Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Black Lillies keep on truckin'

The Black Lillies are a band of survivors from Knoxville, TN, who are currently promoting their second album, 100 Miles of Wreckage. They will perform on Saturday at Uncle Slayton's. LEO spoke with bandleader Cruz Contreras.

CC: We haven’t played Louisville yet, this will be our first trip.

LEO: You haven’t played here before?
CC: Not with this band. The big bulk of our tour starts in the end of July; we’re going out west for 6 or 7 weeks. For the next month, we’re just gonna be regional. The week we’ll be in Louisville, we’re starting in Seaside, Florida, a couple of shows in Birmingham, Louisville and Virginia. That should be a five-day run, which is more than we’re used to doing right now. We’ve just been doing weekends since the newest record came out in January. Last year was really crazy busy, but we’ve regrouped a bit with the new record, concentrated on getting airplay; we just made a brand new video, too - the first professional video.

LEO: Did you make that for the internet, or TV?
CC: The goal was for it to be on the major video networks. There’s no guarantee that that’ll ever happen, but… We had a great director, David McKwester (sp?), one of the insider kind of guys who’s won awards and is making our video. I’ve known him - he’s originally from Knoxville. Something like that would normally not be an option for an unsigned band, but he really dug the music. We got the final edit yesterday, and I think it has potential to be on one of the major video networks.

LEO: Were you able to collaborate on the concept?
CC: No – well, we really let him roll with it. You know, I don’t know how to make a video, it’s not really my world. I write the songs, I sing the songs; with someone of his caliber – part of the deal was, he approached us, and I think part of the attraction was he wasn’t gonna have to deal with the record label, he’s gonna have complete basic freedom, so we were really lucky to work with him because of that. My bass player calls it “Thriller for rednecks” (laughs). There’s dancing skeletons, fire, murder, dancing – it’s pretty cool.

LEO: There’s not many video outlets anymore, I would think that CMT is your best bet -
CC: Yeah, CMT is the goal, I think. I’m not sure they’re aware of us yet (laughs).

LEO: Do you feel like you’re part of the country music industry?
CC: Oh, it’s strange. I don’t. Traditionally, not at all. But we have had amazing support from WSM, 650 AM, the original Grand Ole Opry, they play the heck out of our record – and they’ve played the heck out of both records – and we played the CMA convention, so it’s pretty cool. We get to go to Nashville in total style, even though we’re not on a record label, we’re not really commercial country… I don’t know, we just have some good fans who’ve really helped us out.

LEO: Do you think, with all the changes in the industry, that wall has come done?
CC: Yeah, I’ve seen - I made my first record probably in ’99, and I equate it with getting into the horse and buggy business. You’re not going to sell CDs, barely. I remember making my first CD and a person came up and said, “Hey, I love your CD! I burned it for all my friends!” And I was like, If you knew how hungry I was, you probably wouldn’t say that… Whatever, that’s just the way it goes. I was in the band Robinella and the CC String Band in my twenties, and we signed with Columbia Records and I got to see that whole world operate, and it had its time, and it still has its place, on a limited scale, I think. They’ve had to adjust. But if you know what you’re doing, you can do it on your own now. Get it out there. To me it’s, you make your music, make a product and you go direct to your fans.

LEO: What about downloads?
CC: Yeah, we sell a fair amount of downloads. It’s funny – I actually don’t do that myself, I don’t really have a computer, but that’s very comfortable. People will be like, “How do I get your CD?” When you say “download,” they’re like, “Oh, OK.”

LEO: Do you find it ironic to be a band that’s very traditional in some ways and have people downloading your music?
CC: Yeah (laughs), but, like I said, that’s kind of where it is now. I don’t know… Also, there’s a foot in tradition, but we are by no means a traditional band. I have no desire to be a throwback. I spent years learning to play music in all different styles, in a traditional way; that was training to do what I want to do now. You know? Sometimes I see musicians and I’m like, “I don’t know, I just don’t think you should get comfortable – never get too comfortable.” What am I trying to say? There’s nothing more rewarding than creating your own sound, your own material, a fresh sound at that. If somebody’s already played something in the past, I’ll learn from that but I want to take it in a new direction, too.

LEO: How challenging is that, to create something fresh?
CC: A lot of it has to do with timing, as an artist. You have to know when the fire’s hot. I don’t write daily. If I wrote one song a month, I would be thrilled. When I write a song, I want it to be a keeper. To me, that’s something cool about not being part of the industry. I know there’s writers who do that, they go to work and write. Woah! A lot of times, they come in groups, two or three songs at a time.

LEO: You don’t have to panic that they’ll stop coming.
CC I don’t know…! Sometimes I do panic. It hasn’t happened yet, though.

LEO: Do you envision writing and playing for as long as possible?
CC: Yeah, definitely. I’m looking at it as a lifelong pursuit.

LEO: All of the changes you’ve been through – big time, do it yourself – at what level are you happiest?
CC: That’s a good question. I think, ultimately, definitely, the artistic integrity will keep me satisfied. I’d like to make a living at it, to make a good living at it. This band, right now, is riding a wave, so it’s time to get this out there and take a stab, see who we can appeal to, so I’d like to take this band as far as we can take it. Have as much success as we can - it's kind of like creating a job for yourself, is what it is. If you can have enough fans that you can travel around and play, everybody wins. We get to play, people get to hear music they like, everyone goes home happy.

The Black Lillies with Dust Radio
Saturday, July 9
Uncle Slayon's
1017 E. Broadway / 657-9555
$10, 9 p.m.

c. 2011 LEO Weekly

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