There’s an amazing new rock album out, but you probably already know about Deep Purple’s Now What?! Rock & Roll Graveyard, by local favorites Hotel Oscar, is even better—12 tracks that live up to the promise of the band’s 2012 Beachcomber Music Award winning Burgers & Fries. It’s an album that gets everything right— performance, songwriting, production (funky horns that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s witnessed vocalist-guitarist Mose Wilson’s James Brown tributes), packaging… everything.
“We knew we wanted to record in analog but knew it would be difficult in terms of time and money,” says Wilson. “There aren’t many analog studios around, but we found a guy in Nashville (that could capture) the ‘old school’ rock ‘n roll sound. It was all recorded pretty much ‘live,’ and we did all the tracking and mixing in two weeks.
I caught up with Wilson, bassist Joe Bradford, drummer Clint Moreland, and multi-instrumentalist Isaac Eady (Eady, the new guy in the band, didn’t play on the recording, but has had his hands full rearranging the R&RG songs for Hotel Oscar’s live gigs) during a recent guest DJ gig on Shannon Ireland’s 30A Songwriter Radio, and I thank them for sharing the stories behind the songs.
“Rock & Roll Graveyard.” “I love the old Stax records,” says Wilson of the album’s horn arrangements. “I was listening to a bunch of Otis Redding and Staple Singers before we went into the studio. The guy we recorded with (Andrija Tokic) wanted to get the old Muscle Shoals sound.
The song has been around for a while, and even turned up on the band’s Live at the Funky Blues Shack. But Wilson says the song didn’t change too much by the time they laid it down at Nashville’s The Bomb Shelter. “We tightened things up, but musically, it pretty much held its ground.”
As for the song’s inspiration? “I was getting some anxiety that nothing would ever come from being a musician, so then what happens? Originally, it was about guys I grew up with in Winchester, Tennessee who played music and hit the bars pretty hard. That was their rock and roll graveyard.”
“Draw Some Blood.” “I love the use of the horns,” says Moreland, referring to trombonist Diego Vasquez, saxophonist Joe D. Douglas and trumpeter Michael Royer. “(Tokic) got all the horn players for us, and they were really cool.”
“For You For Me.” “That’s probably the only love song on the album,” says Wilson. “I don’t mind writing love songs, but I try to write about different things. I’m not really a relationship guy.”
“Liked It.” Wilson says he wrote this song when he, Bradford and Moreland were living in Pensacola last summer. They were up late partying and “just started jamming. It’s just a fun song.”
“Nothing’s Gonna Hurt.” “Live, I get to make up my own piano part,” says Eady. “It’s the same song but a different feel.”
“This will probably get interpreted as a love song,” says Wilson. “But it’s about a high school friend who was killed in Afghanistan.”
“Black Cat Jerry.” “The storytelling on this I awesome,” says Moreland. “I’m in the band, and I still like to listen to it.”
“Florida Snow.” “It goes from my guitar at the beginning to all the instruments getting really loud and some nice threepart harmony,” says Wilson of the song’s arrangement. This is the album’s sole songwriting credit for bassist Bradford— Wilson penned all the others.
“Lullaby.” “This is the oldest song on the record,” says Wilson. “It was actually written before Burgers & Fries was released. I never thought it worked for the band, but Clint talked me into it. As far as the meaning goes, this is the ‘heartache’ song on the album.”
“Never Give You Up.” Wilson says this song, which deals with addiction, is one of the band’s oldest. “It went through a lot of changes, but I’m glad we kept it.”
“Get in Touch.” Moreland: “It’s got a funky groove and a transition-breakdown that’s in your face!”
“Dead Man’s Song.” “(It’s) about the death of John Lennon,” Wilson explains. “I’ve been a big fan of the Beatles my whole life. There’s been a lot of conspiracy theories about his death, and I read a couple of books about it. I thought John was not the ‘perfect’ guy, but he had a good message he was trying to get across. Our generation of songwriters owes it to him to keep that going.”
“Travelin’ Bone.” Wilson: “This is my tribute to Woody Guthrie, my ‘ramblin’ song.’ I think Woody is the greatest of all American songwriters.”