BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
“I ain’t never gonna quit, so don’t count me out/If I was gonna give up I would have done it by now.” So goes the opening line of “Never Gonna Quit,” track two on Austin-based Shurman’s new record East Side of Love, the foursome’s first new set of roots rock tracks in three years. For frontman, main songwriter and founding member Aaron Beavers, the time in between album releases was tumultuous, to say the least. As Beavers openly admits, the specter of impending divorce and the real possibility of putting Shurman on the shelf for good loomed, but as often is the case, from the depths of despair often arises artistic inspiration that leads to sonic salvation.
It seems fair to say that the common thread that ties East Side of Love (available November 6) together as a cohesive body of work is the weaving of the push-pull of doubt and determination, right and wrong, good and bad, love and loss, ruin and redemption. All play an integral part in the tapestry that is life and art, and in Beavers’ hands and heart, served as muse for the making of his group’s newest musical mosaic. All Access Music is pleased to premiere the title track to East Side of Love (click HERE).
Aaron, thanks for your time today, and congratulations on this record, East Side of Love. I’ve spent a couple of days with it and when I spend time with a record I get all into it – all up in its face (laughs).
(Laughs) Well I hope you don’t have to seek counseling after spending two days with it (laughs).
(Laughs) No, no, I think I’m good (laughs). Let’s get talking about this thing. You’ve admitted that for the writing of this album, you found much more inspiration from the man in your mirror than from the men and women you see from the stage – your fans. I guess that would quite literally make this record a more reflective piece of work. Agreed?
Oh without a doubt. When we got our first record deal with Vanguard we were starry-eyed and we would walk into these boardrooms and they’d be talking about our music and how exciting it is because it’s too country for rock and too rock for country. We kinda got inside the middle of the machine; we had a really big manager who was managing Kiss, and all the pieces of the puzzle were there, as they say. I mean literally there were people saying things like fasten your seatbelts, this rocket’s going straight to the top, and all this kind of stuff. When you are in that bubble you start looking at yourself and your music and your band as a commodity.
Create the “product.”
Yeah! It’s weird. You feel like you’re letting these people down if you’re not successful. No one can promise you success. I think the very thing that got us signed to a record label, which was we’re something different that’s hard to classify, you know rock, country, country, rock, whatever you want to call it, it’s also the very thing that made us really hard for a label to promote. They didn’t know where to put us. I look at it like this: everything happens for a reason. I look at it as a blessing because we were able to get out of that just as quickly as we got into it. The door shut just as fast as it opened (laughs).
Right. My musical philosophy is simply there are two kinds of music: good and bad.
I love that. I think that’s very true.
So let’s talk about some good music. I’ve described the title track, which opens up the album, as having soulful, savory six-string served up on a bed of sinfully delectable Hammond-B3 organ.
(Laughs) Thank you.
And those are pushing all the right musical buttons for me. The song opens up with the great line “It took a lot of bruises for me to hurt this bad/had to give up something I never really had.” Who or what did you have to give up in this song?
I wrote this song going through a separation, from being married then moving out, from living with my wife, and I was I was going through these marital changes and that was at the forefront of pretty much every song on the record. Oddly enough, we started the record about a year and a half prior and we kinda had to step away from it for a little while and come back and remake the record. My home life was falling apart so badly at the time that I wasn’t in a place where I could actually work. My life was in shambles. We had this idea that we were gonna write a bunch of songs in the studio and we were gonna make a band record; like The Band did when they went to do Music From Big Pink. I got in there and I was so musically and mentally in such a bad place I couldn’t really achieve that. Finally at one point I had to say to the guys; I gotta go home. I gotta go home and deal with this. I gotta go home and figure out if I can fix this. I ended up not being able to. So cut to eight months later and we go back to the studio and at this point I had been writing since the first time we had made a failed attempt, and I had the songs at this point. The ones we started to record were the newer ones and they had been written out of this state of emotional distress, of pain, disappointment and heartache; like a concept record. Every song was about this thing and it told this story. It was put together like an album used to be. Every song led into the other one and there was a reason why it was sequenced.
I’m glad you gave us the backstory, that it’s kind of a linear story. That’s the way I heard it and it’s the line of questioning I have in front of me here. From that track, I think paradoxically after saying you give up something in the opening track, you proudly proclaim that you’re “Never Gonna Quit” on track two. Walk us through the writing on that tune. Where does the story go from track one to track two?
In track one I use the metaphor of “East Side of Love” because the east side is always like the shady part of town where you go to score drugs or something, and so I kind of looked at my relationship as sort of being at that point on the east side of love. That leads into “Never Gonna Quit.” I think I started writing that song about my life in the music business. I thought I was writing a song about never quit trying to live this dream of playing rock and roll music, and then I realized very quickly that it wasn’t about that. It was totally about I’m never gonna quit trying to strive for something that a lot of people call impossible. I’m never gonna quit trying to beat my head against the wall trying to find a way to make love work. Love is a very complicated thing and I think that’s kind of where that song sparked. So it’s almost like a mantra to myself, like I started telling myself, you know you’ve come this far, you can’t give up now. It applies to my career and it applies to my relationships.
Speaking of never quitting, your band has had more of its share of roadblocks placed in front of it, yet you’ve managed to soldier on. How close have you come to calling it quits and getting the so-called real job?
Well that’s exactly what happened when we finished the record almost a year ago. I was so exhausted with the emotion that went into making the record that when it was done I literally looked at the guys and said, I need to step away from this for a while, and they were like, what? We just finished a record. And I said, exactly. I don’t have what it takes right now to go out and perform these songs and promote this product. I said, basically I can’t put my shoulder to the wheel right now because I’m broken. And I just said to them, I don’t know how long I need to step away for and I don’t know if I’ll even be able to come back. And they all looked at me like I was crazy. I think everyone in the band thought, he’ll step away for a month and get nervous and get right back to it, and you know what, I took a year off. So then we did a couple of festivals and I started to realize, you know I miss this so much. It was like becoming a vegetarian for a while, you know, like I missed meat, you know (laughs). It was weird. I never realized how important it was.
But it’s just as important to recharge the batteries, and it seems like that’s what you did.
It’s the best thing I ever did. That year away made me really appreciate the friendships I have in the band and the people that we’ve met who’ve kind of opened up their hearts and houses to us and told their friends about the band. So it’s great to be back. I’m so grateful. I’m really, really grateful. It makes me almost tear up when I think about it. It’s just really heartwarming.
We’ve been talking about the band here and you guys and Spinal Tap are seemingly neck-and-neck in the number of drummers that have come and gone…
(Laughs) No question!
Tell us who’s in the band today.
Well I’ve had the same guys I’ve been playing with for about five years, so it’s really actually the longest I’ve had the same lineup together. On drums is a guy named Clint Short, who’s a great friend and a really great drummer. The bass player’s name is Mike Therieau and he’s the best singer that I’ve ever met. Most of the record is us singing in harmony vocals; we were trying to do kind of an Everly Brothers thing. And on guitar is one of the most incredibly talented guitar players I’ve ever met; his name is Harley Husbands. What he did on this record was, I really asked him like to be my Mike Campbell. Give me those parts that people would like to sing back to us when we’re playing it live. You listen to a lot of those old Stones things and it wasn’t about Keith Richards being able to go up and down the neck and fly all over the place, it was like, he would get that one thing and stick with it and it just dug its way in like a tick, and that’s exactly what Harley was able to do on this record. I produced the record, but really it should say produced by everyone in the band because everyone had their say on their own parts.
So we’re caught up and up to date on the band, but let me take you back in time. I want to ask about the genesis of you becoming a musician. Did you have the proverbial Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment?
Yeah it was the first time I ever heard Sgt. Pepper’s. I was a little kid and I remember my dad always played guitar, and he would play Beatles songs…and my mother sang and they had this band and they did like all these Shirelles songs and all these really cool old R&B songs. As a kid, if I look back on all of the videos of me at Christmastime, my dad was always giving me musical instruments – pianos and drums and guitars – and I was always very drawn to them. But I have to say, when I heard Sgt. Pepper’s and I heard “A Day in the Life,” there was no question in my life what I wanted to do. It was really a moment. I have a four-year old son and his name is Lennon. The impact that that group had on me cannot be overstated. I was so blown away.
How old were you when you first heard it?
I think I was seven years old, because I remember I was in first or second grade. I started my first band in seventh grade and played in bands all through high school. I went to college and played music there and graduated and sent my diploma home to my dad and said, okay, I’m going to go play music now. Here’s the diploma, put it on the wall, you wanted me to do this, I did it, now I’m gonna go do what I wanna do.
Very cool. Let’s get back to the record and I wanna ask you about a couple specific songs. “I Don’t Know Why” stands out for me, and not just because it’s close to seven minutes long. Sonically it starts off with the acoustic and strings before it really shifts into high gear about four minutes in. Talk a little bit about this great track.
Well, it would have never made it on any other record because it was just too vulnerable. When I sat down with the song and showed it to the guys I said, look this isn’t a Shurman song, but check it out. They were cool with it because I prefaced it with, this is not gonna be a Shurman song. It just seems like it’s such a naked song; it seems like something I would put on a solo record. I think Harley even said something to me that was pretty profound; he said, I joined a rock band. That’s not a rock and roll song.
I was just gonna interject something real quick. My comeback to the comment about joining a rock band would have been this; have you ever heard Sgt. Pepper’s (laughs).
(Laughs) Exactly. It goes back to that record. Exactly. Totally. But I have to say [“I Don’t Know Why”] is probably my favorite song on the record.
I want to ask you about “California Carry Me Away.” I know the band first formed in Los Angeles so I’m trying to figure out if this is a love or a loathe song to the Golden State.
I think it’s both (laughs). I loved living there, but I hated not being able to really live while I lived there. I was destitute even with a record deal. I was living week to week, day to day; I was just tired of the struggle, do you know what I mean? One day I just realized like, you know it’s not worth it for me to have the California area code because I’m miserable. It was such an expensive place to live. It was bittersweet. I felt like I needed to get out of there and go somewhere that music was really appreciated and looked at, like we said earlier, like a commodity, but more as an art. That’s why I came to Austin. People there look at things differently. I mean like they look at Willie Nelson as being like a god, where in L.A. they’d be like, come on Willie, you need to go make a rap record or something; keep it current.
Speaking of Willie and guys like that, on your record, “Dive Right In” and “See You Smile” are back-to-back barnburners that really showoff the rockin’ side of the band, but “Somebody Else’s Problem” is straight up country, in my humble opinion…
Yes, no question.
That said, how do you feel about the current state of country music? [NOTE: our discussion on the current landscape of country music went on for over 12 minutes. Beavers has some very candid, no holds barred opinions on the state of the genre – many of which I whole-heartedly agree with – and he was not afraid to share them all with me. What follows is a very brief synopsis of our discussion on today’s country music]
Well I’m really happy to hear that Jason Isbell had a number 1 country record, so I still think there’s hope for country just because of that alone. But you know the whole “Bro Country” thing, I mean I’m a classic country guy…
I love Merle and Willie and Waylon and, you know…
…yeah, and of course George Jones, and all that kind of music that harkens back to my childhood because that music’s gone now. I mean there are guys, like Chris Stapleton and some of these guys like Sturgill Simpson who are doing things that are like very throwback, and you almost hear Sturgill and say, wow, that sounds like Waylon, and like that’s a compliment. A lot of these newer bands, you’re not gonna say like, wow, they remind me of George and Tammy Wynette; like that male and female harmony vocals. You’re like, no, that sounds nothing like that. You know, it sounds like 80s hair metal. I mean I hate to like bash on it, but at the same time it’s just kind of vapid and without real feeling. It’s one thing to come out in country and play that kind of vapid pop music, but then to like call the old classics geezers; that to me is like getting up in rock and roll and saying that Paul McCartney sucks, or like getting up in rock and roll and saying that Jimi Hendrix f**kin was a hack or something (laughs).
Country lost me when the drinking songs went from drinking with your toes in the sand instead of in a bar in the middle of the afternoon.
Yeah it starts to sound like product placement. The funny thing is that people are buying it, I mean like people eat that s**t up. I mean I had a lot of hope about 12 or 13 years ago when Lucinda Williams came out with Car Wheels On A Gravel Road and it was right around when Steve Earle was working with the Del McCoury Band and there was all this cool s**t going on, what was called alt-country then. People were looking back and harkening back to the Gram Parsons era of country rock and I was like, oh my god, this is gonna be great.
So true. Let me ask you a final question, and again I really appreciate the time today, Aaron. I read a tweet in which you said: “My new mantra: lifting the shades and seeing what is happening outside of this teepee.” You looked inward for the writing of this record, but what do you see happening outside the teepee? What concerns you the most? What gives you the most hope?
I think what is the most hopeful part about music right now is that it’s kind of in a way been put back in the hands of the people that matter; the people who are supporting the artists. Today there is so much that people can do to get behind a band, you know, retweet their tweets or follow them or share their information on Facebook; get things going in a kind of organic way. That’s something that you just can’t buy. It’s something really special about it. It’s something that really excites me, to see people get behind those bands. That to me is what is encouraging. As far as the things that are discouraging, I mean, I think the music business is a little bit discouraging. Unfortunately, the record business didn’t recognize downloads when they came out as something that was gonna be a long-lasting thing, so they didn’t invest their money in how to succeed in that model, so they separated themselves from that model and so the music just kind of ate itself, it kind of cannibalized itself, and that part is a bummer because there are a lot of great acts and frankly bands need money to sustain. Fan love and retweets and sharing on social media doesn’t pay the bills. Bands need money.
Amen, brother. And to be continued over a beer someday, hopefully.
I hope so, man. This has been great. It’s weird, you know, like sometimes you do an interview with someone and it feels like you’re just answering a bunch of questions, but this was just like talking to a friend, so I appreciate you being a friend.
Ah, well, thank you. From my end, that’s the best compliment that can be paid because at the end of the day I’m a music guy. I have no desire to share my views on a record when you’re doing that. I want you to tell the story; I just ask the questions.
Well I really appreciate your time. I really appreciate you taking an interest and thanks for caring. It means a lot.
Well thank you for this record. It’s a great album.
Thank you, Jim. I really appreciate. Talk to you soon.
**To hear more audio of my extensive conversation with Aaron Beavers of Shurman, please “LIKE” Facebook.com/CurrentClassics and look for a link to an upcoming episode of my weekly Current Classics podcast. Listen HERE.