Southeast Engine on Woody Guthrie, Barack Obama, and historical songwriting

Southeast Engine on Woody Guthrie, Barack Obama, and historical songwriting
Photo by Noah Rabinowitz

Southeast Engine is an Ohio alt-country band that charges down the open highway pinned between grit and grace. Singer Adam Remnant's voice is one-of-a-kind in that it has an everyman's quality -- even if you're hard-pressed to find anyone who sounds quite like him. For those enraptured by the vocal gifts of Jayhawks' Gary Louris, you'll know what this is like.

The group is hot on a new EP called Canaanville, which continues a cycle of thematic exploration regarding Great Depression-era living in their home state -- but also the socio-political climate of the time. It showed up on last year's heralded Canary album, which turns out to be a good album for fly-fishing, dreaming, and those late-night drives that you never want to end. Before Southeast Engine hits 7th Street Entry for a performance tonight, Remnant gives his personal connections to the band's recent material, and reveals which song he'd play for president Barack Obama.

Gimme Noise: The Canaanville EP is freshly out. Are there further Great Depression-related remnants from this songwriting cycle we can expect to hear in the future?

Adam Remnant: Not really. There are a couple songs that I wrote during the same time period, but they are universal in nature and don't have any details that necessarily tie them to Appalachia or the Great Depression. The overall plan is to start fresh on future releases.

What was your own family up to back in the early '30s when Canary takes place?

I grew up in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio so I am admittedly an outsider approaching the topic of Appalachia. I have lived in Athens, Ohio for the last 12 years in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, which is largely responsible for me taking on the subject. My great grandparents lived in Southeast Ohio during the Great Depression as farmers, and I gathered some inspiration from secondhand stories of their lives.

Have you gotten feedback on the album/EP from anyone who lived through the Great Depression, and what did they say?

My wife's grandmother really enjoyed the album. It sparked conversations where she told me stories about growing up in West Virginia during the '30s.

What other eras of history need more songs about them?

I'm not really sure, honestly. I wrote about Appalachia during the Depression because it resonated with me personally. I could internalize the characters and saw a relationship between their lives and the current world I live in. Without that connection, the process and results would feel hollow. I think local histories are often fascinating and relevant to their inhabitants.

What did the 100th birthday of Woody Guthrie mean to you?

We're listening to the Mermaid Avenue album in the van right now as I write this. The 100th birthday is a great reminder of one of the greatest American songwriters we will ever know. Everything he wrote had purpose. That type of intent will always be rare.

As an election season approaches, what political messages do you think people can take from your recent material?

I wrote a lot of the Canary songs during the last election. I felt a lot of similarities between Obama and FDR and the hope for the future they both symbolized.

If you could play one of your songs for Barack Obama and one for Mitt Romney, which would you choose, and why?

I would play "New Growth" for Obama. It's about rebuilding, starting over, making the most of what you have to work with, and focusing on the sustainable. I can't imagine that anything I've written would speak to a guy like Mitt Romney.

Anything additional to say to the hard-working Mill City folks of Minneapolis before tonight's show?

We're looking forward to the show. Also, our keyboard player Billy wanted to say, "If you see Prince, he owes me $30."

Southeast Engine. With the Union Suits, Sofia Talvik. 18+, $8, 8 p.m. Thursday, August 9 at 7th St. Entry. Click here. 

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