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Singing the body of song electric with Wayne Gottstine

Courtesy photo

“Fallen” is the new release from Lawrence-based musician Wayne Gottstine.

Musician Wayne Gottstine is performing at the Shamrock Lounge on Friday, June 23, in Wichita, and Saturday at the Replay Lounge in Lawrence.

Accompanying him will be the album’s producer, Colin Mahoney, on drums and bassist Brian Schey as well as Jamie Briggeman, who will handle the female vocals performed by Melody Walker on the LP.

His new record, "Fallen," is comprised almost entirely of songs that Gottstine recorded acoustically while a member of Split Lip Rayfield and finds the veteran musician in fine form. No mean feat given that he was battling cancer during the recording of the set that features new takes on classic material such as “Never Make It Home,” “Drunk and Sad” and the titular piece.

Speaking from his home in Lawrence, Gottstine detailed the recording of “Fallen,” addressed his health and his deepened appreciation for both music and live performance.

Interview Highlights

What inspired you to go back and record these songs in an electric setting? 

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I wrote those songs. Scroat Belly was a heavy country band, and I liked the electricity of it all. As much I loved [the versions we did with] Split Lip — we did some great versions of some songs — I always wanted to hear some of these songs electrically, with a big band, with the big vocals, with the big guitars. Colin and I, the producer, hashed it out over the phone, and I went to Colorado, and we started recording.

You’ve known Colin for quite a while, and he worked on the early Split Lip records. 

He’s done four Split Lip albums. We recorded “On My Way” ourselves, but he mixed that. He’s been involved with four or five Split Lip albums. We have a long history.

He plays drums on the record, and he and bassist Brian Schey form this cool rhythm section. 

They play in several bands together in Colorado so they’re real tight together. They work as one very well. It was pretty easy laying down songs with them.

Almost all the songs on the album were ones that you first recorded with Split Lip, except for one — “The Booze Won’t Let Me Down” — which you first recorded with Scroat Belly. 

We kind of laid the songs out in this conceptual form so that they would flow into this story of heartbreak, addiction, grief. “The Booze Won’t Let Me Down” was a natural stepping stone for how the progression plays out through the record.

I wasn’t expecting the production touches on “Never Make It Home.” I think that gives the tune a new kind of resonance. 

We took it to a different location by slowing it down, by adding the primal beats and then, of course, Melody Walker’s gigantic vocals on the chorus and the outro. It just turned into a different thing. We tried playing it a couple of different speeds; we played it at the original speed once and then Colin said, "Hey, how about we slow it down, like half-time." We did it and ended up just doing two takes of that, and that’s what we built that song from, those two takes.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that song over the years, but this was the first time I really “got it.” 

Honestly, it’s just kind of a creepy version. It really hits differently at that speed. I can go on and on about Melody Walker’s vocals but she really … to me … her vocals really make this version of the song.

That segues into “It’s Been So Long,” and that’s this strange burst of color at the end. It’s another nuance. 

When I was making the record, I was doing cancer treatment. We recorded in Colorado. I could only stay there for three or four days before the altitude really got to me. We had to do it in three- or four-day spurts over a nine-month period. “It’s Been So Long” was just the way to wrap up the record. To me, this record is incredibly emotional, and I thought it was going to be the last thing that I recorded. At that time, we weren’t certain how long I was going to make it with the cancer and now it’s looking like I’m in remission. At the time I was recording it like it was the last thing that I was going to do.

We decided to wrap up the record with “It’s Been So Long,” and we just did the most emotional version that I think we could do. We did a couple of versions and that was the one that stuck. Colin and Charley Rose put some incredible ambient sounds to the song. This is one of the most emotional records that I’ve ever made. I think it conveys emotion better than any record I’ve ever made.

When I first heard it, I wondered if this wasn’t the record you’d been waiting your whole life to make. 

Absolutely. I loved everything we did in Split Lip Rayfield. We had so much fun playing shows and our albums were good — especially “Never Make It Home,” I think it was our best album. But I really wanted to take these songs all the way. I knew that they had more in them, and that I wanted to present them in this way with a big, full band, with big, full vocals. Yes, I kind of been waiting my whole life to make this record.

You had lung cancer. You’re a singer. How hard were you fighting to sing when you were doing the vocals? 

Amazingly enough, I felt incredibly strong singing the whole time. There was no pain; there was nothing like that. I was tired from the treatment, but I really felt like this record captured my vocals better than any recording previous. Even though I was tired, and I was up in the altitude — which is a strange place for me to pick to make this record — but it just felt right and was right. I felt strong singing the whole time. My voice is, I think, better than ever right now.

I was going to say that this was some of my favorite singing that you’ve done on record. Was there a way that you focused your energy to sing on this record? 

Not really. I didn’t really have to focus or anything. It was mostly just me and Colin together most of the time; 80 percent of the time. We were so excited about making this record, and we had such a hell yes attitude about it. I wasn’t even thinking about [the vocals]. I would get done and think, “Wow, that’s the best capturing of my vocals ever.” After each song. I ended up doing all the vocals again the next time because I was feeling even stronger. It wasn’t something I was really worried about. After we got started, it was, like, “OK, I can sing. Let’s do this.”

Everyone I know who has heard the record comments on Melody Walker’s performances. How did you find her? 

I met her on Tik-Tok. We had traveled the same circles. She used to be in a bluegrass band called Front Country, and we were traveling, playing the same places over the years. I shot a comment and said hello. Then she recognized me from Split Lip Rayfield and said, “Oh my god, we used to listen to you guys in college.” I was, like, “Well, you wanna sing on my record?” She said, “Hell, yes.” So, she came out to Colorado — she’s got lots of friends there in the Lyons area — she just came in the studio and did all of that [singing] in one day. Just knocked it out of the park. It was an incredible experience watching her work. Because she is one of the most talented and educated singers I’ve ever worked with.

Your guitar solos on this album are something else. 

I was more concerned about my guitar playing than I was my vocals. When I did the chemo and radiation, I couldn’t even play the guitar for several months. My hands were shaking all the time. It was rugged. I kind of had to rebuild my playing. I tried to do something completely different on this album than any other guitar playing that I’ve done. I don’t exactly know how to explain what I was trying to do. I was trying to play at a more emotional level rather than a technical level. I was trying to convey the pain that is in some of these songs. I was trying to convey the happiness. After 45 years of guitar playing, I’m trying to concentrate more on conveying emotion than technical prowess. It takes a long time to learn, but I’m finally getting there.

You’ve been doing a lot of gigs lately. How great did it feel when you were able to start doing gigs again? 

It’s been fantastic. I have a new love for music and performing. I feel like I have a second chance. I want to take advantage of that. I love playing music and like playing for people, and I like to make people happy, and I look forward to every show and I look forward to practicing every day. I feel like I have a new lease on life, and I feel like I want to get as much out of my music as I can these days.

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.