Mon 14th February 2005
Believe it or not, ninehertz was set up because of our love of music. Yeah, the 'fringe benefits' - the groupies, free drugs, six-figure-sum bribes - are all nice bonuses. But it is the music that has led us to this point - and there is hardly a better thrill than hearing something for the first time that unexpectedly delivers a jolt to the system, forcing you to jump up, dance, sing, head bang - whatever...
...And so it was when the 'Dealin' Decks' EP came through the post, from the unheard of Gideon Smith and the Dixie Damned. An interview to find out more became a necessity.
When and where did you write and record 'Dealin' Decks'?
Gideon Smith: 'We wrote the 'Dealin' Decks' songs over the last few years just as an EP idea between full length albums. It's called that because its dedicated to our original drummer and my good friend Boo Duckworth, he used to use that expression when he was really happy and things were on a roll. Jose our bassist remembered that and suggested the title, so that's where it came from. Jose and I co-wrote 'Blood and Fire' and 'Disco Devil Forever'. 'Dionysus Child' I had for a few years in a drawer, then I pulled it out and we added it on the end. I wrote three songs about the woman who inspired that one, one of the greatest shining standing women I have ever met in my life, a real goddess manifestation walking in this world. I only spent about fifteen minutes with her, but she gave me three songs I will never surrender. Sweet Boo died awhile back and we wanted to give him a goodbye and tribute because was our close friend and a great musician. We recorded it over 2002 to 2004. It took awhile to get new members and studio time and all that, but it's out now and I'm happy to see it come to fruition.'
There appears to be an obvious link to women but with a subtler undercurrent beneath the lyrics...
'The songs on the EP and any songs of my music and our band is about my life in general. It's really the story of my life, the heartbreaks, the joys, the ecstasy and the dreams, the broken hopes and the watercolour visions of hope for tomorrow. The song 'Dreamchaser' is about my friend dying, and our way and my way of saying 'goodbye until next time' to a brother who moved on to the next world. 'Breaking Hearts and Horses' is just fun, cool jive. The other songs yeah are heavily about love, lust, desire and the gifts of arrows from the Goddess of love. My whole life has been about music and love, and that's what I give and that's what my spirits vibrates to the universe like trails of smoke in the air. People don't write songs man, they come from the universe from below or above, in through your eyes, your hands, and then you send them back out through your instrument or voice, like a pipe that carries water. Angels drop them to you from the sky, devils hand them to you from cracks in the ground. All songs are like this.
I have written a thousand love songs man, and every once and awhile I get to lay 'em down, onstage or in the studio. Sometimes I write about fun or cool stuff, but often lately I find myself bleeding those kind of songs out of my veins into a microphone or a guitar, stained with blood and tears and white light of love and magick.'
The EP has been released on Italian label Scarey Records - how did this come about?
'Dealin' Decks' is out on the Italian label Scarey Records because I made friends with those guys and they offered to put something out for me and the Damned, so we gave them an EP between full lengths for Small Stone. Next up is the next album for the Stone.'
Gideon's love of music is evident, and infectious. Yet while some of Small Stone's roster are relatively well known over here - Five Horse Johnson, Sons of Otis, Porn for example - not too much is known about Gideon Smith and the Dixie Damned. Time to get up to speed...
'I started the band in 1998, I had been in bands before in the North Carolina music scene for about ten years. I wanted to start a band that was fun, wild, free and all about music. I always loved and worshipped 70's acid rock, blues, country and hard rock, and I decided I was gonna follow my heart and make it happen. I wrote a few songs on a beat up acoustic guitar with two strings on it, tuned way down, and scribbled down some lyrics in an old spiral notebook with a blue crayon I found in a trashcan. I never had any guitar picks, so I always played with an old Canadian quarter I had saved from my time in Montreal. I knew I had to make it the best I could, so I got a job as a delivery driver for a recording studio. After working there a long time, working with big bands and being a grunt type mover and worker, I got two free days of studio time to record. At the time, I was friends with the guys from the band Animal Bag - Otis and some of the other members offered to be my surrogate band because they liked my songs and ideas and we were all friends. So I practiced with those guys and it pretty much exploded, it came together real easy and fast. We recorded the self-titled EP in a few days with Tracey Shroder who did Corrosion Of Conformity and Karma To Burn records. I got it all together quickly on no equipment, no band members, no money, no nothing; I just had a massive, almost psychotic dedication to my dream and my music. I got two extra jobs, worked like a bastard and saved up the money to make a thousand CDs. I couldn't afford colour covers, so I made simple black and white paper copies on a Xerox machine, bought a bunch of empty CD boxes and there it was. I went crazy and mailed them all over the world, and the Game Two Records guys got one and offered me a distro deal. The Game Two guys and the whole stoner rock scene kind of embraced my music and I got real lucky and it spread all over the place. I worked on the band like I have never worked on anything in my life...all day every day, all night every night, every day of the week. It was all my life was about and it still is today. I worked on the band with fanatical devotion. So now, seven years later I'm still doing it and music is still being created and I kiss the ground everyday for that and I always will.'
A full-length album, 'Southern Gentlemen' appeared next, on Small Stone Records...
'In 2000, a friend of mine in Italy named Luciano Gaglio, who did some journalist writing, suggested I send one to Small Stone Records because he liked Five Horse Johnson and thought we were kinda like those guys. So I sent one to Small Stone and a few weeks later Scott Hamilton called me and offered me a deal. I was so excited I was jumping up and down with ridiculous happiness that day. I lived in a shitty ghetto roach filled apartment complex; my girlfriend had just dumped me. All I had was an empty bottle of mad dog 20/20 orange flavour, a bag of fried chicken, my eternal vision of rock and roll and a handful of songs about the heartbreak of my life. Scott believed in me and could not have been a cooler or more supportive person to work with. So he encouraged me to write more songs, get a good line up together and kick ass in any and every situation. I took it to heart and got to work, I said 'Fuck everybody, here is my shit!' I got a beat up second hand Gibson SG for $149 dollars, and my friend gave me an old Marshall, and I wrote the 'Southern Gentlemen' album alone in my house in between beer, drugs, alcohol and self-mutilation problems. The band came together and helped me make it bigger and better with their talents. It came out in 2001 and it did better than I ever could have hoped or expected, thanks to all the people involved and everybody's hard work. I got it hanging on the wall in my house and I look at it everyday and I'm proud as hell of that time and what it meant to me and means to me today.'
Surprisingly, a track from 'Southern Gentlemen', 'Draggin' the River' was used in an episode of the excellent mob TV series The Sopranos...how did that come about?
'Small Stone and the company Rumblefish set that up for me and the gang, I really didn't know anything about it until the last minute. Scott and the Rumblefish people went above and beyond the call of duty to make that happen and I really appreciated it. They scrambled to find me, and I had to do some overnight paper work as far as getting paid and copyrights and songwriting, and a few months later it was on the show. I don't have cable TV, so I had never seen the show itself, so I rented the first season and watched it all in a day or so. I was so excited because it's such a well-made, badass show and I was honoured to be part of it. We have gotten loads of immense interest and exposure because of our song being on there, and it's really been a golden opportunity. I got to go over to my parents' house and watch it on their TV, and it was cool as hell to hear your song coming out over a big show like that, yeah it was great and really meant a lot to us. My parents are big time Sopranos fans so I got to look cool to my family for the first time in my rock and roll disaster of a life, it was real nice.'
So what do they sound like, for the uninitiated out there? It's telling to look at what Gideon listens to - nothing new, lesser known bands such as Fat Nancy, 'old country, bluegrass, freaky psychedelic space rock, blues' and bands like Five Horse Johnson and Raging Slab - the sound of the Dixie Damned is ballsy, rocking 'Southern states' music. So is the 'Southern' sound - the 'Skynyrd' factor - a truth or merely lazy journalism?
'I think it's insightful to see into band's creativity and see recognize different influences instead of just simple quick judgements. As far as the 'southern rock' connotations, it doesn't bother me at all. I'm from the southern states of America and we do what we do naturally. If you're a rock band, and you're from the south, yeah you're a southern rock band. The Skynyrd and Allman Brothers references make me happy, cause those are some of my all time favourite bands. I can't tell you about other bands from the areas with or without those influences, some of them are my friends, some of them are not, you'd have to ask them, but yeah I'm sure that a lot of us from the same parts of the country with the same age group or life background probably enjoy Sabbath, Skynyrd and Vitus as well as blues and country. It's people seeing the power and parallel between dark vibes like Sabbath and Robert Johnson. I'm sure it's weird for people in England or Europe to get a grip on all these bands that think Ronnie Van Zant was cooler than Ozzy! I personally relate a lot more to classic hellhound blues type mythology. It's all greasy chicken bones, bats and black cats, cowboy hats, beat up guitars, black tats, Mississippi mud water and blood and fire to me. The whole cowboy death rock thing is my trip and I love it.'
What does the future hold for Gideon and his merry men? When asked about his ambitions, Smith is refreshingly humble...
'To be honest with you, my dreams are my own, but you know man...so many of my dreams have already come true. Playing one show, making one record, meeting even one person who enjoyed our band, it all means the world to me, and more. So a lot of the things that have come my way or happened for me have really already made my dreams come true. Not a lot of people can say that. All I ever wanted to do was be in a rock band, and I did it and I'm doing it now. I don't care about money or other people's definition of success. I don't define my band or our music by any of that. Instead I do what I do naturally and I love every minute of it, every day. All I ever wanted to do was pick up a microphone in a swampy, spacey, bluesy southern rock band, and I did it. If I had quit doing it yesterday, or if I jumped in my grave a few minutes after this interview, I did it. I LIVED my life. And nobody can take that away from me. Anything good that happens for me in my life, for my music or my life in anyway, is a tremendous gift; I don't take anything for granted because loss is so heavy and deep in this world. You have to seize every moment and drink it down. So some of my dreams have been easy and beautiful, others heartbreaking and riddled with personal tragedy and sadness. That's the life of a bluesman, and brother, I have lived it. All I can say is that I treasure every bit of success I've had in this band, and it's all magical and filled with fire and power to me. So yeah, another CD in my hand, another show, another song in my heart, it's all electric. Rock 'n' roll will be created...and music will live on.'
It appears Gideon has already achieved more than he ever dreamed of, and anything else from here will be a bonus. But there are still plenty of chapters to be written in the Gideon Smith biography yet. The immediate future alone holds exciting possibilities - including the next album, a split with Beaten Back to Pure, tours (with hopes for European adventure 'dependant on offers'), and tracks to be included on an Antiseen tribute album as well as the next instalment of Small Stone's Sucking the 70's compilation (a Donovan cover). And thank goodness for that.
Picture - Robby Rodwell
Logo - Jeff Kohl