“Genre: Southern-Gothic Psycho-Blues Revival-Punk One-Man-Band who does not play well with others.”
At the time of this conversation Lincoln Durham was at home in Austin, TX with “nothing to do.” By the time you read this, he’ll probably be on the road armed with a couple of kick drums, a tambourine, some amps, a Dobro, some cigar box guitars and whatever else suits his needs causing a disturbance in support of Reverend Horton Heat. Several elements make Durham a distinctive man and musician. His refreshing, charming, gentlemanly and mustachioed nature is the mere iceberg’s tip; you need to dig deeper. But the excavation comes easy as Durham provides the tool: his own words. To hear Durham’s songs or to see his one-man riot act live is to be musically assaulted by an electrifying darkness steeped in punk rock fire and blues in its rawest form. On the surface it may initially disturb but once under the skin, it becomes a revelation.
On March 25th Durham’s new album, Revelations of a Mind Unraveling, will be released and among its title and ten songs is Durham’s agitated mind at the height of its songwriting ferocity. For better or for worse, inspiration can take many forms but Durham doesn’t shy away from that which inspires him to create: depression, anxiety and that gifted yet unraveling mind. One that happens to be a Leonardo DiCaprio fan.
Lincoln Durham: Right. You know, it’s funny; I always play South By especially since we live in Austin. South By is always a great thing to be a part of but this was something that I couldn’t pass up.
HV: Is there anywhere that you’re going on this tour that you haven’t been before?
Lincoln: Most of them that we’re getting on that tour, with the exception of Portland and Seattle, I’ve never been. We’ve hit the major spots like in California, at least L.A. and San Diego, San Francisco, Fresno. It’s a lot of new places. I’ve been to Canada once but never Vancouver, which I’ve heard is really beautiful. We’re really looking forward to hitting some new spots. That’s how you grow the word is you spread some seeds when you play. Hopefully there’s two or three or ten or 1,000 people that love you and then they tell other people.
HV: Your one-man show is amazing: What do you want people to take from a Lincoln Durham show or even a Lincoln Durham song?
Lincoln: That’s a really good question. When I write, I do write what I’m feeling at the time. Generally, what’s pissing me off at the time is the way I write. I can’t ever sit down with a goal in mind to write a song. It’s always out of if I’m really pissed, if I’m bitter, if I’m in a bad emotional state, if I’m sad. Those are the things that cause me to write. I’ve said before, it’s kind of like my therapy. I’m using the fans as my therapists, my free therapists.
I think I want them to take away that what I’m saying lyrically: I’m not trying to sell records and I’m not trying to write the next hit or a love song. I’m trying to expel the messed up demons in my head and I’d like for them to at least take away that it’s a very important message for me. Whether you care or not, that’s fine. Just know that I’m spilling out my deep, dark secrets to you. I view it as an important thing.
HV: We have the record Revelations of a Mind Unraveling which – I guess for you – is somewhat of a literal title.
Lincoln: Yeah, yeah. That was the theme of this one. The last one is called Exodus of the Deemed Unrighteous and that was coming from a very bitter place. If you listen to the albums, they’re inadvertently telling us the chronological story of my emotional life. This one was coming from a place of I decided I would write some songs about just what goes on in my head mentally and the struggles. It sounds romanticized. Everybody’s got problems and most people have problems much worse than mine, but for me, they can be very difficult to deal with and music has always been my ammunition against it. Or a way to channel the bad feelings from the frustrations.
I was going through an extra period of that while I was writing this record so it just, inadvertently, became a record about my various illnesses, but I still threw in a lot of stuff that I’m pissed off about.
HV: An accidental concept album.
Lincoln: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
HV: As a music fan – and I consider myself a professional music fan – I think when song writing is at it’s best it’s usually when it’s most honest. But honest is not always particularly pretty. It’s pretty refreshing that you’re okay with being very unflinchingly honest and matter-of-fact about whatever it is that’s going on, good, bad or indifferent.
It’s the only way you know how to write, but have you ever had any concern about taking what’s in your head and putting it out there for people to see and hear?
Lincoln: Yeah. When I first started, early on, I fought for a long while about trying to sculpt myself into what I thought people would want to hear. I struggled a lot with trying to write. I thought, “Well, I need to write a happy song.” For a while I tried to do that, like, “But I can’t be this dark all the time. I’ve got to lighten the mood a little bit.” It just didn’t work out for me. It was really against my grain. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it as much as I just couldn’t seem to do it.
Like you said, it is brutally honest. What I write about is, instead of giving my opinions at the dinner table or on social media or what have you, I just spew off all the things that I’m going through or things like that through my music. As a result, for a long time, I did think, “This is too heavy for people, or at least this much of it all the time is too heavy for people.” I started getting a really good response from fans. Like you mentioned, that’s what they liked about it was that it was refreshing. I don’t feel like it’s ever trying to be macabre, it just is. It’s just who I am. As a result, it’s this honesty coming from someone who’s not always super mentally stable. It found its audience. Over time, I’ve been able to adjust and be comfortable with that.
HV: You have an unusual comfort with saying outright, “I’m a little not there upstairs sometimes.”
Lincoln: Yeah. It’s just, after living with that kind of stuff long enough, it just becomes part of your day. It’s just a very matter-of-fact kind of thing. Everybody’s got some amount of problems. I think that’s what makes a lot of the most interesting people interesting is the fact that they’re totally insane. I’ll write about it, I’ll talk about it. I guess a lot of people view it…it would be a very private matter. For me, I don’t really care.
HV: You use a vast array of things when you’re live: some instruments more unique than others Was there anything particularly unusual that you used while recording this record?
Lincoln: In the previous ones we’ve used some weird stuff. We’ve used bird feeders, we’ve used brooms on the ground, we’ve used hacksaws cutting metal, all kinds of wacky stuff. This one I think was a little more straightforward, if you want to call liking a cigar box guitar straightforward. Using fiddles through weird, weird processing and things like that. This was a little more straightforward other than the cigar box guitar. I’m always about using any kind of wacky…I remember hearing a Tom Waits interview one time. He was on NPR and he said that the greatest snare drum in the world is dried leaves on a trampoline. I thought that was really nuts. Tom Waits, he can’t help but make a sound bite every sentence he says.
I thought that was genius. Everything in the world is a great acoustic sound if you know to listen to it. I’ve heard instances where he goes – I’m a big Tom Waits fan, if you don’t know – wherever they’re in North California where he lives, there’s a Home Depot and they’ll find him at the Home Depot just banging on buckets and things. I love that kind of stuff.
HV: You actually wound up with a “conventional” Lincoln Durham album?
Lincoln: I guess so, yeah. I have a one-string cigar box guitar but as far as cool, fun stuff, we didn’t really use much. We used an old vintage 70’s Moog this time to get a little bit of some weird buzzy bass. I’m actually sitting here reading the liner notes to see if we had anything fancy. I’m always forgetting something, but yeah, it seems pretty straightforward. We did it all on tape which was a lot of fun. This particular one, it was really cool because for the most part it was just like the rest of the albums are. It’s just usually drums and me.
We did it on tape so we would play each song three or four times and then we would take the best cut of that song on this one. There’s no punches, there’s really no edits. There’s a lot of, you don’t notice it, but the lyrics sometimes stray a little bit from what they were supposed to be, or how they were typed up because I didn’t use it in front of me. Just play and take the full song. The best one out of the full five or six takes that you did.
That was pretty fun because I like the songs to have a life to them and have imperfections. You don’t want a studio record to be a live record but you want it to have the spirit of…to have some life to it. I think that the occasional chair squeaks and misspoken lyrics make it cool.
HV: You mentioned that sometimes the lyrics don’t line up with what the lyric sheet might say. I think I noticed that on either it was “Bide My Time” or “Noose”…
Lincoln: I have this thing – to speak of some of the more quirky things about me – is I’m the most – what’s the word? – non-confident, un-confident person ever. I have a very delicate psyche so it doesn’t take much to just jump off the track. I don’t really have a fear of forgetting words but I have a fear if I use a lyric sheet, then I’ll start crutching on a lyric sheet. I refuse to ever write down lyrics. If I can’t remember them, I can’t remember.
That has, over time, seeped over into my recording life. I don’t want to use the lyric sheet if I know the lyrics. I feel like if I know the lyrics but I have to start using the lyric sheet, then I’ll quit trying to remember. I don’t know. I refuse to use them and I refuse to use them in the studio, as well.
That’s kind of what I did. Yeah, they’re my lyrics, then fine. That’s the way the song is supposed to be now.
HV: Honestly, if it comes out of your mouth it can’t be wrong.
Lincoln: That’s right, you’re still creating it. Now, it can be wrong, but when you’re recording it, you can’t do it wrong.
HV: There you go. Now if you had only three words to describe this album, what would they be?
Lincoln: Aggressive, deranged and off-kilter.
HV: (laughs) Okay. You caught me with a mouth full of juice there. I’ll take that.
Lincoln: It’s not the best selling point but I always have to go back to management and my press guy. “Oh man, I think I really kind of fucked that interview up.” Well, it’s like you said, you’re just being brutally honest. It’s an album. You need to take your meds and listen to the album. If you feel like you’re too happy, then listen to that album. If you’re right on the edge, maybe wait a day or two before you listen to it.
HV: Back to you being a one-man thing: there are obviously risks that come with that. If something breaks or goes wrong, it’s up to you to fix that. Does that ever worry you or does that just make it simpler?
Lincoln: Oh man, yeah, it consumes me with worry.
Lincoln: It does, yeah. Oh, I’m very super, super so obsessed. When I was a kid I was heavily medicated for this. I would get like, it gets in my head and it consumes me. The string breaking thing isn’t a real big deal. Alyssa, who’s my wife, she does the tour management. Well, she does everything that I’m not doing. She’ll change the strings so it’s not really a big deal, but when it busts, it does stop the song, usually, because there’s not other stuff to make the noise for me.
I’ve busted through drumheads before. I carry other guitars but I have this thing where I’m obsessed with I want to always bring the A++++ game. If I can’t use that guitar tonight because I messed it up, no one really cares. It drives me crazy. The other thing is the vocal thing. I’m always really worried about the vocals. I’ve only had to cancel three gigs in my life because of my voice going out but that’s all it took to get in my head.
If I hurt a finger, if I hurt a foot, if I hurt my voice – anything – my back – anything – the whole damned thing can go crashing down and that scares me really bad. I try not to let it consume me even though it does and it drives Alyssa crazy.
It’s got a million pros but the biggest cons is that it’s all on you. It worries the hell out of me daily. Thanks for bringing it up (laughs).
HV: Well, you’re very welcome. Do you remember how old you were or when was the first time you actually figured out that you could sing?
Lincoln: I don’t remember exactly how old I was but, well, it wasn’t so much that I could sing as much as I was willing to sing. I was still a kid so I’m sure the voice was the most awkward, horrible thing you’ve ever heard, but I I sorted it out playing the fiddle. My grandpa and my dad started me playing and so, I’d play in this little opry thing. It was all this county western. I’d play fiddle.
Over time, I just wanted the limelight so I tried to sing. Like I said, I know I don’t have any record of it but I know I had to be horrible. I used to listen to Nirvana when I was a kid. When that started to come around, I started to try to sing more like a rock star. I think that was probably in junior high…a guy that could drum from band or something would come and we’d drum and we’d play in the band auditorium. We’d bring amps and guitars and I remember starting to sing there. It was there, I guess, that people started to say, “Hey, you’re pretty good at that.” I’d say junior high is when I actually started to find what I guess was going to be my voice.
HV: Random question: Why do you say you don’t play well with others?
Lincoln: Well, that is half-comical in that I’m a one-man band. If a teacher was saying, “He doesn’t play well with others.” so that’s why I’m a one-man band. Musically, I’ve never co-written. I don’t want to co-write. I don’t do covers. I don’t want to do covers.
I’m very possessive of what I do, artistically and musically, so I’m not really good at collaborating with people. That’s not the reason why I’m a one-man band, but it suits me well because it is true. I think I would be horrible to work with.
HV: Again, refreshing.
Lincoln: I’m not a jerk, I just have an idea of what I want and if I don’t get it, I’m not going to be pouty or a jerk or mean about it, but what it will make me say, “You know what? Never mind. Thank you for the time, never mind, I’ll go do it myself.”
HV: That is so kind that you felt the need to qualify that you’re not a jerk.
Lincoln: Well, I’m not going to be a diva about it; you know, throw stuff over and say, “That’s not what I’ve got in my head. You don’t get it.” But I would say politely, “Yeah, okay maybe we’ll try this another time?” And then just never try it again some other time and do it myself. I do that all the time. If I don’t get just what I wanted, I’ll “Oh okay, thanks. Let me take this home and mull it over,” and then I’ll go do it myself.
My songs are a very intimate portrayal of what I’m going through, what’s in my head. How can somebody else be a part of that? If I do that, then I lose what my whole purpose in writing is. Screw it: I don’t play well with others.
HV: By the way, your tattoos, I don’t know how many you have but…
Lincoln: Not enough, never enough.
HV: Yeah, there’s that. I was just wondering what your favorite ones…or how many you have and what your favorite ones were?
Lincoln: My favorite ones are my last two which are…actually, no. I think my favorite two are, the most recent one I got. I was half raised in New Jersey. A friend of mine gave my a skull with the mohawk which is kind of my New Jersey tattoo. My other one is on the forearm…it was done by Hanna here in Austin. It’s a guy with a burlap sack on his head and he’s got a noose around his neck but the noose is broke and he’s holding it up kind of like, the message is supposed to be, “You tried to get rid of me, or you tried to hang me or you tried to whatever and look what happened.”
That was inspired by the song that I wrote that we put on this record called…
Lincoln: (sings) “What are you going to do if the noose breaks?” All the people…I’m going to have to get into a whole new thing but quickly: I don’t like judgmental people. I don’t like intolerance. People shouldn’t like intolerance. I hate it. I hate people that are quick to judge and condemn. That was my tattoo and the song I just sang. When you judge improperly or ignorantly and you sentence someone to say, hang. You know? You lynch him be it verbally or physically. What are you going to do when the noose breaks? What are you going to do when retribution comes your way is kind of what I was saying. That’s probably my favorite tattoo just because it’s like a “Go to hell.” to the judgmental type.
HV: One of the songs on the album, one of my favorite songs is actually “Suffer My Name.” Which is…
Lincoln: Oh yeah, same sentiment.
HV: Your music and your storytelling is deliciously dark, anyway. In all your songs, and particularly, I thought that one has got this confrontation between the two things going on. You’re wishing someone a peaceful, happy afterlife, but in the mean time, fuck you.
Lincoln: Right, yeah! That’s exactly what it was supposed to be.
HV: “While you’re on the earth…”
Lincoln: I wish you the best, but while you’re around, I hope you have to deal with me everyday of your life.
HV: I love that duality.
Lincoln: It can’t be just totally dark. I’ve got to wish him something good.
HV: Now we’ve discovered the light side of Lincoln Durham.
Lincoln: Yeah, it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a little bit of happiness. I wish you the best; Just not while you’re alive.
HV: What do you do in your off time? What do you do for fun when you’re not on the road?
Lincoln: Oh for fun? I’m – what do they call it – a cinephile? I love movies. Love them, love going. We live in the birthplace of the Alamo Draft House movie theaters. They’re the ones – they do it right – but they’re the ones where you can eat and drink and stuff but there’s so many that’s done that wrong but this place does it right. If you make a peep, they’ll kick you out which is great because it’s silent. It’s amazing. It’s where all the locals hang here in Austin.
They’re pretty world wide. They’re at least nationwide now but still growing. There’s one in San Francisco, maybe one in L.A., I don’t know…
HV: I live right by it.
Lincoln: I highly suggest you go sometime. They’re great.
HV: Yeah, it’s on Fairfax Avenue.
Lincoln: Yeah, yeah, that’s right! They’re made, in my opinion, they’re made for movie snobs. They also do a lot of cool stuff. They’ll bring in old movies like when [Quentin] Tarantino did The Hateful Eight thing, they’ll do the 70mm showings of it. There’s a lot of cool stuff that they do. That’s pretty much all we do is watch movies when we’re around. I’d like to say there’s some cool stuff that we do but we’ll go to a local bar or we’ll go to the movie theater. I’d like to be way more interesting, but that’s what we love to do: just chill out and watch movies.
HV: What’s one of the best movies you’ve seen recently?
Lincoln: Another part of being that obsessed with the movies is that we always watch all of the Oscars. We just recently watched all of the Oscar movies. It’s tough because we watched some pretty high caliber movies. We saw Room, which was an Oscar nominee. That was a pretty intense movie.
I love those kinds. I like a lot of different kinds, but we’re a little more snobbish. I’m not really much on the blockbuster kind of a movie. I like the darker, more moody kind of movies.
HV: We’ve got quite a few of the screeners from the Screen Actors Guild: I know we got Room. We got…what’s that Leo DiCaprio one?
Lincoln: Oh, The Revenant.
HV: The thought of it just scares me, but I did watch The Danish Girl.
Lincoln: Oh, that was good too, yeah. Yeah, that was good. That guy, he did the Theory of Everything last year, so he’s on a roll with some really seemingly difficult roles. The Revenant? It makes you cold. When you’re watching it for that long, you tend to be very cold in the theater.
HV: Everyone’s hoping it will win him an Academy Award, finally.
Lincoln: I hope so, man, I hope so. I would like to see him do that. I’m a big fan of his.
HV: People say he’s overdue. This just might be that award.
Lincoln: I hope so. I hope so for him. One of my all time favorite movies is Aviator. I think he should’ve won for that.
Photo Credit: Robyn Von Swank