New Country Rehab has been described as having a modern, high voltage alt-country sound. Yet the band is able to reinvent older, more traditional tunes and give them the exact right kind of edge that makes the songs sparkle and be heard in a brand new way. Their music is as infectious as it is profoundly rich with nods to the old and to the new. I started to hear good things about New Country Rehab over the past year or so and when one of my favorite musicians of the recent past, Anthony da Costa, joined the band recently that sealed the deal for me and prompted me to do this Q and A.
The Toronto-based band currently consists of John Showman, lead vocalist and extraordinary fiddler; Ben Whitley on double bass; Anthony da Costa on guitar and vocals; and Roman Tome on drums and backing vocals. They’re touring heavily behind the release of their latest CD, Ghosts of Your Charms.
To learn a lot more about the band, visit their website.
You will get a real feel for the band by watching their recent appearance on Music City Roots–doing an amazingly creative version of the Hank Williams tune, “Too Many Parties And Too Many Pals.”
For some killer fiddle music and dynamic playing, here’s one of my favorite tunes “Luxury Motel.”
It’s pretty heady to have press that compares you to Canada’s version of Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers. Do you feel like New Country Rehab has anything in common with those two bands like the critic from Uncut did?
It’s flattering to be compared to two of the standard-bearers for the folk/roots pop revival, and we love their music! I actually feel as though we are quite different from both groups. The focus of our music is on classic folk and country music themes and ballads, songs about loss, crime, the law, tough choices and, of course, love songs! But the subject matter tends to be darker than that of those two bands, much more like the songs that have gained notoriety from sources such as Hank Williams, Doc Watson, Woody Guthrie and Lomax’s huge collection, to name a few blueprints. The musical choices we make are also taken from a much different palette, with more emphasis on the actual instruments and the voices that these instruments lend to the music. We try to make our sound varied and versatile, and we all have a lot of experience and knowledge as instrumentalists to draw from. We vary the grooves and rhythms as much as taste allows to give the songs very different feels, and in so doing, sometimes stray pretty far from the usual, acoustic guitar-driven feel of lots of folk-pop. In this sense we are more akin to the Avett Brothers than Mumford and Sons, but still pretty far apart in terms of actual sound.
You’ve got two releases available: the self-titled New Country Rehab and the brand new Ghost of Your Charms. How would you compare the two records?
The two albums are something of a natural progression – the first really captures the spirit of the band’s genesis, rooted in folk songs and old country songs (it features three Hank Williams Sr. reworkings) with a modern edge (as evidenced by the retake of Springsteen’s “State Trooper) and a few originals to boot (we wrote five songs for the record). The second album really focuses more on our own songs, with 9 of the 11 tracks being originals. The second album is more fleshed-out, in part because we had more time and money to spend on it but also because we focused our sound a lot more.
Tell us about the name of the band. It seems like it could be interpreted on a couple of different levels.
The name just came to me as I was in the process of starting the band and choosing the first batch of material. It seemed to me that we were reclaiming and refurbishing old country songs, dusting them off and making them shine again, while keeping the message and the timeless appeal of the lyrics and songs the same. It’s also a stab at New Country, of course, as the name implies…it’s also a play on the words “New Country,” which have a strong and often negative connotation for lots of people. Throwing the word “Rehab” in really seems to make the name stand out.
Do you have any musical heroes? You’ve covered Hank Williams Sr. and Bruce Springsteen–two very different kinds of artists—but I see the attraction. Can we assume these two gentlemen are on your list of favorites? Anyone else who you feel whose songwriting or performing style has influenced you greatly?
As a band, we listen to so much music that our heroes are really a diverse group: to name a few that come up time and again, we have John Hartford, Clarence Ashley, John Prine, Bill Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Ribot, David Bowie, Jonathan Byrd, Kurt Cobain, G’N’R, Nick Cave, The Refused, Chuck D, Ali Farka Touré, etc. Some of our contemporaries and friends of ours whose music we really dig are Sam Baker, Jonathan Byrd, Deep Dark Woods, The Sadies, I Draw Slow, Caleb Klauder and Pokey Lafarge.
You’ve recently had a departure from the group — James Robertson left to pursue some other musical venture — but you’ve gained Anthony da Costa. I’ve been an Anthony fan for years. You’ve just completed with your first tour with him. How is that working out?
James is a ferocious guitar player and was a key person in defining the sound we had — he and I worked on developing the grooves, hooks and arrangements for a lot of the music that we play. Anthony is a different kind of player but equally impactful. He has learned to replace and replicate James’ parts while making them his own, so the change in our sound feels organic and hasn’t thrown any of our fans off. Anthony’s experience has been focused on songwriting as a lyricist and cowriter, so he has a lot of writing experience behind him and we are currently working on a new batch of original songs and reworkings of some classic tunes by others. The future is in good hands with him on board!
What’s the longest road trip you’ve been on? How do you keep your spirits up after all those long hours being cooped in a car?
The thing that makes a road trip fun is the same thing that makes an individual show fun: the energy in the music. When you play for a good audience and can feel the love they feel and share for the music you play, it sure makes the time fly by. Our longest trips to date have been around 4 weeks. None of those has yet felt too long, so hopefully we can continue to tour, keep our wits about us and keep delivering fun and heartfelt music for fans new and old alike!
What’s next for New Country Rehab?
We are going to keep writing, playing and touring and make new fans. We really want to start playing in the US as much as possible, because we feel that our music has a real home there and there are so many great opportunities to play, as well as so many great American bands that we admire and want to tour with.