Interview & Photos by Scott Preston
Will Kimbrough & Brigitte DeMeyer
Southgate House Revival, 111 E 6th St, Newport, KY
8pm doors, 8:30pm show, $12 adv, $15 dos, Buy Tickets
Think of Will Kimbrough as the Sherlock Holmes of songwriting — a sharp-eyed observer of humanity who notes every detail and spares nothing in his analysis. His new case study is Sideshow Love (released February 2014), a dozen songs that play out like a collection of smartly crafted short stories, laden with generous melodies and arrangements that balance virtuoso playing with just the right amount of space to let each of the characters within them breathe.
The theme is a familiar one: love. But what’s novel is the telling. Kimbrough’s perspective shifts effortlessly between sharp- and misty-eyed, from laughter to tears, as he weaves an arc through the stages of a romance over his eighth solo release’s course. Kimbrough had accumulated those songs while he was authoring a new chapter in his distinguished history as a sideman, playing guitar in Americana icon Emmylou Harris’ band. He’s also accompanied such songwriting luminaries as Rodney Crowell, Kim Richey and his longtime friend and accomplice Todd Snider — all the while never letting his own pen-craft lag. Kimbrough produced and recorded most of the album in his home studio, which he’s primarily used for demos in the past. He played acoustic and electric guitars, banjo and mandolin.
Although Kimbrough’s previous album Wings was released nearly four years ago, he’s been working like a locomotive. His exceptional abilities as a player, singer and performer have kept him in-demand. Until early last year, when Kimbrough decided to redirect his energy into his own projects, he’d spent most of the time since early 2011 traveling the world with Harris. He’s played guitar on tour and in the studio with Crowell, Richey, Gretchen Peters, Marshall Chapman and a host of others, plus Snider, with whom he still writes and plays. Kimbrough has also provided plenty of self- and co-penned cuts for a list of artists that includes Little Feat, Jack Ingram and a dozen numbers cut by Jimmy Buffett.
Cincy Groove: How was the tour with Rodney Crowell?
Will Kimbrough: Its been great, absolutely fantastic. I did 14 shows in 17 days on Rodney’s tour.
Cincy Groove: Tell me about the live cd/dvd taping you just did in San Francisco.
Will Kimbrough: It was at a studio called Coast Recorders Studio designed by Bill Putnam. As far as designing studios and equipment, he is as important as anybody has been in the last 50 years. Its been restored but they kept the original design. They even re-wired the studio to help with interference from cell phones and other electronic devices. We had five video cameras and an analog tape machine running. There was also a digital recording machine running as a backup. The video should be ready in about 3-4 months. It was a lot of fun, just me and my guitar. My friend Michael Romanowski runs it and we have worked together on several projects. Particularly mastering my records Wings and Daddy’s For A Second Time & At The Womens Club.
Cincy Groove: I know you perform in quite a few groups, who are they?
Will Kimbrough: I of course have my solo work, I wrote, sang, and performed on the new Brigitte DeMeyer record. We wrote almost the whole thing together. DADDY is another group with Tommy Womack, which is semi active at this point. Willie Sugarcapps is very active and we are looking to record a second record. It kind of like the wild west in the fact there is no real plan on how to succeed. Life is short, I’m not in a hurry to do anything, I’m just taking advantage of opportunity’s to have partnerships with people that I love to play with.
Cincy Groove: What kind of environment do you like to be in to write?
Will Kimbrough: Well lately I have been using my iPhone to record ideas. When I’m on the road its a great way to keep track of new lyrics. I really like writing without an instrument because I won’t be tied down to the melody yet and when I get some where I can edit I can see what rhythm the lyrics have. I have been writing with a friend and he just drops by whenever I have a break. We do this caught off guard writing which I really enjoy. He would throw an idea at me and I would immediately tell him what I thought about it and we would record it on a phone or microphone. Pretty soon we had written 6 or 7 songs we really liked in a couple weeks. But I am on the road so much I tend to put ideas down on my phone and work on them when I get home.
Cincy Groove: Have you played with anyone on stage that just blew you away?
Will Kimbrough: I did “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” one night with Mavis Staples. I thought I would have been more uptight about it because to me the Staple singers are incredibly influential. Mavis really put me at ease when we got together to sing. You can take what they did and see the influences of early gospel and blues and then you can see their influence in The Band and everything after that. Pop Staples guitar sound is very dear to my heart as well.
Cincy Groove: When did you first meet Brigitte DeMeyer? (Will & Brigitte are performing together on 7/12 at The Southgate House Revival)
Will Kimbrough: The first time I heard her live we were both playing Music City Roots radio show in Nashville. She had a really great band and she was performing songs from her record “Before Roads of Jericho”. I was playing with DADDY that night. We met and felt like kindred spirits after we heard each other perform and had a chance to talk. She then asked me to perform on Roads of Jericho and I did and had a blast. We then started doing some shows together and went to Europe a few times. Then we wrote most of this new record “Savannah Road” in a very short period of time. Some of the songs we recorded were the initial recording right after we wrote it. I really like the moments when you really hit on something the first time out. The title song Savannah Road was one of those songs that we wrote and then recorded right away in my home studio.
Cincy Groove: How do you feel about how the music industry has changed over the last 15-20 years?
Will Kimbrough: Well, I tried going down the traditional road on being on a major label. But they wanted me to do something I didn’t want to do. I prefer the wild west mentality of the music business these days. If you want to record with multiple people on lots of different projects you can do that without having someone telling you not to. You really can be as creative as you want with songs and lyrics.