In years past, Josh Peyton and the studio have never been best buddies.
Sure, the man who leads the rootsy rock trio the Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band had made albums – five full-lengths and two EPs, in fact. But the studio never felt like home.
“I don’t want to say I dreaded it so much; I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that,” Peyton said in an early July phone interview. “(But) I’m nervous in the studio, just like ‘Oh man, we’ve got to get this right.’ It’s just kind of a nerve-wracking experience.”
But doing his forthcoming sixth CD, “Between the Ditches” (release date: Aug. 7) has Peyton singing a very different tune about the album-making experience.
“I said to Breezy (Peyton’s wife and washboard player in the Big Damn Band), ‘If making a record is going to be this fun, I think I want to make more records,’” Peyton recalled. “I’ve never really felt that way before. I’ve always, in a way, records were a love-hate thing. I’ve always enjoyed having a recorded product, new songs on a record, but I never really loved the process.”
So what changed? In a sense, Peyton finally allowed himself to make an actual album, rather than just a mere recording.
As he explained, on earlier albums, the band just set up as it would live and played the song straight through. That would be it, the finished take.
And on his previous CD, “Peyton on Patton,” things were even simpler.
Featuring Peyton’s versions of songs by blues pioneer Charlie Patton, that album was recorded with one guitar and one microphone over just four hours on a Sunday.
“In a lot of ways, our records have almost been like field recordings,” Peyton said. “‘Peyton on Patton’ is an extreme example. But even our previous records, they’ve kind of in a way been like field recordings in a lot of ways. This one’s not. This one is more than just a recording. It’s a record.”
But Peyton didn’t go crazy in the studio this time. In fact, he said that aside from adding a mandolin on one song and some harmonica parts, no overdubs were added and each song still features just one guitar, washboard and percussion.
What was different this time was that the group changed up instruments for each song to get just the right sound.
“Like the snare drum, I was like if it isn’t what I’m looking for, let’s keep doing it until we get this sound exactly right,” Peyton said.
And if a song wasn’t coming together, rather than ditching it entirely, the group took whatever time was needed to figure out how to make the song work.
Peyton certainly had enough studio experience before “Between the Ditches” to be ready to take such liberties in making an album.
Now 31, he formed the group with Breezy and his younger brother, Jayme, around 2003. The group released two CDs and two EPs before signing with SideOne Dummy Records. That indie label has released the 2008 CD, “The Whole Fam Damnily,” 2010’s “The Wages,” “Peyton on Patton” and now “Between The Ditches.” Along the way, Jayme Patton retired from the group in 2009, with Persinger taking over.
Those albums have garnered the group an enthusiastic – albeit a much smaller than arena-filling – audience. While rooted in country blues, the Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band has always added a jolt of energy – be it with electric guitar or a big or fast beat – that has made its seemingly old-time music appealing to an alt-rock-friendly crowd.
The music on “Between the Ditches” fits well with the previous albums, as the band unreels some snaky blues on “Devils Look Like Angels,” stomps its way through “Something for Nothing” and ”The Money Goes,” and rocks things up on “Big Blue Chevy ’72.” A few songs are slower (“Move Along Mister”) or have an acoustic sound (“Brown County Bound”), but the new CD has no shortage of energy and verve.
What’s ironic about having taken a more meticulous approach to recording on “Between the Ditches” is that Peyton thinks this CD comes closer than any other Big Damn Band album to capturing the sound and spirit of the group’s live shows.
“In the past, some of our records, I think, have been a little bit too, I don’t know, a little bit too beholden to like some era kind of thing,” he said. “I think our records never were quite as rock ’n’ roll as we were live. That was something that for me personally was the goal.
“One of the things I wanted to do was, it’s like look, this is a guitar record as much as anything. This is a rock ’n’ roll record as much as it is a roots record,” Peyton said. “I want that to come across, the way it does live. The fans that have seen us live, they get that. They understand where we’re coming from. But I think our recordings, in a way, have not quite reflected that as much as I’ve wanted them to.”