Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Str8 Talk: The Straight 8's on music, motorbikes and appearing on the Cinemax show Banshee.

The Straight 8's at Durham's Motorco Music Hall. (photo by TUN*C)
North Carolina's Straight 8's evoke a simpler time, a time before auto-tune, mp3's and push button ignitions on motorcycles. The Straight 8's are practitioners of the traditional rockabilly sound and over the past 10+ years they have established themselves as one of the premiere bands of the genre and an annual favorite at Ton Up NC's Bull City Rumble. In addition to touring locally and nationally, the Straight 8's were recently selected to make a live appearance on the pilot episode of the new Cinemax original program Banshee. The program was created by Academy Award winning screenwriter, Alan Ball (American Beauty, Towelhead, Six Feet UnderTrue Blood) and was filmed in Charlotte, NC, but is set in a small Amish community called Banshee, PA. We recently caught up with the Straight 8's for an interview:

Introduce yourself.

Robert: “Hi, I’m Robert. I play guitar and do most of the vocal stuff.”

Daniel: "My name is Daniel Mebane. I am the upright bass player for the band."

Murph: "Hey, I'm Mark Murphy. I play drums and am a bit of a closet guitarist (mostly surf/instro type stuff).  

Where are you all from and where have you lived?

Robert: “ I grew up in SoCal and moved out to NC in the early 90’s.”

Daniel: " I have lived in North Carolina pretty much all my life. I was born in Greensboro, where I grew up. After high school I attended East Carolina University in Greenville NC. A couple of years back I went out west to Texas to work for a few months, but been back here ever since. I love NC and will probably always call it home."

Murph: "I was born in the Bronx and lived in NY/NJ through 9th grade.  I finished HS in Lexington KY and lived in MS and KS while in the USAF.  I moved to NC in 1985… man, going on 28 years now!"

How have the places you’ve lived impacted what you do?

Robert: “Everyone thinks the West Coast has the market cornered on cool, but it wasn’t until I moved to the East Coast that I felt any real connection to a place. I think people out here are a lot more open and approachable and aren’t always hiding behind some façade. I think this helped me get into playing music out and feeling like people cared.”

Daniel: "I think when I went to college was when I got really involved in music. There was a skate park in downtown Greenville that hosted a wide range of punk shows. The exposure I got from the bands coming through inspired me to join a band. When I moved back to the triad there was a lot of hype and steam going with shows like Heavy Rebel Weekender and the Chicken Pickin. I tried to immerse myself in the music, culture, and people. It was very exciting. I played with a bunch of different people and that's how I met up with Robert several years back."

Murph: "Since I moved around a lot in the early days, playing drums was a way to make friends and to try and  feel at home in a new place. My USAF tech school was in Biloxi Mississippi and I marched with the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps for almost a full year.  Our close proximity to New Orleans meant that we performed at a ton of Mardi Gras parades.  This impacted my drumming in that I still prefer traditional grip for more technical playing."

What initially got you into music?

Robert: “I think I must have just been born with it even though in some ways I was a late bloomer. I didn’t start noodling with an instrument until my late teens and then I didn’t take it too seriously until I was a good bit older. I did spend most of my mid-teens listening to 50s-60s music, but my friends thought I was completely lame and eventually I became a big metal head. It’s wasn’t till much later that it came back around full circle.”

Daniel: "I grew up in a very musical family. I started playing guitar when I was 6 or 7. I lost interest for several years until I moved to Greenville. I think that is when I finally found music and people that I gelled with."

Murph: "I dunno, I have just always loved music, and especially the drums, for as long as I can remember.   My father was a musician - one of those guys who could pick up any instrument and learn to play it (trumpet, guitar, harmonica, etc.).  His brother (my uncle Jimmy) was also a drummer and said my dad played drums better than he did without a single lesson.  I used money from my paper-route to buy my first set of sticks and practice pad to take lessons at school in 5th grade."   

Would you guys consider yourself modern, retro or vintage?

Daniel: "I love the styling of all the mid 20th century. The cars and bikes had so much style and beauty that I think is lost today. The music was so fresh and had so much energy. I do have to say that technology has advanced a ton and I also enjoy the comforts of central air! My early 60's record player sits underneath my plasma tv, if that is a better indicator. So I guess I bounce back and forth."

Robert: “I guess like Daniel, I’m sort of torn between the two. I love the music, art, style and overall bold sense of mid-century America and yet I’ve got to admit there are lots of great improvements in modern times too. Stylistically things have gone downhill these days. Products are made cheap and fast without much regard for style or quality. And yet maybe that’s just a progression of that older era. Mass production came into its own in the 50s! I’m still the nerd though that will try to fix some old antiquated piece of technology and swear up and down that it’s better … but deep down I know that a lot of that energy is wasted and that more often than not something newer would make my life a lot easier.”

Murph: "In some cases, the music we play sounds very vintage.  By that I mean the rhythms, lyrics, tone, and approach to the songs are as if they were being written/performed back in the day. From a drumming standpoint, sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. For example, early rock-a-billy recordings had very little in the way of drums, so to be truly vintage would put me out of a job.  But we also play a lot of straight-up rock music… whether it's rooted in the 50's or any number of influences that have shaped the genre over the years.   From that standpoint, maybe we're more "retro" than "vintage", since we may approach a song with a certain feel that could have come along any time between the early-50s and today."

Do you guys ride motorcycles?

Robert: “I’ve got ’66 Bonneville that I’ve had for a few years. It’s been sitting in my garage for a while in varying degrees of disassembly. It just can’t ever seen to find the time to get it all back together and running. It’s on my to-do list, but I’ll admit that I’m being a bit slow about it. It sure does look sweet though.

Daniel: "Not too much riding lately. I own a beautiful 1971 T-120r currently. If there is a dislike for NC anywhere it is with the NCDMV. I have spent hours of work and time trying to clear a title so it will be legit, but every trip back is rejected in need of more paperwork. I grew up riding dirt bikes and have recently been searching for a couple of XR's to get back into that."

Murph: "I had a buddy with a 250cc off-road bike (with shoddy rear brakes). I was about 19 (and still indestructible) when I endo'd the bike and went airborne… it all happened in an instant.  I tumbled a few times, landed on my feet, knocked the dust off, picked up the bike (and my pride) and rode it over to where my friends were all laughing their asses off. I've thought about getting a bike every now and again… maybe once the kids are out of the house."

How have motorcycle and car culture affected your music?

Robert: “For some reason cars/bikes and rock-n-roll just always seem to go together. I think it’s because these things always seem to represent a sense of freedom and therefore maybe even rebellion.  The stuff we play, as simple as it may seem, fits into that little niche in our brains that melts all of those ideas together. So if I’m writing a new song, those are the place where I’m taking aim.”

Daniel: "I think the culture surrounding the scene is pretty killer. I mean there is always gonna be someone hating on you or clicks that develop, but I think that overall everyone is super supportive with things. I'm glad that our music meshes into all this little subgroups. It's nice to be part of events like the Bull City Rumble or Heavy Rebel weekender. People that might come to the bike show having not heard us, stick around for the music and see us perform.

Murph: "Cars and music have always gone together for me… to the point when where they have influenced each other.  My first car was a hopped-up '69 Camaro that I bought for $650 back in the 80s… it was fast and cheap transportation.  It didn't necessarily impact the style of music I played, but it did enable me to play out more.  Fast-forward to 2001 when I got the bug to get an old hotrod.  I had already given up on commercial radio and most of what was being played on the college stations. I wasn't playing in a band at the time either, but I had rediscovered rock-a-billy and started digging deeper into rock music of the 50's.  So, rather than buy a muscle car to relive my youth, I went further back and bought a '51 Ford.  My first foray back into live music was drumming with Killer Filler, playing predominantly 60's-era surf and Memphis Soul. I loved that music, but it just didn't have the same raw energy as the grittier 50's music I had really come to love.  So, when I learned the Straight 8s were looking for a drummer, I pretty much jumped at the chance to audition."  

If you were a motorcycle, would you be a Triumph, BSA or a Norton?

Robert: ‘Guess I’d have to say Triumph. But honestly that’s only because  that’s what I’m familiar with.”

Daniel: "I am gonna have to go with Triumph because I already got the jacket! lol. Seriously when I was about 14 my father and I were watching a Clint Eastwood movie, I think Coogan's bluff? Please correct me if I'm wrong. Anyway, that was the baddest chase scene ever. I was hooked after that."

Murph: "I have this old set of motorcycle trading cards from when I was a kid in the 70's, and always thought the BSAs were totally bad ass.  I guess that makes me a Vespa."

How did you get involved with the Banshee TV series on Cinemax?

Murph: "Like so many things in life and especially "the biz" (no matter what biz you are in), timing is everything and it's not what you know, but who you know.   We got extremely lucky, but we also helped create our own luck.  We had just played our annual Halloween Hullabaloo show at Motorco on a Friday night with SCOTS, and then had to truck down to Wilmington for a Zombie Party in some industrial park on the outskirts of town.  We had no idea what to expect and were still pretty jet-lagged from the night before.   But that's the show where Rick Pour (the special effects makeup artist) saw us perform and dropped our name when he was interviewing for Banshee."

Robert: ‘We have a friend who happens to be a makeup artist who ended up working for the show. He read the script and saw that it mentions a rockabilly band in the one of the scenes. It’s kinda odd too because the show is set in modern times. Anyway, he gave us a call and asked if we were interested in submitting material that he could show to the producers. We agonized over the social and moral ramifications of this for about a millisecond and said OK. A few months went by and we had all but forgotten about it and then one day we get an email asking about being on the pilot.”

How often can we expect to see and hear the Straight 8’s on the program?

Daniel: "We are towards the end of Episode 1."

Robert: “To be fair, we haven’t actually seen the episode yet so this is all conjecture. But we filmed a large portion of the climactic final scene. Honestly, if we get 5 seconds of face time I’ll be happy. The music is the bigger part though. We have about 6 minutes of material throughout the whole thing.”

Were you guys also fans of the Banshee creators other show, True Blood?

Robert: “Absolutely. At first I thought it would be lame but figured hey, it’s got nudity. But eventually I did get involved with the characters and story line.”

Daniel: "I am a fan. They used a lot of good music on that show also, SCOTS and Nick Curran (RIP) got some good airplay. It will be nice to put ourselves on the same page with those guys."

Murph: "Honestly, between the day job, family, and Straight 8s, I never watch tv."

Any other big things in store for 2013 and the Straight 8’s?

Robert: ‘Umm, yeah! New album. It’s only been forever since we released anything. Hopefully folks will still give a damn and want to hear it. We’re pretty excited about it all. The whole Banshee thing has really helped both financially as well as motivationally.”

Daniel: "The new album! It's not finished yet but pretty excited about the work so far. Hopefully we will wrap it up early this year. Buy our merch so we can get it done! We are also filling up the calender with a bunch of dates so keep your eyes peeled. Maybe if we are lucky we will get asked to come back and play the Rumble again. wink..wink.."

Murph: "Ha, the album for sure!   Really looking forward to finishing up what we started late last year.  Recording with Robert and Daniel has been a goal of mine since joining the band 3.5 years ago.  Definitely getting closer!" 

What is your favorite Bull City Rumble memory?

Daniel: "Last year the weather was just perfect, there was a huge bike turnout and a ton of great people..And then Patman broke my bass! lol..just kidding, the string popped off but it was an easy fix. It's a really laid back fun event so I look forward to it every year. I am hoping to make this year my favorite memory by actually having my Bonneville there."

Robert: “Ha! Watching the Ton Up NC guy stagger around trying to pay the bands last year. The drunkest guy in the bar was handling the finances. It was awesome!

Murph: "One year an old friend of mine came out to the show and was talking with my wife while I was on the clock.  Robert's girl noticed that the chit-chat was maybe a bit too friendly, walked over and asked my wife "soooo, who is this?".  My wife just laughed and said it was an old friend we'd known for nearly 20 years.  Not sure if she was worried about my friend or my wife, but it was cool that she cared enough to check things out." 

Be sure to watch the Straight 8's on Banshee this Friday night at 10:00pm EST (January 11, 2013) on Cinemax, be on the lookout for the new Straight 8's album and go out and see them when they come to your town.

To stay up to date on all things Straight 8's go to their website at http://www.straight8s.com and be sure to "Like" them on the Facebook.

Ton Up NC = Riding, Restoration and Racing of Vintage Motorcycles

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