Patrick Coman’s 2015 release Reds & Blues was a tapestry of red dirt, midwest twang mixed, dust caked and sepia smoke tinged intermingled with deep hues of cobalt and midnight, dabbing in touches of longing and sadness with fiery crimsons and blues-infused instrumentation. The project was written as a “missing track” from the 7 albums that shaped Coman’s musical coming of age in the shadow of Tulsa, OK’s famed “Tulsa Sound” as Coman describes. Given he has already been down this path before, we felt he is probably one of the best candidates for the 5 Songs exercise and with a new record just on the horizon, now is as good a time as any to tap the singer-songwriter for what has been influencing his writing as of late and what varied sounds and guiding inspirations we can expect to seep their way into his new album “Tree Of Life“.
Check out the tunes and the questions below…as well as a brand new video that Patrick just released yesterday for the tune “Heartbeat” off of that upcoming record.
‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ – Nirvana (Unplugged)
‘Call Me The Breeze’ – JJ Cale (Naturally)
‘Iodine’ – Leonard Cohen (Death of a Ladies Man)
‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues’ – Skip James
‘Watch That Man’ –David Bowie (Aladdin Sane)
RLR: Lets start with Nirvana. This, for many folks around our, age is an obvious answer for a band that made an impact. What is it about Cobain and crews reimagining of a song that is almost 150 years old and been covered by everyone from Lead Belly to Bill Monroe that you found to be appealing or hit you especially hard? The emotion and strain that Kurt injects into this particular performance is really evident.
PC: As kids we all thought of folk music as some sort of cheesy “Kumbaya” campfire songs for your parents. It was just the complete opposite of everything we listened to and liked. But Kurt’s delivery in that song is so unnerving and unhinged that as a teenager it really grabbed up your attention. I knew nothing about the song, I probably assumed it was a Nirvana original for months until I read an article about the album. That was the first time I heard the name Leadbelly and it was the first inkling I had of the power, grit, and emotion present in roots music.
RLR: You mentioned that you geared toward songs that really effected you THIS year…two really influential songwriters and artists on your list were lost this year. Was it that fact that prompted you to dive deeper into their catalogue? In regards to Bowie, “Watch That Man” isn’t one I would assume graces a lot of “top 10 Bowie song” lists and while its the first track on a record with an astoundingly famous cover the hit singles from that record don’t include that tune. What draws you to a tune on a record that may not necessarily be the most popular or what folks would consider “the radio hit”?
PC: Yeah there is no question that losing people like David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, and Leon Russell made me want to revisit their music in deeper way this past year. In particular I had always been a big Bowie fan, but he operated on such a high level it almost felt like he was out of reach as an influence. Last February after he passed away, Randi Millman at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge asked me if I would consider putting together a David Bowie tribute for my For the Sake of the Song series and everything fell together in way that we had three weeks to learn something like 23 David Bowie songs. I knew it was going to be a big show and there was no way I was going to let it be anything less than perfect, so I just totally immersed myself in his music and his life for that whole month. As a fringe benefit, I learned a lot about his thought process when it came to writing and to recording albums, and musically I also began to pick up a few tricks that he used. Watch That Man, for example, is such a perfect glam rock song with a chorus that just explodes. I had been working on a song that needed a similar vibe but I could never quite figure out how to get there. After learning these songs I went back to it one evening and after about thirty minutes I had a finished my song “Chelsea Street”.
RLR: Likewise, we lost Cohen in 2016 as well. Iodine is a song with a great deal of repetition in it. Perhaps hammering home the title, or a some lines that will stick with you over time…long after you are done spinning the record. I have seen that in some of your writing from time to time, the blues influence of a repeated first line of a verse kind of thing. Do you think that sort of writing style helps make a tune memorable? Is this a reason Iodine sticks with you? Also, theres like 1,000 people credited on that record as playing something.
PC: I think the power of repetition is that as a listener it allows you to latch onto a concept a lot faster. If used correctly it’s a great hook and Leonard Cohen is the master at holding your interesting by slightly changing the meaning of those repeated phrases throughout a song. I started listening to that album (Death of a Ladies Man) because Marco Giovino, who co-produced my next album, thought it would be an interesting approach for some vocal tracks we were recording in that Cohen style. This album, which was produced by Phil Spector, as you mention has a ton of overdubs and a huge sound. And even though he is singing so lightly his voice just slices right through the mix. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of trust in the material to put your words out there so nakedly, and I love it. I’ve read that most of the vocals were first or second takes and that Cohen actually thought he was doing scratch tracks and later was not happy about it being released, but I think it sounds great. There is something about the delivery that is so raw and honest that works especially well against that wall of sound backdrop.
RLR: Call Me the Breeze is just a straight classic..again, hitting on the repeated lines to hammer home the kick off of each verse. I feel like a tune like that lends itself to your improv or jam sensibility. In a live setting, really letting the band unleash on a tune and swap solos back and forth in a genuine rock n’ roll way (not like a jam band, psyca-tripping way). I imagine that tune goes way back for you too. Has it been a staple in your record stack or did you revisit it recently and for what reason?
PC: JJ Cale is from my hometown of Tulsa, OK so folks around there definitely still sing his praises. When I was coming up there were (and still are) plenty of guys around who knew him or played with him so it couldn’t help but rub off some. More recently though, I started deeply listening to his debut album. Similarly to Leonard Cohen, he was a huge influence on me vocally during the recording process. His delivery is so relaxed and laidback and I think that extends to the whole feel of the track, which is about as perfect of a lean, mean rock n’ roll song as there can be. As a guitar player he is also a great example of the beauty of minimalism. He doesn’t play an extra note anywhere and everything he plays is so tasteful, which is another thing I’ve definitely tried to take from his example.
RLR: Hard Time Killing Floor Blues…your music is obviously influenced by blues music, but the way you interweave folk, songwriting, rock n roll and country really creates a dynamic that is “Patrick Coman”. These old tunes that have been covered and reworked over and over and the story behind them often get diluted. I think that the metaphor for slaughterhouse is used in terms of a relationship in this case…and I haven’t heard all too many songs with that specific use. In your own writing, do you find you prefer to be literal or use metaphor frequently? Talk a bit about how a song develops for you and your prefence for putting an idea forward for an audience to grasp.
PC: When I hear this song, even more than the lyrics it’s about the way he sings it. It makes me think about those eternal questions, the same type that made cavemen start painting on walls 50,000 years ago. You can feel like it down to the marrow of your bones, to the point where the words are almost secondary to the pure feeling in his voice. I think I first heard that song when it was re-done for the movie O Brother Where Art Thou and it’s always stuck with me. It just imprinted. I think that’s the power of a song, you can hear something once and be forever changed.