From ne’er-do-wells living outside the law to the grace of second chances, Parts & Labor mix the swampy tone of southern rock with the highly percussive grooves of funk. The band’s eponymous 2021 debut begins with a lightning strike of searing hot slide exploding with a jolt of 220 volts of raw blues and was recorded at the famed Capricorn Sound Studios before being mastered in Athens, Georgia by John Keane (Widespread Panic, Hard Working Americans, R.E.M.) Composed of Baxter James, Greg Cooler, Greg Kearney, Josh Carson, Rob Sumowski, and Scotty Nicholson, Macon-based Parts & Labor has been kicking up a cloud of dust playing their foot-stompin’ music across the state since the spring of 2019. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with lead singer Baxter James in anticipation of P&E’s upcoming show at The Big House on Friday, March 4th at 7pm!
MM- Dude, I’ve been listening to Parts & Labor’s debut album from 2021, and it’s killer! I know ya’ll have branded yourselves as a Macon band and are obviously influenced by the Allman Brothers, but I’m also picking up some huge Widespread Panic influence!
BJ- Well, that’s very nice of you to say! Our guitar player [Greg Kearney] is heavily influenced by Widespread which I’m sure is very obvious after hearing the album.
It’s pretty cool that from the very first notes of “Big City”, you guys really set a tone for the direction you’re taking the listener and it clearly has something to do with the blues.
Yeah, the guitar is Greg Kearney– he’s so good at that stuff! What’s funny is when we were in the studio trying to decide what song we should have first, everyone had their own opinions, but we all agreed on “Big City” because it just comes out and punches you in the nose and really sets a tone.
The album is insanely good, but before we get too deep in that, lets talk about how the band formed. I read on your website that it just kinda came together organically? Could you tell me more about that whole process?
It was right before the pandemic, each member was in different bands, and a buddy of mine at a country club called me and said that they needed a band and didn’t have one and needed one quick. So I called Greg Kearney and told him we need to put a band together cause these guys need music. I told him, “I’ve already got a drummer, percussion guy, and another guitar player, if you could get your guys, we could put a band together for this.” Greg [Kearney] had just come out of a trio that he had been doing called Tent City that was an instrumental band– he and his brother-in-law, Greg Cooler, and a keyboard player named Logan Wallace. We all got together at the gig, and with no rehearsal, played around twenty-something covers– and it went so smoothly for us to have had no practice!
After the gig, we went back and were sitting around and splitting up the money and I said, “Hey guys that went so well, we should do that again! Does anyone have any objections to that?” Everybody pretty much said, “Heck no, book as many gigs as you can!” So we just started randomly meeting in [Macon] because no one was from the same town. We would use the Stratford band room which is this huge open space, and we would meet once or twice a month to work on stuff, to write. That’s where “Big City” came from. That’s also where “Life Starts Now” happened. It was the first song we collectively wrote as a band– and it might be the first song Kearney ever wrote, I’m not sure!
It just took off from there. We started playing parties and we all agreed that we didn’t really want to play bars since we had already done that in previous careers, so we focused on ticketed venues and have actually had success. Now, we have a little bit bigger footprint. We just try to keep the music going!
For a band to pop up and only be around for a few years it seems like you guys have really done well in terms of marketing yourselves and increasing the size of, like you said, your footprint.
All of that is 100% attributed to Greg Kearney. No one else really has any idea of what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to that! Kearney even has a marketing degree! Kearney runs a business out of Statesboro, and he takes time out of his day to post pictures and hand out flyers. Typically, Kearney handles the band page for us too.
Speaking of Statesboro, Parts & Labor recently played the Emma Kelly Theater at the Averitt Center there. How was that? I imagine it was rewarding for Kearney since he’s from that area!
The people down there are awesome! It was also just put together so well, and I don’t know if it was the theater people or who, but the place was run so well! Every aspect of it was great. We can’t wait to get back there and play again!
You’re also going to be at the Big House soon! It seems like a perfect fit given Parts & Labor’s obvious influence and affinity for the Allman Brothers.
I think the only reason Greg Kearney ever learned to play the guitar is he was in a car riding to school and heard Duane Allman on the radio! Greg says that he didn’t know who or what it was but that was all he wanted to learn to do after that. So it was a given! But yeah, Kearney had been doing most of the booking work, and after we finished a long stint that he had booked, we started passing the responsibility around and I decided to try to book a few gigs. Richard Brent at the Big House and I are buddies and we’ve done business with each other in the past, so I reached out to him and told him to just let us know when they were going to start doing outdoor shows again. Because I love what they’re doing and if we could help raise some money while also playing at a great venue then I’m all over that! Richard got back with me, and all he said was, “Send me some dates,” and that was all there was to that!
Related to that, when you made the choice to record the album, was Capricorn just as much of an obvious choice?
We looked at other places. The keyboard player works in a studio up in Athens, and Cooler has a studio up in Atlanta. Those were all options, but at that time– and this was right when Josh joined us– we had branded ourselves as a band founded in Macon since that was where we practiced. Everyone just agreed on Capricorn, and I think we all wanted to get back there behind the curtain and feel some of those spirits inside of those walls. I mean. what a great place! Definitely, a lot of memories that we’re never going to get rid of!
I imagine it was very fulfilling for you guys as musicians as well to be able to play your own songs that have been so heavily influenced by the very music that was recorded in that room.
It’s kind of full circle. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that I’m pretty sure when album number two comes out– which I think or hope is going to be around April– it’s going to be coming out of Capricorn.
Oh, nice! So you’re saying that we should be expecting a new album in the spring?
Well, we don’t know… I just know that we’ve tried to make time in April to get into the studio. Our drummer [Josh Carson] has a baby on the way, and he is due in mid-April. Luckily, Mr. Carson happens to live in Macon, and he will probably have a lot of down time around then, so I think it would a great time to get everyone else down to Macon as well. As to if that’s going to happen? I can’t say for sure.
When it comes to composing originals, what does that process look like for Parts & Labor?
It’s very rarely actually done together. Either [Greg] or I will come to the table with a song or a riff, and we will typically bounce back and forth adding things that we hear. Greg (Kearney) and I started writing the songs for the album. Greg has written a lot of songs and has recently been in a creative pattern where he was just pounding out songs. I’ve probably written 12-15 songs, and of those, 3 made it onto the album. As for the other guys, they all have opportunities to contribute songs as well! For instance, Josh is an extremely talented songwriter and has written tons of songs. It just comes down to making them fit with what we think Parts & Labor sounds like. In terms of the first album, songs like “Kudzu” and “Life Starts Now” were 100% Greg. “General Grievous” was 100% me. “Wild Frontier” was both Greg and I, and that is the way the new material has shaped up for the second album.
Man, not only is the music great but there are some pretty strong lyrics on the album too! As a songwriter myself, I am drawn to good writing and songs like “Life Starts Now” are just packed with great lines! One of my favorites that I immediately latched onto was, “It’s hard to see through bloodshot eyes, and you can’t walk a line with your shoes untied.”
Oh yeah, Kearney doesn’t have a problem when it comes to the lyrical world! He spends a huge amount of time to ensure that they will stand up to anything else. I, on the other hand, write in a very stream-of-consciousness way– like if I’m driving down the road, I’ll think of lyrics. But yeah, that song is a fantastic example of Kearney’s lyrical abilities. It’s just full of great lines! That whole song is about how everyone gets a second chance because no matter where you are, life is just beginning for me and you every moment.
That first verse is obviously about an old flame, the second is more about generally deserving second chances, and the third verse is about a guy who’s about to perish but life is just beginning since he realizes he’s passing on to the other side! It’s a great story song, and that’s one of the things I love about writing music is when you can find a folk element to the writing. The simplicity to the lyrics is what makes things like that fantastic. We’re really proud of the quality, so I’m glad you paid attention to the lyrics.
You had mentioned earlier that each member of Parts & Labor was in different bands prior to this line up. Do you think that might have prepared you all to make Parts & Labor a success?
I don’t really know how much other bands practice, but for most of the guys in this band to live out of town, we practice quite a bit because we want to give the best version of ourselves every time we play for anyone. Every person in every band has an agenda of what they want to accomplish– and we each have ours– but I do think at this point, we all want to just make and play good music. It is almost like the stars aligned because we all have the same agenda. Its like a business, basically. If you keep making a good product it will work out, and that’s what we’re all trying to do.
You said there is possibly new music on the horizon– what else can your listeners expect for the near future?
We took a little break in February to be with our families and work on some of the side projects we each have going, but then it’s back on the road for a while in March– Atlanta, St.Augustine, Augusta, Macon– and then we have April off to try to work in some studio time and for Josh to have his baby. And then we’re going to pick it back up in May and see where the year takes us!