Monday, July 7, 2014

Our Interview With The Black Lillies: "I think everyone likes to be tickled in a new way by a familiar hand."

Looking for a cool show on a hot week in LFK?  The Black Lillies stop by the Bottleneck on Wednesday and the show is a top pick in both the Pitch and Ink this week.  Last month they were chosen as one of Rolling Stone's Top 10 Artists You Need To Know and they've managed to find equal success on both the Americana and Country charts.   One hell of a blurb on their press page even proclaims: “The Black Lillies are fronted by the best-matched male-female vocal duo since Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.”  Goodness gracious, what a statement!

Well, we've got you covered today with a full interview with frontman Cruz Contreras, so let's figure out the inside scoop on these buzzy Knoxville troubadours.  Check out the Black Lillies' website here and give them a "like" on Facebook here and enjoy this chat that ranges from the hallowed halls of the Grand Ole Opry to the weed-smoked sauna that is Bonnaroo, from fine Tennessee whiskey to a less-elegant drink-combination called "Pubby Buddies." 

See you at the show! Buy some tickets via the Bottleneck site.

Richard:  I've always had a fondness for an old-school country sound, and you folks are obviously managing to keep a lot of those influences intact yet still doing well on the country charts that are mostly dominated by polished "new country."  How would you describe your sound and why do you think it's had an across-the-board appeal?

Cruz:  You hit it on the head.  The Black Lillies have one foot in tradition, be it country or rock n' roll or bluegrass or soul, and another in what's fresh.  New songs, new hybrids, new jams, cross-pollinizations!   To me both feet are equally important and ensure longevity and sustainability for this thing we love to!  As far as across-the-board appeal....I think everyone likes to be tickled in a new way by a familiar hand.

Chip: That last part sounds like an innuendo. I know I do!   So you folks are fresh off a big gig at Bonnaroo.  How was that experience for you?  Were the crowds receptive? And can you tell us a tale of debauchery, ideally involving drugs and/or naked hippie chicks?

Cruz:   What would an epic Tennessee rock n' roll fest be without some boobies and varying degrees of medicinal enlightenment?  Right?  But hey - after the glow sticks and body painting all fade away, what are we left with (well, besides some extra dust in your nostrils)?  Rock n' roll still remains …. and in Tennessee we've been mixing that brew for quite some time - from Elvis to Jack White, the hippies and the cowboys … we've got plenty in common. Namely …. music!

Richard:  Your press kit offers an interesting stat:  you've played the Grand Ole Opry more times than any other independent act.  So how many times have you played, what's your most memorable experience there, and who is your all-time favorite band or artist who is closely associated with the Opry?

Cruz:   We've performed at The Opry now about thirty times.  And seriously - we are so grateful.  There is no bigger stamp of approval in the country music world.  It's like getting your shot in the big leagues.  We've seen some great artists there: Alabama, The Oak Ridge Boys, Charlie Daniels, Vince Gill …. oh yeah … that's right …. Vince Gill.  So he’s hosting our segment of the show one night.  We’ve finished up our first song, about to launch into our second, and without thinking I say over the microphone, "I sure am thirsty!” - which I was because I was so nervous.  I've already kicked off the song when I turn around and see Vince running across the stage towards me opening a bottle of water.  Well, I get this idea that I can keep playing the song and somehow drink this water at the same time.  I open my mouth, Vince starts to pour the water in, I'm on my knees, calf style … and we both lose it. There’s water pouring down my shirt like it’s a wet t-shirt contest, I spit water everywhere, the song crashes, and the whole place erupts in laughter.  Fast forward,  we restart the song, knock it out, and as we're walking off stage Vince asks me "who wrote that song?” I take that as a compliment, responding that I wrote it, and then, again over the microphone, he proceeds to say, "sorry I made you wet!"  We both look at each other bug eyed, sharing a special moment, and it was over, as it should have been!

Chip:  Most Tennessee country bands that I know drink a lot of whiskey.  A LOT of whiskey.  What's your whiskey of choice?  And do you enjoy PBR, because that's mainly what people drink in Lawrence.

Cruz:  We call em "Pubby Buddies” - a shot of whiskey with a PBR. Quite economical and very effective.  I heard that a few years back the Knoxville market was the number one consumer of PBR in the country. Perhaps that’s only a vicious rumor, but I have pretty reliable sources.  As far as whiskey goes, we have a broad and eager palette. Of course we have our Tennessee whiskeys, Dickel and Jack, but we appreciate our bourbons from the North …. Bulleit, Woodford, Buffalo, Four Roses, Makers ….. and the list goes on!

Richard:  I'm not going to lie to you: a Wednesday night show at the Bottleneck in Lawrence during the summer can be a tough sell.  Leave our readers with a blurb that convinces them they absolutely MUST make it out to this gig.

Cruz:  Well, since we're not telling lies, I should admit that we've never been to Lawrence, but our buddy Chuck Mead said it's a real nice place.  AND Wednesday is hump day - which I like to think of as the high point of the week - so if we all time it just right, some good grooves, some magical melodies, some good cheer … we can call it the "summertime hump day high at the Bottleneck with The Black Lillies" … yeah … I like that! Hope to see ya there … it'll be a big time!



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