Rattler is the newest creation of Elliott McPherson of the Dexateens. It’s a Magic City supergroup of sorts, featuring McPherson and Brian Gosdin of Dexateens, Wes McDonald of Vulture Whale, Mike Gaut of Model Citizen and Taylor Hollingsworth of Conor Oberst Mystic Valley Band. The project is loud. It’s punk. And it’s spiritual, a concept McPherson conceived after reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
McPherson spoke to Weld about what to expect from the project. He also shared the status of Dexateens, talked about Alabama football and addressed the state of the Tuscaloosa scene.
Weld: Where are the Dexateens right now?
Elliott McPherson: We have a record that’s done. I’m really proud of it, really excited about it. We’ve mixed it once, and we need to mix it again. We’ve got a tracked record. For some reason, I have a sense of urgency to get this Rattler thing out first, and once that’s done and starts to get old, I guess I”ll pick the Dexateens back up.
Matt [Patton] has been a member of the Drive-By Truckers for several years now. They’re touring and Matt just adopted a baby. I’m the godfather, which I’m really happy about. Brad [Armstrong] has moved up to New York. Brian [Gosdin] is opening a new business. It’s just time to put that thing on the back burner for right now. It’s been on the back burner for a while, but definitely right now. We may get together in the springtime in my cabinet shop and work on the followup to the one we’re discussing.
Our band still has the identity that it’s always had. We’re just not going to go out and play shows very often. I’m sure that time will come around again, but no time soon.
Weld: The stuff you have ready to go, does it have Taylor [Hollingsworth] on it?
EM: The stuff before Taylor doesn’t have Taylor on it. Lee [Bains is] on it. We recorded a lot of it before Lee got too busy with Glory Fires and couldn’t play do anything with us, so he’s singing and playing all over it. It’s really good. It’s real diverse. It’s real broad. I personally believe it’s some of our best work. I’m sure people would argue with that, but I’m very pleased with how it turned out. It’s going to be called Teenage Hallelujah.
Weld: What do you think about the state of Alabama music? How do you feel about the music that has been created here over the last decade? The resurgence of Muscle Shoals?
EM: I’m obviously very happy about it. I’m happy about anything from Alabama doing well, whether it’s Deontay Wilder or the Alabama Shakes or University of Alabama football team. I can’t say the same about the Auburn Tigers, but most things…
If you think about our state, people love to give Alabama a hard time, but there’s so much of our culture that is just awesome. A lot of it is a competitive spirit and a lot of it is a rich history that contributes to making really good art. I’m very happy about it.
But I’ve gotten off of Facebook. I’ve been off of it for about a year. I get on there on my birthday so I’m not rude, but man, I stay out of the loop. On purpose. I don’t really care anymore. I do care about my friends and the music they make, but I’m not interested in what’s new. I know from being in a band how hard it is to reinvent the wheel. It can’t be done. There’s a lot of great soul music coming out of Alabama, but I’d probably rather listen to Otis Redding or Al Green. I’m excited to see that stuff live. I guess it speaks of my age. I’m getting older, and I just kind of want to go back to the roots of all of it. I’m not interested in modern day country. I know there probably is some good stuff out there, but if I can listen to Hank Williams or Waylon or something, I’m going to listen to that.
I know about Lee. I know about the Alabama Shakes. But I’m sure there’s other stuff going on that I don’t know about.
Weld: What is your relationship like with Lee now?
EM: I support Lee in everything he does. I’m proud of him. I’m pulling for him. Whatever comes his way, he deserves, because he has worked really hard and God’s blessing him. He made some hard choices and made his own rules, and I believe he stuck to them, and I’m as happy as I can be for him.
Weld: What’s right about Tuscaloosa right now?
EM: I don’t know. I don’t know that anything is right about it. Tuscaloosa has kind of always been what it is. It used to have a legendary rock club and the town couldn’t sustain it. There’s a neat place to play in town called Egan’s – the Shakes played there before they blew up. It’s what it’s always been. That’s where Sweetdog is going to go when he goes out. It’s the meat and potatoes of the rock scene. There’s not much to it. As cool and as charming as it is, Tuscaloosa is a football town, it’s not a rock and roll town. We keep trying to make it a rock and roll town, and it’s just not. Is it a great place to live? Yeah, I’ve lived here for over 20 years. Is it a great place to raise a family? Definitely. But is it a great place to launch your music career? Absolutely not. It’s a great place to come visit and play. I know there’s stuff going on at the Green Bar.
Weld: How much did the Truckers influence what you were doing when you first put the Dexateens together?
EM: I think their biggest influence on me personally was the way they treated us. Patterson reached out to us and it was basically just to say that he knew we were here and if we ever needed anything to let him know. He hoped to play with us one day. Which we did. That friendship developed and continues and obviously, it’s turned into something great for Matt and Matt’s family.
I asked [Hood] one time what I could do to pay him back, and I was thinking he would say, “Well you can help me design my new kitchen or build me a doghouse or something.” But he said, “Just pass it on.”
And that’s common decency sort of stuff. At the same time, who in today’s world really stops to be decent anymore? Rock and roll is very self serving and people that succeed tend to put themselves on a pedestal. That was the way they influenced me the most. On a people level. Extending a helping hand if you’re in a position to do so. I’m getting older now, and I’m in a position to help people. I don’t have any industry pull and I don’t have a big black book full of rock stars, but I do have these experiences. I’ve seen most of the country and some of the world by playing in a band. And I know more about playing in a band than your average 20-year-old playing on The Strip on Friday night. I’ve had the chance to help people periodically, and I hope to help them more — help them make their records or help them not make some of the stupid decisions that I did or whatever it is.
Weld: Will Anthony Grant be the head coach at Alabama next season?
EM: It’s not looking good for him.
Weld: What were your thoughts on the 2014 football season?
EM: I loved this season, even though it was such a disappointment at the end. You take three steps back — you couldn’t do this last year, after the whole “Kick Six” nightmare. That was really bad. I felt like I was being — I don’t know, I felt like my priorities were out of place for like three weeks after that whole “Kick Six” thing because it was still bothering me.
But this year, being able to take about three steps back, it made you realize how great of a coach Nick Saban is and how much heart those kids had. After the A-Day game, everybody thought it was going to be a disaster. Blake Sims didn’t have his feet underneath him. I would love to know what it is that he’s got. There was something about his personality and his character that made that whole team get behind him and it seemed like the team was built on the team, instead of the team being built on the star quarterback and the star running back. It just seems like a really awesome year, even though SEC Champions is as high as they made it, people say they overachieved. I don’t necessarily think that, I just thought it was an exciting, great year.
Weld: Did Lee give you a lot of [expletive] about the “Kick Six?”
EM: No. No. No. We quit talking about football a long time ago.
Weld: Have you already recorded the Rattler album? What is the timetable on the record?
EM: The record is done, and I hope to have it out by late summer.
Weld: The Birmingham show is the first one, right?
Weld: What can we expect from it?
EM: I don’t know exactly. We scheduled it off the beaten path at Syndicate Lounge so that we could work out the kinks. I think we’ll play [a future, as yet unannounced Birmingham event]. The record should be coming out around that time. We’ll do some touring when the record is out. The band has two drummers and two guitar players and I’m just singing; I’m not playing an instrument.
It’s got a lot of energy. There’s no mid-tempo, there’s no slow songs, there’s no dirges. It’s just rock and roll, about as hard as it can go from a bunch of dudes in their late 30s. The record is really high energy. I think it’s really good. I’m really excited about it.
Weld: It’s a hell of a lineup — how did y’all come together and decide to do this thing?
EM: Well, me and Taylor [Hollingsworth] have been talking about doing something for years. I recorded the whole record myself and brought Taylor in later. He overdubbed everything. I recorded it in my cabinet shop. We recorded the drums and the vocals and the rhythm guitar. The engineer, Bronson, he works at Outback Studios in Water Valley, Mississippi, and I’m pretty sure in 10-15 years people are going to really know who he is. He’s super talented, great musician, great behind the board, really great ideas. He got what I was doing. He’s from a punk rock background and he knew exactly what I was doing.
I would record the drum parts on a cassette. I would play the drum parts on a cassette for him and then he would just sit down and do it. I’m not a drummer, so the drum parts are weird. They don’t make sense to drummers, but he was able to get what I was going for. So I played drums on about half and he played drums on the other half. After that, we went into a proper studio and recorded bass. Macey Taylor came in and played bass. Taylor played the guitar, the lead stuff. Taylor didn’t know the record at all. Neither did Macey — he just showed up and heard the songs and went for it. The whole thing has a real spontaneous vibe.
The concept of the record, the whole reason I’ve done it — it’s about spiritual matters. The whole thing is loosely based on the C.S. Lewis book The Screwtape Letters. That’s a very intelligently written book, and these songs are not very intelligently written. They’re written with a lot of animosity and anger and angst and hate, the same type of things that the Devil wishes on mankind. The Screwtape Letters is basically letters from the Devil to his workers, to his demons. When he refers to the Enemy, he’s referring to Christ.
This is that same idea. The idea of evil and darkness, they are personified in the snake thing. The songs are written from the perspective of sin or from the perspective of the Devil or from the perspective of hate, things that ultimately bring people a lot of misery and pain. In a lot of ways I’m poking fun at the Devil. It’s written from a Christian perspective, my Christian perspective, but I think Christians would really hate this. I think atheists would hate it, too. I think Muslims would hate it. It’s written for a very narrow audience. What I hope is that I can figure out a way — we’ve got some plans, through the artwork, through the bio and I’ve got a little companion piece that I am working on that is sort of an eBook, which would also be written from the perspective of the Devil. I feel like I need to flesh this out so that people don’t think that I’ve started worshiping the Devil or something. I’m not laying praise to this stuff. It’s actually the opposite.
We’ve got 12 or 13 songs written from that perspective and they are segued; there’s three or four segues and the segues have got scripture. Behind the scripture there’s crazy noises and some backmasking and stuff like that. The very last song is written from a Christian perspective. So there’s only one song on the record that sets the whole thing straight, and that’s the very last song.
For me this is very personal.