Aly Tadros and Jus Post Bellum Interview, Part 2

This is part 2 of the interview with singer-songwriter Aly Tadros and Jus Post Bellum (Hannah Jensen and Geoffrey Wilson). I posted the first part a while back, but transcribing my audio files takes an incredibly long time. If you don’t just sit down and get it done.

Aly Tadros and Jus Post Bellum kicked off a tour of the Midwest with a stop on May 22 at Ghostlight Coffee in Dayton, Ohio. It was Aly’s return to Ghostlight, and we had met at that first show on March 10, 2013. After the May show, we walked down to South Park Tavern and finished this interview on their patio:

Jus Post Bellum at Ghostlight Coffee

Jus Post Bellum at Ghostlight Coffee

jhunterj: So why the Civil War thing?

Hannah Jensen: You can ask the man behind the chicken wings.

Geoffrey Wilson: It fit my songwriting aesthetic. I studied American history in college, and music, and the two made for a good marriage. I wanted to sing about things that were authentic, but I didn’t feel like my voice was really about singing about things that were current. Things that were couched in the past felt more natural.

JHJ: You feel like you have an 1800s voice.

GW: Yeah, I feel like I’m on the level of Abraham Lincoln.

HJ: If Abraham Lincoln were a singer!

GW: Maybe he played guitar.

JHJ: So set some of the speeches to music…

GW: Sometimes I write about specific historical events or people…

JHJ: Well, there was the song about the mine disaster, and the only other mine disaster song I know is “Dark As a Dungeon?. [Actually, the song I was trying to think of was “West Virginia Mine Disaster?, which is performed by Jean Ritchie on my copy of The Appalachians soundtrack, but it wasn’t on the tracklist when I looked it up online, apparently having been replaced by “Which Side Are You On?? by Pete Seeger.]

HJ: Who’s that by?

JHJ: It’s been done a couple of times, Johnny Cash did it, it’s on The Appalachians soundtrack.

GW: Yeah, that’s my attempt to move forward from the Civil War, because that’s around 1907.

JHJ: Completely different century, you’re out of your element. So modern.

GW: I don’t have a modern voice. I want to get to the Civil Right era, that’s my vision.

JHJ: [Back to Aly] I know your dad’s Egyptian. Is your mom a Texas Texan? She was born in Texas, grew up in Texas?

Aly Tadros: Yeah! She was born in Texas in Laredo, but she was brought up in Mexico. She’s of Irish descent, mostly, she’s blonde, freckles, 5′ 3?, looks nothing like me or my dad. But Spanish was her first language. When she speaks Spanish, you have no idea. Both of her parents were Irish attorneys, and they decided to move to Mexico because the living was good.

JHJ: So her parents are Irish?

AT: No, they were also born in the States. I’m a fifth-generation Laredoan. They came down with the railroads there in the 1800s or something.

JHJ: So what’s the difference between a tour day and a non-tour day? How business-like is it when you’re not on tour? Are you clocking in, working an eight-hour day on your singer-songwriting?

AT: It’s usually a combination. On a good day, I’m writing early in the morning, for the first couple of hours. And then, in the City, my schedule’s pretty filled with computer time: promoting a tour, answering reviews, or just planning. I do all of my own graphic design, all my own posters, printing the posters, fixing the posters, mailing the posters…

Aly Tadros poster

Aly Tadros poster

JHJ: All of the posters, they have a “look?, so that’s your look then. I assume that you have someone else taking the shots, but…

AT: I’ve been putting them together. I had a graphic designer do the album, and then started basing the branding on that.

JHJ: So there’s a thematic “fit? to everything.

AT: Yeah.

JHJ: OK. Again, I just assumed somebody else does that because I assume the same thing everybody else does: “Oh, you’re a musician, therefore your label handles all the PR.? But then I watched you on the stage and you’re plugging all your equipment in and stuff, and now I’m thinking, “Yeah, she’s probably wearing all these hats, and I’m just assuming there’s this big industry behind you, and it’s really just you.?

AT: Yeah, when you’re an independent musician, typically you’re the one who has your interests at heart, so even if you have a team, even if you have a manager, ideally this is a manager’s job, but if you have an agent, you have a publicist, you have an intern, and you have all these people working under you, you still have to manage them and follow up. Make sure that the video’s getting done. You have to edit the video and tell them what you don’t like. Go through photos. Follow up on the tour dates. Get all the information and the itinerary. Run your band, pay your band. It’s a lot of work, but it all leads to getting to do what we do on stage. It’s worth it. For me at least. … And I’m a control freak. So there’s that too. Learning how to run your business is one thing, and learning how to delegate once you’re learned it all, and let go, that’s a whole other thing.

JHJ: I’m sure there are plenty of people with musical talent who don’t have that control-freak thing, who are just not going to be able to get past the… whatever it is that you start at: deciding to be full-time in Austin, and then not getting any luck and chucking it all and going back to doing whatever it was you were doing before.

AT: Yeah, there are those people either continually work on their craft and they get so good that other people have to notice, and then other people start running their business. There are these magical stories where it works out really well and they get a great team. And then some where they don’t.

HJ: Yeah, it is sad to think of how many really, really talented musicians don’t get their recognition simply because they’re not that good at doing the other stuff. I know a handful of them who are that “Oh my gosh, if the world heard you!? But there is also a beauty in them being this precious little gem that you have to find.

JHJ: Someone else said “My fear isn’t that we don’t have enough Einsteins, my fear is that we have them and they’re working in a sweatshop in Cambodia.? [paraphrasing from Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works] Because they don’t have that opportunity, they don’t have that recognition. They’re not in a position to capitalize on it, or they don’t have the personality to capitalize on it.

HJ: That’s really true.

[About here everyone finishes eating, and I relate the story of another Hunter Johnson doing some pioneering work in the world of fecal transplants. After that segue…]

JHJ: So what else? … Ah, I love this question. What should interviewers ask musicians? I read a lot of interviews, right, because I was doing that, and some of it seemed repetitive, even to me, not knowing anything, and I’m sure from your end it seems even more repetitive. “Oh yeah, let me tell you about my finger-plucking technique, and that time that I went to Mexico to get the viheula.? So, what should they ask instead? What question are you prepped for that nobody’s asked?

AT: I don’t know that I’ve prepped for something that nobody’s ever asked. Questions that have nothing to do with music, maybe? I don’t know if that would interest people. I know what I want to read. The shit that nobody talks about, which is probably the point. Things other musicians or other artists could relate to. I remember Bob Dylan was once asked if he thought about quitting music, and he said every single day of his life. When I read other songwriters’ interviews, I always want to know about all the songs that didn’t get published. And all the shows that sucked. And everything they had to overcome to get to that point. Not just “this is my magical story and this is where I am now?. Like the grit, the grime, and the hard stuff.

JHJ: My favorite Dylan anecdote [also from Imagine] is where he was retiring, he had had enough of it, and he went off into the woods to do whatever and then because he’s not surrounded by all these idiot interviewers and the industry, he starts churning out the songs again, that’s where Highway 61 Revisited, I think that’s the album that came out of that. And then he was able to write again. [To Geoffrey] Same question, what should people be asking musicians?

GW: I think the magazine format where they ask them like five kind of random questions is interesting. But I think musicians especially are averse to being asked questions that are written in stone. We’re creative people, so if you ask us one thing one day, the next day might be a different answer, and there’s this feeling that you always have to have your answer ready because that’s what’s going to be printed and you can never change your mind.

JHJ: And the Internet means never having to say “I don’t remember.?

GW: I like the “What are you listening to??, because I want to hear what other musicians like.

JHJ: [To Hannah] Same thing: question that musicians should be asked.

HJ: In our band I am not the songwriter, but to me one of the most important aspects of the music is the concept and the specific stories. I feel people with kind of touch on it, barely, but they don’t want to delve into it quite so much sometimes. And I think that’s important. At least for us, that’s something that makes us different. I don’t know. … [laughing] I don’t particularly like being asked any questions!

JHJ: So back to the songs, one of the questions I had written down: “Do you do karaoke? What do you sing of other peoples’ if you’re just out not doing a show??

AT: TLC.

HJ: Yes! [laughs]

AT: Hands down.

GW: My favorite one is the Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey duet [“One Sweet Day?].

HJ: [laughing harder] Yes, we have to do that at some point!

AT: I’m so down.

HJ: I feel like, as someone who sings, though, doing karaoke is a really awkward situation. The whole point of karaoke, that makes it fun, is that people who don’t sing get up and sing something, and it’s supposed to be kind of funny. But if you get up there and you can sing, people hate you, because they think you’re showing off, or if you try but it’s not actually as good as, say, Mariah Carey or whoever else, well that’s embarrassing. I usually just try to find the funniest song that is as far from what I generally sing. That or we do some rap songs. The majority of the time I do karaoke is with my sister.

JHJ: So you do do karaoke!

HJ: Not with any frequency. She lives in Minnesota and I live in New York. In general I avoid it. It’s not something you seek out. It’s something if you find yourself in a situation where everyone’s saying “C’mon!? and they put your name in the bucket. And then “Dammit! I have to now!?

GW: I feel like a lot more people can sing than you realize until you go to karaoke and you realize all your friends can kind of sing. You know, to varying degrees, they can at least carry a tune and they know the words. I don’t know the words to any songs; that’s the worst thing about karaoke.

JHJ: The songs that I think sound good when I’m singing along in the car with the radio don’t sound as good in karaoke. In karaoke I’m thinking “Oh, I suck! This is horrible. Sorry guys, I gotta finish this song. Hang on.? But that’s the other thing about karaoke:if I get up and I suck, well, OK, whatever, “Good thing you’re not paying for this show, you’re just buying drinks, so shut up and put your name in the bucket.?

HJ: I think I’m way more nervous than these two about it. It would be stressing me out.

JHJ: Alright… I don’t have any more questions written down. I think I covered everything I’m going to put into the thing. Thanks [to Jus Post Bellum] for joining in!

—jhunterj

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