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The Green Mountains Got Dem Blues:

An Interview With Seth Yacovone

By Brian L Knight

The Seth Yacovone Blues Band is a name that has been dominating the Vermont music scene for the last year and a half. Unlike so many bands from the Burlington area, the Seth Yacovone Blues Band has been able to shine on both ends of the state. So many Burlington bands seem to think that the only place in Vermont to play is the north. Not these guys, for they want to make sure that every Vermonter feels the power of their mighty blues. The band has played every ski mountain lodge along Route 100 and every roadhouse bar from Burlington to Bennington.

The Seth Yacovone Blues features the talented guitar playing of Seth Yacovone. Seth has been capturing much of the limelight due to a combination of his youth and talent as guitar player and songwriter. The truth of the matter is that he deserves every accolade that has been placed upon him. The eighteen year old is a humble person who will quickly divert praise of himself and place it upon his talented bandmates: Luke Bogess(harmonica), Adam Kay(drums) and Tommy Coggio(bass). As the listeners’ eyes burst out of their sockets when they witness the fast fingers of Master Yacovone, their mouths will drop to the ground when they hear the tight rhythm section of Coggio and Kay setting the pace, and finally the listener’s lungs will sting with pain when they hear Bogess harmonica which rivals the talent of Paul Butterfield.

This past Fall, the Seth Yacovone Blues Band released their first album, Bobfred’s Bathtub Minstrel, which has been accepted with great enthusiasm by fans and critics alike. The members of the band will be the first to tell you that their studio album doesn’t come close to comparing with the band’s live performance. With this in mind, the band has two immediate goals: To bring their live sound to the people and to release a live album. The latter is in the planning stages, so until then, they are going to keep on playing live.

The Seth Yacovone Blues Band are frequent visitors to the Southern Vermont area and they often play in a place designed for the blues - the Red Fox Inn. These days, I get to see Seth and Co. in Burlington nightspots such as Nectar’s and Club Metronome but I always feel that the band truly belongs in dimly lit local bar with Bud on special. The band loves playing the Red Fox Inn and other nearby mountains so keep an eye out for them and/or demand their presence. While we wait their next arrival to the area, the Vermont Review got to chance to talk to Seth from his home in northern Vermont.

 

BK: How has your band progressed since your first CD?

SY: I think we have gotten a lot better. We have changed a lot. We recorded that CD in May of 1997. It has almost been a year. The CD is a lot more traditional and straight up compared to our live show where we play other kinds of music and there is more group improvisation. The stuff we do is more jammed out and bluesy. I think we are broader and tighter.

BK; How long were you together as a band before heading into the studio?

SY: With this band, we were together for about ten months.

BK: How do you guys get all together?

SY: Well, I was in a guitar contest when I was 15 and I won some recording time. A guy named Bill Shafer, who owned Advanced Music, helped me put together a band to record and then we got a gig for First Night in Burlington. From there, the band that was going to record became a full time band. Eventually, different members left and different members joined and we wound up with this lineup.

BK: What is the significance of the name of your album?

SY: We have a song called Bobfred on the album. We were struggling to come up with a name. I had forty that nobody liked. We wanted something different. I think most of my title were rejected for being too out there. We wanted to pick a title that wasn’t too objectionable from the first hearing to something that wasn’t completely formatted. Tommy, the bass player suggested Bathtub Memorial - to honor the bathtubs along Vermont roads that have bowling balls or Virgin Mary’s in them. Bathtub Minstrel was then suggested to make it more musical and then we decided to call it Bobfred’s Bathtub Minstrel. It sounds like an old Medicine Show title.

BK: How long did it take you to make that album?

SY: It we recorded it in May in 1997 in about five days. Then we spent a day recording horn parts, a day recording the organ parts, and half day recording background vocals. Then it took about week to mix it.

BK: What did you do with the recordings from the contest?

SY: I recorded a 10 song demo in October of 1995 with a bunch of different guys as well as Luke, who plays Harmonica in the band. We used that as a demo tape for a long time and but we don’t anymore. It features a lot of the same stuff on the CD and a bunch of different stuff too. Probably about five songs for each.

BK: How long did it take to record the individual songs?

SY: It went really quickly. After three takes, we would generally go onto the next tune. We have been playing all the tunes live for a number of months at the point so we knew them. We played them in the studio live and added what we wanted after.

BK: What is the song writing process for the band?

SY: I write most of the songs- about 95% of them. It is different every time. Sometimes I will be just sitting around with the guitar and I will come up with something that seems interesting and that doesn’t sound like something I know. Sometimes I will be in my car and write a song in my head.

BK: Where does your inspiration come from for writing lyrics?

SY: A bunch of the older songs are just there because they act as a musical part. The melody and rhythm make the song and less of what they are about. They are just there to build space musically. Other songs are about things going on in my life that I am just writing about. A lot of times I will be singing a song on stage after playing it for three months and I will figure out what it means - ‘Oh, that is what it means!’ I never really knew when I wrote it.

BK: When you come to that revelation, do you discover that it reflects something in your own life?

SY: Yeah, usually. I have a song called "All The Pain Through The Years" and it is a dark, depressing song. A lot of people wonder what it is really about. It was written about a theoretical thing, about a guy who is devout religious person who’s wife dies from a disease. The guy totally turns his back on religion. I kind of change the inner story in my mind every time I play it. In the guitar solo, I try to play what I am thinking about. It is really not a straight up relationship Blues song, even though it could be easily be taken that way. The words don’t say anything specifically about the meaning of the song. That is a song that I figured out the meaning a long time after I wrote it.

BK: David Bromberg once sang "You Have To Suffer To Sing The Blues." Would you agree?

SY: I do not know if you have to suffer. I think you have to be able to tap into those emotions. I think everyone is born with the emotions that ere involved with Blues music. I think it certainly doesn’t hurt. As long as Blues is played with feeling, it is good for me as far as what I am into. Any music for that matter. Any music that I can tell that the person playing it is really putting soul into it, that is when I will really like it. Even if it is a type of music that I am not crazy about, if the person is putting feeling into it than I will end up liking them a lot.

BK: Have you headed down any other musical paths besides Blues?

SY:We play a lot of funk based stuff and improvisational stuff. We play a little bit of country. A little bit of jazz - badly. Tommy used to be in a heavy metal band and I used to be big into that kind of music when I was eight. For fun, we play an AC-DC tune as kind of joke and an actually appreciation for it.

BK: What do you think of older guitar equipment?

SY: I think that older equipment has more of a vibe to it. I love old guitars. I love the way they feel. You can tell that they have been beaten on and they have been used. I like the way that older instruments better. I think I can say the same thing about older music. I really do not find too much to love as far as musically in the modern, popular music world. I find it much less organic and solar.

BK: If money was no object, would you buy and old or new guitar?

SY: I would end up going with a new custom shop guitar because I would need to modify an older guitar to the way I like it. I need a certain kind of neck and fingerboard radius for me to feel comfortable. If I was going to pay outrageous prices for an old Strat, I do not think I would want to carve it up.

BK: Your age has contstantly the focus of the media. What has been the worst thing about the "age" thing? What has been the best thing?

SY: The best thing, certainly, is that it gives something to catch people’s ear. Even though I hate that. The best thing and worst things is that it makes people come hear us. The best thing is that it serves as a hook and the worst thing is that is all people think that we are. Hopefully after people see us play, they will think that we are not a marketing scheme. I know we don’t.

BK: You are the prodigy of homeschooling. What are your comments on homeschooling?

SY: That helped me so much. I could not deal with public school - I had no interest in it. If I had stayed there, I would have probably failed. Not that I could have done the work, it didn’t interest me at all. I had no drive to do anything. So when I started homeschooling, I was able to devise my own plan to the State and study more around things I wanted to learn. My guitar became part of the curriculum and I certainly go a lot better playing.

BK: Was there a music program at your high school?

SY: Yes, I went to Stowe High School. I was in chorus, I was in the jazz band. I didn’t really like any of it, but it was good that it was there.

BK: Did it help lay down any musical foundations for your further studies?

SY: Maybe rudimentary rhythm reading when I played drums in the high school band. I played awful drums - they wouldn’t let me play on a kit. I got to play the bell. That certainly helped. I really don’t know what helped.....I hate to say it, because I think it is a very important part of schooling to have that option. I hate to say that I really didn’t get anything from it, but at the same time, music is the only thing I really care about. I was already deeply involved with it when I went to school and I was hunting for myself. More so than relying on a teacher. It was good that I did it and it was good that I was in a structured and conducted kind of thing.

BK: Have you had a musical moment that has stuck out in your mind?

SY: There have been quite a few. I just love to play. There are nights when we are playing and there will be an extreme energy rush...such a tension release when I play. The whole band will go off on a thing and I will have no sense of time or anything. I will look around at the guys and see that they are feeling it too. It usually happens when the audience is into it too. That is when it is a highlight for me. Hopefully that happens somewhere during every gig but it doesn’t. It is what you go for. It is the nights where you completely lose any thought any you just play for the love of music.

BK: Do you collect music?

SY: I have a lot of music. I love to listen to it. I have been a huge Bob Dylan phase since November. I go through deep phases of people where I listened to somebody completely for two months then I will not listen to them for a year. I think music helps me a lot with my playing. I like older music .... if you do not know what has come before how can you do anything new? The problem with most modern music is that there is no tradition.

BK: Do you think there are any modern bands that have tradition?

SY: I am a big Phish fan. They do really well at listening to older music and not trying to create radio friendly music. They are doing their own thing. I also a huge Luther Allison fan. He wasn’t afraid to listen to newer music that came before 1963 and incorporate into the older styles that he was obviously influenced by. He wasn’t afraid to take Hendrix and bring back to a more traditional style. Luther put on a funky show. He was one of the first traditional Blues artists that I have seen who had whole band improvisation where their messing with the song structure. Not just him soloing over a steady beat. That is what I love to do.

BK: Your mom is a volunteer for Meals on Wheels and your dad is commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Aging and Disabilities. Your parents both have backgrounds in helping others. Do you carry the same traits?

SY: Hopefully, we help others through music. They are big influences on me. I owe them huge debts of gratitude for just letting me play. They have always been supportive. I could not have done any of this without their support.

http://www.sethyac.com