The Reverend Peyton always had an appetite for nostalgia – everything from the traditional country blues that influenced his guitar picking, to the vintage 1950’s outfits he and his wife Breezy wear on stage. Those touches complement their rowdy rockabilly and southern roots sound, so the Rev decided to take it all the way on his new album. He recorded it using the best technology available in the 1950’s. That meant analog. If you don’t know what that means, go ask your grandfather or any recording engineer worth their weight in two inch tape.
Rev Peyton has confidence in the Big Damn Band’s live shows, so it was important to him that he captured that same energy and sound in their latest album Dance Songs For Hard Times. The process of recording everything analog meant each track was recorded in one take from beginning to end – no splicing and no layering.
“What makes me so proud is, when you do that, play it live [to an 8 track], that’s what it sounds like when we play it on stage,” the Rev tells BandWagon.
The “big band” are just a trio: the Reverend on guitar, Breezy on the washboard, and Max Senteney playing drums. They don’t have a bass player. The Rev plays both in a technique he picked up from the country blues musician Robert Belfour, who keeps a steady beat over the low guitar strings (usually with his thumb), while using his other fingers to play more melodic or different groove figures. The Rev has put his own twist on the style by adding licks or strumming stylings that match that of Chuck Berry.
On stage they are as rowdy as can be and make a lot of noise for a three piece, but translating that energy can be tricky in the studio. The trio partnered up with Nashville’s Vance Powell, who has worked with Phish, Chris Stapleton and Jack White and could deliver a completely analog record for them, translating that big damn sound they bring to the stage.
“There’s a reason people like tube amps. Even when you go to a digital studio, they still use them. Analog tapes still sound better – they sound beautiful,” says Peyton.
Playing live and seamless was not the stressful part of the process, for it only took the Big Damn Band two to four takes to nail each track. The scary part was the lack of preparation when walking into the studio.
The trio was used to a full month of daily rehearsals leading up to a session, but quarantining made that difficult, especially because the Rev and Breezy both contracted the virus at the beginning of March while they were out on tour. This put a massive toll on their general well being in the short and long. Breezy faced harsh fevers and was admitted to the hospital, suffering scarring on her lungs, while the Rev suffered vertigo and tinnitus. And as if that weren’t enough, all the while his father was battling cancer.
“It was an upending of our entire life,” Peyton says. “I was even afraid to go to the grocery store.”
Still, they wanted to record an album – even through four days in their house without power. Undeterred, the Rev sat by candle light and let the music pour out. Keeping their distance, they rehearsed synchronized via voice memos, sending recordings back and forth between the three of them. They walked into the studio the most unprepared they had ever been for an album recording, having had only two full rehearsals as opposed to an entire month’s worth. But the lack of rehearsing also meant there was less of a script the Rev felt he needed to follow. They allowed themselves to “wing it” where they normally would play it safe, especially for recording on an 8-track.
“Everything was still very fresh as a result. It wasn’t hashed out, so we took chances, and we had a lot of room to wiggle around,” says the Rev.
So when Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band hits the stage with Dance Songs for Hard Times, they have confidence their fans will have that same live experience blasting the album in their cars or bluetooth speakers.
“A band like us is going to sound better doing it live,” Peyton said of their both shows and new album. “We want to retain as much of that humanity as we can.”