Interview: Critter Fuqua Says Long Live Run ‘Lubed Up’ Old Crow Medicine Show for New Album
"I think we want to get together and practice as much as we can and play a really spooky, evil Halloween show, you know? Robes, fake blood, corpse paint ... I'm talking the depths of hell. Let's go there."
That's Critter Fuqua, and no, he's not talking about the new Old Crow Medicine Show album, Volunteer. He's talking about his side project, the heavy metal outfit known as Spectral Evidence.
"I was just listening to Slayer," he tells The Boot. "It's getting pretty dark over here."
When he's not praising the dark forces of evil, Fuqua is best known as one of the founding members of Old Crow, and one of the most wailing guitarists and banjoists this side of the Mississippi. As he and his bandmates celebrate the release of their sixth studio LP, Volunteer, the Texas-born, Virginia-raised musician seems to relish this opportunity to reflect on how far he and his partner-in-crime, Ketch Secor, have come.
There was definitely a time, near the end of 2011, where there kind of was no Old Crow. It had fractured, and founding members had left, and I had left for four or five years. There was a time when we were just about to call it quits ... but we didn't.
"We've been a band for 20 years," Fuqua says, with a bit of shock in his voice. "Holy s—t. That's a long time. Not tooting our own horn, but a lot of bands don't last that long because of the nature of what bands are. I mean, there was definitely a time, near the end of 2011, where there kind of was no Old Crow. It had fractured, and founding members had left, and I had left for four or five years. There was a time when we were just about to call it quits ... but we didn't."
For Fuqua, that "four or five years" was not an insignificant break ... it was one of deep, life-altering value.
"I'm feeling really great right now," he confides, "and a lot of that has to do with the fact that I got sober. I think that's a very personal reason, for me, as to why I'm still around. It's a pretty gnarly disease, people die from it, and so I'm really glad I got sober."
His newfound lease on life brought with it a fresh look at the work of Old Crow.
"When I came back, I came back with a new perspective," Fuqua says. "And now, we've become such a good band. We play so well together, and we're all getting along. Yeah, it can be tough, but we're the best we've ever been. I'm definitely fulfilled when it comes to where Old Crow is. It's pretty cool."
And where Old Crow is, at least in 2018, seems to be a pretty great place. It wasn't all that long ago — Sept. 17, 2013 — that they celebrated their induction into the Grand Ole Opry. Then, just a year later, they released Remedy, which picked up the 2015 Grammys trophy for Best Folk Album. And if that wasn't enough, in May 2016, Old Crow performed Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde in its entirety at the Country Music Hall of Fame and recorded it for posterity, eventually releasing it as their tribute to the folk legend in the form of 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde.
Now, in 2018, Old Crow are reveling in their latest effort, Volunteer.
"You know, we've actually had this record wrapped up for almost two years," Fuqua explains. "It's been wrapped up for awhile, but we had the Blonde on Blonde album come out first. So, obviously, it's good to have this one finally out."
Though Volunteer was recorded around the same time as when Old Crow first performed Blonde on Blonde, Dylan's influence really didn't extend too far into the new tunes: "I mean, we've always been influenced by Dylan," Fuqua says matter-of-factly, "but for me personally, the songs off of Volunteer weren't really influenced by Blonde on Blonde."
"What that live album did for us, though, was help us decide to wait to release Volunteer," he adds. "That means we got really good with the Dylan songs. We were nailing the shows and playing so well together, and we got really lubed up. So when we went into the studio, we had been so focused on something else, we ended up having such a fresh take on these new songs. I think that was a genius idea from Dave Cobb."
Cobb produced Volunteer, and helped Old Crow keep their hands off of their new songs until they actually set foot in the studio to record.
"We had such a backlog of cool songs going back a long, long time," Fuqua says. "We sent Cobb maybe 30 or 35 new songs ... really, too many. He told us not to play anything live and told us not to arrange anything, that we shouldn't even think about the songs. Just come into the studio. It was a really kind of 'zen' approach. He would tell us what ke liked, he'd ask us what we liked, and in two weeks, we had an album."
Adding to the excitement of Volunteer is the fact that Cobb and Old Crow made this album in the legendary Studio A on Music Row in Nashville.
I don't know how many huge, megastar artists get to actually record on Music Row, but man, it's really cool to do it.
"I don't know how many huge, megastar artists get to actually record on Music Row," Fuqua states, "but man, it's really cool to do it. We've recorded in Studio B, and it's just so cool to go to work where so many legends went to work. We're just a link in a chain of all kinds of artists, you know? People look at Nashville and think it's all about country music, but there is so much other music in this town.
"If you're looking at the world today, there's a lot worse things going on than pop country. That's that world, and that's fine. That's great for the fans and the artists," he continues. "I find it a real waste of time to complain about what anybody's doing musically. I just think it's really cool that Old Crow gets to do what we do."
As they celebrate the release of Volunteer and hit the road for a number of live shows, Fuqua doesn't seem antsy to keep adding to their already packed scheduled: "Honestly, we're not thinking about the next album," he admits. "We have Volunteer. We had Blonde on Blonde and the Best Of and Remedy and ... well, it's been a lot. We've been busy."
So, as far as Fuqua is concerned, Old Crow has one priority, and that's Volunteer.
"I think we're just going to focus on this record for awhile," he says. "We'll play the shows with the new songs, and I think that's as far as we're looking right now."