The Dirty Guv’nahs Explore Modern Sounds on ‘Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies’

Photo: Shawn Poynter

“We’re an organic band,” says James Trimble of his Knoxville, Tenn.-based outfit, the Dirty Guv’nahs, and in an era where everyone from precocious teen-pop sensations to ostensibly “down-home” country stars ends up increasingly prefabricated, Trimble’s not just whistling “Dixie” (pun only partially intended). “We’re hometown guys,” says the singer, in a Tennessee twang he probably couldn’t lose if he tried; but the whole point is that he’d never dream of trying. “ We’re not trying to be anybody that we’re not, and I think that’s probably pretty clear from our music.” As the world at large is about to find out from the band’s Dualtone Records release, Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies, the Dirty Guv’nahs are a soulful Southern rock group, but not of the old-school ponytails-and-overalls variety. “We do make rock ‘n’ roll music, we’re from the South, that’s who we are,” allows Trimble, but this young, roots-rocking sextet has more in common with the Drive-By Truckers and My Morning Jacket than it does with the Marshall Tucker Band.

Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies is actually the precocious Guv’nahs’ third recording, but their first for a widely distributed label. Up to now, they’d been a strictly DIY, grassroots phenomenon, growing their audience out of their home base and slowly extending their reach across the South. But if there’s a place in today’s music scene for, let’s say, an earthier Kings of Leon sans the rock-star attitude, or a Black Crowes for today’s twentysomethings to call their own, then the Dirty Guv’nahs stand a good chance of going from a regional rumble to a nationwide name on the strength of their new album. We caught Trimble in between gigs with his band of hale ‘n’ hearty road warriors and quizzed him about the path that led to Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies.

The Dirty Guv’nahs have the least rock-and-roll-sounding origin story of any band in recent memory — you met as University students pursuing Master’s degrees.

We did, yeah. Well, some folks were undergrad and some were in graduate school — everybody’s different ages. That year we ended up playing two or three shows just for fun. The next year, as we were all in school, we played another five-to-10 shows, and after that we decided to make some kind of recording. That ended up getting found by some folks that asked us to come play at Bonnaroo in 2009, and then after that we were all finishing up school, and we said “Man, we’re not gonna do anything but music,” and we’ve just done whatever it took since that point. This is it now.

Did you all grow up on classic Southern rock?

I really had my awakening listening to the Rolling Stones, and just really gravitated towards that. They’re obviously not a Southern rock band but they draw from the South. That’s what we try to draw from, we feel like you make music that comes from the place that you’re born and raised, and that’s been true to us all our lives. We’ve always loved the Black Crowes. The bands we really have drawn the most inspiration from are the Rolling Stones, the Band, and My Morning Jacket.

The guitar riffs on songs like “Honey You” and “Good Luck Charm” definitely have a Stonesy feel. Especially when those horns on “Good Luck Charm” kick in.

Absolutely, that’s definitely on the roots-rock side of our band … kind of a Stones flavor. Songs like “Live Forever” have a more modern edge; songs like “3,000 Miles,” which is our first single that we’re pushing to radio, have a more modern sound that you wouldn’t listen to on first glance and say “This is a Southern rock song.” So that’s kind of a delicate balance that we’re trying to find as a band. We’ve made a couple of records that have that kind of Southern influence and Stones-type songs, but those two songs I just mentioned are ones where we’re trying to dive into new territory and explore new sounds for us. Our previous album leaned a little more towards country and kind of jam rock, somewhere in between there, and this new album we feel has got more of a modern edge to it; there’s really not any country elements to it, at least not in my eyes.

How did the Dirty Guv’nahs develop their audience?

We’ve had that pretty amazing opportunity of being a band that started when we were in college and having a really big following coming out of the University. Now that we’ve all graduated, we’ve been able to run on that momentum that we kept while we were all in college, and really develop our sound. This hometown of Knoxville is the reason why we are still able to make music. As we were finding our sound and honing our craft they were always behind us, coming out to our shows in the hundreds, all the way up to the point where last fall we had a big show at the Tennessee Theater and had something like 1300 people come out.

Even though you play all over the country at this point, the hometown fans had a lot to do with getting the new album going through Kickstarter, right?

We let people know that we were gonna do that [album] back in October or November. [We said], “If y’all are interested in helping us, we’re gonna try to raise the money to record and promote this record.” And the amazing thing was that we raised enough money to record the record in three days. We chose the three-month campaign, thinking “It’s gonna take us three months to raise all this money, we’re gonna be beggin’.” But after we raised the money in three days, you have to leave the campaign open, and we ended up almost doubling that amount, to record and then mix, master, and a little of the money to do promotion as well. We’re doing a big hometown free show on Aug 17 … We did the Kickstarter campaign to put together the record and fund it all, and about 65 percent of it came from our hometown and the surrounding counties, so we’re throwing a big free show as a kind of thanks, we’re trying to make it special.

Even though you’ve been together for a while now, Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies will probably be the first Dirty Guv’nahs album a lot of people end up hearing

We really hope so — we’re excited about the partnership with Dualtone, helping us reach a wider audience that extends out beyond the Southeastern region. We are at that point where we’re starting to get really well known in the Southeast, and in big cities outside of that, but we really hope that this album is something that helps us take our name and our music into new places. For folks that have not heard our older stuff, they’re gonna hear this record and they’re gonna think, “This is a rock band from the South that has somewhat of a modern edge,” they’re not gonna hear the older elements that we had. But they’re gonna hear slide guitar on some songs, which is obviously affiliated with the South, they’re gonna hear a lot of riff-heavy songs. But we hope that our album is something that catches on and brings people out to live shows and lets them experience what we’ve been honing over the last five-plus years.

What have those years taught you?

The longer you play music, the more you learn about yourself, and the more you learn about what kind of music you can make.

Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies is out August 14 on Dualtone. Order it here and stream the entire record below:

The Dirty Guv’nahs | Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies by Dualtone

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