Rev. Peyton and the art of living paycheck to paycheck
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band only has three members – percussionist and vocalist Max Senteney, washboard player and vocalist Breezy Peyton and the Reverend himself on slide guitar and vocals – but they sound like a damn big band.
Their unbridled sound is rooted the rural acoustic blues The Reverend grew up with in the Indiana countryside. “The stuff my dad listened to was blues or blues infused rock and roll,” Peyton says from the home he shares with his wife and band mate Breezy. “Being raised in the country, the blues always spoke to me. It’s primal music, more about a feeling than it is an idea. When there are stories to tell, the songs get right to the point. The rhythms are sticky and deep and the scales are not chromatic. A lot of people say that sound makes their brain hurt, but I love messing around inside that ancient scale.”
There’s plenty of messing around on Poor Until Payday, the Big Damn Band’s new album. As you might expect from the title, the songs detail the working class travails that many underpaid families have to deal with. “At its face value, ‘Poor Until Payday’ is about living paycheck to paycheck, but the underling theme is about waiting for that real big payday to come along. I’m still waiting for it.” Peyton laughs. “The record is about hanging on and keeping going, no matter what, believing that one day you’ll get over that mountain.”
Peyton produced the album himself, recording it with vintage equipment and tracking the band live to analogue tape. “It was done very old school,” Peyton explains. “I’ve been listening to a lot of old 45 RPM singles, on an actual turntable. I wanted this album to have the immediacy of a hit single. We went into record like we were at Chess, or Stax, or Sun Studios. Those places all recorded live to tape, with very few microphones. We put two mics on the drums and went to great lengths to make a record true to that vibe and that sound. It’s our own brand of country blues, but recorded like it was 1957, no overdubs. You get the feeling of being in the room with us, playing live. I’ve been collecting vintage gear – guitars and amps – and the studio we used, Primary Sound, has a good collection of that stuff too, so we went in and did it exactly as I wanted to do it.
Peyton said the only downside to the self-producing, is the possibility of making a mistake and not noticing it. “You hafta make sure that what’s laid down on tape is what you want. You have to be willing to say, ‘This isn’t working.’ You’ve gotta be prepared to murder your darling if it doesn’t sound right. When we made So Delicious a few years back, I wasn’t paying attention to how long the songs were. I don’t like things to go on for too long, so every one of these songs will fit on a 45. I wanted to make sure of that. Every beat is in the right place, everybody’s on pitch and the arrangements on the songs work. We spent a ton of time woodshedding, so when we got in the studio, we were ready to go. Before the record came out, but after we recorded it, we were so fired up on the new tunes, we started playing ‘em a whole ton live.”
The Damn Big Band’s live shows are aimed to capture the sound of the album cuts, but with room left for improvisational surprises. “Sometimes when we play a song we’ve just recorded, you’ll add something and think, ‘Man, I wish we’d done that on the record.’ That’s why I wanted to do this one live. You get to stand there and feel it, just like on stage. People who only hear our records ask me, ‘Who played bass?’ I tell ‘em, ‘My thumb is the bass player.’
“You may think this is a cool song on the record, but you don’t visualize that it’s just me on guitar, a drummer and one washboard. When you see it live, it’s a crazy experience. I leave myself areas in the shows to improvise, but some songs, like ‘Poor,’ I just don’t mess with. We put on a show in the old school way. We don’t regurgitate what’s on the album. Playing it ‘just like the record’ is insulting to the audience.”