People who love rock ‘n’ roll should thank their lucky stars that JD McPherson exists and makes records.
The Broken Arrow, Okla., native on Oct. 6 will be releasing his third record, Undivided Heart and Soul—and this album will put to shame those articles on the Internet about rock ‘n’ roll being dead.
He’ll also be performing at Pappy and Harriet’s on Thursday, Oct. 12.
During a recent phone interview, McPherson said he and his band aimed big with Undivided Heart and Soul.
“You’re asking about a Tolstoy-length tragedy right there,” McPherson said with a laugh. “It was a tough one to do, and a tough one to try and cross the finish line with. There was the usual band infighting and drama; there was self-doubt—and two false starts, one of which that burned through half of our budget.”
The recording sessions took place at a legendary Nashville recording space.
“We were out of options, and somebody had the idea of recording at RCA Studio B, which is one of the last really classic Nashville studios,” McPherson said. “It’s where thousands of country hits were produced in the late ’50s and early ’60s. There were some really great rock ’n’ roll moments there, too. It’s what you hear when you listen to Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying,’ and all the post-Army Elvis Presley was recorded there, too—but now it’s a museum and not a commercial studio. We didn’t think we could do it, but I sent an e-mail, and they replied back with: ‘Yes.’
“Every night, even once things started to look up, it was still difficult. We had to load in everything after these tours of the studio were over, set up all of our gear, set up all of the microphones, set up all of the recording equipment, record until 3 or 4 in the morning, and then completely tear down for the tours the next morning. We did that every day. Usually, when you’re making a record, you want to see spaghetti cables everywhere, and some empty cups sitting around so it looks like you’ve been living there for a while. Every single day looked like a brand new setup. It would have been super-daunting, except that it was there, and we were getting such great sounds, and so many cool ideas were happening because we were there.”
The history of the studio served as an inspiration.
“If there were ever a band in the whole world that would appreciate being in RCA Studio B, it would be us,” McPherson said. “We were just flipping out every night. They have a sound system set up in the tracking room for tour people so they can hear songs that were recorded in the studio. Every night when we were tearing down, we would play ‘Crying’ or ‘In Dreams’ by Roy Orbison. It’s the same piano; it’s the same vibrant moments in the room, and we were using those instruments. Times like that, we were really like, ‘Wow!’ In some way, we were part of this room’s story. I don’t like to record unless there’s some old stuff around, and that room—being so loaded with history and loaded with music—if you have any belief in a building as a recording instrument, that place has loads and loads of music in it.”
McPherson said this album will stand out compared to the others.
“It’s a garage-rock record, for sure. It’s a romantic garage rock record,” he said. “There are really loud fuzzy guitars, and there is a lot of up-tempo stuff. I spoke with a guy from German radio recently who insisted it was a punk album—but it’s a rock ’n’ roll album. It’s weird: The first day we started recording, we tried to get in two songs, because we were trying to get done quickly. We tried the title track, ‘Undivided Heart and Soul,’ and we wanted to make it sound like an RCA Studio B recording. It was just not genuine, and didn’t feel genuine. I have to say this: The longer we were there, and the more we worked, the louder and fuzzier things got. It’s like that place wanted it, or maybe we did, but it was like that place was projecting that.”
Many bands and festivals have called up McPherson to ask for his services, yet he said he always feels like an outsider, no matter where he plays.
“I would put money down that we have opened for one of the most eclectic group of bands you could ever imagine,” he said. “We’ve done opening gigs for Bob Seger, Dave Matthews Band, Eric Church, and Queens of the Stone Age. There’s a really weird group of bands! We always sort of feel like they ask themselves, ‘Are you really sure we were supposed to invite these guys?’ We go to the Americana stuff, and I feel like we’re louder than all those bands. We go to Bonnaroo and I feel like we stick out like a sore thumb among some of those bands backstage. We’re just doing our thing, and it’s apparently appealing to a wide range of folks, and I’m very grateful for that.”
To McPherson, rock ’n’ roll is most certainly not dead.
“The people who are saying that rock ’n’ roll is dead. They don’t love music enough to try to find it, or they’re just trying to sound cool—and to me, declaring rock ’n’ roll is dead is the uncoolest thing you could ever do,” he said. “It’s the stupidest thing. It’s lame! There’s a lot of great rock ’n’ roll music out there. As long as no one is trying to make it grow up, it will always sort of be there.
“They say that guitars aren’t selling as much as they used to, but I can’t believe that now. Every band in Nashville is a guitar band. Every band I see has loads of guitars. There’s really cool stuff out there. Anyone who hasn’t ever been to a Ty Segall show needs to go, and they’ll figure it out.”
JD McPherson will perform with Nikki Lane at 9 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 12, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.