“There will be blood.”
This is something you might hear someone utter when Black Eyed Vermillion frontman Gary Lindsey made his entrance onto the stage during Hank Williams III concerts for many years. Like a wild animal pacing restlessly in a cage all day and then suddenly let free, Lindsey’s presence was an immediate burst of energy spilled on stage as he feverishly fulfilled his role as the Damn Band’s and Assjack’s screamer/singer. At times things might become so unscrewed, blood would be pouring from the front of Lindsey’s head in the tradition of punk artists such as Jeff Clayton from ANTiSEEN and others. Lindsey is one of those artists willing to bleed for the music, figuratively and literally.
But if that’s all you knew of Gary Lindsey, you may hardly recognize him in a black sport coat and fedora, fronting Black Eyed Vermillion or The Pleasure Tide….though the growl would eventually give him away. I once walked into the Austin, TX honky tonk The White Horse and was surprised to see Lindsey fronting a gypsy roots jazz project and showing incredible range of style and influence. Similar to one of his other musical heroes Tom Waits, Lindsey can shape shift at a moment’s notice and call on an incredible cast of characters who all live beneath his own skin. He can go from spastic punker to beatnik poet in a heartbeat, and hold an audience in his hands as one of the most animated and engaging front men around.
Lindsey’s throaty lyrics are not for everyone, just like Tom Waits. But if nothing else, his passion for the music and diversity of influence was something I wanted to get to the bottom of. With the backdrop of the latest Black Eyed Vermillion release Never Shed a Bloody Tear, I tried to find out what makes Gary Lindsey tick.
What were Gary Lindsey’s musical beginnings? Where are you from originally, and when did you start singing and performing?
My musical beginnings were completely, totally, and absolutely 100% punk rock. I never would’ve even dreamed of being in a band before I discovered punk. When I was a kid I was sent to music lessons for a range of instruments, but nothing really clicked. I gave up on all of them. Then some years later I was introduced to Black Flag, The Cro-Mags, Cock Sparrer and The Cockney Rejects, and I saw, clear as day, that you didn’t really have to know what key a song was in to sing it. Hell, you didn’t even have to know what a key was! Just put your heart into it completely and get it out there.
I grew up in Chicago and when I was in high school some friends had a band called Babes In Toyland (no relation to the all girl band from Minneapolis) and they asked me to try out. I was awful, just terrible, even for punk. After a couple of practices I didn’t hear from them and then one day I saw a flyer for their first show. But it didn’t matter that I had been rejected, I was hooked.
After high school I ran off to Atlanta, GA and I relentlessly started looking for people to play with. It was a bitch. Back then, you would put out an ad in the “Musicians Wanted” section of the local paper. You would have to describe all of your creative hopes, dreams, and ambitions, as well as your wide range of personal influences in like 15 words or less, which would then begin an endless cycle of fielding phone calls from strange people who had never even heard of any of the influences that you had listed, but would call anyway. It was weird. So often it seemed like a complete waste of time.
But after about a year or so of awkward conversations and failed auditions I got a call from a guy named Jeff Kercher. He had a really goofy sense of humor and a strange energy so we hit it off really well. We got together with a drummer and it clicked, which was nothing short of electrifying after years of getting together with strangers and just hitting a creative wall. The 2nd time we got together they had this 19 year old kid on bass named Troy Sanders and fuckin’ boom, he just lit the place up and we were a band. We called it Knuckle and started playing out around 1991.
How did you meet Hank3, and how did you start singing for him?
I met Hank on Knuckle’s first ever tour. He was the drummer in a band called Buzzkill and we were randomly booked together at a tiny club in Nashville called The Abyss, which was literally an old gas station that someone put a PA in and then called it a club. Now, we had just spent a week and a half tooling through Florida playing in a bunch of strip mall dive bars with an array of local bands that we had nothing in common with to about an average of 12 people per night. So we were overdue for a good show and Buzzkill did not disappoint. It was something, it was totally packed, and these kids we’re going off. They put us up that night and we were all the best of friends by morning. From that point on we became “buddy bands” and would work together from our different cities to help each other book shows, put up flyers, providing places to stay and of course getting completely fucked up out of our heads.
Eventually those bands broke up, as they all do, but we all stayed pretty tight over the years. Hank started doing his country thing in the late 90’s and I moved to Phoenix in 2000 to get away from some bad habits that I had developed in Atlanta.
In 2003, Hank came though Phoenix and to my surprise he had a singer for the Assjack portion of the set. I can still remember that the guy had a great set of pipes but he didn’t move very much. I told Shelton after the show that no offense to that singer, but I could do a way better job fronting Assjack. Just because I’m such a spaz. He agreed, but things were kinda locked in so we just left it at that for the time being. Then fate stepped in the following year and that singer actually quit. Hank called me up, asked me if I wanted to fill in the spot and I was beyond stoked. That was a great day.
Tell me about meeting Tom Waits.
Yet another great day courtesy of Mr. Williams. MOJO Magazine was doing an issue where Tom was the so-called “managing editor” for the month. They asked him who he wanted to interview and he said Hank3. Shelton of course knowing that I’m a full blown Tom Waits fanatic invited me to tag along. I’ll tell you what, when you shake the strong, boney, powerful hand of a man like that, it is both grounding and dreamy at the same time. You’re staring at this image that has twisted your mind and heart in countless directions for most of your life. But as soon as he starts talking, it’s as comfortable as catching up with an uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. I’m pretty sure Hank prepped him on what a super-fan I was because he already knew my name and he was super, extra friendly to me.
We chatted for a little bit while the sun set and I asked him if he was coming to the show in San Francisco, and he said he was. Then I cracked some stupid joke about it being sold out but I would see what I could do to get him in because I knew some people and then something happened that made time stand still… he laughed. It thought, “Holy fuck, I just made Tom Waits laugh!”
It was just a fleeting moment, but needless to say, that moment was huge for me. I mean between his music, movies, interviews and general YouTube searches, this guy has made me laugh an immeasurable number of times. The fact that I was able to give him just a chuckle in return was just indescribable.
Tell me about the latest release Never Shed A Bloody Tear.
Never Shed A Blood Tear picks up right where Hymns For Heretics left off and runs it headlong over the edge of a new territory cliff. It’s got the signature hard driven hellbilly & rootsy punk anthems, but I’ve added a schizophrenic blend of styles ranging from stoner-doom & hardcore punk to New Orleans jazz, chamber music and even a folk-tronic song. Brent Hinds threw down some wicked pickin’ blues on an acoustic piece that we wrote called “Gourdian Knot.” My old band mates Andy Gibson, Daniel Mason & Zach Shedd brought their feast of talent to the table on “If Heaven Is Dry.” Joe Buck and I recorded “Buzz/Opera”, (which is 3 different Buzzoven songs recorded in 3 completely different styles of music and then fused together to create one twisted mini rock-opera), in his tool shed in Blood River KY. I reunited with Bruce Salmon from The Inheritance for the multi-faceted “Firethorn.” I mean it’s just all over the road and I love it!
Black Eyed Vermillion is sort of this menagerie of players from the Austin area which is so ripe with talent. What’s harder, fielding a band for shows, or telling players “no” when they want to be a part of it because there’s too many?
That would have to be fielding a band for shows because there has yet to be a situation where there was too many musicians. The last time we played with Jayke Orvis we had nine people on stage and it was spectacular. Even if every musician isn’t mic’d or plugged in, they still add to the show immensely with their energy and back-up vocals. If I had the resources I would love to take an eight or nine piece band out on the road. It gives us more power and volume on the fun, jump around songs like “Fare Thee Long” or “Hard Time Believin,” while also giving me the ability to add more depth and emotion to songs like “Pass The Bottle.”
You’re known mostly for your work with Black Eyed Vermillion and Hank3, but you’ve also been a part of a few side projects in Austin like The Inheritance and The Pleasure Tide. How did those projects come about, and how do they fit in your busy schedule?
The Inheritance collaboration came about when Stevie Tombstone and I wrote “Worst Of Times”, which I had intended to simply put on the next Black Eyed Vermillion regular release. I told Kurtis D (my bass player, engineer, co-producer and personal therapist) that I wanted a sort of gypsy sound for this track and he said, “I’ve got just the band.” Enter The Inheritance. The recording went so well (we got the whole song done in less than 2 hours without any practices beforehand) that I approached them to do “Pass The Bottle” for the Swappin Spit EP. Once again it went so well that I went to them and said, “I have to do a whole record with you guys.” They thought about it and said yes.
Ironically, once they accepted, nearly all of that productivity went out the window and it ended up taking another 2 years to finish the record for one reason or another and another and another. It was such an emotional mind-fuck, roller coaster that I named the record The Pleasure Tide in an attempt to describe the ebb and flow of emotions that went into seeing that project all the way through and not giving up.
So after the record came out, The Inheritance actually broke up and everyone went amiably in their own directions, both physically and creatively. Months and years started to roll by and I kept getting an increasing number of people asking, “When are you gonna play a show with The Inheritance again? I love that record.” Enter Gary Lindsey & The Pleasure Tide. It is an all acoustic band that matches the same instrumentation as The Inheritance with the addition of banjo and mandolin. In addition to doing most of the songs on The Pleasure Tide record, we also do a bunch Black Eyed Vermillion material and it’s just fucking phenomenal. I do have hopes of it growing and becoming its own thing, with more originals and maybe even some kind of release someday. But we’ll see. Hours of the day are not on my side at the moment for that little fantasy.
Music fans that may have seen you with Hank3, or maybe have heard some Black Eyed Vermillion stuff only here and there might be surprised by the depth of your artistry when it comes to your music. They may see you just as a one-dimensional guy that just screams and bleeds on everything, so to speak. With Black Eyed Vermillion and your other projects, what are you trying to express through your music?
Yes, I have painted myself into a bit of a corner with my visibly violent shenanigans over the past couple of decades. But, I feel like you have to take responsibility for the image you project, so I don’t blame anyone for thinking I’m just the “hey look at me, I can bleed” guy at the party. I mean nobody forced me to stab myself in the face with broken bottles or bash my nose open with a microphone night after night, and I fully knew that people we’re eating it up and taking pictures to post and re-post. So I’ve definitely played my part in creating that persona.
But if there is anything positive to come from that public image, it’s that the bar is set really low! Ha! Which sets me up for the metaphorical knock-out punch with richer songs. I’m sure when most Assjack fans got word that I was releasing my own thing, they were imagining a noisy, straight forward punk metal record with a lot of lyrics about getting hammered and “don’t tell me what to do.” That’s when I throw in a song like “Firethorn” or “Buddy Alcohol” with lots of wailing horns and lush strings. I’ve actually been present for a couple of those, “wait, this is you?” moments and I’ll be honest, I cherish them.
So, in answer to your question as to what I’m trying to express in my music is extreme diversity within a very limited context. To me, the word “pure” is a bit of a swear word. Every generation, since the dawn of music, comes along with their personal definition of what is and isn’t country or metal or jazz or blues or whatever, and it usually just sounds so narrow minded and dismissive to me. So my mission is to keep jammin’ with as many different friends and artists in as many different styles of music as possible and see what we get from it. Not everything will make the cut, but it’s important to keep trying. It’s one of those “the journey is more important than the destination” kind of things.
….with that being said I would like to announce the upcoming release of my new techno showtunes-hip hop-barber shop-synth pop cover band. It will be called Paisley Anus and I will be known as DJ Touch & Blow.
It’s gonna be huge!