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Q & A with Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show

By Hannah Hoffman
On October 23, 2012

This year was a big year for Old Crow Medicine Show. The Americana string band group released both their new album "Carry Me Back" in July and the documentary "The Big Easy Express," which chronicled their joint tour with Mumford and Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes to critical praise. This year marks the return of former member Critter Fuqua as well as the departure of founding guitarist Willie Watson. Old Crow Medicine Show are coming to the Riviera Theater, Oct. 24.

The DePaulia talked with fiddle player and vocalist Ketch Secor about their new album, the rise of folk music, and the lasting impact of Doc Watson and Old Crow's changing age demographic.


DePaulia: Your new album "Carry Me Back" has a more stripped down and traditional Americana sound compared to your last release "Tennessee Pusher." Was that intentional and what did you want to achieve with this album?

Ketch Secor: We wanted to get back to basics and get back to sounds that we were making over a decade ago. We are definitely a string band rooted in American folk music. We have one foot in the past and one blazing into the future. We appreciate the history of American music and the American sound. It's a pleasure to come to Chicago to feel that connection to all those old ghosts in the city.


DP: My favorite song and one of the most heartfelt songs on the album is "Levi." How did you hear about Leevi Barnard and what made you want to pay tribute to him?

KS: Well, I found out about Leevi Barnard on an NPR radio story. The interviewer was saying the names of those men who died in Iraq. The story spoke to me. He lived in the region between North Carolina and Virginia and was a good country boy and lived the country boy lifestyle. He sounded like a great kid. They mentioned that at his funeral the congregation sang "Wagon Wheel." I already knew I liked him but after that I was really moved. I shared it with the family and first asked if it was all right to tell his story. I wrote it for him, and I'm glad that people can celebrate his life and learn from the mistake of his death and that the war must end now.


DP: Sadly and coincidentally, the release of "Carry Me Back" with the death of Doc Watson, who I know was a big influence on the band and your music. Can you comment on that?

KS: It's been a year of torches being extinguished and past. Doc Watson can't be underrated- he had an influence on American sound. I was lucky enough to know Doc and know his family and we have few experiences with him and opening for him at different places and we visited him at his house. Doc grew up playing on street corners and we played on the same street corners he did when we were first starting out in 1999. Doc came up to us while we were playing and offered us a job playing MerleFest. That gig changed our lives and we look to it as a pivotal turning point as Old Crow Medicine Show. To see him pass was bittersweet- his health had been declining and the vitality of living was gone. We will always miss Doc and treasure the times we spent together.


DP: This year Critter Fuqua rejoined the band. What is it like having Critter back in the band?

KS: Critter has been back for few months now- it's really comfortable to have Critter back, really feels like a home coming. Willie Watson is no longer in the band, so it's nice to have Critter to handle the change of losing an important member, but gaining one has been really lucky.


DP: I just watched the film The Big Easy Express, and it looked like such a fun time and I wanted to hop on board with you guys. What was that experience like?

KS:  We were really living it on the train. In two weeks we traveled around and formed a family for as long as the trip lasted. We were with two wonderful bands -- the Mumford boys, the Magnetic Zeroes. We were just on these old rattling rails. It was a railroad odyssey that would have made Woody and Doc tip their hats and blow their whistles.


DP: There has definitely been a rise in the popularity of folk and acoustic music as seen with your band, Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers. Why do you think folk music has had this resurgence in popularity?

KS:Well, there's a lot to be said about that. Wagon Wheel is easy to play and the Mumford boys, their songs are not difficult to learn either. Our bands are mutually rooted in folk music. Folk music belongs to the people, it is not a relic or museum piece. I want to pull that relic out. We wanted to make real loud sounds but we only had banjos and guitars. There's something about being loud and projecting. We always had to project because we started out on street corners had we had to be louder than the traffic and the freeway and people. The stages grew and the listenership changed in the time of our 14 year career. There is a reforming of the young American listener.

We wanted music to be a certain way. In a way, our audience has caught up to us, when we've been doing this all along. We were always growing and changing. The audience was never as widely tuned in. I feel gratitude to Mumford and Sons for that and I wish them the best on their new record. They're still very much present in the scene. The spirit, like the way it has been a call to arms to young people to start their own bands and have music present in their daily life. Music should not come out of iPods and iPads. It should come from your lips and your fingertips. The music that we play sounds even better when you sing it and play it live.


DP:  As a result of the folk music boom, have you noticed a change in the demographic of your audiences?

KS: We see more and more young people. We're 14 years older than when we first started. We see lots of 20-year-olds and 6-year-olds and 2-year-olds. I'm really excited about that age, first time I heard a banjo I was 6 years old and these are poignant experiences that made me understand what America was at a young age. In the midst of the cacophony of voices that are too loud or repetitive or digitized the human-being-ness of those voices has been strapped out. I hope to be a true voice and Old Crow is a voice of passion and joy and hootenanny and hell raising and love-y dove-y and dance all at once -- that kind of voice.

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