JD McPherson: renaissance heart, modern mind

Saturday 06th, April 2019 / 05:48

By Brent Cooper

JD McPherson grew up on a cattle ranch in the outback of the Oklahoma, so far isolated the nearest supermarket was an hour away. Within that seclusion, he played a lot of guitar, listened to a lot of music, and read about a lot of music eventually taking a MFA at the University of Tulsa. While labelled retro rootsrocker, McPherson is much more — for sure he’s got a renaissance heart, but also a modern mind.  

Who is your favourite Ramone? 

My favourite Ramone in terms of ‘aura’ would be DeeDee. CJ is really my favourite Ramone because I know him and he’s a wonderful guy, but if I had to pick one Ramone to send into space to spread the word, I would pick DeeDee. 

Pitchfork pegged like-minded musician Nick Waterhouse and yourself as a “revivalist who insists he’s not a revivalist.” How does that sit with you?  

I get that, it’s because it’s rock and roll. The culture at large isn’t really comfortable with that. I can say all day that I see myself more as David Byrne than Brian Setzer, and nobody’s going go along with that. At some point, I have to not care. As far as people branding me a retro-revivalist , absolutely! I wish people would listen to more Bo Diddley, I wish people would listen to more Sonics, I wish people would listen to more Link Wray. I mean we’re talking about the most exciting aspect of American culture. It’s exciting to me, and I think that’s a pretty easy spark to catch fire.  

 You’re a literate songwriter conversant in punk, blues, rock, whatever. How does this affect your writing, delivery and performance? 

As miserable as I was growing up where I was, as a music lover I was experiencing a lot of different things all at once. Mixing it all up and taking bites instead of moving around the plate like you’re supposed to do. Hearing pop music next to Dinosaur Jr. and metal and hip-hop, there wasn’t anybody around to tell me what not to listen to. If you’re hanging around a bunch punk rockers they might get bummed out by ZZ Top, Grateful Dead or whatever. That wasn’t happening for me. I was like a sponge listening to everything. When I was writing songs in high school they were hard to pin down. I had broad-view perspective for a good, long while. 

 Live, we try to keep the energy up, at a high level for the whole thing, even on slower material. Wtry to have very little or no dead air, there’s some form of music happening all the time. It really feels uncomfortable to me when I go see a band and there’s 25, 30 seconds, a minute between songs when they’re tuning up or changing guitars. We try to keep that to as much of a minimum as we can. We’ve got a band full of hungry performers, a band full of people who love being there, it is a really fun time. We just want to make sure people get their money’s worth! 


JD McPherson plays the Imperial (Vancouver) April 7, the Starlight (Edmonton) April 10, the Commonwealth (Calgary) April 11, Amigos (Saskatoon) April 12, and the West End Cultural Centre (Winnipeg) April 13.