Brandon Atwell is one of the most promising artists I've heard in recent years. He released his debut album, "Finally Something", in 2014 and has been killing it live both before the release and most definitely since then. I placed "Finally Something" at Number 2 on my Best of 2014 list and it would have been Number 1, if The Goddamn Gallows hadn't released a career defining album in "The Maker". Regardless, even at number 2, Brandon Atwell and The Broken Ground released the best Country Music record of 2014, in my opinion. Its raw, its real,...its from the gut. Its honest music written without marketing and demographics in mind, but rather a real need to express things through music that must be expressed. Real pain, real heartache. So with how much I loved this album and my desire to share it with all of you and spread the word on Brandon's music, I recently got together with the Kentucky native to pick his brain and get the inside scoop on his past, his influences, the new album and where he's headed. What follows is my interview with Brandon Atwell.
Let's start off with some background stuff. How did you first start playing music? And when did you first realize this was something more than just a hobby?
I actually just started at 19, as a way to make time fly, in the Army. I guess playing for all the Joe's and them telling me that they enjoyed it, gave me the drive to see what other crowds I could get up and do it in front of. It was really all an accident.
I also was very intrigued by my grandfathers recordings, Alva Greene. He was from Sandy Hook, KY and a phenomenal old time fiddler.
Wow, that's interesting that you started so late, compared to most people. I know you were in Call Johnny Law, prior to doing the solo thing, was that your first band? How did that come together and what led to the group splitting?
It was my first band, or attempt at a band. I felt like the constant rotation of members wasn't what I was going for, and honestly I felt like some people, that eventually came along, was trying to take the image in a direction that I wasn't interested in. I really just needed to step back & find why I started playing music in the first place.
DB:Right on. So you released your first album, "Finally, Something" last year, can you talk a bit about the recording of the album?
Sure enough. Im extremely proud of that album. It embodies everything I wanted. Homemade and straight to the point. Me & my closest friends set around microphones until we even figured out what we were doing. It was all new to us, and while we busted our ass, we had a blast making it. I'd like to thank Ricky Hodge, Brian Burgess, and Bo Jesse for being the best friends a guy could have and making the pieces come together. They played a huge role. I also think the Tradional aspect rings through loud and clear.
Nice. Switching gears a bit, I know alot of your tattoos are music related, so as someone who has such a love of music and is also a performer, what are some of your favorite bands/artists and also biggest inspirations musically?
Oh man, Thats a long list. Growing up I was super into metal and punk stuff. Slayer is always high on the list of my favorite acts. My Mom & Dad listened to a lot of Bluegrass gospel, and Slayer was as far as I could get from that.. Which was what I wanted. I listen to tons of artist in the traditional country/bluegrass field these days. There's always a day for metal somewhere or another though. Some of my biggest inspirations are Jimmy Martin, Roscoe Holcomb, Lee Sexton, Hank Williams. I like it all when it comes to the old sounds. I've listened to Bocephus and Merle since I was old enough to crack a beer open; I'll let you guess what time that was in my life. I've just always been drawn to originality. I grew up in an area where new music was hard to find. Not a whole lot going on out this way, but I think I've faired pretty decent.
Favorite bands/artists : Hank Williams, Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys (Especially the Clawhammer album), Slayer, Roscoe Holcomb, Weedeater, Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Valley Boys, Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, Leroy Troy, if there's a clawhammer banjo with a band backing it I probably like it.
I notice you mention that you got into Metal, at least partially as a reaction against the music of your parents. I also grew up surrounded by Country but by my teens had jumped fully into Metal and Gangsta Rap but as I got older I rediscovered Country, Folk, Bluegrass, etc. With the current Roots music scene it seems to be a common thing that many were into metal and Punk and then later found or rediscovered American Roofs music. What do you see as the link between 2 styles of music that seem on the surface to be so different?
Personal belief - imagery. I don't see how ya could've ever had metal without bluegrass. Bluegrass/Country songs are typically driven toward the lighter side of life and metal is on the opposing (generally). I believe for years country boys were scared to make mention of being metal fans.. Thats what I think it boils down too. It was almost like a taboo.
Id also say those folks were brought up listening to the old stuff and metal and punk was they're outlet.
In recent years, mainstream Country has become increasingly influenced by Pop music and now even rap and becoming less "Country", of you will. Meanwhile, there has been a growing independent, more underground scene of Roots music that encompasses a variety of disparate styles from Punk and Metal musicians turned pickers, one man bands, Blues, Bluegrass, Psychobilly, Rockabilly, Folk, and Traditional Country. Where do you feel you and your music fit in to all this? And what is your opinion of the state of music, both Mainstream Country and the current Roots scene?
I guess I don't feel like I fit in anywhere. I just try my damndest to put music out, and put shows on that speak to common people. I'm not really to tickled with the state of either to be quite honest. I feel like in the mainstream ya got guys shakin' they're ass and making fun of a culture, but I also feel like you've got that in the "underground" if you will. I guess I've rubbed more elbows in the "underground" or "roots" scene. There's a lot of really good hearted people; and theres phony's all the same.. But you've got that in every walk. For me, it doesn't boil down to where ya fit in or what ya do if you're true to who you really are. Even if it isn't my style of music, I can't really bash it if it's who you are.. Just don't attack my thing.
With that all said, I tend to favor the underground side of the house.. Have you heard that mainstream stuff? I'll be excited once they get past shitty high school love stories and tales of the truck they never had.
DB:Hahaha, nice. Earlier you talked about how you still work a regular full time job and playing shows is a vacation for you Would you like to eventually make music fulltime and tour extensively?
I really like the idea of it.. But if it don't happen it ain't gonna kill me. I know no matter how it turns out I'll get to pick with my good buddies back home and we can pick and record my songs and get em out there for people. Either way, I plan on getting my music to folks. I really like the idea of getting out there farther and covering more territory though. I think it'd be great. I look forward to seeing where it can take me.
Well man, I think we've covered a lot... I'll give you the chance to add anything you want, any thoughts, advice, complaints or curses?
Really im just thankful you thought enough to ask me questions about something I enjoy doing, and Im beyond thankful for the numerous other people who find enjoyment in it. It's why I continue.
Right on man. Well thanks for doing doing this and just keep doing what you do man.
Listen to the album online and/or purchase a copy right here...
Keep up to date with Brandon Atwell's music, upcoming shows, videos, etc here...
Brandon's Reveb Nation page...
All music and the album cover art is property of the respective artist,
in this case Brandon "Goddamn" Atwell
All live photos used were taken by Bethany Sweitzer
Andrew Glen Sweitzer