Artist of the Month: The Old No. 5s
Congratulations to our current Artist of the Month, The Old No. 5s! A compelling power trio, the group has made its name known in the blues scene over the past 3 years. The musicianship among guitar/vocalist Brock Alexander, drummer Aaron Thomas (the two have been playing together for almost 10 years), and bassist Derek Tucker is apparent on the band’s latest album, Steam, and at their dynamic live performances. Not willing to be pigeonholed strictly as a blues act, each member brings in his own influences, personalities, and passion, resulting in a ferociously rocking, funk-filled groove.
The Deli: Down and dirty: 1 sentence to describe your music.
Brock Alexander: It's kind of a gumbo: roots, rock, blues, soul.
Aaron Thomas: Our music is a unification of our individual skill sets, musical pallets, and fan expectations.
Derek Tucker: It's a hard, crunchy blues-based shell with an experimental and eclectic gooey center.
The Deli: Give me some background info on the band.
Brock: We've all played our instruments 15+ years, performing just as long in countless capacities. Aaron and I have played probably 700 shows together since 2006. Derek joined us in January 2013. We've released 2 full-length original albums, toured, done awesome shows, shitty gigs, and everything else in between. But we are still on the hunt for whatever happens next.
Aaron: Brock and I have been playing together since college. Derek joined the group early 2012 and we haven’t looked back since.
Derek: I can't speak for what happened before me... but I filled in with the 5s a few times before I was offered the position and the immediate thing that struck me was Aaron's approach to groove and where he naturally places emphasis. The three of us together snapped into place instantly and our creative process is much more intuitive than in other projects I've worked in. I still feel that some of our greatest ideas and musical moments come from the three of us just being who we are naturally without trying to force any specific concept.
The Deli: What inspires your music and songwriting? What is your songwriting process? Does one person write everything or is it collaborative? Has that process changed in the 4 years you've been a band?
Brock: The idea for The Old No. 5s was originally my vehicle to play blues rock music. As we've evolved over 4 or 5 years and become more of an original act, I continue to write the bulk of the material, with Derek adding more and more tunes each record, but the evolution of songs is very much whoever comes into rehearsal with the song ideas gets the main point across and then we just jam them. Play them at shows, try different arrangements, play them until we are tired of them, and then we usually all come back satisfied as individual players and as a group. Every song on the new album was finalized as a group. Which feels cool, because it sounds like us. Not us trying to piece things together, we are just playing.
Aaron: I personally take a lot of inspiration from drummers/percussionists that I have studied over the years, but I think in this project, I take most of my inspiration from Brock and Derek. One of them will bring in an idea and we will work together to develop that idea. Giving it form, phrasing, dynamics, and turning it into a working song that we then play at gigs until we start getting reactions from our fans. When we start hearing things like “that new song… ‘Barn Party’… that thing is killer!” We know the song is where it needs to be.
Derek: This last record was very collaborative compared to Sourmash. The three of us have very strong, independent personalities, and the writing process for Steam was a great learning experience for us on to how to write together. We consciously made the decision to all be very active with input and ideas and I believe the record is much stronger for it. Each one of us comes from very different perspectives, experiences, and preferences in style and it's the amalgam of compromises we make, added to our intuitive cohesion, that manifests itself in the current 5s experience. There's an obvious evolution from Sourmash to Steam and personally I'm excited to see who and what we become with the next record. We don't put down parameters we have to fit inside as a group, and the courage to operate in such a manner while still being commercially relevant is one of the things about the 5s I'm the most proud of.
The Deli: What have been your greatest musical accomplishments?
Brock: Surviving. A lot of people try to achieve success at varying levels, but when you get down to it, I think we are happy to have found a positive outlet to play music, be original and creative to ourselves, and continue to improve every year in our ambitions.
Aaron: As a band I’d say the biggest accomplishment is a consistently full calendar every month. We’ve been to the International Blues Competition, we’ve done the King of The Roots thing, but nothing that makes you feel more accomplished than playing 130+ gigs a year on average. Personally though, finding myself on a beach, knee deep in the Gulf of Mexico after spending the previous night in a minivan stuck on a one-lane bridge in Kentucky. We got stuck in a blizzard that dropped 4 feet of snow on either side of our van on the way to play a festival in Bonita Springs, Florida. For me, the best accomplishments in life are when you work through conflict to achieve your goals. The sand feels a little more amazing under your feet when you and two of your best friends are always striving to be the best they can be as artists.
Derek: Steam, hands down. We took a lot of risks with the way we approached this record. Working together to consciously evolve was, at times, strenuous and stressful, but we didn't just want to put out just 12 more songs in compact disc form and call it a record. This album is a testament to the three of us growing as people, friends, and musicians, and the performing and songwriting on the record reflects that. There's a depth to Steam that speaks to who we were, who we are, and who we are going to become, and I don't feel like that's always a common thing in the modern era of music.
The Deli: Tell us about your latest album Steam. What can listeners expect? What future plans do you have for getting your music out there?
Brock: I would say it’s very diverse. Lots of rock, blues, but also lots of soul and pop. It's tough to pigeonhole it, because it really is pretty different tune to tune. I think our main goal with our music is to simply get it into as many ears as possible. Whether that be live or via the Internet or telepathy.
Derek: As far as getting our music out there, we're still approaching this with the tried and true method of building awareness, one new fan at a time. The more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities people have to hear what we are doing and respond favorably. We gig a lot, and we're slowly making further and further trips away from our home base. Everything we do is in house, from booking to merch design, and while DIY can be taxing at times, it allows us to be 100% who we are. That's important to us as a unit.
The Deli: What does supporting local music mean to you?
Brock: I think it simply means you value the main stage acts like Taylor Swift or Tool as much as the guy or girl playing on a weeknight for 12 people. Really, what's the difference if it sounds good?
Aaron: Supporting local music is partly financial, partly attentive, but mostly social. When asked to “support” music, I think a lot of people immediately think of having to part with their hard-earned money. I won’t lie—we all have bills to pay. But the most important part about supporting local music is being enthusiastic and outspoken about your favorite bands, artists, and shows. Fifty years ago, music was a social experience. One could argue that it still is today, but it’s nowhere near what it was in its prime. Music has become a more private experience. Rarely do you hear about 5 friends hanging around their stereo at home jamming out to the new [insert your favorite band here] record. Most people have earbuds in. Music is purchased alone, at home, electronically. If music is social, it’s while riding in a car with friends, or at a show with a group of people. Being social in your local music scene connects you with the most creative, talented, interesting people in any city on this planet. Personally, supporting local music is about sharing my enthusiasm for what I do, with the people I am around.
Derek: We're usually on the receiving end of support here locally and I can say that, being a transplant to the KC area, the amount of interest in live music I see here is encouraging. One of my favorite parts of moving here has been getting involved in the musical community and I love how vibrant and varied (not to mention talented) it is.
The Deli: Who are your favorite local musicians right now? Non-local?
Brock: The Sheepdogs, Dawes, and Ryan Adam's Taylor Swift album 1989.
Aaron: WOW!!! Locally I feel like I could write a book, but I have a special place in my heart for a few specific people. Pat Adams, Todd Strait, Keith (Big Poppa) Mallory, Chris Hazelton, Todd Wilkinson, Nick Rowland, Adam Hagerman, and of course, Derek and Brock. As far as local bands go, because we play most evenings, it’s hard to get out to see other groups. But the last band I saw that really blew me away in terms of being the whole package—musicianship, skill, content, and showmanship, etc—was My Brothers and Sisters. I could not sit still. I dig The Nace Brothers, Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7, and Matt Hopper’s trio with Kevin Frazee on drums. Nationally, the list of drummer I follow reads like a dissertation. But the short list would be Carter Beauford, JoJo Mayer (Nerve), Terreon Gully, Todd Sucherman, Bill Stewart, Glenn Kotche, Steve Smith, and Robert “Sput” Searight. My list of bands is also unending. But if I had to pick one, it will forever and always be Tower of Power.
Derek: Bandwise, there are too many to, list. There are so many fantastic acts coming up in KC right now that I honestly couldn't pick favorites. As far as players, I'll say that bass players like Paul Greenlease and Jacque Garoutte are perfect examples of always playing the right notes in the right groove all the time. Dylan Reiter's creativity on bass knows no bounds and I'm constantly trying to emulate his approach and feel. On drums, the three guys I'm always excited to play with are Aaron Thomas, Adam Watson, and Adam Hagerman. There are so many guitarists and vocalists I love that I can't list them all, but Sean McDonnell, Jake Koivisto, Dave Hays, and Brock are cats that always stand out to me on guitar. As far as non-local acts are concerned, the bands I'm constantly listening to are The Main Squeeze, Snarky Puppy, Umphrey's Mcgee, and the Neville Brothers' Live On Planet Earth is a primer for funking it right.
The Deli: What is your ultimate fantasy concert bill to play on?
Brock: I'd really love to jam with Doyle Bramhall II or Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes. As far as a favorite concert bill, I'd play with anyone who'd have me. Lumping it into bills would be a drag.
Aaron: It would be a festival. Soulive, The Old No. 5s, Lettucem Norah Jones, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Galactic, Snarky Puppy.
Derek: It would never happen, but Tool, Elton John, Phish, The Main Squeeze, Snarky Puppy, Medeski Scofield Martin and Wood, Peter Gabriel, YES, and Soulive. But we would have to go first at that festival, because my head would explode at some point.
The Deli: A music-themed Mount Rushmore. What four faces are you putting up there and why?
Brock: John Lennon: ‘Cause your ambition should far exceed your abilities.
Jimi Hendrix: 'Cause... it's Jimi.
Jack Kerouac: ‘Cause he is my spirit animal.
Johnny Depp: ‘Cause we share birthdays.
Aaron: Buddy Rich: NOBODY… plays like Buddy. Buddy died before I was old enough to see him in concert, but this is a man that inspired generations to the drums. Always striving to better himself, and those around him, he had high expectations for everyone.
Levon Helm: I mean… do I need to explain this?
John Coltrane: Coltrane is a pop culture icon, but not everybody understands what he brought to the music world. John was a major contributor to the deep understanding of improvisation and the birth of bebop/modern jazz. This man knew his classics, as well as he invented the future. John was influential to all the jazz musicians who followed in his giant-steps. A man who touches music like that, has to go on my mountain.
John Williams: Before I get yelled at, I realize Williams is primarily a composer and conductor, and is best known for his film score compositions. But if you really put his entire career into perspective, you can’t help but to realize that this guy should be on everyone’s list!!! 22 Grammys, 2016 AFI Life Achievement Award, 2004 Kennedy Center Honors, conductor of the Boston Pops, SIX DECADES and is still working!!! THIS GUY is “living the dream.” I mean… watching any of his movies with no music score. Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List, Superman, the list goes on and on.
Derek: James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, and Rocco Prestia. In my opinion, their combined brilliance is what defines the epitome of bass guitar playing.
The Deli: What other goals do you have for 2016 and beyond?
Brock: We wanna write another album and get it out faster than we did the last layover. I think we would like to release a Christmas EP next year. Ultimately, I hope we continue to grow, evolve, and create.
Derek: To keep living the dream and expanding the horizon. I feel positive about our trajectory and I'm really excited to see what is to come. One of my favorite things about the 5's is the balancing act we do between accessibility and indulgence, and the evolution of that is something that keeps me invigorated and present. I've been with the 5's for 3 years now and I'm nowhere close to bored or complacent. I feel like the three of us have a special chemistry and approach that I've never experienced with any of the many groups I've played with in the past and I can't wait to see what we try to pull off next!
The Deli: Where can we find you on the web? Also, provide a link to streaming music and/or video.
The Deli: Always go out on a high note. Any last words of wisdom for the Deli audience?
Brock: Don't be afraid to dream up your reality, and then work to make that dream real. It's crazy to think that people can and are affected by your music. And really that's all the inspiration a musician needs.
Derek: Cheese tastes good! Years ago I was showing a song to a friend and was worried that some of the ideas were too "cheesy.” He looked right at me and uttered those words with a gravitas that implied wisdom from the universe. For some reason that has always stuck with me.
The Old No. 5s will be playing at Coda next Wednesday for their monthly 5’s + 1 show, where they bring in a special guest. Ben Hoppes will be featured on banjo this month.