Bloodkin: Redemption Through The Wreckage

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By: Kayceman

“Baby they told us we would rise again/ As I recall they never filled us in about when.”
-“Easter Eggs” by Bloodkin

Bloodkin by Ian McFarlane
Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again (released February 17 on SCI Fidelity), Bloodkin‘s eighth album (including a live one), might be their best yet; but it almost never happened. Following the release of their last album, 2005’s Last Night Out, friends and family feared the worst and it appeared the end was near.

“My rock bottom happened during the recording Last Night Out,” recalls Daniel Hutchens, who along with Eric Carter has been the core of Bloodkin for more than 20 years. “I assumed it was the last time I’d ever be in a recording studio. I was ready to die, not disturbed by that notion at all. Just slamming as much cocaine and liquor into my system as I could, every day, waiting for my heart to explode.”

It wasn’t just Hutchens who was in free fall. A few years earlier, in 2000, close friend and manager Zac Weil died and Carter was closing in on the same fate. “Eric’s form of self-destruction had been much slower and longer, with sad, terrible stories stretching all the way back to the late ’80s” says Hutchens. “There were some years toward the end there where I felt like I was holding my breath most of the time, waiting for the phone call to bring me the bad news about Eric, or even just looking over at him while he nodded out onstage, and just not knowing what the fuck to do. He was going to die, and I didn’t know how to stop it. He had become completely non-functional, couldn’t eat or speak coherently, could barely walk half the time, let alone play much guitar. I already missed him. He was already gone. And nowadays it’s like a fucking miracle, because I suddenly have my best friend back.”

This is the story of Bloodkin circa 2009. From death’s doorstep to a triumphant new album full of life and love, a wildly successful tour with the Drive-By Truckers and even a high-profile slot in Rolling Stone, the time has come for Hutchens and Carter to rise again and this album will forever cast a light down their dark, crooked path.

But, don’t go getting the wrong idea. This is still Bloodkin and there’s plenty of bite and bile, mean guitars, and that dark genius Southern Gothic songwriting, but now in their forties, the pain is tempered by life’s sweeter side found in areas like Hutchens’ wife, two new children, sobriety and the simple joy of a sunny day. However, that doesn’t really explain why the album starts with a seven-and-a-half-minute kick to the chest:

You wake up your smile is strange
Crooked with sugar coated pain
Your tongue is stained with the name
The purple blood of The Viper

So you put a shotgun in your mouth
But you can’t pull that trigger now
Your hands are dealing for the house
Now you’re working for The Viper

Danny Hutchens :: 01.24.09 by Roger Gupta
“The record starts with the song ‘The Viper,’ which if taken out of the context of the whole record, could be considered a downer, but it’s a starting point, the first chapter” explains Hutchens. “And the last chapter is ‘Summer In Georgia,’ and the songs in between are the journey between those two points, in a sense. If you compare the beginning to the end, it’s indeed been a journey in a very positive direction.”

So, what is “The Viper” really about?

“‘The Viper’ is a composite of myself and Eric Carter, what complete debris our lives had become due to our addictions, pains, losses, all that. He and I bottomed out at slightly different times, but we both wound up in really dark places with very little hope,” says Hutchens. “‘The Viper’ is a portrait of that dark place, which, once again, serves as a preface for the salvation described later in the record.”

Danny Hutchens and Eric Carter first met when they were eight years old. They were neighbors in a small West Virginia town and it didn’t take more than a shared love of baseball, comic books and rock music to cement a relationship that would last a lifetime. To call it a friendship would undersell what this is. Danny and Eric’s bond is deeper, this is like family, like brothers, Bloodkin if you will.

Continue reading for more on Bloodkin…

 
He was going to die, and I didn’t know how to stop it. He had become completely non-functional, couldn’t eat or speak coherently, could barely walk half the time, let alone play much guitar. I already missed him. He was already gone. And nowadays it’s like a fucking miracle, because I suddenly have my best friend back.

Hutchens on Carter

 
Eric Carter (left) and Danny Hutchens (right)

As teenagers, the two moved around a bit, playing open mics and landing small gigs whenever they could. In 1986 their path led to Athens, GA and it was in the college town’s rich rock soil that Bloodkin evolved from a songwriting partnership into a real band.

Vintage Hutchens & Mike Mills (REM)
By Jackie Jasper
Already armed with around 300 songs and telepathic communication skills built on years of playing together in the living room, it wasn’t hard to plug in and let their rock & roll balls drop. From that point on, Bloodkin would always encompass fierce guitar interaction, often led by Carter’s ability to shift from distorted, grimy passages to delicate slide to dusty country, but at the core, it was and always will be about the songs.

“The backbone of the Bloodkin sound is definitely electric guitar,” says Hutchens. “But I don’t think any Bloodkin song has ever – at least in my mind – been just a vehicle for jamming or anything like that. To me, the songs are always the meat and potatoes, always, always. Great musicians without great songs are, to me, like empty calories, junk food.”

As Hutchens and Carter began to assemble the pieces, meshing their brilliant songs with heated compositions, it didn’t take long for other Athens bands to take notice. It was around this time that Widespread Panic began to crawl up through the bars and they immediately took a shine to Bloodkin. By the early-90s Panic were covering Bloodkin songs live and they would record three of their staples. Widespread Panic still regularly play several Bloodkin songs including, “Makes Sense To Me,” “Can’t Get High,” “Henry Parsons Died,” “Who Do You Belong To?” and “End Of The Show,” and many (including Hutchens and Carter) credit Panic with helping Bloodkin gain some hard fought notoriety.

“From the very beginnings of Widespread Panic to today and beyond, Bloodkin has been one of our greatest influences” says John Bell, Panic’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist, who was very eager to comment on Bloodkin. “Danny and Eric’s music has a consistent blend of poetry, intestinal fortitude, and song-craftmanship that I envy. I can hope their example sinks in to my own approach to music. We can voyeuristically cover their songs during our sets but ultimately it’s best to listen to Bloodkin and surrender to what is coming at you – pure intention in the form of music. Bloodkin’s presence in, and their approach to, rock & roll – or whatever you call it – is as much of what makes up the backbone of the Athens music story as any other band that has come through this town. That’s what Danny and Eric mean to me.”

Vintage Carter by Jackie Jasper
For many, it was Widespread Panic who put Bloodkin on the map, but their fans run far and wide and one need only read a few words of Baby…‘s liner notes from head Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood to cement the notion. Another rocker who built a following in Athens, Hood boasts that the new album is “truly one of the best damned rock & roll albums that I have heard in many a year… life-affirming rock & roll in the grandest tradition,” and goes on to say that Bloodkin is “one of the most under-rated bands on Earth.”

Speaking to JamBase following the Truckers’ recent tour with Bloodkin, Hood added that, “They’re a great band playing in top form. I’ve known them as long as I’ve lived in Athens, 15 years now, and they’ve never been as great as they are now. I’ve seen all that they’ve been through and their rebirth is inspiring.”

Clearly folks in the Athens scene have long known the power of Bloodkin, but the band has never found much success outside passionate pockets of fans, and the mainstream press has all but ignored them, until now. In a recent issue of Rolling Stone, legendary writer-editor David Fricke chose the band for his “Fricke’s Picks,” exclaiming, “On Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again, Bloodkin are at a hot peak in their odyssey, opening with the hypnotic hell of ‘The Viper,’ a catalog of addictions checked off by Hutchens in a belly-to-the-bar drawl against a seventies-Neil Young tornado of banjo, dirty guitars and prairie-chapel organ.”

Of course Hutchens welcomes the good press, but this ain’t his first rodeo.

“I always love any exposure the band receives, because that ultimately means the songs get heard by more people, and at the bottom line that’s what it’s all about for me,” he says. “So, I’m very appreciative of nice write-ups, but at the same time, I think I’ve gotten pretty levelheaded about things over the years. I don’t get too high over a great write-up, and I don’t get too down over a negative one or even total lack of attention. I’ve achieved a pretty good perspective on what I’m doing by now. To me, it’s all about creating a body of work that will survive long after I’m gone. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of it – a great majority of the songs actually still remain unheard, but they’re written, and many are already recorded – most on the upcoming box set [no solid release date yet, but Hutchens says it is assembled and stands to be six discs and 108 songs] – and I think I have a pretty solid, unflappable estimation of where I stand, how much work I’ve completed and how much I still have left to do.”

Continue reading for more on Bloodkin…

 
Danny and Eric’s music has a consistent blend of poetry, intestinal fortitude, and song-craftmanship that I envy. I can hope their example sinks in to my own approach to music. We can voyeuristically cover their songs during our sets but ultimately it’s best to listen to Bloodkin and surrender to what is coming at you – pure intention in the form of music. Bloodkin’s presence in, and their approach to, rock & roll is as much of what makes up the backbone of the Athens music story as any other band that has come through this town.

John Bell (Widespread Panic)

 
Bloodkin by Ian McFarlane

For those who have watched the band develop, and at times just hang on, since their 1994 debut Good Luck Charm through what appeared to be their 2005 swan song Last Night Out, this type of perspective from Hutchens is not only welcomed, it was almost unthinkable but a few years ago.

Bloodkin by Ian McFarlane
“I assumed that Last Night Out would be the last Bloodkin album. It was designed to be. Many of the lyrics address that notion specifically. The songs ‘Another Lost Son Of Gypsy Rose Lee’ and ‘Last Night Out’ in particular are my goodbyes. I imagined I’d either be dead soon, or else living in a cabin somewhere up in the mountains, completely cut off from everyone,” recalls Hutchens. “I entered into a kind of slow suicide, until I was thrown a line by blind luck, fate – my new wife Kristy.”

Never underestimate love. You could make an argument that no man is saved without it, and if anything informs the new album, it is love. Love of his wife, love of his first child (and the second that has arrived since the recording), love of music and the simple love of life – something he and Carter had lost track of but have both once again found.

More than thirty years after playing their first notes together, Hutchens and Carter have reassembled Bloodkin and they appear to be entering an inspired new chapter. They say timing is everything and none of this could have happened before now “because we had actually become a band again,” says Hutchens.

Chemistry is a strange thing. Difficult to explain or describe, it often makes or breaks a band, and Hutchens can’t say enough about the current lineup. Along with Hutchens on guitar and vocals and Carter on guitar, the band now features additional guitarist Eric Martinez, bassist David Nickel, drummer Aaron Phillips and multi-instrumentalist William Tonks.

Danny Hutchens & Eric Carter
“All our travels and performances these days, with this lineup, just have a cool sense of camaraderie,” beams Hutchens. “This collection of people honestly gets along together, has more fun together, than any band or organization I’ve ever been a part of. I think there’s a common vibe. We’re all pulling in the same direction, no one’s personal issues are taking precedence – we’re doing what a band is supposed to do. All for one and all that stuff. Everybody involved seems to really believe in what we’re doing. No one’s hanging back or dragging their feet. Everybody’s working hard but having fun doing it.”

The vibe on the road carried over until Hutchens says it became “irresistible” and they had to go into the studio. There’s a funny assumption in the rock world, where folks believe that you write better songs and even play better shows when you’re all fucked up and life is dragging you down. There’s no denying that hard times have given us great art, but sometimes finding peace can give an artist the key to new inspiration.

Once inside the studio, the band began to lay down tracks like “Rhododendron” about Hutchens’ mom; “Heavy With Child,” which is a “scattershot of images all having to do with my newly found relationship, marriage, children – and just plain rediscovering a sense of joy;” “Little Margarita” – a reaction to the birth of Hutchens’ daughter; and the beautiful disc closer, “Summer In Georgia,” which is dedicated to his wife.

But here’s the thing, none of these songs ever get saccharine or stuck in clichés. There’s balance now where once it was all death and doom and destruction. Today, there is still plenty of gritty residue that will never leave the Bloodkin sound, but now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again is our chapter of transformation. It’s kind of a vindication, kind of a realization of some hopes and dreams,” says Hutchens. “Our songs were never about wanting to be lonesome and fucked up sitting in a bar somewhere. That was just honestly the situation we found ourselves in, and we were telling the story without flinching. But there were always those distant glimmers of hope for at least some moments of peace on the horizon, and I think this new record actually documents our growing up a little bit.”

Bloodkin is on tour now, you can catch the fever here.

“End Of The Show” with members of WSP :: 01/27/95

JamBase | On The Rise
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