The Americans are the long lost idea that music never fades away. They are chasers of dreams. Of ideas. Of the parts of life that made the new parts of life possible. They are more than musicians. They are historians. Encapsulated in their sound are the parts of American rock and roll that paved the way for everything that we have come to know and love about music. They combine modern with yesteryear, and do so with a sense of style and elegance that cannot be taught. This is born into your veins. This is a calling. And one that they answer with a vigilance reserved for those whose names are whispered from generation to generation with hallowed tones.
Recently we were lucky enough to catch up with them for a few minutes on a warm October afternoon. Patrick Ferris, the singer and guitarist, is warm and welcoming. His easy, soulful voice all but announces him as his profession. To say that he is music, would be an understatement that we are not prepared to make. During our time, he told us about unplanned tours that lead to self discovery, chasing down ideas until music materializes, and lessons learned from Jack White. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Ferris: We all started together, back in high school. Jake and Zach and I were all getting into that stuff. We liked a few things in high school and you just keep tracing it back. What did they listen to? And what did they listen to? We got way into old blues, and that was the driving force behind our creative decisions, that ’20’s and ’30’s sound.
GSLM: In referencing that time in music, are there any groups that grabbed your attention more than others?
GSLM: “Ill Be Yours” is about leaving a place after chasing your dream there. Not giving up, just moving on. “I’ve been keeping it together ever since we’ve been apart… But you know I’m leaving now” Is this a real story? What was going on in your life when you wrote this?
Ferris: All of the songs are kind of real in a certain way, and not in another. I wouldn’t say that any song is purely autobiographical. They are pieces of things that were important. I guess what I mean is, I never set out to write a song a certain way, or about a certain thing. It’s just that certain things bubble up in the process.
GSLM: “Bronze Star” It sounds like a letter home from far away while in deployment. And very realistically so.It sounds like a letter home from far away while in deployment. And very realistically so. “Hurry on home. I’ll be yours still. Awake by the phone.” Describe your writing process on this?
Ferris: I didn’t know what that song was about for a long time. Zach had this nice piece of music that we all really like. He actually played it on the fiddle, like those old American fiddle tunes with no words. It’s funny that you say “a letter home.” I read a story and it stuck in my head. I got very involved in it and chased it around trying to learn everything about it. It was about a woman who went off to fight in Afghanistan. She was from San Diego. Without thinking about it, when I was writing the words to this song, all of the scenes came together and it occurred to me that i was writing about this woman.
GSLM: Going backwards a bit, tell us about the first time that you performed live?
Ferris: I used to go play on the street a lot in high school. I had a really romantic idea about that, because of all of the music that i listened to. I lived in a neighborhood in San Francisco where you could go do that. i ha a hard time sleeping, so I would go down at midnight and play on the street. (Laughing) I was pretty used to playing before I had anything like a captive audience.
When I did start playing shows a lone, they were a combination of the few songs that I had written at that point and a lot of traditional music. I would show up with two guitars and a banjo and switch between all different kinds of stuff. At a certain point, I just felt that i wasn’t contributing to that style of music that i like so much. Even if people liked it, to me, I felt like there is no way that I am doing justice to any of these old records. I was learning meticulously how to play like those guys, but who needs to hear someone else play a Bukka White song? I was frustrated, because I didn’t think that there was anything better than that music. So I though, “What’s the point?” It just occurred to me, that with a band, you have pieces working individually and together. (Laughing) And I didn’t want to play alone anymore.
GSLM: What about the first time with the band?
Ferris: (Laughing) We set off on tour never having never played a show together. And I mean that I hadn’t played a show with anybody. It wasn’t as if we were seasoned musicians who put a band together…At that time, a friend of ours who became our drummer, wanted to take a road trip. And we were like, “road trip? No, were going to play a tour.”
We set off to Flagstaff (Arizona) and were instantly aware of how little planning we had done, because there was heavy snow. It was early January. We rolled up to this bar. I think it was called Mia’s Lounge. And we set up and played for three hours. We did a bunch of old blues and rockabilly stuff, and occasionally one of our own songs. We ended up playing about ten dates.
GSLM: (Laughing) That is amazing! Especially that you had never played together, and decided that this is just going to happen!
Ferris: Everything about that tour seems so ill conceived and kind of remarkable that it worked out. We didn’t have enough room in the car and so would store things inside of things. We would actually undo the bass drum head after every show and stuff it with gear and close it again. (Laughing) It was a lot of fun.
GSLM: (Laughing) The universe will test you to see how bad you want something. It’s like, “what are you not willing to do to get this?”
Ferris: (Laughing) That’s a good way of looking at it. Who knows if any one of us would come up with that again? Back then, it all seemed incredible.
GSLM: Looking back over your time as a musician, what is the thing that you can’t you got to be apart of, or can’t believe happened to you?
Ferris: This TV show that we worked on recently, American Epic, was one of those things. Jake and I were getting into old blues, because we were tracing back the roots of the people we liked. One of them was The White Stripes. I would hear about these mysterious old bluesman. I would see pictures of Jack White when he would write “Blind Willie McTell” across a t-shirt. He would make himself a band a t-shirt and would wear that on stage. That was a major thing for getting into old blues.
When we got approached to work on this project, not only were we going to be recording on an old machine from the ’20’s, the likes of which no one had ever been able to recreate. And we were going to be playing with everyone else, because we knew all of this old blues music. and we could help out. (Laughing) And then that Jack White was going to be producing the sessions. It really came around full circle in an amazing way.
GSLM: It shows that whatever it is that you love, if you just pursue that, then everything else will come into place. If you didn’t love that music, then none of this happens. And if you don’t love that music, then that music, in essence, dies.
This is rare band. And definitely not one to miss. Catch them as often as possible.
Check out the official music video for “The Right Stuff” and a full list of tour dates below.
The Americans Tour
10/23 Los Angeles, CA – The Satellite
11/4 Oosterpoort, Netherlands – Take Root Festival
11/6 Bristol, United Kingdom – Louisiana
11/7 Manchester, United Kingdom – Gullivers
11/8 London, United Kingdom – Borderline
11/9 Brussels, Belgium – AB
11/10 Amsterdam, Netherlands – Paradiso Basement
11/12 Malmo, Sweden – Folk a Rock
11/13 Granna, Sweden – Cafeet
11/14 Göteborg, Sweden – Pustervik
11/15 Oslo, Norway – Goon Bar
11/16 Halmstad, Sweden – Kajskjulet
11/17 Falkenberg, Sweden – Tryckhallen
11/18 Motala, Sweden – Kulturakademin
11/19 Stockholm, Sweden – Akkurat
11/21 Munich, Germany – Ampere
11/22 Berlin, Germany – Musik & Frieden
11/23 Cologne, Germany – Blue Shell
11/25 Hamburg, Germany – Molotow Skybar