We just made a record in the shed behind my grandfather’s farm. Nobody lives there anymore since my grandparents passed away, but you can still feel their spirits. It’s a special place. I learned my first three guitar chords there underneath the old Catawba tree. Rode horses, fished in the ponds and Chestnut Creek, wandered around in the woods there. It’s where Telisha and I were married, and where we go when we need to disappear for a while. It’s where not even the strongest wi-fi signal can find you. We got the idea to take some of our Nashville friends (Fats Kaplin, Will Kimbrough, Neilson Hubbard and Audrey Spillman) and meet up with some old-time players from Galax, Virgina (Snake Smith, Kyle Dean Smith, and Kilby Spencer). We wanted to set up a simple recording rig, throw out some songs, work up arrangements together, and see what happened.
We chose those four people from Nashville for a couple of reasons. First, because they’re really, really good at what they do. You’ve heard all of them somewhere whether you know it or not. Between them, they’ve played, sung, written or produced for Jack White, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Kim Richie, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Dorf, Grey’s Anatomy… I could go on and on. Like I said, they’re that good. But the main reason we wanted those four is because they are all beautiful amazing human beings that anyone would want to spend time with. The kind of people who are just as much fun around the kitchen table as they are around the mic. People who, when you say, “Hey, me and Telisha have this crazy idea to go hole up in the Virginia mountains where there’s no cell phone coverage or internet service and make a record with some great old-time players in a shed behind my grandfather's farm. Wanna go?” they say “Hell yeah! Let’s do it!” (Also, Fats has been trying to get to Galax his entire life. Literally. But that’s a story for later.)
Choosing Snake and Kyle Dean and Kilby was even easier. From the start, we knew we couldn’t make this record with anyone else. Growing up, I learned how to play music by watching and playing with others. I’d stand at the edge of a circle of grownups playing old-time and bluegrass trying not to play too loud. I’d keep my eye on Snake’s right hand, and try to make my wrist do what his was doing. It looked so easy, so natural. Easy and natural like when you watch a bird fly - but give it a try sometime. My grandfather always said Snake and Kyle Dean and the rest of the folks they played with were the best in the world. Turns out he was right (about so many things). It was so much fun to watch them play with Will and Fats and just have a good time trading ideas and laughing. It’s still hard to believe we were a part of something so special.
I’d be willing to bet it was the most fun any of us ever had making a record. We sat in a circle and played, and Neilson recorded it all. We had big meals with my family, walks in the woods, moonshine, dips in the creek… We played some old-time tunes, some originals, and a few cover songs. My grandfather would have loved every minute of it.
In a lot of ways, this record is different from the music we’ve been making for the past few years. But it’s what has always been underneath. This is the record we’ve been working on our whole lives. This is us taking a place in that circle and inviting you in with us. Everything is exposed on these tracks. We don’t try to hide any of it. It’s just real, honest music made by a bunch of folks circled together in the mountains of Virginia on a couple of hot days in August; in the same place we first learned the value of authentic songs and melodies, just a few miles away from where the other wild ponies roam the Blue Ridge Mountains, easy and natural and beautiful and majestic.
We didn’t listen back to any of the songs until we got home to Nashville -- we just kept the tape rolling. We knew there was real magic happening -- real music. When we left, we didn’t know if we’d made a record or not, but we trusted Neilson, and we had a lot of trust in each other and the music we were making.
When we got home and Neilson let us listen to what he’d captured, we were completely blown away. We’ve loved all the records we’ve made, but this one is different. Special. I’m pretty excited about what we’ve got. I think you can almost smell the dirt, the wooden beams, the farm itself. You can hear the collaboration happening-- musicians trusting each other and leaning in to the sounds. When you close your eyes, you can feel the heat, and smell the honeysuckle and the mountain summer air all around you. You can hear the tin roof reverb, and the crickets and the wind in the trees. It really puts you right in the middle of the circle, there in the shed with us, and that’s where we want you.
We’ll be releasing Galax on Gearbox Records in August of 2017. We’d love for you to share this with your friends. Let them know about it. In a lot of ways, this truly is a record we’ve been working on our whole lives, and we want you to be a part of it, too. The connection. The circle that won’t be broken.
Love to all of you-
Doug & Telisha