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Shooting the Breeze: Q&A with Steve Bowling

We had the opportunity to get the inside scoop on the Red Idle Rejects and their upcoming release with the label, Ink and Nicotine. In the hot seat, was group front-man Steve Bowling. He’s shown us where the lonely reside, but what goes on in the mind of the lonely? As Oak Honest’s resident representatives of alt. country, we wanted to get down to their roots, song inspiration, and plans for the future.

Where did the name Red Idle Rejects come from?
SB: When the first band I worked in was formed, it came about the way a lot of bands are formed, which is that several people who admired each other musically got together to see if it would make sense to form a band. In this case, the people who got together were me, Russ Waters, and Mark Walriven. I had seen Mark and Russ play as a duo on the same night that my duo partner and I were playing, at the same venue. I thought they were great performers, and I decided that night it would be great to form a full band with them.

Russ and Mark were a singer/songwriter duo, and I was a singer/songwriter, so we were overloaded with singers, but we got together anyway, to see what would happen. When you get together in a setting like that, you start playing your tunes for the other guys, and they do the same thing, to see if there is any musical chemistry happening, which is a harrowing process. You are exposing yourself
creatively to others who are going to be naturally critical because a decision has to be made, based on the music being played, whether it would make sense to form a band. This is a tough audience, so to speak. Anyway, we played our tunes for each other, one after another, and all went well until I played a country weeper I had recently written entitled Where the Lonely Reside.

As I dramatically struck the last chord of the tune, Russ called out, “Whew, thank God that’s over!” Not the reception I was hoping for! Anyway, that comment notwithstanding, we formed a band, and Russ came up with the name for it, Red Idle, referring to a tachometer on a vehicle that is idling too fast. Red Idle had a successful ten-year run, and then I left to form an alt-country band. I guess that comment from Russ had always stuck in my craw a bit because I decided to call the new band The Red Idle Rejects, and the first album’s title tune was Where the Lonely Reside.

How has your Appalachian background shaped your writing?
SB: It has provided me with an unending supply of song ideas and topics, in addition to instilling in me a feel for the “hillbilly” sound in music. I feel privileged to have been raised in a unique sub- culture in America, the Kentucky mountaineer culture, before the highways and television and the internet have combined to dilute some of the more colorful aspects of that culture. In my
family background, there is a rich panorama of interesting people, unique language, and familial episodes that provide great fodder for song-writing topics.

What makes a good song?
SB: I think the most important thing in a song is that it must have something in it that creates an emotional connection with the listener. I heard a definition I really like for music, which is that it is the melodic expression of emotion. If that is the case, then a good song has to emotionally connect with the listener, either through an interesting musical hook, a catchy tune, or lyrics that hit home. Personally, I believe the most important element of those noted is that a good
tune must be catchy. The listener must want to tap a foot or sing along with the tune.

What is your earliest musical memory?
SB: I remember sitting in front of an old black and white television in the home of my maternal grandparents in Clay County, Kentucky—way back in the hills—staring at a snowy picture, as my Uncle Kenneth performed with a country band in a charity telethon. He played bass guitar in the group, so he was in the back, but I—along with my brother and sister and about six or seven other cousins—got quite a thrill out of watching him on TV. We also got quite a laugh out of the egomaniacal front-man for the group, who, as I remember, was dressed in a sequined outfit and cowboy hat and was very good at playing to the camera.

Who are your country heroes?
SB: I’m going to include some groups in here that may not be straight country. I always thought the world of Glen Campbell, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Roy Clark, and George Jones as country musicians, but I also am a huge fan of the Allman Brothers, The Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Junior Brown, and Bob Dylan—all of whom I believe have huge country elements in their music. I listened to rock music growing up and came to country music later, so some of my old country
favorites are Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins, who may be considered more rock musicians than country.

Being at alt-country outfit, do you have influences that come from outside of country?
SB: I think I’ve been influenced musically by Bob Dylan, John Hiatt, Johnny Cash, and Chuck Berry, so there is a mix of country, rock, folk, and indie music in there. I’m also a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, old AC DC, ZZ Top, and the Rolling Stones.

What can listeners expect from your upcoming album, Ink and Nicotine?
SB: Listeners will hear lyrically dense tunes with an alt-country/Americana feel. We’ll have a little less fiddle and a little more guitar than the past albums, and also the guitar work has been laid down by several guitarists as opposed to one guitarist, as on prior albums, which makes for interesting listening. These developments were not necessarily by design but more because of the practicalities of recording a new album during Covid. The other major difference on this album, which has led to some interesting musical developments, is that we recorded this one in three separate studios, as opposed to doing all the work in one studio with one engineer. Again, this was not by design but more a function of the logistics of recording during a pandemic.

The result, in my opinion, is musically interesting. There are subtle differences between the vocal qualities of the singers from studio to studio, as well as subtle differences in instrumental tone, all of which I think makes for a top-notch musical listening experience. The other unusual aspect of this album is that we have recorded a trilogy of tunes that focus on the opioid epidemic afflicting much of Appalachia and beyond. My focus is on Appalachia because that is what I know, but it is a subject that has broad relevance, unfortunately, to a great deal of America. This trilogy of tunes is where the title of the album—Ink and Nicotine- comes from.

There you have it. Straight from the man, himself! Keep a look out for the Red Idle Rejects and their next album Ink and Nicotine in 2021!

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