Band: Banditos, T. Hardy Morris, The Hallers
Date: Friday, Oct.13, with doors at 9 p.m.
Venue: The Merry Widow, 51 S. Conception St., www.themerrywidow.net
Tickets: $10 in advance/$12 day of show; available at venue and through Ticketfly
Banditos used their Azalea City debut at SouthSounds to win over crowds with their electrifying mix of roots rock and soul. Since then, the band has maintained a relentless nationwide tour schedule and picked up a spot on Bloodshot Records’ roster. Eventually they took a break to compile tracks for their sophomore effort, “Visionland.”
Inspired by the doomed theme park near Birmingham, “Visionland” maintains the sound that brought Banditos notoriety while plunging deeper into the world of psychedelic rock. Lagniappe spoke with Stephen Pierce (vocals/banjo) about the band’s vision for its second album.
Stephen Centanni: Since the beginning, Banditos has been a hard-working road band, especially after the success of your debut. What made you want to take a break from touring and get back in the studio for another album? It had to be hard finding time to do it.
Stephen Pierce: Aw man, it was hard. We had to make ourselves do that, definitely. I guess it was a conscious decision. At that point, we were just like, “Man, we know that we want to get this new album out. We’re gonna have to make ourselves do it.”
We saw that there was a little bit of time around December or November of last year when we got together. We all took two weeks off each. We came and stayed at my house down in Opelika, Alabama, for about a week and wrote every day, because there’s not much else to do in Opelika, except make music. Then, we spent another two or three weeks at Jeff’s house (Jeffrey Salter, guitar), where everybody else lives, and continued writing. We wrote some in the studio when we went out to Dripping Springs, Texas, to actually record it. We finished up a couple songs that we had good bits and parts of.
We just knew it had to happen. It had been a year and a half by the time that we were getting in the studio from the last album. It was time to get some new stuff going.
Centanni: With all your experience on the road since the last album, what was it like writing songs for this album compared to the first one?
Pierce: It was awesome. It was really enjoyable to just, like, have a new approach. The other songs that we had, we had been playing them for years. We had them there pretty much before we got signed to Bloodshot. So, it was pretty nice to utilize some of these new directions that we’re trying to take and use some parts that we had written on the road and present it to everybody, so they can get their hands on it.
That’s the thing about our writing. We have different formulas to what we do, but if I have a song or Corey (Parsons, vocals/guitar) has a song and don’t know where to go with it, it doesn’t turn into the full song until everybody gets their hands on it and starts adding to it.
Centanni: I’ve heard three singles so far. You mentioned new directions with your sound. With “Fine Fine Day” and “Visionland,” I see Banditos getting more into a classic psychedelic rock sound, more so than the first album.
Pierce: I think that’s just kind of our natural wants. Ever since me and Corey were playing together as a two-piece, we knew that we weren’t good enough for bluegrass, and we are just a bunch of rock ‘n’ rollers. We love psychedelic music. We knew that we wanted it to grow and get there. We’re finally at the point where we’ve got enough toys and everybody works together enough to where we can expand on the sound.
If we were to stick with just one genre, we’d probably have panic attacks trying to make an album that sounded the same all the way throughout. We’re so spread across the board. We also always made the joke that we were gonna have to get a sitar for the second album and make it kinda weird. Sure enough, we got kind of a rinky-dink, quote unquote “sitar” sound on “Visionland.”
Centanni: Speaking of “Visionland,” unless you’re from Alabama, the title might seem open to interpretation or enigmatic. What was it about a defunct amusement park that inspired the band?
Pierce: When we wrote “Visionland,” Corey and I sat down, and it was just me and him. He came and stayed at my house for a week. One of the nights, we said, “Let’s make an upbeat rock ‘n’ roll song.” We made a bunch of random lines together.
After reading all the things that we had pieced together without paying attention to how it was going, we saw that there was hope, but there were other meanings to it. Corey seems to enjoy tying that together with the idea of Visionland and the way he saw it growing up in Bessemer being close to it. It had such great intentions and positivity, but of course, corruption got in the way and led it into sort of a bad thing with (Larry) Langford funneling money and everything.
It seems fitting to our state in America. Things have hope and good intentions, but it may not necessarily work out that way. It’s also refreshing to hear someone know what Visionland was. Like you said, people don’t know it was a theme park.
Centanni: “Healing Slow” was a fast favorite for me. You’ve always had a grasp on that roots-rock soul. For that song, you guys filmed a live music video to go along with it. Banditos have always had great music videos. Were you able to get it done in one take?
Pierce: It was close to it. We had the first one absolutely perfect, but I believe something happened the first time through, like there was something in the shot that we didn’t want in there. It was some cluttered junk or something.
We also changed the way the girls were coming in. They had listened to the song on the way there and learned their little backup part, and they killed it. They were fantastic. I think it was about the third time that we got it right as far as getting everything visually correct and the timing of walking down the stairs. They did it with finesse. It was really great.
We just showed up at our buddy’s house. He has this pool that he’s turning into a greenhouse. We had some dogs there and ordered a bunch of pizza and got a bunch of beer and made a day of it and just hung out.
Centanni: For you personally, what song are you most excited for your fans to hear?
Pierce: Not only because it’s the title track — and I hate that it’s the title track, because it sounds like I’m pushing that — [“Visionland”] is my favorite song, for me personally. It’s the most fun to play. The banjo part for it is really a lot of what I like to do the most. It’s got a groovy kind of feel to it as opposed to very banjo-y. I was happy for it to translate that way. I think it’s a great song and really fun live. We’ve been working on that one for a while. That one and “Strange Heart” are my two favorite to play live. They have so much gusto to them, for lack of better words. I really enjoy those.