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Friday, 03 June 2011 09:35

"It still feels pretty damn good" An interview with Dave Wilson of Chatham County Line

"It still feels pretty damn good" An interview with Dave Wilson of Chatham County Line Kate McDaniel
Written by Kenji Yoshinobu

Chatham County Line might be the only group you’ll hear claim to “wear out ties.” After over ten years of touring, the Raleigh, North Carolina natives have consistently approached their style of country/folk/bluegrass music with as much charisma and, more importantly, professionalism, as possible.

Their work ethic and passion for their profession has earned them respect from their peers and fans worldwide. The band comes to St. Louis for a performance at Twangfest 15 on June 10 in support of its latest album Wildwood.

Kenji Yoshinobu: When I was researching the band I came across a community newspaper in North Carolina that shared the band’s name. I was wondering if this is the origin of the band’s name.

Dave Wilson: No, actually they are copycats. They are based in the county of Chatham. But I don’t have a battle against them. They are a good old community paper. We actually got our name from Chandler [Holt], our banjo player, who used to live on the Orange Chatham County line. John [Teer] and I always used to get lost on our way to see him. Chandler was, you know, that third brown mailbox past the big oak tree, and we would always miss that mailbox, so we would cross into Chatham County. That’s where the name came from.

What got you into playing your style of music?

I was really into the country rock scene while I was in college. [Grateful Dead’s] Workingman’s Dead. Gram Parsons. The Byrds. All that stuff. That kind of led me to writing songs on the mandolin. Then there was this great Steve Earle record called Train A Comin’ and it really blew my mind how he surrounded these great stories and words with great sounds of acoustic instruments. I was writing a lot of songs and I met these guys who were in other bands and we just started hanging out and playing some songs together. One thing led to another and we started doing this. And I saw a Del McCoury show where they were wearing suits and playing into a single microphone and I thought that was the bees knees. So that was kind of our first attack. We’ve always played around a single mic and we’ve always dressed the part. It just felt right when we first started doing it and ten years later it still feels pretty damn good.

I noticed while watching some videos of you guys performing that you all looked so energized and comfortable playing together. Has that chemistry always been there?

Definitely. Like I said, we really palled around before we played music together. We knew each other from playing in different bands and sharing stages. Before there was a music side, there was definitely a kinship there. We’ve crossed paths with other bands on the road and I thank the stars everyday that I ended up in a group of four guys that can ride around the world in a Honda Odyssey mini van and still laugh a lot.

You guys got your start in ’99. What keeps you guys going?

I think it is a big fat sack of American dollar bills. We slowly but surely got to a point where this is how we were going to make our living. There was a minute when Chandler quit his job -- he was working at this plumbing supply place -- and he said the minute that he quit his job he knew that we were doing this for the long hall. But once the bills started getting paid and we're in tune on stage doing what we love to do we never looked back.

How many times have you been to Europe?

I’m about to send in my passport off to get more pages put in so they can have a place to stamp it. It’s crazy. Certain things took off overseas. It has been like 14 or 15 times now. At some point we finally realized that we should keep up with the frequent flyer miles.

I tend to associate your music with the American crowd. I know folk music has roots in Scotland and Ireland, but I was wondering if you saw a difference between your American audiences and your European audiences?

The European audiences are definitely more reserved than the American crowds. It depends on where you are. Britain is wild, but the Netherlands and Belgium are really reserved. It is a great experience for us because I look at American folk music and bluegrass and jazz with Europe sent all these people off to America, by choice or not, and they took all the music that they had learned from their European heritage and they created this whole new stew in America. I liken it to sending your kids off to school and they learn all this stuff that you didn’t tell them and you’re surprised and interested in it. So I think when we take our music back to Europe they get to see the stew that America is every time we play.

What is a place that you haven’t been that you’d love to play?

I’d love to go to Japan to play. We’d love to do Australia sometime. It’s a long way away. It’s weird because there are places in America that we are still getting to. For example, on this tour we are playing Louisville for the first time. It is odd because it seems like a place that would be into our style of music, but we have just never gotten there. It takes a lot of miles to get to every damn town in this big old country of ours.

How many times have you played St. Louis?

It hasn’t been a lot. We played a house concert for Rick Wood -- he’s a great music supporter. That was probably two years ago. Like I said, there are a lot great music towns that we want to get to. It is just working them in on a week when we’re on the road and can swing by.

Do you have a favorite place to play in the U.S.?

Funny enough we played in Los Angeles last year. I was really surprised at the reception. You expect those people to be so cold to anything that is not uber hip, but they really took to what we were doing. After the show people were saying to us, “Please come back! Please come back! We’ve got no good music here!” And we were like, “Oh, we guess we are going to come back here if we can work it out.” I like the big cities, but I like anywhere. The prevalence in America now is that they are taking back the main streets and the downtowns. There are all these old theaters that have come to disrepair and community groups, or people with some sort of financial backing, are taking these theaters back and creating music venues. Those are some of my favorite places to play because people have experienced the thrill of cinema for years, and then we get to be on that stage and entertain the next generation. It’s a powerful thing.

Do you guys listen to much country/bluegrass while you’re on tour?

No, we really don’t. We listen to everything and anything. I’m a dial scanner myself, so I love being able find a station like KDHX. I’m searching for a station that plays all this off-the-radar music that you just don’t hear in the world. I love hearing new things. We had satellite radio for a while, but I really love finding that college station that’s playing the great stuff. It opens my mind to the sounds that are out there.

I imagine with all the traveling you do you are encountering some good food. Are there any places that come to mind where you had a memorable meal?

In St. Louis we went to a really good sandwich shop [the Blues City Deli]. Somebody told us to go there and it was right when it snowed. It had a bunch of guitars on the wall. But when we are on the road we’ll pull out the smart phone and find some “gastro, disaster” place. Greg [Readling] and I were driving out on the west coast at some point and we went to Mama E’s Chicken and Wings. We got chicken and waffles. It was awesome.

You guys have been a band for over ten years. What is your proudest achievement with CCL?

I think you answered the question with the question. I think being together for this long, really loving what we’re doing, still feeling inspired every time we get onstage and write new songs. It’s not tired and we aren’t sick of each other. We love getting together and playing, and the fact we can do that for a living is great. Just having fans, newer and younger, finding us through stations like KDHX, and just appreciating what we do for what it is -- just a live performance that incorporates a lot of different elements of American music. That is a powerful thing and we love it. We can’t deny it.

What are your future goals for 2011 and beyond?

We want to keep putting out records that we stand behind. Reach new places in the world and play big stages with other people that we love. We want to go everywhere as fast as we can without interfering with anyone in the band’s love life.

Chatham County Line performs at Twangfest 15 on Friday, June 10.

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