- - Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In 1979, brothers Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin combined their love of blues, rockabilly and Americana folk music into a potent blend of high-octane music as leaders of the band The Blasters. They recorded just a handful of albums together until Dave split in the mid-‘80s to pursue a solo career. But first he accidentally ended up in the band X for their groundbreaking album “See How We Are,” while Phil soldiered on as the leader on The Blasters.

Over the ensuing decades both Alvins released albums packed with solid slices of bluesy, down-home rock. Dave Alvin even won a Grammy.

It took Phil Alvin’s brush with death a few years back to make Dave Alvin take stock and reconnect with his sibling and musical co-conspirator. Since then the brothers have toured and released a series of projects including the 2014 collection of Big Bill Broonzy blues covers “Common Ground” and the upcoming CD, “Lost Time.”

Dave Alvin spoke in advance of their Friday stop at the Ram’s Head On Stage in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss about making up for “lost time.”

Question: Traditionally brothers in bands don’t get along. What is your secret?

Answer: We maybe didn’t get along so well at times. [laughs] That’s why after I left The Blasters, we didn’t record a new studio album for 30 years.

Q: What brought you back together?

A: My brother’s health. It’s a long story, but he died. He was dead somewhere around 10 minutes. From the time I was told he had died I had about 40 minutes before they called back to say, “He’s gonna live.” In that time I was sitting there going down my list of regrets in life. My major regret was that we didn’t record more together. I wanted to make up for that.

Q: Are you guys competitive with each other?

A: In the way brothers always are. Nothing out of the ordinary, until we were in the band together. Then it became competitive. We were strong in different areas. My brother has got a very unique voice, and I was a songwriter. Once I became more confident as a songwriter, then we started butting heads. Songs decide the direction of a band. The competition was who was gonna control the direction of the band.

Q: Were your parents supportive about you both pursing music careers?

A: Our mom very much so. Our dad was supportive as long as we were paying the rent. He would ask, “You makin’ any money doing this?” We said, “Yeah. We’re doing all right.” He’d say, “OK.”

Q: Who’s idea was it to start The Blasters?

A: It came together accidentally. A friend was getting married and needed a band at his wedding reception. Growing up my brother always had pretty good little blues bands, but I was never good enough to be in them. They couldn’t find another guitar player for this wedding gig. I was the last one in the room so ….  There was a certain magic about the two brothers making noise together.

Q: Why did you leave The Blasters to join X?

A: I left The Blasters, but I didn’t leave to go to X. I left because it stopped being fun. The pressures for everyone involved got to be too much. We were successful enough to quit our day jobs but not successful enough to retire. [laughs] The rent was hanging over our heads. It was drag to be fighting all the time.

Q: How did you you end up in X?

A: I quit The Blasters after a particularly odious performance in Montreal. The next day I flew to New York to do a show with a side project I had called The Knitters with John [Doe] and Exene [Cervenka] from X. They just happened to have fired their guitar player the day before. I walked in, and they said, “Hey, you wanna join X?” I said, “OK.”

Q: Was it difficult to join an established group?

A: At the time they were my closest friends. It was easy in that sense. The hard part was I had to learn about 32 songs in a week. I loved playing in the band. But I missed my songs.

To go from The Blasters where I was the songwriter into a band where you’re one of many songwriters in some ways was a relief. But on the other hand I missed my songs. Also, no matter what I did in X, I would always be the guy who took over for Billy Zoom. Whether people said it was great or it sucked, you’re always gonna be that guy. “Oh, that guy? The guy who took Billy’s place?” It was fun for almost two years, but then it was time to move on.

Q: Do you write every day or just sit down when inspiration hits?

A: I write when I get moved. My strength is I write ‘em when I feel ‘em. I could be walking down the street to go get a hamburger, and I’ll have a song by the time I get the hamburger.

Q: What was the recording process like for your new CD, “Lost Time?”

A: The way I like to record is I like everybody to be sitting around in a circle. Just like in the old days. I called my brother a day or two before we went in the studio and said, “Let’s cut this, this and this.” I wanted to keep the essence of the original song but give it our own spin.

Q: What are you doing differently this time around?

A: In the old days my brother was maybe more boisterous. And I was dumber. The big difference is there is mutual respect now between the two parties.

Q: How’s Phil’s health now?

A: It’s tender. But he’s good.

Q: You were great on “Justified.” Any other acting plans?

A: No. I have friends that are actors. I respect acting. I am not an actor.

Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin will play with The Guilty Ones at Ram’s Head On Stage, located at 33 West St, Annapolis, Maryland, 21401 Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 and available at RamsHeadOnStage.com. They will also play Saturday at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. Tickets are $29.50 and available by visiting Birchmere.com. 


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