Goodmorning Powerheart
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Goodmorning Powerheart

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"Goodnight, Powerheart"

Oxford’s music scene suffured a serious blow on Wednesday, August 1, 2007 when local favorites Goodmorning Powerheart played their fairwell show. Singer/guitarist Joe Nettles and bassist Jonas King are moving to Nashville to regroup, while guitarist Zach Thompson has moved to Jackson, Mississppi and drummer Andy Thompson is finishing his degree at Ole Miss. It is difficult to measure the impact GMP has had on the Oxford music scene, but will suffice to say that they were one of Oxford’s most beloved rock bands. GMP grew up from an idea in a Oxford bedroom to a band opening up for all the Oxford legends to a band playing the Double Decker festival and packing out their own shows. Goodmorning Powerheart was voted runner-up to Blue Mountain in The Local Voice’s online poll, “Oxford’s Most Legendary Band” earlier this year. This interview was conducted with Joe Nettles by Jason Caviness and Newt Rayburn shortly before leaving Oxford.

Joe Nettles at Goodmorning Powerheart's last Oxford show at The Jubilee August 1, 2007. Photography by Newt Rayburn.

Newt Rayburn: Tell us about the name Goodmorning Powerheart.

Joe Nettles: My friends and I like to make up names for characters. Just names that sum up a character. For example, we came up with a name, “Easy Bobby Huffy.” Then a year later I met Bobby Simms, and I was like “That’s the Easy Bobby Huffy that I created!” Kind of like how in that Stephen King story where one of his characters comes to life.

Newt: So you’re responsible for Bobby Simms, huh?

Joe: Yeah, I am, I guess! But anyway, you know how Nathaniel Hawthorne had all these characters like Young Goodman Brown? These not-so-subtle character names, names that say something about what’s inside the person.

Jason Caviness: Like a mob name?

Joe: Yeah, or like a Dick Tracy name. And we had these characters made up, Sinister McEvil was one of them. And Goodmorning Powerheart was this guy… Well, it had many different forms but that was the name of somebody whose nemesis was Sinister McEvil. When I started making a bunch of 4-track recordings I would make my own CD’s and make up my own album covers and stuff and I did it under the name the Sots, a sot being a habitual drunkard, and one of the titles I put on there said “Good Morning, Powerheart! The Sots want you to be happy” or something like that, and I always kind of liked that name but wasn’t able to use it because I was in another band, the Glanton Gang, but when the Glanton Gang broke up I decided to use it to do my own thing.

Newt: That was the band you were in before?

Joe: Yeah, with Mark Ademak and Zach Thompson and a few other guys. It was three guitars, a bass player and a drummer. I wanted to use Goodmorning Powerheart from the start but we were more of a democratic band. But after that ended I thought, “Whatever happens, I’m going to call it Goodmorning Powerheart.”

Jason: Why call it a band? Why name it Goodmorning Powerheart instead of just considering it your solo stuff? Is it the idea of a band that attracted you?

Joe: Well, there’s lots of bands where one person writes most of the music and is pretty specific about what he wants, arrangements and all that stuff, but they still function as a band. I don’t boss people around. People can talk back to me and disagree with me or give input as to what’s on the setlist and sometimes those guys will write a part here and there. So it works as a band. In the Glanton Gang Mark was pretty headstrong, he wanted to do his music and I wanted to do mine and I knew that when I made this band that I just wanted to do my music. I couldn’t be a solo act, for one thing. I mean, there’s no way I could be an acoustic singer-songwriter. I’m not good enough with a guitar to just sit there and sing and play and captivate people. I like to have some kind of spectacle, some kind of entertainment going on that’s beyond just… I get bored with singer-songwriter stuff anyway. It’ll still be called Goodmorning Powerheart in whatever form it takes. I’m hoping Andy will be able to keep playing with us. We’re not sure exactly what he’s going to be doing just yet. Jonas will be playing guitar. Zach will be down in Jackson so there’s no way to continue with that relationship. But there are plenty of musicians in Nashville. I want to add a keyboard player. I might get somebody to do a multi-instrumentalist kind of thing. And we of course need to find a new bass player because Jonas is switching to guitar. He’s an awesome guitar player.

Newt: I was wondering about that. Zach has really added texture to your sound and Matt Gillentine was a great guitarist, too.

Joe: Oh, sure. They both had their own signature style and the band was slightly different with each person in there. That’s another reason why it’s not just a solo act. The sound of the band can change so much, I mean there’s only so much I can control. It changes depending on who’s playing with me. Those guys get credit for helping the sound. If it sounds good then they get part of the credit for it and if it sounds like shit then…

Jason: …they get part of the blame.

Joe: Yeah. It’s not just all on me.

Jason: I noticed when Matt was in the band you guys had a more jangly sound…

Joe: Well, when he was in the band we were a little more precise probably. He was more meticulous, more note-for-note, more precise.

Jason: Zach’s a little more shoegaze.

Joe: Yeah, he’s a little more atmospheric. He’s a little more loose, but he’s a good guitar player, he just has a different style. The biggest difference between Matt and Zach was that Matt wasn’t really much of a drinker so we all felt a little restrained not to drink too much around him because we didn’t know what mood it would put him in. He has reasons for not drinking, and I understand that. Zach likes to drink so this has been the most loose, free version of the band that we’ve had. We’ve had three guitar players, three bass players… Betsy Roo was in it, this guy named Jeremy Hopper was in it. He just kind of stood there, this kind of dull, quiet guy. It started with me and Andy and two other people probably four years ago. It took a few months to get going. We pretty much did all new material when we started but there were a few Glanton Gang songs that I wanted to keep alive. We’ve incorporated some of that material because I thought it fit with what we were doing. Andy actually came over and auditioned for the Glanton Gang when we lost our drummer. We had this really complex type drummer, this guy would probably have been more suited to being a jam-band drummer, but he couldn’t really keep 4/4 time and most of my songs are based on just this driving, pounding kind of thing and he just wasn’t too consistent with that. But he could do all the fills in the world and complicated rhythms and throw in odd beats and make things interesting. When he left we were so used to his kind of drumming that the four of us just weren’t sure what to do. And when Andy came in, he’s such a straight-forward backbeat kind of drummer, I personally liked that but couldn’t get everyone to agree on it. So basically we just said, “Forget it.” Mark wanted to do his own thing. But I kept Andy in mind and when we split up the Glanton Gang I called Andy up right off the bat and he was looking to play. That’s why I hope that we can keep playing together. He and I have been the only two guys in the band the whole way through. He’s given a lot of himself and a lot of his time and energy to being in this band and I would love for this to somehow pay off for him. The playing itself is part of the reward. Lots of people don’t get to be in a band. Lots of people would love to be in a band. Lots of people think about starting a band, but to actually get one going and to be in one that gets to play shows is really a gift. Sometimes I think people forget about that, they’re like, “Ugh, I don’t want to practice” but that’s what was so fun about it to begin with. You know, sitting in your house with some dudes making a bunch of noise, being there when something real was being created. But to dedicate that much of your time to being in a band, hopefully… obviously I would like there to be some other reward but that’s one of the reasons I’m moving to Nashville, to give it more of a chance. You can be in the greatest band in the world, tour your ass off and sell merchandise and have a big following in your hometown but if someone doesn’t happen to hear it, someone who can do something for you, someone with influence, who’s connected, then it’s going to be really hard to quit your day job. I would love to not have to work a regular day job. I don’t want to work for a corporation or ask if I can have Friday off. If I ever went back to a profession and put my heart into it and say, “Alright, music is just going to be a hobby” then I would go back to teaching school. Teaching school is almost the perfect job for being in a band. You get your summers off to tour, you get two weeks at Christmas. I taught seventh grade English. I was with the Mississippi Teacher Corps program out of Ole Miss. It’s a masters program. They sent you to at-risk schools, level one schools, mostly in the Delta. I was right in Lexington, in Holmes County. Lexington had just been hit by a really bad tornado and it was in total shambles. It was in chaos. I taught there for the first two years and the second two years I taught in Raymond, Mississippi in Hinds County.

Newt: Where are you from?

Joe: Originally the Fort Worth area but I’ve been in Mississippi so long. My family is all from Mississippi. I’ve lived in a lot of different places though. I went to school in Bartlett. Libertyville High School, which is in Northwest Chicago. I went to Mississippi College in Clinton, where Barry Hannah went. He’s the reason I went to Ole Miss. I wanted to be a writer for a while, but I just didn’t have that real dedication, or maybe the attention span to just focus on one piece of writing to make it good. If I couldn’t just write something down off the cuff and make it good and just go over it once to check for spelling mistakes… Maybe I was too immature to make that happen. I had some good ideas for short stories and I’d write a few good sentences. I was trying to convey a mood with my writing and just wasn’t getting that done but when I started writing songs I was getting exactly what I wanted because I realized that you could come up with a few good lines and let the music do most of the talking for you. That’s what really moves people. There’s that certain succession of notes that will just spark that feeling in people, and I was trying to get that with writing but I couldn’t do it. But when I started writing songs it became obvious that that was what I wanted to do. I just wrote song after song after song, that’s all I did. I started writing songs when I was 27 teaching school. I used to come up with little ditties in my head, and I’d had friends that were in bands and I used to come up to Oxford when I was with the Teacher Corps. I knew Tyler Keith because he’d gone to MC for a little while and I knew friends of his who ran track with him and they were like, “You know, Tyler’s got this band in Oxford” and I’d come up to Oxford and The Neckbones would be playing almost every weekend I was there. So when Sarah (Joe’s sister) moved to Oxford she’d tell me about all these bands. That’s when I met Matt Smith who was a big fan of The Cooters… So I was meeting all these people and was seeing all these people walking around Oxford who were in bands and I was like, “Well, I like to sing, I like to make up little tunes, I need to get a guitar and see if I can write some songs.”

Jason: When did you start playing guitar?

Joe: I was 27, 28, something like that. I didn’t start playing because I wanted to be good at guitar, I just wanted to write songs. I’m a lot better than I was but I’m never going to be a great guitar player.

Jason: Just something to get your idea out there?

Joe: Yeah. I mean, I can make some cool sounds, I can play some simple leads, I’ve got good rhythm but there’s still certain things I can’t do without looking at my hands, you know? I’d prefer to just sing. I wouldn’t want to be up there the whole time without a guitar, I definitely like to contribute to the noise-making but I definitely like it when I can just sing. Like that little lounge act thing we were doing (William Crapp). That was fun, to just stand up there and sing. I didn’t think I was going to be able to function without a guitar, just up there holding a microphone but it actually came to me pretty smoothly.

Jason: Yeah, that hit me today. I thought, “Well, no more Goodmorning Powerheart. Oh hell, no more William Crapp!”

Joe: I want to re-do the lounge act too up in Nashville. But like I said, it’s not like Goodmorning Powerheart is going to be non-existant. It’s just got to be retooled and it’s a short drive to Oxford. I’d love to do some more shows here once we get the band going again. Maybe set up shows with Oxford bands up in Nashville, get something going up there.

Newt: Back To Silver Valley is the only album you’ve put out?

Joe: The only thing we’ve released, yeah. Not very widely released either. We recorded a whole other album, though. All different material.

Newt: Back To Silver Valley isn’t what I consider to be the classic stuff that you guys have been playing for so long.

Joe: Sure, well the one we recorded with Winn (McElroy, Black Wings Studio in Water Valley) just took so long to get going, and once we finally were able to get back in, I wasn’t happy with the mixing process there. So I just went ahead and paid Winn off so that I could get my rough recording and I decided I’d mix them somewhere else. Because he does Pro-tools stuff and I wanted to convert it through something else so that I could mix it on an analog board. I like to mix it. I want to sit there and tweak the knobs and stuff. That record got delayed so much due to the robbery. They know who did it – there’s a case, there’s a DA and supposedly wheels are in motion, but I’ve been hearing that for months and months.

Newt: Talk about that. You guys were in the studio, recording, and...

Joe: Right before Christmas break, I got a call from Winn that the studio had been robbed. A bunch of his gear was stolen – his monitor, his computer, his Pro-tools unit, a bunch of super-expensive microphones. I had four electric guitars stolen; Daniel Karlish had some really cool vintage gear, guitar and amp stolen. That basically just shut Winn down for a while until he could get up the money to buy more gear. There were other factors that prevented him from getting the gear as soon as he wanted to. Meanwhile, we’re just stuck doing nothing. I just started making plans to record something else. So that album sounds a lot different. Some of that is material that we have played live. One of the songs is something I did with my lounge act that I did a faster version of. There are a couple songs on there that the band didn’t even know, that I had written, that I whipped up in the studio.

Newt: After you decided to do another album you went to Andrew Ratcliffe. How long did you spend on this album?

Joe: The recording was less than a week and the mixing was a few days.

Newt: That’s pretty quick. You had spent how long on the other album?

Joe: It was a drawn out process over several months. It’s finished now. There’s still some stuff I’d like to re-sing. I don’t think I was singing my best on some of that material, but it’s done. It just needs to be mixed. I spent way too much money on it to not let it come out. We will put that album out. I’ll probably schedule a couple of days, after I’ve worked a little while up in Nashville to save up a little extra money, I’ll probably come back down and mix with Ratcliffe. I like mixing in that place that he’s got. I can probably get a better deal with him that I could with anyone in Nashville who doesn’t know me. They already have the files there ready to be converted, so it’d be an easy process. Since it is such a short drive, I could just come down for a couple of days. Jeffrey Reed’s really fast to work with the mastering. So that’s probably what I’ll do. But I can’t give a timetable on that. What I would like to see happen is, before Christmas I would like to have that album mixed and ready to get pressed, which would make it a year and a half almost since we started recording it. That’s not too bad. But it’s certainly a situation I wouldn’t want to repeat. You learn something new every time, I guess. There were certain things that were out of my control, but there are some lessons I learned.

Jason: Talk about the Oxford scene when you moved here and first started going out, as far as music goes, and the way it is now.

Joe: When I first got here right after September 11, 2001, I really wanted to be a part of the music scene. I thought it was exciting, but I thought there was a gap that we could fill. I know there was an alternative rock band, which is what I fancied our act was going to be, you know indie, alternative, whatever old-school alternative used to mean when I was watching 120 Minutes and I was in college. Seeing the first wave of American alternative rock, the post-punk years with Hüsker Dü and the Replacements and then followed up with Pavement and Guided by Voices and other Bob Mould type stuff, that’s what I wanted to be. I wanted to do that. I thought there was a gap. There was good hard rock, pumped-up rock and roll. Basically you had The Cooters and The Neckbones. No, I think they had just turned into The Preacher’s Kids when I moved here. So you had the hard rock and the straight-ahead, New York style rock and roll. I guess I thought that there was something waiting to happen. It just seemed exciting. There’s a lot more bands now, which is a good thing, but it’s all the same people who support each other’s bands. Seems like, when one band breaks out, you have a chance there where you can get a consistent first few shows, over a hundred people and then it gradually dwindles down to the same – on a good night – fifty or sixty people. And on a bad night you might just have 30 or 25 people there. I don’t know. I think it’s grown. There’s a lot of interesting creative people here doing creative, interesting things. There seems to be a small hint of desire from people to have some sort of collective unity, a call to support the arts as a unit. We all know each other, we’re all local people and it is a pretty giant family. There’s kind of a deep love that people have for everyone they know in this community. There’s the High School drama that comes along with a small town, the shit-talking that goes along with that. I think there is a certain respect and a certain care that people have for the locals that they know. I know there are also little cliques, but I think that most of us feel that it is a loose knit family. But it seems like it hasn’t really happened, as far as that collective coming together of the arts. You’d think that there was a way to get the visual artists and the sound artists, and all the different forms together. It has nothing to do with Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, you know. It’s something that the locals, all the poor people around here who are hanging out in bars together can be a part of. Something that ya’ll talked about, local bands not booking shows in Oxford on the same night. Local bands looking out for each other as far as that goes. That’s a small step there. The Local Voice is good about trying to get that going.

Newt: Do you think that the scene has gotten better since you’ve lived here?

Joe: In some ways. There’s more art, there are more people trying to express themselves and wanting to be a part of it, but at the same time there’s a whole community of people who just don’t care. None of the students care about local art, local musicians, local music. This is not a music town and when you think of a college town – Austin, Athens – those are music towns. At Nashville, Vanderbilt, they have a real independent college radio station. Local bands go on the show, they play local music, and the DJ’s can just ramble on and play whatever they want to play. Those are college towns that are music towns that have music scenes that are known nationally. If you go there and you start a band, you actually have a chance of getting noticed because the kids there like that kind of music and it’s nurtured. Here its not really nurtured. You don’t get that welcoming sort of feeling. You have art through the proper channels. Certain art is sanctioned, and some doesn’t seem to be sanctioned. Some art is taken for granted, and others are celebrated. If it’s on Thacker Mountain Radio or if Dennis Herring’s recording them, then “they must be all right.” That sort of thing. I’ve got nothing against The Hives or Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse or anything. But there is a good music scene in Oxford that just doesn’t seem to be celebrated or cherished by the community at large. I just wish the college kids here liked music.

Newt: It’s ironic to me, that places like this “Inspiration Oxford” (that town that developers want to build near Oxford) has on their website a commercial that is all about how you need to live in Oxford to be close to the arts, and the music and the writers. Developers are using local culture to attract people to Oxford, but the people in charge of the town aren’t cherishing the local culture. Louis Bourgeois asked me the other day, “So what do you think about historic preservation?” I think they’re 15 years too late. It’s culture that needs to be preserved now.

Joe: What made them put the halt on it all of a sudden now? Did they decide that we would allow this many condos to be built, and then BAM, no more construction can be done? I don’t know who’s going to live in those things. Do we have a Mercedes factory coming? Is AT&T going to open a corporate office here? I don’t understand. That’s like a whole other city of people that those condos could fit.

Jason: Well hopefully there’ll be a backlash once all those things are built and people realize, “Oh shit, there’s no one to live here,” maybe they’ll get cheaper and artists can actually live close to the Square again. That’s what makes a scene. Artists being able to live and be around each other, talk to one another.

Joe: There is that artsy sort of feeling when you first live in Oxford. When it was still a little bit older, when there was still a drugstore on the square, a record store and all that kind of stuff. When these things started going away, I started feeling like I’d rather live in another city that has more to offer. These things disappeared. I’ll tell you honestly, after the smoking ban, after the cop was killed – I don’t mean to say that in a flippant way – after that police officer was killed, after all that talk about the “flyer litter” it just seemed like a big cloud came over everything. All of a sudden, you know what? This isn’t fun anymore. Honestly, the smoking ban…I know they say it increases food sales, but I’ll tell you what, I really do believe that it’s hurt a lot of bars. That happened at the same time as that police officer was killed and with that crackdown combined… When the bars started slumping it just seemed like this general feeling of something going bad. Plus I’m tired of playing to myself. I’m sick of myself. I’ll always be me, I’ll carry myself to Nashville, but I want a chance to play out. I feel like I’ll be more motivated to get out and keep playing and keep plugging away at it if I’m in a place where, frankly, there’s so many more bands, so many more people trying to make it so there’s more competition. That way, you can end up being ignored, or if you keep plugging away, you can end up seeing if you’re any good – at least in the eyes of the people who fancy themselves to be the kings of the scene, the people who are in charge of the music industry. Test yourself out in that kind of scene. I just want a chance to do it and see what happens.

Jason: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Joe: I want to publically apologize to Andrew Ratcliffe for misspelling his name in our CD. I forgot the ‘e’! Also have to apologize to The Cooters, too, who are Oxford’s best band and helped us out tremedously. I did’nt mean to leave them off the liner notes. I’m going to fix that with the second pressing of Back to Silver Valley.

copyright © 2007 The Local Voice / Rayburn Publishing - The Local Voice - Oxford, MS


Back to Silver Valley - (2007) - self-released LP



Citing influences such as Guided By Voices, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Husker Du, My Bloody Valentine, and Joy Division, the Nashville rock quartet Goodmorning Powerheart offer a unique voice to the music world by combining baritone vocals with lush, all-encompassing guitar tones and a tight rhythm section. Originally formed in Oxford, MS, by Joe Nettles, Goodmorning Powerheart quickly gained a strong following that led them to play Oxford's prestigious Double Decker Festival in 2006, and also to be voted runner-up as "Oxford's Most Legendary Band" in 2007(cited from The Local Voice - Oxford, MS). After self-releasing their debut LP, Back to Silver Valley, Joe Nettles and Jonas King decided to take Goodmorning Powerheart to Nashville, TN, where they recruited Joe Curet on drums, and Wes Gibbs on bass. After a short stint in Nashville, TN, Goodmoring Powerheart have already played successful shows in high profile venues like The Exit In and The Basement where they continue to win over new fans with each and every live performance.