Moreland & Arbuckle have been playing the blues and paying their dues for well over a decade. And while they may never become household names, a new deal with one of America’s pedigree blues labels and a swag of impressive reviews for their latest album Promised Land Or Bust could easily win them a legion of appreciative new fans. Their brand of the blues is a raw and brutal fusion caught somewhere between the Mississippi Delta and a sweat drenched bar in the backstreets of Chicago. Trevor Jackson spoke to guitarist Aaron Moreland on the eve of their first Australian tour.
A three piece named after two people – you know that’s always going to raise the obvious question: I don’t want to get into any drummer jokes, but your man behind the kit Kendall Newby might develop a complex over the naming of your band…
We started out as a duo way before Kendall ever started playing with us. He’s well aware of the situation and takes no offence to it.
With yourself on guitar and Dustin Arbuckle on vocals and harp that doesn’t leave room for a bass player. Was that a conscious decision in terms of the sound you wanted to create?
Not really. It was all pretty organic, I just ended up covering bass, lead and rhythm by myself. Dustin does play bass on a handful of numbers on any given night, it’s not his first instrument but it does free me up to play lead exclusively on a few tunes.
Did you grow up listening to the blues?
I did to a point. I grew up in the heartland of rural Kansas and the stuff that I heard mostly as a kid on the radio was classic rock – it was the music that my mom had on in the car. I didn’t hear authentic blues until I was about 14 – my first introduction to the blues was B.B. King and as far as I’m concerned he was the greatest, he’s irreplaceable. But you know my discovery of the blues really happened through bands like Led Zeppelin when I started working my way back to their influences and finding the original blues artists that way.
In the 60’s it took a bunch of British white boys to popularise the blues in America. It seems to me that American musicians have been reclaiming that legacy ever since. Do you see it that way?
Absolutely. If it wasn’t for bands like Zeppelin, Cream and early Fleetwood Mac hardly anyone would have known about this stuff. That being said still a lot of Americans don’t appreciate the heritage of our roots music the way I think they should.
Dustin and yourself first got together in Kansas at the turn of the century. You’ve certainly served your apprenticeship with half a dozen albums under your belt before now signing to one of the great American blues labels Alligator Records. How significant was that signing for you?
Oh it’s huge. Bruce Iglauer (Alligator president) runs a tight ship. He knows the business well and he only chooses high quality acts so signing with Alligator was a game changer for sure.
I think it was Leon Redbone who said: “The blues ain’t nothing but a good man feelin’ bad”. Listening to the Promised Land Or Bust it’s chock full of bad women, worse situations and love gone wrong songs. If there’s an element of truth in any of your songs – man you guys have really served your apprenticeship! It’s one thing to be able to play the blues and mimic your heroes, but quite another to be able to write and deliver great blues songs. Do you think it’s your song writing that sets Moreland and Arbuckle apart from so many of your contemporaries?
We have certainly served our apprenticeship, that’s almost an understatement. It took me longer than I would have liked to realise that the song is where it is, that a great song is going to carry itself. For a long time I had an attitude like you mentioned where I thought just being a great player or getting into a good groove was enough, but it isn’t enough, it has to be about the song. Great song writing is incredibly difficult and there aren’t a lot of great songwriters in this world.
Your sound, while rooted in traditional blues music is much more than that – there’s everything from southern swamp boogie to rock n roll thrown into that musical melting pot. Has your sound evolved significantly since you and Dustin first got together?
Yes it has. If you listen back to the stuff that we recorded over a decade ago you can still tell it’s us, but Dustin’s singing has improved remarkably over that time and I’m certainly a much better guitarist now. The thing that’s changed the most though is our songwriting, we get lots of accolades for our song writing now that we never got in the early days and rightly so – we really had to work hard to become better songwriters.
You now have a deal with a major blues label and with it a whole new legion of fans are discovering your music. In some ways it’s like going back to the start where you have to keep working to build your audience. In Australia’s case that means your first tour here. It’s a long, hard road isn’t it?
Oh it’s tiring being on the road touring all the time. It’s a tough gig, it’s not the glamour that some people think that it is. You know making music is really only about 5% of what you do as a musician. It’s the part we love the most and yet it takes up the smallest portion of what you do in your career. It’s a weird juxtaposition when you think about the amount of time you spend travelling on a tour versus the time you actually spend on stage. You’ve got to take the good with the bad in this business – if you don’t you won’t survive.
Moreland and Arbuckle play the Soundlounge on Friday 24 February.