DEEP CUT - Know Your Past to See Your Future

©Tyler Shortt

©Tyler Shortt

A RENAISSANCE MAN IN EVERY FASHION, Justin Hoard, AKA Deep Cut, has presented a sound and aesthetic so strong and in such a short span of time, you would imagine he has every move planned out to the most minute detail. He insists, however, he is a “day by day type” and doesn’t “put too much weight in plans.” If you’re any kind of socialite or show-goer in the East TN region, you’ve no doubt run into Hoard in one incarnation or another. In addition to playing drums for a rock&roll trio (Loose Leaves) and two soul-blues outfits (Jake Quillin, Magus & The Movers), he is an accomplished DJ and one half of the electric hip-hop duo The Force Field, in which he shares the stage with his brother Drew.

I was lucky to corner such a busy guy for an email exchange, in which I got to know a man I feel I’ve known for quite some time, as we reminisced about both growing up as skaters, playing talent shows, analog photography, & listening to all possible genres of music. Hoard was happy to get candid, describing his childhood and what lead him to music, why he uses a stage name (Deep Cut) but doesn’t shroud his identity, and the importance of putting in your time.

Floyd Strange: Justin, thanks for agreeing to do this. I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a bit. Firstly, you’re a man of many talents. DJ, producer, photographer, musician. There’s probably more I’m not even aware of... What would you say your primary medium or form of expression is?

Deep Cut: First of all, thank you! Music is definitely at the forefront, I’ve just played as long as I can remember. I was a “beat on pots and pans” kid and was always fascinated by instruments. Even just looking at them early on it was like “Oh, ok! Let’s see what that’s about!”… My mom’s side of the family was full of players and singers, herself included. She’s a pianist and directed the church choir growing up and still does to this day, so I got a real early look at how music could be arranged and how notes and tones can work together. So music definitely comes the most naturally.

FS: You’re playing with a lot of acts right now. Do you approach all your gigs differently? Or is it more or less the same?

DC: Each one has it’s own special approach I guess, but with that there’s a similar attack. Like with Loose Leaves and Force Field I get to pour in a bit more as far as writing and creative direction, so it’s a little more hands on. Whereas when going and playing with Jake or Magus it’s a much more “show up and play” while they take the reigns. But I go into all of them just thinking “What’s best for the music and how do we execute that?” You know? Still put the personal flair on it. The one that really feels the most different is the Deep Cut stuff, just cause it’s all on me. 

©Andrew Blevins

©Andrew Blevins

FS: I totally understand that. Having been a sideman for awhile then also doing my own thing, there are different levels of time and practice put into it. 

DC: Exactly and i like the sideman gig really. It gives a lot of room to gain perspective and learn in a different way.

FS: I know you listen to all kinds of things but do you come from primarily a hip-hop background?

DC: Yes and no. It’s definitely in there but it was a little later on before I was, like, super into it. The first music I remember that really had me shook was like oldies rock and roll and psychedelic music. There used to be an oldies station that would usually be on in the car when going to pre-school and kindergarten and some of the earliest tunes I remember were like “Wild Thing”, “Pretty Woman”, and that Youngbloods song “Come Together.” That one especially had me like, “Wow, this sound is just insane”… And Nick-At-Nite was on growing up and they played The Monkees show and Sonny & Cher, so I got a glimpse of the 60s stuff and just fell in love with that whole aesthetic and sound. Not long after, that got balanced out by hip-hop and that was mostly due to my older brother Marcus picking us up from school. Our parents aren’t hip-hop fans so it was like an underground treat for a while.

FS: That’s really interesting to hear because I can kind of pick up on that influence in some of The Force Field tunes. It seems like you all want to bring a lot of different styles to the table to make something that’s familiar, but completely new, too..

DC: Dude, yes, that exactly! That’s awesome to hear that it comes through a bit, thank you! That’s definitely a big, if not the main thing, with that whole sound: just something warm and kind of familiar but at the same time fresh and a bit innovative. I was working and came across one of the PHATTEST breaks in this Chet Atkins album and it was really inspiring. I was just like, “Yo! That’s hip-hop!” I don’t know how many of his fans are hip-hop fans but it’s in there. And a bit of it is an idea of preservation too. It’s important what came before doesn’t get lost, you know? Like you have to know your past to see the future type of thing. That’s why I dig sampling so much. Like, I’ve discovered some of the best music just trying to make things and it just reinforces that music really is timeless and that… rhythms and tones have dates on them, sure, but that shouldn’t necessarily be an expiration date either. That seems to be a wide mentality I’ve observed. Even this customer came to the Willow and was bumping like, I don’t know, Trey Songz or some shit, and she was like “Ahh yeah I know it’s old but I like it.” I was thinking like, “Man, fuck age, that doesn’t mean anything! It just shows he made a good song!” 

©Jackson Cox

©Jackson Cox

FS: I totally agree: age doesn’t mean anything. Stuff that came out 40 or 50 years ago is incredible and so is something that came out yesterday. Also, that might be the first time I’ve ever heard Chet Atkins and hip-hop mentioned in the same sentence! Haha. I love the sentiment of “have to know your past to see your future” — I feel like I’m always subconsciously incorporating this into my art. So when did you and your brother start making music together?

DC: We’ve played together in some form or fashion since we were kids. He used to play bass a lot and we jammed in a band in middle school and high school, which also included Trace Hoover, who I play with in Loose Leaves. Our first time on stage was in elementary school: he was in 1st grade and I was in kindergarten. We “played” Ticket to Ride in the talent show. There was a backing track but I think we handled a lot of the actual playing and singing. But he started doing hip hop around 2007/2008 or so and I didn’t start taking beats seriously until a little later. The first time we took the stage as a hip-hop duo was around 2015.

FS: That’s impressive to be so young and doing that. Do you find there’s a lot of crossover with The Force Field and your solo work as Deep Cut?

DC: Nah not exactly. I mean, I’m making beats for both, but with Force Field I see it like giving Drew a canvas and he can go nuts with words and whatever he’s gotta say. At least so far, there will probably be more collaboration in the future. But with the Deep Cut thing, I’m a different kind of meticulous and have these certain ideas and themes I want to get across. Much more self expression of what I have going on and emotions I’m dealing with. It definitely sits on its own and I want it that way. It’s a little selfish, but that’s my baby and I want it completely different than everything else I’m involved in.

FS: Oh, I totally understand that. It's kind of necessary for artists to have an outlet like that, especially if you're involved in so many other groups and work in other creative endeavors. Tell me a bit about Loose Leaves. It's the one project of yours I'm unfamiliar with.

DC: As far as Loose Leaves goes, we’ve been together maybe a little longer than Force Field actually. It’s me and Trace and Jacob, we’ve all known each other a long time. Me and Jacob since Kindergarten and Trace since 6th grade. Trace and I were in two groups before in the past and they both played in a group, Backroof Country, for a few years together and we linked back up around 2014. It’s a really fun group to play with, it’s a three piece rock and roll band which is always a good time. We’re working on a record right now (titled VehicleLP) and are very close to having it wrapped. 

FS: That’s rad. It must be interesting to play with guys you’ve known most of your life. I imagine there’s a kind of unspoken agreement when you work together?

DC: It helps with chemistry for sure. It reeeeeally helps when we don’t get to practice as much. Unspoken agreement, what do you mean by that? 

FS: In a way of like, maybe one of you already knows what the other guy is thinking, or you can just kind of tap into what they’re trying to do? As far as writing or recording goes.

DC: Oh ok, I got you. Yeah that’s definitely there a bit. Sometimes some people go rogue and you gotta catch up, but it always, well usually, irons out. We’re definitely good at getting back on track if nothing else, haha.

FS: So when did you hook up with Jake [Quillin] and Magus [Vaughn]? How has that relationship bloomed?

DC: I can’t remember how Magus and I actually met. I remember seeing him play with the Comet Conductors, and we were starting to play shows, so naturally we ran into each other. The Loose Leaves gang alway hung out at Acoustic Coffeehouse too (RIP). We’d see him there a lot so we got to be buddies. Then when the Comet Conductors broke up, Magus was trying to start a group and reached out to me and initially I was like “I’ll play but I want to play guitar.” Just to switch things up and get away from drums a little, and we had a few practices where that was the format but that lineup just kind of collapsed and he sweet talked me into getting on the skins. Actually, there was a Willow Tree show for the staff or something and they were doing a set of Beatles tunes and asked me to play drums for the set (no brainer) and, simultaneously, got me a job, haha. I was kind of bummed not getting to play guitar because it was fun and really refreshing but then he acquired Daniel Byrd and.... damn, I hear that guy play and I’m like, “I can’t play guitar”, haha. So that’s how that worked out. And Jake and I used to skate together way back when and I knew he played and and vice versa and we were always like “Yo we should jam” and when we finally did, years later, as I recall from that practice the new lineup was born. I have to really say thank you to Trace and Jacob for being so patient with me in taking these other gigs. Thanks fellas.

FS: I wonder if that was when I was playing with them for a short bit. We probably ran into each other and didn’t even know! You seem to be the ideal collaborator for both those guys and have definitely elevated the great music they were already making.

DC: Oh damn, dude, we might have! Haha, life’s a funny thing. But thank you so much man! That’s pretty flattering, those dudes are really solid so it’s cool to hear my contribution is helping.

FS: How did you get into photography?

©Justin Hoard

©Justin Hoard

DC: Mostly through skateboarding. When the skate bug hit it took full control and when I started buying magazines there was always a good mix of action shots and lifestyle shots, and the world of skating is so raw: you just see it all. But the people shooting always seemed to capture the beauty that lies in the raw. So, no holds barred. That just intrigued me: how you could catch a whole story in a photo. I hope it’s still thriving. I know that skate photographers still exist but, not to sound like that dude and everyone has stated this: there’s a camera everywhere now. It was really special [back] then, just like truly waiting for next month’s issue. Hell, even just waiting for the website update! But yeah, before we go down that road, those photographers really brought it home. Atiba Jefferson, Ed Templeton, Joe Brook, Gabe Morford… the list just goes on. 

FS: That’s so wild to hear because throughout this conversation I’m learning what all we have in common. I was a skater too, and grew up reading Transworld magazine and those photos were vital. It seemed like these guys were capturing this whole world I just wanted to be a part of...

DC: Ahhh, that’s what’s up! Man, I can really tell now especially in your style. Skateboarders quietly rule the fashion world. What brands were you into? I liked it all, but Baker really stung me good. And dude, yes! It looks the coolest when done right. In a way, it’s a whole other world of rock and roll! 

FS: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. I gravitated to a lot of the kind of underground stuff, I really loved the art for Zero, Blind, & Toy Machine. I was always drawing in school, trying to design my own decks like those... 

DC: Oh right on! I’m a huge toy machine fan too, their graphics were always on point and their sense of humor is really great. 

©Justin Hoard

©Justin Hoard

FS: It’s interesting to see how these things all fold together to create this look/sound or kind of aesthetic you’re known for now. What’s your overall goal as an artist and what attracts you to try so many different things?

DC: That’s kind of wild to hear. Not that I don’t get comments like that; more people keep telling me my style is very, well, me. Which is amazing! Mainly because I don’t know why they know it’s so me, but apparently it is! Which, I guess, is the answer. I just want it to be as genuine as I can get and share that. And honestly to kind of not have a persona or like, you know, David Bowie, Bob Dylan or whoever, they’re one dude but at the same time, like, 15 different people. Which is really cool and that theatre and the possibility to do that in an art medium is so great and one of the things I love, but at the same time I like the idea of not doing that. Like, I still introduce myself as Justin. I’m Deep Cut when I’m on a stage or for whatever time span you’re hearing my stuff but besides that, I’m just Justin. I don’t care about ranks. I want my stuff to thrive, sure, but I know what i’m getting into with this and I’m aware that there might be an expiration date on it. And the goal is just to really get my ideas out and break down this thought that artists are these mythical “whoevers.” Some of them are or might like to present [themselves] as such, but really we’re just working like the next person over is… And I guess that folds to part B as far as tackling it all. For one, I know it’s possible. Even with playing with so many groups... Go check the personnels on records out there and the years [they were released] and such. Like, how many records has Herbie Hancock played on? Or Willie Weeks or Jim Keltner or Chuck Rainey or Bernard Purdie? How many albums has Ken Scott produced and [what is] the range of artists? All it is is doing it. In the George Harrison documentary he talks about Lennon calling him [saying], “I wrote ‘Instant Karma’ today, we’re going to record it tomorrow, and have it out the next day.” Three days work: what’s three days in the long run, you know? It’s just about putting your time where you want to put it and working with people you know you can work with. Take you’re camera out in the morning while you walk to wherever, shoot the roll out, and bam: that’s done. Oh, I’ve arrived at the studio, let’s do a song, even lay down a portion of it, it’s still bricks to the house, you know? Take your sketchpad with you, doodle in the bathroom, at the bar or in line at the grocery store: why not? Just keeping at it. That, and trying to cut out distractions… To tack onto that, Questlove said he holds like, 12 jobs. One [of those] being a college professor. I can surely muster five, hahaha. He’s a human too, so yeah, it’s possible.

Hoard’s home studio. ©Justin Hoard

Hoard’s home studio. ©Justin Hoard

FS: Man, I agree with all of that so much. It’s so hard to demystify your idols sometimes or to explain to people you just want to create for a living, but it’s like you said, we’re just working like the next guy. And I like the sentiment of the stage name being just that. I have the same thing going on, but I kind of try to inhabit a character, just as way of expressing myself, and I think that mixes people up. I get the Questlove thing, too. I’ve always admired that guy for his commitment, and I think you’re definitely on your way to being that kind of dude with the work you’re doing. What’s next for you, Justin? Where do you see it taking you, or are you cool just right where you are?

DC: Dude it totally works for you! At The Howling (Wolf Hills Brewing), when you hopped up with Indighost, it was in full effect and the Floyd Strange name totally clicked. It was really sick, that Iggy cover was such a good one and vibed it all out. I love the mysticism but I can’t pull it off, haha… Man, I don’t know. I’m definitely enjoying where I am right now. This was the first year my calendar basically filled up before February, which was a major accomplishment in itself in my book. I have certain ideas and plans but I’m a day by day type. I never know what’s going to happen and anything can happen at any time so I don’t like to put too much weight in plans. I just handle what I can and go from there. I always keep some acorns stored away for the winter though if you know what I mean. I feel really good about whatever is going to happen, though it’s way further than I thought, even right now. Like Curtis Mayfield said man... “Keep On Pushing!”

FS: Indeed! No better way to end it than that, man. Thanks so much for talking to me. Great getting to know you. 

DC: Likewise, man. Thank you for thinking of me and all of the encouraging words! Very flattering. Let’s do it in person next time, we’ll go look at some records.

©Justin Hoard

©Justin Hoard

Justin Hoard is a musician, producer, & photographer working in Johnson City, TN. You can follow his multitude of projects @deepnthecut @thetrueforcefield & @eyessow (photography). He is currently hard at work on albums for Loose Leaves and The Force Field, both due out later this year. Check out Hoard at any of the selected upcoming dates listed below:

Loose Leaves @ High Voltage - Kingsport, TN - 7/5

Deep Cut @ The Hideaway - 7/5

Force Field/Jake Quillin @ The Hideaway - Johnson City, TN - 7/12

Jake Quillin @ Border Bash - Bristol, TN - 7/19

Loose Leaves @ O’Mainnans - Bristol, TN - 7/19

Loose Leaves @ Odditorium - Asheville, NC - 7/20

Loose Leaves @ The Willow Tree Summer Slam - 7/21

Jake Quillin @ Highland Brewing - Asheville, NC - 7/26


MAGUS VAUGHN - Play To Your Strengths

credit: Kimberly Boss

credit: Kimberly Boss

WITH A VOICE LIKE AGED HONEY, Magus Vaughn has come into his own as a frontman and songwriter to be reckoned with. Just a few years after disbanding his group, now-local-legends The Comet Conductors, he decided to return to the stage and to the studio with a fresh outlook on life, and songs to bear it. Backed by a crack team of musicians lovingly called “The Movers”, Vaughn started putting in the work and pushing past the fear of the unknown to craft a unique sounds all his own.

While, like a lot of budding musicians, Vaughn played fast punk and metal tunes in his teens, he quickly was drawn to the blues and to the raw emotional expression of songwriting. Picking up where his previous work left off, Vaughn has crafted a thrilling combination of blues, soul, and acoustic-driven music, and relies heavily on strong collaborators to see his vision brought to life. The newest realization of that vision comes in the form of the buzzy single “Hummingbird”, backed with “Nothing Stays the Same”, a blues-dub infected tune. Madscience was joyously offered the task of creating a video for the former, a first for us, which you can view on our homepage now.

I caught up with my pal Magus right before his stellar set at The Willow Tree’s 1st annual TreeFest on 4/20.

Floyd Strange: So tell me about this band you’ve put together.

Magus Vaughn: A lot has been done. I kind of started writing these songs and had it in my head I would do it solo for awhile. Working with Chase [Chafin], then working with Justin [Hoard], it just became kind of easy for us to jam together. So I did some shows without a band name, just using my name, and had a rotating cast… I did a show after an impromptu cancellation and called my boy Daniel Byrd to open up. After our show, he was like ‘Y’all sound great, I’d love to play with you.’

FS: Oh yeah?

MV: It ended up being one of those things where I was, like, his style would fit so well with what we do, lead-wise. So, I pulled him onboard, and then we started jamming my songs… Basically, Dan came up with the name [the Movers]. We already had it in our heads that we could kind of gig immediately, but at the same time we put a lot of work in. Everybody’s got so many projects. This new thing has it’s own different chemistry, and it’s been really fun to mess with.

credit: Jed Baird

credit: Jed Baird

FS: Have you recorded the album?

MV: We’ve recorded a few songs. We’ve been taking it slow with that, because it’s really opened up opportunities to make the songs really groovy and different things. And where everybody has different stuff to do, it’s really dope but it’s also like… you can kind of let it open up more if you hear it and put in a lot of practice. 

FS: Right.

MV: So after going into the album, and practicing now… yeah. In a year we’ve had a lot of growth, as a unit. Daniel Byrd is, like, a monster, and we’ve all been learning a lot from him. But Chase is great too, and Justin’s amazing, playing the kit and singing the way he does.

FS: Are you playing bass or guitar now?

MV: For the Movers, I’m on guitar.

FS: Oh, cool.

MV: I was a guitar player for a long time, in my teens and up into my twenties and didn’t really do much bass besides [playing] Ramones songs with my brother… And then backing up my mother at times. Never really anything extensive. I didn’t really study any great bassists. I was more of a Hendrix guy and blues guitar guy for the most part. And then, you know, metal and some other different influences that kind of seeped in. I like it all…

FS: So is your whole family musical?

MV: When I grew up we were. My brother is, he really grew into a really good singer. He could do a spot-on Joey Ramone when he was, like, sixteen, and play the guitar stuff. That downstroke thing, he really got it down. And I was like ‘Alright, I’ll play the bass, and do backup vocals here and there.’ But that was my first time really trying to do vocals… and I think after going solo, and just really working on the idea yourself, you can really find a lot that you didn’t know was there at times. Or how to channel it. Like, you know something’s there but you don’t always know how to channel it. 

credit: Victoria Kelly

credit: Victoria Kelly

FS: Right.

MV: So it was really a huge deal for me to get away from any kind of noise for awhile and come back to it fresh.

FS: So what inspired moving to do solo stuff after being the sideman for so long?

MV: Well, we had done open mics before but we didn’t understand the branding idea. We always thought we had to be super precise on naming, and you know, you create a mystique around that kind of idea sometimes when you don’t push too hard into… I don’t know. I feel like… you can kind of give it more credit to what it is, getting out there and starting your own brand. Everybody should really be encouraged to have their own sense of self worth and the idea that you can create art. Sometimes people wonder what helps get you into shows and all this, and it’s really creating a brand and growing it. So whenever I got out of being a side guy and not trying to push myself… it’s really cool growth, but it is daunting. You know, there’s growing pains with that. If you’re not afraid to get out there and… for lack of a better word, make mistakes. You can go out that first time and be like ‘Oh my god, I fucking bombed but then that next time your’e like ‘that last time, well, it can’t get any…’ You push it to the next level. Pushing it to the point where it’s not really even thought too hard about. 

FS: Yeah.

MV: Working with great players helps too. You write a lot of songs, you kind of be artsy with it, but when you bring those songs to a band you have to think of [them]. I feel like it always grew the song. With “Hummingbird” there was just different ideas and it…. I don’t really write out my songs. Me and Jake [Quillin] ,forever, we wouldn’t write out our songs. 

FS: You just memorize them?

MV: Basically, yeah. We would just play them until… Which is fine, I mean, we know what we’re doing. But it’s like—

FS: —at some point you want to get it down.

MV: On paper? I mean, that’s fair.

FS: What was the hardest part about going under your own name again?

credit: Kimberly Boss

credit: Kimberly Boss

MV: Maybe… that’s a good question. Getting over the feeling that it’s going to be too hard or whatever. It’s one of those things like… getting outside of your own bubble sometimes. It definitely felt like there were some mental blockages before, and anytime you get around some of these magnificent singers we have around town you’re just like ‘Oh my god, should I even do this?’ you know—

FS: —well you’re kind of growing into that yourself. I’ve never heard you sing like this.

MV: I appreciate that.

FS: I feel like you’ve put a lot of work in and really honed your voice now.

MV: At the same time, I have issues with being in my own head, especially if I can’t hear myself at certain venues right now, being at this level of… there’s still a bit of uncertainty that actually kind of makes me feel good sometimes. Honestly I feel like if I can get better now, then I can get better later too. As long as I keep doing the right work to get there. I had a lot of fun playing and writing with Jake, we wrote a lot of the songs together… But I did let it slip a little bit when we were in the band together as far as playing my own thing. I have a family and do other things. So, I never tried to have my own thing before that. And whenever The Comet Conductors felt like something that couldn’t go on, for what it was, I do think that the only reason is that there was no more growth. And it was beautiful that we all found our own way to branch off into other things. I saw Mike [Lubrano’s] band not too long ago and it was dope. And everything Jake’s done has been really great. I try to learn from him, I try to learn from Dan, and Chase, and Justin. Everybody has something that they do so extremely well.

credit: Victoria Kelly

credit: Victoria Kelly

FS: And now you’re coming back together in a way. It’s got to feel good playing together again.

MV: Yeah. Days like today, when we get to have two sets each and you know we have some others later this year. It’s one of those things where it’s like ‘man…’ You have to—you can’t get caught up in the idea of a project.

FS: Right.

MV: That is the biggest thing about it. Your individual self is worth enough to think of yourself as… just worthy, in a sense. So Daniel Byrd’s Collective is playing right now. And, you know, they’ll back me up on some stuff. And then we’ll be backing up Jake later. So instead of treating people as if you’re tied to a band or you’re tied to this or that, you can really create a community, in a sense. And I would love to spread the love even more at some point. Right now it’s just tight enough. 

FS: I’m curious about where these songs came from. When did you start writing?

MV: Pretty much immediately after breaking up the old band. I had created a mental blockage, just created a lot of weirdness in myself. And the whole calamity of the issue of us not being able to get on [the same] page of musical direction… it was huge for us to have our own outlet. I was writing songs that were going a different way, he was writing songs that were going a different way. At that point, it was like I had freedom, in a way. And I don’t even really think that’s fair, because I think I had freedom before that. So, I was really quick to do something that could have just been—a break. 

FS: Right.

MV: I kind of felt like it was such a breaking point that it had to just be a ‘big bang’ of sorts. I don’t even necessarily know if that’s how it went down. But it felt like that was inevitable. But I wish I could have done it, and kept it up, because we did have a strong following. That was the roughest part: knowing that you helped create an infrastructure for something that is now—you’re entirely cut out. And you’re on your own. And nobody knows you for doing that. And it’s like ‘O.K.’

FS: Yeah. It seems like you’re exploring a lot of that in this new material. It’s really introspective to me. 

MV: Yeah. I think I write a lot of times in a sense that it is a lot about how I feel but at the same time it’s just things that kind of came out with the song. The emotion of the writing. And that is why I end up not writing what I get down, just because it ends up being… what it is every time I play it. Which is normally the same every time. But I can also switch it up and do different things. I don’t feel like, until I record it, I really have to write it down. 

FS: Hmm. 

MV: So I don’t always want to put my things to paper. I just end up… being a Dad. Getting new songs, saying to the guys ‘hey, it’s like this. I’m gonna say this’. [Laughs]. And the guys like being visual, too. That’s one of the things that’s interesting. I never did the thing of looking at charts. But Daniel is so good, that having charts—he likes to be visual with it…

FS: As a songwriter, I really enjoy talking to other songwriters. Especially lately. I’m always curious about where songs come from and how other people write and what their process is. So I’m just curious about yours. How do you think you work and where [your songs] come from?

MV: I definitely try to be positive but I also have that—I kind of identify with the pessimistic [side] but at the same time, encouraging.

FS: Right. 

MV: I don’t know. I always felt myself being…sometimes simplistic, sometimes… I almost always put it together with the band. Even “Hummingbird” had parts cut out once I brought it to a band. Just trying to be kind of orchestral with it, it already has that vibe. 

FS: Yeah it’s definitely kind of an experimental song, in some way. It’s some territory that I’ve never really heard you do before. I was honestly blown away by it. It’s hard to define, really.

MV: I’ve always had to try to play to whatever strengths I could find. Sometimes it was for fun… the music, for me, [it] tends to be really important for it to be expressive, but the more that I’ve gotten into the whole process… the idea of creating songs that are kind of like landscapes?

FS: Hmm. 

MV: Like that song ended up being kind of that thing, just drawing it out.

FS: It really kind of develops. The longer I listened to the song, the more all these things kind of started to come in…

MV: Yeah. It ended up being one of those things [where you say] ‘this is kind of reminiscent of something…’ You get to the last moment when I have that higher note… It felt like it finished out really nicely. I did spend a lot of time writing each part of that. I always thought of it [in] three sections. 

FS: It’s interesting you’re talking about making things sound like landscapes. That was one of the first things that came to mind, I immediately got all these visuals. Which I think is reflected in the video. 

MV: Totally. That’s a song that’s out of my norm, especially for band work. Fingerpicking, you know… I just kind of got it… Lyrically, I appreciate having the lyrics and the music all at the same time. I like to think about the lyrics, but every time I attempt that, it seems like I get things that feel contrived… Sometimes I’ll get flashes of lyrics in my head, like old Comet Conductors songs that ended up being some that people really liked—really were just quick things that come to the top of the head. 

FS: I’m always worried that I’m going to write a line that’s the most obvious, expected line. But sometimes if it’s what comes to mind, you can’t really stop yourself.

credit: Jed Baird

credit: Jed Baird

MV: And for real, there are ways to express yourself with minimal… I don’t know. For instance, I have a song I call “Come Back Baby” and it’s like, one verse that repeats, and a chorus that changes, which goes into a lead… One of those things where you just think—you write these songs for feels you know? You don’t have to be [Bob] Dylan. It’s cool as fuck if you can write [a song like] Dylan [laughs]. But, in this day and age, there’s room for me to feel OK about what I do. And I feel good about doing that. Sometimes just putting yourself out there just feels like… with my own work I’m so self-critical. It’s always been to a fault. I try to use it as a tool. You relax, and just let that fall into place… It’s not bad, it’s got a good vibe. Like—fuck it, play it. [Laughs]. 

FS: I think that’s the best line to end on [laughs]. Thanks for talking to me, man.

MV: Hell yeah, dude. 

FS: Appreciate it.

MV: You’re the man.

FS: You are too. 

Magus Vaughn is a blues and soul singer/songwriter from Kingpsort, TN who currently plays with Jake Quillin as well as his band Magus & The Movers. Their new single “Hummingbird” is available on Spotify, Bandcamp, and iTunes. Follow them on Instagram

49 WINCHESTER: Paying Our Dues

credit: Victoria Kelly

credit: Victoria Kelly

49 WINCHESTER CANNOT BE TIED DOWN. Six years after their inception, the Castlewood, VA quintet are no longer “the new kids on the block”, and have inspired a wave of young bands in their region with their seamless fusion of rock&roll, country, and blues, and with their infallible DIY approach to everything surrounding their music. In our short conversation, I learned more than I ever have about them as people and as musicians; which is odd considering I’ve known the band almost since they began, and even played drums on their self-titled debut album

Talking to the guys in their van right before they took the stage at Barley’s Taproom in Knoxville, TN, we discussed how they came into their own, following the footsteps of local bands they adored. Singer Issac Gibson, the most vocal of the group, enlightened me with musings on the recording and touring process, how they are sticking to their guns and staying on the road, and how they fought back against a period of doubt about the band’s future to create a stunning and true-to-themselves sophomore album with The Wind

They recently re-released the aforementioned debut album due to popular demand, and we took a trip down memory lane recalling the process of making it. As much a family as they are a band, each member (sans Jake Quillin) joined in to tell the tale of how this now phenomenally successful group, who met each other at a local park one random day, are quickly joining the ranks of all their heroes—who they will soon be calling peers. We discuss how they are melding genres to form a sound that sounds more like them than anyone else. Whether they are a country band making soul music, or a soul band making country music, one thing can be assured: they are a fascinating and entertaining live act to watch, and can only soar higher from here. 

Floyd Strange: So how are the shows going, guys? You’re playing a lot right now.

Isaac Gibson: The shows are going great. We’re getting to travel around and spread our music. Get to play for different crowds every night and it’s a lot of fun so far. We’ve got a busy schedule coming up. Lots of new original songs. Everything’s going swell, man.

FS: That’s great. So, I somehow missed this last record when you put it out but I just recently got it. I know that a lot of these songs, or at least some of them, you were working on back in the day—right after the first record, right?

Chase Chafin: Yeah.

FS: I think “Foggy Eye”, “Off the Ground”, maybe a few other things?

Isaac: Yeah.

FS: Was it a conscious decision to start off with those tunes you’d already had, and then fill it out?

Isaac: It was. It wasn’t necessarily a process of filling it out, it was a process of feeling it out, you know what I mean? Those are the songs we sort of established a backbone with for the new record, as far as how we wanted it to sound… We actually finished those songs literally days after finishing the first record. It was kind of heartbreaking that we didn’t get to record them [then]. But we knew that our next go around in the studio [the new songs] would be super tight and super polished.

FS: Right.

Isaac: I think that those songs probably embody the sound of the record than anything else does. That was sort of the keystone for it, you know?

FS: Right, and the album is called “The Wind”?

Isaac: The Wind.

FS: Chase and I were talking earlier about how the songs all kind of flow really well into one another. The sequencing on this record… it feels a lot more thought out.

Isaac: We wanted to make a record that people could pop into their car, or stream on Spotify—however you might listen to it. We wanted to do something [where you could] listen to a whole album, that was cohesive and worked within itself. That was a decision we sat down and made together. How do we want this album to go? What track is going to lead into the next? What’s going to feel right and how are we going to capture what we want to put across with this record?

credit: Victoria Kelly

credit: Victoria Kelly

FS: Was this [current lineup] the lineup on [the record]?

Chase: Other than Noah.

Isaac: This was before we got Noah. 

FS: When did you come in, Noah?

Noah Patrick: Almost a year ago, actually… Maybe 10 months or so.

FS: What do you think about playing with these guys?

Noah: It’s a lot of fun. I grew up with them. They pretty much taught me how to play from the first album. It was the first thing I learned to play by ear. [They] taught me a lot.

Isaac: Noah’s younger than us, you know, he just turned 21, so when I was a senior he was a freshman or whatever… I never knew Noah until after we had [been] playing for a while. I heard him at Chase’s house, we were jamming and [Noah is] there and he starts doing these weird things on a lap-steel, which he had never played before. It’s not even his original instrument—

FS: —Whats your primary instrument?

Noah: Acoustic.

Isaac: He’s a great fingerpicker—

Chase:—banjo player, too.

Isaac: We heard that lap-steel sound and thought if we could dig deep into this it would be a really good addition.

Bus Shelton: And he didn’t practice hardly at all, and then at the next [practice] we were like ‘that sounds great’.

Isaac: He has a bigger knowledge of music theory than most of us so it was kind of a natural progression for him to take off on an instrument that’s in a strange tuning, like a lap-steel is.

Chase: It really adds to the sonic depth of the show, too.

FS: You all talking about growing up together kind of leads into my next question… Strangely enough, as long as I’ve known you guys, I never really knew how it got started. When did it all begin?

Isaac: Chase and I grew up next door to each other. We’ve been like brothers since we were old enough to talk, basically. We grew up on Winchester street, Castlewood, Virginia. My home address was 49 Winchester Street, which is how the band got its name—but that’s for another time [laughs]. You might ask us about it later.

FS: Is that where you started playing together?

Isaac: Yeah, for sure. That was home base. Me and Chase and Bus—

Bus: —Ran into each other. At the park [in] St. Paul. Isaac was playing acoustic and a kazoo, playing [a song by] Pokey LaFarge. We hung out on the stage at the park and jammed until the cops told us to turn it down… [to Chase] Was that the same day?

Chase: It was late, yeah. We stayed until 12:30 or 1?

Bus: We were gonna form like, a metal band.

FS: You played electric? 

Bus: Yeah. Then Isaac broke a string and started playing acoustic and that’s kinda… long story short—

Isaac: —That’s the weird part about it all. We got together and we had totally different skillsets, musically.

Bus: Different backgrounds.

Isaac: Bus was playing in a metal band at one time. Chase and I were always sort of on the same page, but his interests always varied slightly from mine. And I loved old, pre-war ragtime and blues. But we got together, and actually were originally a three piece string band, just two guitars and a banjo—

FS:—when was this?

Chase: Like, 2013. Fall 2013.

Isaac: Yeah.

Chase: And by about January we were recording the album. 

Isaac: Actually when we were recording the album, we didn’t even have a drummer. [to me] You played all the drum tracks on that.

FS: Yeah. I did it.

Bus: Which sounded great, by the way.

FS: Oh, thank you.

credit: Bus Shelton

credit: Bus Shelton

Isaac: And we had just found Dillon, you know. We just found a guy in Castlewood, a town of like 1,500 people or something. It’s so small.

FS: Dillon, how did you find these cats?

Dillon Cridlin: [mimes silently]

[all laugh]

FS: He’s miming something right now that may or may not be appropriate for all audiences.


Dillon: It just kinda… clicked. Yeah.

Isaac: I had known him forever too. Dillon didn’t go to school with us, he was a St. Paul kid. But they’re basically the same thing… I had known him for years and years.

FS: [to Dillon] When did you start playing drums?

Dillon: Maybe like a year before I joined the band?

Isaac: Yeah.

Dillon: They kinda got me… they put the flame under my ass and got me started.

FS: Because I remember those early shows—I think we did one or two together? I played Wise with you guys and…

Bus: Acoustic Coffeehouse.

FS: Yeah. And the whole time you all were like, ‘We’ve got this guy and we think he’s going to be really good.’ Turns out to be Dillon.

Isaac: The cool thing was that we got to go into this whole experience together. None of us had ever played in a band before [seriously], we had never buckled down and made a run at it, as far as music is concerned. We were all on virgin ground when we got into this….That’s why its been so fun being able to now travel the country with these guys, and to have people come up to you after shows and say ‘Man, that was tight. Man, that was killer.’, because it was really a process…

Bus: It was hard, you know? It was hard at the start.

FS: What was hard about it?

Bus: It was just— you know—sort of booking shows [saying to ourselves] ‘Do we have enough material? Is anyone going to like the material?’. We were like baby deer. [laughs]

credit: Jerry Friend

credit: Jerry Friend

Isaac: We were the new kids on the block. We really were. When The Rickshaw Roadshow was together, when This Mountain was together, when Amythyst Kiah was popping up—there were a lot of super super bands in that Tri-Cities scene that we really looked up to. And it’s so cool to see new bands spring up… To me, one of the best parts of the process is to see these new bands spring up that really enjoy our music and look up to us and say ‘That’s super sick, man. I really love what you’re doing.’ because that was the same way we felt about so many bands before us.

Bus: Especially [The] Rickshaw [Roadshow], This Mountain…

FS: I was going to ask, what was the story where you found a CD of the first [Roadshow] record? At some place in Abingdon?

Chase: It was in a cardboard sleeve…

Bus: Oh, we found it on a stage.

Isaac: I think it was at the Bonefire?

Dillon: Yeah that’s it. Bonefire—

Bus: —Bonefire Smokehouse. Abingdon, on Main St.

FS: And not too long after that we became acquainted. I became very familiar with you guys really quickly… We all were kind of amazed at how quickly you guys seemed to find a very original sound that was also very familiar to a lot of people. A lot of people could attach themselves to your sound because you took from all these different styles, right—

Isaac:—sure, yeah.

FS: What were you listening to growing up that formed this sound?

Isaac: Bus, you go first.

Bus: Well, I grew up listening to, I guess—I didn’t really have a musical taste—it was Lynyrd Skynyrd—

Isaac:—[to Bus] You were a big AC/DC fan—

Bus:—AC/DC when I was a kid. And then when I got to high school it was… way heavy metal. Slipknot, Stone Sour, all that stuff. That influenced the way I play guitar a lot. One of my heroes is Jim Root, for sure.

Isaac: That’s always been a theme. A constant thing. I can hear it—you know I can hear it when [Bus] plays country licks

FS: Yeah, I can hear that in your tone.

Bus: I mean, it’s working out for him. [laughs]

FS: What about you, Chase?

Chase: Some of the influences? Definitely old country, blues… a lot of modern stuff. I just really love rock&roll, the whole history of it… Pretty broad [spectrum], I’m just glad to be able to channel some of [that music] with these guys.

FS: What was it like switching from banjo to the bass?

Chase: It’s great. I love it.

FS: Is some of the pressure off, now?

Chase: No, it’s just a lot more powerful instrument. 

Bus: The banjo is so hard to play live.

Chase: Yeah.

Isaac: Bass carries more weight, for sure. I think it fits Chase’s thing better. 

Chase: Yeah. I’ve always been a bass player, really.

Isaac: That’s another thing that was [similar] with Noah, when he joined the band playing lap-steel, he had never played lap-steel. It was the same situation with Chase. He had never played banjo, I was the banjo player—I was a banjo player, never the one for the band—but Chase just flew in there and—

Bus: —made it his own thing.

Isaac: He knew enough about it. I think that was a big thing on the first record: how differently the banjo was played than a [traditional] banjo player would play it.

FS: [to Chase] You played it more like a guitar player.

Chase: Yeah, I had a different kind of attack to it.

Bus: Everyone thought we were bluegrass. They see there’s a banjo and [it’s like] ‘Oh you play bluegrass?’ and we were like ‘No, its pretty rocking stuff.’ I guess folk rock… is really what it started out as. 

FS: What were you listening to, Isaac?

credit: Victoria Kelly

credit: Victoria Kelly

Isaac: As far as guitar playing and things like that… when we first started the band, like I was saying, it was old blues. Blind Blake, Mississippi John Hurt, even as far back as Blind Lemon Jefferson, guys like that… I love finger style blues that’s really hot, fast, right-hand stuff. But as we started playing [together more], I felt more of this country sound coming out of us, that sort of leaked out behind the rock&roll, I started listening to a lot more country music and that’s sort of where I’m at now. 

Bus: I think that’s where we’re all at.

Dillon: Yeah.

Isaac: We don’t want to make a mimic record at any point, you know, we don’t want to be a straight country band.

FS: Yeah I don’t think you ever could. You really have a sound that’s all your own.

Bus: I don’t think it would work correctly. Like, it would just fall apart and then [it’s like] ‘Well, let’s do something else.’

Isaac: We’ve got some new stuff that is—it’s pretty country— but you know, add a full drum set… My thing now is, I’ve started listening to really powerful male vocalists. That was a thing that inspired me a lot to really open up my range on the mic.. You know, I always tell people that I’m a singer, and my secondary thing is guitar playing.

FS: Right… What is the songwriting dynamic like with you guys? Does someone come in with an idea and the rest of you fill it out?

Isaac: For the most part. 90% of the time, I’ll come to the guys with a song I’ve written. Lyrics and structure are basically there. The whole time I’m writing, I’m imagining what Bus’s part is going to sound like, what Chase’s bass line is going to sound like, what the drum track’s going to sound like, how to fit the lap-steel in… Jake Quillin—

FS: —speaking of, we are missing one important person here: JQ.

Isaac:—yeah he’s not here tonight. He’s been playing with us. He adds an enormous amount of flair with his searing hot blues licks.

Bus: Oh, man. 

FS: What was [behind] the decision to bring him in?

Isaac: We loved him.

Chase: Yeah.

credit: Chase Chafin

credit: Chase Chafin

Isaac: We loved him and he loved us. Not just as a musician and from a musical standpoint, but just being around him, as a friend. I’m one of those guys who [is] always nervous about shows, and anytime we play with him, the nerves are off. Shout out to JQ. 

Bus: He just kept coming to shows and [saying] ‘Man, I just want to play with you guys,’ and we were just like, ‘DO it.’ and he [would say] ‘I don’t know’…to this day, he’s never had a rehearsal with us—

FS:—Really? He just pops in…

Isaac: But he’s always listened, and was at home playing our songs… It just worked out. 

Bus: And we can take turns noodling around… It’s great.

FS: That’s awesome. So, I just saw recently you’re going to re-release the first album?

Isaac: We just did, actually. 

Chase: It’s on all the streaming services now, and we’ll have physical copies—in the next couple days, probably.

FS: Was that just something like—you were just ready to do it? Or—

Bus: —we ran out of copies.

FS: Ok. 

Chase: Yeah he hadn’t printed them [the first time]… It’s kind of a gray area still, but…

Bus: We took a big break… And It got kind of stale, and the new record came out and was fresh. [We had] a lot to think about.

Isaac: We sort of just stopped carrying the first album around.

Bus: Then the people that had the second album were like ‘I really miss that first one!’ you know?

Isaac: That was a special one for us anyway, because it was the first thing we did that connected with our hometown crowd. But it was also the first thing we ever did that allowed us to branch out. We could go places. Like have a physical copy of an album, what a dream that was—

Bus:— for a band that played in our bedrooms.

Isaac: It was cool for us. And it still is. I still love a lot of those songs on it, they’re great songs.

FS: I remember just being there when all that was happening, I knew it was something special, man. We knew it was going to be something great. I know you went on hiatus for awhile. What was the decision like to come back? Did you always know you were going to come back?

credit: Kandee Wallace

credit: Kandee Wallace

Isaac: I think so. We had some friends from Johnson City who wanted us to play at their wedding, which they were having at The Willow Tree, which is like home base for us. That’s like, our favorite place in the world. They inquired around, sort of hinted at “Oh, we’d like for you to come play.’ and we sort of thought—

Chase:—What better time?

Isaac: What better time to get back on the horse than right here with a bunch of people that we love, at a place that we love… that was a big propellant. It wasn’t just some dive show we got together for. It was a great thing, it was a beautiful thing. And we had a lot of fun. And that…

Bus: —Lit the fire again.

Isaac: Yeah, for sure. And since then, it’s been nonstop. We’ve been plugging away.

FS: Yeah, it seems like you’re set to take off right now.

Isaac: We hope so. We’re putting our time in, we’re doing everything that we can. 

Bus: Paying our dues. 

FS: Well, speaking of, I know you’ve got to hop on stage [in a few minutes] so I wish you a good show. Thanks for talking to me.

Isaac: Appreciate you, man.

Chase: Yeah thanks.

Bus: Love you, buddy.

Dillon: Love you.

FS: Love you guys too.

Isaac: We’ll be seeing you around. 

credit: Victoria Kelly

credit: Victoria Kelly

49 Winchester are an Appalachian soul/country/rock band from Castlewood, VA who are currently on tour in support of their second album, The Wind. Keep up with them on Facebook, Instagram, and see if they are coming to your town via their tour page. The Wind is available on Bandcamp now.