Exebelle and the Rusted Cavalcade is a band that loves to record. It never goes for long gaps between sessions, which explains why its first three releases are all four- or five-song EPs. Or maybe it's because the group is a trio of singers and songwriters — guitarist Phil Heesen, bassist Ryan Owenby, and pedal steel, mandolin and harmonica player Kerry Hutcherson — who keep the home demos coming. Often the ideas flow so quickly they have to come up with new ways to create live-sounding percussion on a computer program. Skittles bags and Advil bottles usually do the trick.
“We figured it'd be nice to give fans something new every couple of months,” Hutcherson says. “With the advent of mass music via the Internet, people usually get a few songs at a time anyway.” Now, Exebelle is talking about creating EPs with seasonal themes, at least sonically. The upcoming EP “C.A.F.” is an outright attempt at twangier country songs, perfect for boozin' on the porch or drivin' your truck with the windows down. When Exebelle records again in September, you can expect its music to change with the leaves, but the lyrics should follow some familiar themes.
Style: Tell us about that one song …
Ryan: It's a song on the EP we're about to release, a brand new song. To go back with the story a little bit, when I [met Phil and Kerry] they were telling me that they have this band and it's called Exebelle and the Rusted Cavalcade. They wanted to start writing some songs with this story running through them that would follow certain characters. Exebelle was one character and the Cavalcade was this group of people traveling around. I thought it was a good idea and a really cool, easy way to write lyrics. To write around this story and have each song be a little vignette or a little snapshot within this larger story. “Lowlands” revolves around two characters within the story that is Exebelle and the Rusted Cavalcade. Within this group of people, this cavalcade going from one place to another, the two characters in “Lowlands” are not officially part of the group. They're stowaways, kind of following along in secret. I hope all this comes through within the song, but it's like putting a short, fleshed-out story within a three- or four-minute song.
Phil: Ryan is, within the band, basically writing his own concept album. With one song I wrote while I was in New York and hadn't come up with any lyrics for, I just gave it to Ryan. I was like, “Please make this cool and put it in your sweet story, because whatever I come up with is not going to be as good.”
If your music were a classic cartoon character, which one would it be?
Kerry: Foghorn Leghorn! It's gotta be Foghorn Leghorn.
Phil: Sounds good.
Kerry: Wait, there's a little hesitation over here.
Ryan: If you can sell me on it, then I'm good.
Kerry: Because we're a band that loves humor. And Foghorn Leghorn is one of the more folksy cartoon characters. He's the guy who says [using a spot-on Foghorn Leghorn impression], “Uh say boy, Uh say boy, Uh say boy.” And says things like, “F-f-f-f-fuhtunately I keep my feathuhs, nuhmbuhed for just such an uhccasion.”
What's your most outrageous moment as a band?
Phil: This is probably one of the most outrageous moments of my life.
Kerry: We played a show at Clementine's in Harrisonburg and had played another show that weekend. So we were heading straight back to Richmond that night so we didn't have to find a place to stay. Of course we left at 2 in the morning, but it was one of our best shows and we were having the best time. We're flying down 81 and somehow, out of nowhere, we saw about five or six deer trotting nonchalantly across the interstate. It was a misty, low visibility night, and they were going verrry slowly. So, we all say “Oh shit!” But, Phil must have the greatest reflexes ever, and the best luck.
Phil: It was 100 percent luck.
Kerry: He somehow brakes and gets the car to swerve, and it swerves with the deer! So, we just follow them along, still at the same speed, go into another lane, and straight through them. There's deer butt to the left of the car and deer face to the right. There was literally a car width between them and we made it. I was preparing myself for impact, thinking I was going to have some poor deer in my lap.
What is one thing you think would help improve the Richmond music scene?
Phil: More drummers! That's the way to improve any music scene. Nobody needs guitar players. Kerry's wife is pregnant and they're having a baby in October and we're hoping for a drummer. Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys or guitar players, make them be drummers, percussionists and such. We've been through two drummers who have come in, done some shows, and left for various reasons. So right now there's three of us because we don't have a drummer. When we do shows right now, I just put a tambourine on the ground and stomp on it. For our type of music, it works most of the time.
Ryan: We had a drummer who played his one and only show with us when we were at the National this past March. We learned backstage, about five minutes before going on, that he had never played a show before, ever.
Kerry: He had played in a drum line in marching band at the Georgia Dome and stuff like that. So he had played drums in front of people, but not as the sole drummer in a four-piece band.
Ryan: That was bizarre going into it knowing it was his first time onstage, but he played flawlessly.
Phil: We were like, “Man are you nervous?” He was like, “I'm all right.” Well, you know what, I've been playing guitar for half my life and this is one of the biggest shows I've ever played and your first ever show on drum kit is at a show at the National in Richmond. Then, he left town. We're apparently the alt-country Spinal Tap.
Have your day jobs influenced your songwriting?
Kerry: I'm an environmental lawyer, believe it or not. I'm a staff attorney for a state agency called the Virginia Outdoors Foundation that does land conservation. A lot of what we do is farmland and forest land conservation. We protect family farms from becoming Wal-Mart or the next ridiculous Mcmansion subdivision.
Phil: The last song on our upcoming EP is called “Useless.” It's basically a song about what he does and is an environmentally conscious song in ways.
Kerry: It's sort of a broader political statement, but it's focused on the environment issue.
Ryan: I'm a full-time student at [Virginia Commonwealth University], working on my master's in teaching for grades K through six.
Kerry: For one of his classes, the assignment was to take a poem and respond to it in some way. So Ryan took this awesome William Blake poem, the introduction to “Songs of Innocence,” and said to me and Phil, “Hey, I've got this melody and I want to put it to this poem. Can you help me record something?” So, we just recorded this song for his class project and it's on our MySpace page. It came out really well.
Ryan: It was a children's lit class, where we try to get kids to respond or get excited about reading in ways other than writing book reports. We look for new ways to present literature to kids in the future, as a teacher. It's hard to get excited about poetry as a kid. If you put it to music, it's at least something they'll remember, hopefully get into, and then branch out from there. It was a really fun way to go about it. If anything, we have a future setting classic poetry to music!
Exebelle and the Rusted Cavalcade hold a CD release show for “C.A.F.” on Sunday, July 19, at 8 p.m. at the Canal Club, along with Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. Tickets are $10-$12. 643-2582.