Since forming in 2007, the Highway Ghosts have come a traveled a long path, but it’s one they’ve been eager to walk for many years.
The band’s brand of Americana music has garnered the attention of fellow musicians, clubs and the media, most notably the Boston Globe, which gave them their album “After All This Time,” the title of “Top Local CDs of 2009.”
The band has been part of several American festivals in the Boston area, and will be appearing at the New England Americana Festival on Thursday, Aug. 26 at the Hard Rock Café.
The following is a transcript from the band’s interview on the online radio show Citywide Blackout.
Citywide Blackout: You guys have a balancing act here, in that you have music, you have a family, the careers. How do you guys do all that?
Highway Ghosts: Very cautiously. We try to limit the amount of gigs we have in a month, and yet we’re on this kick lately where we’re getting better gigs, we’re doing interviews, we’re becoming part of the scene we like to think, so you want to make sure you’re stating out there and getting stuff done, but there is a balance. .
I’ve gotten to the point where I tell everyone and to give me the dates that don’t work so we can assume yes, so it’s a cautious balance. But we’re doing the band we wanted to do 10 or 12 years ago. If you’re gonna do a really cool gig and an interview and whatever else it’s gonna work.
When we play in certain places that works, it helps. We probably wouldn’t bother with some dive bars that played only cover songs.
We have such a good time doing it, if it were a burden it would be more difficult, but I mean we really enjoy what we do.
CB: Before this, what was the city’s Americana scene like?
HG: I think it’s been underground very much, it’s been around for awhile, you talk in the past about seeing bands like Will Cook and The Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo and the turnout for these shows would be amazing. But then trying to find local acts, you’d really have to do your research and homework, so it’s been underground for awhile.
A lot of those bands too never got much airplay on public radio. But somehow they got those who know, know, Wllco or Sunvolt or Drive By Truckers, they’ll come to town at the Paradise and it’d be sold out, you’ve got this group of people that are just tuned in and that’s the scene at Toad in Cambridge and I think we’re starting to tap into that crowd. This crowd likes music, and all you have to do is deliver, show that you’ve got a good CD and you’re good live. That is definitely what the Americana Festival is supposed to do, tap into that niche scene and blow is up so it works for more people.
CB: That’s right. I remember being at the Americana Fesitval back in February and the crowds there were huge.
HG: That’s exactly the hope with that, Noel did an incredible job, lots of ads, lots of sponsors. We’re not trying to create this exclusive little network that only these 30 bands are in, why not share everyone’s crowd and mailing lists? Why does this suddenly have to become the thing, like people just hear about it, and think “I have to go to that?” That’s what we’re hoping that this brand brings, no matter who’s playing, as long as its under that heading.
Somehow or another, that festival was an incredible success, we didn’t think it would be, but it did. We got a ton of great feedback, and some of the gigs we played are with people from the festival. It helped us go form unknown, its this certain legitimacy, now you’re kind of on the map helps you be connected with the people you want to be connected with.
CB: In just two years, you’ve come a long way, in 2009, you were voted “One of the Top Local CDs” by the Boston Globe.
HG: A friend of mine, Rob Loyot, who manages Girls Guns and Glory, e-mailed me and said you don’t get a better quote than that. Myself, Dan and Dennis played mostly in cover bands for a million years, and kind of a mix of original acts, but Highway Ghosts was the first time we put together what we wanted to do years ago, be a real original band in the Americana style, I learned a lot from the Swinging Steak, and more recently with Girls, Guns and Glory, Ward Hayden has taught me a lot like here’s who to talk to in the media, here’s how to book, here’s how to present yourself. Because frankly, I’m ten years older than him but he’s been doing this since he was 23. There was a lot of education going on here, but I think that helped. These past two years, we haven’t been banging our heads against the wall, we have a plan, learned from guys who know more than us, and the plan’s working beautifully so far.
CB: Has the plan had to undergo any modifications over the years?
HG: There’s always an adjustment, but hopefully its positive. What’s the worst, you play and place that doesn’t work and don’t play there again. I’m learning more and more that everybody’s in the same boat, getting a crowd, drawing a fan base is always a challenge. The plan is do a CD, get media attention, start playing better and better places, its kind of that simple.
Whether it’s a coincidence or a good thing, the scene is developing around us. So not only are we coming of age and getting all this attention what we do is getting a big push, a lot of the bands along our style are getting a big push.
CB: We’ve talked about how the Americana scene has grown. How has the rest of the city’s music changed?
HG: No doubt there are different vibes. Different clubs cater to certain things, TTs the Middle East scene is a little different. The Toad Atwoods scene has always been Dennis Brennan, Tim Gearan and a Girls Guns and Glory kind of scene. I hope we’ll carve out more of what we do in a larger scene in the city instead of just this little niche. Places like Church are actively working, Tim, who does the booking at Church did a great job and I hope it grows and I don’t think it hurts anyone else in the city.
One of the things that’s changed for the positive, is we used to go through the battling of labeling, you’re either a blues band or a country band or a rock band or Americana, so what are you. That seems to be kind of gone.
People still argue about that, people say what’s Americana it’s so vague, and for me I love that. It’s not quite country it’s basically a rock band that sticks in a Gram Parsons song.
I think that doing original music just expands your horizon, not set in one genre in particular.
The most important thing is that you gotta play whatever’s natural, there’s nothing worse than a band that wants to sound a certain way and forces the issue, it doesn’t work. Ideally, you do whatever you want to do and if it comes out well enough, I mean, how would you categorize Dave Matthews? But he does it brilliantly and it sells great, very unusual style, but it works. You go with what you do, and fortunately for us, this seems to be a style that a lot of people relate to. Because I think it’s ultimately pure. Ideal songwriting to me needs to be specific, you’ve got to describe an image and get it inside somebody’s head, but you should also vague enough that you can come up with your own story and have it mean something different to different people. It can’t be so vague that nobody will be able to attach, but that combination of imagery and giving just enough space so people can make their own stories and then you hit both of them and I think that’s what we did with this record.
For more info on the Highway Ghosts, see www.myspace.com/highwayghosts.