Interview with 500 Miles to Memphis


500 Miles to Memphis

For 16 years now, some form of 500 Miles to Memphis has been making music that is hard to categorize and more importantly, hard to stop listening to.  Although the lineup changed a bit early on, the current lineup came together in 2005 and they have been making music together ever since.  500 Miles to Memphis is preparing to release their latest album, Blessed be the Damned, an album that is best described as half high octane punk rock and half Americana with bits of Bluegrass, Southern Rock, and metal thrown in as well. Ryan Malott, vocalist, guitaristand banjo player, took a bit of time out of  his busy schedule to answer a few questions about what's in the rearview and where the road may take 500 Miles to Memphis. 

1.  How did you fellas come together to start making music?

That is a very long story, but I'll try to be concise.  I started the band in 2003.  Back then it was a completely different lineup.  For the first 3 or 4 years, the band members were in constant flux but I stayed the course and kept pushing.  One by one the final members joined, first, it was David, then Noah, Kevin, Aaron, and lastly Nate.  Aside from Kevin the drummer, each member was fronting their own band and has a great story of how they joined, but David's is particularly funny.  In 2005ish I had put together a Hank Williams Sr Tribute night at a local bar.  We had about 5 or 6 different local bands on the bill with 500mtm closing it out.  The week prior to the event I kept getting phone calls from this raspy-voiced old man asking if he could come play the Hank show.  I just ignored him, because he sounded like a crazy and pushy old dude.  Boy was I right!  He showed up to the gig day-of with a Lap Steel and Amp under his arms.  He walked right up to me and asked if he could sit in with the bands as he knows every Hank song ever written.  It was a little intimidating because he's a 6'5" cowboy with a voice deeper than Johnny Cash.  He looks like a 90's Marlboro ad come to life.  So anyway, I said yes and hoped for the best that he didn't suck.  HE KILLED IT... he was not lying.  He knew every steel lick to every Hank song.  Finally, it was 50mtm's turn to take the stage.  We played through our Hank songs and they went fine, but I was curious what this steel player would sound like on my original material.  So instead of closing the night out, we stayed on stage and played our originals.  It was sort of a live show tryout.  David had to keep up and improv.  After the show, I asked him if he would ever consider sitting in with us again.  He grabbed me by the back of the neck and said, "Hell son, I'll just join your damn band!".  And that was it!  He completely changed our sound and the direction of our career.  After that moment, everything started falling into place.

2.  Why did the name Underclass Motto get scrapped so quickly? (For the record I like 500 Miles to Memphis better, but Underclass Motto isn't bad). 

Hahaha... do we know each other?  How on earth did you know that was the original name?  Hahaha... I changed it because I hated it.  

3.  Y'all have a unique sound and are hard to categorize as far as genres go. How would y'all describe your music to someone who hasn't heard it?

It has been an evolution.  We started as country punk or cowpunk, went a little rockabilly for a minute, went folk, but we've always had the punk rock edge that tied it all together.  So to cover all of our bases I like to say we are Americana Punk Rock.  A mesh of Green Day, NOFX, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Merle Haggard, and Rancid.

4.  Your best selling album to date, Sunshine in a Shot Glass. was your sophomore release. What was the motivation behind your music back then? 

Well... we were partying a LOT back then.  I was just writing about life experiences, ie, breakups, beer, drugs, and love.  More importantly, though, I was finding my sound and voice as a songwriter and producer.  "Sunshine" was my first successful effort.  It was such an exciting time.  It's everything you imagine.  Boy has garage band, boy gets signed, boy goes on tour.  In reality, though, we were broke and lucky to draw 20 people per show.  But we persisted and those numbers kept growing.  It just took effort and massive amounts of patience.  We're still working on it honestly.  

5.  We've Built Up to Nothing was seen as somewhat of an experimental album and doesn't sound similar to your other albums. What was the driving force behind the departure from the sound y'all had been successful with?

Good question!  I think we were all tired of the country punk cowpunk genre.  We felt that we weren't challenging ourselves enough as artists.  You can only do the train beat so many times before it becomes annoying.  Plus we were completely jaded with the country/americana scene at that point.  "We've Built Up to Nothing" was a ton of fun to make although impossible to pull off live.  We still play a few songs off of that one.  Not much though haha.

6.  Stand There and Bleed was released in 2014 and funded by friends and fans. What does it mean to have so much support for your music? 

It means everything.  We were at a crossroads in our career at that point.  If the fans had not stepped up and helped us fund that album, we would not have been able to make it.  We were in a tough spot and the fans saved us, so thank you all that donated.  We are here today because of you.  

7.  "Blessed Be the Damned" is set for release on January 25 and the album is already getting a lot of praise. What sets this one apart from your past efforts?

"Blessed Be the Damned" is us standing on the ashes of our 16 year career as a band and screaming "we're not dead yet!"  There was more drive and urgency with this one.  Noah and I co-wrote the songs and worked them up with the band so everyone could add their own flavor.  It is a more collaborative effort than our past releases.  Also, it's the first time we sat down to write an album as opposed to writing individual songs.  Every track on this album is in support of the whole.  
Also, I need to mention the team we had behind this was incredible:
Adam Pleiman - head engineer at Gwynne sound, grammy nominee, producer  
Adam was interning at Studio the Bamboo Room in 2006 when we were tracking Sunshine in a Shot Glass.  He was an obvious choice for us given that he knows us better than we know ourselves
John Pedigo - award-winning producer(Old 97's, Vandoliers, the O's) 
John is a personal hero of mine.  He was the front man of a band called Slick 57 back in the day.  500mtm would not exist without Slick 57.  I owe a lot of my career and sound to him.  Anyway, we toured together and became fast friends.  We were just chewing the fat one day last year and I mentioned that we were doing this new album and he offered to produce.  So I said" uuuuuuuuhhh really?  Yes!  Get your ass to Cincinnati."

8.  What does the future hold for 500 Miles to Memphis?

I can say with certainty, that the future holds more live shows and tours.  We'll keep chugging along and making noise as long as folks are willing to listen... even if they aren't we'll make noise regardless.  
Jacob Boland

Jacob Boland

Jacob Boland is a father, farmer, and freelance writer and photographer currently residing in Newberry, South Carolina. After graduating from USC with a Bachelor Degree in broadcast journalism, Jacob went to work at WCSC in Charleston and began to build a network in the local music scene. Since moving to Newberry, Jacob has worked with bands such as Rainbow Kitten Surprise, Judah and the Lion, Steep Canyon Rangers, and The Revivalist among others. Jacob enjoys exploring the natural world around us with his family and showing his son something new everyday.


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