Music

"Caveman" Finds Hot Club of Cowtown in a Whimsical Mood (premiere + interview)

Photo: Ryan Saul / Courtesy of Conqueroo

"Caveman" is "part Monty Python and part Bob Wills", but it's all Hot Club of Cowtown. The beloved Texas trio return with a new album, Wild Kingdom, on 27 September.

Wild Kingdom, the latest release from Texas' Hot Club of Cowtown, arrives 27 September and is comprised largely of original compositions from guitarist/vocalist Whit Smith and fiddler/vocalist Elana James. Smith's "Caveman" is exemplary of the group's ability to respect tradition while moving into new and contemporary climes.

Sounding like a classic from an earlier era, the tune is buoyed by Smith's inimitable vocal delivery and soulful guitar figures. James, meanwhile, weaves her particular magic in with taste and sparkle. With Jake Erwin's steady bass figures added in, "Caveman" is a Hot Club of Cowtown tune for the ages.

Smith says that "Caveman" was written close to the end of the composition cycle. "It actually started as a folk song," he says. "I played it totally different then. It was almost an Irish fiddle tune. I liked it, but I knew that it wouldn't be appropriate for what we were doing. I decided to add lyrics to it, give it a bridge and give it more of a Western swing vibe."

He adds, "It started as a little bit of a joke, that one person painted all of those cave paintings because the pictures all looked the same. If you were a chief, then your cave was nothing until it had this guy's artwork in it. He had his groupies. He was a celebrity with an entourage." From there, the story evolved. "There was a lot I didn't know. But those paintings inspired a lot of artists through the ages. It was more complex than I thought. But I do have this feeling that people have always been the same and that if you gave a caveman an iPhone, he'd have an Instagram page and be adept at using it by the end of the week."

He concludes, "It's part Monty Python and part Bob Wills. With something serious in there too."

Smith recently spoke with PopMatters about the group's aesthetics and, of course, guitars.

I appreciate that Hot Club's music is rooted in tradition but that you're not afraid to make contemporary references in your lyrics.

It's a little abstract because you want that aesthetic that appeals to people who like that kind of music because that's basically why you liked that kind of music. I identify with the western swing and jazz of the 1930s and '40s and to a degree from the '50s. I don't want just to start playing modern chords or modern voices or get into modern production. Depending on how hard you listen, you might say, "That's an older style, but it sounds fresh." I would be happy if I heard that. [Laughs.] I don't feel wedded to the past at all.

Do you have a particular guitar you're using throughout this album or do you switch out depending on the song?

For this record, I primarily used the same guitar I use on the road, which is a 1946 Gibson L5 that started life as an acoustic, non-cutaway. Like an orchestra guitar. Somebody, a long, long time ago gave it a cutaway. So, I can get my hands up the neck a little further. I have a friend who makes very nice Bigsby style guitars and pickups and accessories. He wound me the pickup. I just stick that on there with putty.

I play it through a 1937 Gibson amp exclusively on the record. On the road, I use a tube amplifier that's modified and as close as I can get it to that Gibson.

Do you tend to use the L5 for writing?

I guess I do. You don't know when ideas are going to hit you. If I'm in a dressing room or a hotel, that's the one that's going to be in my hands. But the guitar I really love and play at home the most is a 1929 L5. Old guitars are salty old characters, and they don't always feel like giving you something. But it's hard to live without them.

Is there any challenge in recording with vintage guitars?

All my recording experiences have been with vintage guitars. My engineers are usually OK with it. Sometimes those guitars are a little bit noisy. They buzz and rattle and occasionally you have to put putty on something or tape something down.

For Wild Kingdom, we used a studio in San Marcos. It's really nice. It has a main room with a high ceiling and hardwood floors, which is not that common anymore. It's a university-owned studio, so sometimes students will come in and watch. When they did, they'd sometimes say, "Why does your amplifier sound so different?" It sounds like an a capella group. Sometimes we play gigs, and people you wouldn't think would care about gear come up and say, "What is that sound?"

There probably isn't a lot of volume to it.

It's somewhere between 11 and 13 watts. In the past, when we performed with drums, I'd disappear. The guy would hit the snare, and that was it. In the studio, you have the advantage of a microphone, and you can control that dynamic. That's why I have a different amp on the road. But these are magnificent.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.