Whybirds drummer Luke Tuchscherer’s brilliant new solo album, Always Be True, is full of rough-hewn alt.country songs and anthems for the downtrodden, and its influences include Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Uncle Tupelo.
Among the highlights are the rousing opening track, Waiting For My Day To Come, the epic, tear-strewn ballad When The Dream Dies and These Lonesome Blues – a instant country classic that deals with death, drinking, cigarettes and the devil. ‘I really wanted to make a ’70s rock album, like Darkness on the Edge of Town or Damn The Torpedoes’, he tells me…
Q & A
Let’s talk about your new album – Always Be True. The title seems particularly relevant in these troubled times, where fake news is high on the agenda, wouldn’t you agree?
Luke Tuchscherer: I would certainly agree. Though, to be honest, we started recording it in late 2014 and I’ve had the title in mind since then, so I wouldn’t say that Trump and co had a direct influence on it, or the Brexit battle bus lies or any of that.
The title comes from the song Be True, which is a declaration of fidelity to my then girlfriend, now wife. But in a wider sense, it’s about being true to yourself, to your dreams and beliefs, as well as simply doing your best to be honest in day-to-day life.
It’s your second solo album. How does it feel to have it out there?
LT: It’s a relief. It’s like an albatross has been lifted from me. I’m really thankful that it’s finally out and really happy that people like it.
How long were you working on it?
LT: As I mentioned, we started in late 2014. It was due out in summer 2016. For various reasons – some good, like Tom (Peters, producer) getting married and some awful, like band members losing loved ones – it took longer than planned. But that’s not the story of the album, that’s simply what delayed it. And when those big life events happen, well, as much as I like music, I’m afraid they take precedent and the music takes a back seat. However – much like the first album actually – even though it took a couple of years to complete, in terms of actual recording, it was only a few days.
How do you feel this record differs from your debut? You’ve said it’s a collection of songs that you want to play live, whereas with the first album, that wasn’t the case. Can you elaborate on that?
LT: With the last album, you had to be careful which songs to play in which venues. Unless it was a “sit down and shut up,” type place, then you couldn’t play half the songs off it.
Trying to play Hold On or I Don’t Need You To Tell Me to a festival crowd wasn’t even worth attempting.
This time most of the tracks – though admittedly not all – can be played solo, or with the band, to pretty much any audience. Obviously I’m not gonna pluck out A Song For Jack Brown in a noisy venue, but for the most part, they work.
The new album has a much bigger, more full-on sound that its predecessor – 2014’s You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense – doesn’t it? What did you want this album to sound like? How did you approach the songwriting and the recording?
LT: It certainly has more electric guitar! But if anyone followed what was happening in The Whybirds, they’d know that a large part of what I do is that rockier alt.country sound. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as an acoustic artist just because of the first album, as that would be a great example of me not being true to myself… There’s that album title again!
‘I know what I’m doing for the next few records. There won’t be such a gap between albums – for the next couple at least’
Regarding the songwriting, I’ve got such a big backlog of songs that it’s very easy for me to pick the 10 that best fit the theme. No bullshit, I’ve got the next four albums planned, track listings and all. Now, obviously they’re subject to change, should I write something new that fits in, but for the most part I know what I’m doing for the next few records. There won’t be such a gap between albums – for the next couple at least.
You made the record with Tom Peters at The Den, in Bury St Edmunds. How was that? What was the recording process like? Was it a quick album to make?
LT: Other than the delays mentioned, the sessions went really well. Very smoothly. Tom’s brilliant. He’s a great friend of mine and an awesome producer. I can’t recommend him highly enough.
Did you have all the songs written before you went in to record the album? What were your musical and lyrical influences for this record?
‘I really wanted to make a ’70s rock album with this one. Something like Darkness on the Edge of Town or Damn The Torpedoes’
LT: Without being too anachronistic, or overly reverent of the past, I really wanted to make a ’70s rock album with this one. Something like Darkness on the Edge of Town or Damn The Torpedoes or something, If Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker was the template last time, I think those albums informed this one.
The opening track, Waiting For My Day To Come, is a bit of an anthem, isn’t it? It’s a big tune. What can you tell me about that song? Are you still waiting for your day to come? Could this album change all that?
LT: I wanted to write a song like Lodi by Creedence Clearwater Revival, where I could sing it at every shit gig I ever played, and now I open most shows with it. I dunno if that’s some sort of Freudian slip! I guess I am still waiting, and the song seems to suggest I always will be – ha ha! But really, that song was just what I was feeling in that moment, same as Outside, Looking In. It doesn’t mean I always feel that way about music. I don’t see Waiting… as a positive song whatsoever, but a lot of people find it optimistic, so good for them.
The legendary pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole played on your new album. How was he to work with?
LT: He was great. We sent him the songs, sent him some money and he sent back his tracks. Easy-peasy! One nice thing about having him playing on it though is that my wife and I had Tiny Dancer [by Elton John] as our first dance and BJ plays on that. It was very cool that he ended up playing steel on three songs about my wife.
You were the drummer in The Whybirds. How does it feel looking back on those days now? Why did you make the break and go solo?
LT: If it were up to me, The Whybirds would still be going all guns blazing with all four original members, and I’m pretty sure the other members know I feel that way. But it’s not up to me. The decision wasn’t mine. It was just a matter of life getting in the way. All of a sudden, my solo side-project became my main thing.
The Whybirds reunited for two tracks on your new album – Don’t Put Me Out and These Lonesome Blues. How was it being back in the studio with the band again?
LT: It was great. We played those tracks back in the day but never got to record them, so I wanted everyone to play on them. Taff did his bass parts and backing vocals from Canada, where he lives now. We have our final gigs – for now – this summer. Everyone should come along!
These Lonesome Blues is a classic country-rock song, isn’t it? Depression, booze, cigarettes, women, death, the devil…. It’s got it all! What can you tell me about that track?
LT: I wrote that in 2006/2007, when I was a lonely, boozing, smoking, depressed young man. Hearing it now it sometimes seems like a pastiche, but I really felt all that at the time. If you look at the lyrics, without that barroom country backing, they’re actually pretty fucking bleak. But, I don’t feel that way anymore, so all’s well that ends well…
‘I wrote These Lonesome Blues when I was a lonely, boozing, smoking, depressed young man’
A Song For Jack Brown deals with the suicide of a young man. Why were you inspired you to write a song about Jack? Was it a difficult song to write? How have his friends and family reacted to the song?
LT: I was trawling through Facebook one night when I saw that a promoter The Whybirds used to work with had posted in a group called For Those Who Knew and Will Miss Jack Brown.
Seeing that group and reading those messages really got to me. Jack was a 21-year-old based in Leighton Buzzard. He was a super-talented rugby player, by all accounts the life and soul of the party, and it just seemed so tragic that he’d take his own life. The people left behind were devastated.
Anyway, I got choked up reading the messages and went away and wrote the song. I demoed it and sent it to the promoter saying that I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate or not, but that I’d written this song and thought I’d send it on. He liked it and asked if he could pass it on to Jack’s friends and family, and I said yes.
I started getting messages from people, including Jack’s mum, thanking me for the song. The next time we played in Leighton Buzzard, Jack’s dad came along to buy me a beer and say thanks. Now, as you can imagine, that’s quite a strange and humbling experience. Even though this was back in 2009, I thought I’d include the tribute on this record.
How’s the summer shaping up for you? What are your plans for the rest of 2017, music-wise?
LT: A few festivals, we’ve got some Whybirds ‘final shows’, and then the rest is a closely guarded secret – for the time being…
Finally, what music – new and old – are you currently digging?
LT: I try, wherever possible, to listen to things that aren’t necessarily close to what I do, otherwise I’d just write songs like Waiting For My Day To Come all the time… But jazz, grunge, rock, pop, blues… I listen to all kinds of music. I’ve been really digging into Paul Westerberg’s back catalogue at the moment. I’ve always liked his stuff from the Singles soundtrack and The Replacements of course, but I’ve been delving in a bit more. For obvious reasons, I’ve been listening to a lot of Soundgarden lately.
The Whybirds will be playing three farewell shows:
June 30 – Esquires, Bedford
July 7 – Portland Arms, Cambridge
August 11 – The Lexington, London