Comparisons employed by many critics over the past decade to peg the music Kurt Marschke has fashioned with his Detroit-bred Deadstring Brothers invariably wind up at feet of the Rolling Stones – specifically, the loose, boozy, roots-driven party music of the landmark Exile on Main St. album.
Similarly, with Marschke now residing in Nashville and a splendid new recording titled Cannery Row to his credit, the labels have changed. Now Deadstring Brothers are perceived as a kind of alt-country troupe. Admittedly, with the sounds of pedal steel guitar, piano, dobro, even the strikingly familiar voice of longtime Willie Nelson harmonica ace Mickey Raphael coloring Marschke’s newest songs, such a tag would seem logical. Marschke will have none of that, though – at least not for now.
“This is not a country record,” he said of Cannery Row. “You know who makes great country records right now? Hayes Carll and Jim Lauderdale. Those guys make great country music, of which I’m a huge fan. But I did not make a country record. What we did was just make an American music record.
“We actually want to do a country record – more of a straight honky tonk record with covers and stuff – just because we do so much country music live. A lot of times, we’re out playing every night of the week. We’ll play in markets that might not really care a whole lot about Deadstring Brothers. But you’ve got to play Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and we do and we’ll play two hours of honky tonk. It’s such a big passion of ours that we feel it might be a wise thing to incorporate that more in our future recordings.”
Country or not – and Cannery Row sounds far more like the psychedelic comfort food country instigated decades ago by Gram Parsons than the pop-saturated fare that has become the Nashville norm – Marschke seems committed to making Deadstring Brothers a more going Americana concern than in the past. In fact, up until a little over a year ago, the band was essentially in limbo as he and longtime bassist JD Mack pursued outside projects.
“When JD and I kind of put the band back together last year, we set out a mission as to how we needed to do this,” Marschke said. “And it was going to be super aggressive because both of us wanted to make up for lost ground. After all, I had essentially shelved Deadstring Brothers for a year and a half.
“So we set up this plan. We’re in the middle of it now. I mean, we’re playing our 100th show for the year this week in Philadelphia. And we didn’t even start touring until the 31st of January this year. So it’s just a really, really aggressive campaign to put the band back in the market and let people know this is what we do. We’ve never actually toured this aggressively before because I couldn’t. I didn’t have the personnel to do it. I didn’t have an agent capable of booking that many shows.”
One thing is for certain, though. With Nashville as a home – even for the few instances during the year when Deadstring Brothers are not on the road – there is no time for slacking off. That’s just one of the reasons Marschke left Detroit Rock City to live there.
“I just knew that this was the right move to make. The musicians in Nashville, their lives are so encapsulated by ‘this is what we do.’ It’s all they do. There is no other work. This is it. It just seemed like you could up your game that way. For me, it seemed it would really up my game as a writer and as a player if I made that move. And I think it has.
“When I was off the road in Detroit, I would always have family and friends around. There were always things I could do to distract myself from my craft. In Nashville, there really are no distractions. I get completely absorbed in it.”
Deadneck Brothers perform at 8 p.m. June 22 at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N.Broadway. Cover charge is $8. Call (859) 281-1116 or go to www.willieslex.com.