Interview: Chaz Brooks speaks to Chris Rattie, the ex-drummer from The Rustlanders, about his latest album ‘Porch’ by Chris Rattie & The New Rebels.

Chris lives in Spring Mills, Pennsylvania. A small, rural community, right in the middle of the state. He wrote all the songs on the album. This is one hellova record, full of great songs, impassioned playing from a great singer and a great band.

Hi Chris. Tell me a little about the album – what’s the main theme?

I met my wife Helen going on 5 years ago. I moved into her little farmhouse and we started a life together, it’s been great. Our house has a great little front porch and it’s where we spend a huge amount of time.

A few summers back a good friend of ours took a picture of Helen sitting in the doorway on the porch. When we got it developed it looked amazing and somebody said, “You know, that would make a great album cover”. I had been writing songs at the time that were trying to reflect a sense of this new place I was living in as well as expressing some happiness with kind of finding “my place” in a broader life sense.

The songs loaned themselves to the album cover we already had, so the whole thing made sense. I wouldn’t say there is an overall theme to the record, outside of it being mostly a collection of current songs that reflected my state of mind at the time.

There’s a few common threads throughout. Finding yourself, finding your “person”, and finding a safe and comfortable place to live out your days. Hopefully it presents a sense of time and place as well as painting a picture of the beautiful little valley where I live. That being said, our neck of the woods isn’t perfect so I tried to speak on some social issues that seem prevalent here.

‘Prisoner 743’ is a story about a small-town guy who winds up having to serve some time and his readjustment to being released. ‘Country Boy’ is a song about wilful ignorance, which takes its form in rural Pennsylvania as your cliched “redneck”. Clip Joint is kind of the same thing on a bit of a broader level. There’s an awful lot of Trump supporters here who seem willing to trade in their ethics for politics and are easily fooled by the same song and dance…. “always willing to trade away the reason for the rhyme”

Who are your main influences vocally and lyrically?

I know who I love lyrically and vocally. Whether or not they are apparent as influences, I’m not sure. As I get further along in songwriting and singing, I try to really focus on finding my own voice and style and not consciously channel anyone. When I was in high school and started becoming passionate about music, I listened to a ton of Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, heavy 70’s stuff. Those guys like Mark Farner really had that “high powerful” thing going on that I really loved. I was a harmony singer starting out and learned as a little kid in the car with my dad, trying to sing the high parts in Beatles and CSN & Y songs. So I was always into that higher, sharper register.

As I got older and more into country and alt-country music I think those kind of inflections probably found their way into what I’m doing as well. I find myself listening to and being drawn more to female voices in general, Aretha Franklin, Lucinda Williams, Sharon Van Etten…. I could go on and on. I don’t often separate the music from lyrics. If the music if great but the lyrics are clunky, or the lyrics are amazing but the song is boring it, then it doesn’t work. Bruce Springsteen is a big one. Bob Dylan, in a completely different way. I think John Lennon was brilliant and love that his style focuses more on the sound of words together rather than a literal meaning. I love Tom Petty’s complete literal simplicity. I think Lucinda Williams is a master at brevity and simplicity as well. It takes guts to write that way.

What’s your favourite track on the album and why?

I’ll have to give you the stock answer here and say that I love em all! Recording ‘Sparkling Stars’ was super fun and it’s about a really happy memory/brief moment that I remember distinctly. Having my friends Kate Twoey and Natty Lou Race come in and sing those back-up vocals was a blast. They were just cracking me and themselves up singing those parts.

‘Country Boy’ is a real good time playing live, like a big blast of Mountain Dew…. yee haw! It’s also great to see a song like ‘Heading into Darkness’ finally get recorded. I’ve had that one for a while. The failure aspects of that song became a self-fulfilling prophecy at the time, but now I’m living on the other end of that. It’s become a redemption song in many ways.

Who would you most like to collaborate with?

Bruce effin Springsteen. Except I’m afraid I’d be like Chris Farley when he interviews Paul McCartney on SNL. I’d be great to have Tom Dowd produce an album if he were still alive. I’d love to write songs for a David Lynch film…. maybe if he does a 4th season of Twin Peaks!

What’s in store for the future?

I think we’ve got a great record on our hands and the band is just killing it live. So the plan is to play as much as we can. We’ll tour largely throughout the mid-Atlantic and hopefully branch out a little further in the Summer. Even though I’m really proud of the music we just put out, I’ve also been living with these songs for a long time now. We added our new bass player, Jeff Downing in July, and we’re looking at having some other folks step into the fold as well. So I’m excited to write some new songs and see how they take shape with an evolving band.

What’s on your playlist at the moment?

Funny you should ask that! I’ve taken to making up playlists on my Spotify page and am having a great time with it.

I’ve been really digging on Courtney Barnett and her new album with Kurt Vile. I saw Lukas Nelson and Valerie June at Farmaid and they blew my damned mind, so they’ve been getting the spins lately. Against Me!, Sharon Van Etten, Shovels and Rope, Some classic 70’s stuff like Television, Mountain, and Thin Lizzy…… Goddamn, there is so much music out there, isn’t it great?!?

Who is Prisoner 743 about?

I wrote this song quite a long time ago. It’s not about any one specific person. At the time I had read an article about ex-convicts getting released from prison and having a hell of a time integrating back into society. So In the loosest and most general sense I’ve tried to put myself in that persons shoes to write the song. I was also working general maintenance and construction on a crew with a bunch of guys who were ex-cons, so I guess the character in the song is a big jumble of all those guys as well. As I’ve grown a little older and become more aware of things like institutional racism, I’ve come to understand that a lot of Americans can wind up in prison for the stupidest things or even if we did nothing at all. So I think the song is ultimately about not judging someone who was incarcerated. They paid the price for what they did and in reality probably overpaid.

Tell me about the line “They’re pounding on my mama’s door at 3am, Somebody downtown smashed up an ATM”:

The line just speaks to the overall story of the song and helps build the character. It’s a small town, he’s the ex-con, so anytime anything bad happens in town the cops look at him. The line also suggests that our guy is still living with his mother. Maybe until he gets back on his feet? I think that speaks to character as well… an ex-con living with his mom, it’s humbling, helps build some empathy.

And from Heading into Darkness the line “I got kicked out of Kentucky”?

Again, this song was written quite a long time ago. I had a friend back in my late teens and early 20’s who was kind of “the bad ass” of the group. He was definitely the “toughest” out of all of us, people really didn’t mess with us when he was around. He’s a great guy, big heart, but also a bit of a bullshit artist. Anyway, he had moved to town from the midwest and had all these tall tales of being a bad ass. One thing he always used to say was “I’m not allowed in Kansas.” or ” I got kicked out of Kansas”…. but he always kept the details a secret. Many years later, while I was in the band The Rustlanders, I wrote this song.

The lyrics are fairly personal/autobiographical and for me, are related to being a touring musician while watching my other friends find security, buy houses, start families, etc. The Rustlanders were constantly on the road and had hit a string of “not great’ shows in the mid-west… the kind of shows that make you question what it is you’re doing 600 miles from home, flat broke. I needed an opening line that sounded “bad-ass” for the song. I thought about my old friend and my situation at the time, driving home from a bad gig in Kentucky, and got the line.

Chris Rattie’s latest album Porch can be purchased from his website: http://www.chrisrattie.com/shop.html
Watch My Mountain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Qrd-A2OiqM

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