It’s been a long and fruitful journey for Ohio’s Southeast Engine. The folk-rock quartet signed with Misra Records six years ago. Since then, the Ohioans have released four full-length albums, including 2011’s acclaimed Canary. This year, the four-piece released a companion EP to Canary, entitled Canaanville. Aside from being brilliant works of folk art, the albums tell the history and current problems in Ohio’s Appalachian region. The band is currently gearing up for a summer tour that will take it through stops all over the U.S., including Oregon for this year’s Pickathon Festival. Amidst preparing for a nearly month-long tour, SEE’s guitarist/vocalist Adam Remnant was nice enough to chat with me about how the band got discovered, the Ohio music scene, and what bands to check out at Pickathon.
Katrina Nattress: The Wrens discovered your band in 2006. Tell me about how this happened.
Adam Remnant: We played a small festival show with them in Athens, Ohio. I remember we struck up a conversation with them about the band Brainiac from Dayton, Ohio, whom they had toured with in the ‘90s. They put in a good word about us to the folks who ran Misra at the time, which led to us getting signed to the label.
KN: You have been playing music together for more than 10 years now. How do you feel your sound has progressed in that time?
AR: We’ve sort of grown up with this band literally and musically. Leo and I started the band when we were 19 years old. We’re in our early 30s now, so it’s been a learning process for us on how to learn our craft, hone it, and develop it. Having the musicianship and creative energy of my brother Jesse on bass and Billy Matheny on keyboards has only increased our abilities as a band.
KN: Where do you see the direction of your music heading on forthcoming releases?
AR: I’ve been listening to a lot of singer-songwriter stuff from the ‘70s lately: Judee Sill, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon. Some weird folky guys as well like Michael Hurley and John Hartford. I’ve also been influenced by earlier soul music like Percy Sledge and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. There’s always a more rockin’ element to Southeast Engine as well. We’ll see how all that translates.
KN: You just released Canaanville, an EP meant to accompany your LP, Canary. What made you decide to create this companion piece?
AR: There were more songs from the Canary song cycle, which we felt were as good as the songs on the album. We wanted to ensure they see the light of day.
KN: Both of these albums are thematically based around Appalachia during the Great Depression. Where did this fascination stem from?
AR: I’ve lived in Athens, Ohio in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains for the last decade and more. The major chapter of history here is how the area was used for its natural resources: coal, timber, etc. Unfortunately a lot of the land and people were exploited and these operations were left behind when more profitable resources were found elsewhere, leaving impoverished communities in their wake. Canaanville is an actual little town that revolved around a coal mine. The same problems continue throughout Appalachia and other regions of the U.S. today in updated forms. Those stories and that history seemed increasingly relevant with today’s economic and environmental problems.
KN: Ohio seems to have a pretty large indie/folk music scene. What are some local bands that you’ve been listening to lately?
AR: The Black Swans are a Columbus based band who make eccentric folk music with great lyrics. Mike Elliot is a lo-fi hero who makes bizarre homemade albums, which deserve way more appreciation.
KN: You are set to play at this year’s Pickathon in Oregon alongside some great bands like Neko Case and Blitzen Trapper. Is this your first festival appearance?
AR: It’s our first Pickathon appearance. We’ve played a few different festivals over the years, including Sled Island in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and the Nelsonville Music Festival in Ohio. We’ve also done SXSW a few times and CMJ in NYC. We’re really looking forward to Pickathon; they seem to have cultivated a really cool festival with consistently good artists.
KN: What bands are you most excited to see at the festival?
AR: I was really into the Cass McCombs’ albums last year, so I am looking forward to catching him. I like the guitar work in War on Drugs as well. I caught Blitzen Trapper at SXSW and loved them, so I’ll definitely be seeing them again. Of course, I hope to catch Neko Case too.
KN: Apart from Pickathon, you’re hitting the road on a summer tour in late July. How do you like life on the road?
AR: It’s a thrill for the most part. A different place every night and you get to see the country. It provides a nice break from life at home, and makes you appreciate your life at home more when the tour is over.
KN: What has been the most interesting thing that has happened to you on tour?
AR: Not really that interesting, but Billy once brought a Kit Kat bar into a Dairy Queen and requested that they blend it into a Blizzard and they happily accepted his request.
KN: Where are you most excited to play?
AR: We’ve had some great experiences on the west coast. I’m looking forward to returning to L.A., San Francisco, and Seattle. Denver and Chicago are always good shows as well. Of course, Pickathon will be a highlight.
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