Interview: Rowdy Cope
Edwin Arnaudin: So, you’re from North Carolina?
Rowdy Cope: Yeah, yeah! Well, I was born in Greenville, but I grew up outside of Asheville. You’re Brevard here, right?
EA: That’s where I grew up…and I guess that’s what’s showing up on Caller ID.
RC: Oh, OK. Yeah, yeah, yeah! Right on, man.
EA: Do you still have family around Asheville?
RC: Yeah, yeah — out in Fairview, Black Mountain, Enka. That area, but I live in Nashville now.
EA: How often are you able to get back?
RC: Uhh…[Laughs] Well, it’s when I can. We cut our album there at Echo Mountain. I try to get back as much as I can to see my family. It’s always nice to get back to my roots and hear some good bluegrass.
EA: So, being an Asheville publication, I’m of course interested in your time at Echo Mountain. How did you choose that studio to record Old News?
RC: Well, I had recorded at Echo Mountain before. And that album, there’s a lot of personal stuff — it’s almost like a personal diary. And it was a chance for me to come home. A) Echo Mountain is an incredible studio. I think it’s world class. And B) the mountains are beautiful. It was summertime, in June. It just felt inspiring to be back home. You know, I was eating mom food — recording and eating mom food, you know what I mean? It just felt real rooted and I kind of got to could give the guys in my band a hometown…like, we had hometown resources. And I love the people at Echo Mountain. They’re just great.
EA: Was it everyone else’s first time there?
EA: So, since you’d already recorded there, how did you help sell your bandmates on it being the place to make the album?
RC: Well, I had recorded with [fiddler] Casey Driessen and y’all’s local guy, Aaron “Woody” Wood. The quality there is just incredible and I just told them about it and had them look it up online — they have an online thing where you can do the tour — and I wanted us to record in the church. We could all be in there as a live band, in a room recording live, and that’s how we cut that record — 90% of it.
EA: I read that it was the first time the whole band had been involved in making a Steel Woods album that way. Why hadn’t you done that before?
RC: Well, when it first started, it just me and [vocalist/guitarist] Wes [Bayliss], and the first thing we did was record something so that we could go hand it out. We had a little three-song EP that we handed out at all the construction sites here in Nashville to try to get the construction workers to come to shows. You know, 10 people here in town. 15 people. And that grew to, like, those guys would bring friends and there’d be 60 people. So we had a three-song EP that turned into a seven-song EP, and then those seven songs, we went and recorded five more after being out on the road for a while with our drummer Jay Tooke. That became our first album, Straw in the Wind. Right after that, we picked up my buddy Johnny Stanton, an old friend to come out and play bass with us. And we’ve just been touring ever since. This is our first time to get back in the studio as a band.
EA: What do you feel that full-band approach added that maybe was missing from previous recordings?
RC: Well, especially on songs like “Southern Accent,” that thing’s very much live. You’re hearing the band as pure as possible. That’s a rundown of us live in the studio. Even the video, the filming — the video where you see Wes singing those parts, him singing right there is exactly the parts that we tracked.
EA: I think you’ve got a nice blend of originals and covers on the album, and I especially like how you close things out with tributes to recently departed legends with the album’s last four songs [Tom Petty (“Southern Accent”), Merle Haggard (“Are The Good Times Really Over”), Gregg Allman (“Whipping Post”) and Wayne Mills (“One of These Days”]. What kind of impact has each of those artists made on you?
RC: Well, the concept of this record was to be like a newspaper, an old newspaper, and those last four songs we consider the obituaries. Three of them happened to pass during the time of us writing: Gregg Allman, Tom Petty and Merle Haggard — all three humongous heroes to us. Guys that we spent our lifetime looking up to and learning their music. And Wayne Mills was a dear friend of mine. He was murdered — he was taken from us early. And I’m very close with his family. In fact, his son is in my thank yous — Jack Mills. So us cutting that song was my tribute to him. Along with being a buddy, he was a honky tonk troubadour hero of mine.
EA: I’m not familiar with his catalogue, but with the other three, you obviously have a ton of options to choose from. How did you settle on those particular songs to pay tribute to them?
RC: It’s sort of thematic. They’re songs we’d played before. We’d been playing “Whipping Post” out live, just because we love Gregg Allman. We were actually playing a show the night he passed and played it as a tribute to him. “Southern Accents” is always just a…you know, we’re a Southern rock band and it’s my favorite Tom Petty song, so that’s how that came about. And there’s two songs on our album that have the words “red, white, and blue” in the lyrics, so it was an easy pick for that Merle song. It talks about the flag in that, too. And it was one that me and “Cowboy” Eddie Long had played many, many times together. He’s Jamey Johnson’s [pedal] steel player. I actually played in Jamey Johnson’s band for 10 years. And it’s something, the way we play on that, was something I always wanted to record.
EA: And for the vinyl release, is it those four songs on the final side?
RC: Yep, the last four songs. It says “R.I.P.” on that side.
EA: Nice! And, of course, those aren’t the only covers. I know you’ve covered [Black] Sabbath before, but how did you land on Townes van Zandt?
RC: Well, I think Townes van Zandt is one of the greatest songwriters ever. He wrote some of my favorite songs, and if you’re writing songs Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson are covering, you’re quite a songwriter. [Laughs] So, I thought we couldn’t go wrong — songwriting is important to me, and he’s one of my songwriting heroes. We thought we’d take one of his songs and pair it up with, like, “What if we were Albert King’s band? What would Albert King maybe try do with that?” And that’s how we came up with that. And “Changes” is a song that very much fit what we’ve all been going through, personally and as a band, as individuals. And we had a Sabbath song on our last record, so it’s like, “Hey, we haven’t changed that much.” [Laughs] You know? And also, Charles Bradley — I’m a big Charles Bradly fan and he had done a version of that song. We kind of did our version sort of as a tribute to him, based around his version but also a nod back to our last record.
EA: That one’s by far my favorite of the covers. I think y’all did a terrific job with that one.
RC: Oh, cool bro! Thank you.
EA: So, lastly, I’ve got kind of a goofy question, but hopefully a fun one. Exactly one week before you guys play The Grey Eagle, there’s another band playing called The Steel Wheels. Have you had any overlap with them in any way?
RC: No, not so far. [Laughs] Not yet, but I bet there will be. We got our name because we partnered with a guy, Derek Stanley, my business partner. He left a steel company to come and to help us do this music that me and Wes were writing literally out in the woods. It’s also the fabric of America. It’s kind of what our music is, too. And it’s also what our instruments are made out of. We wanted it to be very much based around musicianship.
EA: Well, nobody who takes a listen to you and The Steel Wheels is going to mistake one for the other, but I just thought it might be cool if, down the line, you two cut a collaborative album or went on tour together.
RC: Yeah, right? [Laughs] The Wheels and Woods Tour. [Laughs]
EA: Yeah, man! Well, thanks for your time. It’s always fun talking to another Asheville guy.
RC: Yeah, yeah! Man, I like Brevard. I grew up going to Looking Glass Falls. I grew up going out to Sliding Rock before it was, like, a line. You know? There wasn’t a line. Sliding Rock was the jam.
IF YOU GO
Who: The Steel Woods with Josh Card
When: Saturday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m.
Where: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave. thegreyeagle.com
Tickets: $15 advance/$18 day of show
(Photo by Alyssa Gafkjen)