Dirt Road Ramblers: We bring honky-tonk to the Twin Cities

Minneapolis country-roots band The Dirt Road Ramblers do things at their own pace, and it has paid off. On their newest album The Legend of Charley White, the quartet have unearthed a sound that balances twang with bar-rocking bliss.

Before their album release at the Dakota Jazz Club on Friday night, the band introduces us to Charley White and tells of their experience of working producer Kevin Bowe (the Replacements, Jonny Lang, Alison Scott).

Band Members: Hix - Piano, Emiel Gregor- Drums, Tony Beres - Bass, Joe Hysell - Guitar/Vocals

Gimme Noise: How did you meet Kevin Bowe, and how did you come to work with him on this album?

Joe Hysell: I found Kevin on Twitter a while back. He liked some tweet about our first record, I think. I don't know if that counts as meeting. We met at IPR after a conversation I had with his colleague Steve Hodge. Hix, Tony, and I were a three-man operation; this was all last winter/spring. We got lucky. It was really about right place at the right time. We picked a date to get started recording, and went from there. Emiel was our assassin on the drum kit.

Gimme Noise: How do you think Kevin influenced the sound?

Emiel Gregor: He extracted sounds like I've never heard in a country song before.

Tony Beres: I agree. He forced us to play up to a different level. There's a real clarity in the music that may not have been there before.

Hix: Kevin is really good a reflecting musical ideas back at you. You may see some flaws, but he articulates the positive, "How does this benefit the listener?" And then we built from there. I was a little nervous at first, but we definitely clicked.

Joe Hysell: Tony's point about clarity is spot on to me. The songs sound like glass. After getting to know Kevin a little bit, it's pretty easy to be overwhelmed by how good he is at what he does. It's a ton of different things musically. He told me once during recording, "I wouldn't let anyone listen to it if it sucked." I decided that I would listen to him from that point on.

Tony Beres: Do what Kevin Bowe tells you to do. It's common sense.

Gimme Noise: Who is Charley White, and why do you think he impacted you guys so much?

Hix: Charley is an old friend.

Joe Hysell: And in terms of impact musically, I think it's confidence, swagger, and energy, really. Probably more.

Emiel Gregor: Some of those live shows too. One thing is for certain, when Charley White's around, a damn good time will be had.

Tony Beres: I love Charley. If I hadn't joined the Ramblers, I don't know if I'd know Charley so well.

Gimme Noise: You say that you are reintroducing your fans to your classic sound. Do you feel it got lost or changed along the path?

Tony Beres: I think we have a singular focus that is different now. We've been bloated at times before. Now the songs on the record each really stand out individually.

Emiel Gregor: For me, these songs are super positive in a different way from the first album. That's just me.

Joe Hysell: I hope the sound is changing all of the time. It's one of the best parts about playing music with Hix, for example. He's the best musician I've ever been around in terms of feeling the music. The song itself -- he can match a lyric with it's sound on the piano. It changes based on his mood sometimes! I can't wait 'til Benmont Tench meets him.[page]

Gimme Noise: These days two years is a long time to spend on an album. Why do you feel now was the right time to release the music?

Hix: I don't think two years is a long time. There were dinosaurs on our planet.

Emiel Gregor: We released it 'cause it's done. Right?!

Tony Beres: It's not like it was a decision.

Joe Hysell: I thought y'all said it was birthday present! Dinosaurs?! We released it now because the Dakota said, "Yes," and when the Dakota says, "Yes," you say, "Thank you." The Dakota is up there with Tootsie's in terms of venues our band has played. Willie plays Tootsie's, Prince plays The Dakota.

All: [laugh]

Gimme Noise: What song do you feel best represents the band's current sound?

All: "Push On Through the Pain" is a tombstone song for us.

Gimme Noise: Do you have any favorite songs? 

Tony Beres: "Shotgun." It slams harder than any country I've ever heard or played on.

Joe Hysell: "All That We Lost" or "Push On Through the Pain." They are so different from each other but definitely connected. It's exciting to hear them on the album in such good shape.

Gimme Noise: For those who have seen a Ramblers' show before, what can we expect to see at the album release show?

Emiel Gregor: Hix on that baby grand!

Joe Hysell: A lot of guests. Dan Neale from Galactic Cowboy Orchestra, Kevin will play a couple songs with us, which is excellent.

Tony Beres: No kidding.

Joe Hysell: Our friends Alexandra Green, Jon Majetich, and Matt Kaster from Luke Warm and the Cool Hands will also be in on the fun.

Hix: That's a bluegrass band, my friend!

Emiel Gregor: Yeeeah buddy!

Hix: It's going to be an intimate performance. We've done our best to bring a little honky-tonk to as many bars around the Twin Cities as we can. This one is different though, and as corny as it sounds, I don't care, it's gonna be a great night.

Emiel Gregor: And the rest of the band will be in sports coats... not just Hix.

All: [laugh]

The Dirt Road Ramblers will release The Legend of Charley White at the Dakota Jazz Club on Friday, April 11, 2014 with Kevin Bowe & the Okemah Prophets.
18+, $10, 8 pm
For reservations call: 612-332-1010

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