by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor’s Note: The two interviews with Paul Mark Cauthen and David Beck were done separately and were done the week of February 11, 2013. This here is an updated version with new notes, questions, answers, etc that the previous article did not include. Sons of Fathers play Wednesday, August 7 at The Blue Light.
This ain’t your father’s Sons of Fathers.
If you were expecting Burning Days to be Sons of Fathers II, you shouldn’t. The self-titled debut record by Sons of Fathers was a solid record brought to us by Paul Mark Cauthen and David Beck by all means. It was filled with a number of great country-folk songs. They certainly threw their name into that bunch of up-and-comers from the Texas Oklahoma line who were–are–changing the definition of “Texas Country.”
They joined that bunch bringing it back it back to the roots of country, gospel, folk, and essence of realism in songwriting. Before getting too sidetracked, Sons of Fathers established them as being one of those bands who made people stop and think before joining the Wal-Mart country crew or the fraternity of pick-up trucks, cracking “cold ones,” and old dirt roads.
But while all that’s fine (more than fine. Great really.), let’s be brutally honest. It’s not as though SoF was exactly leading the charge or doing anything specifically that set themselves apart from the pack. And let me be clear, that’s not a knock on the band, Sons of Fathers, or anything else that it can be convoluted into.
Burning Days by Sons of Fathers is a game changing record. That’s just it.
It’s made them go from just one in the crowd in this building wave of great roots-based music coming out of Texas to be one of the more forward thinking leaders atop the crescent.
Is it country? Is it rock and roll? Slick or tangy? Both? Neither?
It’s as though a New York buzz band decided to take a jab at making a country record. Or maybe it’s like a Texas music country-folk band deciding to make an indie rock album. Either/or. Doesn’t matter. It’s different and a step outside the comfort zone. Maybe not Cauthen and Beck’s comfort zone, but certainly the average listener of music country and Texas.
Where Sons of Fathers had an airiness twang running throughout, Burning Days has this crisp, sharpness to it. The photograph is in focus and you’re able to make out every detail. It’s industrial without feeling cold or despondent.
Hell, it is called Burning Days for a reason–and not ironically either. There’s a warm glow to the record brought on primarily by Cauthen and Beck’s Everly Brothersesque harmonies. There’s still hints of twang that ring true through the 35 minutes of Burning Days. And if it weren’t for the razor-sharp guitar tones and intentional turn of direction from Cauthen and Beck, you’d be saying that these songs at their roots and their core were even more country than anything else. Genuine golden age country types–Johnny Horton, The Browns, Ferlin Husky, and Patsy Cline types. That more than anything else is probably least obvious and often overlooked aspect of the entire record–myself included.
Burning Days groundbreaking? That’s maybe something a bit premature on my part. Time will tell if it ends up being a moment in which people point to as being a major force or a footnote. Will and does it effect and influence current contemporaries and budding songwriters? It should, but I’m not one to say if it does so at this precise moment.
But like I said, it should.
New Slang: Last time we spoke, it was back last May. When I asked you guys about what the new record was going to sound like, you guys said it was going to have a “bigger, fatter, warmer sound.”
Paul Mark Cauthen: Yeah. We wanted to raise the bar as far as capturing all these tones this time. First time, we kind of just went in there and started recording. This time every instrument was very well thought out on each song.
NS: The sound of the record is obviously different from the first, but I think the songwriting is better as well.
PMC: Yeah, man. We’re just doing it more. I think something I said last time we spoke was that we wrote thirty somethings songs between the first record and cutting the second one. We were writing extensively, nonstop. Just writing so hard everyday, all day. Like eight-hour sessions. Writing, writing, writing. Practice does make perfect. It’s not perfect yet–that’s the thing about songwriting. It’s a growing process. If you’re not growing or saying anything different or bringing in something that has a different texture, you’re not doing your job as a songwriter. At least how I feel. I think you’re going backwards. I think we have to really apply ourselves. I feel like on this record, we let the floodgates open and said we weren’t going to listen to anybody. We’re only going to listen to ourselves and Lloyd Maines and we’re going to go kick some ass. I think this record is kind of ballsy.
NS: Talking with people about Burning Days, I’ve told them to be prepared. There’s nothing happening in Texas that sounds like this record.
PMC: Mhmm. You know, people have been writing that it sounds like Mumford or whatever. I like being compared to Grammy winners. That’s a good thing, but I really feel like our band can bring the heat, can bring true rock and roll on a bigger level than what’s been around for a long time. We’ve got a lot of intensity live that you can’t hear on the record. It’s close, but a lot of times live, it’s bigger, badder, and meaner. Or it can be more delicate and bone jarring.
NS: What I’ve been thinking about these two records has been this comparison. It’s probably too big, but you’ll probably understand exactly what point I’m making with it. The difference between these records is much like when Dylan went electric. The atmosphere, attitude, and feel are just different.
PMC: That’s how Dave and I always wanted to work. If we wanted to do something more electric, we tell Tony Browne, our guitar player to tone it up. He’ll put all his sauce on it. And if the next record calls for more country, then that’s what it’ll be. Everybody in the band knows that.
NS: Those guitar sounds throughout the record are just so crisp and sharp. How’d you guys discover and get those sounds?
PMC: We were running an old Danish vox amp. We were doing a lot of old Beatles tones and just getting some really gnarly tones. We would spend days on tones alone. Just using those old vintage amps in Dripping Springs, Texas. It got gnarly real fast. It was a crazy experience, the whole recording process was wild. And now, just to see where we’re at now, it’s just a whole different phase–the release of the record. Like right now, we’re the most added record to the radio charts across the country. Right now, it’s just one thing after another coming in. You’d have never thought that just two guys sitting around at a bar in New York City at 4 a.m. would have gotten the idea to form a monster idea like this.
NS: Mhmm. Yeah.
PMC: And that’s what it’s all came back to. Me and David, we had our own things and we decided let’s form this business, this band. We’ll figure out a way to pay for all this and to make it work. We’re going to get it done. We’re now just getting all those copies done and ready to get back out and play. We’ve been playing and all, but I’m just ready for some steady touring. Three weeks off for us, we’re just like “What the hell are we doing?” And that’s coming off a two month tour.
NS: [Laughs]. On Burning Days, what’s your favorite moment on the record?
PMC: I like the intro to “Only God Can Take a Woman” (also known as “O.G.C.T.A.W.”). I played all the guitar. I’d never really done anything like that before. Totally captured something in the moment. Dave was really working the board and getting all the sound. It was just jamming that fucking studio. We were wine drunk and just got these really good sounds. That song is just so off the wall for what we wanted to deliver or what we had in our minds. What you have cooked up in your mind doesn’t really–it may need to be portrayed differently. You have to step outside your creative artist box and allow songs to deliver themselves. And sometimes they come to a point and really show the public that we’re not afraid to trying fucking anything. There’ll be a time where I play upright bass and he’s on acoustic guitar. There will be times where I’ll be able to play a song in a better way than he can and vice versa. It’s just like in that song. I don’t play electric guitar. Never have. But that song needed that and I just did it. More than anything else, it reminded me that sober or not, day or night, morning or afternoon, you can capture art. And in that moment on the record, it sets us apart from what we had on the last record. Does that happen last record? Maybe not. Maybe that’s something someone skips to the next song on the last record. But on this record, it’s a part of something bigger. It’s genre-less. That’s what I’ve been calling this record.
NS: Yeah. I certainly see that. I always like when records or songs or bands aren’t able to be described in one word much less a single sentence. There’s something about great records being described by multiple paragraphs, not because they’re just great songs or something, but because they require multiple points.
PMC: Yeah. So many records are just on the surface. That’s why we wanted to do something that was different shit. I mean, I have a lot of songs that are like stuff off the first record. But that shows no progression. Why put out the same shit? David and I want to progress every time. We want to work with different musicians and get better. If this song calls for a bagpipe, by god, we’ll get a bagpipe. If this other one needs a horn, you get the point. Production is really cool. What’s great about this record is that everything you hear on the record, we can do live. Every thing on there is what you’re going to hear at The Blue Light. That’s what’s cool. Lots of records, you can overproduce. We thought about it and we wanted to bend our rules as musicians. How the hell are we going to keep this thing over the top without being too over the top for ourselves? Who wants that? I was just on YouTube watching all these bands who just recently won all these awards–Fun. and things like that. You’ll hear the record and then hear them live and they’re just opposites. I mean, it’s cool for what that is, but we wanted to be able to kick some ass live too.
NS: How was working with Lloyd Maines again?
PMC: Man, he’s awesome. He’s just like our father in this thing. He knows we have something great and knows we’ve worked up these songs. He’s just got to make the quarterback calls. Those last-minute audibles. He’s our quarterback. We trust him. He’s very seasoned. It’s nice to have somebody who can keep your biased opinion in the middle instead of swaying one way or an other.
New Slang: The last time we spoke with you guys, it was around last May. I remember then, when asked about what this record (Burning Days), you said it was going to have a “bigger, fatter, warmer sound.” I’ve listened to the record a few times now and would say that’s pretty spot on.
David Beck: For sure.
NS: What do you think you did to capture this warmth?
DB: First off you know, we recorded it ourselves at our own studio here. We didn’t hold back. You go to a lot of places and they’ve got five different projects they’re going to do that month. They need you to get in and out of there quickly. They work really safely. With this though, we didn’t have a time limit or anything. I think that had a lot to do with it. Just having room to not worry about stuff.
NS: I was talking to a friend recently about this record and telling him about how it really doesn’t sound like anything happening in Texas music at the moment. The differences between this and the last record are pretty drastic really. I mean you could be a casual listener or something and be thinking you’re listening to two different bands. One of the things I told him to describe the change between the two records was saying that it’s like when Dylan went electric.
NS: I mean, there’s obviously things that are comparable, but for all intents and purposes, there’s a definite change–much like an acoustic to electric switch. So what happened between these records as far as writing goes? What triggered this change in sound and atmosphere?
DB: The time between the first and second record, we really were exposed to a lot of new music. We were really getting into the rhythm of writing and leaving it open-ended. We weren’t scared of doing anything different.
NS: Another thing you guys said last time we spoke was that the first record was much more a “we wrote these songs and then found a band to play them.”
DB: Yeah. The first record we wrote songs and then formed a band around it. This second record, we had been playing with these guys a while and had been playing these songs live. It was a totally different deal. It was more of a band record. And we picked up a different drummer who made a difference. Accordion, which wasn’t on the first record. More lead guitar stuff. It was much more working our songs around the band rather than working the band around the songs.
NS: Mhmm. Do you think this second record felt more natural?
DB: It felt just as natural. Natural feels like whatever you feel like doing at the time. What we did on the first record, that felt natural. It’s what we had set out to do. It’s all natural. You know, right now, we’re writing new songs that sound different from this record. So it’s really whatever we feel like doing. We don’t have a record label that can constrain.
NS: What’s one of your favorite moments on the record? Not necessarily a song, but a moment that happened on a song.
DB: On “Not This Time,” when it goes on the last verse or chorus–whatever it is–it’s the last words, when it goes into that big chord at the end of the lyrics, that’s got to be it for me. I really dug that song. We wrote that one two days before we went into the studio. It was one of the last ones for the record. It was so cool that we couldn’t pass it up.
NS: Over the last several months, you guys have been showing up in some pretty major publications across the country. Wall Street Journal, Paste, Rolling Stone. In those, they’ve been comparing you guys to bands such as Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers. Personally, I just do think those comparisons are applicable at all. What do you think of them though?
DB: Well, those bands are obviously really successful right now. They must be doing something right. So anytime you’re compared to someone who is really successful, that’s pretty cool. We like hearing that. I think those bands really opened up a lot of roots music. They’re exposing a lot of things that were already there. That’s what we grew up with. Music that was country-based. Folk stuff.
NS: How was working with Lloyd Maines again on this record? How’s that relationship between you guys grown?
DB: Yeah. He had a way different task on this record, which was really cool. Basically, we wrote 32 songs from the first record to the second record. So we had this ridiculous catalog to choose from. Paul and I were really in over our heads. We knew we had the songs to make a record, but we didn’t know which ones it should be. So Lloyd Maines sat down with us for about four hours. We listened to all the songs and he would take two similar songs. For example, he’d take two ballads and put them together, and play them directly after each other and ask “Of these two, which would you rather listen to?” Then we’d pick one and go on to two rocker songs. “Which would you rather listen to?” So we broke it down like that. I’d have never thought to do that. We were trying to see this big ole picture for the record and you can’t really do that. You’ve got to break it down into smaller things that your mind can comprehend.
NS: Yeah. So take a guy like that. Someone who is helping you out in that capacity. He’s got to be brutally honest about things. He’s going to say at times, that this one song just doesn’t stack up to this other one.
DB: Oh yeah. I really admire that honesty. People throughout the day are so full of shit. He doesn’t bullshit around [laughs].
NS: [Laughs]. Now personally, I really think this record is a great record–and not only that–but really appreciate that you guys are trying something different and not staying stagnant. But with that being said, I can also see people who are expecting this to be Sons of Fathers II and either just don’t get it or just don’t like it.
DB: Oh yeah–we knew that going into it. We really don’t care. We write the music we feel like writing. If it comes out real loud, that’s just the way it is. If it comes out real quiet and country, that’s just the way it is too. We’re not trying to fake it.
NS: One of the things in music that really interests me is when you get lost in a song and don’t have a real grasp on how much time has passed. That happens on this record a lot. You’ll be listening to a song and think it’s this really long song and then look at the tracklist and time and realize only three-and-a-half minutes has actually passed. There’s a lot of songs on this record that are in that three-to-four minute range. I really don’t even know what I’m asking here, but thought it was an interesting point.
DB: Yes. I think it’s about getting to the point of a song musically and lyrically. Finding out the fundamentals of story or chord progression. The fundamentals of melody and then not doing more than that. Then it feels like it’s a much bigger thing.
NS: So the record is called Burning Days. That’s obviously the title of a song on the record as well. But another song that I think really captures the entire record really well would be “The Mansion.” What’s the story behind that song?
DB: I had that part written on guitar for a long time. For like six months. Just the melody and could never figure out a beat. Didn’t have anything with it–just that little guitar part. [Sings guitar part]. We had messed around with it for a while and couldn’t figure anything out for it. Which happens to a lot of songs really. They’ll just be stagnant for a long time. Anyways, we were in Washington D.C. and staying at this place called The Mansion. It’s like this big hotel that’s sort of a private hotel. A lot of government people stay there when they’re in town. It’s a lot of government people artists, musicians going through–which is an odd company. It’s all these old houses in D.C. that are linked together with these secret passages. It’s really crazy. And they have wine on the wall. And we had played a show there and it was around three in the morning and we were just pulling bottles off the wall. Every room just has alcohol [laughs]. We were really drunk and I started playing that riff and Paul grabbed a guitar and all these lyrics just pretty much came out right there. It’s about being with a girl and this life that’s sort of unobtainable at the moment.