The Axeman Cometh: Adam Meisterhans on Shredding in the Mountain State
"If I ever need humbled, I can remember that I live in the same town that Vince Gill does [laughing]. If I ever feel like, 'Oh man, I’m really sounding good on guitar,' I can just remember that I’m probably not even the best guitar player on the block."
And today's interview is with a West Virginian currently residing in Nashville who’s worked with artists right at home like Martinsburg’s Rozwell Kid and Morgantown’s William Matheny, and artists from afar like CoCo Hames and JP Harris. This is... Adam Meisterhans.
Rozwell Kid’s newest release is Precious Art. You can hear the band’s music on rozwellkid.com. Hear more #WVmusic on A Change of Tune, airing Saturday nights at 10 on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Connect with A Change of Tune on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And for more #WVmusic chats, make sure to go to wvpublic.org/wvmusic and subscribe to our RSS / podcast feeds.
On his start in music:
My mom was the church pianist at Washington United Methodist, so those were like my first memories of being around music. She was always rehearsing with the choir or practicing the piano. Then my brother was I the band in middle school so I was kind of just always around that and I thought it was cool and interesting. Around 13, I got obsessed with the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. I didn’t think I could do that but I thought maybe I could at least learn how to play their songs. I got a guitar around then and just gradually became more obsessed with it and now it’s what I do.
On starting The Demon Beat (one of West Virginia’s cult favorite alt rock bands) in Shepherdstown, WV:
Well, the Shepherdstown scene is more-or-less a combination of whoever is in college at that time and townies. So it’s an interesting scene, but it’s not necessarily a great place for a band to graduate from a band with your friends in college to a band that can actually get out and tour. It wasn’t hard to start it, and it wasn’t hard to be in The Demon Beat in this area, but it was hard to get to the next level where we could afford to keep the wheels on the road.
On leaving West Virginia for Nashville:
I knew people in Nashville who were my age and who were touring a lot, so that was really attractive to me. So I decided to go there. And then after going there, Rozwell Kid became busier, so I was able to start a life there and start trying to meet people there, but also continue playing in a band with really close friends.
It wasn’t a culture shock [moving to Nashville]; it’s just hard to move anywhere. I had never lived in a city. I went from Washington Bottom to Shepherdstown, which is pretty similar in terms of number of people. This was the first time I lived in a city, I didn’t have a lot of money, I didn’t know that many people, so there are a lot of ways it sucked, but I was around world-class musicians for free there. Just whatever you want to tip them, essentially, which is crazy: you can go see Kenny Vaughn play for $3 and he’s obviously should get more. You can experience people playing at a level I had never really encountered before. It was a mix of the normal things that are hard about moving to a new place countered by an incredibly inspiring experience of being around people who could do things I’ve never seen before. As a guitar player and as a musician, it sharpens you and makes you want to go home and practice and try to better yourself in whatever way you can.
On making records:
If you’re around different people and you’re not a total jerk then eventually, maybe, they’ll call you to work on something. Any time somebody calls me, I appreciate it. So working on Coco Hames’ record: she was in a band called The Ettes, whose bass player was Jim Cohen. He got ahold of me to play on her record, and that meant a lot. Playing with people who I admire and are great musicians is a rewarding experience. And then for Tyler Childers to come down and make a record, that was a fun experience. It’s nice to make records with people you care about, with people you admire. It’s nice to be in those situations.
On working with West Virginia rocker William “Billy” Matheny:
I think I’ve known Billy for ten years. At the time with Tucker and Jordan, we were trying to figure out how to play with people who would make us better. Within the state, we thought Billy Matheny and Bud Carroll were doing things that were above our heads, so we should try to hang with them and try to figure out what they’re doing [laughing]. Billy played a lot of shows with Prison Book Club and The Demon Beat, and we had always known each other, and I was always a fan of his music. As we came closer friends, we talked about working on something.
Actually, when we started working on his record [William Matheny and his Strange Constellations], it was the weekend I moved to Nashville [laughing]. I had all the things that I owned in my car [laughing], and I went to Huntington, Bud and Billy and I started trying to hash out what would be that record, and then I went to Nashville. So it was a pretty interesting time in my life. We had to chip away at that record because of all of our schedules.
But I was just talking about people I admire and people I care about, and it would be hard to find two people I admire or care about more than Bud or Billy. So working on that project was kind of crazy because Bud and I love [Billy’s] songs and love being around him, so to be in a situation where you’re making a record with somebody you know that well, and you care that much about those songs, that’s a pretty unique thing.
On playing Mountain Stage with William Matheny in June 2016 (with special guest host Joni Deutsch):
Rozwell Kid finished a month-long tour in New York City at the Music Hall at Williamsburg the night before Mountain Stage. So we loaded out and got out of New York at 1 in the morning. We drove back to Shepherdstown and got in around 6am. Then Jordan drove me down to Charleston [laughing], which was another five and a half hours, and I sort of slept in the car, and we sort of listened to some podcasts. He managed to stay awake, and we did our soundcheck. It was a little bit of a dumb idea, but it was worth it to play that show with those guys.
On the difference/comparison between Nashville and West Virginia’s music scenes:
The ratio of acts that have something to offer and are willing to do the work to put that out there is kind of the same no matter where you’re at. There are some people that have something really special to offer, whether it’s writing, singing or playing (sometimes a combination of all three of those things), and sometimes the people that have that are willing to do the work and build momentum to bring it to the people. I’ve been extremely lucky to be around people in West Virginia who have something to offer and are willing to do the damn thing.
In Nashville, there is no shortage of people in that situation, it’s just a higher concentration. It’s an incredibly dense music scene. But there are also people there who just want to wear a nice hat and sing about stuff that’s not as resonate. But the ratio is the same, and there are some incredibly talented people there with a lot to offer. I don’t think work ethic has to do with where you’re from. You either work your ass off or you don’t. And that can happen anywhere.
On the future of the #WVmusic scene:
With any scene I suppose, it’s people who are willing to actively be a part of it, whether that’s fans, songwriters, people who want to play guitar or people who want to book shows. It requires all of those things. Obviously, there are a lot of great artists around here who do a lot of work. It’s people like Ian Thornton, who is a wonderful bass player, works so hard promoting and booking the bands he works with and promoting a festival. Any one of those things could be a full-time job, and he does all four of them really well.
I just think it takes people who are actively invested in it, whether it’s through Mountain Stage or running the Empty Glass or being a band that’s trying to make it happen. It takes all of those parts. So I don’t know if I’m necessarily qualified to say what should happen; it’s just a matter of people throwing their hands on deck.
On his self-described “do-it-your-damn-self” ethos:
You can either sit around and wait for somebody else to help you or hand you something, or you can do the best with what you have and the resources around you. If you do the latter, you are actively engaged in what you’re doing. Regardless of where you’re at or what your resources are, you’re at least making something out of whatever you have. Earlier in my life I was probably less actively engaged in my own success and well-being and life, and eventually you have to get out of that or else you beat your head against the wall and end up a bitter person asking, “Well, how come nothing ever happened for me?” At some point, either someone else has to kick you in the ass, or you have to kick your own ass.
Music featured in this #WVmusic chat:
The Demon Beat- “I Melted”
Rozwell Kid- “South By”
Rozwell Kid- “UHF on DVD”
Rozwell Kid- “I Wish”
Support for 30 Days of #WVmusic is provided by Kin Ship Goods, proud supporter of DIY music and the arts. Local shipped worldwide at kinshipgoods.com.