The Americans are a four piece rock & roll band from Los Angeles. T-Bone Burnett describes them as “Genius twenty-first century musicians that are reinventing American heritage music for this century.” Reviewing the band’s newest single “The Right Stuff” for Pitchfork, Greil Marcus writes, “From the first rolling guitar notes, carrying sadness and defiance like dust, this sweeps me up: I want to know everything about where that feeling came from, and where it’s going.”
Can you tell us about yourself? Where you’re from and what you’ve been up to over the past few years?
Patrick is originally from San Francisco, and Jake and Zac are from Los Angeles, where we all live now. We’ve been playing music together since high school.
We’ve spent the past two years writing and recording I’ll Be Yours, our first full length studio album.
Last year we worked with Jack White and T Bone Burnett as a house band on American Epic, a documentary series airing on PBS and the BBC in May 2017.
How would you describe your music?
Tom Waits separates his songs into three categories: bawlers, brawlers, and bastards. Our songs tend to be bawlers or brawlers—or both, when we’re lucky. The faster, rocking tunes go back to our origins digging up and covering 1950s proto-rock & roll in the early days of the band.
Patrick brings in slower, lyrically dense epics influenced by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Joanna Newsom, who he calls the greatest songwriter of our generation.
Can you tell us a little bit about your influences?
We all became friends through a love of old acoustic blues—Charley Patton, Skip James, and the rest—and American folk music. For a while that’s all we played together. We’ve spent a dizzying amount of time poring over old recordings from the 1920s through the ’50s, learning to play them before we had songs of our own. It seeps into just about everything we do.
Our playing styles evolved from the fingerpicking tradition of acoustic blues and banjo music. Those early songs predate contemporary pop formats, so it’s all stray measures and strange forms, like ten verses and one bridge. We love the unpredictability of that music, and it’s one of the qualities we try to emulate.
What are you currently promoting?
I’ll Be Yours, our first full length studio album.
Have you got a particular song you’ve done that you’re particularly proud of, one that might define you?
Our new single “The Right Stuff.” Looking back at it, our new album has a lot to do with devotion and solitude, which is central to that song.
We wrote it inside-out, like most of our songs. We had a couple sections we liked and just kept slamming them together in different sequences until a form emerged. There’s a special chugging-along feel to some of the early Cajun accordion and fiddle bands, and we wanted that on the chorus.
“Bronze Star” is another. Zac was playing what would become the chorus on the fiddle as an instrumental for about a year before we figured out what to do with it. The form came together with electric guitars, bass, and drums, and Patrick worked on the words. He read an unusual story about a nurse named Jennifer Moreno, who’d joined the army and was killed in action in Afghanistan. It stuck and the song became a dirge in her honor.
What are you currently listening to?
Patrick: Pusha T, John Prine, Benny Joy, Eagles of Death Metal, Papoose, Jackson C. Frank, Christian Lee Hutson.
Zac: Chuck Berry, some Swedish Fiddle compilation, Ariel Camacho, new Kendrick Lamar.
Jake: Leonard Cohen, Clarence Garlow, Kris Kristofferson, Leadbelly, Laura Jean Anderson, The Stooges, Johnny Burnette Trio.
And your favourite album of all time, the one you couldn’t do without?
Patrick & Jake: Time Out Of Mind – Bob Dylan
Zac: Early Recordings of Dennis Mcgee with Sady Courville
What are your hopes for your future career?
We got to back up Nick Cave at a show in LA, and a song of ours made it onto an album alongside Keith Richards, Iggy Pop, and Tom Waits. We’re hoping for more opportunities to work with our heroes.
If money were no object what would be your dream project?
Record with Little Richard.
What’s the best thing about being a musician?
Showing up to play in a new town and already feeling like you belong. Making an emotional connection with strangers before you even meet.
And the worst?
Most everything that doesn’t involve playing music.
Finally, have you anything you’d like to say to the readers of Americana UK?
Hope to see you at a show! We’re playing our first London show on May 3 and we’ll hopefully be back once or twice more this year.