Interview: Casey Kristofferson
Casey Kristofferson doesn’t hide the fact that she’s the daughter of Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, but she understandably strives to stand apart from her famous lineage as her own distinct musician.
The Asheville-area artist does just that in the Casey Kristofferson Band alongside established musicians from North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. The modern country ensemble’s first album Dirty Feet was released on April 26 — the same day as the group’s live debut at none other than Merlefest — and the six-piece shows no sign of slowing down.
Prior to the band’s free Friday, May 31, local album release show at Salvage Station, Kristofferson spoke with Asheville Stages about getting the all-star collective together, the benefits of a speedy rehearsal and recording process, and sharing a bill with her daughter.
Edwin Arnaudin: How did you wind up in Asheville? How long have you lived here and why is it a good fit for you?
Casey Kristofferson: I moved here about 15 years ago with my now ex-husband. I have to admit it was a bit of a culture shock moving from California to Old Fort! I was always drawn to the South, especially knowing my family has southern roots. I worked at Acoustic Corner for a while and started getting exposure to mountain music. It was amazing to see how these self taught musicians played — such an amazing and humbling experience!
EA: Why have you waited until now to form a band under your name?
CK: After being raised on the road, I have always avoided the spotlight. I gravitated more towards the punk rock scene, classical ballet, and music. Almost anything to not be recognized just for my name.
EA: How did you decide to recruit Andy Buckner as your cowriter on Dirty Feet? What was involved in working on the songs together and how long did you two craft them before bringing in the rest of the band?
CK: Andy and I didn’t actually co-write any of the songs. I wanted to showcase different songwriters in the area and had several people in mind for the album. Andy collaborates with a variety of other writers in WNC and Nashville. He’s also an amazing singer and musician, so we decided he would be a good fit. Between us, we have collaborations on the album with six other songwriters, including Charles Humphrey III of Songs from the Road Band, Amy Nelson, Charlie Chamberlain, and Graham Sharp of Steep Canyon Rangers.
I wrote the title track, “Dirty Feet,” years ago, back when I was still playing with Amy Nelson in San Diego. The first recording of that song was done in my mother’s home studio with some members of the band Convoy. It was arranged very differently back then! After I left Echo Mountain [Recording] the night of our first and only rehearsal before tracking the next day, Andy came up with the new arrangement out of nowhere. The band stopped packing up their gear, started playing around with it, and when I came in the next morning I was absolutely amazed at what I heard! We decided to have Andy sing the lead vocal track and the rest is history. It immediately became my favorite song on the album!
EA: How did you select your other collaborators for Dirty Feet? What criteria do you look for in bandmates and guest musicians?
CK: Choosing musicians is always based on a few things: personality, professionalism, talent, and no drama. That's a hard combination to find sometimes in bands — we are so lucky to have such a great group! We really have the best chemistry ever.
When we put together this project, I sat down and thought, "If I could have anyone in the area in my band, who would I want?" And CKB is the result! I couldn't be happier than to be working with this band.
EA: What effects do you feel the brisk rehearsal and recording time for Dirty Feet had on the final product? Did you set out to create the album in such a short window or did that timeframe come about fairly organically with the other musicians?
CK: We did have a set time frame but [it was] definitely organic. It was an educational experience that I am grateful for. We worked like I have never worked and rehearsed before. We honestly didn't set out to make an entire album. We knew we needed some demos to book gigs and planned to track about four songs. We listened though roughs of my songs and Andy's and decided on nine tunes to choose from. Everyone jumped on arranging and practicing, and nine hours later we decided to cut as many of them as possible the next day.
I feel like recording live really makes everyone step it up and bring their best performance to the studio. There’s a certain “raw” element to having such a quick and intense studio session. I think it can be detrimental to rehearse over and over, because musicians tend to over-think their performances rather than playing from the heart.
Though some of the band members had played together in other projects, they had never all played with this group until the day before we went in the studio! Yes, we would have made a different product with weeks of practice, but we would have lost some of that edge that makes the record sound so “real.”
EA: What memories have stuck with you from your recent Merlefest experience? Have you made any notable tweaks to your live show since playing that set?
CK: We had so much fun at Merlefest! It was so nice to be well rehearsed and ready to play in such a positive environment. Aaron Woody Wood is our newest band member and will be performing live with us at the Salvage Station show. Woody has always been one of my favorite writers and performers around.
EA: What do you have planned for that show?
CK: We are so excited to play Salvage Station on May 31st as our local album release celebration! My daughter’s band, Electric Violets, will be opening with a short set and I am so proud to share the stage with her. They’re all getting ready for high school next year and the band has stolen my heart! I’m always so happy to play with family and hope to do more of that in the future.
Devils in Dust will go on next. We did several shows with them in the past and absolutely love them and their music! Leigh Glass has an amazing voice and Corey [Bullman] is a phenomenal player. You may get to hear our guitarist Muddy Welles may sit in with them as well.
Of course, we will be playing all the tracks off the Dirty Feet album, and this is the first show we will be adding some of Woody's songs to our set. We also have a few new ones which have not been released yet, so come out for your first chance to hear those!
EA: How do you plan to spend the rest of 2019?
CK: Making music! I will be writing, playing, and touring as much as possible. We plan to spend the rest of the year expanding our audience and our tour region. Scheduling can be difficult since everyone plays in multiple bands and some members have other jobs to work around, but that’s the price you pay for such a great band! Our next run is in Austin this summer where we will be playing Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic. We’ll also be playing at The Saxon Pub [on] July 5th. We loved Austin last year and can’t wait to get back!
IF YOU GO
Who: Casey Kristofferson Band with Electric Violets and Devils in Dust
When: Friday, May 31, 8 p.m.
Where: Salvage Station, 466 Riverside Drive, salvagestation.com
(Photos by David Simchock Photography)