In the late 90s, I started getting promo CDs from the Indiana-based labels Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar. This ended up pointing me in the direction of a lot of the music that I’m still fond of. Somewhere along the way, I saw the band Drunk play a set full of heart-rending, musically rich songs; I was intrigued, and ended up talking with the group for the zine. I’m pretty sure that this was after a show at either Mercury Lounge or Bowery Ballroom; I’m also pretty sure that I also did a feature on them for NYU’s newspaper.
Also? Really good use of an accordion, if I remember correctly.
This was one of the last interviews I did when I was still in college; it was a weird time, and I think some of the questions I asked the group ended up mirroring that. (Looking back on this now, it’s a lot more bittersweet, given the repeated mentions of Songs:Ohia.) Amusingly, note the question to Rick Alverson about his experience studying film–he’s gone on to direct several acclaimed films, most recently The Comedy.
This interview appeared in Eventide‘s sixth issue.
Rick Alverson: There’s this guy in Charlottesville that called me up and did this phone interview. And he would just insert entire phrases, like me saying “I have a great interest in personal history”. I never said that; he puts it in there. “I have a great interest in personal history, in antiquity”.
David Garrett: Obviously, he thought you said it. Did he record the conversation?
Rick: I don’t know. “This part….the crowd’s kind of loud….maybe it says ‘I have a great interest in antiquity’”.
David: “Look at that second album cover. He’s obviously a history major”.
Nathan Boor: He’s a history buff.
J.T. Yost: Don’t make the same mistake. They had to drag the river for that guy.
Are you on tour right now, or is this just a one-off show?
David: This is part of the tour, but it got separated from the tour by about a month. (laughter)
Rick: We were out on the road for nearly three weeks. We went up as far as New Hampshire, down as far as Georgia, Tennessee, and up again as far as Chicago.
That was with Songs:Ohia?
J.T.: Jason Molina’s awesome.
David: He’s a lot of fun.
Can you give me a bit of the history of the band?
David: Major lineup changes.
Rick: The original lineup…none of us were in it. (laughter)
J.T.: It was actually the Danielson Family. (more laughter)
Rick: At some point, nine people played once with us. It’s gotten down to as much as four… We’re all the best of friends in Richmond. Some of the members were in other bands that you would have heard of, but we can’t say. (laughter)
Are all of you from Virginia?
Rick: I lived up here once and went to NYU before I moved down there.
Via Nuon: I’m the only one from Richmond, Virginia.
Where do all of you know each other from, then?
David: Down there.
Nathan: We all made it to Richmond.
Rick: I moved there about five years ago. Nathan started playing music, and then Via and a guy named Joe, J.T….we started Drunk, and Nathan joined us more recently. David’s been in and out, going overseas…
David: I’m just filling in for Russell. I guess Steve was the original drummer, for the first album.
Rick: There was a cellist at one point, but I kicked her out of the band. (laughter) Everybody hates me because of that.
Rick, do you do most of the songwriting, or is it more of a collaborative effort?
Rick: It continually changes. I mean, there have been some songs that I’ve done alone, and there are songs that Via did. Some songs, some of us write; other ones, you just kind of… I’m singing, you know? (laughs) I have to sing on every song, so…I just made up the words.
What’s your musical background? Listening to you guys, you’ve got a pretty different sound than most other bands; you’re using a lot of people, but at the same time, you’re very low-key; you’re also using instreuments like accordion, which I don’t hear very often in most of the music that I listen to. Where did all of you come from to have a band that sounds like this?
Rick: More acoustic stuff. On the first record, some of the songs have banjo, and J.T. was playing an accordion acoustic, and I was playing acoustic guitar all the time, and we had violins, harmonica… On this new album, it just got to be more electric, but still-hopefully-retained some of the subtlety of acoustic music. We’re always stopping ourselves from playing really loud, which I guess is the tendincy for most electric bands.
Do any of you have any formal training with your instruments?
David: Via does.
Via: I spent two years learning how to sight-read; strict classical training. Some jazz classes, some scales and stuff. That’s pretty much it. Everyone else is pretty much-
Rick: I’m not really plugged in. (laughter)
How old are you guys now?
David: The average is around twenty-five, twenty-six.
J.T.: Via’s the youngest one, ‘cause he doesn’t know when his birthday is.
Via: I just turned twenty-five last week.
(Confusion erupts of an impossible-to-transcribe nature)
Via: It’s not very important.
Where do you see yourselves fitting in musically? I mean, you toured with Songs:Ohia, who I think are also hard to pin down. Or do you prefer to not be easily pigeonholed?
Rick: I think, originally for me, you don’t want to be pigeonholed. But then nobody comes out to see you. I think it’s really hard to build a following when the kids on the street, the people our age are like, “Well, who do they sound like?” “Well…uh….” You’ve got everybody saying something different.
Nathan: It’s the hardest question to answer, when someone asks you what you sound like. What do you think we sound like?
I don’t know. At first listen, I got more of a country feel, but when I listened to it more, I got more of a feel that reminds me of Low or something like that, where the subtlety starts coming out. There are different parts that sound like different things; if you were to ask me how the vocals sound relative to how the guitars sound…
David: Richmond’s kind of an odd town when it comes to some of the bands there. It’s pretty extreme in a lot of ways. And I think that what shaped the sound of Drunk-apart from the dark winter of ’95-is just emotion, and a need to do something that wasn’t going on at all, anywhere. No one was playing anything remotely soft or sad.
J.T.: It started out as a school project, a music therapy thing. We were going to tour mental institutions and sooth the patients, because they pick up on subtle things.
Nathan: They do; they’re a really good crowd.
David: I think the Church of Jesus Christ was supporting that tour. (laughter)
Where do you find that you have your biggest following? In Richmond, or…
Rick: Definitely not.
David: New York, I think.
Rick: We got a really good response at Brownies. Personally-maybe you’re not supposed to say it-but I don’t think we have a very big following at all. That’s partly why you can ask a question about what we sound like or about being pigeonholed, and it starts to wear on you after a while when you’re not getting as much of a response. You get people coming up to you saying “I was blown away by it” or “I really enjoyed it”, and we’re just like “Tell your friends”.
J.T.: We’re really big at Rick’s parents’ house, though. We have a big following there.
Were you upset at tonight’s turnout?
Rick: Oh, no. I thought tonight was really nice. This place is beautiful, and everyone was really quiet. I think that if we get more than ten people in the audience and everybody’s quiet, that it’s a successful show.
Do you have any goals for the band beyond touring and playing out and doing albums?
Rick: I think we want to keep doing records. Darius, who runs our label, and us have been talking about putting out records with us…long term. I think we’re going to continue doing this. Some of us are moving to different cities, but we’re going to continue to play and see what happens. We’re certainly not going at it with marketing potential, going out there and pushing it and saying that we want to be number one. For me, I think that’s contrary to what the msuic’s about. (pause) Not Nathan’s guitar. Nathan’s going for the gold with that…
What made you want to name the band Drunk?
David: My interpretation was… I ran into Joe Nio, back when he was starting a separate thing, and it was you guys getting on stage at the Hole in the Wall-
David: -and saying, “Hi, we’re drunk”.
Rick: They wouldn’t let us play unless we had a name.
Via: We were sitting at the bar-
Rick: In retrosepct, I really wish it wouldn’t have lived. I hate the name. (laughter)
Via: I guess we weren’t very sober, but we sat around, me, you, and Joe, talking about certain kinds of music. We weren’t a band yet. It seemed really interesting that we had all of these tastes in common, and we decided to play a show at the end of the month. We needed a name, and we couldn’t think of one, so we decided to go with “Drunk”.
Rick: Darius was there with a band called Curious Digit, and he asked us if we wanted to do a record, and we said sure.
Nathan: And here we are today.
Rick: This long, drawn-out procedure.
Who did the artwork for the new album?
Rick: The new album’s from a film that I made when I was at school here. And there’s the cover star, right over there. (points to bar) I took the poloaroids on the inside. It changes from record to record. The second record-I love the artwork on that-that’s just a photograph that I found.
So you went to NYU for film?
Rick: For a year.
What did you think of it?
Rick: I thought it was great. In other schooling experiences, I’d just want to argue with everybody all the time. But how can you argue when somebody’s telling you that you broke the mag or something? You just go, “Okay”.
Have you done anything film-wise since then?
Rick: No. I got dead broke making one film. That’s why I moved to Richmond. (laughs)
What do you do outside of the band?
David: Nathan’s our hero, because he has the most interesting job.
Nathan: I drive tour buses, vans, forty-five foot monsters…all around the country. I drive a hockey team, the Richmond Renegades, and various tour groups. I’ve never done a band before. I’d be on the road too long; I know what it’s like to tour.
Rick: I was cooking down in Richmond, and now I’m unemployed, and (laughs) plan on staying that way for the rest of my life.
David: Fuck that! The lottery!
What’s rent like in Richmond?
David: Damn cheap.
J.T.: Richmond is one of the easiest places to live.
Rick: When I first moved down there, I got a place… I was spending about $375 here to split one room, which I guess is nothing compared with now. But I went down there and had an entire house with a huge backyard for $150 a month. I only have to work four days in a month. It’s gone up a little bit now, but it’s still definitely cheap.
David: It’s kind of like that all over the south, though.
Via: Athens seems kinda similar.
Nathan: [Richmond’s] pretty low-key. The bands there generally don’t get out to do much. Except for Gwar.
David: VH-1 was down in Richmond two days ago, filming Gwar walking down the street for this “Where are they now” thing.
Nathan: Somebody called the cops on them.
David: They called the cops-“This creature’s running down Grey Street naked!” (laughter) There was a big write-up in the paper. They went into the village café and ate onion rings.
J.T.: I think we’re the second murder capital in the U.S. We always strive for first, but D.C. always beats us.
Nathan: New Orleans.
Rick: I’ve never even had anyone around me who looks like they want to mug me.
Nathan: I’ve been jumped twice.
J.T.: We each do our part to try to get to number one.
David: My new roommate’s a gravedigger, as well. I thought I’d mention his job.
Nathan: David has five jobs. Six, if you count this.
David: I just quit one, actually. I’m down to four.
Nathan: I taught professional figure skating.
David: Let’s just dredge up all the sordid personal histories…
How many tours have you guys done?
Nathan: Two fairly big ones.
Any interesting stories?
J.T.: I like the story about the “I like to have sex with you girl”.
David: The best story, though, is the Greta story. It’s the best.
Nathan: Well, we heard it on tour. You’ve got to hear the Greta story.
David: The only good stories we have are stories that were heard on tour.
Rick: Okay. We went up to Montreal, to the French Quarter, to play this place called Club Chaos. Some lady comes up to me, after the sound man’s on stage… It’s two thirty in the morning, nobody came-
Nathan: -nobody speaks English-
Rick: -they wanted us to keep playing. The sound man’s up on stage jamming with us because he wanted to, and everybody’s wasted. Some lady comes up to me and goes, (French Canadian accent) “I am not very good at speaking English, but I am good at the fucking”. (pause) Now tell him about Greta.
J.T.: I’ll do the condensed version. When I was a little kid, I had this friend Dewey. Whenever we would make brown, before we flushed the toilet, we would call the other person in. We called it “making a mixture”. To make a mixture, we’d take all the cleansing products from underneath the kitchen sink, and we’d pour them all-a little bit of each, like we were chemists-into the toilet, with the doody. And then we would flush it, and it would foam up and be spectacular. So that was really exciting for us. So one time, my friend Dewey drops the bomb in there and calls me in and goes, “Let’s make a mixture”. So I go in, but before I could get there… He had this big Doberman Pinscer named Greta. Greta runs in there and starts going to town, just eating it right out of the toilet, water sloshing everywhere. It was really exciting for us. After that, every time Dewey would go to the bathroom, he would call Greta in and let her enjoy it, because-he claimed-it had Vitamin C in it. To wrap it up, we were out in the woods one day. You know how, when you’re a kid out in the woods, you go to the bathroom and wipe with leaves? So he’s going to the bathroom, and the next thing I know, I hear Dewey going, “No! No, Greta, no!” And I went over there to see if he was all right, and Greta was…getting it right from the source. She was all over that.
I really can’t think of anything to say after that. Do you guys have anything to say in closing?
Nathan: There’s not much you can say after the Greta story.