interview by Michael McCarthy
On October 21st folk rockers Streets of Laredo will release their sophomore album, WILD, via Dine Alone Records. The album is a spectacular set of tunes rich in kaleidoscopic color with lyrics that are inspiring as they inspired. With several different percussive instruments, horns, bass, electric and acoustic guitars and both male and female lead vocals, you can rest assured that Streets of Laredo do not write the same song twice. At the core of the band are Daniel (lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitars), Dave (drums, backing vocals) and Sarahjane Gibson (lead vocals, percussion), New Zealanders who all came to the United States together, but attempted to go at it alone for period of time before they were disillusioned with the music business and finally realized that they might be more successful if they just made it a family thing and started a band together. It’s a plan that seems to be working out well for them. Now get to know Sarahjane and more about her family band … And listen to their tunes while you’re here.
MM: How did you decide that you would be the only member of the band on the cover of Wild?
SG: Oh, that’s not me.
MM: Who is on the cover then?
SG: An eleven year old boy.
MM: I did not know that. Who did the cover art?
SG: It was a bit of a mix. The kid, Tanner, is the son of our guitarist. It was sort of put together by our guitarist and his wife Catherine and a photographer that we use a lot called Jessie English. Yeah, they just kind of had a vision for it. Of something that was gonna portray something innocent and mix it with the idea of Wild.
MM: You sing some lead vocals on the album, correct?
SG: Yeah, that is me.
MM: Did you sing lead vocals on the band’s prior releases at all?
SG: I did. I sang on two songs on the last album as well.
MM: But you’re doing more of it now, I take it?
MM: Your family is originally from New Zealand. How old were you when you left New Zealand?
SG: I was 30 when I left New Zealand. So, that was almost five years ago. Yeah, me and David and Dan came over together from New Zealand.
MM: Have you been playing music together ever since?
SG: The band wasn’t really formed, but it had a beginning. We played one show back in New Zealand and then put together some songs and had the idea of a band. And we just kind of thought if we’re gonna start a band somewhere, why not start it in New York City.
MM: Nowadays you call Brooklyn home, right?
MM: What’s the music scene like in Brooklyn right now?
SG: I feel sort of confused about it to be honest. I felt like when I came here when we first arrived – maybe it’s where we’re living – but I thought there was a community of musicians that we fell into really quickly and really easily here. I think maybe part of it is how the gentrification is working and where the artists need to move and how the whole community’s kind of formed of musicians and artists. When we first moved here I felt like there was really a community for us. It’s so transient here. And a lot of artists can afford to pursue their dreams wholeheartedly in the area now. So, [it’s] less attached in a real community way in the music scene [now].
MM: Had you tried to have a solo career before forming Streets of Laredo?
SG: I had done just more sort of solo things. Singer/songwriter things before and all the other guys had done multiple bands before. So, this was kind of like a let’s begin doing this together. Kind of like family and friends, you know. The gathering of people from things they’d already been doing. People that you already know and love and make a project together.
MM: I take it your name is taken from the old country song by Marty Robbins?
SG: It is. I don’t think he wrote it though. I think it’s one of those true folk songs that just rolled around and nobody knows where it really began.
MM: I was wondering if you were also fans of the novel by Larry McMurty?
SG: Yeah. I mean, the song came first, but after we became Streets of Laredo I read it. I read the whole series actually.
MM: So, you really liked it then?
SG: Yeah. It was really interesting to me, coming from New Zealand, because you know that frontier, wild west part of American culture is fairly foreign to us. So, it was quite intriguing.
MM: Have you seen the movie based on the books?
SG: Yeah, I’ve seen one of them. I think The Lonesome Dove. But I don’t think I’ve seen Streets of Laredo.
MM: If you had to assign a genre distinction to your band, which would you describe your band as?
SG: Oh, that’s so hard. So hard. Because I feel like there’s some folk elements and we really subscribe to a folk philosophy, but, yeah, I’m not sure I could get away with describing us as folk music anymore. [Laughs] Oh, I don’t know, it’s so hard.
MM: How do you usually describe yourselves then?
SG: I guess like something a little twisty, folky, pop or something like that. I actually can’t wait until the album comes out and I can hear how other people want to describe it. Categorize us.
MM: I would definitely say folk, but maybe more like folk rock.
SG: Hmm. I think there’s definitely an element of rock. It’s not kind of soft folk.
MM: The press release indicated that you, Dave and Andrew all play percussion. Do you have an actual person who plays a drum kit or are you just using other percussive instruments.
SG: Dave plays like a drum kit. And me and Andy just kind of supplement with hopefully well chosen percussion.
MM: Sure. So, what are the other percussive instruments that you use aside from the drum kit?
SG: So, I play a four tom, extra four tom some of the time. Tambourine. Andrew plays a bottle on the record, like a Heineken bottle. We’ve got some bongos in there. Some shakers. There’s a lot of different things. Whatever sort of, as we’re building it, kind of sounds good or we feel like it needs a little something somewhere to accentuate something. Or make a movement.
MM: You worked on the album with producer John Agnello. What had he done in the past that made you want to work with him?
SG: He’d worked with Phosphorescent, which is a band we all loved. Kurt Vile. Dinosaur Jr, which is a big favorite of our drummer Dave. And we actually did one song with him just as like a lead up just to see how we would work together. A song called “Diamonds” and we just worked so nicely with him and just found him to be such a legend that we really wanted to make the album with him.
MM: What was his process like? Does he like to record late at night or during the day?
SG: A mix. I feel like John is one of us. Like a musician at heart with the band. Much more late mornings into the night is how we wrote. Although he was always coming in before us and leaving after us. He’s a crazy hard worker. He didn’t try and reign in the musician part of us that maybe doesn’t fit into the normal hours of society.
MM: How does the songwriting process work in the band? Does every official member contribute?
SG: It’s quite wide, our songwriting process. There’s a lot of songwriters in the band. Me, Dave, Dan and Cam all song-write. And we do it in all the ways. Sometimes someone will start something by themselves and then they bring it to the band and we build it up. Sometimes a couple of people will work on something first. Sometimes it comes out at a practice and something begins. A couple songs we’ve even started writing something on purpose with the idea of making something. It’s all really mixed up, which I think is good. It produces a lot of different kind of songs and things by doing it that way. It feels good. It always feels quite fresh and free.
MM: I know you did a Spotify Session and I’ve always wondered, what’s the incentive to do that? Do they pay? Or do they just promote you more on the service? How does that usually work?
SG: I couldn’t definitively tell you. I think it’s more like the thing of all musicians just trying to get your music to the people in all the ways that you can. The same as playing any dive bar or taking other opportunities to hopefully get your music in front of someone and hopefully it makes them feel something.
MM: I read a review that called your music gospel-tinged. Is gospel music an influence at all?
SG: Not for me personally. But I know that Dave has gone through phases of loving really old school gospel music. Early kind of gospel music with the natural drums. Natural percussive beats and things like that. I mean, I guess it’s in there somewhere.
MM: One thing I find interesting is how streaming services are doing so well yet more and more people are embracing vinyl again every year. What do you think about the vinyl comeback?
SG: It makes me happy. For us, when we made the album, we crafted it as an album. Even though you sort of know now that people don’t often listen to music that way, as an album. I think it’s so great and expresses what you wanted to make so much more perfectly if it’s listened to as an album. It’s a nice thing as an artist to think that people are listening to it in the way that you intended it.
MM: Are you a vinyl collector at all?
SG: [Laughs] Yeah, we have a very big collection of vinyl.
MM: We always ask some random questions with our interviews. That being said, what was the last album you bought and what format was it?
SG: Oh, you won’t believe me when I said that I’m a big vinyl collector because the last album I bought was the new Bon Iver and I bought it online from iTunes. I’ll listen to it in its full format though. But I did. I bought it and put it on my phone.
MM: What’s the next album you intend to buy?
SG: One that I’ve been meaning to buy is Lucy Dacus, which I’ll buy on vinyl to feel the consequence of it.
MM: If you could resurrect one musician from the dead, who would you bring back?
SG: Thinking of my personal nostalgia and when I was going into music and going into loving music I would bring back Jeff Buckley. And see what else he was gonna do.
MM: Name three artists from your parents record collection who you actually liked.
SG: It’s funny my mom was just a crazy country music fan. So, from her collection they’re all gonna be country music artists. Because that’s all she loved. So, I guess Willie Nelson for sure. Patsy Cline. And who else would I say? I guess the true answer is Johnny Cash. Waylon Jennings could be up there, too, but, I mean, those are the ones I would sing along to as a kid.
MM: What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever been given and who gave it to you?
SG: Oh, I’m not sure if this is the most useful piece of advice I’ve ever been given but a recent thing that I learned that I feel like has really helped me is a podcast that I listened to recently that talks about creativity and the difference between [how] some people work like Picasso and they quickly make something and it’s genius. And other people work more like Cézanne and they chip away at it and it’s an unfolding kind of picture than a flash of genius. That helped me because I think sometimes we feel like the true artist is Picasso but I’m more so like Cézanne so that was good for me.
MM: What are your thoughts about the upcoming U.S. presidential election?
SG: It makes me feel sick. Yeah, it makes me feel, yeah… I mean, I feel kind of reluctant to comment because I’m from New Zealand, but I choose and love this country so much that some of the ideals that you see when you look at America from outside, the kind of values and things that have been at least said and championed just seem kind of really lost at the moment. I feel sad about it.
MM: Name three things from your bucket list that you’ve yet to do?
SG: Have a baby. What would really be on my bucket list? Take a slow boat somewhere like maybe up the Panama Canal or something like that. It’s a good question. One thing I’d really love to do…?
MM: Do you want to jump out of a plane?
SG: No, I don’t want to jump out of a plane. [Laughs]
MM: Me neither. [Both laugh]
SG: I don’t know. Maybe write a book. Say something good to the world. Sorry, I was very convoluted I never really tackled that before.
MM: Oh, one thing I forgot to ask was are you successful enough to live off of the band now or do you have a day job, too?
SG: We get closer and closer, but, I do have a day job.
MM: What do you do?
SG: I do some tutoring. Remedial teaching. And just looking after some kids.
Special thanks to Sarahjane for taking the time to do this interview and to Shannon Cosgrove at BB Gun Press for setting it up!
Great interview, as always. Can’t wait to hear this album on Friday.
Who makes up the band? They have changed members in various times and who do they have now (2016-now)? I know that Dave, Dan, and Sarah make up the core. Who else? Who’s the other two guys in the photos? Dine Alone records claims that they are 7 people in the band. Other sources (like this one) seem to suggest 5. Does anyone know?