Twang rockers Amigo have seen their profile raised this past year. Creative Loafing named the Charlotte group Best Gram-Parsons-Loving-Country-Rock Band of 2017 in the annual Best of Charlotte issue, and the outfit recently completed its second LP, And Friends, with producer Mitch Easter at his Fidelitorium Recordings in Kernersville.
With And Friends, Amigo continues to build on a foundation that draws from country, folk and rock. The album benefits from a more streamlined and focused approach to the studio from the one Amigo employed on its 2014 debut, Might Could.
While the music is credited to the whole group — guitarist and singer Slade Baird, drummer Adam Phillips, bassist Thomas Alverson (and soon, keyboardist Molly Poe) — Baird writes Amigo's words. And he writes them spectacularly, on tracks ranging from the raucous "Underground Medicine" to the gentle and heart-wrenching "I Wanna Live."
We caught up with Baird to talk with him about the making of And Friends. (Also be sure to check out this week's Local Vibes podcast with Baird.)
Creative Loafing: I detect influences from Moby Grape, Poco and even All Things Must Pass-era George Harrison. What each of those has in common is a rock foundation with a country sensibility. Does that describe Amigo as well?
Slade Baird: I grew up in the South, but I didn't grow up listening to that kind of music. I listened to classic rock radio. But once I really started digging into rock 'n' roll records, the sounds of that era captured my imagination in the same way that movies from that time do. There's a warmth and a certain kind of tonal color palette that just feels like home to me. And I don't know why that is. But yeah, that's exactly what we're going for: that early-'70s sweet spot where young rock musicians were really connecting with the classic country sound.
How did your approach making And Friends differ from the way you've made previous recordings?
The three of us have been playing together now for four years in the current lineup. But when we went in for the first record, we were a new band and didn't have a consistent lineup. So we used the more modern studio approach where we tracked one [instrument] at a time.
Making And Friends, we did a lot more live. We recorded with Mitch, and we were more confident going into this one. We wanted to let our live sound come through, let our personality as a band take the center stage, and make it sound like us.
How did Mitch Easter's involvement affect the finished product?
I think the thing that really stands out from working with him is just how at ease he made us; we immediately felt comfortable. The place is in the middle of a tobacco field; you just feel like you're in the middle of nowhere. So you just roll up your sleeves: "All right. I'm gonna be creative for a whole week here!"
When I listen back to And Friends, there's an ease. Mitch's demeanor makes making rock 'n' roll fun, and I think that comes out.
The way you play the album's one cover — John Prine's "Everybody" — reminds me of Jason & the Scorchers' reinvention of Bob Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie." When you choose to cover a song, is the goal to change it around and make it your own?
It's exactly like that, but ... well, I'll just tell you how we ended up doing that song: I was writing a song, and it was a fast-tempo country rocker. I was getting really excited about it and I was just about to start writing lyrics. And then I realized that it was the melody to "Everybody." So I was like, "Well, fuck it. I'm not gonna try to rewrite this song. I'll just cover it."
The title of "(When I Fool) You (Into) Loving Me (Again)" makes really awkward use of parentheses. You did something similar with the Kinks-like title of "Where Have All the Bad Times Gone (To)?" on Might Could. Is there something deeper at work there?
It's kind of a personal joke to me. I always try to think what's gonna stand out, whether it's something that's just funny to me or whether it's something that would add to the song in some way. But yeah, there's a hidden message between the parentheticals.
Listen to "(When I Fool) You (Into) Loving Me (Again)":