Callaghan’s is truly an amazing venue. The Azalea City has watched as acts like Alabama Shakes and Justin Townes Earle have gone from playing this intimate setting to becoming some of the most successful new acts in the music industry.
Los Colognes is on the verge of becoming another band to carry on that tradition.
When they made their Callaghan’s debut last year, they had just released their first album “Working Together,” which introduced listeners to a sound inspired by a cassette tape belonging to drummer Aaron “Mort” Mortenson’s uncle, featuring artists like John Prine and J.J. Cale.
Since its release, the group has toured extensively and most recently performed in the area at Hangout Fest 2014. Los Colognes will also appear at Austin City Limits Music Festival in October, after they make their first trip to the United Kingdom.
Vocalist/guitarist Jay Rutherford sat down with Lagniappe to talk about the band’s nostalgic sound and their next move.
SC: Since you released “Working Together,” fans have watched you grow by leaps and bounds. You’ve already toured extensively and played Hangout Fest. Now, you’ve just gotten the news that you’ll be playing Austin City Limits Fest in October. How does it feel to play two major festivals within a year of putting out this album?
JR: I think it’s humbling and exciting. It seems like an exponential graph in math where it’s a slow, slow, slow build-up over your entire life for years and years. Hopefully, if you put your time in, the graph turns upwards. We’re hoping that we’ll see the second record released in 2015 and tour the entire year. It would be great to get more national exposure and radio play and such. It feels good, man!
SC: One interesting thing about Los Colognes’ sound is that it was inspired by an old cassette tape belonging to Aaron’s uncle. What was it about that tape that made it such a muse for your music?
JR: That tape was sort of like a weird, gospelly, country, lo-fi country/folk thing that his uncle did, and it actually sounds nothing like us. I think the metaphor is this idea of drawing inspiration from tradition in order to move forward. I think the idea is just being disciplined in your craft. That tape reminded us of why we were moving to Nashville in the first place. We wanted to dive into the river of American music and really let it seep into our core as artists and musicians and people.
SC: Where’s the tape now?
JR: It’s probably in a shoebox in Mort’s closet.
SC: While country music is still focused on pop country, you guys represent a new generation of young Nashville country artists that have pulled from the old school sounds of 30 or 40 years ago and brought them into the modern age. J.J. Cale and John Prine were kind of offbeat country guys of their time. I know that there are artists in the Nashville scene like Jonny Fritz and RayLand Baxter that are like you and don’t quite fit into the modern country mold. What is it like for you in the Nashville scene? What do they think of Los Colognes at Tootsie’s?
JR: I think whether or not there is a huge disconnect there, as far as people networking, within the band we’re pretty strict about our standards. There is a lot of the new country that can be frustrating, especially for us. We try to look to people like the (Grateful) Dead and J.J. Cale. They’re timeless, because they were able to blend elements of country, jazz, improvisation and bluegrass – American traditional music. That kind of vibe is what we try to focus on. If we tried to squeeze into the pop-country paradigm, which we don’t want to, then it would frustrate the piss out of us. Those aren’t the kind of songs or musicianship we’re seeking, but I guess that’s why we draw from a collection of artists and influences from the past that have managed to transcend time. Ripping off the greats is nothing new. All the great painters and writers have studied what has worked before them and stayed timeless and made it their own, but it takes time.
SC: Whenever Los Colognes started out, it was just you and Aaron. Now, you’re seven members strong. How did you recruit the line-up?
JR: The bass player has been around in various projects with Mort and I for decades. Our roots go way back. Our guitar player moved down here to Nashville separately, but he went to high school with Mort. We recruited him when we got down here. We met both keyboard guys at gigs or venues and immediately knew that they’d be into what the vision was. It didn’t take any coaxing. All we had to say was, “Hey, you guys like Leon Russell and Dire Straits and Bob Dylan?” They said, “Yeah, of course we do!” So, it’s been a nice brotherhood that we’ve built around an idea. I think everybody in the band, not just me and Mort, believes in the kind of brand of what we’re doing, which is this really interesting, simple songwriting that is built upon a good sonic, rhythmic core with the ability to improvise live. We are a band of brothers. We’re unified in a vision.
SC: As far as your vision for the sound of “Working Together” goes, I think you’ve succeeded. What do you think about the finished product?
JR: Without any industry help, we had a really successful year with TV placements and Starbucks and festivals and touring. I think it was a great year for us. It was a stepping stone for the time. To be honest, we’ve just started working on our sophomore album. We’re really pumped about where it’s at so far. We’ve got a window now where people are like, “Oh! That was a cool record! Yeah! I’ve heard about those guys!” If we can utilize the space it’s created, we’ll have the opportunity to get to the next level, if we continue to work at our craft and put out another good record.
SC: After Callaghan’s, you’ll be headed to the U.K. Is this your first visit?
JR: Yes and it will be great because we’ll be opening for our good Nashville friend Caitlin Rose, who has also played Callaghan’s. We’re opening for her, and then we’ll be her backing band. It will be the perfect opportunity for us, because she provides a lot of credibility and fans over there. She’s basically gifting us a golden opportunity to play a couple of shows over there. We’re very, very excited. We already have some radio play by Whispering Bob Harris on BBC Radio 2, who is a legend over there. Hopefully, that will translate into some people being interested.
Date: Fri., June 27 at 7 p.m.
Venue: Callaghan’s Irish Social Club,916 Charleston St.,
Tickets: $8 at the door