Interview: Southern Companion

Southern Companion are that shaded area, the bit in the middle, of the Venn diagram that is country music and Americana, the switch point between the two genres.  He/they are multiple winners at the latest BCMAs and their album, ‘1000 Days of Rain’ is one of the best UK country records of the last 10 years.  We caught their hirsute main man, Darren after ripping up the crowd at Maverick Festival.

I’ve seen you play Country festivals and lately you played Maverick, opening the outdoor stage. How do you see yourself? Are you country? Americana?
To be honest I never had thought of myself as Country until people kept telling me I was, the music that I’ve always loved and gravitated towards is often called Americana/Alt Country but both have a very wide brush that seem to cover an enormously wide range of styles.  Personally I think the industry has to put things into a box with a label on as a way of pushing things out to people they think will like it. I’ve always thought that we sound like a big blending up of the all the classic American genres i.e. Country, Blues, Soul mixed with the British Rock influences from my childhood.  If that means we are considered Americana then I would take that as a high compliment.

You were telling me the album is now 2 years old. You’ve something new in the offing?
Yes we’re buttoning up the next record as we speak, it’s 95% there and most of the songs are off being mixed at the moment. We will soon be looking for partners to help us get the record out, it’s under the working title “Shine A Little Light” and fingers crossed for an Autumn release. In the way that “1000 Days of Rain” took off where “Short Stories & Tall Tales” finished I think the new record is another progression and another step forward.  We can’t wait for people to hear it.

You played Stapleton’s Tennessee Whiskey which was a brave move. Are you a big fan?
How could you not be a big fan? That guy is the personification of what I’ve been saying for a long time.  If someone with that much talent, great songs and an undeniable voice gets given the right platform in front of enough people in one go, it will blow up overnight. The general music consuming public have been spoon fed fairly anaemic, diluted, painted by numbers music for so long they are just yearning for an honest connection with music and an artist that makes them feel something again.  I was starting to wonder if it was just wishful thinking on my part and maybe that kind of music was a relic and the world has moved on.  But he’s just proved what I’ve hoped all along that people have a connection to someone that performs that way.  As for being a brave move to cover him, I’ve said it before the guy is pretty much uncoverable but I do like to make life hard for myself.

Talking of country, you were pretty successful at the BCMAs. How did that feel?  Were you expecting it? 
Yes, we had a great night, picked up Horizon Act for 2016 and then the one that I secretly really wanted which was UK Album of The Year.  It was completely unexpected as we were very much the new boys on the scene and didn’t think anyone knew who we were apart from maybe a couple of people on the BCMA nomination committee.  As far as picking up votes was concerned we just thought everyone else would’ve been wondering who the hell are Southern Companion.

So yeah it felt great.  We arrived a little late and I’d only just sat down and the next thing I knew we were up accepting the first award. I was obviously unprepared and pretty shell shocked so I had a couple of large brandies to calm the nerves and then no sooner had I got back to my seat we were up again accepting the second award which almost made me do a Gwyneth Paltrow as I was feeling pretty emotional right then. The rest of the evening was all free drinks and back slaps and congratulations until I got unexpectedly dragged up for a very drunken video interview. After which my poor long suffering wife had to get me to Heathrow and deposit me in a hotel as I had an early morning flight to Nashville. I’m still not quite sure how I got myself onto the plane but needless to say I landed in Nashville not really knowing who I was, where I was or what had just happened.

So compare the day job with Southern Companion, what do your employers’ make of it?
My day job is as a session musician. I play guitar for various Artists including Rumer and Lulu.  They’ve been incredibly supportive, on the last tours I did for both of them I also got to open the shows as Southern Companion. It’s a very privileged position as I’ve been able to tour my own material on a bigger scale and to a larger audience than I would otherwise be able to. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

Finally we reckon you won beard of the weekend at Maverick, got any tips for a late starter?
It always makes me laugh, I grew a beard in the 90s to try and make myself look older to get served in pubs and I’ve never shaved it off, my wife has never seen me without it.  So basically I picked a look in the 90’s and stuck with it until it came back around.

As for tips, I’ve been asked whether I have a “beard man” and what I put on it – pretty much toothpaste, beer, dribble it’s a DIY effort.  Luckily enough the band are like brothers to me and will give me a heads up if I’ve got yoghurt or ice cream or something stuck in it without realising.

A few years back a manager I was working with, in the early days of our relationship, got me a promotional deal with a beard oil/male grooming product company.  He very soon realised that I was the least coiffured artist he’d ever worked with when I refused to have my eyebrows plucked for a photoshoot.

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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