No doubt the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of Billy Talbot’s name is the legendary catalog of work he and his bandmates in Crazy Horse have created over the years with Neil Young. The studio collaborations between Young and the Horse began with 1969’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere with the most recent offering being last year’s tripfest Psychedelic Pill. In the meantime, some of the epic live performances of Young’s career have also been with Crazy Horse – Frank “Pancho” Sampedro on guitar (who replaced original member Danny Whitten after his death in 1972), Ralph Molina on drums, and Talbot on bass.
What many people may not realize is that between outings with the Horse, Billy Talbot has created some great music of his own – with a hand-picked group of multi-talented musicians known as the Billy Talbot Band. Their most recent release is On The Road To Spearfish and it is as broad and expansive as the South Dakota prairie territory that Talbot and his wife call home.
Listening to Spearfish is like being hunkered down in a cabin with Talbot and company: the recording puts you dead-center in the music, be it the lonely ache of “Empty Stadium”, the turn-your-collar up drift of “Cold Wind”, the extended jam of the title track, or the wave-that-flag fist-pump of “Ring The Bell”. At the album’s core are Talbot’s real-as-hell-and-chock-full-of-soul vocals, along with his gritty, beautiful guitar work and piano playing.
Billy was kind enough to make time to talk with us from Norway during Crazy Horse’s current swing through Europe with Young. Sharing some of the precious quiet time between soundcheck and the evening’s gig, Billy spoke of capturing the “juice” of a song, the perfect sound of the “trombonium”, and his appreciation for the great group of players who traveled with him On The Road To Spearfish.
BR: Billy, one thing a lot of folks may not realize is that you’ve been playing with most of the musicians on this album for awhile now.
BT: That’s true – at least ten years, or more. We’re good friends.
That’s the vibe you get listening to the album. You’re all listening to each other and feeling what the other guys are feeling … some great formation flying with the tape rolling.
Well, thank you. I appreciate that Brian, I really do. These guys deserve all the credit that they can receive.
Did these tracks go down in a single session, or did you record over a period of time?
We basically recorded them over a few days. You can see the dates if you watch the video of the complete album which is available on my website. We couldn’t remove the date and time off one of the cameras that we used, so it actually shows when the recording was made.
So, just to clarify, viewers can watch an in-the-studio video of each song on the album as it was recorded?
That’s right: hi-def audio and Vimeo of everything as it was being done.
Oh, super – we’ll be sure to point folks to that. I wanted to ask you about Eric Haas, who co-produced On The Road To Spearfish with you, along with being part of the recording, mixing, and mastering. The music on this album feels so personal – the two of you had to be pretty close for Eric to capture what you were after.
That’s true. I was going after an intimate feeling … it’s my art, so to speak, and I wanted it to be intimate and loose – with the dynamics and liveness of a rock ‘n’ roll band. Even the songs like “Big Rain” and “Herd” … I wanted them to be acoustic without seeming so acoustic, you know?
Eric was intimately involved with me on all of the album. He developed a technique for recording – as well as setting up the cameras for the video – and did the editing. We worked on all of this together; he knew what I was going for. We’ve developed a way of doing stuff … getting the sound without a lot of EQ – using good mics instead of digital EQ, which we didn’t like at all.
You nailed it, Billy – capturing things like the beginning of the breath into a horn or the nuance of a pinkie flutter on a key. The tracks breathe … and you’re sitting on a stool right in the middle of it.
That’s what we were going for. We really wanted to catch that feeling – most of these things were the first take. We overdubbed a few harmonies, which you’ll see in the video. It really tells the story of the album and the musicians who made it.
You have some amazing multi-instrumentalists in the band.
Our saxophone player, Erik Pearson, also plays lap steel, banjo, and a little bit of piano on this record. Mark Hanley plays mandolin, along with some guitar, lap steel, organ, and other instruments. Ryan James Holder plays a lot of instruments: trombone, guitar, autoharp, organ, and harmonica. Matt Piucci is a great guitar player, but he plays the harmonium, too.
And if I was going to draw a parallel, I’d say bassist Tommy Carns and drummer Stephan Junca lock in the same way you and Ralph do in Crazy Horse. They pull it off on everything from jammed-out rockers to very subtle, spacey settings.
They’re a great combination. I consider “Ring The Bell” to be a great bass and drum part. You can really hear how well they play together.