It’s been thirteen years since a Craigslist ad brought bassist Bill Taylor and drummer Mike Davis together to form the band that would evolve into The Bitteroots. Since then, the Decatur, GA outfit has released a slew of albums while tirelessly performing on stages and festivals throughout the Southeast. The Bitteroots latest effort, Try Me Again, is the culmination of over a decade of dedication and sonic tinkering, of perfecting a particular formula of funky, bluesy rock that showcases where the band has been, where it is now, and where it hopes to be. Culled from the group’s discography, Try Me Again revisits and updates some of the band’s favorite songs with fresh interpretations and new production helmed by Bitteroots saxophonist Derron Nuhfer.
Let’s talk about this new album, the Bitteroots have comin’ out, Try Me Again. I say new– you’ve taken songs from throughout the Bitteroots career and reworked ’em. I saw an interview one time with Mike Ness and he talked about the pleasure of playing old Social Distortion songs because, after decades of performing and recording, they were all better musicians than when they started. Is that how it was for y’all?
BT- Yeah, some of these songs go back to the very, very beginning where we had a different instrumentation, we had different members, the songs were brand new. We certainly played these songs out hundreds of times since we recorded them and a lot of the ones from the first three records didn’t even have sax on it. Derron Nuhfer, our sax player, has really become our signature sound. So if you come to see us at a show and wanted to pick up an old record, you could go back to one of those first three records and it doesn’t even sound anything like us! We had a blast goin’ back and pickin’ our favorites from the first three records– and doing it during COVID when we weren’t out doin’ shows! We rerecorded everything as if you came to a show today, that’s what we would sound like.
This was a pandemic project? You said you were pickin’ those songs during this year and puttin’ ’em together?
We started tracking right before the world shut down and then we took a couple of months off thinking that it was… Everyone took off two weeks, right (laughs)? We were supposed to come right back!
It was just supposed to be a 3-hour tour!
Exactly! So we had a little bit of a hiatus. We didn’t know what was next. We had to end up cancelin’ the rest of our shows for the whole year. And then we decided to pick this up! We tracked everything else that we needed to, social distancing there. None of us were in the same room together. We did some recording at home and then would fly those in via Dropbox. Definitely a DYI type of project. We recorded it and produced it ourselves with primarily Derron Nuhfer, our sax player, being the primary engineer and producer on it. I’m real happy with how it turned out!
Tell me about that process, doing everything remotely away from each other. I’ve spoken to different artists over this last year, over a year, about doing that. Different people have different opinions about it. For some, it’s worked out very well. It’s actually given them an opportunity to work with musicians that they otherwise would not have had an opportunity to work with. And then for others, they’ve really missed that personal connection of being in a studio. What was it like? Had you done this before? Was this a new way of doing things, or was it an expansion of what you’ve already done?
We first started doing this last summer when we had a brand new song that we had written, had only played it out once, maybe twice before things shut down. We decided we would try to record it remotely with each of us doing our own parts at home, and then sending them back over to be mixed. Then if we needed to do overdubs, we’d just simply do that from our house again, and then send those tracks over. So we were able to do a single called “Time to Spare”. We released it last late last summer, and we thought it went pretty well! Hindsight’s always 2020, you know? When you go back and listen to it, there are things on it that I wish we could’ve changed. But because everything was done remotely on it, we’re fairly pleased with how it turned out from that experiment.
For the Try Me Again sessions, while we did do some remotely, most of it was done in Derron’s studio. I would go in and cut bass in one room with Derron in another, but the band wouldn’t be there. I’d be playing to drum tracks that had already been recorded against a scratch guitar. We built it up just like that, where literally it was each track separate recorded at a different time, different weekend, and then when things started comin’ together then we would do the vocals, and then we did several days of backing vocals. We did one more session of overdubs and here we are! Like I said, we’re very pleased with how this turned out, but in the past, we’ve always been in the same room together and recorded somewhat live and then fixed it from there. But this one, we built it up track by track.
Circling back to the trip down memory lane with the songs. I know a lot of artists have taken to streaming live performances during the pandemic. A lot of folks, I’ve seen they’re goin’ through and playing their full catalog, doin’ full albums first to last track. Some folks that I’ve spoken to have really been amazed at rediscovering their own work, and it’s helped them in a way because they’ve got fans who’ve always been into that work and put their own stamp on it. When you go back and listen to these songs that you’ve recorded, some, like you say, going back to the very beginning, and I think the band’s celebrating 13 years this year, does it bring up the circumstances surrounding some of these songs? How do you feel about that over a decade later?
Some of these songs we’ve been playing for so long that they’ve kind of taken on a life of their own. Some of these songs, I can’t even really remember writing them or recording them the first time because it’s so long ago. Other songs like “Needles and Bottles” and “Temptation” and there’s a song called “Pete” also, they were heavy in rotation in the first iteration of the band where we play ’em almost every show. And then for five or six, seven years, those songs didn’t make it out live. When we were goin’ through the list, we were lookin’ for 13 tracks to celebrate 13 years, those were three that made the cut to put back in to rerecord. And frankly, those are some of my favorites off of the new record, just because we rerecorded them fresh. It’s a new arrangement. It’s new instrumentation. It’s a new take on those songs from the first time around. We have a track on here called “Try Me Again” that’s kind of a little bit of play on words, these 13 tracks, we’re just trying ’em again!
You and Mike Davis, if I got it right, go all the way back to the beginning of the band. And as I understand it, you guys got started answering an ad on Craigslist?
Absolutely! We’re all from the Decatur area, which is a little community inside of Atlanta, very close-knit music scene here. We answered an ad for two other guitar players looking for a bassist and a drummer. He and I answered the ad. We both showed up at the same time. We got the gig and then subsequently both guitar players left at some point after that. So Mike and I have taken the baton, if you will, since the very beginning. We’ve had quite a few band members come through the years. I mean, anything that lasts 13 years in a kind of a creative type of scenario we’ll lend some personnel changes along the way. But we’ve had this same makeup for goin’ on three years now. We were just hitting our stride, doing some fairly big shows when COVID hit. We played a sold-out show with Kool & The Gang. It was a spectacular show! Prior to that, we did a show with Everclear to 10,000 people. So we’ve had some pretty good large shows and we miss it terribly and can’t wait to get back!
Your singer, Laura Dees, she’s been with you for 10 years now? Or this will be year number 10?
That is correct! I think it’s just over 10 years now, she’s been with the group. What’s surprising though is she’s our fourth singer (laughs)! Even though she’s been with us 10 years and the band’s only been around 13! So it took us a couple of years to find Laura. When we did, we knew it was the right one! The chemistry’s great, and she’s got a great set of pipes and can really belt it out!
You guys were about to get back out and start doin’ shows again, and this is something that everybody at every level, no matter who you are, where you are in the music industry, people are ready to get back out and do that. And of course, you’ve got an album to wrap around with that. I know you’re excited– but are you worried? What kind of concerns do you have about getting back out and doing this again?
I would answer that two different ways. I was worried from a musical perspective and from just a chops perspective. We did finally get together for the first time in six months, and we did a marathon six-hour, all day… We actually ran through 35 songs! And I’ll tell you, within the first song, it all came back! We were firing! It’s almost like we didn’t skip a beat! I’m incredibly encouraged, and I can’t wait to get on stage!
From the other perspective, we’re kind of dippin’ our toe into this, right? We’re still wearing masks everywhere we go. Even that practice, we wore masks all day long. We want to be able to do shows that are responsible and are safe. And this run of shows that we have are all outdoors, full social distancing, trying to keep everybody safe so that we can start live music back. If everybody does their part for that– wear a mask, stay in your area– I think that will only help live music come back even quicker.
On your website, you’ve got a link to archive.org where you have got a wealth of Bitteroots recordings from across this 13 years. I went and I thought, “Oh, this’ll be fun!” So I listened to the most recent recording, which I think was at Amici in Milledgeville last March…
And I listened to what is listed as the second show ever from Bitteroots that I think took place in June of 2008. I don’t know when the last time you looked at that was– but I wanted to hit you with the setlist from that show, which was “All Along The Watchtower” and “You Oughta Know”, John Mayer’s “Gravity”, you had some Chili Peppers in there, Ann Peebles, and Wilson Pickett…
While that was our second show, we really didn’t know there was gonna be a third one! That was before we even had written the first song. We obviously were still doin’ a bunch of covers and with that wide array of artists there, it was likely everyone was throwin’ out songs that they already know. We weren’t trying to be a band of a certain sound at that time. But yeah, it’s been a minute since I’ve heard that show from 2008. It’s pretty raw, but we try to make a point of recording everything we do. So, yeah, like you said, on archive.org, you can spend a little bit of time and listen to songs from 2008 and then jumped to 2012, and you definitely see a progression of a rock band that starts being very comfortable on stage.