The Reverend Josh Peyton says he’s always trying to improve. Since forming the revved-up country blues trio The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band twelve years ago, Peyton observes he’s gotten better at a lot of things.
“I’m a better singer,” Peyton notes. “I’m a better guitar player. I’m a better writer of songs. I’m a better bandleader. I’m a better showman. Because literally every single day I work on it. And I am never satisfied. I’m never content that it was good enough or we finally got there. Never. So, I’m like, this is always getting better. We can be better. We’re going to work on it until it is better. And that’s what we do. We’re always thinking about it, from the tone of my guitars to the live show to the microphones we’re using in the studio.”
Sure, it’s easy to hear the trio’s growth through its decade-plus of recordings, but the fiery and energetic live shows have gotten progressively better as well, which is a tall order, because Peyton and his wife “Washboard” Breezy were raucous on stage from the get-go and have continued that tradition regardless of who's playing drums.
A lot of that live energy is captured on Poor Until Payday, the Big Damn Band's new album that came out last month on the outfit’s Family Owned imprint. It was recorded live to analog tape, and Peyton says there’s barely any technology on the album that’s newer than 1959.
“The microphones, the pre-amps, everything is old school technology,” Peyton says. “We went in the studio, we put a mic in front of us, and we did it. And I sang it and played it at the same time. There’s no overdubs. It’s just one guitar. I know other people think there’s a bass player and there’s not. My thumb’s doing it.”
Peyton chugs out bass lines on his guitar with his right hand, and he’s a master fingerpicker as well, effortlessly holding down melodies and solos alike. Peyton indeed sounds like a guitarist and a bassist, while Breezy hammers out rhythms on her washboard, and drummer Max Senteney thunders along on a stripped-down kit.
Before recording Poor Until Payday, the group went to Chess Studios in Chicago to see how records used to be made, and listened to a lot of 45s. Peyton says the reason for using vintage technology was that it adds a lot of life to the recording.
“I wanted it to feel live,” he adds. “I wanted it to feel exciting. All those old 45s feel exciting. As a whole, there’s a lot more excitement coming from those 45s than just about any era in American music. It’s excitement. I wanted some of that excitement.”
And Breezy and Senteney’s vocals crank up the energy even higher on Poor Until Payday.
“Listen to the vocals on this record,” Peyton says. “Breezy and Max’s vocals are top notch. We’ve never had background vocals on a record from the Big Damn Band like they are on this one. It’s just incredible. I’m just so proud of what they did too. I just love it.”
When writing material for Poor Until Payday, Peyton says that some of the songs flowed out of him in an instant, like the title cut; on the other hand, “You Can’t Steal My Shine” was one he labored on for a long time.
“I keep trying to come up with the best way to say it without it sounding just super lame,” Peyton says. “But it’s like I feel a lot of ways when I was writing these songs and they were coming out, sort of pouring out. It was almost like.. you know that feeling – like an inspirational pep talk to myself. ‘You Can’t Steal My Shine’ is very obvious in that way, but even ‘Poor Until Payday’…. On the surface it is about [living] paycheck to paycheck, but really, for me, it’s about that real payday. Like waiting for that day to come.”
While waiting for that big payday, the band has been constantly touring, playing as many as 300 gigs a year to make a living. He says what keeps him going is just an absolute love for making music – “and the belief that I still have a lot of music inside of me that has yet to be made,” he says. “The day I feel like I don’t have anything to bring the world, anything new, the day I don’t feel like I can hold my own with anybody else on the planet is the day I go home.”
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