Interview: Pete Gow (Case Hardin)

Four times I’ve seen Case Hardin in the last 12 months. I doubt you’ll see a more consistent live band – whatever the bill, they are always the best thing on it and must be a headline act’s worst nightmare.  They seem determined to “rough the place up” with their sets: coarse, hard, muscular Southern country rock is what they do, that and playing the tambourine like they hate it. Front man Pete Gow gave me a few words following his recent big top lifting gig at Red Rooster.

Is live where you’re at your most comfortable as a band?  You’re really on form – is the best you’ve been?   
Live is certainly where Case Hardin are at their most comfortable right now. We love recording and I personally find the process of writing and producing records specifically uses another side of your brain. But we have been touring ‘Colours Simple’ pretty hard since it came out and this is the third record the core unit of Andy Bastow (drums), Jim Maving (guitars), Tim Emery (bass) and myself have gone out in support of – keyboard player Roland Kemp joined us after ‘Colours Simple’ was recorded – so I feel we have arrived at a place where there is very little a stage, a venue or indeed an audience could throw at us right now that we couldn’t handle… as a rock n’ roll band, as a live unit, Case Hardin is pretty much on the top of its game.

This latest album is a real tour de force, you think it’s the best batch of songs you’ve written?
It’s a little too easy to answer ‘yes’ to that question given we have a record to promote. ‘Colours Simple’ certainly contains some of the best Case Hardin recordings and some of my most accomplished songs…. but – if the old adage that records are like your children still holds – I have three other inquisitive, slightly sensitive kids that I don’t want to grow up with abandonment issues.

Did you know when you were writing it that you were on a winner?
I’m not sure I thought I was on to a ‘winner’ with this record as early as the writing stage. I was however looking for a different approach to previous projects. I was consciously writing less ‘complete’ songs, leaving more to chance in the studio… both regards arrangements and lyrics. We recently released a complete set of my guitar/ vocal demos for ‘Colours Simple’ on Soundcloud as a companion piece to the album and a track like ‘Poets Corner’ sounds really half- formed at that stage…. several minutes of me strumming on variants on the basic chord structure and only half of it written – the lyric would remain that way until the morning I recorded my vocal for the song… talk about writing to deadline.

It opens with a real opus, had you always imagined it that way?
Regards ‘Poets Corner’… whilst I took on the song as an exercise in writing something more sonically complex and expansive than anything else we had attempted previously, that track could never have made it on the record, never mind open it if Jim, Tim, Andy and Chris Clarke at Reservoir Studios who produced the album with me had not so beautifully realised that vision and tailored an arrangement to our strengths as a band… if a track like that (over eight minutes with no discernible chorus!) that doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, then it’s just an overlong singer/ ‘songwriterly’ indulgence.

When it comes to writing are you a ‘magpie’ always looking for a line or inspiration?
Sadly, this is where the Hemingway- esque romance of the tortured writer falls away. Historically I have written Case Hardin’s records when the time comes to do so. Between previous albums, when the decision was made to make a new one, the first thing I would do is spend a couple of months writing the material. However, after ‘PM’ I found myself not really stopping… which is funny because in part there is a real shared DNA between those two records… story songs like ‘High Rollers’ and ‘Fiction Writer’ could so easily have found their way onto ‘PM’.

Can you choose what you write or does it choose you?
Regards ‘choosing’ to write, or it choosing me, I’m afraid I find the process way too much like hard work to consider myself ‘channelling’ anything. And it gets harder the more songs you write…. guarding against repetition… but it all comes from some kind of a real, or at the very least a relatable place… and that’s not to say any of this is not fun, nor extremely fulfilling. To have someone come up to you after a show and express some kind personal connection to something you write remains a truly humbling experience. I have looked to poems, novels and recorded music to navigate myself through pretty much every emotional crossroads since I was 14 years… the thought of being part of someone else’s journey is mind blowing.

I have ‘Jesus Christ’ in mind when I asked that, does that come from a real place – you often feel like that?
It’s funny you isolate ‘(Jesus Christ, Tomorrow Morning) Do I Still Have To Feel This Way? ’… I think if removed from the brash, thrashed delivery of the recording, it could be one of the saddest, desolate and most desperate images I could imagine.

I saw you your first time at C2C – what did you make of it?
C2C has been incredibly kind to us. We have been there on three consecutive years which is almost unheard of when it comes to programming festivals. It also led to my solo show at the London Palladium last year. It was too easy in the first year to overthink the ‘what the fuck are we doing here’ aspect, but as our profile at the festival has grown with each passing year, I’m now more confident that we are – in our own little way – showing how broad a church country music… indeed, any prescribed genre of music can be, when you put your (open) mind to it.

Recently you often make some comment about “roughing the place up”, to start your sets. Is music too soft?
I don’t think music is too soft in general. I just need to look at every stage and figure out what the best use of Case Hardin’s resources are. We have played a lot of festival’s this year and that – for me – requires digging in and rocking out, trying to do something to set us apart from the other bands on the bill and showing we can own a stage as well as some of the bigger names… because we really can. It’s far from all we can do, but we can do it when it’s required.

You’ve been playing this record a lot. How much life is there in a release?
I think as long as we are getting the music in ‘Colours Simple’ to new ears, then there is no reason why a good album of well writtenwell-recordeded songs can’t continue to do well way past its ‘industry standard’ 12-month shelf life?

You’ve the next in mind?
There is a new record. It’s pretty much written and we are just trying to find the right time to switch over to that other ‘side of our brain’ to get it rehearsed and recorded, then finding the right spot in Clubhouse Records release schedule to get it out. We made the decision ahead of ‘Colours Simple’ not to preview any new material live ahead of releasing the record… it felt good to know that folks buying the album would get a complete set of songs they had not previously heard, live or otherwise. The digital/ streaming platform has removed so much of the magic and mystery surrounding an album release… we’re trying to claw a little of that back, in our own tiny way.

Author: Rudie Hayes

Rudie is the weekly host of the syndicated radio show - The Horseshoe Lounge Music Session - playing the best American Roots and hosting terrific live guests.

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