by: Thomas D. Mooney
The Dirty River Boys will be playing at The Blue Light tonight (Friday, Oct 16). Earlier this week, we caught up with one quarter of the four-piece roots rock band, guitarist-vocalist Marco Gutierrez.
Watch/Listen to Dirty River Boys play “Down By the River” on Texas Music Scene below.
New Slang: Over the last year and a half or so, you guys have really began getting the full drum kit into the live show. Travis still plays cajon and stuff for about half the show, but the drum kit has been worked in as well. Was there a period of time when you all had to really get used to that in the live show? Obviously, it’s a change.
Marco Gutierrez: Yeah. When we were first feeling out the new songs that ended up being on the last album (The Dirty River Boys), a little before the recording period, we were definitely incorporating the drum kit more and more. It was a little strange because fans got used to seeing Travis on the cajon. I think people thought we were going to change what we were all about. It was a little trying and a little strange, but now, it has been over a year. We haven’t changed what we’re about. It’s still a rowdy rock, country, bluegrass show.
NS: A lot of shows, it is that rowdy, raw energy. It’s something that everyone talks about when it comes to a Dirty River Boys show. But on the albums, there’s still a handful of songs that are quiet folk ballads that are harder to bring up in that environment. Do you wish you’d be able to play more of those within the show though?
MG: Yes and no. We’re kind of at a point now where we have a big enough pool of songs that we can play the room. Playing The Blue Light in Lubbock, we want to keep it with that high intensity and energy. We want that crowd to be going the whole time. Playing a place like The Mucky Duck in Houston, we definitely reach in back in the archives and pull out those lyrically driven slower songs.
NS: One of the things I’ve noticed with the songwriting over the course of the two EPs and two albums has been a little bit of a transition from storyteller songs (think “Union Painter,” “Boom Town,” “She”) to a lot more first-person songs (think “Scraping the Bottom,” “Riverbed Wildflowers,” “Simplified”). There’s still storyteller songs, but even then, it feels like you guys are telling them from your band perspective (think “Highway Love,” “Down by the River”). Do you think that’s just been a natural progression or was there a conscious decision to expand the songwriting and challenge yourself as songwriters?
MG: I think back then–those first EPs–we were still trying to figure out what we were about and what our sound was. I think those songs came at the right time. A few of those were around before the band had started. We kind of made those works. When Science of Flight came around, we definitely evolved, but I don’t think we ever tried to consciously write from more first-person and personal songs. Still for me, every time I write something, by the time the album comes out, I absolutely hate it. That’s held true each time. I think that shows that I’m still trying to figure myself out as a songwriter and trying to adapt and learn. It’s really an interesting question because I don’t think it’s a conscious direction, but at the same time, I do know that I’m trying to expand and improve.
NS: Yeah. I mean, it’s easy to say that you want to grow as a songwriter–just about every songwriter would say that. But at the same time, it’s really difficult to experiment and try new things in a genuine and real way. You want it come natural. You don’t want to sit down and say, “OK. Today I’m writing a whatever song because I’ve never done one and I should.”
MG: Yeah. Putting in the hours and sitting in front of blank paper. It’s hard. People say they want to be a better songwriter all the time. I’m no authority when it comes to songwriting or anything. But it’s like with anything, you get out what you put into it. This goes with the drum kit and cajon thing. I think now is kind of a changing of the tide. Before, we were just kind of going with what we had. Now, I feel we’ve at least grabbed hold of some direction. We’ve put in more thought into everything more than we previously had. With this last album, we’re still figuring ourselves out, but it’s a better representation than the previous.
NS: Yeah. With this self-titled, I felt overall, the collection of songs, they fit better as a unit. There’s some cohesion with this set. They sound well together as a unit.
MG: Yeah. I’ll agree with that.
NS: One of the things that has run through a lot of your songs are these worrisome, self-loathing moments. There’s some anxiety within the songs at times. For the sake of an example, the song “Loser” has a lot of that. When you’re writing, how much of it is it you writing within a character’s point of view and from your own personal point of view?
MG: A lot of it is personal masked through a character in a song or a collage of events. A lot of times, it’s a character where the events are real, but it’s not void of my emotion. There’s a lot of me in there, but it’s not directly me. The song “Loser,” that’s definitely more me. It’s not a storytelling, but more of a collage of events and scenes that I’ve put onto paper. Worrying and anxiousness–that’s definitely a few feelings that come up when I write.
NS: A few weeks back at Kalf Fry, you guys mentioned that you were wanting to do a live album–maybe a live compilation is more accurate. At any rate, I know it’s still early on with it, but let’s say that magically you already had a copy of it in your hand right now, what would it be?
MG: A lot of people come up and say they like our albums, but that the live show energy is where it’s at. We’ve always wanted to do one so I think we’ll be getting it into the works pretty soon. I think the ideal version would be where we have our rowdy jams at places like The Blue Light and The Granada Theater and that’d be one half of it. The other half would be the toned down stuff. It’d be the more “singer-songwriter” stuff in listening rooms where people have to shut up and pay attention. We’re still in that “idea” phase. We need to get it on paper and actually rehearse before doing it. We’ll see what happens.