Jon Rauhouse on His Grammy-Nominated Project with Neko Case and Living in Tempe When the Drinking Age Was 19
In case you've been avoiding the Internet the past several days, thanks for coming back. Now let's catch up: The Grammys went down on Sunday night (with all the schwag such an industry fete entails) and people are talking about it.
While much of the post-Grammy discussion has centered on what Beyoncé and Pharrell had on their heads, Macklemore's win over Kendrick Lamar (no doubt tied to his association with the Dr. Pepper Illuminati), and Trent Reznor's expletive-packing tweet to the Grammy brass, our most puzzling concern remains unaddressed: Who puts Vampire Weekend, the National, Nine Inch Nails, Tame Impala, and Neko Case in the same category?
Jon Rauhouse, who contributed guitar, pedal steel, and trombone to Neko Case's The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, which was nominated for Best Alternative Album, isn't quite sure how Case's music compares to Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires of the City, which ultimately took the golden gramophone home. But he's not worried about it, either. Ever the working musician, he found out the awards show outcome right before he went on stage in Houston.
Four-plus decades into a career as a musical journeyman, he's too busy to spend much time thinking about accolades. Besides collaborating live and in the studio with Case for just over 14 years, Rauhouse's résumé includes gigs with Jakob Dylan, Howe Gelb, Billy Bob Thornton, and more. He's issued solo albums, too, and is hard at work with his own Jon Rauhouse Orchestra in Phoenix. The Orchestra is readying an album and scheduled to perform on Tuesday, February 11, at the Professional Musicians of Arizona Union Hall.
Rauhouse took the time to answer a few questions about Phoenix, the Grammys, and his Orchestra from the road.
Neko Case's The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, which you contributed to, was nominated for the "Best Alternative Album" at the Grammys. Did you guys attend the ceremonies?
No, we were playing in Houston and heard [that we hadn't won] right before we went on. Silly me; I thought it was going to be NIN.
What are your thoughts on the other "alternative" acts you were up against at the Grammys: The National, Vampire Weekend, Nine Inch Nails, and Tame Impala? None of the acts sound like each other; Does that speak to the amorphous definition of "alternative" music in 2014?
Honestly, we have played shows with the National, and they and NIN are not really my bag. I have never heard Vampire Weekend or heard of Tame Impala. It's weird because, being a musician for so long, you obviously want to win, but it really is so far off your radar that it's really hard to feel like you are really in it. We've been nominated twice and in two different categories, so there is no rhyme or reason. I guess enough people like us and the other bands that they needed to put us in some category.
You've been very busy with the Case band, but you've also got a lot going on here in town, with the Orchestra. What are your impressions of Phoenix's scene right now?
The scene in Phoenix right now is great. There are places to play and a lot of great and creative musicians. I love being here, finding people to play with, and dreaming up shows to play.
How does it compare to your early days?
I'm pretty old, when I started playing in Tempe in the late '70s, the drinking age was 19. So any bar near the campus could put on music and tons of people would show up, 'cause they were college kids just walking up the street. You could make decent money just from the door. That all changed when the drinking age changed to 21. A lot of the bars closed and even more stopped having music. There have been a bunch of scene shifts in the area, and I'm glad it's on an upswing now. It's funny, because a lot of people think they need to go to some other "hipper" town, but trust me: A lot of those towns are closed to outsiders and are very competitive. The people here right now are very accepting of all types of things and genre, and there a lot of places to play for all levels of musicians.
What do you look for when assembling the Rauhouse Orchestra?
That's easy: the people I know and love from all over and who I've worked with over the years.
It's been a while since a full solo LP from you (the last was 2007's Steel Guitar Heart Attack, on Bloodshot Records, and the last EP was 2012's Songs from the Stratton Sessions). Might we hear the Orchestra on record soon? Are you under contract with any labels?
Yes, I'm almost finished with one, and as soon as the Neko tour winds down, I'll get it done and get it out. The current plan is to put it out on Local 638 Records out of Seattle.
Your music has a distinctly Southwestern element. Where does that come from?
Well, I was born in Tempe in 1958, so I have soaked up the different music of the desert for some time. I do have to say at a young age, there were great radio stations in Phoenix -- and I mean all genres. My taste is all over the map, starting with big organ music (my older brother majored in pipe organ at ASU in the '60s), big band music from my mom and dad, bluegrass and country from radio, Mariachi music from the neighborhoods, X and the Blasters from L.A., and Hawaiian guitar music from a run-in with David Lindley. Add it all up and I guess you get "Southwest." You might ask Howe Gelb about it, too.
Do you think there's a Phoenix or Southwest sound? It seems like in a lot of ways, the indie rock bands here try to sound just like the indie rock bands all over the country.
This is a hard question because you will always have bands that are trying to sound like whatever is the big thing so they can cash in. But for other young bands trying to have their own sound, they can't help but be influenced by what they hear and see around them. Every once in a while, someone will do something different, and if it truly is good, people will notice. As for a Phoenix sound? I think that indie rock sounding the same is happening everywhere and is a product of media. The powers that be don't usually go out on a limb and play things that are that different. But there are some exceptions.
Who are your favorite bands? Who's writing songs that blow you away here in Phoenix?
Just to mention a few: North Brother Island. They have a great sound that is unique, and Dario Miranda's songwriting is top-notch. The Sun Punchers are another band that I love. Betsy Ganz is another songwriter/bandleader [with] great instrumentation and insightful writing. And one of my all-time favorite musicians/songwriters is Kevin Daly. And then there is Dylan Pratt. He is truly great and talented. That's just four combos I can't hear enough of.
You're hosting a performance at the Professional Musicians of Arizona Union Hall. The union isn't always something younger musicians think about, but I take it it's an organization close to your heart. Why the Union?
It is near and dear to my heart. The hall puts on a concert series once a month on a Tuesday, and I did it last year, and it was off the hook. The show is free, but they do accept a donation at the door (which I encourage people to donate -- anything). The music union is so much more than you would think, and I encourage all musicians to at least check into it and see if it works for them. I've been a member since the mid-'90s.
The Jon Rauhouse Orchestra is scheduled to perform Tuesday, February 11, at the Professional Musicians of Arizona Union Hall.
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