Tuesday, July 31, 2012

We Interview Mike "Cornfield" Hannah From Ashes to Immortality: "I love the look on the sound guy's face when I tell him to mic the suitcase on the drum kit."

If you're an indie-rock-loving LFK scenester, there's a good chance you haven't witnessed (or perhaps have studiously avoided) the pure joy of an Ashes to Immortality hootenanny.   You're missing out.   This fast-rising Lawrence seven-piece  played a recent high-profile gig at the Flaming Lips after-party at the Bottleneck along with Cloud Dog, and you can find them at the Granada this Saturday, Aug. 4th,  with openers Tyrannosaurus Chicken and Jazz Cigarettes.

Check out the Ashes to Immortality Facebook page here and enjoy our interview with vocalist/mandolist Mike "Cornfield" Hannah, who explains the origin of the band's name, the reason why badass fiddler Rachel Killian is called "Stankboot," and the intricacies of the band's secret weapon:  an old brown leather suitcase. 

Richard:  Tell us about your band's name.  The first time I heard the name, I have to admit, I was expecting some kind of self-important rock/metal band.  As you can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised by your sound!

Mike:  First off, thanks for listening to our music and supporting local music in general.  

The name came about because we are all very into the Occult. No, actually it's the motto of Lawrence.  After Quantrill's raid, which destroyed the town and killed about 150 men/boys, the Lawrencians literally rebuilt the town from Ashes.  We were having trouble deciding on a name but kept booking shows.  So one night I wrote down about 30 potential names and gave it to the band.  At the end of the night Ashes to Immortality was chosen.

The name certainly leads to some confusion though, since it doesn't sound like a typical bluegrass band.  Basically its a homage to the history of Lawrence.  This town really means a lot us.  I myself am a life-ong townie.

Chip:  The crowds at bluegrass/roots shows are so much more fun than the motionless indie-rock scenesters.  Tell us a wacky story about one of your gigs, perhaps involving naked Winfield hippie chicks or something else that will amuse or titillate me.

Mike: Yeah I never understood the indie-rock scenesters lack of movement at shows...what's the deal with that?  I would like to encourage more of the " indie hipsters" to come check out our shows and other acoustic bands.  They just might like it.  Dancing is optional, though strongly suggested.

We do fully encourage naked hippie chicks at our shows, especially in the front row.  In fact, we like to reserve some space up front just for those occasions.  Winfield did get pretty out of hand last year, as it usually does.  I'm not sure I can tell the full details of the story in a public forum for legal reasons.  But come hang out with us at the Granada and Bayley will tell you the story from our late night Saturday Winfield show.  I think she might be the only one who actually remembers it.

Recently, at the Liberty Hall block party show we had a couple get engaged during our set.  We play a tune called "My Gal" and the guy took his girlfriend to the front of the stage, kneeled, and proposed to her.  It was pretty cool.  Luckily she said yes!  Still trying to figure out who they are so I can put them on the guestlist and buy them a beer.  If you see this, send us a message on Facebook please.

 Here's a short video of the band rocking the post-Lips party at the Bottleneck: 

Richard:  I've seen you guys a few times and I think my favorite aspect of the band may be Rachel Killian's kick-ass fiddling.  Why is she called "Stankboot," and where do the other band nicknames come from, such as Cornfield and Flop Hat?  

Mike:  Rachel is a total bad-ass for sure.  She can play the hell out of that fiddle.  Every night we have a friendly battle between stage right and stage left to see who can shred the hardest if you will.  Rachel pretty much steals the show every night....which is why I keep her on stage right with me.  Peter and Brandon are stiff competition though.  As far as her nickname "Stankboot" goes, let's just say don't ever slam a bottle of honey whiskey with Rachel or you'll wake up in the morning on the ground using her muddy boot as a pillow.  Those nicknames came about during our road trip to perform at Summercamp festival 2011, which is basically a Wakarusa for the Chicago area.  Sonny's nickname is Flop Hat because if he's ever not wearing a floppy hat, it only means he has temporary misplaced it.  Colby's nickname is Stripes, because he constantly wears stripes and is probably developing a strange disorder about them.  I can't tell you Bayley Kate's nickname, because it makes her incredibly upset.  And I hate to see such a sweet girl curse at me.  Brandon's nickname is B-Money, because he is so damn smooth.  Honestly, I can't get a nickname for Peter to stick yet: that boy is an enigma wrapped in a riddle.  But you won't find a better banjo player.  I'm called Cornfield simply because I enjoy the comfort of meditating in the peaceful confines of a Midwest cornfield during the late night hours of a self-induced freak out.

Chip:   I dig the wild variety of instruments that turn up on stages with bluegrass/roots bands.   What's the wackiest instrument you guys have ever tackled on stage?

Mike:  It's always a lot of fun getting a bunch of instruments on stage to jam with us.  We really love that.  It's a Winfield tradition to get as many people picking in a circle and jamming together as possible and we like to recreate that vibe at shows when possible.  We'll probably have our talented friends like Dan Pem, Michael Paull and Michael Stephenson sit in with us at the upcoming Granada show.  Hopefully we'll end up with 10 or so people on stage.

But probably the "wackiest" instrument we have on stage is Colby's suitcase.  Our drummer often replaces his kick drum with an old brown leather suitcase.  It actually produces a nice warm tone that pairs well with the acoustic sound, especially in a smaller club.  I love the look on a sound guy's face when I tell him to mic the suitcase on the drum kit.

Richard:  You guys have had some relatively high-profile local shows ol late, with Split Lip Rayfield on New Year's Eve and rocking the block party and after-party at the Flaming Lips/Liberty Hall 100th Bash.  Why do you think Ashes to Immortality is "taking off?"

Mike:  It's been a great year for us so far, starting with that NYE show with Split Lip.  It was such an honor to have those guys ask us to do that gig with them.  We've had a lot of support from people like SLR, Truckstop Honeymoon, and great venues around the area.  My grandad taught me 'it's not what you know, it's who you know'.

However the biggest thing that has helped us is the immense support from our family, friends, and fans.  Since our very first show we've received incredible love and we're just happy to return the energy whenever possible.

This band has an incredible mix of talent that blends well together. We've really gelled and evolved recently as a group and that is important to keep pushing a band and bringing in more fans.  We strive to keep things fresh and creatively improvising to make each show a unique experience.  That's very important to us: we never just want to play a standard set.  Every performance is it's own living piece of art different from the next.

Bayley Kate has become a tremendous lead singer and front-woman, I'm so proud of her.  Brandon and Peter are incredible and keep getting better, as does the rhythm section.  And we've already discussed Rachel's badassness.

Although we play acoustic roots music and bluegrass for the most part, I feel we've been able to achieve a unique, original, and progressive sound within the local music scene and the genre itself.  People seem to be responding to that and we couldn't be happier about it.  There are so many great bands out there; we just want to achieve something that sets us apart and makes people have fun...that's what keeps us working hard.

Chip:   Tell our readers what to expect at the Aug. 4th Granada show?  And what should we know about the opening bands, because frankly I'm a little scared of something called "Tyrannasaurus Chicken."

Mike:  Ha, yes Tyrannosaurus Chicken might sound scary, but they will rock your balls off for sure.  I saw them at Festy Fest this year and they blew me away.  I completely geeked out on them after their set, got their contact info and have been trying to do a gig with them since.  They are from Arkansas.  It's a duo with a multi-instrumentalist and an insane fiddle player.  It's backwoods boogan boogie freak beats at their finest.  We'll also have our friends the Jazz Cigarettes open the night.  That's our drummer Colby's other band, and it's his birthday too!  They are great, Michael Stephenson is an immense talent on the guitar.  Hopefully we'll get to have him and a bunch of friends sit in for a big jam session.  We're going to go all out on Aug 4th.  It's going to be our last show till Winfield and our last show in Lawrence for a while.  So we have some special stuff in the works. We're gonna rock the Granada all night till they pull the plug.  It's going to be a big party to say thanks to all our friends and fans before Winfield.

Richard:  What's on the horizon for the band in terms of new music and touring?

Mike:  We've been working on a lot of new music lately.  Bayley, Brandon and I all are working on new tunes.  And Sonny showed me a few new songs he has the other night.  Always exciting to have new material flowing.

After the Aug. 4th Granada show we are going to take a few weeks off to prepare for Winfield. That's going to be a big deal for us and one of the highlights of our year.  Then immediately following Winfield we're going into the studio for a couple weeks to record our first full-length album.  We're extremely pumped about that and have a lot of great stuff ready to record.

Then we'll be playing a lot of shows for the fall and winter in the Midwest.  I'm working on booking right now actually.  We'll do a few Larrytown shows this fall, looking like Jazzhaus and possibly Bottleneck or another Granada.  But we're also going to continue to spread our music as much as possible while growing the hometown base that has been so good to us.  Hopefully we'll have another great NYE show in town!  

Thanks again to you guys for supporting local music and we hope to see you and all your readers at the Granada August 4th!


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