The Hot Seats to Record AC&T Performance
From Lanny Fields, Community Idea Stations – Local band The Hot Seats will be recording their upcoming performance at Ashland Coffee and Tea. Recently I e-chatted with band members Josh Bearman and Graham DeZarn about all things Hot Seats.
Lanny: How did the band members meet and get to know each other? What inspired you to make music together?
Josh: Ben, Jake and Ed met at VCU and were already playing music in a variety of forms. When I met them, they were just getting into picking (bluegrass/oldtime, etc). We began playing in fields and apartments. The band kind of gelled out of nowhere and almost immediately began playing a weekly gig: first at Richie’s (now Emilio’s) and then at the Cary St. Cafe. We stayed together because it was fun; too much fun to stop.
We recently (16 months ago) added Graham DeZarn to the mix on the fiddle. He and I grew up in the same folkie scene (our parents’ scene) in and around northwestern VA, and he’s been playing fiddle basically his entire conscious life (and occasionally while sleeping and/or catatonic). He’s added a very different quality to our music and we’re pretty happy about it.
Lanny: What were some of the first tunes you learned as a band? Are any of those tunes still in the current repertoire?
Josh: Our first tunes were similar to a lot of bluegrass-y bands, I imagine – a bunch of Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs. But of course, we were also playing Zappa and John Prine and (forgive us) Grateful Dead and Phish. Nearly all of the music besides the Zappa has fallen away. Even the bluegrass standards are only pulled out when asked for specifically. We definitely play many of the originals that were written in the early days. Ed, especially, penned some jewels that remain as fresh today as they were 9 years ago.
Lanny: How did having a regular weekly gig at Cary St. Cafe early on in your career prepare you all for where you are today?
Josh: Besides forcing us to build a giant repertoire – we tried to have at least 3 new songs a week - the Cary Street gig really allowed us to stretch out and determine how best to play with one another. Beyond the practices and out of town weekend gigs, having every Wednesday to test out new tunes and skits was very helpful.
Perhaps most useful for a large amount of our career thus far, our weekly gig in Richmond taught us how to deal with audiences who were... less than sober and attentive. A very valuable lesson indeed.
Lanny: Is the direction you’ve taken over the last 9 years the direction you thought you would take?
Josh: We never planned to take it any direction at all. That being said, we are very happy with the music that we make, and we’re fairly harsh critics. Of course, we’d love it if everyone else felt the same way, but we’ve reached a point of sustainability wherein we continue to have fun playing, sound the way we want to sound, and play only the gigs where we’re treated like our art has worth.
Lanny: What is the biggest misconception about The Hot Seats?
Josh: I’d be flattered to think that we’re conceived by anyone at all. I suppose there’s two misconceptions: 1) we’re as dirty and disorganized as we were 9 years ago; and 2) we’re somehow different from Special Ed & The Shortbus (we are Special Ed & The Shortbus).
Lanny: Being a band from Richmond, VA, do you think The Hot Seats have a Richmond sound?
Josh: We are very lucky to be from a city with such a varied wealth of bands of all types. To me, it’s hard to pinpoint what a “Richmond Sound” is. Even within our genre, such as it is, there’s a wide range of sounds and styles. With all that exposition, I will say that we do have a strong connection with Richmond, and are proud when we get a chance to tell other people about it.
Lanny: A lot of oldtime influenced bands start out very traditional but find success only after adopting a more general sound. In your case the opposite has happened. It wasn’t until you honed in a more traditional sound that you started to receive critical acclaim. Why do you think this is?
Graham: There aren’t that many bands out there who do quite what we do, but there’s an audience for traditional sounds. So as other bands move away from that, parts of their audience might find us. I don’t know, there’s something to be said about persistence as well. We’ve spent a lot of time on stage over the years. It’s always nice to see a band that’s as comfortable on stage as off.
Lanny: No matter how many times I’ve seen you all play, there always seems to a different setlist and a song or two I’ve never heard you do before. What goes into a setlist and how do you keep coming up with new stuff to play?
Graham: Like I said, we play for ourselves as much as anyone else, so varying a set list keeps things interesting for us, especially when we're playing many many nights in a row. There are also the practical concerns of who’s playing what instrument for different songs.
But we do try to gauge the mood of show; a rowdier, more dancing-y crowd warrants a set with more old time and honky tonk, whereas we also have some more involved songs that are fun for us and are better appreciated in front of a listening room.
Lanny: You put out a vinyl EP in 2010 that was well received. Are there any plans to record another studio album? How about an official live recording?
Graham: A live album AND a studio album? That’d be a little like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. Fortunately, Ed and Ben have been practicing—Ed the belly-rubbing and Ben the head patting. We’re taking a whole herd of new tunes into the studio this summer. We’re also excited to be recording a show at Ashland Coffee and Tea this Thursday (April 28th). A venue like Ashland Coffee and Tea is unique because you seem to find people who are there to rock, but they’re also listening. Those audiences are the best kind of fuel for us.
Lanny: They say that a band’s audiences are a reflection of the band. If that’s true, then what does this say about your audience?
Graham: Not every band is so lucky to have an audience made up of such handsome, talented, charming and—who could forget—sweet-smelling men.
Lanny: What do The Hot Seats have in common with the source musicians from which you draw inspiration? Where do you differ from these influences?
Graham: Right now we play songs from Porter Wagoner, John Prine and Frank Zappa. But we also get tunes from old jug bands, ragtime banjoists, Don Reno (the unsung hero of bluegrass banjo) and lots of fiddle players who never recorded commercially. So we’re inspired by people from all different genres. The musicians we most respect all are folks who brought something of themselves into the music they played. That holds true for our band in that we'd have a very different band if you replaced any one member. (We learned how true this was especially after we had to do just that.)
Way’s in which we are similar and different from our sources. . .
- Being Poor (YES)
- Riding Trains (Not often)
- Heartbreak (YES)
- Political Dissatisfaction (YES)
- Going to war (NO)
- Moonshine (YES)
- Getting drunk at bars (YES)
- Wildlife (YES?)
- Chasing women (Some of us)
- Prison (NO)
- Jesus (No comment)
- Rhinestone suits (Ed has asked that we not speak about his private life)
Lanny: During an especially hot jam, drummer Jake Sellers can sometimes look like he’s in a trance. What’s actually going through his mind during those moments?
Josh: We’ve often posited that Jake astrally projects in moments like that. Were I an audience member, I’d be looking over my head to see Jake, gloriously backlit and smiling down upon me.
Lanny: Have you ever made an audience member so moved by a song that he or she cried?
Josh: I think we’re more suited to making audience members laugh until something ruptures. I will say that our last show in Ashland, we had an audience member break into spontaneous karate kick. Does that qualify?
Lanny: Tell us about your next show and why we should be there.
Graham: April 28th at Ashland Coffee and Tea. 8:00 pm. Our past shows there have been among my absolute favorites, and we're gonna record it! Something about that room really lets us stretch out. Also, Jake has offered to hug every 5th attendee and last I checked Ed’s moustache was a $10 moustache at the very least.
Lanny: Any last words?
Graham: “Die, my dear? Why, that's the last thing I'll do.” – Groucho Marx
“I just wish I had time for one more bowl of chili.” – Kit Carson
The Hot Seats perform at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, April 28 at Ashland Coffee and Tea.