For the past 10 to 15 years‚ guitarist Seth Yacovone has been as integral to the Vermont music scene as Ben & Jerry's is to the collective diet. Appearing in Burlington's smoky haunts ages before his first legal taste of whiskey‚ Yacovone quickly earned a reputation as "that young blues kid‚" a moniker he still tries to shake off to this day. However‚ many aging ears in the Vermont music scene will tell you that for some time that simple labeling was stunningly justified. When walking into the old Higher Ground a decade ago and seeing a 19-year-old completely tear his heart out over some mutated power-trio rock‚ the first-time listener could easily be awed into such simple descriptive terms. This isn't 1999 anymore‚ though‚ and Mr. Yacovone has progressed far from "that young blues kid." Land of Split Decision‚ his first record away from the old format of Seth Yacovone Band‚ is two discs worth of a vast experience in rock and roll. Acoustic tracks play right at home next to Big Band compositions‚ rawer indie cuts‚ and balls-out destroyer rock.
I've had the fortunate experience of not only knowing Seth for a while‚ but of playing countless shows with him over the years in a variety of different outfits. I can certify that the throbbing soul that spawns from his guitar is merely an extension of the impassioned person he is. We sat down to talk about the new album‚ what keeps him going‚ and why‚ unfortunately‚ the Land of Split Decision Review has only performed once this year. I edited out as much of our casual profanity as I could.
OK‚ so new album. How many songs on that have been around for a long time?
There's about six or seven that are up to five years old. The last time that Seth Yacovone Band put out a CD was 2003. And so‚ it's songs after that that I still liked that fit the mood. I started to write other songs‚ and then I could see how the older songs would work with them and make it a broader thing. There are like six or seven old songs that SYB had played and a few that we didn't play.
Are there other SYB songs that were not recorded that you didn't….
Oh‚ there's tons.
So these are songs that you knew would fit in more with what you're doing.
Yeah‚ and I felt strongly about a lot of them and really liked them as songs‚ so I didn't want to let them die. And I also felt they could be better represented than in the power-trio format. I wanted to see if we could bring something out of it that we hadn't brought out of it yet.
Gotcha. So how much of this new album is a thing that's just for you? How much of it is a release of getting songs out there‚ as opposed to "let me try to make an album to really make money off of it"?
The idea of making money off of releasing a CD is really alien to me. [laughs] It's like every one I've put out has at best paid for itself and a little bit of the next one maybe. But it's not about making money. I've been playing a lot of solo gigs and I haven't had my band and I just wasn't doing what I'm most passionate about in my life‚ which is creating new songs and trying to do something with them. And I had this group of songs and started to just think about them and really get an idea of what I wanted to do‚ which I hadn't had. There were a few years after the band where I didn't have‚ "Oh‚ I want to do this!" and so I didn't really do anything 'cause I was like‚ "I'll just wait until I see when I know what I wanna do.'
And so I started to see how I could use different musicians and try to cross our ideas. I was using a couple guys from Vorcza‚ a couple guys from Seth Yacovone Band that had chemistry together in various groups‚ and ViperHouse. So it's the familiar and the new. Like‚ OK‚ we practiced three times‚ we record for a week‚ it's still really fresh‚ but at the same time we really know one of us really well‚ you know? It's years of playing together you just can't copy. And so I started to see how I wanted the songs to lay out and how they would work together to say something that I wanted to say‚ which I couldn't ever tell you what it was that I want to say‚ but‚ you know…
So how much of a complete release was it when you actually had it all out?
Oh‚ it was great! It's just so nice to see it come to fruition. It was really‚ just really fun to record it‚ and I usually don't enjoy recording. It was nice to not have… With all of the Seth Yacovone Band records we really felt pressure to have it be somewhat representative of what a trio can do live. Which is pretty simple. Not that there's a lot of crazy overdubs of one instrument playing many parts‚ but it's just nice to not have worries about representing a certain thing that already exists‚ and just let it be the music.
So you think you're having more fun now doing these things than when you were in the thick of SYB?
It depends. It was a different time in my life. I was a lot younger‚ not a lot younger. I just feel a lot older I guess‚ more run down. But there was a time when it was really fun‚ but towards the end we were just grueling it out with weird bookings from our booking agent and just barely getting by and not enjoying music enough. If you don't enjoy music‚ the music's usually not that good. If there's not that spark for the musicians‚ it's not going to be good. I don't see how it transfers to a listener if it's not meaningful to the people playing it. Not that the music wasn't meaningful‚ but we were burned-out on it. And I felt like‚ as a trio‚ where else could we go? We kind of played a certain way with the three of us‚ and we had a chemistry that was cool. Tommy [Coggio]‚ Steve [Hadeka] and I play together like we play with no one else. We know each other in a different way. We built the suit of what that is‚ and that's OK. It's great‚ but it can't change in some ways.
Do you think that‚ in a way‚ has built a grudge in your attraction from trying to perhaps do that again‚ to focus on one project? I mean‚ if right now some producer heard this new album and was like‚ "Get a band together. I'll give you 45 dates in Europe and the other 50 in the U.S.‚ Canada and…."
I mean‚ I'd like to think that I'd give it a shot‚ but being on the road on a day-to-day basis makes me weird. [laughter] Weirder‚ I guess. I'd like to go play again‚ but I need to find time to write‚ and it's hard for me‚ I find. It's a whole different thing. When I was younger…. It's different once you've written over a hundred songs. It's like‚ "Oh‚ I've used that idea." "Oh‚ I can't do that one." "Oh‚ that's that one again except it's that chord." You know? It's like you kind of whittle away at what you can do.
I've found that with this album‚ on the more traditional tunes‚ I shied away from that. Because when I started off playing when I was a teenager‚ it was definitely "the young blues kid" and it felt kind of fake to me. I mean‚ I love the blues and it's some of my favorite music in the world and I love to play it‚ but I don't want to play just traditional blues all the time. It wasn't really representing where I was coming from‚ so I just started to play different stuff. I shied away from that "Oh‚ I don't want to do anything too traditional." And this time I was much more comfortable just going‚ it's a three-chord song; it's definitely not an original. It's in a tradition and just go with it. If it works and it sounds good and the lyrics fit with it and it feels good musically‚ just to not worry about that too much and hopefully still have enough of my own personality and the other musicians' personalities come through to make it a unique performance. It's just easy to throw away things that might be good.