Interview – Tavis Triance with Spoon River
– by Adrian Mack
Hey kids, heads up, Spoon River’s debut album Kingdom of the Burned is an early contender for best local release of the year.
A pitch perfect yowl of southern rock ‘n’ soul and a barn-burning throwback for those among us who wish The Last Waltz never ended, Kingdom of the Burned plops Spoon River firmly beside Sun Wizard, Pete Werner, Lions in the Street and a handful of other local acts that are making classically tooled rock without losing themselves in nostalgia.
It begins in heavy country noir territory on opener “When the Doctor Gonna Come”, an expansive and eerie track that could have been pulled from soundtrack of an obscure acid western, with gang vocals that bring Minto to mind. “Buried in the Sun” follows like the Jayhawks taking a whack at George Harrison, but with vocalist-guitarist Tavis Triance’s tremulous voice full of anxiety and sadness.
“Stare Into a River” is slo-mo Skynyrd-esque southern pomp, while “Fool” recalls mutant holy-rollers Kings of Leon before the haircuts set in. I maintain KoL’s first album Youth and Young Manhood is killer, and Triance has the same unzipped vocal quality as that Followill kid. It all ends in another gorgeous group harmony, promising us, “Our world is gonna break your heart”. Too true.
And so it goes on – “I’m So Tired” features a hook you’ll take to the grave and a hint of gospel lifting Triance’s fraught vocals. “Emanuel” pits Rhodes piano and a square-wheeled Crazy Horse feel against a snaky melody, and “The Colour of His Skin” has the funkified demeanor of The Band set on “Don’t Do It” or “Time to Kill”.
Indeed, Spoon River seems to exist on the event horizon of The Band. Triance is a devotee and he even played (a variation on) Rick Danko in Todd Haynes’ underappreciated hymn to Dylan, I’m Not There, along with his former bandmates in Montreal’s Royal Mountain Band.
Since relocating to Vangroovey, Triance has hooked up with local label Northern Electric and gotten himself into a swinging key-party with label mate Rodney DeCroo, who loaned him guitarist Jon Wood and drummer Ed Goodine for the version of Spoon River appearing tonight at the WISE Hall.
DeCroo is also on the bill, and since he happens to be among the best two or three singer-songwriter dudes in the country, you’d be a fucking moron not to go. Look out for a double album – repeat double album – from DeCroo in the autumn, but let’s not get sidetracked. Time to pass the mic to Triance.
Adrian Mack: A lot of people didn’t like I’m Not There. I loved it. What did you think?
Tavis Triance: Well, it was funny ‘cos I got the script and my wife and I read it and we were, like, “Hmm.” Cause I’m a huge Dylan fan so we thought it could be really exciting but also really bad, and we were skeptical, like it could go either way. And I think parts of it actually did go either way.
AM: I agree. It walks the line, but it’s a ballsy piece of filmmaking and most of it works really well.
TT: I like parts that people didn’t like, like the Richard Gere part.
AM: I loved that part.
TT: It kinda reminded of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
AM: For sure, plus it was The Basement Tapes come to life. Slim Pickens’ death scene in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is the greatest death scene ever.
TT: Yeah, I know!!
AM: How did it feel to recreate the “Judas” moment?
TT: That was cool. I mean, the whole thing, it’s so legendary that it was kinda surreal actually doing it. But we were all concentrating ‘cos we’re not actors – we were all just concentrating on doing what we were supposed to do and making sure we weren’t blocking shots. It was a big budget movie and they were working hard. Cate [Blanchett] was working really hard.
AM: I know you’re married and so am I, but, Cate Blanchett – hottest woman on Earth or what?
TT: Before when I’d seen on her on film I thought she was just beautiful, but one morning she came in and I think she was kinda hungover or had a rough night and I was like, “You’re totally human!”
And it was funny to talk to her because she was dressed up like Bob Dylan the whole time. But I thought she was amazing. So cool. And her husband was with her and he was a really wicked guy too. And their little kid. So she wasn’t really available.
AM: Have you seen Festival Express? As you know, Rick Danko plays the world’s most wasted man in that movie. Did that inform your portrayal at all?
TT: Yeah, like he’s drunken himself autistic.
AM He’s so drunk that even Janis Joplin is concerned.
TT: I know, it’s just crazy. We’re in a lot of scenes playing music and that I’m really natural at, but the scenes where we were actually acting, I think I just look confused. So maybe that’s a very similar sort of thing.
AM: I’m sure you’ve read Barney Hoskyns’ biography of The Band, Across the Great Divide. Robbie Robertson doesn’t come off so well in that book. Between that and a CCR biography I accidentally read one day at Chapters, I’ve decided it’s best not to know what goes on behind the scenes. Any thoughts?
TT: Yeah. You know what, it’s funny. I’m a huge Richard Manuel fan and him and Rick Danko have always been The Band for me, and accounts vary, but eventually Manuel started writing songs and I’ve actually heard that Robbie started encouraging him to write and tried to stimulate that.
But then on the other hand I’ve heard that Robbie maybe squashed him a little bit, in a McCartney sort of way. I always kinda thought he was a bastard, but it’s just so hard to tell. I guess I’m in agreement. It’s better not to know because you’ll never really know anyway.
AM: You’re using Jon Wood [guitar] and Ed Goodine [drums] from Rodney DeCroo’s band.
TT: And Chris Young on bass. I think Rodney’s amazing. We’re actually going on tour together in April. He gave me Mockingbird Bible when I moved here and I played it over and over – I love it. It’s rooted in the sort of stuff I like. He’s a storyteller but he’s not too literal.
AM:I wouldn’t dare try to interpret his lyrics, but they have a poetic force that just works.
TT: Yeah, I love that, and I like that sort of writing.
AM: Best Band album?
TT: I like them all. I really, really do. I guess the only one I don’t listen to so much is the Moondog Matinee album. But I still listen to that. I listen to those albums all the time.
AM: Rock of Ages blows me away.
TT: I think it’s really good but I’m not a huge fan of horns like that. I think Otis Redding is amazing but sometimes I wish the horns weren’t so front and centre. I just think it takes the power away from the songs. The track that’s amazing that nobody seems to know is “Volcano”. It’s on Cahoots.
AM: Best Dylan album?
TT: Also very difficult. I think that probably the best one is Highway 61 Revisited, but the ones I like the best are New Morning, and John Wesley Harding.
AM: Best Hatebreed album?
TT: Never heard anything by them.
For more about Triance’s involvement with I’m Not There, check out this 2007 interview with The Playlist.