In an article I wrote a few years back I explained that my climate seasons are marked by the music that captures me at that particular time. It could be re-discovering or discovering a classical composer, finding a new type of bagpiping I never knew existed, or a release from one of my favorite pipa players or something that is totally new to me. I listen to beautiful. The summer of 2013 is the summer of Sanders Bohlke.
Bohlke’s current release Ghost Boy is described as “Inspired by a wintertime retreat to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia”. The music on the CD chronicles the isolation that creeps in when the days get shorter and you’re further and further removed from society.
Sanders opens for Rachael Yamagata at the Union Transfer on Thursday July 11, 2013 and has received rave reviews for his ability to transfer the experience of the CD to the confines of a solo opening act. Philadelphia will be the third to the last stop on this tour. That has spanned the months of June and July across North America.
David Cohen: Right now there is little information about you. You’re from Alabama?
Sanders Bohlke: Actually Mississippi, a town called Sparta. I lived in Alabama for a period.
DC: How old were you when you picked up the guitar?
Sanders: I was probably 15.
DC: What were you listening to that made you want to play the guitar?
Sanders: It was more like a bunch of my friends were getting into music so it seemed the thing to do. I listened to a lot of blues. My dad listened to James Taylor so I tried to learn those songs. I listened to a lot of blues growing up in Mississippi. It was hard not to listen to the blues, it’s kind of everywhere. I listened to R.L. Burnside, The Mississippi All Stars were becoming popular I was listening to them around the age 16.
DC: So then is your music something unusual to come out of Mississippi?
Sandes: In a way yes but in a way not really. The music I’m doing has a soulful element to it – Mississippi, New Orleans, Alabama that’s all soul central. I feel it’s very native to Mississippi but I put a different spin on it on purpose, I’m not a just a soul singer or blues musician or singer/songwriter and I don’t want to be so I try to bring in different elements in from different things that inspire me. But yeah, I would say it is very native of Mississippi.
DC: When you write songs are they thought out before hand, or a work in process?
Sanders: It’s a little bit of both. I’ve written all kinds of ways. I’m settling in now to more like write as I go. I’ll sit down and find a melody I like and hum along with the piece and take it from there. Sometimes the songs end up meaning something that I was intending to write about at some at point but I don’t sit down with the focus to write a song about this or that. In retrospect I’ve revisited songs and realized that I was thinking a lot about that at the time.
DC: Are your songs more autobiographical than not?
Sanders: There are elements from my own life. They are stories that I think about or have dreams about or read about.
DC: You speak a lot about death and create images that come from a perspective of someone grieving. In the press release it quoted you as saying that the music came from the solitude of a winter retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Was this CD coming from a period of grieving?
Sanders: No, death and the end of the world interest me because we really don’t know a lot about it. It’s interesting because we don’t know a lot about it but it also gives me the freedom to create what death is and what this world is. It’s very freeing to write about things like that because you’re never wrong about it. It’s fantasy in a way. So for me it creates a lot of freedom and it’s interesting.
DC: On the other hand the CD has elements that are very romantic. In the song Serious you write, “If you’re serious I’ll be serious too. I’ll ripe your heart out like you want me to, I’ll kiss your mouth and you’ll be better for it” and later you write, “Why you left me this is serious, I can’t love you like you want me to”. In Pharaoh you write, “There was a time when I was Pharaoh, but the breaking of my heart has just begun”. I was thinking Oh this poor guy is in the mountains getting over someone.
Sanders: The funny thing is I’m happily married. My wife teases me all the time that there is something I’m not telling her. For me the reason I write these things is because it’s more exciting for me to write about heart break because I don’t deal with heart break. I don’t get to confront these emotions so it’s almost healthy to go through the up and downs in my music. It’s interesting for me to create my own characters and my own heartache – my own misery.
DC: It has been seven years since the release of your first CD. What did you do in that time?
Sanders: I actually did a lot. I wrote a lot and we put out a lot of singles. The reason it took so long was because we couldn’t find a group of songs that would make an album. My manager would say there are plenty of songs to make an album but for me they weren’t the songs I wanted for my sophomore album. So we kept just writing. We had a bunch of singles and decided to sell them as singles. A couple of the songs were picked up by T.V. shows. The hope was that people would hear them and want to buy the song. So we ended up doing that and it gave my fans the chance to hear my changes and grow with the changes in my music so they would not feel left out. There were a few hard-core followers from the first CD that love this one. This CD is very different than my first.
DC: I wondered if you worked in a hardware store or some place during that period.
Sanders: I had a few side jobs. There was a lot of writing, a lot of recording. I have a lot of songs that aren’t released yet.
DC: How long did it take to record the CD?
Sanders: Not very long at all. We spent two days in Nashville. I went to Nashville three or four days before the session to rehearse with the band. It was three guys from Nashville. We rehearsed the songs and went into the studio and in two days recorded nine songs live in the studio full band. Then we went through some overdubs in Birmingham and then got it mixed in Nashville. It didn’t take long. It was the process of figuring what to do with the record when it was made.
DC: Going back to something you said, what was the worst job you had during the period between albums?
Sanders: It was the worst only because it was so monotonous but it was kind of interesting. I hated it at the time but I really am mad at myself for not taking it all in at the time. I worked in a screen-printing shop. It was actually a good experience but I hated it at the time. I use to go home almost in tears that I hated the job. One of my favorite songs came from that period.
DC: Which one?
Part 2 SANDERS BOHLKE PART II
Sanders: I wrote Search and Destroy which is one of my favorites. I wrote that in about an hour.
DC: Interesting! Is that where the line, “I was wide awake with bodies in the gutter”comes from?
Sanders: No, well maybe subconsciously. It was more just one of those things where I had a vision of what the world would be like if it ended. It was the story of a guy experiencing the thing and explaining it to his daughter.
DC: When I first heard the CD and found out you were playing in Philly I knew I had to be there. I was wondering if you would be able to get across the artistry of the album in an opening position. So far all of the reviews have been very positive about your performance.
Sanders: I know from the crowds reaction and a lot of the people come up to me after the shows. A lot of people don’t expect much from the opener and found out they like what I’m doing. It’s been really cool to hear that. It’s been a great tour. I was a fan of Rachael’s before she invited me. A lot of people are buying the CD and I feel like I’m making honest fans.
DC: What kind of guitars do you use?
Sanders: That’s funny question because a lot of people ask me that. My acoustic is a Gibson J-45 but my main guitar is a Peavey P-60. I think it’s a 1988 or 1989 Peavey. It was a $200 guitar I found it in a little guitar consignment shop in Oxford when I was living there. It was kind of temperamental at first and gave me a few problems and then one day it just worked and has worked perfectly since then. I love the sound it makes. I love the way it feels – it’s my baby. I don’t know what I’d do without this guitar.
DC: What effscts do you use?
Sanders: I have a Boss Loop Station and I have a Holy Grail Reverb Pedal and I use the reverb on my amp. I have to fill a lot of space on stage so I use a Roland 404 Sampler.
DC: What’s next? You’ve been touring twenty-eight days and there are three show left on this tour.
Sanders: I’ll be writing a lot. We have an EP coming out. We’re working on mastering that now.
DC: Will this be your first time in Philadelphia?
Sanders: I was there many years ago. I opened for The Frey at the Electric Factory. I am looking forward to playing at the Union Transfer. I hear it is a really nice venue. I’m excited to be in Philadelphia again.