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The Grayson Capps Interview: The Zen of Grayson Capps

The Zen of Grayson Capps
By James Calemine

From wonder into wonder existence opens.
Lao Tzu

Grayson Capps was driving somewhere on Alabama's Gulf Coast when I called him last Thursday. The following day, he began to tour in support of his new studio album The Lost Cause Minstrels.

Capps, a Brewton, Alabama, native travels a distinct musical path. He possesses the rare insight of a gifted songwriter. His father, Ronald Everett Capps, preached in Alabama, and later wrote a novel titled Off Magazine Street.

Louisiana filmmaker Shainee Gable adapted the book into a 2004 film that starred John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson called A Love Song For Bobby Long. Capps played a vital musical and biographical role in that film.

Capps studied Theater at Tulane University in New Orleans, but he soon pursued his songwriting and playing music all over the country. In this Swampland interview, we discuss his Baptist upbringing, his Tulane days, literary influences, jamming with Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, Levon Helm, his new band and the wide open future. I look forward to talking with Capps again. Maybe next time at a fish fry over a couple of beers. This quick 'on the road' interview provides a glimpse into the Zen of Grayson Capps...

James Calemine: You grew up in Alabama. Your father was a preacher. I'm sure that had some sort of influence on you...

Grayson Capps: Yeah, his influence was mostly philosophical. He was a preacher for a while and then he began to see through the hypocrisy of it because that's also being a performer. He thought it was a sorry ass way to manipulate people. He got out of it and he's been on a search for God ever since. One of is famous quotes is 'Who would you rather meet? Jed Clampett or God?' (laughs). He exposed me to Daoism, Hinduism, all the branches of Christianity and beyond. The music for me came after the Baptist years, and ne'er-do-wells come around the house and recite poetry, drink alcohol and play music...

JC: He wrote a book called Off Magazine Street that Shainee Gable adapted into the film A Love Song For Bobby Long  starring John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson in 2004. You wrote songs for that soundtrack...

GC: Yeah, the book was unpublished at the time. It was at the bottom of my filing cabinet. She wanted to do a movie that took place in New Orleans. I let Shainee read it and she fell in love with it. She wrote the screenplay around the book, around my life and songs I'd already written. I wrote one song specifically for the movie called "Lorraine's Song" that Theresa Anderson sang. She named the movie after a song I wrote for Bobby many years before the actuality came about. She puts the whole puzzle together with that movie.

JC: I know your band opened for The Replacements years ago, but I also read somewhere you also opened for Keith Richards?

GC: Yeah, a long time ago my band The House Levelers opened for The Replacements. I don't know how the hell the whole Keith thing came about. People say things and it gets twisted around. We had Ronnie Wood come and play with us and Mick Jagger was hanging out. Years later it got around we opened for Keith Richards (laughs). Ronnie did play with us at Tipitina's and Mick Jagger was hanging out. That was an amazing night.

JC: You studied Theater at Tulane University before you really hit the road playing music...

GC: Yeah, I studied Theater. Music was a big part of it because I had a professor who was anti-Broadway. Nobody really supports live independent theater unless it's Cats or something. His whole thing was to add rock & roll--so we did plays like Sam Shepard's Tooth of Crime where I played Hoss. In another play I was Ziggy Stardust. It wasn't all musical theater, but rock & roll theater and there's a difference. We cooked rock & roll up in theater...

JC: Who are a few of your favorite writers?

GC: Oh well...um, Tennessee Williams, Charles Bukowski, John Steinbeck and Dylan Thomas. I also read the Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu, which means old man. If I get confused out on the road, I'll refer to those...

JC: You have a new band on this latest album The Lost Cause Minstrels, right?

GC: My drummer is the same, but yeah everyone else is different. We recorded this at Big Red Barn in Franklin, Tennessee. We lived in a barn and recorded it there. I knew I was moving back to Alabama. I wanted to move back to Alabama. A lot of the record takes place on The Gulf Coast. When I moved I needed guys who were close to me, from the South--everybody in the band is from Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi rather than New Hampshire and Michigan (laughs). It's a subtle thing, or it's a pig-headed Southern thing of mine...but really it's more subtle...

JC: The Lost Cause Minstrels is a fine album, and it does revolve around Gulf Coast storylines. So, now you're about to hit the road in support it...

GC: Yeah, this has been a crazy year. I've moved three times. We're renovating our house. I've put out a new record. I've got two kids in school. I'm just trying to make a living out on the road. I've just put 300,000 miles on the van. I've got a few new songs. I'm looking to take January and February off and focus on a new record, but right now we're hitting the road. I live right across the Bay from Mobile. I grew up on the Gulf and that's where I want to be. I'll tell you the guy who figured it all out is Levon Helm. 'If you want to drive--come see me. I'll be at the Barn.' Unless he goes to a festival.

That's an aspiration of mine to record and play at the house, and just tell folks to bring a covered dish (laughs)! Or, have The Black Crowes come record Before The Frost at the house. I've started this thing with a friend of mine Cathy at Blue Moon Farms. We did the first outing last Friday. It's called The Frog Pond, and that's where the idea is to have people come from out of town, camp out and hear music. We're sowing the seeds to start at poor man's Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble. I'm not scared of touring at all, but I also know the reality of it as you get older. Every night is different at that keeps me going. The whole band is going out with me on The Lost Cause Minstrels show.

JC: Hopefully I'll see you soon...

GC: Yeah man, I'm looking forward to it. Thanks James...

JC: Most welcome Grayson...

(All Photos By Chad Edwards)


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