Wisconsin native Brent Cashman was raised on rockabilly, particularly the records of the King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. It’s a love he carried into adulthood when, after a youth spent playing a variety of styles, Brent moved to Atlanta, GA and joined the local scene. His band, The Sideburners, just released a new album, Once Again… Vol. 2, and on October 26th, those cats will be in Macon to participate in Creeki Tiki Too! The Sideburners serve their rockabilly with a side of old school, a shot of contemporary rhythm, and a tall glass or original tunes– and if you’ve got a bit o’ hillbilly rock n’ roll in your bones, they might even make room on the plate for you!
AI- Let’s start at the beginning. When did The Sideburners come together?
BC- It’s an interesting thought… ‘Cause the band kind of morphed over the years due to drummer changes. We took on the name, The Sideburners, about 2009. Before then, our other drummer, his nickname was Junior– and so the band was called Junior, Dolan, and Cash. It was a three-piece band at the time, and everybody wanted a name to where we were all being recognized. Dennis, the bass player, his last name was Dolan, my last name is Cashman, but I shortened it to Cash. A little catchier…
Especially in that kind of music!
Yeah! And Junior was the drummer! It kinda had that Crosby, Stills, and Nash kind of vibe to it… But then Junior moved. We were gonna keep the name and be kinda like KISS– whoever was the drummer was Junior. But Junior didn’t like that at all. So we were like, “Well, all right, let’s come up with a different name, different drummer…”
Dennis was having a party at his house for his son’s birthday, and this lady who made these cookies for the birthday party, she came up with the name The Sideburners– and I was like, “Oh! I like that name. That sounds good to me!” So we adopted that name in 2009 and had a new drummer, Chris Scheetz, who would stay with us for three years. He left to pursue other things and then we got another drummer who was formerly with the band The Ditch Diggers– Mac– and he stayed with us for about a year and then left the band. Then we got our drummer who we’ve got now– Robert Read.
When Robert joined the band, we were still at three-piece where I was singing and playing all the guitar parts, stand-up bass, and the drummer. But Robert had a much more rock n’ roll background than rockabilly. He was really into wanting to learn and get into playing rockabilly music. Through the first year with him, he had suggested, “Why don’t we get a fourth member and get a lead guitar player?” So that I could focus on singing and just playing rhythm, playing some solos here and there, and expand the sound. We did that, and we got one guy who stayed with us for about six months, and then we kicked him out of the band for certain reasons. We got our other guy, Gary, and then he was with us for three years. Recently, we got David Olsen who, back in the day of the Star Bar and the bands there, had his band Poor Little Fools. He recently surfaced back playing guitar with Kitty Rose– and then left her band. And when he left, we snatched him up to join our band. So that’s where we are now.
What got you into rockabilly music? Did you grow up with it or was there a gateway drug?
No, I grew up with it ’cause my dad graduated high school in ’58. He was a big Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash, Elvis fan. He was in the Air Force the same time Elvis was in the Army, so he was always a huge fan. My dad used to record me and my brother on cassette tapes when we were little and my brother, who was kind of a bookworm, would always want to recite a book on the cassette tape– and then I would always want to sing a song. I had a little toy guitar and my dad’s got me on a cassette at five years old with a toy guitar singing “Hound Dog”. And I basically just said, “Hound Dog” over and over again for like 10 times. But my dad claims that I sat on his lap during the 1973 Aloha from Hawaii concert. He’s like, “You know, you were a fussy kid, always crying. But when that concert came on, I sat you on my knee, and we watched the whole concert! You didn’t utter one cry until it was over!” Ever since then… I was always into that.
As I grew older, I got into other kinds of music– heavy metal, I was a big Def Leppard fan, Quiet Riot, and Van Halen… I was learning how to play guitar, playin’ all of that kind of music– but still in the background, lovin’ Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. I had a band in high school, and we did all the covers of the day– Bryan Adams “Summer of ’69”, we did some Zeppelin and stuff like that. But then when I went to college in the early ’90, I had a couple of bands that were doing heavy metal music, doing Skid Row and stuff like that. But I wanted to get a rockabilly band together really bad. I wanted to get back to really focusin’ and playin’ Elvis tunes and all of that stuff. I was having a really hard time finding guys in Milwaukee– where I was livin’– that would do that. A friend of mine that I went to college with, she moved to Atlanta. She’s like, “Why don’t you move to Atlanta and get outta there?” Cause the work that I was doing–I went to art college for four years, and I was trying to pursue an art career as being an illustrator and a graphic designer– was really going nowhere. I was working at a video store in the mall. I was like, “Yeah, I always felt in the back of my mind that one day I’d moved to the South…” Always enjoyed the South.
I moved to Atlanta… October 1st in ’95. I went to my first Bubbapalooza– the event that they have every year at the Star Bar– Bubbapalooza in 1996. Seeing all these rockabilly bands playing… From national acts, classic acts — Sonny Burgess, I think, was there that year– and then local bands. I was like, “Oh, man, all these local bands that are fantastic, producing this awesome music! I got to get into that! So I started my first band in the fall of ’96, and we were called Johnny Gouda and the Chrome Tones. Because I was from Wisconsin, I figured the name Johnny Gouda– ’cause everybody was calling me “Cheese Boy”. That version of the band only lasted for about six months. One of the guys in the band, when I finally got our first gig after six months, he chickened out! He was like, “Oh man, I didn’t know when we’re actually gonna play in front of people! I thought we were just messing around in the basement!”
Isn’t it funny how that happened and sometimes?
Yeah! And what’s funny is that guy was a guy I went to college with in Milwaukee! He moved to Atlanta about six months before I moved to Atlanta– and we had no idea where each other was in Atlanta at all. This is before we had cell phones and stuff. One day I’m walking down the street in Little Five Points with a buddy of mine– and my college friend, Brian, is walking the opposite way towards me! I’m like, “Holy cow! We finally found each other!” He knew I had played in bands in college, and I told him I was wantin’ to get a rockabilly band together. So he was playing bass with us. But then as soon as I got that first gig, he was like, “I’m done.” Had to find a new guy and the new guy, he suggested we change the name of the band– ’cause he’s like, “Johnny Gouda and the Chrome Tones is God-awful.”
We changed it to Miss Fortune and had that version of the band for a while. That bass player who had joined us, Chris Owens… He was a good bass player, but he was learning. He was very green and he was learning– but then after a while, I got hooked up with this other guy, Eric Leland, who played bass. He had been playin’ his whole life, so he was really good. I made the decision to ask Chris to leave the band and had Eric play bass to try to elevate the band to the next level. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing over the years is trying to… Every version that I’ve had of a band, I’ve been trying to elevate it to the next level of players, including myself. ‘Cause, I’ll tell you, people who probably saw me play in ’96 thought I sucked– and I probably did! But I’m always learning. For a while, I was taking guitar lessons for a couple of years from a buddy of mine, Johnny McGowan, who back then was going by the name of Johnny Knox.
Yeah, I know Johnny. I’ve not spoken to him in years, but I know Johnny.
Yeah. He recently moved to Texas. But he’s a really good friend, really good mentor. He was like, “You got potential. You’re not there, you can use some work…” So he convinced me to come by the house and for two years, every Tuesday, I’d go over to his house after work and take guitar lessons from him. He was a big help.
The Sideburners just released a new album back in August, right? Once Again… Vol. 2. Tell me about the songs on that album. Are those all originals?
Yeah, those are all originals written by me– but collaborated with through the band. How I usually write songs… I’ll come up with an idea melody, and I’ll map it out, bring it to practice, play it for the guys, and have all the notes written for everybody. And I’ll say, “Here’s the song, here’s the idea behind the song, and the way that I want it to feel.” And we’ll workshop it. Somebody’ll say, “No, maybe we should change the beginning of it to this or whatever, blah blah blah…” But the lyrics pretty much stay the same. The contributions from the rest of guys in the band is really arrangement and where we should put a solo, should there be two solos… Stuff like that. A lot of those songs on the new CD were on our old CD from 2012. There’s four of them. We had a 2012 album called Heels on Fire, and that’s when we were a three-piece band with Chris Scheetz. That album we recorded with a digital four track recorder that was plugged into my laptop and I mic’d everything in our practice space. I mixed it in Garage Band and then had CDs printed. So it’s not a quality sounding album, but we wanted to have something to put out. When we were going to do [Once Again… Vol. 2], I’m like, “We’re puttin’ a lot of money into this album. We’re going into a proper studio. We’re havin’ an actual music director/producer workin’ with us and puttin’ this album together.” I wanted to take the four best songs there were on that last album, put it on this one with other songs that we had just written.
A lot of times when I write these songs, I’ll either try to write them about somebody that I know, or I’ll go back in the history of my own relationships and try to remember what happened and evoke that emotion. I used to say that I wrote silly songs about boy meets girl, boy and girl break up, and boy’s heart’s broken, and all that kind of stuff… But the songs on this album, I tried to write with a little more meat to it, a little more emotion to it. One of the songs, “Love Fades Away”… Gary, who was our lead guitar player, he had texted me one day and said, “Hey, I’ve got this idea for a melody for a song.” It’s four notes to the song, and he had recorded himself playing just that four-note progression, text that to me and said, “I don’t know if this is anything or not.” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s pretty catchy. I like it.” The more I kept listening to it in a loop, the more I kept hearing the song in my head, and I added a beginning and an end to it and a chorus to it, figuring that the solo section should just be the four notes throughout the entire song. As I’m mapping out and figuring out the musical arrangement, I’m like, “What should the lyrics be to this song? Was the song gonna be about?” Gary probably doesn’t want me to say this about him, but at the time, him and the lady that he has his two children with were going through really hard times.
That’s what I wrote the song about. And every single lyric in that song… Are basically small phrases that Gary had said to me over the years that had happened in that relationship. As soon as I got that into my head that I’m writing this song about him and his relationship with her, the lyrics pretty much came out in like 15 minutes. Refined it a little bit and came up with a name for the song, “Love Fades Away”. Because in my eyes, watching that relationship happen… From the time that I met him, they were living together. And from the time the song was written, they had broken up and were gone in their relationship. So that idea kind of fit– that love had just faded away.
Some of the other songs, like “I’m Leavin'” that’s on the album? I wrote that song about 20 years ago, shortly after I moved here and that song had gone through about four different renditions. Over the years, I kept refining that song more and more and more and more and working on it to the point where it’s the version that you hear on the album. The lyrics in that song are kinda typical for a rockabilly tune. But the other songs like “Holding Someone Else” and “Trying to Get Over You”, all those songs are about relationships that I had years ago. “Trying to Get Over You”, the relationship that I had back in ’97 with a girl who I was just… When that relationship went south and she broke up with me, I was just devastated. I spent a long time trying to get over her. That’s kinda what that song is about.
You guys like to invite people up to play with you, to sing with you.
That’s got a 50/50 chance of being awesome or awful. Does it normally work out? Is it normally a good time for everybody when that happens?
Yeah! I’ve seen that happen with other bands that I like– where they’ll have people come up and then somebody will try to grab the microphone and run with it… But you’ve got to have pretty good stage management skills to keep that under control. If somebody is not really helping the song out at all, you try to do a slight push… Push them to the side a little bit. Like, “Thank you,” as the song’s progressing and try to take back control and dominate the song– and then see if somebody else is doing better and point the microphone toward them. It’s a matter of just being alert at that moment so that it doesn’t turn into a huge train wreck.
If someone does want to hop up on stage and sing, you’re not going to play just anything, right? It needs to be a rockabilly, rock n’ roll song, right?
Right. But if it’s like a fun, party song where everybody’s hootin’ and hollerin’ and having a good time… And especially if it’s a cover that we’re doing that people do know. ‘Cause like a lot of times we’ll do a Waylon Jennings tune, “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”. Or if we’re doing an Elvis tune that somebody knows. We do JD McPherson, “North Side Gal”… So songs like that, you know, that a pretty well known… If somebody knows it, I’m like, “Yeah, come up on stage and sing it with me!” Because not only does that give me a little bit of a break, but people enjoy that. They’re now part of The Sideburners experience. You’re inviting them in and people really like that interaction. I remember before when I’m [went] to go see bands play… One of my favorite all-time, local area bands, Blacktop Rockets with Dave Weil, those guys… Johnny [McGowan] was playing guitar in that band and once in a while, he would motion to me to come up on stage and grab the pick– and I would strum his guitar while he was doing the fingering on the guitar. It’s just that little tiny bit of interaction that really endears people to the band. You’re not just playing to them. You know what I mean? You’re like, “Come on! Be part of this experience and enjoy it with us!”