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Album Review/Interview: Shane Sweeney - Love, The Dynamo - by Jeremy Porter

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Shane Sweeney might be best known as the bassist and co-singer/songwriter for the Columbus-based band Two Cow Garage. They’ve been at it for just shy of a couple decades now, through a bunch of great records, European tours, and criss-crossing the USA more times than bands who work half as hard and get twice the respect. Shane has a new EP out called Love, The Dynamo.  It’s six well-crafted, raw and organic songs, recorded simply, and delivered with an authenticity that provides the real glue to the collection.

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 Shane might not have the polish or delivery of your current American Idol contestants, but we’ll take his Woody Guthrie meets Bob Dylan approach to songwriting, filtered through his Tom Waits’ whiskey & ash- tray baritone any day. The guy is pure sincerity, whether singing about regrets and privilege (“Weeping Willow”), a song that would have fit nicely on Waits’ Mule Variations album, or channeling Nick Cave on “In An Instant.” I think my favorite song is the last one, “Baby Boomer’s Blues.” It’s got a great melody against a reverb-drenched piano and probably the best vocal of the bunch. It wraps the EP up on an optimistic note, and helps make the whole collection stand as a complete work.

It’s high praise to toss around the likes of Waits, Cave and Guthrie.  Shane doesn’t necessarily emulate these guys, but his art is similar in that it’s hard to put in this bucket or that one. With that uniqueness comes a confidence and a vulnerability that is both challenging and comforting to the listener. It’s like the voice of Tom Joad, understanding that his days might be numbered, but reassuring his ma that he’ll always be around, fighting the good fight; somehow, somewhere. Tough times bring out great art, and that’s a silver lining we can find in these days of kids in cages, poisoned water supplies, and the “yeah but…” political discourse that’s eaten a bit of each of us away these last few years. This record is that ray of sun you see between the clouds on a stormy day, if only for a moment.   BUY Love, The Dynamo HERE!

 I talked to Shane recently and got the lowdown on everything happening.       

Hi Shane – Good to talk to you again, my friend.  I hope you’ve been well!  Let’s jump right into it! I love your new EP – Love, The Dynamo. These songs have a DIY feel as far as the recordings, very organic and stripped down, spontaneous almost, but the songs are well crafted and thought out from the arrangements and lyrics to the guitar parts and other instrumentation. Can you talk a little about the approach to the material? What was the inspiration or catalyst to write, record and release it? What separates it (in your mind) from your  2011 release The Finding Time and the songs you’ve been sporadically releasing since then?

 Yeah, I suppose the whole thing was born out of the need to just keep a constant creative stream flowing.  I have an 8-track recording program that allows me to record virtually anywhere, so there are no limitations as far as having to go to a studio or save up money for time; it’s all immediate.  I can literally write a song, record it, and release it the same day. Most of my solo songs have historically been more folk-oriented, stripped-down affairs, so only having 8 tracks lends itself to that, too.  That being said I like to get the most out of those 8 tracks. Doubling vocals, whisper tracks, playing my kitchen sink as a bass drum, that kind of stuff. I like to get weird with it, even on sparse recordings. One of these new songs has a track of me just off-key singing and slurring the words to Let It Snow. As far as The Finding Time is concerned I think it’s just a natural progression from that to the last EP, to this.  Better songwriting, hopefully.

You’ve been throwing the odd song out there on Bandcamp mostly, from time to time in recent years. On one hand, it’s a beautiful thing to share your art with your audience so easily, but on the other hand, it’s all free now and other than your $.0007 per spin on Spotify, a lot of people won’t bother paying, which can be an issue for musicians trying to make a living. There is a wide array of opinions about all of this. What do you think about the current state of the music business, at our level at least, where anyone can put their stuff out there like that for the public to consume but you may not get much of a return on it? Obviously you’ve embraced it to an extent.     

I mean, that’s the reality we’re living in so you can either embrace the pro’s or focus on the con’s.  The money thing sucks, for sure, but when Two Cow started, we were there right after the bubble burst and the money dried up, even for touring bands. Some of that money has come back now, but we’ve never really seen any of it, so if I was getting nothing before and I’m getting nothing now, what makes the difference? I don’t write songs “only” to make money. It’s a compulsion, and as cliché as it sounds the catharsis of it is genuinely therapeutic. I think a lot of folks who are super-bummed about it, like Lowery, they saw a lot of that 90’s bubble money and feel that loss. I didn’t, so I don’t. Do we all deserve it?  You’re goddamned right we do, and I’m glad that people are fighting for artists rights, but, I can’t dwell on shit I don’t have.

Last winter you did a couple solo-shows with a band behind you, right? What was that like, who was backing you up, where was the material drawn from, and are there plans for more of that?

That band is actually a band called DEADnettles. It started as a kind of poker night situation for a bunch of us to hang and work on songs while we aren’t on the road. Todd May called and asked if I wanted to do it. I, of course, said yes. The band is me, Todd, Jaime Ball (who’s played with Todd in a ton of bands), Jay Gasper, and George Hondroulis (both of whom play in Two Cow, and with Lydia Loveless). It all kind of started as a lark, but then we played some shows, and now we’re recording. Todd is a really brilliant songwriter, and Jay’s songs are so good; like if Built To Spill wrote Tom Petty songs. I actually probably contribute the least amount of songs.

You’re getting ready to hit the road with Todd May, a fantastic songwriter and stand-up guy in his own right, also from Columbus. We’re excited about the Detroit show, but you’ll be out for a while, all over the country.  Can you talk a little about your history with Todd, how you guys got this together, and what people might expect when they come out to these shows?  

Todd is one of my closest friends. He literally sang with us at the very first Two Cow Garage show. When we first met Todd was a bit of a mentor to Two Cow: he had been touring for years, had the whole thing under his belt. We all lived across the street from each other for awhile. He’d just show up while we were rehearsing and be like, “Oh, here’s this song that I’m not ever going to get to.” which is how we got “Alphabet City. "

Funny, that was my first favorite Two Cow song, ya know.

He’s such a great songwriter, I don’t know that he even realizes it, but songs just kind of fall out of him. We may do some songs together on this run, who knows, but he’s brilliant.

(My signature Pencilstorm question) This blog is based out of Columbus, OH, as are you, but I am based out of the Detroit area, so I like to put a Michigan spin on things when I can. You’ve got a long history of playing Detroit/Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti/etc.  Care to share any highlights, lowlights, stories or memories from those times? 

Yeah, man, not to pander but I’ve always loved playing in Detroit. The first time we did, was with you, I believe, and Champeen, at a place in Hamtramck and I remember that being fun. (JP Note - That was neither their first time in the area, nor was it all that fun, despite the great bands and good people involved. They’d played The Elbow Room in Ypsilanti at least a couple times prior, and the Hamtramck show was sparsely attended, to put it mildly, and it was a cold, November Sunday night where at least a couple key members of the touring party were sick. Read a bit more about it HERE.)

I’ve loved every show we’ve ever played at the Magic Stick, one we played with Mustard Plug was really amazing, and made me realize how jaded people can become playing music, and even going to shows. That….that doesn’t exist at ska shows, which is very refreshing. After playing with those guys, all wonderful people, and seeing the audience at those shows, it hit me that the cooler than cool attitude is bullshit. Music, even sad music, should be about moving people. Physically or emotionally, whatever, it shouldn’t be cynical. Also, a little while ago we did two nights with our buds Lucero in Ferndale, and those were a wonderful debacle. (JP note - read about the Lucero/2CG two night stand HERE.)

Yeah, again, sorry for drinking all your green room tequilla at those Ferndale Lucero shows, buddy.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask what happens next – can we expect new Two Cow Garage music or shows in the near or distant future? More solo releases, touring, or collaborations on deck?

There will be more Two Cow, for sure. Not sure when, but there will be. Micah is doing some solo stuff, and I obviously am, too, it’s just in-between things. We’ve been touring for 18 years and this is the first pseudo-break we’ve taken, which, is healthy, I think. Micah and I are brothers, you know, we talk all of the time and are both super supportive of each other. Wait, maybe I should say we hate each other and there’s never a chance of us playing again. True or not that’s maybe a better career move, haha. DEADnettles have the songs we’re recording now, with the plan to release those in one’s and two’s as they finish. I’m really stoked about those. There are three songwriters, so the songs are diverse but the stuff we’ve done so far is really out there and interesting. 10cc has been mentioned a lot.

You’re an Indians fan, no? How is the season shaping up?  They’re just north of .500 last time I checked, with my Tigers barely putting up a fight. 

I’m a huge Indians (and Browns) fan. I could go on for days about the small-market baseball stuff but the fact of the matter is the Indians ownership is cheap. They decided to cut payroll this off-season, banking on a generationally good pitching staff being healthy, some younger players stepping up, and the central division being bad. None of those things have turned out, so they are middling at best with a terrible offense. It’s hard to watch to be honest. I still do, but it hasn’t been pretty. I think the Twins will come back down to earth and maybe if they can catch a few breaks it may be a horse race for the division but it’s certainly slipping away.

Thanks a lot, Shane! We’ll see you in Detroit on Saturday, and if you make it up as a civilian sometime there’s Tigers/Indians tickets for you & Jackson on me.   Xo

Love, They Dynamo comes out Friday on Last Chance Records. Pre-Order it HERE.

See Shane Sweeney on tour with Todd May, one hell of a singer/songwriter in his own right, in a city near you!     

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Shane Sweeney Facebook | Shane Sweeney Bandcamp | Two Cow Garage | Two Cow Garage Bandcamp

Jeremy Porter lives near Detroit and fronts the rock and roll band Jeremy Porter And The Tucos - www.thetucos.com

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