Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mark Robertson talks about the Legendary Shack Shakers & The Dirt Daubers

Mark Robertson from the Legendary Shack Shakers (third from left in above picture) recently spoke with Rockabilly N Blues Records about his early influences, his other band The Dirt Daubers and more.  Mark plays the upright bass in both bands and discusses how Buck Owens and The Ramones really aren't that different in his mind.

You obviously have a passion for roots, rockabilly, blues, etc. What are your earliest influences?
Probably my dads record collection...Chuck Berry, Jimmy Rogers, Everly Brothers, Elvis, etc.  I was a punk rock kid, but my dads records didn't sound so different from what I liked emotionally.  Buck Owens and The Ramones are practically the same thing in my mind...simple, honest songs that stay in your head, you know?

You handled production for last year's Agridustrial.  Tell about recording the percussion sounds at a blacksmith forge.
J.D. had been wanting to make that record for awhile, but we held off until Duane Denison joined the band.  He seemed like the right kind of player to help us achieve the sound we were going for...Agrarian meets Industrial.  Since we now had a famous indie punk guitarist from the Jesus Lizard/Tomahawk, it made sense to play to those strengths.  I don't know that it completely worked, but it was a very satisfying record to make and I'm glad we did it.  As far as the Blacksmith sounds go, we have a friend in Kentucky who is a blacksmith and his shop is pretty old world and way out in the woods.  We have a rule about sound effects...we never get them off the internet, or software...we have to make them ourselves.  That's always been the case. Anyway, the blacksmith, Layne, is a fan of our music and was more than happy to let me bring out a mobile recording rig.  We spent the day basically just banging on stuff!  We were firing up all the machines, playing beats with pieces of metal...then we went back to my studio (Stainless Sound, in Nashville, TN) and placed the sounds inside our songs...and in some cases, re-wrote songs to fit the sounds we'd made at Layne's shop.  So it took me a day to record the sound effects, and maybe 2 weeks to get it fully integrated into the record.  I would do that again in a heartbeat!  It was really fun, and a creative way to make music.

The Legendary Shack Shakers have toured with some great artists like Robert Plant, Hank Williams III, The Black Keys, Reverend Horton Heat and others. I'm sure there are lots of interesting stories. Are there any that stick out?
It's always amazing when your heroes, or people you look up to, validate what you're doing.  Hank 3 got the ball rolling for us in many ways.  I was in the band a day and a half before we went out to support Hank.  I was just gonna help out for two weeks so J.D. could get something going...that was like 11 years ago! The Robert Plant thing was surreal because he's such an icon in rock music. He was really kind to us.  He even reviewed the "Believe" record as his favorite release in 2005 for Rolling Stone!  How cool is that?!  Horton Heat has been a longtime friend of Th' ShackShakers...very supportive and we admire him a great deal, so that means a lot to us.  As far as stories go...it's the usual...trailers flying off the van on the interstate, lawsuits, crazy drunk/drugged out weirdos.  We got the top story for 3 days on local Nashville TV news while we were on a Rancid tour.  J.D. allegedly did something somewhat lewd and we have since been banned from that venue.  But the news stories were so overstated and sensationalized.  They acted like we were satanic criminals.  Their news stories were so much cooler than what actually happened!

I read someone describe the band as a Rockabilly Sex Pistols. Does that feel accurate?
We've been very fortunate to get some pretty cool quotes.  Jeff Beck called us "...A cross between The Sex Pistols and early Yardbirds," which is flattering, but I don't really see the connection.  Older folks use "Sex Pistols" when they want to describe something as edgy or punk or whatever.  Then again, Jeff Beck is one of my all time favorite musicians, so as long as he liked it, he can say whatever he wants!  In truth, J.D. knows NOTHING about punk...he never liked it.  He was trying to be Howling Wolf or Jerry Lee Lewis, but it just came out the way it came out!  It's a fun band to be in.  Every night is different, and we NEVER phone it in.  Some shows are gonna be better than others, but we always try to get more out of ourselves.  I admire my bandmates so much...amazing players, great people, and all have such a great work ethic.  They play like they got something to prove every single night.  Very addictive :)

Your song "Swampblood" was featured in the HBO show True Blood which is full of great roots music. Has that won over new fans?
It didn't hurt!  All that stuff adds up, you know?  Heck, we once had a song in a Geico commercial and that got us tons of new fans.  Stephen King listed that tune ("CB Song") as one of his top 5 favorite songs of all time, and he first heard it on the Geico commercial!  The True Blood thing really helped because the show was a huge hit.  Then it got released on DVD...then it got put on a soundtrack...then the soundtrack got nominated for a Grammy...so in a way, Th' ShackShakers are a Grammy nominated band...not bad!

Your Shack Shaker bandmate J.D. Wilkes and you are also in The Dirt Daubers which is a great blend of country, roots, bluegrass, rockabilly, blues, etc. What can we expect from you guys coming down the line?
Our first full length record, "Wake Up Sinners!" comes out September 16th.  Me and my studio partner/engineer recorded it at Stainless and we are thrilled with how it came out.  It bears little resemblance to Th' ShackShakers, really.  Very little drums/perc., no electric instruments whatsoever.  Just acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjos, upright bass, accordion, piano...that sort of thing.  Our buddy, Steve Latanation played some drums, but he made sure to keep it down a bit...brushes and snare drum mostly and not on every song. The record is a cross between mountain music like Dock Boggs, George Peagram, Jimmy Martin, mixed with Harlem hot jazz like Cab Calloway, Hoosier Hotshots, Washboard Serenader's.  And Jessica's vocals and strumming style bring in a Carter Family element.  We're touring more frequently and looking forward to seeing what folks think of it.  So far, we're off to a great start.

GET A FREE DOWNLOAD OF THE TITLE SONG "WAKE UP, SINNERS" HERE:                                                        

What's next for the Legendary Shack Shakers?
More touring!  We've got some cool, strange ideas for the next record, tentatively titled "Dixie Noir," but that could change depending on the narrative.  I think it'll be simultaneously more swampy/blusey and more literate in a way...a bit more story driven than the past couple records have been.  I'm excited to get back into the studio with this lineup.  Brett Whitacre is one of the best rock and roll drummers on the planet today, and an absolute joy to play with.  As a bass player, he just makes my job so much fun.  He keeps getting better in the studio as well...loves experimenting and doing crazy interesting things.  Duane is putting more of a blues, greasy kind of feel into his normal artpunk noise thing.  That guy is just such a unique musician.  He's also my roommate on the road and we've become good friends.  We're in a good place right now to make some cool music.

For more info, music, video and tour dates for both go here:


Official music video for "Wake Up, Sinners"