Posted by: Necci – Apr 23, 2012
A guitar, keys, drum kit, a bass, and four assholes. Those ten words pretty much sum up The People’s Blues of Richmond. However, trying painstakingly to fit them into a nutshell is a more demanding task than simply catching their drift. This is partially because their compositions are easily relatable, but mostly, I find myself attracted to their swagger, on and off the stage. After all, it’s the blues they’re singing. This is not rocket science.
The People’s Blues Of Richmond released their first album, entitled Hard-On Blues, nearly two years ago. Since then, they’ve asserted themselves as one of the most relevant acts to take the stage in RVA. Timmy Beavers (vocals/guitar), Raphael Katchinoff (Drums), Matt Volkes (Bass), and their most recent addition, Tommy Booker (keys), make up this four-piece psychedelic blues-rock combo. Melodic madness at its finest, they are the antithesis of sanity, sobriety, celibacy, and silence. The sound is eerily familiar, in a comfortably insane sort of way. That being said, Hard-On Blues does address life’s complications as perceived through the eyes of Tim Beavers II--but there’s nothing really complicated about it. Despite his relative lyrical simplicity, Tim is never hackneyed in the manner of, say, George Thorogood. “Wiskey and Gin” lyrically is beyond anything I’ve ever heard from Georgey. The album content maintains itself wonderfully from the first song to the last--the album's closing track, “Only Insane,” is like a finely woven, tattered tapestry one could wrap around almost any occasion. Hard-On Blues is easily one of the most played records in my music library.
No doubt, Beavers’ poignant words are The People’s Blues Of Richmond’s primordial secret sauce, but the knack each member shows for their instruments is what gives this outfit its undeniable staying power. Charisma and talent are not mutually exclusive traits, and both are present here. In contrast to their studio album, PBR’s live show is like a kick in the head, but one that’s thoroughly enjoyable.
Just as Matt Volkes’ bass drives their tunes, his ambitious hunger for validation has been their road map to date. Acting as PBR’s manager, Matt’s efforts have taken them places they’d never have reached through ideals alone. He’s been instrumental in booking shows, networking, and effectively locating an enthusiastic audience for The People’s Blues Of Richmond up and down the East Coast. Unfortunately, musicians make for terrible managers in the long run, and Matt’s potential is likely approaching its limit. His cockiness may appear abrasive to the average person, but it’s more like a raw but well-focused confidence.
PBR’s biggest advantage by far is their drummer. Well known and respected by the Richmond music community, Raphael also drums for The Milkstains and The Southern Belles. His technique is the often-overlooked inspiration for every dance floor that erupts when PBR is onstage.
I had the opportunity to spend some time with PBR during an all day photo shoot that took us from Matt’s bedroom (and his roommate’s panty drawer), to the bathroom at Baja Bean Co., the Hebrew cemetery off of Admiral Gravely Dr., and finally to my apartment for this interview. Even though they pissed in the garbage can in my lobby, stole my neighbors reefer, knocked on random doors until they acquired coffee, and climbed the loft ledges in my living room like crazed primates, I loved every minute of it.
Matt: We’ve been everywhere from Vermont to New Orleans. Honestly, when we played in Burlington the first time, that was the original magic that kept us going. We drove up there for free to play a house party for my friend. Tim was down for it. Raph was very skeptical about driving fourteen hours for a free show. I was making good money at the time and I was like, “I’ll pay for it. Don’t worry about it.” We left at three in the morning.
Raphael: I had a gig the night before, so I didn’t get there till 3:30am.
Matt: We had been doing nitrous all night. Someone showed up at my house with a nitrous tank and was like, “Yo, Lets party!”
Raphael: We literally drove all day and all night. Got there around six.
Tim: We just stopped at some random radio station [The Radiator, 105.9, Burlington VT] and they let us play live. We promoted so much just walking down the street.
Matt: We went to every single venue in Vermont trying to get a gig.
Tim: The people who threw the party did a good job [promoting], too. It got so crowded we ended up playing all of our material twice. It was insane. We didn’t have that much material at the time. We had like an hour and a half. That was the original dragon we’ve been chasing ever since.
Tommy, you’ve recently joined the band. What has that experience been like?
Tommy: It seemed like a long time coming. I’ve known Raph for a while and the first time I played with them was at Emilio’s. I had a great time. It went off from there. Officially, I was the honorary fourth member for a while. It was a breath of fresh air. I had been doing music without lyrics for the longest time. I had been in this band Think! that never sang, and never used lyrics. Very simple jam-funk grooves, so it was a breath of fresh air to play with this guy Tim, who wrote awesome lyrics and just had a raw, natural, dirty feel about him when he was playing guitar. It helped me a lot to know that I didn’t have to play as much. I can sit back and just be a piece of the whole thing. My job is to embellish and round out the band as a whole.
How much does the audience have to do with the intensity of your performance?
Matt: A ton!
Tim: I used to spend no time thinking about the audience. I used to sit alone in my house and write lyrics. Once this band started really kicking off like nothing I had ever been involved with, it kind of scared me. I had to start thinking about everything that I was writing, worry about saying it in front of people and how they would take it. It’s really fucked with me. I’ve become a lot less productive lyrically.
How do you get back to writing lyrics again?
Tim: I’ll tell you what’s helped me lately--I’ve been checking out the Sex Pistols. They had such a short run, but Johnny Rotten, his philosophies are pretty amazing. He believes in himself.
I’ve been shutting my eyes again. Not trying to say shit between songs. Just getting up there and playing music. Playing loud. Playing my fucking ass off. That’s what makes me happy. It overcomes my whole body and just turns into a blur of passion, happiness, sadness and anger. It’s this cathartic purging.
Raph, you met both Matt and Tim at an open mic; you play with The Milkstains and The Southern Belles. Have you always had this attitude where you want to play as much as possible, as often as you can?
Raphael: I was in the house band [at Emilio’s] for two years. In my time there, I met a lot of people, and realized how much music effects not only the people that listen to it, but [also] the people who play it. There is a strong bond of emotions that carry on. It’s a universal language. I had just gotten laid off from my job, I was in six or seven bands, and these guys just started coming up [to Emilio’s] wanting to play blues and rock n’ roll--Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, older stuff--and I was all for it. They just kept coming and started booking gigs. Musically, I want to play as much as I can. The more I play, the more I learn, the more I get out of it.
How has that changed since you joined PBR?
Raphael: I think it’s greater. Especially with Tommy in the band. It’s a whole new sound.
How much do you believe that lyrics have to do with writing good songs?
Raphael: A Lot!
Matt: That’s why I play. I’ve known Tim since I was in second grade. We lived together for a year. I didn’t play with him [then], but for that year I had been listening to his solo stuff. I told him one day, “Your music is the soundtrack to this year for me.” I believed every word he said. It spoke true to me. Now when we go up on stage and we’re playing certain songs, I might not have a mic in front of me but I’m screaming those lyrics. Because they mean something to me. I wouldn’t play it if I didn’t feel it.
Tim, do people’s complements or appreciation of your music ever make you feel uncomfortable?
Tim: Maybe so. I don’t really let them affect me. I take everything with a grain of salt in the whole fucking world.
Do you think you’d be a better writer if people came up to you and told you that your music sucked?
Tommy: I think so too!
Tim: When I started playing guitar, I learned “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something for my old man, because he liked it. I played it for him and was like, “Do you recognize this?” and he was like “No. What is it?” I said, “It’s ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’,” and he said, “It doesn’t sound anything like it.” That changed guitar for me forever. I was like, “Fuck you dad!” One day he’s going to look at me and say, “Damn Tim, you really are a good guitar player.” There is nothing like revenge in this whole world for me. I love it when a band pisses me off and they play before us. I’m getting up there and playing the best show of my life.
Matt, you come from a deep musical background?
Matt: My great grandpa was a fiddle player. My dad played in the 70’s in Queens, NY. He played with John Lee Hooker and Freddie King a couple times. I’ve always wanted to be a musician. When I was eight, I was his drum tech. I was going to bars falling asleep in the car at two in the morning and getting home around five. My dad would carry me inside. I always knew, and it was probably something that hurt me a little bit. I was like, “I don’t need any of this, I just want to play music.” My grandpa was a drummer. The last time I saw him, he was sitting in his wheel chair. He had some wooden blocks set up around him, some percussion. I had never seen him smile before. That’s what I want. When you’re eighty years old, no one can take music away from you.
How self-destructive is PBR?
Matt: I think we all have our moments. We used to have this thing we all used to [think]: one of the members in PBR has to be upset for [a show] to be good. It’s kind of a weird idea, I know, but we started because of pain. We were hurting. We wanted to play music. I think we are past that now. We are not getting wasted before we play. House parties are fair game, but we are trying to be more professional now.
What’s the most recent book you’ve read that was not an assignment?
Tommy: Mine was The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas.
Tim: I believe it was Tales Of Ordinary Madness by Charles Bukowski.
Tell me about the two new tracks you recently recorded.
Matt: We recorded four. We put two up [online]. There’s this recording studio in Maryland--Omega. It’s a recording school as well. We basically got a day for free. We recorded two songs, and then we went to another studio and got a day for free. We went in knowing how we wanted everything to sound. Just to get an idea of what we want the songs to sound like. Last time we went in three days, eight-hour days, knowing exactly how we wanted it to sound. This time I want to go in and figure it out when we get there.
Raphael: Experimentation in the studio is a useful tool. You know, as a musician, you can really use the studio to your advantage. All the different layers you can create out of it. I know we all want to sonically achieve an album that’s not only interesting to other people, it’s interesting to us.
Do you guys have a name for the next album?
Matt: We’re going to take our time til we get into the studio. The more forced it is…
Raphael: ...the less genuine. We want this to come from our hearts.
Matt: That’s why Tommy was such a great new addition. We’ve played with other keyboard players, but they just don’t have any passion. When you see us up there, we’re up there killing ourselves. When we get offstage, we’re pouring sweat. If we’re not, it wasn’t that great of a show.
Words by Dan Anderson
Images by Joey Opyt