Prison Book Club Q&A is "Required Reading" @ WVRockscene

Shepherdstown-based rockers Prison Book Club (current & ex-Demon Beat, Fox Hunt and Resonators) released their debut CD Required Reading to critical acclaim in October. The southern rock/alt-country act plays the Blue Moon out there Thursday with a few friends. We caught up with (from left) John Miller, Tucker Riggleman, and Adam Meisterhans to learn more about the band. Drummer Jeff Birdsall (with toboggan over eyes) missed the email...

WVRS: How & when did you guys form?
Tucker Riggleman: The original get together happened back a couple summers ago when we all teamed up to play a friend’s wedding. We had so much fun that we decided to keep playing when we could. John and I had been doing a handful of shows with just the two of us and it was getting ridiculous with us passing around four or five different instruments; made more sense to get a full band and rock the shit out.
John Miller: The wedding was definitely the starting point, but at that point I mostly played covers and Fox Hunt songs. Started out with me, Tucker, and Jordan Hudkins (Demon Beat) on drums, then Adam started joining in. After that wedding we didn’t play together for about a year. Tucker and I both had songs we wanted to play full band, so we started up again. After a few shows Jordan left and we got our good buddy Jeff to fill in. Been having fun.

WVRS: PBC doesn’t sound like the Demon Beat or the Fox Hunt, what bands were benchmarks for you guys?
TR: I know that for John and I that bands like The Replacements, Lucero, and Drive-By Truckers are a big influence. Also, Adam really likes the twangier side of The Rolling Stones and music like that, so he gets down with shredding on this stuff.
JM: I know we all like Thin Lizzy. The Georgia Satellites are one of my favorites as well. Truth be told, the songs I play in the band are probably mostly influenced by the Satellites, The Replacements, and Slobberbone.
Adam Meisterhans: On my end, I’m thinking in terms of guitar players; George Harrison, Hubert Sumlin, Steve Cropper, Pete Townshend, etc. Mostly, I’m pretty much just trying to rip off Mike Campbell in any way I can.

WVRS: You’ve obviously been/are in other bands, what does being in PBC give you that the others don’t?
JM: I love the Fox Hunt; they’re all brothers to me at this point, but working within the confines of a stringband dynamic isn’t the easiest thing for a good portion of the songs I write. I grew up playing loud and I still like to do it. Plus it’s great getting to play music with different people; all the guys in Prison Book Club are dear friends of mine and it makes sense for us to play something together.
TR: Personally, it’s rarer and rarer for me to get to do solo shows anymore, and honestly, that was never something I wanted to “pursue” or to really play out. I love playing that stuff in Shepherdstown or the few places in Pa. where I started playing because those kids are familiar with it and they seem to like it, but it’s never been anything I want to tour with and play out very often. PBC is its own functioning band for me, and it’s a full-band outlet for my own songs, plus I love playing bass on John’s songs too. For me it’s just a party, and we have a lot of fun. I did a couple shows with a backing band before (Planned Parenthood) but everyone is kind of living in different places now, so this is better.

WVRS: So Required Reading was self-produced, right? How did the DIY approach to recording and releasing it make for a more conducive atmosphere? How long did it take, etc.?
AM: As far as I’m concerned, after having been in a couple of studio situations, I’m starting to prefer basements. The nice thing about a studio is great equipment, but time is money. In our basements we have moderately decent gear, but we can do whatever, whenever. In my opinion, it’s way more important for a record to be deliberate and thought out than rushed with nice gear. I’ve never listened to a record and thought, this record would be better if they used nicer shit. If it inspires you it’s good. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter if it sounds good. I don’t know exactly but it couldn’t have taken more than five days. Jeff didn’t even realize we were recording when we came over. He just thought we were shoddily recording practice with a desktop mic. So we just shoddily recorded a record.
TR: We recorded all the basic tracks (rhythm guitar/bass/drums all live) in one night, along with the bulk of the vocals. Then we finished up the lead guitars and vocals in the next day or two. It was super fast -- I think it kept us on our toes -- and some of those songs we’d barely played at all. I think that adds to the urgency or whatever, and sure it could sound better, but shit, we through that first tour together so quick. It’s rare for both of our main bands to have gaps in our schedules so we had to make the most of it.
JM: From what I recall it was originally just going to be a demo for us to take on a short tour we were going on. When we found out that people really liked the stuff, we decided to make more of them once we ran out. I think we’ll do a more proper album at some point this year, but everything I’ve ever done has been DIY; Fox Hunt and all. I don’t even know what it’s like to record in a professional studio. I prefer it that way, although having access to the kind of equipment and knowledge all our bands have access to is something we can’t take for granted.

WVRS: You got a good deal of favorable press for the CD, how satisfying was that?
TR: For me that was super surprising. Sites like Ninebullets.net doing such flattering reviews blew my mind. That’s a music blog that I’ve been reading for four or five years now, and then we had a site say that we reminded them of the self-titled Lucero record, which is one of my all time favorite albums; that was crazy. I never expected this kind of a response. Someone who works for the fucking Jay Leno show bought our album. What the hell?
JM: To clarify, it wasn’t FOR the Jay Leno show, but pretty funny nonetheless. It’s great that people really seem to enjoy what we’ve been doing, but I take all that stuff with a grain of salt (I think we all do). We have a blast playing these songs but that’s mostly the reason we’re doing it; it’s a lot of fun to do. That said, any time you create something and it’s received positively, it’s a good feeling.

WVRS: Seems like more and more cool bands are popping up out Shepherdstown way; where do you think/expect PBC to fit in, and how would you rate “the scene” out there?
TR: The scene in Shepherdstown could be incredible if there were more all-ages/rock-oriented places to play. Right now we have The Blue Moon which is great, but we are pretty much the loudest band that’s allowed to play there. Then, there’s Stonewall’s Pub, but they only do Friday shows. The all-ages spots around here cost a ton to rent out, so it’s a lot of money to front. The bands out here are great though, and they’ve been slowly getting out there more. Everyone should check out The Goddamn Hills, The Resonators, Brief Lives, Woodworkings, Cait O’Shea, Tanner Haid, Roma Renegade, Alisha Hanlin, Witchgrass, and all the other great bands around here.
JM: I don’t know that there is a scene per se. For the most part we all enjoy and respect each other’s music; we play together, try to help each other out where we can. Everyone here creates something quite different from everyone else and there really isn’t a whole lot of venue support, particularly for loud rock bands. There’s potential for a truly thriving musical community here, but without a bigger venue it’s difficult to really get the music out to a lot of people, particularly to the university kids. But I do like being based in Shepherdstown; the people who are into the music are really, truly into it, which could have a lot to do with it being a small town. No jaded “scene” kids getting in the way of what’s really important. It’s a good feeling being in a town where that’s the case.

WVRS: You’ve got this 2.18 show at the Blue Moon w/Woodworkings and Cait O’Shea, what do you think about those acts and the venue?
TR: Woodworking is our buddy Kyle Woodworth who moved here from Baltimore about six months ago. He makes some incredible ambient music, and he had a track on that BBR compilation we put out in the fall. Cait is a great young songwriter and she has a big following around here. She played our CD release show back in October. It’s always great to play good hometown shows with your friends. And as we said before, The Blue Moon is great. They usually don’t do many “rock” shows, but they usually let us get a bit rowdy and have fun.

WVRS: What is PBR-mageddon, and do you guys expect to be sponsored by them, or Miller Light, maybe?
JM: Ha, I thought that “word” was just funny. I used it to describe the aftermath of a party the Fox Hunt had on one of our tours. I have no idea how it got thrown into this, just a joke that went too far I guess. But hell, if they wanna sponsor us, I’ll drink that shit.

WVRS: Can we expect PBC to play some sort of literacy-themed, correctional facility charity show at any point?
TR: Haha, we’d be down for it. Johnny Cash style.
JM: I’d rather play a psychiatric ward. Seems that would be a more interesting experience.

--- Prison Book Club plays the Blue Moon 2.18 w/Woodworkings and Cait O' Shea

photo: Ashley Hoffman

mp3: PBC live @ Blue Moon 2.18
<a href="http://bigbulletrecords.bandcamp.com/album/prison-book-club-live-in-shepherdstown">White Plain by BIG BULLET RECORDS</a>

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