Interview with Banditos

Published: June 21, 2017

BS253_Cover_1800_0With an adventurously raucous new album Visionland (out June 24 on Bloodshot Records) ready to set your summer ablaze, we talked to Mary Beth Richardson, Corey Parsons, and Steve Pierce of Banditos for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One (plus two). Read our chat with the trio to find out about how their sound has evolved since their debut, where the inspiration to name an album after a defunct theme park came from, how they got famed piano-player Earl Poole Ball on the record, and more!

NoiseTrade: With Visionland being your sophomore album, what did you learn about yourselves and your band’s sound after touring behind your self-titled debut for two years?

Mary Beth Richardson: Making the first album was a process of writing for four years and going into the studio twice to make our first appearance a true representation of our initial sound. The real science experiment came with this second record. Our influences have grown and intermingled throughout our experience to make a rat-king of inspiration. On this one we made sure to shift focus to a different atmosphere with each song to keep the listener engaged just like the first, but there is definitely a few years of weather on our musicality. The lyrics are a bit harsher, and the musicianship is more developed. That’s not to say it’s been bleak, or hard for us personally (sometimes of course), but I think it’s important to capture the mood of our surroundings. It seemed unavoidable to write with a bit of urgency. But you’ve got to lighten up every now and again, so there you have it: a mixed bag of emotive complexities. Bon appetit!

NT: Your brand new album Visionland shares its name with a closed-down theme park in Alabama. What inspired that choice and how does your collection of new songs relate to it?

Corey Parsons: Visionland was kind of like a mirage to me as a kid, this $60 million dollar theme park built in our shitty little town. I could’ve never even imagined something like that. It turned out to be a big mess (rides malfunctioning, injuries, fights, robberies, etc.). It went bankrupt five or six years after opening.

I wanted to write a song about some psychedelic experiences I’ve had over the years and how they’ve affected me. As much as I might take away from some of those experiences, they still feel like a mirage. Essentially, most of the songs on the album convey a feeling of optimism during a dark time. Visionland gave us a similar feeling.

NT: As a sextet, what are the best parts and the worst parts of having six voices/opinions in the band? Have any three-versus-three deadlocks been decided by any special situations?

Steve Pierce: The best parts are having a well-rounded view on most things; we all think differently about certain things, and it helps us solve a lot of situations… except for what to eat. That’s about the only deadlock we face. But it gets solved by looking down and realizing we still have our own feet to walk with.

NT: Most Banditos songs are rooted in bluesy, soulful folk-rock with healthy doses of psychedelic and garage-rock influences layered throughout. What artists and albums did you use as reference points while writing the songs on Visionland?

Parsons: I don’t think we consciously had any reference points, but here’s an idea of some of the artists we were listening to while making Visionland: Bobby Charles, The Kinks, Sam Samudio, Link Wray, The Cramps, Ramsay Midwood, Dr Hook, Goose Creek Symphony, Leon Russell, Ronnie Wood, Grateful Dead, Jim Sullivan, Lee Dorsey, Jackson Browne, The Equals, and Lynyrd Skynyrd

NT: What’s the story behind famed piano-player Earl Poole Ball appearing on Visionland? How’d that come about and did he tell any cool stories from his amazingly storied multi-decade career of playing with so many legends like Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, The Byrds, and others?

Pierce: We couldn’t be more honored and lucky to have had that work out. We recorded the album at Israel Nash’s ranch outside of Austin, TX, and we only went into town one night. We saw Ramsay Midwood at Sam’s Town Point, and he had Earl playing with him. Ramsay introduced Earl to us, and I got his number that night and left him a message the next day. I kind of figured maybe he was just being nice to us and it wasn’t real, but sure enough he called me back after 4PM; he’s still a night owl and doesn’t wake up till then. He said there was one condition: we just had to pick him up at his house. We got him out there to the ranch and went right to it. He sat in the control room with the album’s engineer Ted Young, and most of us just lingered around gritting our teeth in amazement. He was only gonna do two songs with piano for us but he liked “Healin’ Slow” and wanted to do an organ part. He joked how no one ever let him do that before since there was always an organ guy around to beat him out of it. We had no problem letting him loose on that, obviously. He told us some stories in the studio, but I think our drummer Randy got the best of the deal. He picked Earl up and took him home, and Earl showed Randy the grand piano he played throughout his career with Johnny Cash. Randy even got to hear him play a few songs on it.

NT: Along with three Visionland tracks (“Fine Fine Day,” “Healin’ Slow,” and “Visionland”), your NoiseTrade sampler also features three older songs, including your arresting cover of “I Put A Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. What drew the band to interpret this rock classic and do you all have a favorite cover of it from any other bands/artists?

Richardson: That cover came about for a Halloween show we did years back at the Bottletree in Birmingham (R.I.P.). In the beginning of the set, we did a cover of Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs’ “Little Red Riding Hood” & wanted to end it with a pretty well known dramatic cover, so a likely candidate was “Spell.” It was a hell of a good time playing it live, and we had such a great response that our friends would yell it out for an encore at future shows, so we continued to play it for them. It’s a hard song to pull off, so we’re so happy that fans have been so affected by it. My favorite move — people who have seen us live will know — is jumping off the stage and getting into the crowd’s faces while singing it. There’s no stage barrier too tall (yet) to crawl over. I love doing that shit. As far as my favorite cover of it goes, of course Nina Simone’s, but I grew up with CCR’s, so I’d say the influence is in the middle.

When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t putting a spell on you, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack

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