for a minute to us kids. The energy from that was very inspiring and set me on my way.
LWC: We’ve talked a bit about sound and musical influences, but what about lyrics? Tell me something about putting the words and music together.
BB: Putting words and music together can be tricky thing. You don’t want to come across as trite or cliché and you want to avoid being too far out there. I try to straddle those two areas.
I like the way some words can sound when they are put next to each other. For instance, “Dear Career Politician.” I liked how the words sounded together, and as I played with the idea the song came through lyrically in a way that I did not imagine at first. Due in large part to it being written during the madness that was the ’08 election. That particular song just came alive with images of the ridiculousness that has become politics in the USA.
So, the songs come from experiences I have or beliefs that I may have about certain things like freedom, “Ghostman,” the indie music business “Next Big Thing,” or crooked politicians “Deep Green.” With this project I like the idea of writing songs that come out of experience because I seem to have a great deal of energy and ideas from looking at what is going on in the world. I’m not interested in writing about my personal life, or somebody else for that matter. Not for Stark Folk Band at least. Maybe when I get older, but right now there is a fire burning inside of me and all around us, and some people can’t even smell the smoke.
LWC: Thanks for stopping by the Laconic Writer Central kiosk.
We’ll end with a video for the song “Time Marches On,” shot and edited by Ryan Shaffer.