Up Close with Steve Hahn of (Yellowbelly)
on June 15, 2005)
Home: Dallas, TX
PC: When did Yellowbelly begin their music career?
SH: Yellowbelly was formed in late 2001. The three founding members, Mike Barnett, Mark Haisler and I played together in an Austin-based band from 1995-1999, so we've had a long history together.
PC: Who are your main musical influences?
SH: Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams, The Jayhawks, Jack Ingram, Rusty Wier, Todd Snider
PC: Let people know how many people are in the band and who you are.
SH: Mike Barnett - Lead guitar, backing vocals Mark Haisler - bass guitar, backing vocals John Scully – Drums, percussion and me Steve Hahn - lead vocals, guitar, harmonica
PC: Where can someone get a copy of your CD's?
SH: Both CDs are available at every Yellowbelly show. And also at: Online: www.lonestarmusic.com or www.yellowbellytexas.com Retail: Bill's Records - Richardson, TX, CD World - Dallas, TX, CD World - Addison, TX, Hastings - Waxahachie, TX, Hastings - Waco, TX, Waterloo Records - Austin, TX
PC: Texas music artists are like one big family, everyone helps each other out - is this true?
SH: Usually. To a certain degree, however, musicians have to have an ego. After all, how else do you climb onto a stage and say "hey everyone, listen to me"? Sometimes, that ego clouds the recognition that we are all in this together and individual success helps us all collectively. I'm reminded of a show we opened for Cooder Graw. I had never met any of them nor even seen a live show. When we finished our set, Matt Martindale was the first one up to the stage. He grabbed me and said "That was a great set - its going to be hard to follow that" (of course, the last part was just being nice because they put on an incredible show). He gave me his cell phone number and said to call him if there is anything he could do to help us. And I think he was very genuine and real about that. Later, we led off a show for them in Austin that Matt helped arrange - not the venue’s booking folks. And you know what? Probably more than any other band since then I have sung the praises of Cooder Graw. That was a great lesson to me, so I make a real effort to chat with anyone that wants to meet us or talk to us. And to also do what I can to help musicians getting started. That kind of thing goes a long way. And the same is true if you "big time" another musician or fan, with the obvious negative ramifications. They'll remember it.
PC: If you could pick a couple songs that you have written that you are most proud of, what would they be and why?
SH: She's Got Me - I wrote this song almost 10 years ago. After probably 1000s of performances, I still get excited when I see it on the set list. Musically, I think I was lucky to find that melody. The song came together very nicely structurally too, I believe. While not a country song, our friend Steve Palousek played pedal steel on the track on our first record (Start All Over), which gives it a very interesting feel. From a lyrical perspective, I think She's Got Me captures quite well the feeling that most men have in a relationship, particularly at the initial stages. Although we almost never verbalize it, or even consciously recognize it for that matter, there is a point at which it is clear that you are no longer charting the course but rather that you are hopelessly at the mercy of another person. Its one of the best things about being in love.
Bad Foot Down - The title track off our most recent record. Also a relationship song, Bad Foot Down approaches it from a different perspective. Relationships are like job interviews – you put your best foot forward in hopes of getting the job. I think what is damaging in a lot of relationships is that once the interview phase is gone; we let our guard down and reveal our real selves. Sometimes the other person isn’t happy with what they see. Bad Foot Down is a soul-baring way of me asking “are you sure I’m what you want, with all these faults?”
LA is Too Damn Far - This is a very new song, written just a few weeks ago. After the Bad Foot Down sessions, I felt a bit tapped, creatively. LA was a vehicle for getting me back into a writing mode. And it’s very different from anything I've written from almost every angle - chord progression, mapping, melody, tone and feel. It might signal a new direction for Yellowbelly, especially since its our first time writing with our new drummer John Scully. John has a wealth of experience, and an excellent creative sense. I’m fortunate that the band is open to exploring new styles and interpretations. In fact, Mark is often pushing, even challenging me to get out of my creative comfort zone as a songwriter. LA will likely be a catalyst to push us into some uncharted waters, which is exciting.
PC: Is there anybody that Yellowbelly would like to perform with or do a duet with?
SH: We'd love to share the stage with Jack Ingram. Probably more than any other artist he is the reason why music and songwriting plays the role that it does in my life. I am not sure yet whether to thank him or blame him for that.
PC: Where does Yellowbelly want to be in the next few years with your music career? Any long term goals?
SH: Well, the list of dreams is much like most other artists and goes on and on. Platinum records, huge tours, sold out concerts, our own show on MTV, scandals with famous actresses, life-wrecking drug addictions, Behind the Music specials...you get the point. But in all seriousness I've been making music for almost 10 years and I understand that a whole lot of pieces have to fall into place, many of which are out of your control, to achieve even slightly more modest goals. So sure, I'd like a bigger fan base, more record sales, greater radio play, but the truth is that my band mates are my best friends and whether there are 1500 or 15 people at a show, I'm never happier than when I am on stage making music with them. It’s a feeling that is difficult to explain. So the goal is to keep writing and performing, and to keep exploring different ways to pull creativity from ourselves. And most importantly, to keep doing it for the right reasons. In terms of the measurable success...we'll just let come what may.
PC: What are your fondest career memories so far?
SH: Some of the really great memories involve great shows and great crowds. We've had some capacity crowds at Adair's Saloon, for instance - where the crowd was so riled up it seemed like it would bust. And we've shared a stage with some really great artists at some famous venues. But really, the best memories are just the little things, usually silly things that happen along the way. Once, after a show at Love & War in Texas, a waiter came up to me and told me that a lady wanted my guitar pick as a souvenir. I asked him if he was serious and he said yes. Later, when I told my fiancée Julie, she said “tell her she can come fish through the dryer, there’s about five in there at any given time.” There’s a reason why I’m marrying her.
PC: If you could have a Yellowbelly Music Festival, what line up would you have?
SH: Wilco, Bob Schneider, John Mayer, Ryan Adams, Joe Ely, Jack Ingram, John Hiatt, Steve Earle, Joe Ely
PC: In your CD player right now, what CD would be found?
SH: Jay Farrar - Stone, Steel & Bright Lights
With the release of their sophomore effort, Bad Foot Down, it’s clear that Yellowbelly has made a signature change in their musical direction. Formed in the fall of 2002, Yellowbelly has been building on the success of their debut album, Start All Over, and their active touring schedule. The material on Bad Foot Down demonstrates a significant level of musical maturity and reflects the band’s desire to go their own way while crafting true and meaningful music.
“Collectively, we had something of an epiphany,” said bassist Mark Haisler. “We discovered that in certain instances we were making decisions based on the marketing end of the music business – what to play and where to play in an effort to be something we weren’t. The writing period leading up to the Bad Foot Down sessions helped us hone in on what we are and where we wanted to go as artists. If listeners love this record, we’ll be thrilled. If they scratch their heads and think ‘what is this all about?’ we’ll be just as pleased.”
Lyrically, the tracks on Bad Foot Down dive into real topics - the struggles and joys of relationships, reflections on spirituality and soul-baring recognition of one’s inadequacies. “To be honest, we’ve never really succeeded at penning the ‘anthem’ type of song,” said singer and rhythm guitarist Steve Hahn, the band’s principal songwriter. “The reality is that our best work happens when we write real songs about real experiences and explore those feelings through music.” True, absent from Bad Foot Down are the beer-drinking or road-trip songs that are prevalent in some Texas Music. What you will find, however, is music that touches the edgiest side of roots rock and roll and ranges into folk with melodies that blend the two and a host of other genres. It is an Americana album in the truest sense of the word.
The members of Yellowbelly all come from Bell County in Central Texas. It’s there in Central Texas that Yellowbelly chose to record Bad Foot Down, co-produced and engineered by their good friend and Awesome Works Studio owner Steve Palousek. Mastered by Jerry Tubb at Terra Nova Digital Audio in Austin, Bad Foot Down highlights the fact that the members of Yellowbelly are constantly exploring new musical paths – but are ever mindful of their small-town roots. They make honest, meaningful music because that is who they are.
For More Information on Yellowbelly visit there web site at www.yellowbellytexas.com
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© 2003-2005 TOSSM MUSIC Philip W. Corder