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The Steepwater Band is a rock ‘n’ roll band in every sense of the word. Jeff Massey, guitarist and vocalist, and the rest of group draw from Delta blues and rock influences from the ’60s and ’70s. But they are far from derivative and offer their own contemporary bite to every song. Massey takes a few minutes to talk with Vox about musical influences, their latest album and life on the road.
Vox: Listening to your albums, it’s clear that Delta blues is a huge influence. Who are some musicians, blues or otherwise, that you grew up idolizing?
Jeff Massey: Everything from classic rock like Led Zeppelin or Rolling Stones, and later when I met Joe and Tod we started getting into stuff like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. But growing up it was more the classic rock guys that were the gateway to it, Zeppelin, The Doors and even Black Sabbath. I didn’t realize that blues was in there until later on.
V: Are any of these influences seen in your music today?
JM: Definitely, all those I mentioned still hold up today. It gets hard to pinpoint influences because you listen to so much different music. We’re at the point now where we just write songs, and we have a lot more confidence in writing songs and are more apt to try things that maybe we haven’t tried in the past — everything from a poppy tune that might have a hooky chorus, or just a straight blues tune. We’re definitely not a straight blues band at this point, but that core, where we came from, is always going to be there in one aspect or another.
V: Talking about changes, what are some changes that you’ve made on your new album that you might consider risks or something new that you wanted to try?
JM: Well the previous album, we went out to California for the Grace and Melody record. Marc Ford produced that record. When you have someone produce a record, you give them free rein to have the their say-so and their influence on the record. You have to let go a little bit and respect that. So this time around it was more about getting in the studio and doing our own thing. We take things we learned from Marc and other producers and mix it up with stuff that we’ve learned. Basically getting in a room together and throwing out tune ideas and seeing what we come up with. Every record comes out a little bit different, but it’s always us.
V: You’ve talked about your songwriting process a little bit, can you explain what it’s like in the studio?
JM: The last couple of records we’ve done it a little bit differently. On the last two records, we’d come in with songs that were completely done and some of them would be about half done, and we’d just put the pressure on ourselves to go in there and be like “well let’s just play and see what happens.” A lot of times I’ll be switching lyrics from one song to another at the last minute or writing lyrics at the last minute. A song can come from just us jamming in a room or it might be something that Tod wrote at home and I put lyrics on top of it. It’s all over the map.
V: You guys play a pretty grueling schedule. Any difficulties creep in when you’re playing so many gigs?
JM: You get into a flow or a pattern when you’re on the road, and sometimes you don’t really want to come home. Our music is the kind of music that you want to play live. We hardly ever play the same set two nights in a row. There’s a few difficulties, we got in an accident one year, but we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve been doing it long enough you get into the flow of being on the road.
V: What are some these that you love about touring?
JM: I like being in a different place all the time. It takes a certain breed. We don’t get bored. I love seeing different clubs and meeting different people. When we go overseas it’s a whole other world over there. The feeling of playing every night is indescribable.
V: You’ve shared the stage with a whole bevy of artists such as Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy and Wilco. What artists would you like to collaborate with, or at least jam with?
JM: If I could pick, it would be great to do something with Bob Dylan. There’s always somebody you want to play with. It would be cool to play with The Allman Brothers, too. I’m saying Dylan today, it could be somebody else tomorrow.
V: What would you say is one of your most memorable experiences while on tour?
JM: One of the coolest experiences for us was when we played this festival in Spain back in 2005 called Azkena Rock Festival, which is Spain’s version of Bonnaroo. They have a really eclectic mix of bands from all over the world. They have Spanish bands, Drive-By Truckers were there, Wilco. We didn’t know what to expect when we went there. We played and there were people in the audience who knew the words to our songs, and we had this huge reception. I’ll never forget that because we went there blindly not knowing what the deal was. That’ll always stand out.
V: How would you describe a Steepwater Band live performance?
JM: The show is always open for change. There’s an energy vibe that’s not the same when recording a record because you can only get it when you’re in a room with people. Once you (play live) once, it’s hard to not want to do it again. I love the whole aspect of sound check, playing and hanging out and meeting people afterward, but I love playing the most.
V: How would you describe the Steepwater Band?
JM: I’d hate to say we’re just a blues-rock band because that term is so vague. That can stretch to people playing Vaughn covers in a bar. As vague of a term it might be we’re just a rock ‘n’ roll band. It’s not a whole lot of thrills. It’s just two guitars, vocals, drums and bass going at it. People say that rock music nowadays could mean anything, but rock ‘n’ roll is what we are. The biggest compliment I’ve had a few people tell us is that you sound like an old band from the ’60s and ’70s but you sound new at the same time. That’s the ultimate compliment.
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