Wednesday, December 07, 2005
A conversation with . . .
John Stout's band, Autonomous, is set to play
a CD release show at Floyd's Winter Sun hall
This Friday in Floyd, musician John Stout and his band Autonomous will give a CD release show in support of Stout’s new album, “No One’s Listening.”
An accomplished drummer who has toured extensively and performed with or opened for some of the biggest names in the business, Stout says his new album represents a dramatic changing of gears for him — a musician’s evolution into a songwriter.
Here the South Carolina resident offers some insight into how “No One’s Listening” came to be the album he hopes a lot of people will be listening to.
How did your career start off?
John Stout: The reason I started playing drums is because my mouth was so messed up with orthodontics that I couldn’t play a wind instrument. I really started liking it and got hooked in high school — drum line was everything to me. While I was studying in college I met a couple guys and we started a band called Shades of Gray, which is not a Grateful Dead band — we were a pop rock group. And we started playing a ton to the point where I was a college student and a full-time musician. We were gigging at least four times a week. So we started touring like crazy after we graduated.
How did you get that momentum going?
JS: We got lucky because we got this big ground swell out of Columbia. At that point Hootie and The Blowfish was out of the same city as us. Right now the live music scene in Columbia is still good — there’s a lot of bands, but there’s really not a lot of crowd support for music — but at that point it was monstrous… We ended up being college favorites and we could sell out 400-capacity clubs. That buzz got us good management… and in hindsight, now that I’ve done it — we toured the whole East coast and out to the Mississippi — in hindsight I think that was pointless.
It was fun and we met new people, but I don’t think you can build a following covering that much territory unless you have a huge production behind you — people calling and promoting every show you do, and radio and magazines and newspapers.
How did you eventually get to doing what you’re doing now?
JS: Eventually another band I was in broke up, and at that point I totally went away and started becoming a freelance musician and crazily practicing piano — eight to 10 hours a day for probably two years. And I started working on singing, because… I had been a sideman and I wanted to be able to have more control than that. I had this realization that I had to start writing music, and I had to do it now.
Was that decision what led to the band you have together now?
JS: That’s a fine line. I played all the instruments on the album except for bass on six of the songs. ... The live thing is that I’ve hired a bunch of really talented hired guns. I want it to be a band atmosphere — I want people to come see a band and I want everybody to be showcased, but the reason I started this project is because I wanted control. ... Input is great, but I used to get tired of having to concede to everybody else’s ideas.
Absolutely, that’s just kinda the way it works with writing I think. Somebody has to be in the driver’s seat or the bus just doesn’t move. So it’s a project with rotating musicians, and the basic idea is to go out and support the album.
JS: It is a band, but at any moment in time when you come out to see the group there could be a different person playing.
Can you walk me through the writing and recording process on your album?
JS: I decided to buy a bunch of medium to high-end stuff and record it and engineer it myself. I had this feeling, since it was my first time doing a lot of things on an album, that I wanted to have a lot of time, and that’s the one thing the studios don’t give you.
How long ago did you start writing for the album?
JS: I started writing the songs a while ago. I’m not the type of guy that just bangs out songs. So I guess I started writing maybe two and a half years ago. I probably had 14 or 15 songs, cut it down to ten, and by the end of it cut it down to eight. I started recording July of 2004. It took a long time because when I started I didn’t plan to play all the instruments, but I realized that nobody else was gonna care as much as I do about the parts. And also I was playing a lot still, and that took time out from the recording.
It’s a very long process, and I don’t think that somebody who doesn’t play music seriously would necessarily realize how long it can take to do it at a professional level. Are the tracks from the album making up the majority of the Floyd show?
JS: We’re gonna do the full album, and probably three covers and an instrumental. The players I’m playing with are great. It’s just that on this particular project I’m gonna go differently than all the other projects. The bands I’ve played in, they had to gig a ton just to make it worthwhile to the members, so 75 percent of the shows you’d end up playing would be pointless to your career — just playing in some bar.
It’s hard to keep members interested in a project when you can only guarantee them a couple gigs a month, and with this project I wanted it to be extremely focused and concise. Only shows that matter to the promotion of the band and the album.
What albums are you listening to?
1. Glen Phillips (formerly of Toad the Wet Sprocket): “Winter Pays For Summer”
2. “Rage Against the Machine” (self-titled debut by Rage Against the Machine)
3. Stone Temple Pilots: “Purple”
4. Peter Gabriel: “Sixteen Greatest Hits”
5. A “very schizophrenic” mix CD, including artists “from Chick Corea to Outkast” (quoting Stout)
The Autonomous CD release show will be Friday evening at the Winter Sun in Floyd. Doors open at 8 p.m.; show starts at 9 p.m.