The Cadil­lac Three

They’ve come a long way since win­ning the Best New Band at the 2014 Clas­sic Rock Awards. With a third al­bum out, The Cadil­lac Three are here to take south­ern rock’s crown.

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Siân Llewellyn Pho­tos: Neil Zlo­zower

We joined Nashville’s hottest trio on the road in Ohio to talk new mu­sic, re­turn­ing to the UK and their amaz­ing rise to suc­cess.

It’s Night One, and Kelby Ray, the man with a per­son­al­ity even big­ger than his hair and the lap steel-weild­ing third of The Cadil­lac Three, is off the leash. He leans in con­spir­a­to­ri­ally and whis­pers: “I think I might be go­ing ‘Night One’… It can get pretty messy. You might wanna ask the guys about this…”

It’s a sti­fling Wed­nes­day in mid-July and The Cadil­lac Three (and their Clas­sic Rock in­ter­loper) con­vened ear­lier tonight at the Red Door Sa­loon in their home town of Nashville. It’s one of those great spit ’n’ saw­dust places, loud mu­sic, coun­try and rock al­ter­nately blar­ing from the juke­box and the beer is ice cold. It’s full of mu­si­cians talk­ing about mu­sic and song­writ­ing cir­cles and pub­lish­ing deals. It couldn’t re­ally be much more Nashville if it tried. And it’s ex­actly the sort of place that you imag­ine The Cadil­lac Three should be hang­ing out.

The band are poised to re­lease their third al­bum, Legacy, in a cou­ple of weeks and are off out on the road for a few days to play a mas­sive coun­try mu­sic festival in Ohio and have in­vited Clas­sic Rock along for the ride. Which is why you find us on the bus, with Ray on the brink of go­ing Night One. Which, in a nut­shell, is drink­ing. A lot. And sub­se­quenly go­ing a lit­tle crazy. It usu­ally hap­pens on the first night on the road (hence the moniker); it’s the ini­tial taste of free­dom, the open road and the prom­ise of rock’n’roll ahead.

And that’s ex­actly what The Cadil­lac Three are all about. One lis­ten to any of their records to date and there’s plenty of proof that their pri­mary sources of joy are booz­ing, en­joy­ing the good times in life and sim­ply cel­e­brat­ing be­ing from the south. Let’s be hon­est, it’s a tem­plate that’s served many a band well.

“All our records have been about our life ex­pe­ri­ence,” says front­man Jaren John­ston, popping open the first of many beers. “If you look at the first record [2012’s The Cadil­lac Three] it’s all about drink­ing and fight­ing and me just try­ing to find some­thing. When we started this band, writ­ing-wise the thing that made ev­ery­thing glue to­gether was where we’re from, what we’re proud of, how we were raised and what we were lis­ten­ing to when we grew up. So we did that.

“It’s still the same three dudes, no bull­shit. Same tricks, but I feel like the song­writ­ing’s get­ting bet­ter. Even if it’s not get­ting bet­ter it’s get­ting wider, broader. I think the big­gest thing for this record is we’re not scared to sing about things that three years ago I would never have thought in a mil­lion years I’d sing about.”

That’s not to say that Legacy is a grand de­par­ture for TC3. It’s most def­i­nitely not. The al­bum is chock-full of their trade­mark coun­tri­fied rock grooves, from the syn­co­pated Cadil­lacin’ with its un­self­con­cious ref­er­ences to Johnny Cash and ZZ’s Cheap Sun­glasses, to cheeky post-party an­them Dang If We Didn’t, to Amer­i­can Slang which would be a mas­sive ra­dio hit if there was any jus­tice in the world, but there’s per­haps just a lit­tle less heavy metal blus­ter about it.

Life is now sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent for the trio since they be­gan. John­ston and his wife have re­cently be­come par­ents – the singer’s usual chirpy de­meanour is ever so slightly blunted by the perma-ex­hausted thou­sand-yard stare of the new dad – and Ray got mar­ried.

But surely the change, such that it is, is sim­ply a con­squence of grow­ing up and get­ting older.

“I think that’s part of it,” says drum­mer Neil Ma­son, a man of sig­nif­i­cantly fewer words than his band­mates. “But you can’t just stay in the same box your whole life. No­body wants to do that. No mat­ter who you are, no mat­ter what you do. The other side of it is that we’re not afraid to try dif­fer­ent things.”

He pauses, and shrugs: “The worst thing that’s go­ing to hap­pen is we put out what we think is a re­ally good song and peo­ple aren’t go­ing to like it. You’ve got to do what you think is right in the mo­ment, and that’s what we’re try­ing to do – try­ing to stay true to our­selves.”

“You can’t be in the big­gest band in the world if you do the same damn thing over and over,” John­ston says. Do they want to be the big­gest band in the world? “Oh, def­i­nitely,” he replies in a heart­beat. “There’s no rea­son any one of us in this room right now would be still do­ing this if we didn’t think we could and wanna be the big­gest band in the world.”

Legacy is the third al­bum for TC3 since 2012 and, more as­ton­ish­ingly, the sec­ond one in the space of a year. In a cli­mate where Axl can take over a decade or Me­tal­lica the best part of one to get new ma­te­rial out, it’s quite an acheive­ment. Re­ceived

wis­dom in rock’n’roll dic­tates that you have your en­tire life to write your first al­bum and then a few months to write each sub­se­quent one. But, given TC3’s song­writ­ing prow­ess both in and out of the band (all three band­mates are pro­lific writ­ers in the Nashville scene, writ­ing for other artists – John­ston has writ­ten No.1 sin­gles for the likes of coun­try su­per­star Keith Ur­ban – when they’re not con­cen­trat­ing on Cadil­lac), that wasn’t quite the case.

“The thing is, we wrote that first record very quick,” ad­mits John­ston. “Like in a week or two. So I get that state­ment, and it’s very true for a lot of bands. But be­cause we write all the time back there [in Nashville], we knew we didn’t want to wait an­other three or how­ever many years. We wanted to get the al­bum out quick. It’s a waste to write all th­ese songs and not do any­thing with them. I mean, if you write three hun­dred songs, you’re los­ing so many. There are songs that should have been on that sec­ond record that prob­a­bly won’t ever see the light of day be­cause you get tired of ’em, or it didn’t hit at the right time or what­ever.

“This record, we wrote th­ese songs and we had two that we re­ally liked from the last round – Cadil­lacin’ and It Ain’t That Coun­try – and the oth­ers that we’ve writ­ten on the bus that we just thought: ‘This is start­ing to sound like a record.’ And that’s what bands are sup­posed to do, so we’re like: ‘We have a record, let’s go in and cut it.’”

So that’s ex­actly what they did.

“We cut it in De­cem­ber, fin­ished it in Jan­uary, mixed it in Fe­bru­ary and gave it to the la­bel. They loved it and we’re putting it out in Au­gust, a year later af­ter Bury Me In My Boots. There are not a lot of bands out there do­ing that.”

It’s proper old-school, sev­en­ties-style ‘get two al­bums done and dusted and out within twelve months’ be­hav­iour.

“We draw a lot from that kinda in­flu­ence,” says Kelby. “To us, that’s rock’n’roll. All that stuff in the sev­en­ties was like nine, ten songs, they put it out and next, next… And all of a sud­den you’ve put out four or five al­bums in three or four years.

“And then it makes the show a lot eas­ier to put to­gether be­cause you’ve got a whole bunch of songs to pick from. We play three hun­dred shows a year, man, world­wide.

You need things to keep the three of us en­ter­tained and ex­cited.”

“It’s for the fans, but it’s for us just as much,” says John­ston.

“We do this be­cause it’s a lot of fun. We don’t have to do this shit. We do it be­cause we love it. It’s three dudes who grew up to­gether and it’s ac­tu­ally work­ing for us world­wide. In Amer­ica you don’t hear that story very of­ten, us putting that record out as quick as pos­si­ble. I love play­ing I’m South­ern ev­ery night and I love play­ing Ten­nessee Mojo, but it’ll be neat to one night be: ‘Hey, man, let’s not play that and let’s play Cadil­lacin’ or let’s play Ten­nessee, or let’s do both.’ That’s the beauty of hav­ing enough shit in your tank.”

Clearly, given their work rate, hav­ing enough “shit in the tank” doesn’t seem to be any kind of prob­lem for TC3.

“Songs get writ­ten all the time and some­times they get turned into songs for us and some­times they don’t,” ex­plains Ray.

But how do you know which songs are go­ing to be for The Cadil­lac Three ?

“You don’t, a lot of times,” Ma­son says, laugh­ing. “Legacy’s a great ex­am­ple. That was a song that

Jaren wrote and pitched. We all heard it at a writ­ers’ round when some­one else was singing it, and he was like: ‘Oh, I wrote this with Jaren.’ And it was like: ‘Jaren! Gimme that! Why don’t we get that? Let’s learn that. Let’s go do it.’ We cut it and now it’s the ti­tle of the al­bum.”

John­ston: “But that was the thing. When I wrote Legacy I wasn’t in a place where I though it felt hon­est for us to play that song. It didn’t feel right to sing those lyrics.”

What goes around, comes around…

“On the other hand,” says Ray, warm­ing to the theme, “with Long Hair Don’t Care and Cadil­lacin’, songs like that come out the air and it’s like, well, ob­vi­ously, that’s for us.”

“Some­times you know im­me­di­ately and some­times you don’t,” shrugs John­ston. “We were about to go into the stu­dio to fin­ish the record and we didn’t have all the songs yet. We didn’t know what we were go­ing to do. So we brought our buddy An­gelo out, and with the thought that we’re not out here writ­ing Jason Aldean or Keith Ur­ban songs, we’re writ­ing the rest of this record right now. That was the fo­cus. And it was the best thing. We nailed it. That doesn’t hap­pen a lot. We don’t sit down and think: ‘Let’s write a Cadil­lac song.’”

““It’s still the same three dudes, no bull­shit.

Same tricks, but the song­writ­ing’s get­ting bet­ter.”

Sadly (or prob­a­bly wisely), I don’t think a true Night One oc­curs. Which is prob­a­bly for the best. With the mid­night bus call, a cou­ple of hours’ of chat, we all crawl into the sanc­tity of our bunks and the bus rum­bles on through the night,

cross­ing the en­tire state of Ken­tucky as we head up to Mor­ris­town, Ohio and our des­ti­na­tion – the 41st an­nual Jam­boree In The Hills. Th­ese days Jambo – as it’s known to the lo­cals – is a four-day af­fair (plus two pre- party days, ob­vi­ously) with an at­ten­dance not far off the num­bers that Glas­ton­bury wel­comes. Over the course of the festival, Thomas Rhett, Jason Aldean and Lady An­te­bel­lum will num­ber among the head­lin­ers. This is most def­i­nitely a coun­try mu­sic af­fair.

And this is right in the heart of Amer­ica, the crowd are proudly be­decked in stars-and-stripes – T-shirts, ban­danas, jack­ets, hats, you name it, you’ll see it all em­bla­zoned with the livery of the Amer­i­can flag. In a marked dif­fer­ence from UK fes­ti­vals, one glance out into the nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre and you’re struck by the mas­sive beer cool­ers (se­ri­ously, we’re talk­ing some the size of a kitchen fridge on wheels) that the au­di­ence are per­mit­ted to bring in.

But in a star­tling turn of events, the beau­ti­ful sum­mer has taken a bit of a turn for the Bri­tish, and the heav­ens have opened, bring­ing the mud and a lit­tle bit of chaos. All of which re­sults in things run­ning be­hind sched­ule and forc­ing The Cadil­lac Three to forego their sound­check. But it doesn’t re­ally seem to phase them.

“It’s lit­er­ally been like four days since we played a show,” says Ray, “but when we didn’t sound­check or any­thing and it’s like we’re kinda cold com­ing out. It doesn’t mat­ter if there’s like a hun­dred peo­ple or ten thou­sand peo­ple out there. It takes us a sec­ond and then we’re like: ‘Okay, wait, I’m do­ing this now.’ We’re a fuck­ing rock’n’roll coun­try and western bar band, so we go out and just do that.”

“That hap­pens to have pretty de­cent songs,” in­ter­jects John­ston. But the singer is not overly happy with the show. “We’re ac­cus­tomed to go and sound­check and make sure ev­ery­thing is good, but when you get to this level a lot of times you don’t sound­check, and tonight is a per­fect ex­am­ple of why you need to fuck­ing do that shit. My amp sounded com­pletely dif­fer­ent.”

“This crowd isn’t the best kind of ex­am­ple. They’re muddy and wet and they’re just drink­ing. A lot of peo­ple buy tick­ets to th­ese coun­try camp­ing fes­ti­vals months and months in ad­vance. Just to go get drunk and party; they’ve no idea who’s go­ing to be play­ing. I mean, we have fans out there, as you can tell, but un­til it’s dark and every­one’s drunk, that’s when it re­ally gets go­ing.”

John­ston is wor­ry­ing un­nec­es­sar­ily. The crowd clearly didn’t mind about his amp sound, they were out for a good time and warmed to TC3’s rock­ier coun­try grooves dur­ing their 40-minute set. But, granted, they’re go­ing to be play­ing to a whole dif­fer­ent cap­tive au­di­ence when they ar­rive in the UK later this month.

Even if you only flick through Clas­sic Rock, you’ll be aware that there’s def­i­nitely some sort of coun­try, souther rock renaissance go­ing on, es­pe­cially this side of the At­lantic. Just look at the suc­cess in re­cent years of Black Stone Cherry, Black­berry Smoke and now The Cadil­lac Three. Do the band have any in­cling as to why this lit­tle is­land has warmed to their south­ern-fried tones? “No idea,” says John­ston. “No idea.”

“I think they can see the hon­esty in it,” says Ma­son. “My favourite thing about what we do is whether it’s a big crowd like this or a hun­dred per­son club at the Barfly, we’re go­ing to do what we do. We have some tricks and that’s about it.

The stage may be a lit­tle big­ger, or we may be a bit fur­ther away from the crowd, but that’s the deal, and ob­vi­ously ev­ery­body in the UK seems to ap­pre­ci­ate that hon­esty.”

“You guys take a lot less bull­shit,” laughs Ray. “We talk about this on the bus all the time,” John­ston con­tin­ues. “In­ter­view­ers over here say: ‘We hear you guys in the UK are just blow­ing up – how, why, what’s go­ing on?’ Hon­estly, I dunno, man. But I will say there’s no three-piece over there play­ing sludgy coun­try and western metal mu­sic with a lap steel and no bass player. And then I re­alise: what the fuck? There’s no one do­ing that over here!”

“It’s south­ern rock,” Ray de­cides. “There’s some­thing so in­trigu­ing about that to the Euro­peans and to the Bri­tish.”

There is in­deed, and as we head out to watch the Broth­ers Os­bourne (who will sup­port TC3 on the UK tour), John­son re­veals that they’ve got a lot to live up in the south­ern rock stakes

“We did the last Skynyrd cruise and we were watch­ing on side stage. We’d just done a jam. It was us, Black­berry Smoke, Ricky Med­locke, Black­foot and Skynyrd and a cou­ple other bad dudes. It was crazy. The next day we watched Skynyrd’s set, and fuck­ing Johnny [Van Zant] gets up there four or five songs in and says: ‘Y’know, there’s a lot of great bands on this thing. Ob­vi­ously we can’t do this shit for­ever, but there’s a cou­ple bands on this boat that we’d love to have carry the torch and we’d love it if they’d carry it for us.’ And he said The Cadil­lac Three and Black­berry Smoke. It was just the two. There was fif­teen bands there and we’re all do­ing the same kinda thing. We heard that and we were like: ‘We have a fuck­ing mis­sion here now!”

No pres­sure, but Skynyrd have told you.

“We play three hun­dred shows a year. You need things to keep the three of us en­ter­tained.” Kelby Ray

The Cadil­lac Three’s U K tour starts in Cardiff on Novem­ber 12.

Over 100,000 pun­ters roll up for Jambo. TC3: play­ing “sludgy coun­try and western metal mu­sic with a lap steel and no bass player.”

On the road again: (l-r) Kelby Ray, Neil Ma­son and Jaren John­ston.

Three men and bus: com­ing to a town near you soon. Win­ning over the Jam­boree crowd.

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