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Reverend Peyton Owes It All To His Brown County Roots

The Reverend Peyton can't wait to come back home to southern Indiana. After spending nearly three-quarters of the year on the road, he and his Big Damn Band have earned some time off. Their New Year's Eve show at Bloomington's Bluebird nightclub is their one last ruckus party before they go back on the road again at the end of January 2011.

I caught up with the Reverend in Carborough, North Carolina to talk family, song writing, and pitch-in's.

Home For The Holiday

Annie Corrigan: You spend most of the year on the road performing some 250 shows all over the country. Why come back to Indiana for a New Year's Eve show?

Reverend Peyton: I'll be honest with you. We got offers all over the country for New Year's Eve. We could have picked just about any place in the nation we wanted to be, but we wanted to come back and do something special. Our Bloomington shows have been getting to be so big, so special and so amazing. We wanted to close out the year at home, doing something that I think is going to be very memorable. We want to see all our pals there. I hope people come from Jackson County and Brown County. I want to see people from Indianapolis and of course all our Bloomington pals. I want to see them all there.

AC: What can we expect at the show?

RP: It's the show where we try out new stuff, so you're going to hear some songs that aren't on a record. You're going to hear some stuff from about every record we've done. And, we're also going to have some very special guests, some surprise guests. I like to keep it a secret. Also, the Cox Brothers from Brown County are going to be opening up the show, so it's going to be a big family thing. It's going to be great.

Hoosiers Born And Bred

AC: Let's talk about your southern Indiana and Brown County roots. Tell me how you were inspired musically by where you grew up.

RP: When you travel around the world and you're able to look back at home from far away, you realize just how much culture there is in Indiana compared to the rest of the world. For me, that was an eye-opening thing, and I've always mined that for the music I make. To me, that's what we're all about.

There are little things you say in Indiana that people don't say everywhere else, ways of cooking things that aren't the same as everyplace else. It's a very interesting mix of North, South, East and West, and the hill country is beautiful. It has been inspiring artists and musicians for 200 hundred years.

I'll give you an example that I love. Years ago, someone said to me they were holding a potluck dinner. Well, I had never heard of a potluck dinner, so I had to look it up, embarrassingly enough. And I was like, "Oh, a pitch-in!" Then, I was thumbing through a regional dialect book, and it said, "For instance, in Indiana, a potluck dinner is called a pitch-in." Since I've traveled, I've realized that the whole rest of the planet calls them potlucks, it's just us that calls them pitch-ins. But I can tell you this much – the food is much better at a pitch-in, I promise.

Music At Its Most Primitive

AC: You play the guitar and you're playing with two percussive instruments – the washboard and the drum set. But there's such a sense of melody with your music, in spite of there only being one melodic instrument in the band.

RP: I think that melody is the most important part of a song, and melody is something I labor over. If a melody isn't perfect, then the song isn't there. I don't think a lot of people start off with their songs that way; they start off trying to build something off the lyrics or build something off some chord progression. But, it is melody that drives it all. So, I wait until there's a melody and then everything else fits in around that. It has to.

Music at its most primitive is just rhythm and melody. The beauty of what we do is that there are two percussionists, so the rhythm part comes easy. It's the melody that's a little more difficult, but it's helped along by the fact that I play basically two parts at once. My thumb plays the bass line and my fingers pick out the high melody. It happens at the same time without any computers or ipods or loop pedals or anything like that. It's just in my hands. So, what you have is a very organic, heartfelt kind of music that is universal. We play this stuff in East Germany; we play it in northern Norway; we play it in Canada; we play it in south Texas; it doesn't matter. It pretty much gets the same response out of people.

Write What You Know

AC: Your new album is called The Wages. It talks about real issues – the economy, methamphetamines – stuff we see in the news in Indiana especially but definitely all around the country, too. It sounds like you're getting your inspiration from the trials and tribulations of regular people.

RP: That hits the nail on the head. I want my songs to be champions of and songs for and about regular people. How I accomplish that, I just write song about my family, my friends, people I knew growing up, things I see that I like, things I see that piss me off, and everything in between. The more personal I make a song – the more Indiana I make a song – the more back-home I make a song, it seems like the more people around the world appreciate it. So, I don't hold anything back anymore. I write what comes natural. I write what is immediate and in my heart. I don't try to sugarcoat it or anything, and most of the time, I don't even change the names in the songs.

I like plain-speaking songs, too, and I think that's part of coming from Indiana. In the music business, people don't always speak plain to you, but back home in Indiana they do. So, that's the way my songs are – the way I say it is something my Granddad could understand. There's no symbolic purple skies or anything like that, it's just straight plain-speaking stuff.

AC: Other than the show at the Bluebird, what are you looking forward to about coming home over New Year's?

RP: I'm looking forward to being able to have some time off and work on the next thing. I get lots of ideas for songs on the road, but I never really finish things until I've had some time to be home. So, my guess is that I'm going to get to see family and friends, spend some time hiking in the hills, and I'll probably have another couple records finished by the end of January when it's time to go back on the road again.

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