Interview: The Grahams

Alyssa and Doug Graham don’t just write about adventures, they live them.  In fact, the Americana duo spent three months riding trains across the country in order to write the songs on their latest album, 2015’s Glory Bound, the follow-up to 2013’s Riverman’s Daughter–they lived a riverboat for that one. Told you.

“Transportation is the American modern ideal; when you think of Americana and what it is, it revolves around travel around the country, whether it’s by automobile, riverboat, or train,” explains Doug.  “It’s a big part of our culture; a lot of the exchange of music in our country happened on the river or on the rails.  It’s important to us to figure out what Americana is, and how we can experience it in a modern way that reflects back.  Life on the train is very transient; when we were on the train, we met up with Wes Sharon in Oklahoma, and Cody Dickinson in Memphis… we wanted to bring the whole thing full circle by recording in different locations along the way as well.”

The Grahams, who have been making music together and with their lifelong best friend, Bryan McCann, since they were kids growing up in New York City, feel that transportation history is worth the tribute because without it, our country’s musical roots might not be as deep.  “The fact is, because of the evolution of transportation over the last century, people have been able to gain exposure to all kinds of music,” explains Alyssa.  “We felt it was our duty as songwriters to use these traditional modes of transportation to tap into the history and the legacy of American music.  The only way to do that is to get out of the environment you’re used to and go ride the river or ride the rails.”  “That’s the intellectual side of it,” Doug adds with a laugh. “It also appealed to our sense of adventure.  We love getting out there and doing something crazy.  We were able to walk away from that experience and write songs that were genuine rather than voyeuristic.”

During their travels on the train, The Grahams stopped in El Paso to visit dear friend and producer extraordinaire, Davíd Garza, an Austin, Texas legend, who was working there at the time.  “We got really drunk with him out there for three days, and recorded some songs just for fun,” Alyssa says with a laugh.  “A few months after Glory Bound came out, we decided to go back to work with Garza and finish what we started.  He’s famous for inspiring collaborations and community, he always says ‘My favorite music is music that’s shared, not music that’s ‘show-off’.”  The pair decided to revisit the recording, and Garza suggested they meet with him to record in Austin.  “We spent five days in the studio there, and every day, different folks would show up, like The Watkins Family and The Milk Carton Kids and Suzanna Choffel, all kinds of people coming in and out,” recalls Alyssa.  “We would stay up all night recording everything from Bad Company covers to our songs that ended up on the Glory Bound Deluxe Edition.  It was a purely joyous musical exchange.”

“The great things about our time in Austin was, there was lots of tequila, lots of impromptu soccer games in the back yard, there were moments where we’d decide to go record a Wanda Jackson tune or a cover of ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’—just a bunch of people sitting in a studio jamming,” recalls Alyssa.  “It got us back to our roots, of how Doug and I grew up playing music together, which was sitting on the floor with an acoustic guitar just rocking out to Neil Young.  It was really special.  Everyone came into it with a sharing mindset, no competition, no judgment, and they were playing and singing our songs.  It was a real treat.  We’ve never experienced anything like it.”

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Susan Hubbard

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