Many a musician was born and many a band was formed at the now defunct Matt's Village Pub. In the early oughts, mandolin player Jeff Williams played host to a popular open-mic night that launched numerous musical careers, including the Gaskets, the Ex-Patriots, Jared Jones of Lust Not Love, Jim O'Brien of Schnitzel and the Atkinsons.
It's been more than seven years since Atkinsons guitarist and vocalist Dickie Wood drew his name on that chalkboard, and he's still performing twangy rock songs with Williams. Borrowing the last name of fellow open-mic performer Gary Atkinson for their first gig, the duo eventually pieced together a full band, which includes Wood's wife, Jamie, on harmonies and percussion. The Atkinsons' new album, "Mile Marker," punctuates their Southern rock flair, while paying homage to some of their favorite storytellers.
Style: Tell us about that one song...
Dickie Wood: I picked "You Could Go" because I really dig the organic way it came together. The majority of the songs on Mile Marker already had an idea, a theme, or some chord structures when I went to write. This song came almost out of nowhere, which I thought was just amazing. The whole song is only three chords - E, A, and D. I was just scatting around with some melodies and then I put them away to work on some other songs. I was walking across the room and I started singing the line "you could go, I could wait around." It had never even occured to me before and I thought, "Oh my god, that's it." I sat down and wrote the rest of the lyrics in a half hour. It was the line that made me write the song and I didn't even understand what it meant until I started putting lyrics down on paper. There's no message in there at all, it's just something that's kind of spooky. It can take on different colors depending on what you're thinking about at the time. So, it's not about anybody specific, although it is a very specific song.
Jamie Wood: It's especially not about me!
Would you agree that the new record is less Americana, more rock and roll?
Dickie: One hundred percent. We're calling (the new record) kind of a departure. It wasn't intentional, but these were the songs that were coming out. We're getting into the grittier, dirtier side of things. We've had some folks say we remind them of old Drivin' 'n Cryin. I love those comparisons, keep 'em coming.
For "American Gothic," the whole thing was a story, each song was a chapter in a book. It was difficult to write, but on the other hand a lot of fun. In a way, it's neat having parameters. With this record, there were none. If something came up that struck our fancy, we'd work on it. There were all kinds of snippets of inspiration, with no real theme.
Jamie: We also open it up to three songs written by other people.
Dickie: I like to think the record symbolizes our last three year playing live. Some of the songs we wrote in that time, some of the covers that we did, stuff we were inspired by, it's a little bit of everything. We definitely put The Waterboys' "Fisherman's Blues" on there. We're known for (playing) it. A friend ours out of Nashville, Alan Thompson, we started doing one of his songs and people love it. So, we stuck it on there. Jim O'Brien [of Schnitzel], we've been doing his song "Upstate" live for the last three years. Why not put it on there? There was no reason this time around to hog all the track slots. We wanted to make this record representative of what we've been doing.
Who designed the artwork?
Dickie: The name of the CD is "Mile Marker," so we wanted to find a nice picture of a milemarker sign. I couldn't really take a good one. The ones we were looking at had three digit numbers, so they're really long. Then you take a picture of it and the green looks awful. What are you going to do? So, I found a black and white one on the web from an artist in Florida. He let us buy the rights to it for our purposes and I just put our layout over top of it. He got a picture of the mile marker, it looks like it's outside of Las Vegas or Arizona, and it had a motorcycle and a car zooming down the highway. I used Paint Shop Pro to get those out of the way.
Jamie: Now it looks like a deserted highway going off to nowhere, along with the tumbleweeds. You know what our girls noticed? The date of the CD release is April 16 and it has 16 on the mile marker.
Dickie: See, the stars are lining up.
How long have you two played music together?
Dickie: Since shortly after the beginning of The Atkinsons. She was in the band within six months.
Jamie: March 20th. Seven years.
Dickie: I know you know the date, I don't know the date. [Everyone laughs]
Jamie: He started the band, but I had no interest. I said, 'Ain't no way, no how, never never never will I get up on stage.' Then I saw Buddy and Julie Miller in concert at the Library of Congress and I was moved to tears with the husband and wife team singing harmonies on stage. I joined the band a week after. I was able to tell Buddy Miller that story. I was drinking a beer down on Brown's Island when he sat in with Emmylou Harris. The Taters asked if I had ever met Buddy and I'm like, 'Are you kidding me?' They said to hold on a minute went to get him. So, I got to tell Buddy Miller that and he says, 'I'm going home and telling Julie that.' I hope he did.
You two have been married twenty years. How do you balance the band and marriage?
Dickie: It's our common fun thing we do, it never gets in our way. It gives us common ground for things to talk about. We have two kids, Kaylan and Bailey. We love 'em, they're great... but this is our big hobby and we love to do it together. We really have too much fun with it for it to ever be a chore or have to balance it out.
Jamie: My father has been such a big supporter. He helps us out by coming down and staying with the kids so we can have date night every weekend with the band. Now our kids are getting a little older, so the oldest can stay with the youngest if need be.
Dickie: Kaylan is eleven, so being in the band for seven years, she's never really known us to not be in a band. There are bass guitars all over the house. She loves that there's music stuff, she loves seeing us in the newspaper, or a magazine.
Are either of your kids musicians?
Dickie: They both have been wanting to take lessons of some sort. Only recently has Kaylan said "I really want you to teach me how to play guitar." I said "I promise we'll sit down as soon as we're done with of this CD business." I'm out almost every night trying to get things together. I bought her a Fender nylon string acoustic and the plan is to teach her. And I think the little one will not want to be left out. So we got Bailey her own acoustic.
Jamie: I got a guitar myself when I was in sixth grade. Bailey wants to take strings when she goes to middle school next year, so she's trying to decide cello, viola, or fiddle. She really likes cello because she saw Constance Sisk playing cello and she heard it on our CD, but she doesn't want to carry around that big cello case.
What has been your most memorable show experience?
Jamie: Two years ago we opened for Cross Canadian Ragweed at Toad's Place and played in front of seven hundred people that were huge Cross Canadian Ragweed fans. We had so many people who bought our CD and are still writing us.
Dickie: That's what makes a show fun for any musician, having a bunch of people actually enjoying what they're hearing. A lot of times you can play a larger venue and people are there to see the [headliner] and they may or may not care about [the opener]. These fans were insane. They were there to see Ragweed and they saw us and they loved it and it was like one big party. We just had the most fun that night. It was nice to get that kind of appreciation, for as much as we play.
You will be accepting donations for the Henrico Humane Society at your show. What is your connection to the charity?
Jamie: Jeff Williams, our mandolin player, and his wife Mary Beth are very involved with the Henrico Humane Society. They foster dogs for a long amount of time and try to acclimate them so they are adoptable. Some dogs that weren't adoptable, they kept themselves. So, they're very big dog lovers. They got us involved with Bark In the Park, which is the Henrico Humane Society's fundraiser held at Deep Run Park. We would play out there. My girls would do the 4 Paws Dog Walk to raise money. It's been near and dear to our hearts because of Mary Beth and Jeff.
Dickie: There will be some pictures of some dogs that are hot on the market. We'll try and get them adopted.
Who is your favorite husband and wife musical duo?
Dickie: Definitely Buddy and Julie Miller. The last issue of No Depression [magazine], they went out of their way to put him on the cover. They basically call him the godfather of Americana music.
Jamie: He's so influential and he's sat in with so many people.
Dickie: He was known as a side man early in his career. Then, when he stepped out on his own, people couldn't get over the wonderful voice that he has. He's a great songwriter, but he's one of these people who doesn't want to steal the limelight either.
Jamie: He was in the Band of Joy with Robert Plant and now he's in the Majestic Silver Strings [with Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, and Greg Leisz].
Dickie: It wasn't long after we heard of him that he did a record with his wife Julie. That's when we realy got turned onto him. We love Buddy Miller, but when we saw the both of them together at the Library of Congress, it was really magical. They did something together that they couldn't have done alone.
The Atkinsons will celebrate the release of "Mile Marker" on April 16 at Capital Ale House, 623 E. Main St., with openers Rachel Leyco and Constance Sisk. Show time is 6 p.m. and there's no cover. All ages. For information, go to capitalalehouse.com.