Pilgrimage Festival got a special treat in the form of The Blackfoot Gypsies on Saturday, September 24th. The band, which we’ve highlighted a number of times, brought their eclectic mix of rock n’ roll vocals, blues jives, and alternative country vibes to welcoming audiences. The hard touring band have released four projects in just four years, their most recent the critically acclaimed Handle It. Zack Murphy and Matthew Paige started the band as a two piece, eventually calling on Dylan Whitlow (bass) and Ollie Dogg (harmonica) to bring their sound to the next level. And that they did. Their success has been a slow burn, culminating in them signing with Plowboy Records in 2015.
Our contributor, Kristin McKinney, sat down with the band during the festival to talk music, advice, and what keeps them going. Check it out!
When people come to your show or they listen to your music, what do you want people to feel or remember when they walk away from it?
You can only hope that they feel something that you feel. That feeling I get when I make music. It’s the spirit, energy, and sort of all consuming – it sounds cheesy but I think if you’ve seen a good concert or been to a really good show you know what that is. You get caught up, and it’s really cool, and as we play we get caught up in it. And we hope that thing is really contagious. You find your people, you have your moments, you live your life, and that’s what we’re doing.
You mentioned how playing music makes you feel. Describe that?
It’s like an out of body experience. Like you’re not really in control. Even though you are, because you have to be, you’re keeping the reigns on this thing and you don’t know where it’s going to go. You have to drive it. So you’re consciously there, but you’re sort of not there, at the same time. It’s not always all the time, sometimes you’re playing to a sit down crowd and they’re really mellow. You can bombard them with how you think they should be feeling right then and there or you can adapt to the environment that’s been created.
I know we spoke once about the question that you wish people would ask you. And you mentioned that you don’t know why people don’t ask why you do music? So, why do you do music?
It’s the feeling. As soon as you figure out that life is, I don’t want to say pointless but… once you get past that and find something worth living for. Whether that’s furthering the knowledge of man or just playing music, because they’re both really necessary to human life. I think music is really important. Playing music from the standpoint of not really being successful and not needing the success to keep going – it helps and makes it easier – but whether it’s there or not we’re still going to do it. People are still going to want it. So I guess that’s why. It’s important and I like it, that’s entirely all of it.
You have days when the creativity is stagnant and it feels like everything kind of stalls. How do you keep that mojo flowing and keep this BFG machine going on those days?
I used to get really mad when the faucet wasn’t on. I would blame myself and be like, you suck you’re a failure. During those times, when it’s not outpouring, you should be soaking in as much as you can. When I’m in that place of, I just can’t think of anything, I start listening to other records and take that opportunity of me not saying something and just listen. Maybe go in a new direction or listen to an old record that I really like. I try not to be mad at myself. As far as keeping the momentum going, that’s the same struggle with the band as it is with life. It’s life in the band.
You started the band as a two piece, but you’re bigger now. How does that change for you in terms of that creative mojo to keep not just yourself inspired but the band as a whole?
Everything is a struggle, there’s no autopilot. Every day is something new, especially with four people, and you have to choose your company very wisely. These people believe that with our powers combined and the roles that we fill it will work. There’s a will to push it that way. It takes belief. It also takes ignorance and blind faith. The willingness to accept that we may fall on our faces and die poor for these dreams. But it will be fun, that’s the goal. The goal is to have some fun and to feel something. It’s not technology, it not this thing you can buy, it’s not sex and it’s not religion, but it kind of feels like both.
The band has grown in terms of recognition, signing to a label, progressing through management. How has becoming more of a business oriented band impacted your creativity? How do you see yourself managing that moving forward, as you continue to get bigger?
It’s better now because I work in the engine room of the machine. The direction is to play a lot, and keep playing, and have it be worth enough to keep going. With the label, it’s nice, everyone has picked up dutie. So as far as you having to send every email and make every t-shirt, it’s essentially done and you don’t have to worry about those pieces. You make sure everyone is okay and everyone is happy, do your best to help them when they need it, and be nice to people. You adjust as you go. That label may not be there forever. We might add more people to the band. You adjust as you go, you move with intent and necessity.
I think a lot of times people think that the minute you sign with a label, independent or major, everything is going to be great. But it comes with some unique challenges. Is there anything that came as a surprise or maybe was something you didn’t expect?
I guess the amount of control that you lose. And it’s not in the way that you’d usually expect. Because if you want someone to drive the ship for a while while you go do the work, you’re not controlling the ship. You have your say in where it goes, but really the guy in control of the ship is going to decided where it ends up. So, with Plowboy, as great as they are they still get to say no. They like us and what we do, but they still have their own things to pay for and need to keep their reputation up. So, I guess, the perk is that you don’t have to do everything and the downfall is that you don’t have to do anything. That may be one of our downfalls in the future, is that we don’t necessarily care about all the facets of being a successful band. I think sometimes some people think we’re doing too many different kinds of things at once. They want to hear that it’s either country, or rock, or whatever. Not a mix of the things.
What’s one of your biggest frustrations in the music industry and what do you wish they did differently when it came to supporting emerging artists?
I think everything is in place for a reason. I think the things that make it difficult are there for a reason. I wish it were more like, nobody really knows you but I like what you’re doing, so lets give you a chance. Instead of I need to get this email, from this guy, at this agency – because I don’t say yes to anything that doesn’t come from him. Because he scratched my back that one time. I wish you could come from nowhere not knowing anyone, and deliver something good. Even if it requires growing and grooming. I wish they recognized talent. Because a lot of it goes overseen.
And if you stick it out long enough, that’s kind of the American dream, isn’t it? That if you work hard enough, long enough, bang your head against that wall long enough – something good will happen. They never say it’s what you want, but it will be something good. That’s about it, I don’t like the music industry, it takes forever for anything to happen and you kind of have to be at the right party and blah blah blah, but there’s a reason for all the hoops to jump through because there are so many people that want to do it. It is the New York Ballet Academy of rock and roll bands. It’s fucking hard and it sucks and it takes a long time and it hurts and it’s painful. The fun part about music and art is that there aren’t any rules, it’s not written down. So the school is to adapt. And get whatever it is you think you want.
Is there one piece of advice you’ve been given that was terrible?
This all boils down to what you want to do. What do you want to do? There’s the whole Music Row approach, where music is a math problem, an equation that’s formulated and here’s what success sounds like. Here’s what money sounds like. That’s not very fun, I don’t know why they’re doing that, I don’t feel like they need to. It’s like instead of Tyson Chicken going out and catching chickens roaming around in the woods, they think, why not just keep them in these fucking boxes? And then cut them apart when they grow. And that’s what Music Row does with songs. I don’t know why they do that, I don’t think that’s good advice, and I don’t know how to shake them out of it. But some people don’t want to be David Bowie, they just want to play guitar and hangout on Music Row.
What advice would give to bands coming to bands coming to Nashville in terms of how to navigate this town and develop their presence?
Be open and honest to yourself. That’s about it. You gotta be honest with yourself about why you’re there and what you’re doing to begin with. Before you start convincing other people. And open because there are going to be a lot of people there growing next to you. That person you meet that first week in Nashville, isn’t going to be that same person seven years from then. You gotta allow yourself to grow and morph into who you’re supposed to be. Just be ready to work a lot, and do stuff you don’t want to do. Sometimes you gotta wash dishes or build bed frames.
What are you looking forward to in 2017? What are you working on? What do you want to share?
I’m excited for people to hear these songs in a controlled environment. We play them a lot at shows, I know everyone will know them, but now you can listen to it over and over. Because I really like listening to things over and over again, from start to finish, like in the car especially. That’s when it seeps in. On your own time. You don’t have to go to The Basement and grab a beer and stand next to people and chat. The music is just there. I’m excited for people to have that power of it. It’s old thinking but it’s nice to finally have. Sometimes I want to listen to it because I think it’s fun.
Featured Image by John Miller