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.

JAKE QUILLIN: Baptized in the Sound

credit: Johnson City Aerial Photography

credit: Johnson City Aerial Photography

“BAPTIZED IN THE SOUND,” as Jake Quillin says, is a good way to describe his approach to making music. A man with a depth of feeling and emotion well beyond his years, he infuses both a sense of melancholy and a swell of joy into every note he sings or squeezes from his guitar. Much like this interviewer’s own path, his early years of skating and playing heavy metal made way for a deep meditation on the blues and roots music that formed the backbone of the music he started with. Now a widely accomplished singer and songwriter with an ever-expanding fan base, Quillin says he would have taken the same route to get to this place every time. The stars seemed to have aligned for his success. 

Finding an icon in the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jake Quillin exploded onto the scene with his band The Comet Conductors several years ago with a sound that had been largely missing from the Appalachian region: electric blues. Since then, he’s released a psychedelic-influenced EP, gone back to the bare basics of acoustic guitar and voice, and formed a new, unbelievably tight live band which does its best to portray his vision as a true song and dance man. The new album, “Stormy Weather” is a powerful combination of the raw soul singers he’s attempted to emulate and his own medley of deep, spiritual blues. Quillin calls it “the purest thing I’ve done.” 

Memorable festival appearances and packed out hometown shows have boosted his profile from budding singer/songwriter to one of the most in demand artists in the Tri-Cities area. His pals in Castlewood, VA’s 49 Winchester even took notice, and recruited him last year for a permanent sit-in spot on the electric. During our own brief time playing together, I admired the man’s dedication to his craft and showmanship on the stage, and knew from the start he was going places. Luckily for me, Quillin agreed to take time away from booking upcoming shows and recording dates to catch up and chat about creating “usable music”, self-expression, memorable moments on his journey, and what’s in store for him, over a phone call. 

Floyd Strange: Jake, my man.

Jake Quillin: What’s up, dawg?

FS: So I’ve mostly been doing these things as emails but I really wanted to call you just to catch up, because I feel like it’s been so long since we actually talked.

JQ: Yeah I know. I’m glad you proposed both those options because I was thinking the same thing actually. What have you been up to?

FS: I’m working. Trying to get this company off the ground. Working on a lot of new music actually, what about yourself?

JQ: Just working, man. You know I was doing the solo thing for awhile, and then — I don’t really know how it started, I think we just got together at Willow (Tree Coffeehouse & Music Room), and Chase (Chafin) was there on keys, and Magus (Vaughn) and I were working on stuff — we just got the group together this past year. It’s been super fun. Definitely fulfilling, for sure.

FS: Are the shows going well?

JQ: Definitely. We got that brass section that plays with us sometimes, and every time that happens it’s just a party.

FS: That’s so good, I’m jealous. So we go back a couple years, but I want to go all the way back because I’ve always been curious about where you came from and when you started playing. When did you first catch the music bug?

JQ: I would say around 14 or 15. I used to skate a lot when I was younger, and the guitar was always a thing that was also there… Eventually at some point I just got serious about the music and kind of quit skating… I remember I had to do a book report in high school on a favorite musician, and my dad got me this Jimi Hendrix book, and it’s actually a book I carry around with me religiously now—

FS: —Oh, I know it well.

JQ: Yeah. I feel like that’s honestly the spark that really, I wouldn’t say, got me interested, but kind of just let me know about that whole world.

credit: Johnson City Aerial Photography

credit: Johnson City Aerial Photography

FS: What kind of stuff were you playing then?

JQ: I did the punk rock and the metal thing for awhile, and then I started playing Hendrix songs and blues songs when I was 17, 18… That pentatonic scale is kind of what got me, actually. Just realizing you could do that over basically anything you wanted.

FS: Right. The pentatonic thing crops up everywhere. It’s in so many different kinds of music all over the world.

JQ: Oh yeah. For sure. Even if you’re not using it in a blues context. Especially if I’m playing with 49 (Winchester), any time I have to figure out what key a song is in, I just use the pentatonic and figure it out from there.

FS: So how did The Comet Conductors come together? When did that happen?

The Comet Conductors days. credit: Floyd Strange

The Comet Conductors days. credit: Floyd Strange

JQ: Well, Magus and I were doing the open mic thing at The Acoustic Coffeehouse for awhile. We had quit playing metal — we were playing metal with Mike (Lubrano) and we honestly didn’t think he would want to play, I guess, a softer music — after awhile we just asked “Hey, do you want to play drums for these songs?” and he just said yeah. So, that’s kind of how that happened. Playing at the (Acoustic) Coffeehouse was kind of our ‘cutting teeth’ stage. 

FS: When did you know it was going to be something special?

JQ: The first shows were just us trying our thing out, trying to have fun. Then a bunch of people started coming… I remember the night I met Isaac Gibson and Bus Shelton, back when they were wearing fedoras [laughs]. They came up to us after the show and were like “Who are you, man? We’re gonna buy you a beer!” and I didn’t see them for the rest of the night [laughs]… People started coming out and really enjoying it. We were just trying to fulfill our needs and what we wanted to hear, and people seemed to like that.

FS: Right. You start out just trying to find your voice.

JQ: Yeah, definitely.

FS: Moving up to now — that was almost a straight blues trio sound, wouldn’t you say?

JQ: Definitely. It was that Jimi Hendrix model, for sure.

FS: And now it seems like you’re adding a lot more R&B and Soul stuff.

JQ: Absolutely. I feel like… that neo-soul vibe has always been pretty prevalent in my life. Espcially with my mom, listening to it when I was growing up. You know, Sam Cooke, The Temptations, all those old soul singers: I love those guys just as much as B.B. King and Hendrix… that’s kind of the other side of it, for me. I never felt like I had a really strong voice, and listening to [guys like] Anthony Hamilton has given me a lot of confidence because I feel like his range is very similar to mine, and… it makes me feel like I can hit those notes, do all those flourishes with my voice.

FS: So was it kind of intentional to do more of a soul thing? Or did it just sort of happen?

JQ: I think it just sort of happened. I was doing the blues thing for awhile, and then I got a funk band together after The Comet Conductors broke up, then had to do the solo thing for awhile. I think it was really just what I was listening to [at the time]. I fell into a really heavy soul, spiritual kind of vibe, listening to old gospel and neo-soul. I think it just happened from the stuff I was listening to. That’s how it happened with the blues stuff [too].

credit: Tyler Shortt

credit: Tyler Shortt

FS: So, I want to talk about the record (Stormy Weather) a little bit. How did it feel to make music under your own name, by yourself again?

JQ: A little scary, to be honest. Billing under your own name can be kind of weird sometimes but… it was really cool. I definitely felt very in control. I did it with Jake Dwyer at Shape Studios, it was just him and me the whole time. Just sitting and talking about what we wanted for it… It felt like a nice project just to create all by myself. 

FS: Right. So you knew you wanted [it to be] you and an acoustic?

JQ: Well honestly, all the songs from that record came out in about three months. They all just kind of happened [in that time]… Jake was cool and intuitive enough to say, “Hey, we should record this”… and the band versions of those songs are so beautiful but, I literally wrote and recorded all those songs before we got that band together. So that’s the reason for that. 

FS: Where did the title “Stormy Weather” come from?

JQ: The whole vibe of the record, kind of the reason behind it — the first song is called “Dark Clouds” — it’s kind of a journey from being in that ’stormy weather’ to some sunnier days. [The title] was between “Dark Clouds” and “Stormy Weather”, it’s definitely a representation of the vibe of the record.

FS: When I first started hearing this stuff, I knew right away— or at least I thought — this is your best material so far.

JQ: Thank you, man.

FS: Would you agree?

JQ: Yeah… It feels weird to say that my best stuff is solo stuff, just [after] experiencing what it sounds like with a band, but I’ve had 100% more of a response to this record than anything else I’ve ever put out. And I think that’s because it’s super raw and relatable to a lot of people. I’ve had people reach out to me and thank me for putting it out, and it’s awesome because that’s kind of why I did it — I needed to do it for me, and then after I did it for me it becomes [something] for other people… which is how I feel about Sam Cooke and Anthony Hamilton. It’s usable music. 

FS: Yeah, absolutely. I could just feel some of the things you were going through, listening to it… Do you think it was worth going through [that] to get those songs?

JQ: 100%. I said that at the last show, actually. It’s weird to say that, because I didn’t think I would feel like that. But everything that happened has kind of made me have to do what I’m supposed to be doing, which is, you know, writing and recording and performing… The feeling that I have on stage with the boys, singing those songs that were just an idea. I still have the voice memos on my phone for the “Losing Sleep” song, I was at work and I just got [it] in my head and I stopped and recorded it on my phone, and now that’s one of my best songs. 

FS: That’s the one that everybody knows now. 

JQ: For sure. 

FS: Would you consider yourself more of a guitar player or a singer now?

JQ: I’ve always felt like I’ve never considered myself a singer, and I [fee like] I can back up saying, “I’m a guitar player”… Blues you definitely have to feel, but I feel like with certain soul music there’s more… acrobatics and things you have to do with your voice. Realizing that I could do that, being able to do that has been really inspiring. I would still have to claim both because I’ll always be a blues guitar player… Hendrix was the first guy to turn me onto… something that’s extremely close to the source — I would definitely consider that soul music — and just music of true expression. But I definitely relate to a lot of what soul music is about. 

credit: Johnson City Aerial Photography

credit: Johnson City Aerial Photography

FS: You were talking about the [live] band, which is the tightest now that you’ve had. Are there plans to record?

JQ: Absolutely. I want to take my time on this one and really experience some things, give the songs time to change. “Stormy Weather” was about basically one thing. Those feelings are definitely still in there, but it’s moving to something else that’s a more open and positive thing… But I’m trying to concentrate on booking and getting some new merch for this year, but I don’t want to release a full band record until next year. We might do a single or something… The whole last year, I feel like I kind of came from — not nothing —  but I didn’t have a band, I didn’t have anything going on… Little Chicago was a great festival for us. We had this whole plan and it went off without a hitch: we marched to the stage with the horns behind us and we had a great show—

FS: —I love that video of you guys doing that.

JQ: It was so dope. It was almost metaphorical for the whole musical journey. I felt like I was being baptized in this sound. Going from not having anything planned to making a plan… it was definitely inspiring to say “OK, what can we do now?” If that worked out, we could do something super great, especially for the record.

FS: That’s great to hear man. I wanted to ask you a bit about sitting in with 49 Winchester. What’s different about playing with them and how is the dynamic different?

JQ: It’s really cool because every show that we (The Comet Conductors) had with them, we would always end up jamming at the end. Sometime at the beginning of last year, someone — I think Isaac — was like, “What if Jake just played with us all the time?” and everyone said “That would be sick. We’d be like the f—ing Eagles.” [laughs]. It’s become really cool. I recorded their last single with them. 

FS: How are their audiences responding?

JQ: They seem to be loving it. We’ve added a blues jam at the end of the set, so Isaac and I will trade licks for awhile. People seem to dig it. 

FS: Talking about how far you’ve come, do you think you would change anything on your journey here?

JQ: Do anything differently, you mean?

FS: Yeah. Do you think you’d be in the same place right now if certain things hadn’t happened?

JQ: Definitely not. I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a weird way to get to this place, and if someone told me before [it happened] I would be like, “Really? That’s how I’ve got to do that? OK.” But… no, I definitely wouldn’t change anything. The sound I’m making with these dudes is the closest thing to what I feel like is in my head. It just feels like the purest thing that I’ve done. 

FS: That’s got to be a good feeling.

JQ: It’s really nice, man. Maybe it’s not at that right… center point, pinnacle? Because I don’t know if any musician can really do that. I feel like some of the greats were really close to completely closing the gap between what you think and what comes out. I feel like this is very close, for sure. 

FS: Who do you think came close to doing that?

JQ: The legends. Of course, you know, B.B. King, Hendrix… Those are great examples of what thoughts “sound” like, completely uncut, raw. 

FS: Hmm. Where do you see the new music taking you? What’s your long term goal?

JQ: I want to keep putting out records and just get on the road. I mean, I’ve played a lot of shows in a lot of different bands, but this outfit in particular has been a bit regional, and mostly local… it’s just about getting out on the road. Playing with 49 has been really cool for that… I’ve learned a lot from just being around them. 

FS: I think your next record — whenever you get it ready— you should maybe holler at Madscience. Maybe we could do something together. 

JQ: Yeah, that would be sick. 

FS: Thanks for doing this, man. 

JQ: Yeah I appreciate you calling. It was good to hear from you. 

FS: When’s your next show?

JQ: March 2nd at the Hideaway, with Spaceman Jones. He’s really really cool, his records are sick.

FS: Well if you’re ever around Knoxville, let me know and we’ll get together. 

JQ: Yeah, I’m trying to book a show down there at some point. 

FS: Alright, buddy. I’ll holler at you soon.

JQ: Later bro, It was good talking to you.

credit: Johnson City Aerial Photography

credit: Johnson City Aerial Photography

Jake Quillin is a blues guitarist and singer who will be performing solo at Ware in Asheville, NC on February 10, and with his band at The Hideaway in Johnson City, TN on March 2. His latest album, “Stormy Weather” is available now. Keep up with his tour dates, single releases, and other announcements on Instagram.


Get To Know: Mike Christopher

© Mike Christopher

© Mike Christopher

ASHEVILLE FILM PHOTOGRAPHER MIKE CHRISTOPHER aims to evoke raw feeling and emotion in his moody and often haunting photographs. A devotee of the Polaroid SX-70, he works exclusively in natural light and attempts to find something magical and permanent in every moment he chooses to capture.

An artist I knew very little about, I was not at all surprised to learn Christopher is a musician and traveler, using one medium of art to influence the other, obsessed with the living world around him, and how he can translate his experience to film. He often draws inspiration from songwriters and masters of other crafts to influence what and who he chooses to shoot.

A lifelong lover of “the physical artifact” and a consummate professional, Christopher is currently at work on his website and business, and joyfully agreed to our interview over email.

Floyd Strange: Firstly I want to say thanks for agreeing to do this! To start with, I'm always excited to talk to a fellow film enthusiast. What drew you to working in film, and Polaroid specifically?

Mike Christopher: Thank you so much for the opportunity! I started at a young age taking photos with disposable cameras, and found my love for Polaroid with a gifted I-zone camera when I was around 8 or 9 years old. Over the years, I expanded to a 600 camera and then fell in love all over again when I found an SX-70 camera. I was immediately drawn to Polaroid, as I’m sure most are, because of the instant gratification. Being able to capture a moment and watch it develop in front of your eyes was complete magic to me. Ultimately what I love most about taking Polaroid photos is having a physical artifact— in a sense from wherever you are or whoever you’re with as the moment is captured. A single, one of a kind photograph that creates an instant nostalgia.

© Mike Christopher

© Mike Christopher

FS: I find that there’s a bit of inescapable truth to it, don’t you? You’re kind of giving up control to the machine. 

MC: Absolutely! Something about it leaves almost every image feeling genuinely candid. With only 8 shots and having to be mindful of lighting, temperatures, and setting, you’re really forced to slow down and think about what you want to capture. These cameras and film can sometimes be finicky and have a mind of their own. For me there’s a strange comfort I find in letting go and trusting that the image will turn out as I hoped. 

FS: I’m not familiar with an I-zone camera, what exactly is that?

MC: The I-zone was a camera that Polaroid started producing in the mid-late 90’s. It used instant film and you would pull out these strips for each shot. The photos were really small, 1.5”x1”. They even made some of the film that had a sticky back so your photos could be mounted like stickers.

FS: Interesting. You mentioned starting at a young age, but when did you get serious about photography? When did you know it was something you really wanted to devote time and energy to?

MC: In 2014. I found a Polaroid SX-70 camera and started taking it everywhere with me. I was spending a lot of my money on film and most of my time taking pictures. I really started looking at everyday life in a different way, always looking for moments to capture. From there, things started falling into place. I was asked to participate in a couple of art shows and people started reaching out to work with me. This year was when I really started realizing it’s something that I could do for work. I was thrilled when I was asked to take Polaroids for a wedding and shortly there after I started a photography business. I’m still working to build that up now and I’m sort of taking things as they come to see how I want to move forward. More plans of travel and collaboration are in the works. I’m always learning and looking for new ways to expand my style and eye for things.

© Mike Christopher

© Mike Christopher

FS: The sx70 is interesting because of the frame difference. It’s more of a landscape frame right? How do you think it differs from the typical square frame of the other models?

MC: The SX-70 is the standard square frame. You may be thinking of the Spectra camera. That film size is a little wider. 

FS: Yeah, you’re right. Tell me a bit about your style. I notice there’s not much flash work. You prefer natural light?

© Mike Christopher

© Mike Christopher

MC: Yeah, I very rarely use a flash. I prefer to capture the photograph as natural as possible so that carries on with the lighting. I’m a big fan of using a tripod indoors in low lighting. I love the soft warm colors. As far as style goes, I strive to take candid shots more than anything but at the same time I love working with subjects and collaborating on a vision to capture. 

FS: What kind of subject matter are you most interested in?

MC: As much as I like taking random shots of everyday life, I enjoy photographing people the most. Whether it’s a staged photo with a model or a candid shot of a friend or stranger. Capturing ones expression, positioning, body language, movements. They can all create a mood and feeling of a photo. For me it doesn’t get much better than viewing an image you took and genuinely feeling something. 

FS: Who are some of your heroes? Favorite artists?

MC: In all honesty most of my heroes are singer-songwriters. Artists like Townes Van Zandt, Ryan Adams, Elliott Smith, and Leonard Cohen all paint pictures with their songs and leave the listener to come up with their own interpretations and images. Some of my photos have been inspired by songs. As far as favorite photographers, I really love Vivian Maiers work. Also Gregory Crewdsons work blows my mind. Super inspirational. 

FS: Ah, interesting. I can see that because a lot of your photos feel very musical. I work in both mediums and find there’s often a lot of overlap.

MC: Totally agree! I was playing music before I ever got into photography. They’re my biggest passions so they go hand in hand for me. 

© Mike Christopher

© Mike Christopher

FS: Do you have an overarching goal in taking photos? I’m always curious to find out different artists’ motivations.

MC: I sometimes get a little scattered when it comes to wanting to work on new projects and ideas. I think the ultimate goal is to keep learning and to step out of my comfort zone more. In the end, as cliché as it sounds, I want to create images that evoke feeling and emotion. 

FS: I understand that. So, what's next for you Mike?

MC: More plans for travel in the coming year to document with my cameras. Currently building my website up as well. It’s more or less a portfolio and will also include new and old Polaroid pieces for sale. In the mean time, I post updates and can be contacted on my Instagram @mikechristopher_ or by email at mikechristopherphoto@gmail.com

FS: Thanks for doing this, Mike. Good getting to know you.

MC: Thanks so much Floyd, it was great talking with you!

© Mike Christopher

© Mike Christopher

Mike Christopher is a photographer and artist living and working in Asheville, NC. He is currently building a personal portfolio and web-store, and can be reached at mikechristopherphoto@gmail.com or on Instagram.