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An Interview with 'The Americans'

Blues rock band, The Americans, recently finished their international tour opening for St. Paul & The Broken Bones. Read the review here. I sat down with them for a quick chat before their show. Getting to know the trio was a delightful experience as they were down to earth, passionate about their music, and showed a real appreciation for the origins of blues.

Patrick Ferris — vocals, guitar

Zac Sokolow — guitar, banjo

Jake Faulkner — bass

Corissa: First of all, how did you guys meet? How did the band get started?

Patrick Ferris: We’ve known each other since high school. Jake and I, our moms are friends, so we and our families have known each other since before we were born. But we all kinda started hanging out in high school and we were all musicians when we met and re-met (in Jake and my case) and we were all kinda interested in the same stuff and so we were hanging out and playing a lot of that music, learning a lot about it together and then we started a band together.

Corissa: Why did you choose the name The Americans?

Patrick: So, our first drummer when we first started out was, by trade, an analog photographer and one of his heroes was Robert Frank who took a lot of fantastic photos in the 1950s and 60s and they were in a mass anthology called ‘The Americans’ and he introduced us to that book around the same time, so the name’s been around, and we liked it.

Corissa: On Wikipedia, your website, and Facebook there’s lots of different names for the genre you prescribe to, but what would you say your genre music is- folk, rock, indie…?

Patrick: We’re sort of the last people you should ask because I thought we were just a rock and roll band

Jake Faulkner: yeah and so originally that’s always been what we connect with

Patrick: Every rock and roll band has their version

Jake: Yeah, the Beatles and the rolling stones were both rock and roll. Not that we’re a comparison to that but…

Corissa: How do you think your sound differs from other rock indie folk bands out there?

Patrick: I would say one thing is like one thing like there’s pretty much indelible mark of blues and roots music on all rock music and a lot of other music too, even if the people playing the music know nothing about it, you can still hear it in the music. I wouldn’t say the fact we like old blues and stuff is that unusual or special, but we did all start playing that music before we were a rock band, you know like early blues finger picking guitar and James playing upright bass, so we I would say that is pretty much responsible for why we sound different to a lot of bands, so those influences run pretty deep for us as we have been playing it for a long time.

Jake: And part of our transitioning into playing this music was that we wanted to carry over the abstract feelings present in that music without necessarily trying to be a throwback or schtick band.

Patrick: Only because that’s what a lot of other musicians do. You hear something and it’s not good enough to just appreciate it you have to try and imitate and emulate it.

Corissa: So where do you guys get your inspiration from? Do you have a particular band or source?

Patrick: A lot of that old music and old records like when I say music recorded in 1920s and 30s and a lot rural music is a primary and reason it’s such an influence is even if it has nothing to do with something we are working on, it’s our common point of interest, the thing we most have in common with each other when it comes to music is our feeling about that kind of music. I would say that that is the biggest thing and continues to be.

Corissa: You guys have been like touring internationally recent, how does it change when you play a song live and how do you find playing for an American audience vs international one, specifically for the UK?

Patrick: I think you are sort of given a handicap when performing away from home, people appreciate you’ve come far away from home. I definitely look forward to playing here in London and other cities in Europe more than say going home to LA or California, people pay attention --

Jake: --a part of them is like well you’ve come this far away from home

Patrick: What was the other question again?

Corissa: How does a song change when you play it live?

Patrick: I would say that playing a song live is like putting a tool to use that you’ve designed, were the tool may be quite elegant in theory and work in some way, stress testing it. When you play a song live you learn from it pretty quickly just from the feeling you get from it, from the room and the people listening and it gives you clues to things that may not be working. The songs change a lot

Jake: Also, from that you start to develop things to encourage the guys in the band to feel different ways, you know to play something quieter or like let’s let it ring out a little more---

Patrick: That’s true too because in the studio those decisions are ones that you can make artificially later obviously because when you mix a record you can push things around and make those kinds of transitions happen and then live its really just you guys doing that.

Corissa: What’s your most memorable experience in the industry? What’s the craziest thing or coolest thing that’s happened to you so far?

Patrick: I guess for me, we played a wedding, high profile destination wedding where they flew us down to the middle of the country and we wound up and it turned out the guy helping his daughter run the wedding I think owned a hockey team and in like the sweltering southern heat we went into this building and it was ice cold and there was a full hockey rink and so we put on the equipment and played a 2 on 2 with the band and we played like contact hockey on an ice rink which was pretty cool.

Jake: That was pretty great, this was just a personal goal of mine but we got to be a part of tribute show to Allen Ginsberg and producer that put it together was a guy named Hal Willner who is a real icon for us and so from that we got to play a few songs with Nick Cave who is like… (everyone mutters “yeah”) but I kinda hit 3 things at once so yeah that was a real highlight for me.

Zac: I was thinking like when on one of our first tours we went out to Gallup, New Mexico and played on this Navajo radio station and it was pretty neat. They announced us before in Navajo and everything, so we couldn’t really understand anything they were saying and we just played live on this radio station and back then it was our first tour and we were just rolling around, trying to do whatever we can…

Patrick: On that same note, there was a time that we wound up in Mamou Louisiana across the street from Fred which was one of the Centre points for the Cajun revival from the 70’s and so when we finished playing for them they just went to the door and walked it and everyone just sort of when behind the bar and walked it. To be that deep into Cajun country was really special, I think it was one of my favorite parts of being in this band, that because we spend so much time researching this music and playing this music and all different kinds of American music, we get to go into rural parts that we would never have had the chance to otherwise and really be a part of the community. And we are welcomed because we are musicians

Corissa: Do you guys have a particular favorite song on the new album? Like one you worked really hard on or just one that you just really like?

Jake: I have songs that I miss because there are certain songs that just don’t take well to a set we are playing regularly or would suit better in a different context so there are definitely songs that I miss playing. Because we had to play them together a lot to get them ready to record and then we recorded them and now we don’t touch on them much anymore and so yes, I miss playing them and set lists are like our genre, it’s not really up to us, no one really cares (laughter)

Corissa: Fair enough! (laughter) I mean what are the songs you miss playing then?

Jake: Umm well there’s a song called ‘Gone at Last’ um and a song called ‘Daphne’

Corissa: And do you have a favorite?

Patrick: I’ve got to go with our single ‘The Right Stuff,’ I think the most fun of that song was actually filming the video where we went round LA in a pickup truck

Jake: Yeah it was amazing that we kept on having to do that and didn’t get into any trouble… I like ‘Bronze Star’ a lot, that’s one of my favorites…

Corissa: Any particular reason?

Jake: I feel like it very much has a kind of sound that is pretty unique to us, I can’t really think of any other song i’ve heard or ---

Patrick: --well, besides our sound (laughter)

Jake: I think it’s really common when you’re working on something and something really attracts you to an idea to begin with, otherwise you wouldn’t be approaching it , like something makes you pursue a song and then you pursue it and pursue it and then you finally get something and it’s just really rare that the place you wind up really honors the original thing all that much and when it does in some way, that tends to feel like a good song because it still reminds me of the thing that got me interested ---

Patrick: Yeah that song was something Zach originally wrote on the road. And one day we played in a hotel room in Tonopah Nevada and that we would play for like a bunch of silver miners and fireman…

Corissa: Did you guys mostly start out touring the US, is it like Midwest mostly or South…

Patrick: Southwest and West Texas was we would begin with most of it and then Northwest

Corissa: So, for now what’s your biggest goal to strive towards, what are you guys planning to do next…

Jake: Finish a new record; yeah, we’re working on the next record

Corissa: And how’s that going?

Jake: It’s alright (laughter) we’re about halfway through writing it …

Corissa: Cool, is it a similar style or trying something different?

Patrick: I don’t know yet as we have so much to do and things we want to do that you just kinda go with whatever happens but I’m pretty pleased with where its come so far

Corissa: Is there any message that you’re conveying through your music? Is there anything that you really want people to know or like learn from what you play?

Patrick: Oh, republican (loud laughter) everyone thinks we’re like Trump supporters because we’re called ‘The Americans’…umm… do we have a message? That’s a really good question, I don’t know

Jake: It was in an interview or something were they said, ‘does your music have a message or do you just like to rock out?’

Corissa: Was the answer that you just like to rock out?

Jake: We just like to rock out, (laughter) you can rock out with a message (more laughter) umm I don’t know, what is a band with a message?

Patrick: Raging is a message…

Corissa: I don’t know, I feel like punk rock bands like to rage against the man and then pop artists are like ‘do what you love’ and then not really mean it… ‘Buy my album” is more the message there.

Patrick: My message is that Leonard Cohen is the greatest songwriter of all time

Jake: I mean just abstractly, to make songs that are more portrait-esque and I guess I don’t know if there’s a message in that its take a longer look at things, stuff (laughter)

Corissa: Yeah, I can write something out of that (laughter)

Patrick: Wow that was beautiful… (laughter)

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