Beancans, Tornadoes, and Voodoo Boogie – An Interview with J. Bratlie of Dirtfoot
Contributing Writer – Garret K. Woodward [TheRFW.com/blog/Garret]
At the core of one’s infatuation with music is the perpetual notion of the unknown melodies awaiting you around any city corner or prairie dive bar, any television commercial or radio station. The idea that the individual or group you may never (want to) get out of your head could be at the end of the next interstate exit or taking the stage coincidentally on the same night you have off and decided to hit the town.
It is a unique and beautiful feeling, one that sends shivers down your spine and goosebumps up your arm. It is an unpredictable and chaotic feeling, one only found in the confines of live music.
Wandering the mysterious and dark woods of northwest Arkansas last summer, I was curious with what Wakarusa had hidden for me to discover. Away from the main stage. Away from the masses.
In the distance I saw a bright light illuminating the trees and faraway campsites. At the source of the light was Dirtfoot, a Louisiana voodoo-rock sextet (Matt Hazelton – lead vocals/guitar, J Bratlie – banjo/backup vocals, Scott Gerard – saxophone/backup vocals, Nathan Woods – bass, Daniel Breithaupt – percussion, Lane Bayliss – drums), headlong into their late-night set. Their presence took my senses by storm. Like a crisp fall breeze, the sound whirled around my body.
Goosebumps quickly emerging from the depths of my body:
“As Thursday night turned into Friday morning‚ I came across the biggest surprise of the weekend. Wandering down endless paths and into dark woods‚ I finally tracked down the Backwoods stage‚ a tiny wooden structure carefully tucked away from the swarms.
Billed as “gypsy funk country grumble boogie‚” I eagerly stood and shook my bones to the tantalizing sounds of the Shreveport‚ Louisiana group. It was dirty. It was claustrophobic. It was voodoo rock as fire dancers twirled around the side of the stage.
Their mix of psychobilly‚ blues and funk had my underwear all in a twist as I danced with reckless abandon to “Devoted Mama” or “Break My Bones” (which included the sounds of a rubber chicken‚ garbage cans‚ washboards and soup cans full of beans).”
The group is currently recording their next album, which is predicted to be released by the end of 2010. For now, an endless tour schedule lies in their crosshairs, while the intent to push forth until they see the light at the end of tunnel fuels their souls.
Garret K. Woodward: What is Dirtfoot?
J. Bratlie: Dirtfoot is group of guys that makes crazy raucous front porch foot-stomping music.
GKW: How would you describe the sound? Who are the influences?
JB: The sound has been described as “gypsy-punk-country-grumble-boogie” by some and that is the handle we prefer. Our music has many influences from Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Morphine, to Beck and They Might Be Giants, and many more.
GKW: What does improvisational music mean to you? How does it affect the approach of the band?
JB: While most of our pieces are “written”, we do have a few songs that allow for real improvisation. We typically only pull these out when the feeling and vibes are right. Those are usually some crazy nights.
GKW: How did the band come around?
JB: The group began with a tornado. April 2000. Shreveport, Louisiana. Well, the actual band did not start then, but that was when Matt and I met and began a friendship that led to jamming and the band coming together. An Easter tornado had come through Shreveport and dropped a tree on Matt’s house. I was passing by, stopped, and started chatting. The rest is history. After jamming together for a year or two, what is now Dirtfoot began to form through a constant rotation of band members.
GKW: What are you thoughts on the current music industry? How do you want Dirtfoot to be different, or contribute to the evolution?
JB: The music industry is constantly changing and we are going with the flow. We have stayed a do-it-yourself band just for this reason. With modern technology, it’s very easy to get the music out to the people. The real trick is touring. With escalating costs for travel, it becomes more difficult for longer, drawn out tours, so we have to play harder and smarter. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue to build the Dirtfoot machine ourselves and one day if the right deal comes along, we may consider it.
GKW: How receptive have audiences been to the creation onstage?
JB: The audience is key to our show. Many of our songs are built on a “call and response” theme, where interaction is a must. We even make shaker cans, we call them beancans, because we take two soup cans, fill them some beans, and duct tape them together. We pass these out to the crowd and they become the seventh member, a giant percussion section. It’s an awesome sound to hear so many cans shaking at the same time.
GKW: What do you like or dislike about being on the road constantly?
JB: We love to travel and see the new sites. We recently gigged in New York City, a first time trip for many in the band, and it was a real adventure. Seeing the historic and famous sites, along with the people, the traffic, the food, etcetera. We will never forget it. It is hard being away from family and not sleeping in your own bed, but the road is a calling.
GKW: What do you want the listener to ultimately witness or walk away with when they see you perform?
JB: We want the people to leave our show feeling like they just did an aerobic workout of their body and ears. If you don’t walk out of our show utterly exhausted, we didn’t do our job. We also want the people to forget about their troubles for a few hours while they hang out with us. It’s too easy to get caught up in the daily grind, but, at a Dirtfoot show, you can be part of something larger, and forget about all your worries for a bit.