Poor Until Payday is the brand new recording from Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band. The trio, which consists of the Reverend J. Peyton on guitar and lead vocals, his wife, Breezy, on the washboard, and drummer Max Senteney, has earned acclaim for its roots-oriented style, which married tradition with innovation.
The album spotlights the trio's ferocity and the Reverend's desire to write an album to lift the spirits. Reverend Peyton's Big Damn performs at Knuckleheads in Kansas City on Friday evening and at Blues, Brews & BBQ in Newton on Saturday.
The Reverend recently spoke with KMUW about Poor Until Payday.
When did the material for this new album start coming together? Are you always writing?
I'm always writing. What usually happens is, it's when I'm bored with the songs from the last record, I start writing myself new ones. [Laughs.] I'm working on stuff, I'm always writing, I'm always making music. I don't finish a lot of songs on the road. I always finish them at home, with a little bit of quiet.
You're not home that often because you continue to perform well over 200 dates a year.
We're on the road an awful [lot]. But that's kind of the deal for a band like us. That's how we survive.
I imagine there was a period of time building up that kind of workload, though.
As the music business changes, the one thing that is great, at least for a band like us that plays real, from-the-heart handmade music, is that you can't download that experience. That's a challenge, too, when you make a record, trying to follow that and figure that out. With this record, we felt the best way to do it was go in and play live. I even sang it live. I wanted it to be live like Chess Records or Sun or Stax. I wanted the listener to feel like they were in the room. I also figured, "If they didn't do it that way in 1959 or earlier, then I don't want to do it. Let's use as few microphones as possible. Let's make this thing live and happening."
You tend to write songs—not 100 percent of the time—but some of the time, write songs that are uplifting in some way. Were in you a good mood or a frame of mind to think about that in writing this record, lifting the spirits?
There was definitely a theme with this record. Uplifting is maybe a good word for it. This may sound really lame but it was like a pep talk to myself. I just feel like there's negative energy everywhere. Everywhere. It feels like there's negative energy everywhere. It feels like people are on edge and as we travel around, I get that feeling that people don't wanna feel that way. I wanted this record to be … I guess uplifting is a great word. I think that's it. I wanted it to be a reminder to myself and anybody listening to it that things are gonna be better and they can be better. I think that's why we started it off with "You Can't Steal My Shine," put that as track one.
I was thinking about the first time that I saw you play. I can't remember if it was 2004 or 2005 at Barleycorn's in Wichita. You were on a bill with … I don't think they were Moreland & Arbuckle yet or they were still the King Snakes. That was a long time. There were a lot of bands that came through during that time and a lot ‘em aren't left.
So what's been the secret to your longevity?
I think maybe it's tenacity or relentlessness. I don't know. Obsession? Passion? The same as what a lot of this record is about anyway, in that I just refuse to give up. Poor Until Payday is the title of the record, right? It's not about a weekly payday. It's about us waiting on that real payday. Waiting on it to happen. Waiting on the world to figure it out so we maybe do 100 shows a year instead of 300.
When you do this, somedays you have bad days, just like everybody has bad days at work. Sometimes you have to remind yourself, ‘Hey, not every day is like this.' With us, I somehow have this ability—and Breezy does too—the bad stuff that happens? We fight really hard to push it aside and focus on the good stuff.
I've talked to guys who are headlining nights at major festivals in Europe and you say, ‘What do you want next?' And they say, ‘I want two nights next year.' It seems like music is like that you: You get to one level but you're always striving for the next thing.
The people that are good at it and continue to get better and make that happen are like me. They're just not ever satisfied with anything. Breezy has said that about me sometimes: ‘You just can't be satisfied with anything.' When you are an artist and you are taking your art seriously, whether it be painting images on a flat surface or creating music out of thin air or writing poetry, I think that if you are going to be a good artist, you have to think that way. As soon as you think your best stuff is behind you or you're as good as you're ever going to get or as soon as you start to think that you're so great you don't need to work on it, I think that's when you're done. I think that's when it's over for you.
You work in music that is steeped in tradition but you're also breaking new ground. Do you find opposition from traditionalists in that pursuit?
People that are truly, really traditionalists, meaning that they really understand the history of blues music and where it came from, they almost universally understand what I'm all about. The people that really know Charlie Patton and Bukka White and John Hurt and Fred McDowell and have followed it through to guys like Robert Belfour and Honeyboy Edwards, people that have gone way deeper than that. They know Chess Records. All those people that really understand all that? They get where I'm coming from.
It's superficial people that think they're traditionalists and have a very narrow mindset of what blues is or should be. Those people are the ones who say, "I don't understand this guy." It's usually because they have zero knowledge of fingerstyle blues, they have zero knowledge of country blues. They have zero knowledge of where blues really started. Blues for them started maybe with the 1960s electric gunslinger stuff and went through the '80s with 12 bars and turnarounds.
I think of myself in a lot of ways as a traditionalist. I'm just trying to take my stuff and make new music. But I'm coming from a place where I have studied like an insane person my whole life. It's not coming from a place where I said, "Oh, I think this music's cool. I think I can do better." I know that if you're going to keep a genre alive, then you must make new music.
We should also talk a little bit about Breezy. How long have you two been together and been working together?
This is 15 years of us being married. We got together very young. If someone I knew today said, "I'm going to get married" at that age, I'd say, "Whoa, you're pretty young there, whippersnapper!" [Laughs.] Like an old man. But at the time no one was like that with us. No one. I think it's because we were so perfect together from the start. I've been with Breezy since I was 19-years-old. And I don't talk about this too much but she had a very promising career and she gave it all up to get in a van with me and chase these songs around the world. I never take that for granted.