Sulfur City Interview

Anyone who has every listened to the raw recordings or Robert Johnson and heard about the tale of his deal with the Devil at a dusty crossroads, has been hooked on Blues ever since. Legends of the Blues have kept generations of music lovers grasping for genuine Blues beats and sticky summer festivals that make the streets echo with sultry vibes. Long live the Blues in Hamilton’s underbelly. Orange Country Reverb presents Sulfur City.

Lead singer and electric washboardist, Lori Paradis from Sulfur City, took some time to answer some questions about the up-and-coming band and all things Blues!

OCR: The Blues is an incredibly indescribable genre that portrays various emotions and experiences. It is just as good acoustic and raw as it is electric and edgy. Unfortunately, it seems like the genre is overshadowed by manufactured radio pop. What do you see in Blues’ future? To motivate a younger generation to listen to the Blues, what bands or singers would you recommend they listen to?

LP: I noticed a recent shift in popularity from manufactured pop, to real organic music. Bands like Alabama Shakes, Black Keys, and The White Stripes have re-introduced blues to a younger audience. There is an edge and truth to their music that a new younger audience can relate to and wants to hear. They have taken the lessons of players such as Robert Johnson, Junior Kimbrough, and Mississippi Fred MacDowell and fused in own their experiences.

I see the rise of blues music in alternative bars and festivals…it’s bubbling underground on online radio, university and college stations, and I’m hearing it more and more in offbeat public places. We’re talking about it in coffee shops when we’re discussing music…”did you hear the new song by…”

The Blues needs to evolve in order to reach a new audience and it’s starting to. Bands I suggest would be Gov’t Mule, Alabama Shakes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Clutch, Sea Sick Steve, Ash Grunwald, Jamie N Commons, Moreland & Arbuckle, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, The Crank Bros., Ruthie Foster, Gary Clark Jr., Tom Waits, John Mayer, John Mayall, Hendrix, Cream, Jeff Beck, R.L.Burnside…there is a big list out there. Check it out.

OCR: You guys do an amazing cover of St. James Infirmary Blues. It was originally a folk song that was adapted by the Blues community in various renditions. Besides your own interpretation of the song, whose version do you dig?

LP: Our rendition of Saint James Infirmary was mostly inspired by the deep and hollow sounds of Louis Armstrong’s horn. Other versions I’m drawn to would be Joe Cocker (early live version) and Van Morrison (live).

OCR: I am always amazed by the ingenuity of Blues musicians. With a true passion for music, they can make an instrument out of anything. Lori, you have bridged that ingenuity into the modern electric world with the electric washboard. When did you first pick up the good ol’ washboard? What is your favourite aspect of the instrument? What are some of the most inventive and yet simple makeshift instruments you have used or come across?

LP: About 5 years ago I was the drummer in a blues band and they wanted to include washboard.  So, they went and bought me this old one from an antique store (still got it). I knew nothing of how to play one. It was a percussion instrument so I went on those ideas. Slapped on some finger picks and got to work. After awhile I thought it would be great to amplify the sound. Tried a few ways (bottle cap and wind instrument pickups) but they never really did the job.

I got a chance to meet Cody Dickinson from North Mississippi Allstars, he was playing a board and had put a pick up on it. We talked about some ideas on amplification and pedals. Soon after that, a company in Memphis, St. Blues, designed an electric washboard after Cody Dickenson’s ideas and called it a Woogie Board. I’ve got the 17th one made.

I’ve been playing it for about 2 years now. What I love about this instrument is the unique sounds and interesting rhythms I can get. I can play it straight (no pedals) for a more traditional sound or add pedals and lots of gain from my Laney tube amp for a unique modern sound that can sometimes border on psychedelic. We’ll play a sort of metal blues to a jazz blues, my washboard always fits…I love that. We do a cover of Voodoo Chile by Hendrix and I play my board with a Wha-Wha pedal, it works great and always freaks people out a bit. As for makeshift instruments, anything I can hit with sticks, brushes or my hands that can give an unusual sound works for me.

OCR: With such a grungy Mississippi Delta sound it is hard to believe you guys are from Sudbury! What is the music scene like in Sudbury? Have you travelled to Southern parts of America to discover the origins first hand?

LP: It’s a small community and the music scene in Sudbury is divided between new explorative music and top 40 classic rock. The new alternative stuff is mostly underground. For me this is where the interesting stuff is happening. I see the blending of genres. I have always had a thing for very rough edged music; sloppy and raw…guess I’ve been influenced by my surroundings, and it’s great to be able to explore these ideas. There are only a couple of venues that cater to alternative and new music (The Townehouse and Little Montreal). Outside of these venues, you’ll find these bands booking shows at halls, garages, house shows, and cracks between buildings. Most other venues stick to mainstream top 40’s or classic rock, closely tied into the few main radio stations we have.

None of us have yet travelled south. It would be a great trip…and better if we could play along the way.

OCR: How would you define Blues?

LP: The blues is in your kitchen on a hot sticky Sunday afternoon…in your car when the way home takes you on a highway commute bumper to bumper, on the street….a lone musician and a guitar, glass slide and tales of an interesting life, troubled times, heartache, death, and love. It can hit you hard with dirty grungy electric vibes and growling vocals pushed by pulsating rhythms. To me it’s a truth…it’s your truth, it’s my truth, our stories….it can be unkind and bitter or sweet and full of hope. Be it with words or musical emotional value, blues is one true genre that you can convey your heart’s message with every note, and with every silence in between…mainstream has gone cookie cutter and safe.

BB King says “The blues is rage and anger. The blues is an expression of anger against shame and humiliation.”

OCR: Lori, your booming voice draws from an overt Blues sound but also has very Gospel pangs. To me you are the Canadian Janis Joplin! What musical experiences shaped your voice? Who are some of your favourite singers?

LP: Thank you for the generous comparison. It humbles me. I admire Nina Simone…what a voice and performer…she brought veracity to her songs, honest pure feelings, and emotion. Marianne Faithful, Patty Smith, Mary Margaret O’Hara, and Jesse May Hemphill also captivate me. Love these women. When I sing I strive to bring the same vocal truth of emotions that these women did. I want the audience to feel the music in their bones, their nerve endings, and on their skin. As for vocal experiences…every time I step on stage and everything I am I must put out.

OCR: What’s next for Sulfur City?

LP: We’re heading out across Ontario over the summer and fall. Playing some shows with new friends, The Wicked Mercy and Liam Lloyd. In the spring, we are planning a tour across Canada. Over the winter, we’ll be working on our first album and as a few people have said to me, “it’s about time!”

Listen to Sulfur City on Reverbnation (http://www.reverbnation.com/main/search?filter_type=artist&q=#!/sulfurcity)

Follow Lori on Twitter (@SulfurCityMusic)

You know the drill! Watch Lori’s video shout out to Orange Country Reverb!

 

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