Karin Wright Finds Her Niche with You Got The Silver
In the ten years or so that Karin Wright has been living and breathing the life of a musician, operating within the genres of country rock and now bluegrass music, there has been one constant during this progression through the ranks, and that is to be true to herself. By maintaining a strict regime to this one particular ethical code has seen Karin Wright create the enviable position of being able to write and record the music which feels most natural to her, without any compromise or interference, and, in the process, build a steady following that are now enjoying her latest album ‘You Got The Silver’.
The decision to digress slightly was not made overnight by Karin Wright, by opting for the old-time feel of traditional bluegrass music. In fact, any deviation in sound was a considered affair that involved countless hours of drumming up ideas that felt right personally in terms of the best way forward, but also choosing the right material to lay down her first bluegrass album as this was somewhat unfamiliar territory.
Help was at hand, however, as a longstanding friendship with America’s Reno brothers – Don Wayne Reno and Dale Reno – resulted in a partnership forming that would see ‘You Got The Silver’ come to life.
“I knew those guys when I supported them live ten years ago,” explains Karin Wright regarding the friendship and recent working relationship with the Reno brothers. “After this particular gig, we got to know each other really well because every time they came over to Norway with Hayseed Dixie [former band] we got in contact. So, when I finally decided to go back in time, musically, and do it like they did in the good old days, I decided to call the Reno brothers in order to seek their help. We ended up discussing ideas, and then decided to do it [‘You Got The Silver’].”
In terms of your current album ‘You Got The Silver’, why the decision to travel to Virginia to record it, as it’s a long way from Oslo?
“It was because of the decision to record the album with the Reno brothers as they are, in the first instance, bluegrass musicians,” Karin explains. “They grew up with bluegrass and performed with their father – Don Reno – who was responsible for the ‘Dueling Banjos’, which is a very famous song (see From the Tapes opposite, FLW). Don Reno had a band in the sixties called Reno and Smiley and then, in the seventies, the Reno brothers played with all the old-time and old-school bluegrass and country musicians. So they grew up with it. After the Hayseed Dixie, the Reno brothers started a new band called the Reno and Harrell Band. Mitch Harrell is a friend of theirs, and his father [Bill Harrell] and the Reno brothers’ father played together in the sixties. So they decided to carry their legacies forward and go back to what they grew up with, which is true, old-time bluegrass music.”
How long did it take to record the album ‘You Got The Silver’?
“We had seven days in the studio and it was recorded live, so it was hard work,” replies Karin. “We didn’t have a lot of time to do things, but this is a band [The Reno & Harrell Band] who knows each other really well and therefore, there is great chemistry between them. They’re the most professional musicians I have ever been with, so it was a great experience just to be in the studio with these amazing musicians!”
You mentioned that the recording was a lot of hard work. Did the recording sessions start at an early hour and then finish rather late?
“No, we started in the studio between nine and ten o’clock in the morning and then recorded throughout the day. So it was approximately seven or eight hours. There were a couple of days however, where we went from morning to working late at night.”
Did you experience any problems when recording ‘You Got The Silver’ due to the brief timescale you had in the studio?
“Not really, as these guys are professionals and therefore know what they’re doing,” answers Karin. “I was a little bit insecure because these guys are so good. However, it really started out well [vocal parts] and they just carried me through the whole thing like I was a queen! It was a good experience, but hopefully next time we will have more time on our hands because sometimes it’s a bit nerve-wracking in the brief time that we had. Also, I was in America and then going home straight afterwards, so we needed to get everything finished. The band ended up mixing the album after I had left, and therefore I had put the whole project in their hands to a great extent. I’m really satisfied with the way that they did it because they saw me [for who I am] and they wanted this music, and these songs, to be the best that it could. We had a good time with a lot of laughing and joking in between the hard work.”
What was the reason or reasons for producing an album largely filled with cover songs rather than a whole album’s worth of your own material?
“The decision was kind of hasty to produce ‘You Got The Silver’ in this way,” remembers Karin. “I had been thinking about doing things for a long time and had a bit of a hard time trying to work out the best way to do things in terms of the music. A decision wasn’t made until I went over to the States. I didn’t have enough of my own material, but I thought that the timing was right to record the album. I will prepare myself to have more original songs on the next album, as I think those three songs on ‘You Got The Silver’ turned out really well and people seem to like them a lot.”
The covers you have included though, makes for fascinating listening, as well as reading regarding their historical values with ‘Salty Dog’, for example, having been written in 1924. Were you familiar, therefore, with such songs before you started recording ‘You Got The Silver’?
“No, actually not,” comes the honest reply. “Don Wayne Reno started sending me songs by email. I had listened to a lot of them before any decisions were made, so there was a lot of back and forth in terms of the song choices. The Reno & Harrell Band was trying to find songs that suited me and would do me justice which, in the end, we came up with nine songs that I would sing. The reason why the songs were not familiar was because it’s kind of new to me doing old-time bluegrass, despite listening to a lot of country music. There is still a lot of music out there that many of us don’t know about. So it was very educational to listen to all of these old songs and very exciting as well!”
In terms of the album title ‘You Got The Silver’, is this referring to the Rolling Stones’ song of the same name?
“Yeah, as I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan and even more so a huge Keith Richards fan!” says Karin enthusiastically. “He’s [Keith Richards] a true, honest, clean musician who’s just doing what he’s doing. I really admire musicians who are true to their art. Also, he’s got a voice that appeals to me as there’s so much feeling; he’s not a good singer or anything but in a song, when he sings, you believe him. What I like about the band is their old material with a hint of country music in it because the Rolling Stones are more country than some people realise. In terms of the Stones you have ‘Exile On Main St’, ‘Let It Bleed’ and ‘Beggars Banquet’ where the Rolling Stones were really inspired by country music. Keith Richards was also a good friend of Gram Parsons. So I think that I’ve actually loved country music a lot longer than I realised because I was listening to these albums a long time ago.”
Country music was not always a major influence in the life of Karin Wright because during the eighties, when she first started out writing songs and recording demos, other musical influences were also filling her own personal airspace from punk to heavy metal.
“I never recorded any punk music,” replies Karin thinking back to this particular period in her life. “I was into punk music during the 80s, but I was never a real punk as I was more into hard rock such as Metallica, Motorhead and other similar stuff. It was my brother who was in to country music. I think some people don’t know what country music is, especially when they tell you that they don’t like country music, but then they come up with names of artists who are country music. Therefore, I think a few people don’t know that they actually like it, as I found out with my Rolling Stones comment earlier.”
Were the Reno brothers surprised when they found out about your tastes in music outside of country and bluegrass?
“No, because the Hayseed Dixie were together for about twelve years and they called their music ‘rock-grass’, so they actually played Metallica or ACDC songs in a bluegrass way. I think that most musicians, or people who are really in to music, are not just in to one kind of music. The reason that I had more rock ‘n’ roll on the two previous albums before ‘You Got The Silver’ was because I had the urge to do some rock ‘n’ roll. With the latest album, I felt like doing bluegrass and old-time country music which, for me, felt like coming home. So there’s a time for everything and this is what I want to do now. It does take some time to find out where your heart is. I think that this kind of music suits me in terms of my personality and my voice. Also, to be able to sing like they did in the sixties was an absolutely amazing experience, because deep down in my heart I felt that I could do it, but you never know until you’re there actually doing it.”
What are your current plans in relation to ‘You Got The Silver’?
“I recently performed a couple of shows in support of the album release with a band that I use in Norway, who are also great musicians with, for example, the banjo player and bass player coming from the Norwegian bluegrass band Lucky Lips. So, I’m lucky that I have an amazing band here in Norway who performed with me for the release concert for the album. In terms of the Reno & Harrell Band, we’re planning to do some festival dates next year in Norway and possibly the rest of Scandinavia as well.”
Will there be a new album next year?
“I might do it next year,” considers Karin, “but we haven’t talked that much about it because it depends on time. As I said earlier, I would like to record more of my own songs, but it takes time to find good songs and write them.”
Is there a Karin Wright philosophy?
“Most of the time I have been working on my own when it comes to my music and releasing my albums. I don’t know if it sounds silly, but what I came here to do is to be true, and everything that I do comes from my heart. It needs to be personal and honest because there’s no need to be an artist or a musician if you’re not honest and doing what you want to do. It’s not easy most days because a lot of musicians or artists do what they think other people want to hear, or what the record companies want to hear, so you always try things out. I’ve always done what I think I should be doing which has sometimes produced various results, but I’m proud of what I’ve been doing. I break for nobody! I just do what I want to do. I don’t want to be a show artist or anything similar because it means a lot to me to be able to communicate and have something to say. I want to be able to express myself and for people to feel something. Music, for me, is communication, and if people can relate to what I do in my music and the songs, then I’ve achieved what I came here for.”
(All live photographs courtesy of Ida Thoresen. Cover image by Merete Eide)
Karin Wright’s ‘You Got The Silver’ is available on Rootsy
Further information on the Reno & Harrell Band can be found at: www.RenoandHarrell.com
Music, for me, is communication, and if people can relate to what I do in my music and the songs, then I've achieved what I came here for."
FLW - From the Tapes
A few more facts regarding the famous instrumental song ‘Dueling Banjos’.
Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith originally composed the song as ‘Feudin’ Banjos’ in 1955 and performed with Don Reno under this very title. The song ‘Feudin Banjos’ became synonymous with the name ‘Dueling Banjos’ and is famously known for its use in the film Deliverance starring Burt Reynolds. At this time, no permission was given for the song’s use in the film, which resulted in a successful lawsuit with Arthur Smith finally being credited for writing the song as well as receiving (allegedly) substantial compensation.