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!

Freedom to Experiment: Brian Lambert Interviews Marc Schuster

Quick note: This week’s post is by Brian Lambert!

To say that Marc Schuster is multitalented would be quite the understatement. I first met him online when he started reviewing tunes from my 52-week song challenge and then interviewed me on this blog. What came out of it was friendship and a collaboration in music production blossoming into a full-fledged band, The Star Crumbles. I thought for a change I’d flip the script on Marc and interview him and give his many readers and fans an opportunity to learn a bit about the hub of the wheel on which the #Tweetcore scene revolves.

Thanks for doing this, Marc. 

Absolutely! I appreciate the opportunity.

Your productivity blows my mind and I have a hard time keeping up with all of the things you are able to do. I suppose to start, could you give the readers a rundown of all the collaborations and projects you’ve worked on in the last couple of years.

I’ve actually been trying to figure that out myself lately. Obviously there’s the Star Crumbles, and that’s led to some other fun collaborations, including the mockumentary we made with a bunch of our #Tweetcore friends, and then we’ve both been working with Mike Mosley in Jr. Moz Collective recently. My other big collaborative music project is with my friend Tim Simmons. We record instrumentals under the name Simmons and Schuster. And I also record a decent amount of music on my own as a solo artist. Outside of making music, I interview musicians and occasionally opine on musical topics on this blog, and I’ve been doing the weekly #Tweetcore Radio Hour on AMS Radio since November. Once in a while, I’ll work on a more ambitious writing project, like my Beach Boys book, Tired of California: The Beach Boys’ Holland Revisited, or the children’s book I wrote and illustrated last year, Frankie Lumlit’s Janky Drumkit. Then there are the one-off collaborations with various musicians where I’ll play drums or keyboards on a track.

The first music I listened to by you was, in my opinion, very experimental, Brian Eno-esque as well as the sounds you craft for the Star Crumbles music. In contrast your latest solo effort Factory Seconds is a pretty straight forward rock affair focused more on your lyricism. What inspired the decision for what might be described as a more stripped-down approach?

I was reading a book about Elvis Costello called Complicated Shadows by Graham Thomson when I started working on Factory Seconds. As is often the case, the book made me want to listen to the music I was reading about, and the music made me want to make similar music of my own. Specifically, Elvis Costello’s first album, My Aim Is True was a major touchstone for that project since it was recorded fairly quickly in a studio that didn’t have all the bells and whistles of other “big” studios at the time. That one, Get Happy!! and Blood and Chocolate were in pretty constant rotation when I was recording the album.

How do you get started with a song?  Is it beats, a guitar part, lyrics?   Does that approach change depending on if it’s a solo project versus a Star Crumbles Project?

I usually just fool around until something starts sounding cool to me. Right now, for example, I’m working with some beats that I recorded last week. I just sat at my drumkit and recorded seven different sessions in different tempos and styles. The sessions were all between five and seven minutes long, and when I was done, I started listening for parts that I could loop and splice together into rhythm tracks. I’m still in that stage now, but the plan is to start riffing over them on guitar, bass, and keyboards until I have something. That’s my usual process, though I’ve also just started singing over drum tracks to get started. That way I know the song will be in my vocal range when I start adding instruments. That’s actually how the chorus for “The Way We Walk” came to me. I was looping a drum track, and the first words that came out of my mouth were “We walk the way we walk, it’s the way we walk.” Not that it made a lot of sense, but I liked the way it sounded.

You play so many instruments well. What was your first instrument and what would you say is your favorite to play?

My first instrument was the song flute, which is kind of like a poor cousin of the recorder. That was when I was in third grade. Every Friday, an old nun would come into our classroom and teach us to read music and play songs like “Chiapanecas.” Then I started taking piano lessons in fourth grade and guitar lessons when I was in high school. The problem was that I never really practiced much, so I didn’t start getting decent until much later.

In terms of playing, they’re all fun, but if the goal is just to unwind and have fun, drums are my current go-to. In some ways, it’s the physicality of playing drums that I like. I mean, even getting to the kit involves climbing over a bunch of junk in a back room of my basement, so there’s the adventure element, too. And once I’m behind the kit, I’ve gone to all that trouble to get there, so I’d feel silly if I only played for a minute or two.

One of the aspects of your drumming that I love is the bounce your beats always seem to have.  Who were some drummers that informed that approach?

Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello and the Attractions is a major influence. If you listen to his playing on “Tokyo Storm Warning,” you’ll hear some real bounce. I think he’s doing kind of a Motown groove on that one, so I guess I’m also influenced by Benny Benjamin and Pistol Allen. And Ringo Starr. Listen to “Love Me Do.” Loads of bounce on that one!

With your many musical creations, a weekly radio program and blog, you also teach full time and are married. It makes my head spin just trying to imagine how you get it all done. How do you keep track of and manage all the projects that you have going on at any given moment?

I’m pretty good about putting everything I need to do on my calendar – and also scheduling my day around activities that need to get done. I know I’m going to spend a good chunk of time on teaching every day, since it’s my job. After that, I have some room to play with other interests, but if, for example, I have an episode of the radio show that needs to get done, I’ll focus on that instead of doing something that has a softer or non-existent deadline like working on a song. Otherwise, I just play it by ear and work on whatever grabs my attention.

As the hub around which the #Tweetcore world revolves, what have you learned over the last year of being in the scene? How, if at all has it changed you approach to making music?

It’s funny, I don’t think of myself as the hub of #Tweetcore. If anything, I’m more of a node, which is related to one of the things I’ve learned from being part of the scene. The music industry is hierarchical in nature. There are top artists who make loads of money, and then there are what might be considered second-tier artists and so-on down the chain. And, of course, there are gatekeepers throughout the industry trying to sort out who’s who and who gets not only to have their music heard on influential playlists and radio stations but also just to be considered “real” musicians. But none of that has any bearing on music. If you’re making music, then you’re a real musician. I don’t care if you’re doing it by banging rocks together or switching your vacuum cleaner on and off. If you’re having fun with sound, then you’re making music. It doesn’t mean everyone’s going to love what you do, but that’s okay. Just have fun with it.

Because one of my favorite topics for us to discuss is mixing and mastering, what’s one of your favorite things about mixing at this moment in time?

I love the freedom to experiment. The fact that I can try different mixing techniques or play with things like EQ and compression without ever having to worry about paying for studio time – or even paying for equipment beyond my laptop and a set of speakers – is amazing. Plus, I can practice various techniques at my leisure or go back and try new approaches to mixing old songs, again without worrying about paying for studio time. Really, it’s all about the amount of time technology affords us if we use it in a constructive way. I can spend three hours scrolling through TikTok videos or I can spend three hours playing with attack and release times on a compressor. I’m not saying one is necessarily better than the other. I just know which one I’d rather do.