Old Man Markley is a band built on contradictions. First, they’re not “old.” Second, they’re bluegrass, but they’re also punk. Third, they’re high-energy enough to make the kids thrash around in a circle pit at a concert, but their music is so intricate and tight that even a music scholar could listen to an OMM song on repeat without getting sick of it.
Forget what you know and what you think you like: in addition to your classic guitar-and-drums combo, they’ve got banjo, they’ve got fiddle, they’ve got a giant stand-up washtub bass, an autoharp (do you even know what that is?), and the most enthusiastic washboard player you’ll ever have the privilege of seeing (Mr. Markley himself). Oh, and two of the above instruments are played by hot chicks.
I recently caught them opening for punk legends NOFX, and became an immediate fan, running home to listen to their 2011 album, “Guts n’ Teeth,” on Spotify, which you should also do, as it is heartfelt and absorbing. (My favorite song is “Struggling.”) I’m looking forward to a new album this summer, but until then, I was able to get an interview with fiddler Katie Weed and lead singer / guitarist, Johnny Carey (who is married to autoharp player Annie Detemple).
PPLA: Whose idea was it to start the band? Did most of you guys know each other previously?
JOHNNY: Joey introduced me to Old Crow Medicine Show and it sparked a fire in me to start a folk band. I reached out to all my closest musician friends, and we started making music babies.
PPLA: What’s your songwriting process like?
JOHNNY: Sometimes we start with music, sometimes lyrics. But it’s not until we have both completed that we bring the song to the band. Then the song idea really takes form.
PPLA: With so many band members, are there any squabbles on or off the road?
JOHNNY: Surprisingly, it’s been really easy touring together. Of course we have had a few squabbles, but nothing serious. I’d have to say the best part of touring with so many people is that we always have someone to make fun of, and the worst part is nighttime sleep farts.
KATIE: For me the best part of touring together is that no matter where we are in the world, I’m surrounded by my best friends. I think Johnny’s right about the worst part. We used to have a no farting policy on the bus, but it seems like these days all bets are off.
PPLA: What’s the best show you’ve played so far?
JOHNNY – It’s hard to say, since we’ve had so many amazing shows touring with NOFX this last year. Groezrock festival in Belgium 2011 was definitely a stand-out show for me.
KATIE – It’s so hard to pick just one! We played a tomato festival in Capay, Northern CA, and all these little kids rushed the stage and danced in between us as we played under the stars on a stage made of hay beneath this huge oak tree. That was amazing. Or a festival in Montebello, Quebec, when the crowd we had just exploded and danced to every second of every song, and Smelly (from NOFX) was throwing water bottles at me during my solos. Or Punk Rock Bowling 2011, when we played a pool party in 100 degree weather and actually had a pool pit going. I truly feel like all of our shows have been great, but definitely some have had a special magic that everyone there could feel. We played a tiny show in Paris that was just as fun as any sold-out NOFX show. The huge crowds and big stages are really fun, but actually I like playing small venues the best, where the people really know us and our songs and can’t see up our dresses.
PPLA: How long have you been playing your particular instrument?
JOHNNY – I’ve been playing guitar for roughly 20 years.
KATIE – I’ve been playing violin for 21 years!
PPLA: What’s your favorite Old Man Markley song?
JOHNNY: “Train of Thought.” You wouldn’t know it yet because it’s brand new and slated to be on our next record. It’s awesome!
KATIE – It always changes for me, but lately my favorites to play are “Train of Thought” and “Song Songs.” There are a few lines in “Song Songs” that still speak to me every time I hear them.
Get more Old Man Markley at their website.