Photo by Casey Moore
Who are these two unbridled spirits unleashing one hell of a spitfire show with the musical chops to back it up? The Army green t-shirts for sale at the merch table answer that pressing question – VOLK: Average American Band. The high-voltage duo with rockabilly flair is Eleot Reich on drums and vocals, and Chris Lowe on guitar and vocals.
They released their debut EP Boutique Western Swing Compositions in 2015 and will release their second EP “Average American Band” on Romanus Records in Fall 2018. Touring across Texas, the Southeast and Midwest, VOLK is a rolling boulder and gaining momentum. Eleot made time from the road for a chat, sharing stories about VOLK’s fateful meeting in Germany, collaborative songwriting, and what comes next.
For those new to VOLK, what would you say are the musical influences that shape your sound?
We both consider ourselves first and foremost songwriters. In terms of that, we usually harken back to really old country and myself to early blues like Bessie Smith. For Chris, he’s always harping on Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams, all the classics. Even the Outlaw guys, Merle Haggard and Guy Clark. I always love Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. That’s more our songwriting base, from a more country perspective and folksy certainly.
We both just freakin love balls-to-the-wall rock you know, so we’re huge AC/DC fans, Queen fans. We’re trying to find some kind of medley between those two, especially now.
How did you get into songwriting?
I studied directing for theatre at Tisch in New York and my last semester, right before I moved to Berlin, I took a class on musical composition. But I was never into musicals, I never touched any of that – which makes me laugh to this day. I only worked on straight plays or original work. The musical composition class kind of peaked my interest, but to me it was just playwriting without plays. It was just bringing in another form of storytelling, which is what songwriting has become for me. The shortness of it, the brevity, and of course the music part has made it extremely enticing to me as a creator, which is one of the reasons why I moved over to music.
I just happened to bring a guitar with me over to Berlin and started writing from there, incubating myself and listening to all the music I loved. And then playing a bunch of open mics and just failing all over the place before finally figuring out what it’s like to sing in front of a mic with these stories that I’d written. It was amazing there because in Germany they really listen, at least in these open mic communities in Berlin, you really are playing to forty very quiet people listening intently to you. It’s terrifying but also awesome from a songwriting perspective.
Living in Berlin seems pivotal for launching you towards a career in music.
My background before I got heavily into music was theatre and I always have 1920s cabaret influences sitting with me. It’s why I love Tom Waits so much. Because of his theatricality and reminiscing back to those older forms of entertainment, vaudeville and what-not.
I met Chris at another open mic and the rest is history. It was being open and curious. Sometimes I feel like I snuck my way into the music world but it’s still live art to me, even the songwriting part. It’s a form of storytelling that makes more sense for me right now than putting on a Tennessee Williams play.
At the end of the day it’s all connected if you look closely enough.
What’s the collaboration process like?
We’ve officially been a band for almost five years. And it’s changed so much. What we’re doing now, really the loud power duo sort of act we’ve only been doing two and a half years, two years in the States. It’s been a ride.
As songwriters together, the fun part is when you both love a good song. You have all this flexibility because you’re relying on the structure essentially. And where that goes can be anywhere. Very rarely does one person come in with a perfect song. We’ll come in with a melody or a progression or lyrics and the other person will help piece it together. But we’ve been doing that for a while now so sometimes it seems organic or we don’t even know how a song began, we can’t even remember.
It’s fascinating because we’ll take time specifically to write, to do nothing but write in this kind of lock-ourselves-in-the-room fashion. But since we’ve been on the road so much this past year it’s changed pretty dramatically. And now it’s heavily influenced by, as most artists would say, being on the road because that’s what you’re consumed by. Some obstacle along the highway can be your inspiration.
I find myself writing on the road more often than not. When we have time back in Nashville we’ll try to do more arranging. And then we’ll see what happens when we take it live. To us our songs don’t exist without people, without an audience. So we love to see how they transform in front of them.
Forgive me if I’m overstepping my bounds, but are you professional colleagues? Romantically involved?
We’re just professional colleagues. It’s been five years of collaborating well together, coming from different backgrounds. Chris was a teacher professionally for ten years before he even got into really seriously playing music. I’ve always been kind of the alien artist and he’s been a bit more of the actual human, which has been wonderful. He can ground all my crazy dreaming I grew up with and bring it down to earth in a healthy, cool way. I came from New York where I was surrounded by eccentric people who I love to this day, but it was amazing and refreshing for me to collaborate with someone who didn’t have that background. And he’s a bit older than me which makes it nice because he can actually focus.
We’d seen each other play at open mics and eventually we realized we had similar influences of songwriters and similar influences in moods and tones for songs. He started playing guitar on some of the songs I’d written and I started playing on some of his songs. And at some point we looked at each other when we were rehearsing and said, “Should we start a band?” It clarified a goal beyond our own personal projects. It was rather spontaneous.
When not on the road, where’s home now?
We moved to Nashville almost two years ago. After meeting as expats living in Berlin, we decided to move to the States because our music is very heavily influenced by American artists. We were going to move to Texas but it’s a tough state to tour out of. So Nashville was the most central for us. I moved there cold, I’d never even been there.
Without giving too many spoilers, what’s cooking on your forthcoming sophomore EP?
It’s full-on bombastic, glam rock and roll. It’s taking a turn toward AC/DC a bit more in terms of sound and really embracing the party we try to throw when we have a show. Sort of this awesome chaotic, cathartic rock and roll release. They are four power songs so a lot of fun for kids to jam out to, to crank up.
What’s VOLK’s dream scenario?
We would love to be making music full time – that would be the dream. And more than that, performing it. Being a live band is equal if not more important for us than recording the music. You open for who you open for, you meet who you meet, but to be playing music on the road professionally 100% would be the dream.
Any lessons learned on the road?
What’s funny that’s come out of us in the past year of touring a lot is a strong nihilistic approach and perspective of everything, but in a healthy way. To keep a humble and modest and strong sense of humor is so important. Anything can happen to you on the road. If you’re not able to shrug it off, that’s when you know things are getting…that’s when you have to step back and take a deep breath.
If you can’t laugh about it, that’s when you should be nervous. If you don’t have a good sense of humor on the road, good luck to you.
Photo by Holly Morse-Ellington
Devon Allman on Duane Allman's '63 Firebird at Songbirds, Chattanooga TN.
An electricity like the soft sizzle from a tube amp hums through the humid air outside Chattanooga’s Terminal Station – home of the Choo Choo immortalized by the Glenn Miller Band and home of Songbirds Guitar Museum, arguably the largest private collection of rare and vintage six-stringed jewels, 1,700 guitars in total. Since opening in 2017, Songbirds has become one of the city's premiere music venues.
It’s just after 8 pm on a Tuesday as sixty-somethings and twenty-somethings file into Songbirds South Stage ordering up drinks from the bar and staking vantage spots in anticipation of The Devon Allman Project with special guest, Duane Betts. Artists who have planted flags of their own in the musical landscape, they are also descended from legends: Devon, the son of the late Gregg Allman, and Duane (named after Gregg's late brother), the son of Allman Brothers Band founding member Dickey Betts. Tonight's show finds the pair bridging generations of American rock and blues fans, merging past with present through muddy water music pumping thick as a pact between blood-brother friends.
Earlier in the day, a tour bus pulled alongside the loading dock on Station Street, its silver steel exterior reflective of the era Devon and Duane first met. Intentional or not, the band’s wheels are a portal of sorts.
“It’s like we went back in time, but we’re doing it. This is like 1989,” says Duane Betts. Devon Allman nods in agreement. “The new tour buses are really designed to be fancy motor homes, but that’s a tour bus. And that’s what we grew up on and now that we have that, the grooves get deeper, the friendships get deeper, the relationships get deeper,” Allman says. “That’s the one thing I’ve always told younger people about getting older, is it’s actually really magical. It’s cool how deep things get and how much they mean – and this just means the world to us.”
THE DUANE BETTS SET
The house lights dim and the audience voices its approval with a chorus of hoots and clapping hands raised above their heads. KZ 106's Scott Chase, visibly moved by the vibe pulsing through the packed room, hops onstage and succinctly articulates the mood going round.
“I gotta tell ya,” Chase says. “It feels like a family reunion backstage.” A ripple of cheers fill the intimate venue space as Chase welcomes Duane Betts.
Slender in a denim snap shirt, donning a sharp Stetson, his long chestnut hair shouldering a youthful face, exotic bones and teeth dangling around his neck, Betts ambles through the pockets of blue light washing over the stage. Stepping to the microphone, he launches into “Downtown Runaround” off of his debut EP, Sketches of American Music. The notes and licks from his golden Les Paul illuminate the stage the way a sultry sunrise sets the crooked Tennessee River ablaze on a July morning. The rumbling beat seems comforted by Betts’ calculated picking. His fingers don't so much dictate but hold and caress the melody as he sings, “I was out, but now I'm back in.” Eyes closed, his fingers work an ethereal slink along the frets. It’s hard to imagine there was a time Betts tried to dodge a live performance by leaving his guitar back at the hotel.
Betts recalls the conversation with his dad about sitting in with The Allman Brothers Band – and the way his plan went down:
First time I sat in was in Vail, Colorado. I’ve already been asked to sit in, like, “You bring your guitar, you’re going to sit in.” So I’m scared to death. I’ve never played on stage with him. I forget my guitar on purpose. And I’m on the bus and we’re thirty minutes out from the hotel on the way to Vail. I’m like, they’re going to ask for my guitar.
But the young Betts had it all figured out.
I’m just going to say, “Ah man, I forgot it.” Not thinking, well of course they have a million guitars, you know. But my dad’s reaction was priceless. He came up to me, “You’re gonna play tonight, right?” And I said, “Ah man, I forgot my guitar. He was like, “Don’t worry about that we have plenty. You’ll be fine.” I sat in, got it done. I felt a huge weight lifted.
Though Betts came out the other side that night, he didn’t emerge with a newfound thrill to be on stage. But dad Dickey Betts was persistent.
Next night at Red Rocks I didn’t want to sit in, which is crazy right? I just wanted to enjoy the night. I didn’t want the pressure. [Dad] said, “Alright you can not sit-in tonight but you’re sitting in the next night.” So the next night we’re in Oklahoma City. It’s 110 degrees and there’s relatively no people, it’s a smaller crowd like 1200 people there. It’s super hot and I’m sitting in and I’m nervous again and I break a string. I freeze up and don’t know what to do. I was so traumatized after I came off stage. I don’t know if I was crying, but I was about to cry and I had my head down. I was never going to be able to play again, but shortly thereafter I did.
Photo by Holly Morse-Ellington
Duane Betts performs with The Devon Allman Project at Songbirds, Chattanooga TN.
When asked if he really had a choice, if being anything other than a musician would have been an improbable defiance against laws of nature and lineage, Betts says – “You always have a choice.”
I could have been whatever I wanted. I started out as a drummer and I fell in love with that and then I picked up the guitar and fell in love with that and wouldn’t put it down. All I did was listen to records and explore different types of music. You have to do that regardless of what your parents did. The music’s instilled in you, but I don’t think that you have to pursue it. I think that if there’s people you know that come from that lineage that play well and you’ve played music with them, then it probably makes since – as long as it’s not a contrived thing, like, let’s go out and get this guy because he comes from a family of musicians. Where we come from, we’re proud of it and it runs deep and means a lot to us and means a lot to other people. But we also want to make sure that we’re doing our art.
Among the audience is a man named Steve who’s traveling through Chattanooga on business. He’d read that The Devon Allman Project would be performing the one night he was in town. He stands up front, stage right with back against the wall, absorbing the show, the fans, the new layer of memory imprinting beside the memories of his younger self at Allman Brothers Band concerts. He describes what he’s experiencing “as if looking at a photographic negative.” He explains, “I had white teeth and brown hair, now I have brown teeth and white hair, but I’m here and it’s like hearing familiar sounds from a new perspective – it’s grace.” He points at Betts, saying look at the way he’s playing, there’s a power, a presence. He taps his sandaled foot. Living in two moments at once, present riding shotgun with past down the highway.
THE DEVON ALLMAN SET
Devon Allman knows how to make an entrance. His band is plowing the fields of “Mahalo,” a cosmic blues-jam Allman penned with one of his first groups, Honeytribe. Allman saunters onto the stage through a swirl of misty fog like a Southern-bred Hamlet guided by ghosts in a dusty cowboy hat, ripped candy-apple red Toto tee, mosaic of tattoos running the length of his arms, quaking as he grips a road-worn Fender – unleashing sound and fury.
The crowd is losing their shit. Full bodied and muscular, Allman seems to absorb his guitar – two parts working together, craftsman and tool, each doing the other’s bidding. His look is one part true-grit grimace, one part wry smile. If any ghosts are haunting the room they are more than welcome to stay awhile and enjoy the show. They’ll deal with them later.
Allman was at a crossroads in 1989. At seventeen, he’d yet to form a relationship with his father. That year his father reached out, asking if he’d join him on the road. Unlike Betts’ early sit-in sessions with their dads, the stage held an allure for Allman. But he saw his place on the stage as actor, not musician. Allman recalls making that decision:
When I was in high school I fell in love with theatre. I was in all the plays and all the musicals and that’s what I wanted to do, but I knew that I really loved music. The whole reason I went on that tour where I met Duane – I was going to go on that tour and by the end of it I was going to decide whether I’d study acting or I’d study music. I went out on that stage. I sang “Midnight Rider.” I was seventeen years old; I was scared shitless, man. Thank God I nailed it. I got a standing O for it. And it wasn’t an ego feed, it was sharing that energy with those thousands of people on arguably my dad’s biggest song. That just summed it up in my mind, I don’t think I’m going to do the acting thing because this energy is different. Like Duane said, you always have a choice, but at the end of the day maybe it chooses you. If that’s not too quasi spiritual.
After a few numbers, a stunning siren of a white guitar is delicately delivered to Allman. Plugging in, audience holding their breath, he says, “Thank you to the folks upstairs for letting me borrow this '63 Firebird. It used to belong to Duane Allman.” His pick steps down over the strings. It's alive. A religious moment is occurring. The audience exhales and raises their hands as Allman sings: “Music is my weakness. I'm just chasing ghosts – now. Stole my time from angels, when needed them most – now...Left my heart in Memphis.” The song, from Allman's days with the Royal Southern Brotherhood, accentuated by Johnny Stachela's elegiac slide guitar and soulful twinkling tumble of Nicholas David's keys, is “a little love letter” to the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the rendering transforms the space from concert room to cathedral and everyone present is now part of the congregation.
A lyric blunder in Memphis elicited some tough-love advice from father to son. Allman recalls that night on Mud Island in Memphis on the fateful 1989 tour:
It was the second time I sat in on “Midnight Rider.” Me and my dad had it figured: There’s three verses. He was like, “I’ll take the first one, you get the second one, and we’ll split the third verse in half.” I said great. I go up to sing the second verse and I sing the words of the third verse. And inner dialogue is saying, “Fuck me, I just ruined this. But dad’s gonna have my back and sing the second verse over top of where the third verse is. He’s just going to swap them; it’s going to be alright.” Well, he gets up there and sings the third verse. So essentially we sang the third verse twice. Back stage he says, “What the hell?” And I said, “I’m so sorry but I kinda thought you’d have my back.” And he says, “No my son, two wrongs don’t make a right.” And I said, “Wow. Okay dad, that was a good one.”
Photo by Holly Morse-Ellington
Devon Allman and Duane Betts sing "Blue Sky" on The Devon Allman Project Tour stop in Chattanooga.
ALLMAN AND BETTS UNITE ON STAGE
Call it fate or familiarity, but the road to The Devon Allman Project opened on that 1989 tour. Allman remembers back to the moment Duane’s dad showed him what could be, what is coming to be:
I’ve got a good story. It’s about your dad. Allman Brothers kick into their epic 10-minute drum solo, three drummers. Dickey’s crouched down behind the amp line having a cigarette, a Marlboro Light. And he motions to me and I’m on the side of the stage, and he’s like, “Come here.” And I’m like, “Me?” “Come here!” he says. I come over like, “Shit. What, do you need something?” I’m seventeen, eighteen years old. He says, “Look out there.” I looked out – “What am I looking for?” He says, “Look out into that crowd. Some day that’s you and Duane’s. You guys are going to carry it on.” And I was like, wow man. My dad never talked like that. It’s weird to be here and remember that. I’ve always loved Duane’s dad so much.
Allman invites “my good friend, Duane Betts” back to the stage as he switches out the Firebird and straps into a black acoustic. “We'll go from my uncle's guitar to my dad's guitar,” Allman says. The brothers by rock birthright saddled in, the two frontmen give each other a nod, the band follows their lead and takes off down the familiar rollicking path that opens “Blue Sky,” the Allman Brothers classic written by Dickey Betts. This evening, his son helms the vocals:
“Walk along the river, sweet lullaby, it just keeps on flowing,
It don't worry 'bout where it's going, no, no.
Don't fly, mister blue bird, I'm just walking down the road,
Early morning sunshine tell me all I need to know.”
Together, sharing the stage, trading harmonies and solos through “Friend of the Devil” and “Melissa,” Allman and Betts – who bare an eerie resemblance to their fathers – look like a couple of gunslingers having the time of their lives. With their mischievous outlaw simpatico, on and off stage, Allman and Betts could easily be the musical offspring of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In performance, however, there is no mistaking the DNA. The same blood pumps through veins if for no other reason than pure osmosis, giving weight to the adage that you have to know where you come from to know where you are going. Individually they own their own style: Betts is mercurial, snake-like, a ghostly flagman swinging his lantern luring folks down the track while Allman is a lion setting the woods on fire. They shine their own light and together their road is well lit.
Sharing the stage for individual sets and covers is just the beginning. They discuss a songwriting process underway with Stoll Vaughan (singer-songwriter from Kentucky who’s toured with John Mellencamp and Marty Stuart, among others) that will launch The Devon Allman Project into a truly co-authored catalog for future tours.
“We’d never written together but we started cracking out ideas and frankly it was refreshing but it was kind of a relief,” Betts says. “It was a relief that oh, we can do this – because you don’t know!” Allman says of collaborating.
“That’s the beauty of how well this is going. We decided well, why don’t we do a record together?” Allman says. “Let’s write a new classic record.”
As Devon and Duane take the stage for a thirty-minute encore with their “8-piece, big-ass band,” concertgoer Steve smiles out from the crowd. He’s in a new city, new territory, a long drive ahead of him in the morning – but he isn’t far from home. “First thing I’m going to do,” he says as the music and cheers soften to a close, “I’m going to call my son.”
Photo courtesy of Girlie Action
Media, Marketing & Management
Catch the “Loosen The Bible Belt” show in Decatur at Golden Ape Crossfit on November 12th, in Chattanooga at JJ’s Bohemia on November 13th and at The Relapse Theater in Atlanta on November 14th. And without further ado, here’s what Kristen has to say:
When you were ten years old you moved from Buffalo, NY to Shreveport, LA. What was that like?
Terrifying. When I was in fourth grade I was failing my spelling tests because I couldn’t understand what the teacher was saying. And I was a good student. My mom was like, “What’s up?” and I was like, “I can’t understand the teacher.” But that made it worse because the next spelling test my teacher looked at me like I was special. And she was like, “Kristen, are you sure you understood?” She said it to me three times and it was super embarrassing. I was already the fat kid that talked weird.
To make matters worse I had a sweatshirt from my last school, a Catholic school I went to in Buffalo called Holy Angels. The Catholic school I went to in Louisiana was called Holy Rosary. I would wear my Holy Angels sweatshirt around Louisiana, but Holy Angels was the school for special needs kids in Louisiana. So I’m just rockin’ my Holy Angels hoodie. And people were so nice to me. Everybody always smiled at me. I remember being in Baskin-Robbins and a kid staring at me and I didn’t understand why. And the kid’s mom was extra nice to me.
I imagine this prompted some “bless your hearts.” How did your southern vocabulary expand?
I was introduced to “bless your heart.” I was also introduced to ma’ams and sirs. That’s not a thing you do in Buffalo. You don’t “Yes, Ma’am” or “Yes, Sir.” That’s actually considered being flip. So I had to learn to do that and then not do that when I went back to visit family.
Did you go or were you required to go to church?
I was in Catholic school basically my whole life. I’m not sure the state it’s in now, but at the time the Louisiana public school system wasn’t so hot. I was in a Catholic school in Buffalo. Throughout high school I went to a Jesuit school in Louisiana. I was baptized, reconciled, confirmed—all that Catholic stuff you do. I always say to people, Jesus was great for me until I was about thirteen. It was good to have someone to teach morality and for me to be afraid of to keep me in line. When I started to think for myself I kind of grew out of it.
Was there a moment when some aspect of religion made you pause or begin to think more critically about what you’d been taught?
That’s the bonus of a Jesuit education, right? We were taught theology and I was taught critical thinking. I remember coming to terms with sexuality and coming to terms with just when you become who you are. There’s those years in your life after high school, the first time your parents aren’t there to tell you what to do, and you are left to your own devices to find your way. And then you find what works for you. I think that’s true for everyone. It’s a shame that religions are being tied to laws right now because everyone should be able to find what ever works for them. Whether its gay or religion or gay religion or whatever it is. That’s the American dream.
I remember the feeling of going through the ritualistic stuff. When you’re not sure what you think or how you feel, but somebody’s getting baptized and that’s what your family does so you go to that. Then you get to a point where you don’t politely do that anymore. The point when you go, actually I’m a hypocrite because I don’t believe any of this so I’m not going to go. I don’t know that there’s a moment as much as there’s an evolution in how everyone thinks. Some people go more into it and some people go more away from it – but that’s true for football.
You watched the documentary featuring Pastor Jay Bakker, “One Punk Under God.” And then you thought to yourself – that’s a guy I want to work with. How did that film inspire a collaboration with Jay for the “Loosen The Bible Belt” tour?
Coming off of the “Becker on the Bayou” tour I wrote a blog The Advocate published, A Letter to the Louisiana I Know. It focused on how I thought Louisiana should be able to lead the deep South into the future because it has such a diverse quality to it. There’s two languages of the state of Louisiana. In the middle of the deep South we have a state that says, “Yeah, French is one of our languages too.” To me, in a country that’s like – Speak English! – that’s a progressive thing. They have their own zoning laws, which growing up meant to me my neighbor’s my neighbor even if he has a trailer and I have a big house.
While I was doing the “Becker on the Bayou” tour I realized, I can’t argue scripture with you. When someone comes to me and is like, “blah blah blah, blah blah,” I can only be like, “Um, no.” But if I had a straight white guy who could go point-for-point and have a real discussion and engage with people, maybe that might make us more effective. Secondary of that would also be my friends who were Christian, the young gays who just needed someone to tell them they loved them because they were getting kicked out of the church left and right. It was the big cleanse yourself of all the queers.
After that tour I was watching the documentary and Jay was speaking to the African American Church in Atlanta. He was talking about inclusion and everybody was on board – and then he said he supported gay marriage. You could feel the energy get sucked out of the room. But he just kept going and he kept going. He had that fortitude that was like, this is what I believe in and I’m going to say it to you even though y’all just went from loving me to hating me. And then he quoted Martin Luther King. I thought, this guy is no joke. He’s going to say what he thinks is right. So I sent him a tweet basically saying, “I like the cut of your jib.” And that was it.
About two weeks later we got in a van together.
“Loosen The Bible Belt” is on its fourth year. For this tour you have Meghan, SarahRose, and other special guests.
We have no Jay this year. That just happened. About a week before the tour I got a text from Jay that said, “I’m going to the hospital, I’ll let you know what’s up.” Jay has been treated for anxiety and depression for the last twenty years or so for, I think we can all understand why. We were really hoping that getting him to the tour would help but at the end of the day it’s not a stable environment – we’re in a different town every day. He’s got to be at his best to do this. We’re still filming the documentary. We’re still having the discussions. But now I’m challenged to carry Jay’s message as well, which is not what I signed up for. We’re figuring it out with guest pastors.
When we started this tour we were trying to get gays and religious people to talk to each other because four years ago that was one of the biggest divides. Now we’re in a position where no one’s talking to each other. That is still the message, but our message is so much bigger than that. Now it’s really about: Can we all just stop and laugh for a minute? Can we just get sane people to start talking again about things even if they disagree? There’s so much tension that we need a release valve.
We had hoped we’d have Jay on via video or Skype, but his health has to be his priority right now and we want to model that that matters. There’s a whole angle of mental health viewpoints that you can trace back to religion. We’ve been expanding the message that way too. What are your thoughts about gender and sexuality and mental health and class? And how much of that comes from a religion?
How is humor a compelling vehicle to affect change?
Whenever you can make somebody laugh they just open up a little bit. Laughter is a spontaneous thing that happens that someone evokes from you. There’s a vulnerability to that, innately. And it also makes people like you more because it makes them feel good. There are a few combinations for why it’s such a powerful tool. The reason you laugh or don’t laugh is when when when when – but don’t tell them that. Unfortunately, you’ve just been blessed by a comedy secret you aren’t allowed to share with the world. They’ll repress their laughter and you don’t want to be part of repression.
As the name suggests, “Loosen The Bible Belt” is touring across the southern United States. Have you tailored this sketch differently than say a sketch for audiences in Buffalo?
It’s not so much for a southern audience as much as it’s for what the room is that night. I don’t pull things out because I’m in the South. It’s more about getting into the room. And even then it’s: Do I pull out the extra dirty joke? Or does SarahRose pull out the extra dirty song? Or do we think we’re going to pull out the extra dirty stuff and then that same audience gets four beers in and it’s a different show? It’s really about being as present as you can be in the room. The goal of the tour is to connect with people. And so whatever is going to connect with them is what we should be bringing because that’s how you rebuild things. That’s why this tour has this weird social activist bent because we can make connections in the room.
The 2018 midterm election turnout hit a 50-year high. What is most at stake in our country right now?
Sanity. I really mean that. There’s a machine right now that’s designed to make everyone crazy and fight with each other. That’s the goal of it. If you can’t see that, then you’re in it. If you can see that, then you are morally obligated to try to make other people see it. The tools that we have are our forums and our creativity and there’s enough people who don’t want to feel crazy and there’s enough people who don’t really hate.
What do you hope to achieve through this tour?
We really are attempting to build a movement of moderates. Having grown up in the deep South, I know that there are plenty of sane southerners that exist. Do I know that there’s a lot of work to be done? Yes. But I also understand that the polite thing to do is not really raise your voice. And so it’s almost like, can we motivate the sane people that I know exist all across the South to stand up? Because now we have to because for decades just the crazy people got up. The sane people, we got to coast for a long time. Now we’re just at the point where, I’m sorry if you’re a sane person but now you’re going to have some things to do. Put down your phone and let’s go.
I’ve been touring around seeing these pockets. We want to build a movement online and get all these people connected. To build an online presence for moderates to make sure these people have support in the small towns, in the trenches.
That was going to be my last question, but speaking of being polite let me take more of your generous time. You pinpoint a trait that’s characteristically southern and arguably hinders outspokenness required to impact change. How do you speak up and be heard without being dismissed as rude or irrational?
You have to appeal to the humanity of people. You have to work to get past the things that they assume about you in the first few boxes: Lesbian; Cannabis Smoker; Massachusetts; probably anti-gun. Nope – that’s where you’re wrong. And then you start pulling out the hybrid of human that we really are. You stop acting like we only fit into one box. If we could just get people to understand the concept of the spectrum – it would be a game changer. Apply the concept of spectrum to everything: gender and sexuality and political affiliation and the fact that humans are a fucking shit show of prize actors. No two are alike and the closest you get are twins.
There’s way too many variables. When you say you’re this, what does that mean to you? There are very strict rules about what it means to be certain things. I was talking about guns in Lafayette. It’s hard because I’m in the middle, I did spend a lot of time in the North and in the South. It’s just about communication. People in the North are like, “No more guns!” And I’m like, “You can’t say no more guns because you’ve never had a snake in your yard.” Sometimes the thing the southern guy’s afraid of is a snake. It’s these nuances. It’s about getting into the nitty gritty of things that we’ve never bothered getting into the nitty gritty of culturally.
My apologies if we’ve dug deep and left little room for telling jokes.
We just trust that people believe humans can have more than one emotion. At the same time it’s like, look at how smart I sound – wait till you come to my show and I swing my big jokes! No, don’t read this article and figure you’re going to get a dissertation or something. When we go to the show I’ll be a comedian to the best of my comedic abilities and everybody will have a great time. That’s really what it’s all about. We have a good time and we shoot love back into the room. We need that right now more than ever.