B.B. Palmer Strikes Gold With ‘Krishna Country Gold’
Hailing from the heart of railroad country in Opelika, Alabama, cosmic country outfit B.B. Palmer have made a name for themselves over the past several years, honing a sound steeped in the traditions of American country music. The band’s latest offering, Krishna Country Gold, sees the group approaching their craft with a much more expansive worldview — folding traditional Indian sounds into their work and creating a further-mesmerizing brand of ethereal roots music. On paper, it might seem an unexpected or jolting shift in direction, but for B.B. Palmer it’s simply the next step forward in their collective journey.
I really dig the new EP, Krishna Country Gold. Watching a couple of the videos it’s obviously there’s some serious players there. Despite being powerful players they knew how to dial it back enough so as not to overshadow each other. How difficult was that?
Well, no and yes, but ultimately no, because the players that I sought out and wanted to do this are all. They’re all very good at what they do. They’re all what I call “serve the song players”. They understand their roles. Of course I also wrote out arrangements for those videos, too. I had a pretty good idea of what I needed, hoping that they could come in and rehearse their parts – which they did. That was the first time we went beyond a four or five-piece thing. It was kind of stepping into unknown territory. It happened to work out to where they all knew where to play – and they’re all excellent players from Alabama.
I was listening to “Simulation Theory” – because I enjoy the song first off. I’m a music guy. I enjoy the music before I comprehend the lyrics, but it was different with this song.
You’re a melody guy first and then they lyrics work their way in later, huh?
Right. I found myself listening to the lyrics equally on this song. And what I found interesting about the song is that there is a lot of humor in the lyrics – or at least I found humor in them.
No doubt. (laughs)
Do you come about this naturally or something you had to work at?
Well…I don’ know. I never think about it in those terms. There are no absolute truths. I think that’s the way with songwriting. I like to have levity in the songs – you know what I’m saying? I like to have relief and humor in there because I think humor is a great weapon. You look at some of the great comedians of our day like [George] Carlin and Lenny Bruce and all those guys and you see how they used humor to reach deeper points within. A little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down – know what I ‘m saying? I guess it would be in that approach. I love comedy. I love humor and all that. I guess naturally songwriting makes its way in there when appropriate.
It’s not like you’re writing a humorous song, but the lyrics and observations in your lyrics are slightly cutting and make someone smile and nob their head along with it. “I get that.”
(laughs) Yeah, absolutely, but I do love humor and as a listener myself I do appreciate humor and levity in songs just for that same reason that I just told you. I think as a songwriter it’s nice to have that when needed; when it serves a song.
I’ve talked with many musicians over the years and it’s always fun to to find out what their personal musical tastes are compared to the style they play. Were you always a country guy? What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Oh no, it was the opposite for me. I didn’t find country until later in my life and that’s when I fell in love with – probably eight, nine, ten years ago. I grew up – my dad had very eclectic tastes, but was a R&B/soul guy. We listened to like, Al Green and Staxx… man, Luther Vandross, even new soul – DeAngelo and a lot of that. I remember being ten years old and my dad pulling up – this was like the late ‘90s and he liked everything. I remember him pulling up with the new Eminem, Marshal Mathers LP. I remember that’s how I first found out about Eminem was through my dad. The first concert I went to was a Prince concert. That was ’97. (laughs) It couldn’t be farther from my style nowadays – the medium I choose. But I value and cherish that stuff, though. Of course he also likes ELO, The Beatles. My mom was a big James Taylor fanatic. I mean, everything in between and then country music, I fell deeply in love with it ten years ago or so when I started listening to Hank Williams, Sr. From there it was off to the races. I found Lefty Frizzell, Faron Young and Porter Wagoner – those guys influenced me deeply as well. Growing up I really didn’t listen to it other than I had a friend whose dad loved Merle Haggard and I got a taste of that growing up. But, for the most part it was the other end of things, but or the most part it was related – punk, soul and blues. That’s how we got country music from that. I mean, it’s all tied in together ultimately, if you go back far enough, right?
I’ve listened to everything you’ve got out there because like the old Lay’s Potato Chips commercial, “You can’t each just one.” (both laugh)
Well that’s good. You’re one of the few probably, huh? (laughs)
They just haven’t found you yet is what it is.
Right. Well… true. It might be true. It’s kind of nice.
I’m a little older than you and what I noticed is I remember the old school country songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s and your music is very true to the way a lot of that would sound. It’s uncanny almost. You guys sound almost like a bunch of old school studio musicians from that era. I was wondering what kind of homework you do to prepare yourself for what you do?
Not a lot of homework, really. I feel it’s just more of the sound I had in my head and maybe it lined up with that type of era of recording. Can you give me some type of artists who are examples like you hear from the ‘70s?
Session musician Charlie McCoy for example.
See, I don’t know who Charlie McCoy is. He’s a session player?
He’s out of Nashville. He’s recorded with about everyone. He was featured on – have you heard of the group Ween?
I love Ween, man! I was listening to a Ween record the other day – “Piss Up A Rope”!
When I first saw the title for your new EP. That’s what came to mind immediately. Listening to it, the musicianship reminded me of a lot of that because they hired a bunch of classic Nashville session musicians to record 12 Golden Country Greats, a kind of a late ‘50s/early ‘60s style album – the kind of music you might hear while shopping at Woolworth’s back in the day with the silly lyrics.
Oh man! That’s beautiful.
The musicianship was so dead on professional. You hear a lot of stuff today and there’s a lot of sloppy musicianship out there.
There’s a lot.
But they can get away with it as well as everything being AutoTuned.
Those crazy guys that make up Ween put together a crazy professional ensemble and you’re laughing your ass off listening to the lyrics: “Mr. Richard Smoker”, “Piss Up A Rope”…
Once you get past the lyrics and listen to the musicianship you’re blown away by the sound. Listening to your stuff – it’s true to the way country music was and should be.
That’s a great compliment. I appreciate that. I love Ween and I love that record. I’m sure there’s a little unconscious influence from there leaking through. But, I didn’t find that Ween record until a year ago after the songs were recorded, so a lot of the stuff you’re mentioning I don’t know much about it or am just now finding out about it. Maybe there’s something deeper that aligns these things. You’re absolutely right about that Ween record; once you get past the lyrics, get past the wit of Ween and listen to those instruments “Pig” Hargus [Robbins] – those type of players on piano and stuff; those older session players who nail it. I didn’t have any old guys/old session players on our record. I knew what I wanted and I worked with the players before we went in the studio – seven months before we went up in the studio to get the arrangements right in each place. I went to Montgomery, I went to Birmingham where they were from and worked to improve the arrangements with them so they would would be prepared so when they showed up that day to cut those two videos, we did that all in one day. It’s hard to get eight, nine, ten people together, you know for more than one day. (both laugh) That’s really cool that you see those influences in there.
Is B.B. Palmer a band or you with a band? Because if you are a band, I wanted to know how you actually put the band together.
B.B. Palmer started as a band. I’ve been called B.B. all my life. It’s basically my name used as a band. My full name is Bernard Palmer Breitung. I took my childhood name of B.B. and threw Palmer at the end of it when I started this group eight years ago. It’s been me and Josh “Bucky” McKenzie – Bucky is what we usually call him is my Telly player and my right hand man and has been with me since the beginning. B.B. Palmer is essentially me and him. You can look at it like that. He encapsulates the essence of it far more than I do I would say. When he joined us we pivoted from more roots Americana sound to a more roots honky tonk country sound. Me and him have kind of grew together in that aspect. We’ve change rhythm sections a few times. As you now it’s hard to keep a band together now these days. The essence of it is me and Josh McKenzie. Now we have a family band and my good friend Tim Zephyr on the drums. We just got a new guy on the bass. We call him “Young Son”, but his birth government name is Tyler Treadwell; he’s joined us and Taylor Hunnicutt – who’s a great powerhouse singer, whose been working on our record and touring as two bands in one. We tour with five people with two acts. Taylor Hunnicutt joined me a couple of years ago when she married Josh. So, that’s what B.B. Palmer is now. Going back seven years ago when we started, it pretty much encapsulates a band of me and Josh, if that makes sense.
What was it like adding sitar and horns to the songs on the new EP? You’ve always had a full sound. What do you thinking adding them brought to the mix for the new EP?
Well, it was a very interesting process. Whenever I make a record, typically it’s whatever the hell’s going on in my life. It’s nothing more than a time capsule. That’s what I like about making records, personally. It’s like a time machine. I can go back and hear something and be immediately taken back to that place and time. I think that’s a great thing about making records. You can go back and listen to it and be transported back in time. With this record it happened very serendipitous and naturally. You asked about the horns an sitar: those are by-products of what I’ve been into. I finally got a copy of the Bhagavad Gita probably four of five years ago and fell down that rabbit hole immensely in the Gita culture and Bhagava and Jhana, Mahbharata and these great ancient texts – all this stuff in the East. This is your classic Western musician finds Eastern influence. It’s been done before – The Beatles – you know what I’m saying. It’s that same thing. But with this, it happened to be country music only on the other end of it. I heard the sitars and I heard the tablas, I heard the sarods and I heard Eastern twang. I heard the same thing over here, just more ancient in the Far East. I thought it would be interesting to bring those in to country music. It’s three years ago we started this thing – five songs in three years. And that shows you how particular, difficult and intimate it was to blend these two things together. You’re working with totally different scales; totally different sounds. You have to manipulate these instruments to fit with each other. We luckily had a great friend of ours named Davis Little, who plays in a band Little Raine Band in Birmingham. Davis, I met when he was 15. He was already into Vedic scripture before I knew what it was. Six, seven months before we go into the studio, my drummer found him and he was like, “Yeah, I think I can help y’all with this”. I happened to work out and I got with him and it worked out that way. The horn section is from Montgomery – two killer players – Martin Sager on trombone and Jonathan Michael Avant on trumpet. I called those guys up. They had played with the good doctor for years around here and also their own bands. They’re great studio musicians. I said alright, this might blend well with what we got and just jumped in the water head first. It was going to work or it wasn’t.
How did you know it was time to wrap up Krishna Country Gold and these were the songs that made the EP and to stop it right there?
That was a hell of a process. (laughs) I did not know. I had false starts. I had multiple stop starts. Initially it was just going to be those first two songs you saw videos for and that was going to be it. But then I had something within or without me kind of shake my foundation a little bit and saw some things and heard some things and it led me to bring on three more songs to complete an EP, because that’s the way it needed to be done – not according to me, but according to other things. The last instrument we tracked for the last song – that’s when I knew it was done. These are the five. These are it. We’re good. Anything past this is too much. And the idea was to just so those first two songs, but then we had a lot of people who also wanted to hear more than those so, so I had to do more. I had to get in the studio, had to figure out how to get the time, figure out how to get the money because those are working musicians. You have to have a lot of grace I feel like when you’re trying to do something like this. You’ve to to have a lot of people willing to give up their – a lot of people recorded for free. Lot of people gave their time for free. God bless J.P., John Mothis in Montgomery, who tracked and recorded this thing – just because he believed in it. It took a lot of that. And it took a lot of patience because it was a three- year process – just a little short of three years when we release this on the 19th. It’s a process that I’m actually be be very happy to be done with. It was great making it and it was something I’ll never forget, but at the same time you’re kind of raising children, kind of raising them to get the hell out of the house – you know what I’m saying? It’s like, alright, time to move on, get this done and be finished with it. Towards the end of it, I wouldn’t say expended, but I’m restored and I expended. The whole thing is full of paradox.
I was reading an article recently describing that some famous bands sound better live than on their recordings. Do you see yourselves more of a live band or a studio band?
I see us as a live band who went into the studio to experiment with songs that we could never full recreate live. I mean, we could, but it would take way too many resources and money to bring those songs back note for note out live. I have always been a live band. I have always viewed B.B. Palmer as a live band. You come to the shows, see the music. I think we’re better as a live band than you hear on the tapes, if that makes sense. For this one project I wanted to do something that we – we would take these songs and we’re playing these songs on the road and we’re doing them, but they’re just us. It’s strip downs – just us four or five. There are five of use doing it instead of ten people – compared to what you’re hearing on the record. We’re a live band first and foremost.
– Dave Weinthal