I Just Love Writing Songs: An Interview with Corey Saathoff of the Trophy Mules

Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, Corey Saathoff of The Trophy Mules has been making a name for himself as both a performer and songwriter. Riverfront Times has described his music as “Exceptionally well-played, pleasant country/Americana,” adding that “Corey Saathoff doesn’t write predictable alt-country fare – if there are booze and broken hearts in his songs, they’re part of his stories. His style is impressionistic in the best sense, as evocative of the songs of R.E.M. as those of Jay Farrar.” Similarly, radio station KDXH 88.1 FM in St. Louis has noted, “One of St. Louis’ more underrated songwriters, Corey Saathoff combines front porch twang and thoughtful, prescient lyrics, sung with plainspoken honesty.” The Trophy Mules released a full-length album of original material titled No Sooner the Moon in November.

You’ve been making music for a while. The first Trophy Mules album, Sorry Motel, came out a decade ago. What keeps you in the game?

I just love writing songs and putting music to the thoughts, feelings and words going on in my head. I also enjoy the creative process with my bandmates.

Has the lineup of The Trophy Mules remained the same over that time? Along similar lines, how do you keep a band together over the long haul as you have?

There have been several lineup changes over the years… three drummers, three bassists and a couple different guitarists/multi-instrumentalists. Our longest-tenured active member other than myself is pedal steel wizard Scott Swartz. I think the quality of our material over the years has made it easier to find bandmates and I consider myself lucky to make music in the company of such talented guys.

How has your music evolved over the last 10 years?

I think the band’s sound basically adapts as the members bring their respective talents and styles to the table. As for my songwriting, I feel like I’ve honed the craft over the years and developed new styles. My goal is to keep from essentially writing the same song twice – although I’m sure a few of mine may sound pretty similar to the listener.

The first song on your new album is called “Full Speed Lobotomy.” It’s hard to hear the word “lobotomy” and not think of the Ramones (at least for me), but it’s not a punk song. What’s the idea behind that one?

Yeah, I never thought of the Ramones connection until well after I wrote “Full Speed.” There were a lot of things in life all hitting me at the same time when I wrote it, so that probably explains the pace. The rest was just me using unique wordplay to capture an overall theme.

That one’s followed by “Blood Red Cardinal,” which you’ve described as “a haunting song about looking back on lost love later in life.” With that in mind, I’m wondering if it’s the kind of song a younger version of yourself would have been able to write. How has growing older – for lack of a better phrase – informed your lyrics?

“Blood Red Cardinal” is an emotional tune about a relative that I definitely could not have written earlier in life. For me, life experiences shape a lot of the material I write about, so the more I live, the more experiences I have to connect together and set to music.

One last song-related question: What’s the story behind “Chupacabra Valentine?”

Very similar to “Full Speed Lobotomy” and other songs I’ve written, I pretty much try to convey an emotion or theme with unique wordplay that matches the chord structure and set an overall mood. When I was strumming the chords to this one on my acoustic and mumbling vocal sounds as part of the lyric process, for whatever reason the words “Chupacabra Valentine” came to me in the chorus. I connected the dots from there and am really happy with how this one turned out.

Your latest album is called No Sooner the Moon. What’s the significance of that title for you?

Well, “No Sooner Than the Moon” is a line from the song “Guess That’s the Way You Say Goodbye” and fit the overall theme of this project, I think. We incorporated some cosmic, spacey kind of musicianship throughout the project that lends itself to a lunar vibe – plus this album took us six years to complete after lineup changes, COVID and some health issues!

Is there in any way in which being from St. Louis informs your identity as a musician and songwriter? Does it come through in any of your songs?

I definitely think my surroundings – the St. Louis region and rural southwestern Illinois – have shaped my songwriting. I feel our music is very representative of this area as a whole and probably even the American Midwest in general. One of our most streamed tunes is “Valmeyer” off the 2016 EP titled Sunset Collapse. It’s about a small town in this area that moved to higher ground following a devastating flood. A song on our new album is “Pierron,” which is about the small Illinois town I grew up in.

What does it take to be a Trophy Mule?

Good question. We’re all stubborn about making good music, I guess. We like to have fun, but are serious about creating something we’re proud of and work hard to put on a good show. How’s that?

What’s next in terms of your musical journey?

I have some new tunes ready to work out, as does bandmate Josh Kean. Hopefully we’ll get to work on a new recording project very soon. This one is leaning more toward country music in style.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Thank you for the opportunity. Much appreciated.

Unashamedly Left-Wing: A Conversation with Tim Eveleigh

As is often the case, I have Jeff Archuleta’s Eclectic Music Lover blog to thank for letting me know about the music of Tim Eveleigh. Describing the artist in a recent review as “a Renaissance man of sorts with many talents and interests ranging from music and stand-up comedy to computer programming/IT development, music and events promotion, economics and politics,” Jeff describes Eveleigh’s debut album, A Record, as a “well-crafted collection of songs written and sung from the heart.” Needless to say, I was intrigued!

Your latest album is called A Record. There’s something playful about the title, yet there’s also weight to it. What is A Record a record of?

It’s my first Album and it’s therefore a record (an LP) so it’s called A Record. It’s also fairly autobiographical so it’s A Record of my life as well. If anyone would like to hear some themed titles then I thoroughly recommend Ben Castle’s EP which is called an EP.

Pretty much all of my song titles are like this – I see them as non-cryptic crossword clues: they are single words have (at least) two meanings and both of these relate to the song – often one meaning to the verses and another to the chorus: that sort of thing.

To be fair – you usually have to be me to understand why.

I’m curious about the cover, which depicts a woman standing on a beach with a child in her arms. Who’s pictured? And what does the image represent to you?

I don’t know who it is! It’s a royalty free image from the Pexels website, specifically from Tatiana Syrikova’s page: https://www.pexels.com/@tatianasyrikova/ (who I also don’t know).

The process I went through is that I do have a similar image (of a mum holding a baby) where the mum is my mum and the baby is me. I was initially intending to use that photo but I can’t find it and then I realised that the image didn’t need to be me: and then I thought that I preferred it if the people in the image were anonymous.

Finally I had a look around the Pexels site – which I’ve used before when making videos for quartets (see [https://youtu.be/OvwU_VAFX7g] and [https://youtu.be/a5tYC4g30Xo]) – and this was my favourite one. Gavin Kinch [http://thetownthatlovebuilt.com/] then did his magic with it.

You describe yourself as middle-aged and middle class. How do those elements of your identity inform your songwriting?

I think I’m calmer than I was before I was middle-aged and I’m aware that I don’t have a huge amount of difficulty in my life – so I think middle-class is an accurate description. I hope that what I can offer involves reassurance that everyone has worth.

Mainly, though, it is what I am and everything I write comes from that perspective so I hope that it helps me to remember both things.

In his review of A Record, Jeff Archuleta mentions your interest in standup comedy. Do you perform as a standup, or is it more of a spectator sport for you, as it were? How does humor inform your songwriting?

Yes, I am also a comedian. I have compered events for the Croydon Comedy Festival and I have also performed at Science Showoff and The Freedom Fridge. I compere music nights in what I think would often be considered more of a traditional comedy-event style (than a music-event style).

I like to think that the comedy comes across in some of the songs (but that’s for other people to judge) and – as before – it’s part of what I do and so will be part of anything that I write.

There’s also a political edge to your music, particularly in tracks like “Manifesto” and “Drones.” What’s the relationship between politics and music—or between politics and the arts more broadly? How do you think they inform each other?

I would say that music, and the arts in general, are underfunded by Government and it’s agencies in the UK. I don’t think The Arts fit into their “winners and losers” application & funding model: partly because there isn’t any way to predict what will or won’t be financially successful – and anyway personally I believe everything deserves funding regardless.

I am unashamedly left-wing/progressive/socialist/woke (whatever terminology one wants to use) and I strongly believe that individualism doesn’t add up financially so I hope we come to realise that we are stronger when we work together and can combine all of our effort so that we improve everyone’s lives.

I think the arts can inform politicians by keeping debates alive that wouldn’t otherwise remain alive and by putting across viewpoints that might not be highlighted through other mediums.

You’ve been making music since you were very young. How has your relationship with music evolved over time? What’s the difference, for example, between making music as a ten-year-old and making music as a middle-aged man?

Broadly-speaking: as a younger man I was writing songs that involved reading about other peoples’ experiences and trying to tell their story but now I have enough experiences of my own to write about myself (as well as telling other peoples’ stories).

Along similar lines, how have changes in both recording technology and the music industry over the past few decades shaped that relationship?

In the long-distant past we recorded onto tape, cut it up with knives and stuck it back together with sticky-tape. Now we record into computers and make it sound nice with plugins.

My personal take is that the music industry is only interested in financially supporting the music industry and my advice would be to stay out of it (delete Spotify, kids!).

In order to support artists one needs to take financial risks and I don’t think the music industry has enough of a long-term view to do so. I don’t know whether it was always like that.

You have some incredibly talented musicians playing on A Record. How did you meet them?

Maria Levesley (backing vocals) is a friend of friends and I was lucky enough to discover that she sang as well.

Joe Jones (bass) is a friend that I was introduced to at Greenbelt Festival. He offered to play bass and I gratefully accepted. [www.greenbelt.org.uk].

Chris Kimber (tubular bells) is someone that I played with in bands and orchestras while at school – a long long time ago. We also hung out and have done recording over the years. I knew he had some tubular bells and exploited that ruthlessly. [http://www.chriskimber.info]

Pete Long (saxophone) also went to the same school but I mostly knew him from playing in the Big Beer Band in Croydon on Monday nights and I contacted him to ask him to play on “Touch.”

Pete Cooper (trumpet/flugelhorn) I also know via the Big Beer Band and I asked him to play on “Drones.”

Andy Thornton (production and many other things): I was a fan of Andy’s so it’s odd to me that I get to record with him. We’re friends now and he is a superstar as you can find out here: https://andythornton.bandcamp.com

Cara Thornton (backing vocals) I know because she is related to Andy Thornton.

Ben Cosh (who wrote White Lines) I first met at an open mic night at The Three Stags in Kennington in London and I would not be anywhere near the musician that I am (whatever that means) without his expert guidance and advice. [https://bencosh.bandcamp.com]

Jeff’s review of A Record mentions that you are involved in music and events promotion. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Since 2006 I have run acoustic (and other) music events called Freedom of Expression and since 2015 I have run the Croydon Comedy Festival.

In general the Freedom of Expression shows have been made up of four acts doing half and hour each and the Croydon Comedy Festival events have involved a half-hour support act and an hour-long headliner.

I think I get some additional perspective from being both a performer & a promoter and I hope this benefits everyone involved.

What’s next?

Album number two is on the way (and no – Maria – it’s not called ‘B Record’)!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Bursts of Creativity: Catching Up with Mikey J

I first interviewed Mikey J back in July after his song “My Little Dragon Girl” was named Best Single in the Lights and Lines Album Writing Workshop. Since then, he’s been busy working on the accompanying album, Wondering, which will be released on the Lights and Lines label as both a digital download and a CD on April 21. So I figured it was the perfect opportunity to drop Mikey a line to catch up.

How have you been these past few months? Anything new going on?

Hey Marc! I’ve been good! Very busy with the day job, but still finding time for all things music related!

I think I mentioned on the #Tweetcore Radio Hour that “My Little Dragon Girl” is my mom’s favorite Tweetcore tune. How does the rest of the album compare in terms of style to that one?

Well first of all, please say thanks to your mum! As with most of my albums, Wondering is quite eclectic! “Dragon Girl” is the only ska track, but I do have some pop-punk, dirty blues, 60s retro pop rock and some dreamy, yet gritty rock tracks too!

In addition to “My Little Dragon Girl,” a track called “Wonder” is also available. That one has a cool Pink Floyd vibe. Are they – or music from their era – an influence? What draws you to that style of music?

I do love a lot of music from the late 60s/early 70s, but not necessarily Pink Floyd specifically. I mean you’d be crazy as a guitarist not to enjoy them, but they wouldn’t necessarily be in my top 5 artists! I think what draws me to that kind of style is the richness of sounds you can get with the “traditional” rock instruments. The progression on “Wonder” is a pretty simple one, but it leaves a lot of room to add texture with guitar solos, bass runs, organ splashes and the like!

Looking at the track listing, I see that you collaborate with our mutual friend Scoopski on one of the tracks. What’s the song, and how did the collaboration come about?

That’s a pretty cool story actually. This track (“When We’re Old”) is actually a cover of a track off my previous album, By Your Side. That album was a full acoustic album and that track was an attempt to write a bit of a Simon and Garfunkel track. Now, during the 90s there were a number of rock/punk groups that did dirty, rocky covers of Simon and Garfunkel (“Mrs Robinson” from the Lemon Heads and “Hazy Shade of Winter” from Bodyjar being a couple) so I thought it would be fun to try and do that for my S&G song! Really, Scoopski was the natural choice as the king of power-pop!

I also collaborated with a couple of other people on this album too. @shippa63 has lent his drumming skills to Push and Pull, and an old mate of mine, Danny Davis (@dicktogman on instagram) provided the wonderful horn section on “Dragon Girl.”

What’s it like to make music with Scoopski?

So, so easy! He’s a great musician and given it was a pretty simple song, he worked quickly. In addition to providing the Garfunkel vocal, he added some cool guitar riffs and licks throughout as well!

You’ve been working on the album for a while now. What was the process building an album like for you – as opposed to recording a single, for example?

My processes are always pretty similar. I never start out looking to write a single or an album, but rather have bursts of creativity where I’ll get a bunch of songs going. Once I feel that the well’s run dry, I start working on different instrumentation, then writing lyrics, recording vocals and then mixing!

This album was a little different though as it was written (or arranged), recorded and produced (but not mastered) in a month as part of the Lights and Lines Album Writing Club. So for this one, I had a few little ideas bouncing around the old noggin so quickly got to putting them down and generally speeding up the process. As it was picked up by Lights and Lines, I then had @grim17 do a magic job on the mastering.

I also have a couple of songs on here that were songs I had “written” as a much much younger man. “Wonder” and “The Way She Moves” are two examples of this. For the competition, I completely re-wrote the instrumental parts for both tracks, wrote lyrics for the originally instrumental “Wonder” (originally “Ballad in Am,” which can also be found on my Bandcamp), and wrote a new verse for “The Way She Moves.”

I’m sure you’re a busy guy outside of music. How did you find the time to work on the album?

I guess I’m lucky in that I’m a teacher so I do get a good amount of holidays throughout the year (here in Australia we have at least a 2 week holiday every 9-10 weeks of the school year). I also have a wonderful wife who doesn’t seem to mind too much that I spend a couple hours each weekend noodling away!

With this particular album, I said to the family that I’m taking part in this challenge so will be busy during the time and to leave me alone!

I know that the album will be released as a CD, which got me thinking about all of the musical formats I’ve listened to music on over the years—LP, cassette, CD, download, streaming. Do you have any preferences when it comes to format as both a listener and an artist?

I don’t actually own a CD player myself outside of the car, so my go-to listening these days is usually streaming (including streaming purchased music through Bandcamp) as it is the most convenient. I do love a vinyl and have a little collection of Beatles vinyls and was once an avid CD collector.

The album cover depicts a person falling through the sky into an outstretched hand. What does that image mean to you, and how does it relate to the music on the album?

Pretty early on in the process, I had decided that “Wonder” was going to be one of the main “singles” from the album, so the name Wondering came from that song. The artwork itself then hopefully makes people wonder why is the man falling? Is he going to be caught? That and I really like the image and colour scheme – it really gave the feeling of Wonder so went with it!

Now that the album is coming out, what’s next?

Well, I’ve already got album seven recorded and basically mixed. Just waiting on some vocals from Kelly Kintner to finish it off. That album will be called Muffet Way and is 14 tracks of rock, blues, reggae, indie and funk. It also has a few more collaborations on it with people like the La La Lettes, CosmicBos and the Future Us. I’m really excited about that one as I think it has some of my best songs on it.

I’ve also just started on recording tracks for album 8 – but only the bare bones of 6 new tracks for that so far…

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Any time!