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The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band remains positive in hard times

Tyler Zoller Photography

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band performs at Wave, Friday, April 15.

The Indiana trio — consisting of guitarist/vocalist Rev. Peyton, drummer Max Senteney and washboard player Breezy Peyton — recently issued the album “Dance Songs For Hard Times.” The collection captures the spirit of a changing social landscape in the wake of COVID-19 and uncertainty while remaining celebratory and uplifting.

The bandleader recently spoke with KMUW about the album’s origins and the trio’s return to touring life.

Interview Highlights

Tell me about this new record, “Dance Songs For Hard Times.” It seems to me that the material coincides perfectly with what's going on in the world these days.

I’d been working on a record and then COVID shut it down, shut everything down, the whole world down. It just felt like everything I’d been working on just wasn’t the way I was feeling about anything anymore.

But we were sitting around at home and I [was] absolutely panicking about everything—about our life, about the world. Breezy got sick and wouldn’t get well at the time. I was [thinking], “What’s going to happen here?” I started writing songs, and it wasn’t like a conscious thing … “I’m going to sit down and write a good song now,” because that’s not really how good songs work. Songs just happen. You never know how or when, but good songs just happen.

I started writing these songs and then I brought a few of them to Breezy. She said, “I think these are the best songs you’ve ever written.” It just really felt like we had something.

Then it was like, “Well, how do we figure out how to record these, and what do we do in the midst of COVID?” We kind of formulated a plan; we realized we needed to do this. I started kind of, almost jokingly at first, saying, “We’re gonna call [the record] ‘Dance Songs For Hard Hard Times’ as a working title.” I had a buddy that described our music like that one time to me years ago. He said, “You only write dance songs about hard times.” When all was said and done, I said, “This isn’t the working title, this is the title. Any song that doesn’t fit this [theme] isn’t on this record. It’s on the next one or it’s not on a record.”

I have to tell you that, this is to take nothing away from previous records that you've done, but I think your singing is so wonderful on this album. And I was wondering if there was something that you specifically did this time in the studio to get those kinds of performances out or it was just a matter of, “Hey, look, I've been at this for 20 years and I'm just always trying to improve.”

No, that's it. That's it. I work on it constantly. I work on everything: I’m going to be a better guitar player, a better singer, songwriter, performer, musician, showman, everything. I work on all of it every single day.

I guess [there are people who], when they get to a certain point, they stop trying to get better, but I never have, and I don’t think I ever will. I’m always trying to get better. I think your voice does something after you’ve been singing for so long. Maybe that is helpful. I think it happens to a lot of people where their voice improves with age. Maybe that’s what happened to me, too.

I think a lot of it is that I know how to put the songs in better keys for me to sing and little things like that can make a big difference.

You and the band have been performing live and touring. I would guess that you’ve probably spent more time on the road than you have at home over the years. It had to be something of a relief to get back in front of audiences again.

It felt so good to see people and play the songs people live. I needed it. People are coming out again, and it feels good. We’ve had a tremendous, just amazing, excellent couple of weeks.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.