By Ronnie

When interviewing a band, one of the hardest things to ask is, “how do YOU describe your music?” The band has probably heard it a million times and in this day and age of a million different music sub-genres (or so it seems) it can seem meaningless. Bonepony is one of those bands that is hard to describe. Sure there are elements of bluegrass, rockabilly, country and rock. But, the band simply cannot fit into any one of these categories.

I met the members of Bonepony as they arrived at the club, the interview being scheduled for after set-up. As they were setting up and tuning, Nick and Scott broke into an impromptu version of the Beatles “I’ve Just Seen a Face”. Being a Beatle-fanatic, I was all ears! Nick added amazing country licks to the song, while Scott played the harmonica during the verse. They both harmonized on the chorus, the only part they knew the words to. I was amazed at how well they made the song their own, tooling it to their own instrumentation and style.

One of the first things that strikes you when talking to the band is their unbridled enthusiasm and belief in their music. Their first CD was even on a major label, Capitol! They were subsequently dropped by the label. In the mid ‘90s, Capitol records was trying what could best be described as a shotgun approach to finding the next “big thing”. This would have been the fatal blow to many bands, to be dropped by a major. But, Bonepony has actually used it to their advantage, using the experience gained by recording for Capitol to “do it themselves” on their own indie label.

I talked to the band on one of their many stops in Atlanta this month (4 shows in one month?!). We talked about the philosophy behind Bonepony.

E.C.: How do you describe your music? You know, you hear some bluegrass, some rockabilly, something that could be heard on a rock station…how do you describe it?

Tramp: We made up our own word for it- “power folk”, just one word, only because there are so many different influences, so it’s really tough to be able to…I mean you hear it all the time, you hear both sides, the interviewer says “how do you describe your music?” and then the band says “you can’t because there’s so many different influences”, so instead of going through that every time since you have to anyway, we made up the word. You know, just make up a word…its powerful music, high energy, but it’s based on folk lyricism with folk instrument, it’s friendly music, not overly artsy.

E.C.: So who would you say this is marketed to? Do you try to get radio play?

Tramp: People that like folk art and Led Zeppelin (laughs).

Nick: Everybody claims us but we really do have a wide listenership because we’re real funky and hard traditional rock influences as well as folky and bluegrass-y influences so we get a bunch of hippy kids that like head bands and the yuppie people that like the Dave Matthews…you know, triple-a format kinda thing, we get a lot of the rock fans that like the energy, especially when they see us live.

Scott: A lot of bluegrass fans too, even though we’re definitely…we tend to piss a lot of hardcore bluegrass people off, you know, because of the drums and the African percussion, Caribbean instruments and stuff that we play too.

E.C.: On one of your CD’s, “Cowboy Song”, it has that kind of backwards part to it…

Scott: Yeah, that was real fun to do.

Nick: Hard to do it live (laughs).

E.C.: Who do you usually get put in gigs with? Do you get a wide variety of bands? I saw you guys with Dash Rip Rock…

Scott: We’ve done everything from Bob Segar, we’ve done about 25 shows with him, that’s when we played the MGM in Las Vegas one time...Bob Segar, Crosby Stills and Nash, to Rusted Root, the Cranberries, Blues Traveler…

Tramp: Cowboy Mouth…

Nick: the Barenaked Ladies

Scott: Fleetwood Mac, Santana…

Tramp: the Mississippi Allstars...

Scott: So that’s one of the cool things about being so different, you get a feel of a lot of different audiences and it doesn’t freak people out to play with us because they kind of draw what they dig out of us. Like “oh you guys are so heavy” and then we did the (??..) Bluegrass Festival last year and we seemed to fit in fine.

E.C.: What brought you to this style of music? I was reading your biography and it had your background but it didn’t really say…

Scott: I grew up singing in church with my grandmother, I grew up in a rural town in Texas and kind of grew up in a musical void. We didn’t really have a decent radio station that played popular music but I’d get it when I’d got to visit my mother, she lived in Dallas. I’d get to hear what was popular like the Top 40 stuff but I didn’t really start hitting into James Brown and funky meters, Parliament, that kind of stuff, until I got into high school and started hanging out with the hipper crowd, and I couldn’t believe that music wasn’t brand new. I was like “this guy’s been doing this since like ’70 and ’71, the 60’s and stuff? This is so cool!”. So I think growing up in that musical vacuum, I just gravitated towards whatever sound it made. And then I moved to Nashville where it was okay to write something that sounded a little country or sounded a little folk. It was okay to have a fiddle in a band, those kind of things, whereas when I first moved up to DC, we never would have even thought to use a mandolin or a fiddle, but location kind of allowed me to get back to my roots where I grew up and sing something that had a gospel or a hymn-type feel to it, and an instrumentation that complimented it and of course players that embraced lots of different styles of music. That’s the cool thing about Nashville is you really have to be merged into so many different styles to have a gig.

Nick: Yeah, it had everything from classical to bluegrass to hard rock background, ya know, I learned classical guitar growing up and listened to Van Halen and all the above and went through the same thing pretty much and so…

Tramp: I listen to Van Halen today.

Scott: Once we got the first album under our belt we realized that it was going to be embraced, we said “well let’s just write whatever feels good, stop trying to figure it out and let’s write…when you play something that sounds great to me, I’ll sing something that hopefully will sound good to you and we’ll just mold all those different pieces into songs;” and that’s what we do.

E.C.: Previously, Tramp was in the Kendalls and the Cactus Brothers. What kind of music did those bands play?

Tramp: The Kendalls played hardcore and country, country gospel. Cactus Brothers was more of a rock band that played country songs and electric dulcimer, pedal steel, lap steel and slide instruments, it’s a really neat band that played rock and roll, but it became more and more country as it went along and I pretty much left them….they were a little too country. I played fiddle, but I don’t want to play too country at any time.

E.C.: You play quite a few instruments, was the fiddle the first instrument you learned?

Tramp: That’s learning classical violin, years of training while in the mountains of east Tennessee, so I was learning to listen to how to play violin but from going out at night with my mother put in all these old fiddle players and stuff, we would hang out with them and so I ended up getting the best of both worlds there; I got technique and ear training and I got to be around guys that, unless you lived in that part of the country you would never cross paths with. You’d be sitting around at a cake walk and have Ralph Blizzard show you how to play “Sally Good” and you know, you just were there.

E.C.: On your website you didn’t really say how Bonepony came about? How did you guys first get together?

Scott: Well I moved up to Baltimore to basically find a job to try to support my music habit, ‘cause I just couldn’t get a job down in Texas. There were players down there but you just couldn’t get started. I moved up north and started working construction, stuff like that, just networking around. I met a guy and started writing some songs with him and he and I and two other guys started Bonepony up there back in ’89 or ’90, we were doing a lot of covers, a lot of heavy metal covers and those kind of things, just really trying to find our own songwriting voices, and I was trying to convince him to work in some of the songs that I was writing, it was real rough folk, three-chord kind of Steve Earl type tunes. Not near that good (laughs), but those singer-songwriter type of things, and he started gravitating towards that more and more because basically, we didn’t have enough songs to play for the places we were playing. These places were more like four, hour and a half sets, and so we started pulling out some of my acoustic things and he learned them, and then he started writing some acoustic things and we started having a whole set where we’d do like that Led Zeppelin thing, just come up there and play, fiddlin’, some percussion and acoustic guitars and that became like the coolest part of the show. The people that would come see us would gravitate towards that more than anything. So we started moving back and forth to Nashville to try to get some of these songs cut, get publishing deals and those kinds of things, and once I hit Nashville and the amount of talent that’s there, it just kind of evolved into what it was. He went his separate way and I went mine years ago, but Nashville’s a really small town and a close-knit community, I ended up hooking up with Tramp and Nick and carried on.

E.C.: Did the original band lineup consist of four members?

Scott: Just three.

E.C.: On TRAVELER’S COMPANION there’s only two listed…

Scott: Yeah, that’s right when he left was right when that record was coming out.

Tramp: He took his picture with him (laughs).

Scott: If you notice on the songwriting credits, we’ve written with him. Those thirteen combinations of songs, we’ve got seven different writers on them, us being the common denominator.

E.C.: What about the Capitol album you had out? You’re on SuperDuper now.

Scott: Yeah that’s our own label, it’s what we started when we left Capitol.

E.C.: So did they just sign you for one record?

Scott: No, it was like a seven record deal with their option each time, and we were supposed to be guaranteed to make two albums but we did Stomp Revival, and they seemed real pumped on it in the beginning but I think they weren’t quite sure how to market the record. A lot of changes were going on in the music business then, you know, Dave Matthews hadn’t quite hit yet, Blues Traveler, they were on their fourth record which hadn’t really quite hit yet either. And it was a real backlash of all the Seattle music that was going on, a lot of guessing as to what was going to be the next hot thing. I think they signed us in hopes that it was going to be a real rootsy thing but it wasn’t so much, and a lot of the blame of us not doing great I think has to be placed on us too. But we really have only one market where we could play and make any money and that was Nashville. So here we are trying to tour on a record with all this major label support behind us, but we couldn’t draw flies in any other market. And anybody that plays in a band knows, you gotta have a crowd if you’re going to be sustained. It’s gotta be real and genuine support and not hype support; you can’t buy it. So I think Capitol was disappointed with sales on the first record and they put us in the studio to make the second one and they didn’t like the direction the music was going. I think they were going “how would I market this? I don’t hear a radio hit…” so they dropped us. We were seven songs into the second record and we got dropped, which we were all excited about at the time because it was a lot of hard work. But I’m proud of what we’ve done since then, we forged a hit and did our own thing.

E.C.: comes up with the album covers? I mean the old ‘Americana’ pictures from, what, the 1940’s?

Tramp: Yeah 30’s and 40’s pin-up art…The art on Stomp Revival is woodblock carvings, which they’re still making, but that was like from the 20’s on up, and we kind of wanted to stay with a theme but not go with just words again and we started looking for images in books like you’d find in the bookstore, art books and illustration books, and we found that first girl in a book from decals they used to have that each state would have their own decal and there’d be some sort of not too sexy but suggestive girl on it. The first one’s from the 30’s and then the 40’s.

Scott: Stomp Revival is an actual Hatch showprint block, that came from Hatch, they designed it for us along with the art department down at Capitol. I didn’t dig it at first; I wanted a black and white photo of a guy stomping his foot, that would have been cool. I went round and round with Gary Girchner for that, but I think in hindsight we got the right record cover so we stuck along with that vibe, lucked out and found that. Actually, we got that book from that dude down in Hatch.

Tramp: Yeah we bought the book from the guy that runs Hatch and found that.

E.C.: Who do you have to track down to get permission for that?

Tramp: The estate of the artist. The first one was hard because she was off a road map instead of off a sticker. From Oregon in the 30’s, back when it only had four or five roads on it (laughs). But the other one we had to go through the guild of elders with the state.

E.C.: From your last two albums—one is pretty much a portrayal of what you sound like live and the other was studio, more experimentation with organ drums and the backwards section…what is your next disc going to be like?

Scott: We’re going to bring in some more of the funkier elements that we do live, more like the last cutoff of Funhouse is a song called “Heather’s Wetter”, we got a real drummer that sat in with us for that particular show. We wanted to bring in some loops and hit on more of the influences that we have, you know, James Brown, Parliament, Bootsy Collins and those kind of things and make it like more of a bluegrass rave kind of thing.

Nick: It’ll seem like a departure for anyone that’s only listened to the studio records but for anyone that’s come to see us live it’ll be right in there. It’s what we’ve pretty much been doing all along, it’s got the real combination of James Brown, Texas, in-your-face rock and roll singer and bring in all that with the acoustic which we already do. Things like four-on-the-floor stomp that they used to do in the disco days…Which is one thing, when you were asking about the kind of people we have, we seem to attract a lot of dancer’s because, they can’t quite put their finger on it, but if you go to a Texas two-step bar or those kind of places they’ll have those acoustic styles like the Cotton Eye Joe a few years ago which was a hillbilly song, and that’s almost what we do every night. We have that four-on-the-floor big rave kinda beat going down live especially, so the next record will have a little more of that, with the entertaining vocals and all these kind of acoustic and blues and a couple of electric things as well. Some things may even be more rootsy than we’ve done before, bring in a dobro with like with drum loops and all, and it’s just definitely going to be even more of what we’ve done in each direction.

Tramp: It’s gonna be even more difficult to tag (laughs).

Scott: Maybe what the John Spencer Blues Explosion did for blues music…maybe we’ll do the same thing for bluegrass.

E.C.: Do you already have the song lineup for the next one?

Scott: Several of them, yeah we’ve done some recording already too.

E.C.: When are you planning on releasing it?

Scott: Hopefully we’ll have a chance to take a break during the fall and have it out by the first of the year.

Nick: Or at least spring for sure.

E.C.: Do you have a title for it yet?

Scott: We’ve been thinking about some things but not yet, no.

E.C.: Are you going to follow the artwork of the previous releases?

Scott: Probably, definitely we’re going to stick with the hemp packaging, though we may do a plastic jewel case because it’s easier to get distributed that way, but we’re definitely going to keep the paper products – non-wood pulp, soy based inks.

E.C.: Why was the Ireland imprinted on the disc? (Traveler's Companion)

Tramp: To go with the folk vibe, some of the stuff like my fiddle background is from Irish people and highlander-type people from the east Tennessee, West Virginia and the area that I lived in when I first started playing. I’ve got allot of Irish in me. And when they put it all together it looked good. And it’s like, we’ve got a piece of Ireland, a piece of Oregon and it’s Traveler’s Companion, you can spread it out a little bit without losing some sense of cohesiveness to the artwork.

E.C.: Having your own label, is it hard to get any airplay or is that what you were shooting for?

Scott: We still had to hire a radio promotion guy, we went after the Americana format which got taken off of the gavins, they’re not recording the Gavin anymore, but that was what fit into our budget at the time. If we were to go to triple a radio or that kind of thing we’d have had to have had a much larger budget. Radio in the end is all about the dollars because there’s so much product out there, so many people doing music, that these programmers can’t sit there and listen to everything that’s out there and make decisions on their own like they used to in the 50’s. There was a lot of money back then as well but there was some mavericks back in the day, there aren’t as many mavericks today, so you just have to see what the finances look like and see what game you’re able to play with that. But really for us it’s about touring and about putting people in venues, that’s how we make our living.

Nick: And make no mistake, there are of course some disadvantages to being independent, there are some things we wish that could be different of course but if you’re on a major label there’s also a lot of huge disadvantages there such as what you’re recording and what your art is like and even where your business decisions are heading, it’s hard to have it all. So if you’re going to work for yourself then you don’t have the help of big brother so you just kind of have to settle for heading in other directions. You have to do things to still try to cover that ground.

Scott: If you have a huge label behind you and they’re promising x amount of dollars and radio promos when the finished product’s done and the packaging gets shipped, you don’t get a penny for it because they don’t hear a single.

Nick: So there’s definitely a tradeoff and some things we miss.

Tramp: There’s a place for both, you don’t really know the story until you’ve lived both of them. It’s so easy though, all the independent guys will say major labels suck and you’ve got the guy who’s doing great on a major label who’s saying “there’s no way I want to be independent” and they’re both different animals and you have to decide what you want to do. And as far as airplay goes, independents have the hardest time because of distribution and they have the least amount of money. Its just pretty much- major label means major money, independent means it's your money.

E.C.: Have you thought about trying for the mp3 charts?

Nick: We’ve just scratched the surface of that.

Tramp: I don’t know about the charts, I know there’s mp3 stuff out there but we’re not getting paid for it.

Nick: We were trying to develop our own thing, we have the ability to be more like chameleons if we’re going to be independent which is a different model which is a more value-added thing. We’re trying to buy things that you can’t put on a regular record that are really maybe even too far outside of the box, even work-in-progresses or demos of things that didn’t end up on the CD and mixing that in with things that you couldn’t get on the internet. Like there’s really cool posters or artwork and all sorts of things like we’ve got all the rare cuts coming out, kind of op-tracks and a couple of other tracks that’ll probably be on the next record. So everything from the past, present and future kind of thing, and that comes with all kinds of really neat things, it’s a real value-added kind of thing. So the days of just selling a CD seem to be kind of coming to an end; you either find it on the internet or put a lot more things in it like they used to do in the 70’s, like the tattoos. That’s what we’re heading back towards, adding some kinds of really cool things in our packaging, like we’ve got the hemp package and all sorts of things that make it really interesting to have like the artwork and all sorts of interesting things that come with it.

Scott: We’ve got a lot of pre-downloads on the website, whole lot of mp3’s from live shows.

E.C.: Do you guys record a lot of your live shows?

Scott: We don’t record a lot of them much anymore because it’s so hard to get a decent sound quality that we’re all satisfied with, it seems like more work than it’s worth.

Nick: Like it works well with an acoustic band to just have microphones but with us, we do have a lot of electronic things that come out and we’ve got a sampler and we’ve got electronic drums, and it just seems to be hard to get that balance because we have such a different setup than a lot of bands have. The quickest, best result we’ve heard from bands has been to get good mics basically like the Grateful Dead, just mics at the back of the room.

Tramp: And you’d have to get a good engineer that’s in charge of that, just for editorial reasons and all. But, I don’t take constructive criticism very well (laughs).

E.C.: First time I saw you guys live, I noticed that the “stomp” noise you make is coming from something on your ankle. What is that?

Nick: We have a microphone in that shoe that I plug into a compressor, some old early analog techno stuff basically, analog drum machine stuff. And Scott’s got the same concept in an actual board, it does basically the same thing, and I can walk around and stand up and kind of feel a little bit better, and sometimes Scott’ll tip over and that’s the rhythm, that’s where that comes from.

Scott: “The Stomp Shoe” we call it.

Nick: That thing has been through already 500 shows. And talking about marketing itself, we just can’t seem to find time to take showers sometimes (laughs).

E.C.: So what is the ultimate plan for Bonepony, more records or emphasis on live shows?

Scott: More records would be great, but we’re just trying to get crowds in areas that we don’t already have crowds and continue some growth in the places where we do well. We just got back from New York, Portland, Burlington, Vermont, New Jersey this past week; we’re just stretching the live touring out further, out in Idaho and Salt Lake City and Denver in June, and that’s the goal, to just turn people on and try to get back to the shows because that’s where it happens. That’s the funnest thing is playing on stage.

Nick: There’s definitely a duality to what we do. There’s some people who will see us live, and it’s a different experience for them to listen to us. We’ve had people that are really turned on to us after seeing a live show and yet there’s parts on the records that we do that are really different from the live shows. So I think that doing one thing without the other is difficult for us to imagine because they both have such an enriching experience for us and apparently for the people that see us play. They’re both really different experiences for people that listen to us on a regular basis and people who come to see us on a regular basis and we enjoy doing both of them.

Scott: Artistically speaking, as far as the band goes, to write great songs. With the production stuff, that’s what we want it to sound like in the end, but of course we want the foundation to be there for really great songs- great lyrics and great guitars and a lot of emotion in what we do. It doesn’t matter if you get T-Bone Burnett to come produce it if it’s not any good, no good songs on there, then he’s just going to be producing flub. So that’s ultimately what it begins and ends with is taking that to the audiences. That’s what it’s all about.

Nick: For us the priority is definitely these songs, end of story, on the record. There are a lot of bands where it is only about the live shows and the songs are somewhat a means to the end because they’re such great bands live and they’re great players and that sort of thing, and that sort of thing is important to us as well but it’s more definitely about the songs as the priority. We get excited and that’s what seems to translate to the live shows.

E.C.: You got into the recording process a bit yourselves; does it make it hard to stay objective while acting in that position as well?

Scott: Yes, very much so.

E.C.: When you were on Capitol, did they call ALL the shots?

Scott: We actually had the record already recorded when we got signed, and we met with a producer there and town and he pretty much financed the whole thing along with we were already writing songs for Warner Chapel Music, and so between he and Warner we had had 17 tunes recorded already. We recorded it in Nashville, and I was real uninvolved with the recording process of that, I just watched, and contributed my parts and wrote lyrics and that kind of thing. But the second album, I was somewhat disappointed with some of the things that had gone on with the production for Stomp Revival, so I really wanted to be a part of everything that was going on. So when we were in the studio working on the second record we still had Capitol support and I was really into the whole nine yards, and then when they left somebody had to take the reigns while this thing grew. So I just went over the instruction manuals (laughs). So collectively we just figured out how to do it. The three of us figured out how to do what we wanted to do. And it was different every day, a new challenge everyday. Like the whole backwards thing in "Cowboy Song", it really was a collective effort figuring out how it works. I really think that so many people would do better records if they went with a "less is more" mentality. And that's what we tried to do. Allot of it was cost, but really more of it was just we had a limited amount of time and we've gotta work with what we have. The "less options" is better sometimes.

Nick: Scott is the prototypical resourceful guy that symbolizes what we try to do as a band. He went from watching on the first record to figuring out whatever it took to make it happen. Whether it’s fixing the van or driving the van. In all our cases how do we make this record happen live, how do we market ourselves and how do we run this business.

Scott: Ultimately I knew we all had good enough ears that if we weren't happy with it we could go back and do it again.

E.C.: Well, Tramp has the most studio experience correct? He's done allot of session work.

Tramp: That's cause I play a solo instrument. There's not that many fiddle players around, especially not as many as there are guitar players or singers or engineers. I just end up getting more calls. So, I can go out drinking allot more than anybody else (laughs).

E.C.: When you were tuning up tonight you started playing that Beatles song, "I've Just Seen a Face". Do you often pick obscure covers to play live?

Nick: We've done everything from "Karma Chameleon" to "Iron Man" to "Flight of the Bumblebee". We're out almost 200 days a year and most of those shows are 3 to 4 hour nights, so allot of stuff, even though we have enough original material to do...sometimes were just having a good time playing together and keeping it varied. Somebody will yell something out at a show and we'll start playing and every once in awhile it kinda sticks. Usually if we've heard it a few times we can pull out some semblance of it.

E.C.: As much as you guys tour, have you been to every state?

Scott: 48 states, we're gonna knock out two more this summer, Idaho and New Mexico.

E.C.: What about other countries?

Tramp: TEXAS! (everybody laughs)

Scott: I think we'd do so well in Europe that we'd have to move there.

Tramp: We're getting some airplay in Ireland, getting some mail-order stuff from Sweden, little bit of attention from Australia. That's another one of the things between being an independent and being major - getting out of America and putting a show on the road and not losing your ASS. It's tough and you've gotta have allot of organization, you've gotta be pretty damn sure that the money is waiting for you over there before you jump on the plane and leave your fan base here that you're working so hard for. It's expensive to be on the road here, but it’s real expensive to go overseas.

Nick: Summation of the difference between being on a major label and what we're doing is...a major label is allot of speculation like an internet company. If you're unknown they're injecting all this cash, but its kind of a bubble. Because if you don’t' turn around really quickly, you're operating at a serious loss. In our case, we're making payroll, everything we do is because we've earned the cash. So that goes month to month. We are our own tour support and so on and so forth.

E.C.: Finally, who came up with the name? Bonepony?

Scott: Actually, Brian did, the guy that I started the band with, Brian Ward. We didn't know what it meant at the time and still don't! (laughs)

Click here to visit the official Bonepony web site